January 1, 2016: Year-end review, Part 2 – eyepieces, filters, and binoviewers, oh my!

Happy New Year!  This half of the review gets into all those less “necessary” purchases I’ve made over after buying my two telescopes; but they sure seemed necessary at the time.  My spending barrage continued as I wanted to see what all the fuss was about both TeleVue EPs and ultra-wide field EPs, too.  The 8mm TeleVue plossl didn’t impress me much (unlike Shania Twain), and neither did the 82-degree views through the unfortunately aptly named Celestron Luminos eyepiece.  That brought me to well over $800.  Of course, I can sell these two EPs off for just about what I paid for them, so no harm there.

Okay, so I overspoke about the TeleVue.  It’s a good sharp EP, and it provides nice crisp views at 193x, which is usually about the limit of my seeing.  But lately, with the weather so bad that only the moon is able to break through the clouds, and rarely at that, none of my EPs is getting much use.  And although there’s no question the TeleVue is most definitely still in the rotation, even it is being superceded lately.  More on why below.

I hardly ever use the Luminos at all.  It does get a little bit of use in the ST-80 at 40x and 2.07 degrees, as does the 15mm Paradigm at 27x and 2.25 degrees.  The Pleiades look great at that combination, almost filling the field of view, but leaving some empty sky around it for framing.  Because of the limited number and quality of targets with an 80mm refractor in my LP, I don’t do too much widefield observing, so my use of both of these EPs is very limited, with the Luminos being at the very bottom of the heap.  The 82-degree wide views just don’t do much of anything for me.  I don’t like having to look all around the field of view to see everything.

The spending onslaught was unending at this point.  I next decided I needed to explore the world of filters, so I got the Orion Ultrablock, the Baader Moon & SkyGlow, and a Levenhuk solar filter.

The solar filter is definitely the laggard of the three filters, as solar observing is its own special trip up to the roof, and frankly, just isn’t all that exciting to me in white light.  Sure, you can watch a sunspot group as it moves across the face of the sun over the course of a few days, and then you can come back about 3 1/2 weeks later to see if the same group survived long enough to make it all the way back around again, and then check to see how it’s changed in the meantime, but that’s about it.  There’s no consistency in the sunspots; unlike the moon, there are no old favorites that you like to come back to and see again and again.  Unless there are A LOT of sunspots, white light solar observing is just a Rorschach test or a Jackson Pollack painting.  And I despise Pollack.  There just isn’t any there there.

On the other hand, the M&SG gets constant use.  Like the 32mm Plossl always sitting in one end of the diagonal, the filter’s permanent home is screwed onto the other end of the diagonal.  It does do a little something in terms of the glare on the moon and planets – especially Jupiter.  And since it’s dimming the overall view by only a small fraction – I believe I’ve read where it’s about 5% or so – I just leave it screwed onto the diagonal for my regular DSO observing as well, unless I’m trying to really catch a particularly faint one.

The Ultrablock is in between in terms of the amount of use, but closer to the solar filter.  I used it in Sagittarius this summer, and I’ll use it on Orion if it ever clears up this winter.  It is a specialized filter, not meant for use on everything, just nebulae, and I knew that going in.  But that’s fine, because what it does, it does well – bringing out the detail in the nebulae by increasing contrast, even though it markedly dims the overall field.  And now I was in for almost a solid grand.

One more EP was “necessary” to test out – in a Back to the Future moment, I “needed” an orthoscopic like the ones I had as a kid to see what all the fuss was about them.  I got my 12.5mm KK Fujiyama ortho used, and got it at that focal length so that I’d still get a nice 10mm of eye relief out of it.  I did it this way, even though the 12.5mm delivers only 123x, because I intended to barlow it.  As mentioned, my ST-80 came with a lot of accessories, most of which I sold off to recoup some of the cost of buying it.  But not the Orion Ultrascopic Barlow, a Japanese-made 3-element long format apochromatic, which makes it supposedly one of the better ones.  The plan was to use the 12.5mm ortho in the barlow on those nights of good seeing.

Well, good seeing, good schmeeing, I barlow this sucker all the time on my lunar/planetary observing for 246x.  After my 32mm Plossl, the ortho is my most used EP, as I’m usually observing the moon for the dozen or so days when it’s just past new until it’s just past full – weather permitting, of course.  (The 8mm TeleVue comes in third overall in my EP case.)  That is, if the seeing supports it.  If not, then I’m dropping down, either to the 8mm at 193x, or even to a 10mm Plossl at 154x.

The final piece of optical equipment in my eyepiece case is the Arcturus binoviewers.  As I mentioned, almost half the month is dominated by the moon, either early in the evening when it’s just a few days past new, all evening when it’s around full, or just late in the evening when it’s waning gibbous.  When the moon is up, it’s washing out a lot of the DSOs.  Since I very much enjoy lunar observing, these binoviewers have become my most used piece of equipment.  The stock 30mm Plossls are nice and sharp, and using the 3x nosepiece with them gives me around 165x.

I also bought a second 10mm Orion Sirius Plossl to get up to “stupid high” powers – I can use the 1.8x nosepiece with them to get to about  300x.  But that really doesn’t happen because it’s a pain to take out and replace both EPs and  take off and replace the nosepiece too.

Now that Jupiter is rising early enough, I’ll definitely be using the binoviewers with the King as well.  After about seven weeks of absolutely terrible astronomy weather, the forecast is finally clearing up.

Viewing through the binos definitely has a pseudo-3D effect.  The approximately 20mm of eye relief is nice.  However, the conveniently long eye relief is made up for negatively by the difficulty in eye placement.  It is very easy to “lose an eye” if you’re not keeping your head in just the right place, so it’s a tradeoff in terms of needing to keep your head steady.  Fortunately, I’ve found that keeping the left side of my nose just touching the binos keeps both eyes in the right position, so that the whole setup works pretty well.

On the other hand, for whatever reason – probably related to my own eye fatigue/strain just from daily life on the computer and watching an overabundance of television – on some nights, I simply cannot merge the images into one.  Obviously, on those nights, the binoviewer gets cast aside.

Having bought this treasure trove of equipment, where should I keep it all?  I needed a foam-lined case that would hold all of my gear safely and securely.  It had to be large enough across its face so that 10 (yikes!) of my 12 eyepieces, my binoviewers, the two nosepieces, and my filters would all fit in, while also being deep enough so that it would hold the holy hand grenade that is the Luminos.  (The other two eyepieces are “stored” in the diagonals on each scope.)

The advice at Cloudy Nights is to buy a pistol case, because it will protect your EPs just as well as an actual EP case.  I bought this model and it’s terrific.  It has eggcrate foam on top and bottom, and in between the two of them, the middle piece of foam is and inch-and-a-half thick.  Rather than cut out a separate round hole for each and every eyepiece, which would have been a royal pain, I decided to instead just cut out a long slot a bit narrower than 1.25 inches so the foam would grip the eyepieces well.  Worked like a charm, and it was soooo much easier.  And, while watching the Mythbusters marathon that’s currently going on, one of their gun experts was using almost exactly the same case as mine!  You can see the case starting at 1:05 here.  If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Grand total spent:  over $1300, including all sorts of atlases, books, and other minor accessories.  Starting out, I never thought I’d ever spend anywhere near that much.  I honestly thought I’d be spending about $600, tops.  If I had known I’d be spending $1300, I’d probably have bought this 6-inch Mak instead.  But it’s been worth every penny.

Next time – A 35-year end review

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