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      13.05.2012 17:14
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      A good £90 pair of binos

      If you're into astronomy, bird watching or just have particularly attractive neighbours the chances are you will be familiar with the need for a good set of binos and Opticron have sought to provide us with just that with their Oregon 8x32's.

      First off (and perhaps most importantly) the optical quality. The 1.25 inch lenses are fully multi coated which means that all lenses are covered by several layers of transmission enhancing coatings. The effect (especially noticeable when using them for stargazing) is that images are good & bright and the binos gather 32x more light than the human eye. The clarity and sharpness becomes clear when watching wildlife, magnified 8x, the wild parakeets that visit my area are bursting with colour that the Oregons display beautifully.

      Almost as important is weight, I've used some real breeze blocks over the years and when you've got to hold them up towards the sky for ages at a time scanning for faint objects in the night sky, a heavy binocular can become a real pain. At 515 grams the Oregons are significantly lighter than the first pair of binoculars I ever owned and at 11cm by 12cm they're almost compact enough to carry around in a pocket (although not quite), but they will fit easily into a small bag.

      Another cool aspect is that the space between each lens element is nitrogen filled which helps waterproof them and reduces fogging of the glass. When combined with its compact size and fantastic optical quality it all adds up to an impressive pair of sub £100 binoculars.

      Within the budget price range the Oregons perform very nicely, clear, sharp images with a good rendition of colour, relatively lightweight and far from unwieldy these binoculars are a good buy whatever your reasons for needing them.

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        13.05.2012 15:19
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        A fantastic Schmidt Cassegrain

        The benefits of the Schmidt Cassegrain telescope include the ability to reach incredibly long focal lengths with a comparatively short tube length, the C-11 manages to do this while delivering spectacular views using Celestron's trademark Starbright XLT coatings.

        The C-11 is very nearly the greatest planetary scope for both visual observation and ccd astrophotography, it's got an extremely long focal length of 2800mm which means you can get some serious magnification and can get a decent sized image when using a camera even without the use of a barlow.

        The optics are first rate, viewing Saturn at 700x and having it remain sharp and crisp was simply astounding, with the subtle banding of its yellow hued atmosphere being easily discerned. On the moon I pushed the magnification upto 1000x just for a laugh and was blown away to see that in moments of excellent seeing the optics were still holding up, rilles and craters snapped into sharp and contrasty view. Although I haven't yet had a chance to use the scope on Jupiter I suspect it will be awe inspiring when I do.

        The focuser is nice and responsive and takes a fair bit of weight (especially handy for astrophotography) and the 9x50 finder scope works well.

        Although there's no doubt that the scope is predominantly a Lunar/planetary performer, with its 11 inches of aperture you will be able to observe a few of the brighter DSO's (deep sky objects), planetary nebula are ideal due to their small and bright nature, M57 being perhaps the brightest.

        As well as being a phenomenal performer optically, the C-11 is very portable, all its magnificence is crammed into a mere 60cm of tube length and it weighs just over 90lbs (not the lightest of scopes but certainly manageable even by a single person).

        Combining functionality and superb optics with portability is a recipe that can only prove successful, the C-11 is breath taking and while not cheap (£1600-£2000) it is worth every penny if you can afford the initial outlay.

        Recommended highly for its ease of setup, transportability and above all its fantastic optical quality which delivers mind blowing, high powered views of the solar system

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        05.05.2012 17:57
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        A decent scope at an affordable price

        In Astronomy, as in DIY, it pays to have a tool for every job, some scopes are massive light buckets, made to gather every photon issued from the distant cosmos, some scopes are tiny, but what they lack in light gathering ability they make up for in portability, there are scopes that specialise in Galaxies & Nebulae while others are better suited to observing the solar system and its myriad of awe inspiring objects, the starmax falls into the latter category and is an example of the Maksutov Cassegrain style telescope.

        What the Maksutov Cassegrain does is to use - in conjunction with the primary mirror - a lens with a slightly curved surface, it has the effect of reducing abberations and imperfections that can be more pronounced in reflectors.

        With a focal length of 1250mm and a focal ratio of F13.8 you get some quite serious magnification with the Starmax while keeping a manageably compact tube length (a bit less than a foot). It's not only short but light to, it's 6.5lbs which makes it a great grab and go scope.

        The focuser is adequate and there is less image shift than in other similarly priced catadioptrics I've seen, although (owing to the nature of its design) there is a little. Image quality is good, performing well at higher powers. Of course, it's not perfect, a touch of spherical abberation is present but thankfully it is quite negligible, for the price it's a good little performer.

        Although the EQ1 is sufficient for the scope I would prefer a sturdier mount that's a little smoother to operate. However it's not terrible and if you can put up with a bit of vibration it does help keep the overall price down.

        The finderscope is ok, up to the job of tracking down the nice and bright objects of our solar system but if you're going to try for Deep sky objects you might want to upgrade to a more powerful finder, it's a 6 x 20 so it isn't much use for faint objects especially in your average suburb.

        With good optical quality and no glaring defects the Starmax is definitely worth a look, it isn't the absolute best scope I've used but neither is it the worst, it would be best suited to a planetary/Lunar observer looking for a quick set up that they can transport easily.

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        29.04.2012 23:14
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        Steer Well Clear.

        As I am always trying to get my nephew into astronomy, I was thrilled to hear he had been bought a 'small scope' recently for his birthday, that was, of course, before I had a chance to help him use it.
        But when the cost of the telescope is less than the average eyepiece, you know you're heading for disappointment.

        The idea is a good one, to produce a truly affordable scope that can be used by kids and beginners alike, but unfortunately it hasn't quite worked out for Celestron. First off, with an aperture of 76mm (just under 3") the scopes primary mirror is barely bigger than the single lens of a binocular, in fact, a £50 pair of binoculars would be a much sounder investment. Most binoculars will yield a similar magnification to the firstscope- which has a maximum useful magnification of around 60x owing to its 300mm focal length- but will have the significant benefit of allowing you to observe with both eyes.

        The optical quality of the firstcope is very poor, with a focal ratio of F3.95 there is alot of coma as well as significant field curvature, becoming particularly conspicuous and unpalatable when viewing the Lunar surface (and unless you live under incredibly dark skies you will be limited to viewing the moon and planets only).

        The focuser feels cheap and is unsteady and will simply not take heavy eyepieces or equipment (such as barlows or ccds). It's not even like you can make the case that 'well hey' at least it's portable, because it falls down even on this front. It's like someone took a cheap pair of binoculars, split them in half and attached a rocking chair to the remaining ocular.

        There really isn't anything to redeem this cumbersome little dob. Celestron's idea was a commendable one, but they failed in the execution and what you're left with is a 4 and a half lb paperweight. There are infinitely better telescopes available out there, and while you may have to pay another £100 on top of the firstscopes asking price to get one, the difference in quality will be pronounced and immediately obvious.

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        28.04.2012 20:28
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        A winner in the budget category

        I cut my astronomical teeth on Celestron's refractors and as such the company is synonymous with nostalgic fondness in my mind, however, that was a long time ago and the world of astronomy has moved on since then. Have Celestron managed to keep up with the curve with their low cost reflector, the Astromaster? Well, the answer is yes...and no.

        The Astromaster's strength undoubtedly lies in it's affordability and all of its attributes should be judged primarily against this criteria. Are there better optical performers out there? Yes! Are there sturdier and more solid mounts out there, without question! But few scopes manage to provide these things at such an alluringly low price.

        The optics are solid and perform competently whether you're viewing the lunar surface or taking in those wispy and ethereal 'faint fuzzies' comprised of distant galaxies and nebulae. At F5, the larger more diffuse galaxies stand out well and are beautifully framed in lower powers, as are the myriad open clusters that dot the northern hemisphere but with a focal length of 650mm the use of higher powers will be needed to discern fine detail on planetary discs.

        The scope is relatively light at around 24lbs and setup is quick and straightforward , it's always a relief lifting a tube this light when compared to my main 12" Dob which weighs almost as much as I do!

        The CG-3 mount is adequate but does suffer from vibration issues and is too wobbly to be considered excellent. It does serve its purpose though and when you're only parting with £150 it's hard to be overly critical.

        It even comes with an erecting eyepiece (though very cheap and plasticy) which means you can indulge in a little twitching (if you're that way inclined). The job of the erecting EP is to orient images the 'right' way up so when looking through the eyepiece, the object appears as it would through the naked eye rather than upside down or turned about.

        All in all a plucky scope that is ideal for the frugal Astronomer and beginner alike. It provides those on a budget with a basic (but functional) tool with which to view the heavens and as such must come highly recommended.

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        28.04.2012 15:57
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        A real piece of art

        It's not often that I pay much heed to looks in this world -lucky for my wife, haha just joking....we're not married- but with the Zenithstar you can't help but swoon at its beauty. Such a sleek, vivid blue body, William Optics usual high build quality shines through in abundance.

        Putting the aesthetics aside for a second, the real draw of this smoking little APO is its optical quality, made from Japanese low dispersion glass which is fully multi coated. What the Apochromatic lens does that sets it apart from the achromatic lens is to focus red, blue and green at precisely the same point, this means sharper, more contrasted images.

        The scope really took off on the moon, craters and rilles popped out in solid detail, and while the lunar view is worthy of a sonnet, the Z-star is well suited to both Solar system objects and deep sky stuff to, providing you can get to dark enough skies. at F6.8 with a focal length of 545mm you will need to employ high powered eyepieces to get the best out of planetary viewing.

        The focuser, also, is a thing of beauty. The tactile pleasure of running the smooth crayford effortlessly in and out until it snaps down hard on a crisp and true focus is wonderful. The focusing unit itself is fully rotatable through a perfect 360 degree circle, meaning you will no longer feel like you're playing a game of twister while grappling desperately for the knob. The general focusing action is supplemented with a 1:10 fine control, each complete rotation of the fine control is the equivalent of 1/10th of a revolution of the standard, it means you can get to a really precise focus, easily, which is especially useful if you plan on getting involved in some astrophotography.

        Visually, the Zenithstar is an excellent performer, yielding sharp, well defined images with excellent contrast, its compact and light weight (it's just over 6lbs) so travelling with the scope will not be a problem, and to top it all, it comes in a super stylish aluminium case so if you're of a mind you can pretend to be an international Hitman while carrying it about.

        A definite recommendation, superb style, excellent visual performance, light weight portability...it doesn't get much better than that.

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      • Meade ETX-90 / Telescope / 9 Readings / 9 Ratings
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        28.04.2012 14:55
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        A good scope for the novice or the impatient.

        Since advances in lens/mirror design have made the telescope available to the general populous, Astronomers have continually lusted after bigger and bigger scopes in a phenomenon known as aperture fever, in Astronomy, bigger is usually better. But that doesn't mean we should overlook the smaller offerings out there that sacrifice light gathering power for portability and ease of use.

        The ETX-90 from Meade is one such example, a short barrelled Maksutov-Cassegrain with an aperture of 3.5". With a focal length of 1250mm and a tube length about as long as your forearm it's very easy to transport to darker skies. A rather slow focal ratio of F13.8 means it will get most of its use on Solar system objects.

        Setup is a doddle to, no heavy tubes to stagger about with, you'll be ready to go in no more than 5 minutes. It must be said that the mount leaves a little to be desired, it's not the sturdiest, luckily it doesn't have to deal with alot of weight (the OTA weighs 9.2lbs).

        Perhaps the most notable feature of the ETX is the Autostar, the GOTO system with a database of some 30,000 objects. Using the handheld remote, plugged into the mount, you can automatically slew the telescope to track any one of those objects (although the small aperture plus the slow F ratio means most of the 30,000 will remain elusive except in the darkest, most pristine skies) . It only takes a few minutes to get it running, just align the mount to the North, level the tube and align the scope on two stars near the horizon and you're off.

        Now personally, I prefer learning my own way round the night sky, it's more satisfying and means you can afford to get a better scope as you're not paying for the gadgetry. Having said which, the technology is useful for the beginner and if you aren't the most patient person in the world it certainly cuts time between observing objects. There is also something quite cool about it (almost like your controlling a cannon).

        The ETX isn't the most amazing scope out there, once you strip away the technology what you're left with is a small scope on a lacklustre mount, but it is very portable and the optics are fair, as such I would recommend it to the beginner or those who travel alot.

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        03.04.2012 16:28
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        A great astronomical tool

        If you own an equatorial mount then chances are you will be familiar with the necessity of at least a rough polar alignment. Equatorial mounts allow telescopes mounted upon them to follow the motion of the stars across the sky, keeping objects inside the field of view with only a turn of a right ascension or declination nob. This is preferable for visual observation but becomes vital for effective imaging (especially when deep sky objects are concerned).

        This light weight polar scope fits snugly into an EQ3-2 (CG-4) mount. Before it can be used effectively though, the polar scope itself must be aligned to the mount. This is a simple process that can be done day or night and only takes about 5 minutes to do.

        The polar scope is similar to a low powered eyepiece when looked through, with one very important difference, etched onto the glass is a central X marking true north, a small circle in which to position Polaris as well as two other circles for two other bright stars and a diagram representing the orientation of Cassiopeia and the big dipper. When those three stars fit neatly into the etched circles you have polar alignment. It is important to remember though that the diagrams of the constellations are only there as a sign post as to the orientation of the constellations, you will not be able to align the scope so that the etchings fit over the constellations.

        The Skywatcher polar scope is indeed easy to use, amongst other examples it holds it's own and is definitely a great choice for £30. Aligning the polar scope takes only minutes and is achieved easily using the three metal thumbscrews on the mount. Setting the polar scope to the correct position within the mount is easy, simply match the numbers on the mount to the numbers printed on the large silver ring around the scope and that's all there is to it.

        If you've decided that a polar scope is necessary for you then there really is no need to look further than Skywatchers offering. In essence it does everything that 90% of other polar scopes do for the lowest cost.

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        18.03.2012 14:40
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        There are better eyepieces out there

        The Celestron Omni 6mm is a Plossl design. Traditionally, Plossl eyepieces contain 4 or 5 lenses, the Omni is typical in this regard containing 4 lenses. The lenses are arranged in a symmetrical fashion, 2 goups of 2 lenses closely spaced.

        The plossls main selling point is the low amount of glass used in their design. The fewest number of lenses (otherwise known as elements) used in an optical system the clearer and more pristine an image will be. It's a different story when talking about premium eyepieces but as the Omni costs only £30 the rule less is more holds true.

        On the down side, as a result of the positioning of the lenses, the field of view isn't enormous at 52 degrees. As the 6mm provides relatively high magnification (making it best suited for lunar and planetary observation) the field of view may seem frustratingly small especially on an undriven mount. At high magnifications objects such as the moon and planets appear to move rapidly through the eyepiece, this is caused by the Earth's rotation and can be the source of much frustration in smaller fields of view. A small field means more regular adjustment of the telescope to keep the object centred. This is not only annoying but can actually make it harder to pull out faint details as part of your brain is being held back by having to concentrate on keeping the image centred.

        The Omni has 5mm of eye relief which can become uncomfortable, this eyepiece is absolutely not recommended for spectacle wearers. The field stop is very tight and can make it feel like looking through a pin prick, this can cause eye strain and headaches making for an uncomfortable viewing session.

        Optically this eyepiece is reasonable for the price, contrast is fair, light scatter is minimal. Practically it's an absolute nightmare to use. Short eye relief and a small field stop conspire together to make for an unpleasant viewing experience. Though the optics are of a quality in keeping with the eyepieces price, its prohibitive physical traits make it one to avoid.

        For a similar price why not check out the Skywatcher range of Plossls, far superior to the Omni and far more comfortable to look through.

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      • Celestron NexImage / Telescope / 17 Readings / 14 Ratings
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        17.03.2012 16:24
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        With a little research there are much better and cheaper cameras to be found

        Everybody has to start somewhere in a new hobby and Celestron would like you to start with them and their entry level planetary imager the Neximage. Exclusively a lunar/planetary camera, the Neximage is marketed at the beginner interested in shooting objects within the solar system.

        First, the facts...The neximage uses a 3.6mm x 2.7mm CCD colour chip with 640x480 resolution, with a pixel size of 5.6 microns giving a sensitivity of <1 lux. It's USB 2 and is capable of a maximum of 30fps (although we'll look at that in a bit more detail later). It comes with a CD Rom that's got processing software and camera control software on it. A Pc with a 333mhz pentium 2 and 128mb of ram is required as a minimum to run the camera.

        On the surface all that sounds great to the budding astrophotographer until we look at the pricetag, £116. Celestron are hoping that their potential customers will be sufficiently unconfident and uncertain enough in starting their new hobby that they'll pay over the odds for a "comprehensive and complete start up package". A little unfair perhaps to place the blame squarely on Celestron, all of us (this writer included) have been guilty of paying for convenience and for someone else to do the work for us but in this instance, significantly better cameras with better (and free) softwares can be found with only a minimal effort.

        The software found on the CD rom is outdated and basic with better image processing tools as well as camera operating softwares being easily obtained on the net, they are widely distributed, absolutely free (and legal).

        The cameras claim to 30fps is slightly misleading, while technically the camera can produce 30 frames per second you can only effectively use 10 before data compression dramatically reduces image quality.

        These days there are so many simple webcams out there that outperform the neximage, using the logitech fusion webcam that I started out with as an example. The Fusion has a max resolution of 1280x960 and will capture 20 fps at 640x480 with a pixel size of 3.5 microns. The most amazing part is, all that cost me just over a quarter of what Celestron is asking for the Neximage, £30.

        I cannot recommend the Neximage for the simple reason that it is overpriced by about 400%, it is a highly standard camera with a hugely inflated pricetag that is targeted at the newcomer who might be attracted by a certain style of advertising.

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      • Opticron ES 80 GA SD/45 / Telescope / 16 Readings / 16 Ratings
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        17.03.2012 14:54
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        An excellent choice for under £400

        A device that's used in observation must score highly in at least three key areas to be considered truly useful. A portable, durable and optically clear fieldscope will soon become an indispensable tool for the twitcher, astronomer and nosey neighbour alike! I myself fall into the former two categories (but that's only because of the subpoena, prohibiting me from the third). No, Not really of course, but whatever your monoculous needs, the ES by Opticron is a great place to start.

        Setting itself apart from the competition, the ES manages to unite the big three together under a price tag that, whilst cannot be considered cheap, is certainly commensurate to it's quality. At just shy of £400 there's no denying the ES is a substantial outlay, but, with Opticrons triple lens design and their F-type multi coatings you can be sure it's a worthwhile one.

        Made from a combination of aluminium and a Lexan like polycarbonate the body of the ES is not only strong but lightweight to, at just under 1.5kg (1484g) the whole scope weighs about the same as a bag of sugar. A tactile rubber 'armour' covers the body and ensures the scope will remain undamaged in all but the most forceful of accidents and although I've never dropped mine, I feel reassured by its presence.

        At 390mm the scope is easily transported from A to B and when it's bantam weight is taken into consideration it makes an excellent scope for travelling with, fitting easily into any backpack or holdall.

        So the ES is portable, it's also durable, but the criteria of arch importance for a fieldscope is the clarity of its optics. While the ES does suffer from mild chromatic abberation (a faint purplish glow around the observed object) and at higher magnifications views become slightly less crisp, less well defined, when we consider the scope within the context of its price bracket it can still be considered a strong performer. With excellent colour rendition (once you get used to the CA) and a range of eyepieces to choose from you'd have to spend considerably more to find a better fieldscope.

        With a pleasingly responsive focusing knob, a portably sleek profile and an optical system that performs well within the arena of its price range, the ES 80 is an excellent choice for anyone who needs to cover long distances with their eyes.

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      • Celestron Advanced C6-N / Telescope / 17 Readings / 17 Ratings
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        20.12.2011 16:48
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        A fabulous reflector from Celestron

        Having made good use of Celestrons schmidt cassegrains over the years as well as their excellent refractors, I was intrigued and eager to try my astronomy clubs latest acquisition, the Celestron Advanced C6 N-GT. This is Celestrons answer to the small reflector and comes perched on a sturdy CG-5 mount.

        The sleek black body of the telescope makes for an aesthetic that is as stylish as the Cg-5 mount is solid, with Celestrons brand name printed horizontally next to the primary cell in orange.

        An attractive telescope is all well and good, but in this instance, looks must play second fiddle to functionality and the C6 certainly does function.

        With a mirror of 6 inches (5.91" to be exact) the C6 fills an important niche, its light enough to transport (54lbs) while being large enough to facilitate serious astronomical observation, of not only the solar system but well into the remote and distant cosmos. From a site slightly darker than your average suburb, even the beginner astronomer will have no difficulty in scooping up the large majority of the brighter DSO's (deep sky objects). Most of the messier catalogue is obtainable through the eyepiece of the C6, if you manage to get away from the ever present glare of the light polluted city. As has already been stated, this won't be a problem as the C6 is easily lifted and fits snuggly with the CG-5 into the smallest car boot.

        A focal length of 750mm coupled with a focal ratio of f5 means the C6 really excels on large faint objects such as M31 (the andromeda galaxy) or- if dark enough skies are found- M33 (the triangulum galaxy). Large, bright star clusters such as the double cluster in perseus are perfectly framed in low power eyepieces, appearing like little islands adrift in the vastness of space.

        With its low cost, light weight, light gathering capabilities the C6 makes an excellent scope for any observer, whatever their level of involvement in the hobby. Something that's worth baring in mind (especially for the newcomer or beginner) is that such a fast scope will be less forgiving of collimation error than its slower counterpart, at F5, collimation will pretty much have to be bang on. This is an important consideration especially amongst the more casual of astronomers who don't want to be constantly fiddling with collimation screws to get a half decent image.

        Celestron have hit the trivector here with this plucky little reflector, performance, price and portability converge into one scope making the C6 one to look out for. Parting with £700 is never easy but Celestron make it just that little bit easier with their high build quality, excellent optics and light weight tube.

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        17.12.2011 17:41
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        An excellent low cost eyepiece

        The plossl is the most widely distributed and available type of eyepiece available to the modern astronomer , it can be considered the work horse of the eyepiece world. With a myriad of focal lengths and a simple but effective design, its no wonder the humble plossl has come to dominate over such antiquated designs as the Ramsden and Huygenian.

        Skywatchers 20mm super plossl represents a benchmark in quality within the low cost category of eyepiece. Using the more traditional 4 lens design as Skywatcher have here, enables them to keep a minimum of glass between the observer and the object being observed, until you get into the premium eyepiece category and are willing to pay the correspondingly higher prices the less glass used in an optical system the better.

        To go on those lenses, Skywatcher use an excellent multi layered coating to get as much light through, in the most uninterrupted manner possible. The edges of said lenses are also blackened to improve contrast and avoid stray light, one can imagine the importance of contrast when observing the large diffused galaxies the 20mm plossl excels in displaying.

        Optically the 20mm performs brilliantly (considering its incredibly low £20 price tag). Of course there are slight coma issues (especially on my f5 Dob), but I've used eyepieces at 3 times the price which have demonstrated worse abberations.

        Around the lip of the eypiece is a comfortable fold up rubber cup, to keep out local light pollution, I prefer this design to the twist up plastic shield variety but that will come down to personal taste. A textured rubber safety ring encircles the waist of the eyepiece, which may sound inconsequential but becomes very important when handling the eyepiece with cold deadened fingers, anything which affords the observer extra grip has to be a good thing.

        Considering how expensive astronomy can be as a hobby its wonderful to find a bit of kit that performs so well while sporting a ridiculously low price tag, every astronomer should have a handful of Skywatcher's super plossls in their inventory.

        To summise, you quite literally won't find a cheaper eyepiece, let alone one that performs so well. Uniting three of the most important aspects of optical quality, practical comfort and affordability shows why Skywatcher are king of the low cost eyepiece.

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      • Televue x5 Powermate / Telescope / 9 Readings / 8 Ratings
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        17.12.2011 16:17
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        An excellent and well made tool

        For years Televue have been top of their game, producing amongst the highest quality astronomical goods from eyepieces to telescopes and everything in-between. When the head of your company is a dedicated astronomer himself as is the case with Al Nagler, you know that quality will be put ahead of profits and that every piece that's sold is the best it can be.

        Having said quality is put before profits, owning something made by Televue generally doesn't come cheap, but the point is that it's worth the price, several times over.

        The 5 x powermate from Televue should not just be considered a good quality barlow, far from being a clever piece of branding, the powermate monicker is indication of an entirely different beast altogether.

        Even the very best of barlows consists of negative lens elements (usually 2 or 3), which increases the exit pupil (the cone of light that makes it through the eyepiece into your eyeball). This can cause considerable vignetting (a darkening of the image towards the outer portions of the field of view) especially in longer focal lengthed eyepieces. The powermate, however, uses 4 elements which utilise 2 positively curved lenses, this bends the light back keeping the exit pupil where it should be, eliminating vignetting and false/inaccurate colour rendition.

        Using their trademark high quality lens coatings means maximum light transmission and almost no light loss despite the addition of 2 extra lenses. In fact, apart from the increase in magnification the powermate is barely noticeable at all, just the way it should be.

        As x 5 magnification is a significant increase in magnification it is true that the PM will only get used on the nights where the seeing allows and although this won't be every night, the sheer quality of the images observed will justify its rare useage.

        It is worth noting that the powermate is weighty (reassuringly so), its heavier than the barlows you might be used to using, this could cause problems for the cheaper focusers that are already struggling under a weighty imaging train, just something to bare in mind.

        At £150 the PM is not cheap but it is one of those rare items that fully justifies its seemingly exorbitant asking price, it provides a large increase in magnification to the visual observer and imager alike and it does it without introducing any discernible ghosts or gremlins Using a brass compression ring for eyepiece/camera attachment is a welcome feature, meaning there will be no unwanted scuffing of barrels.

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        16.12.2011 21:44
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        If you can't afford a heavy duty mount and/or are rubbish at DIY then Watch house are your best bet

        Owning a Dobsonian telescope has many benefits, chiefly, it allows the astronomer to get hold of the largest aperture for the lowest £££. In this hobby it has to be said that size does indeed matter. The main tube of the telescope sits on an incredibly simple and incredibly cheap mount and it's this cheap mount that is the making and breaking of the Dobsonian.

        The simple mount of a Dob does not allow accurate tracking of the night sky which is where the equatorial platform comes in. Placing your Dob (along with its mount) on this platform will allow you to track objects as you observe them. That is to say- as long as the platform is aligned to the north- objects will remain centered in your eyepiece rather than drifting accross the field of view, the more accurately the platform is aligned, the longer an object will remain centered.

        My experience of the watch house platform was initially marred when I received the package only to open it up and pour out the shattered contents onto the floor. Although highly distressing it did give me a chance to experience the excellent customer service demonstrated by watch house. They arranged for the package to be collected at their expense and promptly sent another one in its place, this time it arrived in perfect order. I must stress that the problem was caused by the delivery service and not at all by watch house. The package had been labelled 'Scientific instrument, please handle with care' and someone had clearly seen this as a challenge and gone to some considerable and persistent effort to dismantle this hated object.

        On receiving the second platform I ran into a problem of my own making which again was not due to watch house at all, in my mentioning it here, I hope to save any hassle for anyone considering the purchase. I had read on watch houses website that you need a sturdy, level place to operate the platform, being an idiot and far too hasty as I usually am I dismissed this warning, thinking my back lawn would be fine. Needless to say I was wrong, you really do need a level patio to run these things on. Since receiving my platform I have levelled a paving slab with a spirit level in the garden and now it tracks brilliantly.

        I still think £445 is an absurd amount to pay, especially when you see how basic it is. When I first received the platform, I was a bit surprised by how bare it looked, there are no bells and whistles and re-setting the 50min-1hr tracking run is done by hand. Watch house remain the only major platform retailers in the UK (I guess thats how they can get away with charging that amount).

        Although bare, and a little bit rough and ready looking, there's no denying that the platform performs well. If enough care and attention is paid to aligning the platform accurately then any object will remain centered in the eyepiece even at high powers for the duration of the tracking run.

        One of the most important applications of the platform is in astrophotography, it allows the Dobsonian owner to get involved in lunar/planetary imaging and I've even been able to get some reasonable results on some of the brighter messier objects such as m57 and m42.

        To summarise, Watch house as a company are reputable and employ great customer service. The platform (provided it has an appropriate area to operate from) runs smoothly and consistently and although I believe £445 is too much for what it is, the watch house remains the lowest cost solution to Dobsonian tracking for those who are rubbish at DIY.

        Anybody whose handy with a hammer would save themselves a bundle as platforms can be built for about a quarter of what Watch house is charging but as they have the monopoly in the UK they can charge pretty much what they like.

        ***It is important to note that every 100 hours or so the rubber grip on the roller will need replacing, but you can obtain the part easily from watch house themselves and it equates to about a tenner every 6 months or so.***

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