The first thing every amateur astronomer and lover of the sky wants is a telescope. It is no wonder. Telescopes are a powerful key to opening up the visible universe, and are king of backyard astronomy. But there is a queen reining the night skies too – binoculars.
The Advantages of Binoculars
Out Powers Telescopes
You would not actually think it, but binoculars do out power telescopes. The only reason we do not realize this immediately is that binoculars are not made as big as telescopes. This would be a highly impractical design at best.
Think about if binoculars were as big as telescopes though. One of the most important components to any optical instrument is its light gathering capacity, and this depends largely on the aperture (size of the main optic or opening) of the device.
Set a telescope of 50mm aperture up against 50mm binoculars, and watch the binoculars steal the view every time! How could this be? The binoculars gather more light than the telescope of the same aperture because the binoculars are essentially two tiny telescopes in one. This means the double the light gathering capacity, and double the clarity of the view.
There is an extra element to this. Binoculars generally have lower magnifications than small telescopes, which a good thing when added to the binoculars’ increased capacity for light. Higher magnifying power means that light has to be spread over a larger area, causing a loss of contrast and detail of the image.
Know the Stars in No Time
Have you ever thought of the sheer immensity of the heavens? The sky is big, but you will not understand just how vast it is until you start familiarizing yourself with the stars.
Our eyes have an amazing field of view unparalleled by that of any optical instrument. In other words, we get to see “the bigger picture” with our unaided eyes. This is handy when you are learning to identify large patterns like constellations. Learning these patterns then makes it easier to learn the stars and other deep sky objects in and around the constellation.
What our eyes are not great at is magnifying objects. They simply were not designed for that. This is not very useful when you want to explore dim and distant galaxies and nebulae. A telescope is useful for that; but its window to the sky is small and makes it difficult for a beginner to orient him or herself.
Binoculars are the perfect in between. Yes, the field of view is smaller than that of your eyes, but with two primary optics and lower magnification than telescopes, it becomes easier to find objects and move across the sky seamlessly.
What’s more; you get to learn how everything fits together – vital if you want to be able to navigate from one part of the sky to another in no time.
Easy As Pie … In The Sky
The greatest benefit hands down of using binoculars is that they are simple instruments. GO-TO telescopes that come with a motorized Equatorial mount can be tricky to use at first. For one, they need to be Polar aligned to be able to track the sky properly. Knowing how to use a telescope is an important skill to have and it pays off; but it does take patience and practise – and that takes time.
Binoculars are usually lightweight and quiet comfortable to hold. There is virtually no set up required unless you have a very heavy pair of binoculars that must be mounted to a tripod. All you do is aim them at the sky and adjust your image by turning one or two screws. Nothing to it.
Astronomy can turn into a frightfully pricey hobby with all the coveted gadgets you can add to your collection. While there are accessories for binoculars too, they are generally not as pricey as telescope accessories. Some binoculars on the market can be wildly expensive, but this extravagance is far from necessary when choosing the best binoculars for astronomy. Indeed, the mid-range binoculars used for bird watching are also ideal for stargazing, and all without having to break the bank.
Buying Binoculars: What to Look For
Here are the specs you should consider when look for the best astronomy binoculars.
The weight and design of binoculars is a priority in owning a pair that you will love and continue to use. Choose ones that are comfortable to hold! Of course, there is nothing wrong with opting for huge binoculars as long as you know you will have to purchase a tripod for them too. You will easily become fatigued and uncomfortable holding larger sets. Big binoculars are also hard to stabilize in your hands, so your images will not be very steady. A set of lightweight binoculars that you can hold for longer will likely get far more use than a bulky pair.
The other size factor is the aperture. Aperture is indicated together with magnification on binoculars, and is measured in millimetres. It is the size of the primary lenses. Simply put, the bigger the better, as the binoculars will gather more light. The lowest aperture you can choose and till be able to enjoy your binoculars is 35mm.
Magnification is indicated on binoculars together with aperture. Common examples are 7 x 35; 10 x 50; and 8 x 40. Magnification tells you how much bigger the binoculars can zoom an image. But a huge number is not everything. The trade off to high magnification is a loss of light and detail – but not always. Some celestial objects, like the Moon, hold up well under high magnifications.
A good pair of starter binoculars can be 7x power and higher. Really high power binoculars – 15x and upward – need to be mounted on a tripod to be used effectively. This is because any unsteadiness of handling the binoculars by hand will also be magnified and this will spoil your views.
Also consider that magnification affects your binoculars’ field of view.
Field of View
Field of view is the measurement of the window frame of your view.
The field of view is written in angular degrees and tells you the width of sky the binoculars can ‘see’ all at once. A narrow field of view comes at higher magnifications and shows you less of the sky at once. A wide field of view comes with lower magnifications and shows you a bigger window of sky.
Wider fields of view are preferable, and are one of the advantages of binoculars over telescopes.
A normal binocular field of view can be 5 – 8 degrees, but there are extremes on either side.
Aberrations are a defect you do not want. This is when light does not converge into a single point because of the lenses being misaligned. If you are able to test binoculars before purchasing them, do. You can aim at any distant object like a tree or a skyscraper to make sure that the views are sharply in focus.
Exit Pupil and Eye Relief
If you hold your binoculars at arm’s length with the eyepieces toward you, you will notice a round point of light in each. These are the exit pupils, also measured in millimetres. Generally, you want the exit pupils to be small. Divide aperture by magnification to determine the size of the exit pupils.
Eye relief is the space between your eyes and the binoculars’ eyepieces, measured in millimetres. Eye relief describes the distance you can move your eyes away from the eyepieces and still maintain a full field of view.
A long eye relief (a minimum of 14mm) is important if you wear glasses, as obviously you do not want the eyepieces directly on your spectacles. The right eye relief also adds an extra level of comfort to using binoculars.
The quality of your lenses largely depends on their coating. You should preferably go for fully multi coated lenses which do not obscure or diminish the clarity of your images. Fully coated or multi coated lenses (but not fully multi coated) can also be worthwhile to consider with an otherwise good pair of binoculars.
Best Binoculars for Astronomy: Reviews
These top five picks will make it easy to buy a pair of brilliant binoculars in no time.
Gosky 10×42 Binoculars
The Gosky 10x42s are a perfect and affordable option for novice stargazers. Though the price range of these binoculars may lead you to think they are a lower-end make, nothing could be further from the truth. The optics are fully multi coated; providing crisp and detailed views.
They are a good choice all-round, and the durable rubber exterior ensures the binoculars are safe to use in any weather conditions and that they are shock absorbent.
A wonderful added feature is that these Gosky binoculars are compatible with phone mounts, making them ideal for basic, amateur astrophotography with your smart phone – wonderful if you have not yet built up to purchasing a DSLR for astrophotography.
At 1.54 pounds, they are compact and lightweight enough for comfortable use over extended periods of time.
Orion 09466 Mini Giant 15×63 Astronomy Binoculars
Only a classic name such as Orion could offer up a product like mini giant binoculars. The 63mm aperture is slightly larger than normal handheld binoculars and are most effective mounted to a tripod. However, they are much lighter and compact than other binoculars with similar specs and so you can use them handheld for shorter viewing sessions.
Expect a bright and lovely view from reliable, fully multi coated optics. Orion have also added an excellent design feature to the interior of the barrels: they are glare threaded to reduce ghosting and increase the appearance of contrast.
The binoculars have a long 19mm eye relief and 4.2mm exit pupil, so a good pick if you wear glasses.
The one down side to an otherwise superior pair of binoculars is the narrow 3.7 degree apparent field of view.
Celestron 71198 Cometron 7×50 Binoculars
Are you a beginner astronomy enthusiast in need of a pair of binoculars? Look no further than the Cometron 7×50 binoculars. The magnification may not seem like a lot to work with, but the lower power actually comes with a few benefits of its own.
For one, the views on a good night of seeing are quite steady. They are light binoculars – perfect for holding even for longer periods of time – and 7x means less magnifying of the shakiness that comes with binoculars which are not mounted on tripods.
Remember that low magnifications also mean a lovely wide field of view. Low magnifications and wide field of view is the ideal combination for studying comets and open star clusters, and even just for scanning the Milky Way.
The best part about selecting the Cometron is that it is exceptionally affordable and from such a trusted, quality name.
Gosky Titan 20×80 Astronomy Binoculars
These high power Gosky astronomy binoculars are big! They are definitely not a handheld pair of binoculars, weighing in at 8 pounds.
Thankfully, they are quite affordable for all the light gathering power packed into them. The 80mm aperture turns an ordinary binocular view into a breath taking sight: magically detailed views of deep sky objects that would otherwise be too dim for smaller binoculars.
The optics are great quality, fully multi coated lenses with a 4mm exit pupil and 15.4mm eye relief.
They are easy to use braced to a tripod adaptor, and with an additional smart phone mount you can capture the heavens without any effort.
Sky Genius 10×50 Binoculars
Sky Genius 10x50s are a choice pair of entry level astronomy binoculars.
The optics are multi layered coated lenses, and the exterior offers a firm grip and shock resistance. The magnifying power is all you need for stunning views of the best binocular targets, and at 5.5 degrees you are also getting a good field of view.
They are light and comfortable to hold and use for full observing sessions. Inexpensive binoculars which are great value for money.
The many celestial gems you can explore with binoculars are endless. Years of looking heavenward will reveal to you a certain wisdom; there are always new treasures to see in the sky. Binoculars just make them easier to find.
- The Advantages of Binoculars
- Buying Binoculars: What to Look For
- Best Binoculars for Astronomy: Reviews