Take a walk through space without leaving the ground
So, you’ve researched, read reviews, compared and finally bought that telescope you’ve been wanting, but you’ve quickly realized that the included eyepieces leave something to be desired. You’re not alone. The included kit eyepieces are a lot better than they used to be but sometimes you feel like you’re looking through a straw. In order to get that spacewalk effect, you really need more field of view. The Explore Scientific 82 degree waterproof eyepieces offer a lot of it and you might just be surprised by how affordable a high-quality eyepiece can be.
The quality and affordability of telescopes and accessories nowadays is quite remarkable. Just 15 short years ago, relatively modest performing products, mostly made in Japan, were inordinately expensive. As an industry insider, I witnessed firsthand the shift of high-margin accessories sales of select top manufacturers to a brutally competitive marketplace including many more players. Chinese manufactures bought comparable performance for a fraction of the price. Although the quality of the early Chinese eyepieces was not quite up to the high standards we came to expect from Japan, the lower cost of these new items was too attractive to ignore. I recall testing many such examples early on in the transition away from Japan. It was a little rough at first. The coatings lacked the contrast and consistency we had come to expect, but correction was good and getting better all the time. The manufactures applied the lessons learned from early feedback, invested in better optical coating equipment and unseated the Japanese as the source of an estimated 90% of the eyepieces on the market.
Jinghua Optical and Electronics Co., Ltd. (JOC) was a major supplier to Meade Instruments during my time there. Their work on the Series 5000 eyepiece line was a major accomplishment for them. It was the first time such a complex and high-performing telescope occular was introduced by a Chinese manufacturer and it competed head-to-head with Tele-Vue’s premium products. At the time, I tested many of the Series 5000s against Tele-Vue’s Naglers and Panoptics. Correction was nearly identical, although I still gave the slight edge to TeleVue due to their superior optical coatings, but some felt that performance edge didn’t justify their price premium. In controlled conditions side by side testing revealed a slight, and I mean slight, increase in contrast in the TeleVue eyepieces compared to the Series 5000. However, Meade failed to market them effectively or to listen to consumer comments regarding their few shortcomings.
Let me start by saying I love maps. I do. I have several in my office, multiple globes, celestial spheres, stars charts, etc. You get the idea. After receiving the package dispatched to me by Greg Bragg at Explore Scientific, I eagerly tore into the box, as I do all boxes of toys. As soon as I removed the bubble wrap, I could see two beautifully detailed presentation boxes wrapped in a blue, black and gold star chart designed by no other than Wil Trion.
Wil Trion is the Dutch uranographer (star cartographer) responsible for Sky Atlas 2000.0 and Uranometria 2000.0, renowned for their elegance and accuracy.
I was so tickled by this the star map wrapped boxes, I audibly giggled with joy. I have to hand it to Scott Roberts, President of Explore Scientific. This one feature shows how well he understands how important initial impressions are.
Upon opening of the boxes, I was pleased to see that quality and attention to detail carried through to the product as well. Composed of stainless steel and CNC machined aluminum, they were solidly built. In your hand, they had a superb feel.
JOC ended their relationship with Meade and now owns Explore Scientific. Naturally, the 82 degree eyepieces became one of their first products. From my perspective, they are based largely on the Meade Series 5000 UWA with several notable improvements.
Explore Scientific removed the twist-up eyecup, which was virtually useless anyway. The eyepieces Meade sold didn’t really have enough eye relief to make use of such a feature and that contributed to overall weight, cost and complexity. Instead, Explore Scientific uses a more traditional rubber eyecup. In practice, this works much more effectively. It’s softer on the eye, better shields light and allows for accurate positioning of the eye. From my experience, I found many observers tended to hover over the Series 5000 eyepieces and their extremely wide field of view made centering of the eye challenging.
Explore Scientific also made these waterproof by adding rubber seals and purging the system with Argon, a dry, inert gas. Although this seems to be an unnecessary feature to add to an astronomical telescope eyepiece, there was a method to the madness. There are true advantages to this. First, along with waterproof comes dustproof. Given the dusty, dry, environments amateur astronomers often find themselves, you will not have to worry about dust getting between lenses. As for moisture, I’ve been in circumstances where the dew was so bad, water simply dripped off the telescope. Hopefully, in such conditions you’ve stowed your telescope or at least covered it, but at least you won’t worry about your eyepieces. This is a great added value for a slight increase in cost, something every eyepiece maker should consider.
Lastly, Explore Scientific changed the chrome plated steel barrel of the eyepiece from a cylinder type with a captive recess to a tapered, stainless steel, barrel. Again, it’s a subtle change, but a nice one. I find the tapered barrel more secure once the eyepiece holder thumbscrew is tightened. The captive recess allowed the eyepiece to move a little unless the thumbscrew is very tight. Once again, Explore Scientific made a seemingly small, but effective change. Subtle and meaningful improvements are great for the consumer. I was delighted and impressed by the usefulness of these changes.
I tested both the 8.8mm and 14mm versions of these eyepieces in a fast, f/4.5, 10” Newtonian. I was impressed how well controlled astigmatism and coma appeared to be. In fact, compared to 52 degree super-plössls, the coma appeared better in spite of the larger apparent field of view. I’m told these units are corrected with systems down to F/3.8 in mind. Contrast was very good to excellent and ghosting while viewing bright objects, such as planets, was minimal. Testing these on a Newtonian ensured I can see what, if any, color from chromatic aberration may be present. I can report none worth noting was observed on the Moon, Jupiter or Venus. However, I must admit I’ve never been very sensitive to extremely slight amounts color. There are so many other things to be concerned with, I never much worried about it unless it jumped out and hit me. That is certainly not the case here.
If you’ve not experienced life with an 82 degree apparent field of view, you are missing out. The view is best described as luxurious. If you star hop like me, that extra room makes finding objects easier and it’s just pleasant. Many have described it as looking out of a spaceship’s portal. It’s a great thing, but one that can be overdone. I’ve used eyepieces with more field of view, but that usually always comes with less eye relief, more weight and higher cost. I generally don’t feel the trade is worth it. In my opinion, 68 to 82 degrees is kind of the sweet spot for cost and performance.
I had a fair idea what to expect from these and from a performance perspective, they met all my expectations. As for features, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the improvements. I didn’t expect to be so taken with them, but I’m quite happy and will add more to my collection soon. In closing, you can certainly spend more on an eyepiece, but I just can’t understand why you would.
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