Yes, Astronomy Binoculars Not Telescopes.
Astronomy is a hobby that requires a good amount of patience, finesse and appreciation for things much larger than one’s self. Sometimes it is romanticized, and people want to jump in and see the mysteries of the universe for themselves. They see pictures from NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope and think that that is what backyard astronomy is.
Unfortunately, these misconceptions can lead to a large amount of frustration and confusion for someone who is just beginning. Telescopes can be expensive making the startup cost more than some people are comfortable with. It is a shame to have someone get so excited about a new hobby only to run into a wall and get foiled by the complexity.
In this regard, too many people run straight to second and skip first completely. A beginner telescope sounds like a logical place to start but if astronomy is absolutely one hundred percent a new pursuit there is one stop that can be very illuminating for people and that is binoculars and their use in astronomy.
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Baby Steps with Binoculars
Unsurprisingly, binoculars and telescopes are fairly similar. They are both devices made to magnify distant objects. While binoculars are made primarily to spot distant things over land or sea here on Earth, they can also be used to look at the sky. This makes them a perfect first step in the world of astronomy before telescopes.
At its very basic core, stargazing simply requires a viewer to point a magnifying device at the sky to get a better view than natural eyesight. In this case, binoculars and telescopes can serve the same function. While binoculars are not designed to peer into space like telescopes are, they are still very useful in this regard.
Any pair of binoculars can be used to look at the stars with vary degrees of detail and success. Either way, they will be able to show anyone the very basic concepts of stargazing with a device before jumping in and getting a telescope.
The Very Basics of Stargazing
Two of the biggest misconceptions about astronomy are the quality and kinds of images people see and the ease of finding and getting a good view of an object in space. To beginners and laypeople, the view imagined of cosmic views is usually much worse than the view gleaned, even if the latter has the benefit of being real. People also do not realize how difficult lining up a 60mm aperture with an object millions of miles away can be sometimes.
The very basics of stargazing come down to a few key things that can be tried out with the naked eye and then a pair of binoculars. The first is learning to see and read the night sky. Memorizing where objects are, what is visible to the naked eye, what isn’t and how the sky moves during the night and throughout a year are the first steps to truly enjoying stargazing as a hobby.
What to Look At?
After learning the layout of the night sky, figuring out what is worth looking at is the next step and finding out the best way to view it. Where is it? How bright is it? Can I see it at dusk or dawn?
Once this is determined then viewing can begin. People can do this with the naked eye such as spotting Venus rise with the moon in the morning or watching Orion’s Belt in the sky. Adding a pair of binoculars will give the user a feel for what a typical night of stargazing might look like.
People do not realize they do this all the time at night. A pair of binoculars makes the act intentional and brings stargazing more sharply into focus as an activity. Then a decision can be made to whether it is enjoyable.
If waiting for the right time of night, right darkness conditions or trying to focus on a single point that refuses to sharpen does not sound fun or ends up becoming tedious then stargazing can safely be ruled out without spending any money and heartbreak on it.
Proof of Concept
The easiest object to spy at with binoculars is the moon. It is easy to find and easy to get a good view of and can be a fun use of binoculars that are just left lying around the house. After the moon, finding other viewable objects like Jupiter, Saturn or the Pleiades star cluster can be a good test of locating objects in the night sky and getting a fix on them.
This is a great way to test out how to back yard astronomy works and can highlight the proof of concept for larger more complicated devices. If this is engaging and keeps your attention during nightly sessions with the unaided eye and binoculars, then astronomy might be a good hobby.
So why not jump straight to a telescope?
First off, binoculars are a lot cheaper than telescopes. A solid pair of binoculars will be about half the price of a budget telescope and far cheaper than more expensive telescopes. This prevents a large investment into something that might not be a long-term hobby.
Binoculars are also simpler than telescopes. They just require pointing and focusing. There are not complex pieces, parts, assembly or accessories to wrangle with at the beginning. It is a very simple way to try out astronomy without getting lost in the details.
Easy to Carry
They are also portable and serve a dual purpose. If stargazing does not work out, then binoculars can be used for a variety of other hobbies such as bird watching and boating. This makes the moderate cost of a pair of binoculars worth it and makes it more likely that they will be used if stargazing peters out. Unlike a telescope which serves no other purpose and could take up room and money if neglected.
If binoculars sound like the right avenue into stargazing, follow along to get all the knowledge needed to get a great start. Here is the breakdown of how binoculars work, the benefits and a dive into the best binoculars for astronomy.
While similar to telescopes, they are still very different objects when it comes to how they function. Binoculars, naturally, have two objective lenses to a telescope’s one. Binoculars also use prisms to create their magnification while telescopes generally do not.
The basic physics behind both telescopes and binoculars revolves around the refractive properties of light. When light is bent in certain ways, it creates the magnification effect that people desire. The best way to achieve this is by elongating light as it travels.
When light travels, undisturbed, and hits a person’s eyes straight on then the image appears normal and unaided. However, when the light gets bent it distorts and makes images appear different than before. Sometimes these distortions make the images worse in quality but when light is refracted through certain pieces of curved glass the image gets larger and clearer.
The way a telescope does it is by shooting light through two lenses down a long barrel. Binoculars do not have the luxury of supporting a large optical tube because they need to be portable and generally easy to carry. To compensate for this, binoculars use a different method of magnification in the form of prisms.
How do Binoculars Work?
When light enters the objective lenses on binoculars they would normally instantly pass through to the eyepiece with little or no change to the image. Inside of binoculars, there are a pair of prisms that catch the incoming light and bounce it around so that it elongates the light path. This is what causes the magnification effect.
The prisms send the light around in a long-predetermined path ending at the focal point where the eyepieces then translate the light into a picture that our eyes can see clearly. It is a little-known fact that prisms are used inside of binoculars. This is because our other common magnification gadgets such as glasses, magnifying glasses and telescopes just used curved glass without prisms.
Telescopes use double lenses or highly reflective mirrors to create the desired magnification. Binoculars are the only thing that uses prisms in their design.
The use of prisms makes binoculars unique and is also why they can get such crisp magnification in a compact design. Think about a magnifying glass or pair of corrective glasses, neither have the power that comes packed into a good pair of binoculars.
Two Kinds of Prism
It gets even more detailed because two kinds of prisms can be used in the binocular design. There is the original Porro prism and the newer roof prism. Both are still widely used today but are slightly different from one another.
The Porro prism is the original prism used in the binocular design. It is a simple pair of triangular prisms situated within the binoculars. It creates a unique light path that is reflected in the binoculars that use Porro prisms inside of them.
A pair of binoculars with Porro prisms has a wishbone shape to it. It bumps out to the sides behind the objective lens. This shows the path that the light takes from entering the binoculars and the way the Porro prisms must reflect light to the eyepieces.
This is the older more classic look for a pair of binoculars. The newer roof prism designs are sleeker and completely straight instead of having the distinct U shape of the recognizable Porro prism design.
The roof prism is newer, more compact and more complex. It got its name for appearing like a complicated roof system compared to the relatively simple triangular design of the Porro prisms. While the housing of a pair of binoculars using roof prisms looks simpler, inside the prisms are much more intricate.
A pair of binoculars using roof prisms are more compact, sleeker and do not have the shape of binoculars using Porro prisms. Their optical tubes are straight and make it appear that the light travels directly through the tube to the eyepieces like a telescope, but this is not the case.
For the prisms to work their magic within the binoculars, they must be fed light. This is the job of the objective lens and the eyepiece. The objective lenses are the larger lenses that are pointed at the object being viewed while the eyepieces are the smaller lenses that are looked through closest to the eyes. Pretty simple.
The large objective lenses capture the light and transfer it to the prisms. The bigger the objective lenses the more light can be captured and the better an image can be produced in the eyepieces.
After the prisms are done bouncing and stretching the light out, they focus the light on a single point called the focal point. The focal point is what the eyepieces tune into and create a viewable image for our eyes.
The function of any pair of binoculars is going to be determined by all these parts working together. Imagine the light traveling through the binoculars as they are being used. Light in through the objective lenses at the front, it travels through the body of the binoculars getting bounced around before showing up larger in the eyepieces.
When looking for a good pair of binoculars, all this information is going to show up in the specs. It will be easier to make a strong informed decision about the best pair of binoculars if all the technical numbers and terms are understood and will reduce a lot of confusion.
May I Take Your Coat?
Well not that kind of coat, but most binoculars do have a special kind of coating on their lenses. If you have ever seen a picture or actual pair of binoculars and the lenses look red or another color or appear tinted, this is the coating that is applied to increase the quality of the binocular images.
As we all know, glass is reflective and refractive meaning that in many cases when light hits it, it either bounces off or scatters. While this can be harnessed to magnify things, if it is done randomly then it can damage the final image quality.
This can be accounted for and corrected by applying a coating to the lenses that reduce reflectivity and work to focus the light more efficiently. The more light that gets through the binoculars unimpeded the better the quality for the user. Any light that is reflected off the lens is light lost for the user.
Unsurprisingly, there are many kinds of coatings for lenses with varying degrees of quality and complexity. The coating type is usually denoted by a symbol on the binoculars, in the binocular name or the manual. Here are the main kinds of coatings that any pair of binoculars might have with the common symbol denoted in italics.
What the Symbols Mean
Coated (C): this simply means one surface, usually the outer objective lens, has been coated with an anti-reflective substance of some kind
Fully coated (FC): all glass on the binoculars are coated with one kind of substance
Multi-coated (MC): this means one or more glass surfaces on the binoculars are coated with multiple layers as opposed to the standard single layer
Fully multi-coated (FMC): all glass surfaces on the binoculars are coated with multiple layers of anti-reflective substances
Naturally, the more coatings and the more surfaces that are coated the more expensive the binoculars are going to be. Generally, for astronomy, binocular use will primarily be in low light environments which means that the need for fully coated pairs is not as important as other uses.
Binoculars used for spotting during the day where there is a lot of ambient and bright light will benefit more from coating than binoculars that are going to be used solely for astronomy. There simply is not very much light at night to get reflected out of the binoculars to being with so the benefit of getting a fully coated pair is not as great as other uses for binoculars.
However, if offered, it is always better to get as much coating as possible. They add longevity and clarity to the lenses which are the most important part of any viewing device.
Bringing It Into Focus
One of the most common scenes in popular culture of binoculars is of someone looking through them intensely and frantically moving them up and down to try and focus them. Focusing binoculars is a key part and a critical component of using them effectively. Unlike fixed lenses, binoculars can be focused and if done correctly can produce extremely sharp images from a great distance.
What’s the Best focuser?
The most common focusing system used in binoculars today is the center focus system. This is the one that has a dial or knob in between the lenses that can be adjusted during use.
There is a wheel, which the technical term for is a diopter, that when spun adjusts both lenses of the binoculars simultaneously. This makes for an easy viewing experience and is very user-friendly.
This is opposed to individual focus systems which require the user to tune each lens individually. This can get tedious, especially when looking at many different objects that require the viewer to refocus frequently. For this reason, the majority of modern binoculars are the center focus.
Everyone’s eyes are different, and everyone has different vision quirks. This means that binoculars will not focus the same for each user. Focusing is usually a process that takes some time to get used to.
Luckily, on a center focus device, this process is very simple. Simply point at an object and adjust the center knob until the object comes into sharp focus. This can be done repeatedly until the technique is mastered but it will differ depending on the user’s vision.
Some people have astigmatism or other unique vision abnormalities. Some pairs of center focus binoculars will come with a second set of focusing rings, one for each lens so that a user can set the focus differential between the lenses to compensate for focus differences between a user’s two eyes. Usually, this is not necessary, but it is a cool feature to look out for on some binoculars.
What Are Those Numbers Then?
Most binoculars will feature a set of numbers on them somewhere that are large and obvious looking. They appear such as 10×65 or 7×30. Is this something to do with focusing them? Or are they something else?
These numbers make it so customers and users can quickly glance at the binoculars and learn some important information about them without having to look it up. They denote the binocular magnification and objective lens size. So 10×65 would mean a magnification level of ten and a diameter of each lens, 65mm. Generally, in telescopes and binoculars, all objective lenses and apertures are measured in millimeters.
Remember, the bigger the light gathering aperture the higher the possible magnification level. This means that higher magnifications will appear alongside larger objective lens numbers.
Once these numbers become familiar it is easy to glance at the name of a pair of binoculars and instantly know what kind of size and power they are offering. This can save time when searching for a new pair because instead of scrolling through the specifications a single glance can tell you a lot.
Binocular Use and Upkeep
Binoculars are very popular in outdoor activities of all kinds because they are easy to use and upkeep. They require no training, little maintenance and do not have any complicated parts or pieces. Once focusing has been mastered then binoculars are ready to be used anywhere, including for astronomy.
Binoculars are very much just point and focus. Whether it is birds during bird watching or Jupiter, the concept is the same. Once the focusing is in the right range, the binoculars just need to be held steady.
How to Hold Binoculars?
When holding the binoculars, try not to grip them too hard as a hard grip will translate small movements in the arms to the binoculars. A relaxed grip and relaxed arm posture will result in smoother use during a viewing. Try not to lock the fingers or arms during use, keep them bent and flexible.
Remove the Shake
Binoculars are prone to shaking and being jolted by involuntary movements by the user due to their handheld design. This can be remedied by using a tripod.
Tripods can be useful for long viewing sessions while observing a specific object or area for a long period. This will cut down on physical fatigue from holding binoculars aloft for a long period. Binoculars are not commonly used with tripods, but they can be very useful for binocular astronomy.
Binoculars do not naturally come with a screw-in mount made for tripods like cameras do so they are made compatible with an adapter. The adapter screws into the tripod and allows the user to rest the binoculars onto the tripod and adjust it to their needs.
This is such a common use for tripod use with binoculars that Celestron, a major manufacturer of astronomy devices, have made a universal binocular tripod adapter. For less than twenty dollars this can make pairs of binoculars able to be set on tripods for easier sky viewing.
This gives the user all the benefits of the tripod that cameras and telescopes use combined with the comfort and simplicity of the binoculars. Some people’s experiences could be hampered by the strain of constantly holding them up to their eyes but this way both ways can be experienced. It is much harder to hold a telescope up to the eye than it is to put a pair of binoculars on a tripod.
Binoculars and Glasses Do they Mix?
What if I wear glasses? Can I still use the binoculars and the tripod and all of that? Absolutely! I wear glasses and use binoculars in general but also for astronomy.
Binoculars are not placed directly up to the eyes but rather are held out in front of the eyes. This means you can hold the binoculars out in front of your glasses and still use them properly. Since glasses bring people’s vision to a natural state of viewing, they do not affect binocular use.
Some attachments can be bought that more fully encompass a person’s glasses if they find using the binoculars awkward with glasses on. Remember, the image that needs to be viewed is being projected into the eyepieces.
After the binoculars have been used, they might get dirty. The outdoors can have that effect on things from time to time. Luckily, cleaning binoculars is also a very easy task.
Obvious dirt and grime can be removed from the non-glass surfaces with any sort of rag or wipe just like anything else. The lenses can be gently wiped off with microfiber lens cloths to keep them fresh. Anything on the lens that can disrupt the path of light going into the binoculars can affect the end image.
Many people suggest using an air gun, like the ones used on cameras or computers, to clean off any dust or dirt from the glass surfaces of binoculars. The less the glass is touched the better for the longevity of the binoculars. Touching the glass raises the chance of scratching, gouging and smudging the surface which can permanently affect the quality of the binoculars or the protective coating on the lenses.
Now, after going over how binoculars work, the types of binoculars, the best way to use them and maintain them we are ready to dive into which binoculars are best for astronomy.
Best All-Around Astronomy Binoculars:
Orion Scenix 7×50
Our thoughts on the Orion Scenix 7×50 Binoculars
The best binoculars to grab right away and go straight to back yard stargazing is the Orion Scenix 7×50 binoculars. It comes in at a reasonable price and has a lot of valuable features usually found in much more expensive binoculars. They are very light, easy to use and come recommended for stargazing.
As the name suggests the Orion Scenix 7×50 has a magnification level of 7x with a 50mm objective lens. This comes in in the middle of the road in terms of size and magnification which is great for the quality of material and image these binoculars will produce.
The Orion Scenix 7×50 has a Porro prism design which gives a great clear image every time. This is because they upgraded the prism glass to a high-grade BAK-4 optical glass. This is usually found in many higher-end optical devices but comes standard in the Orion Scenix 7×50.
This pair comes in weighing a reasonable 28oz which won’t cause strain while taking them with you wherever that may be. This is surprising considering the Orion Scenix 7×50 comes with a metal body that houses the binoculars rather than the much more common plastic casing.
This makes them extra rugged and durable and not to mention they look sharp as well. This is a unique feature that sets it apart from other similar pairs that come with a rubber or plastic housing which scratches and dents easier than metal.
The high-quality materials can also be seen in the center focus knob. It is an extremely comfortable textured knob that is smooth as butter to turn and is large enough to be easily accessible no matter how you hold the binoculars. It makes focusing a breeze with smooth comfortable ease.
Also, the Orion Scenix 7×50 comes with the standard carrying case, comfortable neck strap, and lens covers. Scenix makes a tripod adapter specifically for stargazing use with this model for extended viewing sessions.
When it comes to binoculars the Orion Scenix 7×50 is an extremely solid design. It is functional, light, easy to use and comes in at a great price for everything that comes with it. For anyone who wants to pick up a pair today with no hassle and is ready to go right away this is the pair to get. They will give great quality during stargazing sessions, especially with a tripod, or daytime viewing. The only downside is that this pair is not very specialized in case you are looking for a more specific set of uses for your binoculars. But for a standard binocular experience for nighttime viewing, this pair is excellent.Check Latest Price
Best Binoculars Specifically for Astronomy:
Orion Giant View Astronomy Binoculars
Our thoughts on the Orion Giant View Astronomy Binoculars
The Orion Giant Viewing Binoculars are specifically made for astronomy. They have much larger objective lenses than standard binoculars and come with special lens coatings for nighttime viewing. If you want to dive in with two feet straight into binoculars and binocular astronomy, then this is the pair for you.
This is a family of so-called giant binoculars. The name is right, these things are huge. They come in a few different magnification levels, but they are all much larger than a standard pair of binoculars.
The pair I reviewed was the 25×100 level which has a whopping 25x magnification and 100mm lenses. Compared to other binoculars on this list, that comes in around double the size and triple the magnification. These things are no joke.
The high magnification level will bring stellar objects into much greater focus and detail than smaller pairs of binoculars. The giant objective lenses give this pair a fantastic light gathering capability which will allow the user to see nearby celestial objects extremely well.
The downside to the Orion Giant Viewing Binoculars is that they blur the lines between telescope and binoculars. They are extremely heavy coming in at an unwieldy ten pounds. The manufacturer always suggests using a tripod for stability and ease of use due to the size and weight of this pair. The tripod is sold separately, unfortunately.
They also come in at the higher end of the price point. I can’t blame them since the prisms and lenses on this pair are much larger than its peers but for the same price, a high-quality telescope or extremely high-end pair of normal-sized binoculars could be purchased.
These are high-quality binoculars and come with decent online reviews from people who enjoy using them to see the moon and other stellar objects but for the same price and the limitations, another stargazing device could be purchased that can do more. These could be great for someone who really prefers binoculars to telescopes or are going for a certain aesthetic but overall there are better options at this price.
This is a great example of binoculars pushed to their absolute limit and they can see far more in the sky than the other binoculars on this list, but it just isn’t worth it due to the unwieldy nature of the design.Check Latest Price
Best Astronomy Binoculars for Families:
Gosky Parent-Child Binocular Kit
Our thoughts on the Gosky Parent-Child Binocular Kit
Many times, stargazing and other outdoor activities are family activities. So many people have memories of spending quality family time outside. Whether it’s camping or stargazing in the backyard a lot of these activities are better as a family. Especially when you are showing the wonders of the universe to your child.
That is why it caught my eye and warmed my heart to see Gosky make a parent-child binocular kit. For the reasonable price that usually only nets one pair of binoculars, you get a solid pair for the adult and a cute pair for the kids.
These binoculars by Gosky are not toys either. The larger of the two is an impressive 10×42 set up that is both powerful and light. The complementary pair for kids is no slouch either. That pair comes in at 6×21.
The kid’s pair is a bright green color that is very fun. They are not cheaply made but are a high-quality pair of actual binoculars.
The 10×42 model comes in a compact roof prism design and is fully multi-coated. These are features that come standard on much more expensive binoculars but come in at a great price on this pair. The 6×21 children’s pair is a sturdy plastic design that folds up and is perfect for the little ones to take with them on their adventures outside.
This makes this kit perfect for any parents who want to teach their kids how to use binoculars. Especially in the field of stargazing this is a perfect way to get the family into this great hobby. It can be a perfect stepping stone into a great activity that can be done as a family for years to come.
If anyone is thinking about getting a single pair of binoculars for themselves and has children, then really this purchase should be a no brainer. For the price of a single pair of all-around great standard binoculars, this also comes with a whole other pair for kids. It is a buy one get one deal.
Sharing the views of the solar system with someone else is truly a magnificent experience and there is no better way than to kick off a new family tradition of backyard astronomy than with this kit for a great price. It might even segue into a telescope for you and your kids.Check Latest Price
Best High-End Pair of Astronomy Binoculars:
Pentax SP 10×50 WP
Our thoughts on the Pentax SP 10×50 WP
For an upgrade that costs double the money a truly great pair of binoculars can be had. The Pentax SP 10×50 WP is a beautiful pair that is the gold standard. Most people can get away with a little lower-end binocular setup but if the high end is where you want to be then the Pentax SP 10×50 WP is what you seek.
They have a sleek modern look that appears more like a straight roof prism design but features extremely high-quality Porro prisms for the absolute best quality images. Pound for pound these Porro prisms will outperform their roof prism cousins any day.
They come with the highest-end multi-layer coatings on all glass surfaces for premium viewing. In addition to the standard anti-reflective coatings that are featured on these binoculars, they also come with special coatings that repel dust and dirt to keep the lenses free of any hindering grime during use.
They are dustproof, reflection proof, dirt proof and they are also waterproof. The Pentax SP 10×50 WP can be taken up to a meter underwater. While you won’t be viewing the stars from underwater it is still cool to think they are designed with this in mind.
This also is helpful for inclement weather. In case you get stuck outside in a pop-up storm these binoculars can take any weather. This is possible because the insides of the Pentax SP 10×50 WP are airtight and filled with nitrogen to keep any contaminants out.
This way, you won’t have to worry about your investment degrading over time. This type of design will keep these binoculars in much better shape over time than its competitors.
At just over two pounds these are light, versatile and come with the highest quality upgrades that binoculars can get. While they are pricey, the absolute overall quality is worth it if that is what you are looking for.
The other binoculars on this list are all of the high-quality design but many people could get away with any of those for cheaper and still get a great experience. This pair is for those who seek the absolute best and the Pentax SP 10×50 WP delivers.Check Latest Price
Binoculars are a nifty piece of technology that fills the gap between the naked eye and powerful, expensive telescopes. They are versatile being used for everything from military operations, boating, hunting, and stargazing. The investment in a good pair of binoculars can give someone a lot of benefits as a tool or a lot of fun as a recreational device.
Most importantly, they are great for backyard astronomy. For anyone who has ever just enjoyed sitting out at night and looking up at the stars, this is an easy and cheap next step into the wider galaxy. Any of these choices would be great for that and once the sky starts getting magnified there is no turning back.
A universe is a massive place and everything out there is weird, far away or both. Astronomy can be a difficult hobby to get into due to the patience, precision and underlying physics that go into it. Telescopes are expensive and while the idea of seeing the rings of Saturn every night sounds romantic sometimes it can be more tedious than that.
People get roped into an idea and end up being disappointed. That is what we are trying to avoid. Binocular astronomy can be that perfect bridgehead to avoid that. It allows people to get a feel for seeing the sky, navigating it with a magnifying device and seeing its wonders without the massive investment and learning curve that comes with telescopes and other devices.
Do not sleep on binocular astronomy it can be a very fun and useful activity in the wider world of astronomy.