Updated Review of the Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas (Desk Edition): Wire Binding Failure

     I had initially thought of just updating my February 26th, 2015 post on the Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas, but then I decided no, I need to actually include this as a separate entry.  When this atlas hit, much like anything new in this hobby, it was met with glee and hysteria that I believe blinded a constructive and balance review of the atlas.  You can read my initial review here from my blog back in February.  Since then I have taken the atlas with me on each observing trip and used it and am actually impressed with it. I was impressed enough to loan one of my two copies to my friend Jeff for him to check it out and that left me using the copy of the Desk Edition I had purchased for use in my office in the field. I used this copy twice in the field with no problem, and then noticed when I went to get it to use it in this review, that the wire binding had come undone and as you can see in the pictures, the cover of the atlas and about ten pages of the atlas had come out or partially out.

      For me, for a $110.00 dollar atlas plus shipping, from a leading publisher, Cambridge University Press, this is UN-ACCEPTABLE.  This simply should not happen on an atlas that I have used 3 times and shows why one has to be careful with it at the scope. It is suppose to flip over easily so you can read and use at the eyepiece, but I will NEVER trust it to do that. At least not this copy. I will have to get my other edition back from my friend Jeff and give that a go again.  I got it back together but am unsure how long it will stay together. If this had happen in the field, in darkness, it could and probably would have been a mess, ruining an evening or night of observing. I sent an email to Cambridge to see what they say, but I will probably be stuck with this flawed copy.  So be aware of this issue. I cannot be the only one that it has or will happen to and take that into consideration before your purchase. I had considered ordering a couple for my local club to put into the observatories at the club site, as I think they would go well there, or to use as a check out item with our loaner scopes but nope, not now. I was raised to be extremely careful with books by a father who loved books and demanded that we treat our books with respect, even our paperbacks. I will not purchase another copy with this type of outcome and that is a shame. I will continue to review the rest of the Atlas and update my review with further insights, but overall at this time, because of this glaring problem, I do not recommend you purchase the book until the wiring issue I experienced is resolved or improved upon. Who needs a $110.00 new atlas falling apart in the field.


     First in doing an updated review, I thought I would post my original scale here and then re-review them. Here was my original thoughts on this Atlas: 

Ease of Use:  4/5
Somewhat bulky and awkward. Ring binding for flipping the atlas is a huge plus (or should be if it doesn't fail). 

Organization: 5/5
 Love the Constellation Charts for getting to the right Map. Love the size for these. 

Usefulness: 5/5   
More a 4/5 for a novice/beginner, casual observer. 4.5/5 for experience observers. The atlas is easy to use, easy to find objects in a constellation and has sufficient stars that will get you to the object.  At a dark sky site I would say you will find more stars than those plotted but that is true of most atlases. You could open to a constellation and easily spend the night going after the objects listed and have an enjoyable night. 

Cost: Field 2/5; Desk  4/5  
 Sorry I just feel $250 for this level of atlas is too much for the water proof version. $100 is probably too much also. I would imagine $85 would move this atlas but not sure on the profitability at that price point.  

Set Up: 3-4/5             
The look and feel are good, the double stars could be confusing for the targeted 
 audience of the atlas. Don't like the 4,8,12 inch telescope deal. 3/5 is for 
 experienced observers, more like 4/5 for novice/casual observers. 

Overall Rating: 4.5/5   

There are my ratings from back in February. Here are my ratings after using it in March, April, May, June, July and August of 2015 in the field. 

Ease of Use: 1/5
This would have remained at 4/5 because the atlas is simply too much to use and handle at my 10" dob (XT10), my 14" dob or my 17.5" or 24" dobs.  It is simply way too much and it folds over easily at the scope. This is a positive in a way because in the desk edition the pages are made of thick paper that will make it (for me in Utah) dew resistance, but the weight makes the pages fold over easily. I believe this causes a strain on the wire binding used to secure the atlas and thus causing the failure of the binding on the atlas I am currently using. I had this fear for a while that the wire binding could come undone because of the weight but didn't expect or hope for it to happen. The binding failure to me makes the atlas, as great as it is, both unacceptable and potentially unusable in the field. I don't want to be gathering up atlas pages from the ground, especially come fall and winter when moisture and some wet dirt and sand comes into play (as mud).  The ring binding is NOT a huge plus as I initially stated and this flaw will need to be address or a fix offered for the atlas to be considered. I recommend stronger wiring. I will reflect and look today for a fix when I am at a Hobby and Office Supply store and see if I can figure out a way to resolve this issue. My point is this: Cambridge Press, I shouldn't HAVE TO come up with a solution. Fix it. I expect more from you as I consider your organization first rate. 

Organization: 5/5
I still love how this atlas is organized and presented overall. There are a few issues but that is me being nick picky (and I can be) and I have to admit that I love the detail charts in the back that offer a close up to MANY objects, making it easier to find them from the atlas. They are marked in the atlas in a box and are easily referenced to the back in the detail charts.  Great feature and please use it! 

Usefulness (Conditional): Beginner to Intermediate User: 4/5. Advance to Expert User: 5/5. 

There are few observers that I will say are in the expert range, and only a few more will I put into the advance range of observers. These groups are people that are going after the Herschel 2500, the NGC/IC catalog, Hickson and ARP objects and other fainter and harder catalogs and objects.  This atlas is a decoration for them, perhaps a tool to use on a night when they pick a constellation, open up the atlas and just go after the objects listed on that page of the atlas. That can offer a nice break for this class of observers. This is not the tool of choice that will be used to star hop (a dying art in the hobby) to the faint objects they love to pursue.  

If you are a novice to intermediate amateur who enjoys star hopping and going after objects that are both eye candy (think Messier level of objects) to items perhaps a little fainter and challenging, this is a wonderful atlas for you. That is, unless you use a scope at 12" or larger (mainly a dob) as the atlas will leave out objects that your 12" scope or greater can easily pull in. Just know you will be leaving some objects out of your observing if you use the atlas to guide you.  IF you know that and accept that, this atlas is an excellent atlas to use and have and own in your equipment library.  

Cost: Field Edition: 2/5  Desk Edition: 4/5 

I really wanted to give the desk edition a 5/5 or a 4/5 again but I cannot because of the failure I had of the ring binding.  Fix the ring binding on the desk edition and I think you have a winner here for both the home office and for the field unless your humidity is running in the high ninety's most of the time. Then you may want a field edition. The field edition though for its cost is not worth it in my book. If you live in the western United States or similar location, where a high humidity day is in the sixty to low seventy percents and those only happen during monsoon in the summer for a few days when your not in the field, the desk edition is the way to go. I had a field edition, I sold the field edition and broke even, well, not really, not with shipping but close enough. I would not purchase the field edition based on where I live and my observing conditions. 

Set Up: 4/5 (5/5 for advance to expert amateurs) 

Again, the set up and layout is excellent for a novice to intermediate amateur and since this atlas is targeted at that level of user, it performs outstandingly for that. If your use to the Sky&Pocket Atlas by Sky&Telescope, you may have an adjustment in looking up the constellations. This atlas will teach you a lot about using an atlas and how one is laid out. That knowledge is rather valuable. Most people who see and buy this atlas are going to be happy to extremely happy with it. The atlas will fulfill everything they want in an atlas that is used in the field for casual to intermediate observing. To the dedicated, advance to expert amateur there is far too much missing for larger apertures to even consider this atlas to be useful for finding objects in it that are not listed. I can see myself and I did use it one night for several hours, picking a constellation and going after the objects on that page and had a wonderful few hours of observing. I got eye candy items as I call objects in the Messier catalog or items that fit that general parameter. Herschel 400 objects were there as were a couple of ARP items that I enjoyed going after. A good few hours and the atlas did its job for that. 

If I want to see a general overview of the sky though before drilling down on a very specific chart I have printed off from Sky Tools 3 for getting a faint object, I still use and will use the Pocket Sky Atlas. I would like a tad more detail but the size of the Pocket Sky Atlas cannot be beat. I have NO problem using the Pocket Sky Atlas at the eyepiece and out of 4 versions I have used (I keep an extra and give them away to newbies from time to time) I have NEVER had a problem with the wire back coming undone. My one copy of the Pocket Sky Atlas is over 8 years old now and seen a LOT of observing, like every trip I have ever done and it is thus well loved, well cared for and shows no sign of breaking up.  I wish the Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas I had purchased could be said to have done the same. Three uses is a joke for the wiring to have failed. Okay, point made and I do want to say I really do overall like the atlas, just extremely disappointed in my experience. 

Overall Rating: 3/5 (maybe 2/5 if your considering using the desk edition in the field) 

I would have increased my rating to 4.5/5 here IF the wire binding had not failed on my second copy. All I can tell you is based on my experience, buyer beware on the binding. The product is excellent and for the targeted audience of novice to intermediate observer, it is an excellent atlas, one that will make you happy. Thinking of saving money on the desk edition? Not so much if you want it to fall apart and do so quickly and rather easily by simply folding the pages of the atlas all around you at the scope during an observing session. I want to REALLY like this atlas, heck I DO REALLY like this atlas and want to rate it higher but I cannot because of this flaw. Consider the following: 

Yes, I am beating a dead horse here but if it happened to me who is extremely careful with my books and atlas (of any kind) then I know it will and probably has happen to others. Ask yourself if you want to be in the field, say in December with a wonderful, cold, clear night of near perfect seeing and transparency and then as you open your atlas to go to Orion to take a look at the objects there, first the cover and then 2, or 5, or 8, or 10 or more pages come undone, some falling to the moist ground, getting a smudge of mud on them? You pick them up, wipe them up and now have to decide, do I simply put it in the car and fix it at home (20 to 30 minutes) or do I use another atlas or if this is MY atlas, I have to fix it in the dark, in the cold with no gloves and then my frozen fingers and hands are NOT going to want to observe and I pack up and wasted one of those wonderful winter nights when conditions are near perfect. You go home frustrated, and upset because like most of us, you simply wanted a peaceful, pleasant and fun observing experience under the stars using your new atlas. IF you don't have the wire backing fail, up these ratings and your good to go. Mine failed and failed at home luckily. Not sure this copy is ever leaving my office. Jeff, my friend, please keep using the backup but be careful with the wire backing!  Bummer. 

So should you buy the atlas? My recommendation is yes, but with the caveat that you understand the binding may come off while in the field. One copy of my desk edition has not had this issue, one has had it.  The layout, the use of the atlas, the objects listed and the depth of the field stars all appeals to using this atlas from the beginning to the intermediate level. An advance to expert observer will find enjoyment of the atlas when they want a night off to visit old friends in a specific constellation.  However, this is not an atlas I will use at the focuser. It is one I would put on a table near me and reference a field, memorizing quickly the star hop I am using and doing it. In that manner that atlas works great.  Cost is high for me, too high for the field, and just slightly higher than I think it should be for the Desk Edition. Then again, I do not know the margins and I would guess at around $100 the atlas is making money, but not a lot.