by Felton Davis
Binoculars and telescopes and other astronomy equipment and accessories are the meat and potatoes of amateur astronomy.
A good pair of binoculars is what introduced me to the pleasures of stargazing many years ago and it was a couple of years later that that graduated to a telescope.
That was one of the department store 60mm telescopes we’re all warned about, but my folks didn’t know any better, and to a 12-year old kid, it opened up the universe.
Astronomy Binoculars For Beginners
Binoculars have a role to play in astronomy. Good binoculars for astronomy cost less than a telescope and are an excellent entry point for someone who wants to learn the night sky.
Great play is made of the magnification factor of telescopes with ads for cheap scopes screaming 500x magnification! However, magnification isn’t everything. Binoculars use a much lower magnification factor, typically between 8x and 25x, but this results in a much wider field of view which makes it easier to navigate across the sky.
Because of this wider field of view, you also get to see the ‘big’ picture. And, because you’re using both eyes, there’s less eyestrain.
You can get binocular viewers for telescopes and those who use them swear by them (rather than at them!). However, since these are a piece of specialised equipment, they will cost more than a pair of binoculars. There is also the additional cost of buying two eyepieces for each binocular viewer.
A typical set of binoculars will be 10x50s (front lenses 50mm across, with a x10 magnification). More powerful models are available – 20x60s are available from $ 150 upwards and you can get 20x80s for as little as $ 90.
Binoculars for astronomy are quite heavy and you can tire easily pointing them up at the sky for any length of time. Also, because of their higher magnification, any shake in your hands will also be enlarged and stars will bounce around in the view.
For long-duration viewing, you’d be advised to get a tripod and a binocular tripod adapter which lets you securely mount the binoculars on it.
Large scale bodies such as comets or the Moon are well suited to astronomy binoculars. The Moon through 20x binoculars can be breathtaking, bringing it close enough to see relief in craters and mountains but you’ll see it in 3d as well, something that doesn’t happen when looking through a telescope because you only use a single eye with one.
Astronomy binoculars for beginners are available from a wide range of manufacturers: Barska, Zhumell, Celestron, Meade, Canon, and Pentax.
Serious amateur astronomers may want to invest in top-brand models from Fujinon, Vixen, Kowa and Nikon. You can expect to pay between $ 1,000 and $ 5,600 depending on the make and model. Why would anyone want to pay such an amount for a pair of binoculars? Simply because they’re the best instrument for comet hunting for one. The 3-D view they give makes you feel like you’re out in space. The better models use interchangeable eyepieces so you can change the magnification and field of view.
You can start using a pair of binoculars in much less time than it takes to set up a telescope so if the weather is very changeable where you live, they might be a better option for sky watching. Naturally, binoculars go into your luggage a lot more easily when you’re travelling allowing you to view the sky from your holiday destination with ease.
All in all, astronomy binoculars are a much better option for casual viewers because of their portability, daytime and night-time use and the fact that they are cheaper than a decent telescope.
As with almost everything else in life, you get what you pay for. There are binoculars that cost under $ 10 (being cheap in every sense of the word) and other specialised astronomy binoculars which cost in excess of $ 5,600. My experience says you will need to spend at least $ 90 for a pair of binoculars that are worth owning, but $ 140-300 is a more common price range for astronomy binoculars.
Senior Contributing Authors: Andrew Fraknoi, Foothill College; David Morrison, NASA Ames Research Center; Sidney C. Wolff, Nationa…
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