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12/21/2017

Eyepieces: A Personal Journey of Drinking the Eyepiece Kool-Aid


     This is going to be a long entry in some ways.  I went observing Monday night and have over 20 sketches with 35-40 objects sketched in them. So with those I need to take my camera and a photo of each, then bring the image into my file and then upload. So that is a couple of days out. This post will be about my journey of eyepiece and what eyepieces are available. 

My first telescope was an Orion XT8.  Not a perfect telescope, poor azmuith motions, decent altitude motions, and I had a Telrad and a 9x50 RACI finderscope on it.  I loved that scope as it was easy to transport, easy to use and I did my Messier's with that scope.  The scope came with two eyepieces back in the day.  The first was the 10mm Sirius Plossl:


The 10mm was an okay eyepiece, IF you like tight eye relief and have to put your eyeball right down next to that tiny circle.  It did do okay on Jupiter and planets though.  

The XT8 also came with the 25mm Sirius Plossl by Orion.  This eyepiece was wonderful with plenty of eye relief and good views. This led me to locally purchase from a shop that carried the Orion Sirius Plossls the 32mm, the 17mm and the 12.5mm.  The 32mm is the best of the bunch in terms of eye relief, placement and sharpness in the view.  I still have this eyepiece though the rest are long sold off. 
Here are the measurements based on a 10" f/4.7 Orion XT10 dob which was my next step up. 




So this has the eyepiece, the type, size in mm, the scope size in mirror and focal ratio, the magnification x, and true field of view with the exit pupil.  The larger the true field of view and exit pupil, generally the better the view. 

Orion Sirius Plossl 32mm 52o  10" f/4.6 = 37x 1.424o 6.958mm
  Orion Sirius Plossl 25mm 52o  10" f/4.6 = 47x 1.113o 5.436mm
  Orion Sirius Plossl 17mm 52o  10" f/4.6 = 69x 0.756o 3.696mm
  Orion Sirius Plossl 12.5mm 52o  10" f/4.6 = 93x 0.556o 2.718mm

My next eyepiece was a 9mm Orion Expanse Eyepiece.  This eyepiece had blackouts for me, while kidney beaning depending on where I placed my eye, but the 66 degree Field of View was a wonderful increase from the Orion Sirius Plossls.  It had 1.25 barrel size, 16mm eye relief (if you observe with glasses you want 20mm of eye relief or more though you may squeeze by with 18mm to 20mm of eye relief).  As I shared it had a 66 degree field of view.  I really, REALLY liked this eyepiece, and liked it until I gave it away to a student who had gone through a program to get an Orion XT6 and wanted a wider field of view with higher magnification.  Agena Astro has a version that is cheaper than Orion's version with all the same elements, design and stats.  It can be found here. At Agena they go for $40 to $45, not bad if you don't mind the kidney beaning.

From here I moved into the Orion Stratus line of Eyepieces. I picked the Stratus eyepieces over the Hyperion which are both clones of the LVW eyepieces because I could purchase the Stratus eyepieces locally here for cash, with no shipping.


Here you can see the entire line and at one point, I owned that line.  I began with the 21mm and the 13mm as I felt those provided the best views based on reviews and the 10 inch dob I was using at the time.  The 21mm was my finder eyepiece or wide field and the 13mm allowed me to get in a little closer.  I next added the 17mm and the 8mm which served me well. I could and probably should have stopped there but I went forward and purchased the 5mm and the 3.5mm. I used the 5mm a lot more than the 3.5mm. 

The Stratus line served me well as I grew into the hobby, and I am sure the Hyperions would have been just as well.  The Stratus line for me taught me what coma was, as I viewed coma in them in my 10 inch 4.7 inch dob.  On the 13mm, 17mm and 21mm I would see coma on the outer 15% of the view, about 10% on the 13mm. Stars were bright and tight, though as the moon during lunar observing would fringe on the edge of the longer focal lengths.  For the cost, just over a $100 they were not a bad set of eyepieces and they got me observing for several years with them, while I learned the ropes. I major improvement over the Orion Sirius Plossls and the Expanse line. Decent performers but I wasn't content and kept looking.

One evening I had set up my 14" Orion XX14i out at Lakeside, Utah when a fellow club member, Steve Fisher, a most gracious and wonderful person and man, loaned me his Pentax XW's to try out.  All I could say was WOW!  They blew away my Stratus line and there was no doubt to their quality or that they were a premium set of eyepieces.  I knew then I had to have them.  They were expensive and as my wife keeps good control on our finances so we can achieve our goals (I am all for that as I tend to spend or can when enabled) I purchased one or two each month as they fit in the budget. I started with what I consider to be probably the best eyepiece I own, the 10mm Pentax XW.  Clear to the edge with no aberrations showing, I have seen more using this eyepiece than any other. Contrast is tremendous as are the details it brings out. I then added the two extremely solid eyepieces the 14mm and 20mm and when added to a Paracorr they equal the others.  The 14mm and 20mm without the Paracorr will show some field curvature but not enough that I was ever concerned. Next came the 7mm, the 5mm and the 3.5mm.  The 30mm and 40mm were out of production and I have had to add them to the line from the used market. 




I have to say that the Pentax XW line was my first premium set of eyepieces, and I love them, and openly have a bias to them.  My bias I'll admit here, came because one night, out in Utah's West Desert, Steve Fisher trusted me to use his Pentax XW's and they changed the way I observe, the way I sketch, they made me want to improve in the hobby as an observer and in every way.  Thanks Steve, not sure if you will read this, but I really do appreciate the gesture and remember it all these years later. I use the Pentax XW's everytime I observe, and they are incredible.  The 10mm, 7mm, 5mm and 3.5mm need no Paracorr, though I still use one on them.  Too lazy to take it out.  All but the 30mm and 40mm are 1 1/4 inch barrells with 70 degrees Field of View. I usually don't loan mine out though, unlike Steve.




Next came a few longer focal lengths for wide field.  My first wide field eyepiece was a gift from my daughter. She was in high school and working and the cost of a TeleVue Panoptic 27mm was not something she could just go purchase. She saved up for 6 months to get that for me. I still use the 27mm Panoptic in the field as the weight is great for balance and for me the views are sharp and clear.  Some who use this eyepiece say when they scan they get distortions, I have never seen that. 
TeleVue 27mm Panoptic:  Eye Relief: 16mm; Field of View: 68 degrees; Barrel Size: 2 inches; Weight 1.1 lbs.  A quiet sleeper in the Panoptic line and a great alternate for the 35mm Panoptic if the low power and size and weight of the 35mm Panoptic is too much for you.









At this point in my personal eyepiece journey I should have been content with the full Pentax XW line and the 27mm Panoptic.  Then I bought in to the kool-aid so to speak.  Explore Scientific had come out with several lines and since I really enjoy the 70 degree view, I decided to purchase and compare the 20mm 68 degree and 24mm 68 degree by Explore Scientific. I have to admit upfront that the overall quality in the 20mm 68 degree by ES (Explore Scientific) puts it in the same class as the Pentax XW.  I believe the light transmission, contrast and color reproduction is the same as the shorter focal length XW's if used with a Paracorr. The 20mm Explore Scientific's 68 degree eyepiece's only negative to me is the 15.3mm of eye relief.  If you wear eye glasses to observe it is just a tad short. If not, the 20mm ES 68 degree for the cost is outstanding.  I still own mine though it is seeing less and less time in my personal focuser.  

The Explore Scientific 24mm 68 degree I believe is a very good solid eyepiece. Equal to the Panoptic 24mm at the center of the field, while dropping off  slightly on the edge performance. It is a great eyepiece to pan the Milky Way or night sky with it. Eye relief at 18.4mm is good for glass wearers with a weight of 11.6oz and a 1 1/4" barrel.  

I want to point out again, that here I drank even more eyepiece kool-aid and decided to take a step in the  the 82 degree line of eyepieces that Explore Scientific offers. My first purchase in this line was the famed 30mm 82 degree eyepiece.  






The ES 30mm 82 degree eyepiece is a stunning winner. With 22mm eye relief, an eye glass wearer can easily use this wonderful and immersive eyepiece. Views have always been sharp and being able to fit the whole part of the Witches Broom/Veil Nebula into the field of view generates a long lasting and enduring memory.  It is not an eyepiece that I use on a regular basis, but I do use it and it stays in my eyepiece case.  I have compared it to the TeleVue Nagler 31mm and the nod does indeed  go to the 31mm Nagler, but the 30mm Explore Scientific is a very, very close second.  This was one purchase where I was glad that I drank the eyepiece kool-aid on. Works great with either a good OIII or Narrowband filter


My next eyepiece kool-aid was the 24mm 82 degree Explore Scientific eyepiece.  It is large, very large and at 82 degrees gives a wonderfully wide field. The eye relief at 17.5mm is good, and solid for those wearing eyeglasses but I have had a couple of times of having to adjust where to put my eye on the eyepiece.  I've kept it, I don't use it hardly at all now and probably need to consider not keeping it except for maybe for use at an outreach event. This is an example of a purchase where I learned about the eyepiece, but I didn't need that experience or paying out the cash for that experience.




Now I wanted to compare the 4.7mm and 11mm Explore Scientific 82 degree eyepieces to my Pentax XW line.  Well, for me, the 4.7mm at 13.6mm eye relief was too short and I felt I had to bury my eye into the eye cup in order to take in the view. This eyepiece was no wear near the performance of my Pentax XW 5mm and it lasted in my case all of a month before I sold it on the used market. 

The 11mm 82 degree Explore Scientific is a decent eyepiece. The eye relief at 15.6mm is good, and I didn't have a problem with this eyepiece but in the areas that matter to me, it just is no wear near the the Pentax XW 10mm.  However, unlike the 4.7mm which I sold quickly, I have kept this one and use it when I do outreach or when teacher younger observers how to observe.  

Both the 4.7mm and the 11mm Explore Scientific eyepieces are examples of purchases not needed.  Again, I paid for the experience, made my money basically back on the 4.7mm but the 11mm I only use about 4 to 6 times a year, and personally, I don't use that eyepiece myself. 

From here I decided after using my friend's Jeff Ethos, and my other friend's Matt Ethos and 100 degree ES eyepieces, to try out the Explore Scientific 100 degree eyepieces.  


I first purchased the 9mm 100 degree by ES. I used it in the field and found that there were parts of the experience I liked, many more that I didn't. I had to hold my eyeball sideways to take in all the field, or pan the eyepiece FOV to see everything that was there. I had also, to stick my eyeball almost directly on the glass in order to take in the view. The same occurred on the 14mm and somewhat on the 20mm. I found overall, I REALLY wanted to like and use these eyepieces but I just never could bring myself to like the eyepieces, their eye placement and presentation. I loved the center of the view but after about 6 months of really trying these out, I found that the 100 degree field of view just is not for me.  I sold mine to a fellow educator north of where I lived and got some cash back. 

Unlike the previous eyepieces I had purchased which were either redundant or not needed as I had found a superior eyepiece already, I don't regret purchasing these eyepieces.  They taught me that the 70 to 76 degree range for Field of View is what I like, what I enjoy and that is where I am settled as an observer.  I can easily see though why some people purchase these three or the 21mm Ethos, the 13mm Ethos and a higher magnification Ethos and call it good for the eyepieces they have.  I'll state I love the 21mm Ethos, and find it immersive and wonderful views, but that 100 degree FOV is just too much for me. 

I think you might enjoy this FOV by Explore Scientific that shows what each of their FOV deliver on an object, in this case Messier 42 (I believe). 




I can hear it now; "So Jay, was your eyepiece journey complete?" My answer would follow any amateur bitten by the eyepiece kool-aid bug.  "Nope."  About this time TeleVue came out to their answer to the Pentax XW, the Delos line.  Hyped up big and in some cases, veteran amateur's declared these the ultimate eyepieces.  Okay, I thought, my bias rose back up and nothing, and I mean nothing could beat my Pentax XW line.  But I wanted to know for myself so I purchased the 17.3, the 12mm, the 10mm, the 6mm in this line.  At this time I was hoping to prove that the Delos line was not as good as the Pentax XW line and in truth, as I worked out and through observing and comparing, I found that the Pentax XW line from the 10mm, 7mm, 5mm and 3.5mm were equal to the comparable Delos at similar focal lengths (the 14mm and 20mm Pentax XW were also with a Paracorr).  Transmission, color, brightness were all right on.  I REALLY liked the Delos  A LOT so I kept the 17.3mm, the 14mm, the 12mm, the 10mm, the 6mm and the 3.5mm.  


I now hear the question "Why?"  That is easy enough. I have multiple scopes and sometimes my son goes observing with me, sometimes a friend goes who doesn't have a larger scope so I loan the Delos out to them, while I observe with my beloved Pentax XW.  Now there are times when I want to use the Delos over my Pentax XW, but that depends on the object and the scope I am using.  So with this set, this IS a redundant purchase and I in no ways needed it, but I am glad I have it.  


This was a totally redundant purchase and one I openly admit I made to compare these to both the Pentax XW's I own and the TeleVue Delos.  When the Baader Morpheus came out people claimed, like many do when a new eyepiece line comes out, that these were the best thing since lunch meat was invented.  Well, I got two the 12.5mm, the 14mm to compare.  My review is here on my blgo and my take away was that without a Paracorr, the Baader Morpheus eyepieces show field curvature on the outer 20% of the edge, worse than the 14mm Pentax XW and with a Parocorr, they clean up nicely but the Delos 14mm and the Pentax XW 14mm with Paracorr out perform the Morpheus. They come close to the premium eyepieces, but there is still a distinct difference between the Morpheus line and the Delos and Pentax XW line.  I sold these quickly, lost a little money on the re-sell but it proved something. Different people have different experiences with eyepieces, and that just cause a line of eyepieces are new, they are not the best thing since sliced butter.  Reviews after mine seem to agree that the 14mm and the 12mm to a lesser extent have field curvature, coma etc. 




The next eyepieces I got into were Ortho's.  Why Ortho's I hear. I wanted Ortho's to push some planetary detail and double star detail and to really use and push with deep sky objects like galaxies to see if less glass really is more and provides more detail on fainter objects.  My answer to that question was yes based on experience with the Orthos.  

Up top you can see the full Baader Ortho line. I passed on the 32mm and the 18mm and went only with the 10mm and the 6mm.  These are solid performers with tight eye relief but they do provide wonderful details on the objects I mentioned. 



My next set of Ortho's were the University Ortho's.  Here I did not get the full set, but focused on the 4mm, 6mm, 7mm and 9mm.  I wouldn't consider them premium, but very very good and they do a great job at delivering contrast on deep sky objects that are faint.  


I touched on this rivalry earlier, but if you have the Explore Scientific 30mm 82 degree, you don't need to spend money on the 31mm Nagler T5, well unless you have the money and want to.  Sometimes I take the 30mm ES out with me, sometimes the Nagler 31mm.  Just depends, mainly on which eyepiece case I take into the field.  You don't lose with either though the 31mm Nagler is the over winner between the two.  


Here is one of my most favorite eyepieces of all time. Enough to where it has semi-retired the 20mm Pentax XW with a Paracorr. The 22mm T4 Nagler is my finder eyepiece, except when I get lazy and don't want to switch between a 2" eyepiece and a 1 1/4" (then I use the Pentax XW 20mm).  This eyepiece, the 22mm T4 Nagler gives you a true space walk, and is clear and concise in the entire field of view.  It is just beautiful to be quite honest. Glad I got it on sale. 


This eyepiece was discontinued by TeleVue, the 26mm T5 Nagler. I actually like it better than the 30mm Explore Scientific 82 degrees and the 31mm T5 Nagler.  It isn't quite the FOV but the magnification is a little bigger and the views are tremendous. If I want a finder eyepiece that is larger than the 22mm T4 this is it or if I want an eyepiece that shows an excellent wide field of view. So glad I have this. 

I am probably missing some eyepieces, like my Tak Abbe Orthos and two Pentax XO's that of course I just LOVE.  Perhaps another day.  A few take aways from my experience.

1.  Premium or non-Premium will depend on your budget. Don't go into debt for scopes or accessories.  Buy as you can and pay cash.  If you can afford premium look around at reviews, ask around and then buy one eyepiece and try it out. If you use a dob, try the range of 8mm to 12mm as that is a great viewing range and magnification. If you like that line of eyepieces, then one by one add to them. If you have the cash, then go for it.  Premium eyepieces like the Pentax XW's, the TeleVue's will retain most of their value.  

2. Decide on a brand, or a type of eyepiece and go for that. Love the Pentax XW's? Buy them. Love the TeleVue Ethos? Get those. Love the Baader Morpheus? Buy them. It is easier to buy in one line than to mix and match since focal lengths and eye relief tend to be similar.  

3. Get one range and set and be done.  You don't need  to have what I have to enjoy a scope at a dark site in the field or in your backyard. Do you observe a lot? Say 6 ore more times a month? Perhaps you want more premium level of eyepieces, perhaps not.  Only observer once or twice a month? Non-premium like the Explore Scientific which do come very close or are premium in some models might be your answer.  Again, check out reviews, ask and explore. 

I have what I have now and have not purchased an eyepiece in over a year. Wahoo!!!!!!!  There is nothing I want or need right now or that I see coming up except for a clear sky, a new moon period and a  collimated scope ready to go to work!


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