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April 19, 2010 11:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations to buy a pair of astronomical observation binoculars. Advice on what to get and where to buy it (in Europe) would be appreciated.

My girlfriend loves astronomy but has no equipment or experience, and neither do I. I first thought of getting her a telescope but I read in several places that you should start with binoculars because they are easier to carry around and easier to aim. So I am thinking of getting her a pair of binoculars, one that is designed for astronomical observations.

I'd like advice on what to expect in terms of experience, what to look for when buying and where to buy it in Europe so I don't have to deal with customs.

Anonymous because she knows my account name here and its a surprise.
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is a good breakdown of what to look for in binos you'll use for stargazing.

I use binoculars regularly for birding, and one thing I'll warn you about is the higher the magnification - I use 10x40s - the greater the "shake" will be; that is, holding them in your hands, breathing, and your heartbeat will all introduce a little tremor that will affect what you're seeing. You can get used to it, to a certain extent, but as that page notes, if what you want to look at is the fine detail on a planet, the shake is going to be frustrating. You can, of course, get (collapsible) tripods or monopods for binos, assuming the binos you buy have the bit that allows for a tri- or monopod.
posted by rtha at 12:48 PM on April 19, 2010

I'd aim for either a pair of 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars. Personally, I prefer the 10x50 though my observing partner swears by her 7x50. As for specific brand recommendations, I've had good luck with Celestron, Nikon and Canon. I like getting binoculars that are somewhat weather-proof as they tend to fog up if I'm out hiking under dark skies. This is my favorite "quick look" pair, which I also use for bird identification. (No advice regarding buying in Europe, sorry).

Personally, I stay away from any of the "giant" type of binos (20x80, 15x70, etc), mainly because I prefer hand-held binocular observing. Anything higher powered than 10x will most likely necessitate a tripod (or a better than average ability to hold items steady above your head for an extended period of time).

You'll also want to consider getting a small red flashlight and a good spiral-bound star atlas. I like this one. For beginners, I strongly recommend S&T's Binocular Highlights or something similar.
posted by foggy out there now at 12:57 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unlike most other things people use binoculars for, light-gathering is a major concern with astronomy. Binoculars are classified by NxYY numbers, the first being magnification and the second being objective lens diameter. Objective diameter is the primary concern in light gathering.

As others have noted, shake gets pretty problematic around 10x or 12x magnification. So you might want to stick to 7x, 8x or (at most) 10x for the first number. This depends in part on how strong you are, so smaller folk will probably have a harder time steadying larger glasses.

Faint objects are difficult to see with smaller binocs, so bigger second numbers are generally better for gathering more light - in other words, 7x35 is a mediocre choice for stargazing - but 7x50 or 8x50 would be great if you can find 'em. BUT bigger objectives are a little heavier and harder to hold steady.

Other stuff.... you want "porro-prism" design (crooked binoc tube) rather than "roof prism" (small, straight tube). My neck gets stiff looking at stuff with binoculars, and I've known people who'll invest in a nice mirror that they set on a table so that they can gaze down at the stars.

The Astronomical League publishes a list of "observing clubs" (more like object lists) that include a couple binocular-specific lists. That would be a nice place to start in terms of where to point 'em once you've got 'em.

Finally, where you do your observing impacts what you see almost as much as what you're looking through. Getting out of (or above) the urban light, heat and air pollution will help tremendously.
posted by richyoung at 1:20 PM on April 19, 2010

I like my Orion UltraView 10x50s.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 2:22 PM on April 19, 2010

Lots of good advice here. I've been enjoying a pair of Minolta 10x50 binoculars for about 15 years and have done hundreds of hours of astronomy with them (Minolta no longer makes binoculars).

I can't recommend 50mm objectives strongly enough. 35mm objectives have only half the light-collecting area of 50s and will always disappoint. Anything bigger than 50mm will be too heavy. As for oculars, anything from 7x to 10x is okay.

Porro prisms, definitely.

Some say to get "fully multicoated" optics as opposed to merely "multicoated", although I can't speak from experience on this.

Get a book on binocular astronomy. I have one by Patrick Moore that has been very useful.

An indispensable tool for binocular astronomy is a folding chaise lounge.

Finally, once you get them, don't forget to use them. While it is fairly easy from the get-go, with continued use you will get better at it as you do it. You will learn tricks for finding objects and tricks for seeing the faint fuzzies.
posted by neuron at 11:07 AM on April 20, 2010

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