been observing in my home area of Virginia for about 5 years. Over
the years I’ve owned a Celestron C90, an Orion Xt8, an Orion Xt12i,
a Celestron C102 short tube, a Stellarvue 115mm APO, and a 10”
Teleport. More recently I’ve been doing a fair amount of binocular
observing using (at first) various Marine binoculars (from my other
expensive hobby) then some Meade Travelviews, an Oberwerk 15x70, and
most recently I’ve had the urge for something a bit bigger. This
review describes my experience in acquiring and using a Garrett
Optical Gemini 25x100 IF binocular. I have no connection with Garrett
Optical other than the contact described in this review.
already had a nice pair of 15x70 Obies, a 100mm short tube refractor
and a big 12” dob. I had sold off a larger refractor and EQ mount
because they were too complex for travel and were beat out by my dob
for “at home” viewing. So why add the 100mm binoculars? I like
the simplicity of my Obies – no decisions to make on eyepieces, no
left-right reversal of image - and straight through viewing just
seemed to connect me more with the night sky. I kept the Obies on a
monopod – they seemed too small to warrant the complexity of a
tripod and fluid head. But I wanted to try some “serious” tripod
based observing with the same simplicity as the Obies. 20x80 seemed
too small a step up and there was a nice selection of 25x100s on the
market. So it was time for the “big glass”
and I just needed to decide which one.
25x100mm market seems to fall into a few categories. At the least
expensive end there are the brands that seem to be based on the frame
most often marketed as the Celestron Skymasters. The Celestrons come
with a robust lifetime warranty; the other variants like Barska and
Fotar seem to be trying to establish themselves as the low price
leader. These are typically sold for anywhere from $175 to about
$300. Many people swear by them and there’s no denying the value.
There do seem to be quality control issues with these; there are many
stories of having to return 2 or 3 defective pairs before getting an
acceptable one and I didn’t want the worry or the hassle.
tend to think of the next tier up as the Oberwerk tier. Oberwerks are
retailed in the US by Kevin Busarow at BigBinoculars.com. Kevin and
Oberwerk have established themselves as quality suppliers with a
reputation for outstanding customer service. Their 25x100 IF has been
favorably reviewed many times. Similar looking binoculars have also
started to appear under other brands like the Anttler “Skysweepers”
(their 20x80 LW got a positive review in CN) and, in the fall of
2005, by Zach Garrett as the “Garrett Optical Gemini 25x100 IF”.
The Garretts "appeared" to be identical to the Oberwerks
(and by appearance I mean every specification I could find as well as
reports from users) and the Garrett 20x80 triplet was reviewed and
rated the equal of the similar model by Oberwerk. At the time I
bought them, Garrett was new and trying to get a foothold in the
market – they were discounting their products and offering them on
ebay at auction with low starting prices. I "won" them at
auction on eBay for $300 (plus $30 shipping) which, at the time, was
$110 less than the Oberwerks (the price gap is closer to $20 today).
Zach Garrett seemed as committed to quality as Kevin Busarow is, and
Cory Suddarth, Garrett’s resident optician, has a reputation for
optical expertise that’s as good as it gets.
next tier up in the 100mm market seems to be a big jump. There are
the Obie BT100s and the rest are premium Japanese or German optics.
Pretty as all of these might be, they are simply out of my price
Specifications (copied from www.garrettoptical.com)
GEMINI 25X100 WP-IF
100mm f/4.5; 2 Elements, 2 Groups
4 Elements, 3 Groups
16mm useable (18mm total)
APPARENT FIELD OF VIEW
TRUE FIELD OF VIEW
2.4º (126 ft./1000 yds.)
10 lbs., 0 oz.
Fully Broadband Multi-Coated
99.0%-99.7% per surface; >85%
Yes, for up to 5 min. at 1m depth
DRY NITROGEN FILLED
I ordered the 25x100s, I sent Zach Garrett a note explaining my
expectations and what I hoped he or his staff would check out before
shipping. Zach replied with reassurance that everything I asked about
(and lots more) would be checked out as part of their “normal QC
procedure” and guaranteed by him personally. I like being able to
have that kind of conversation with a knowledgeable business person
who has a vested interest in his product and his firm.
were shipped about 36 hours after ordering and arrived 5 days later.
They arrived in triple layers of packaging - a
box filled with "peanuts" around another box which
contained a bubble wrapped aluminum case which contained the
binoculars packed in plastic and form fit foam. I seemed to be
unwrapping forever – it was like Christmas.
out of their packaging I got a chance to inspect them. The overall
level of fit and finish was very high. The rubber armor was perfectly
smooth and pleasant to the touch. The hinge for adjusting the IPD was
stiff but solid and smooth. The focusers moved with precision –
there was a hint of “stiction” but once moving they were smooth,
easy to adjust, and quiet with no “grainy” sounds I hear in some
of my other binoculars. Peering down the objective barrels in various
lights showed even and deep colored multicoating with hints of green
and purple; reflections were minimal. From the eyepiece end, the
coatings seemed equally effective and the exit pupils appeared sharp
edged and perfectly round. The hinged eyepiece cap is a terrific
improvement over anything else I’ve used. The objective covers are
rubber and fit inside the objective barrels with a lip that extends
over the outside edge.
I ordered the binoculars I’d also ordered a one inch extension post
from ScopeStuff (part #BINX) since I’d been warned from reviewers
that the center mounting post was simply too short. The binoculars,
the extension post and the tripod mounting plate came together
easily. Mounted on my Amvona AT-6907 (a Bogen 475/501 clone) they
looked impressive - like some great glassy eyed bug - and seemed
steady enough. Adjustments damped out quickly as did accidental
mounting post has ¼-20 threads as does the Scopestuff adapter
as does the tripod’s quick release mounting plate. The quick
release plate will also take a 3/8” captive screw and I’d have
preferred that the binoculars and adapter used the larger threads.
Hanging ten pounds of precision (and expensive) optical equipment on
a ¼” bolt doesn’t feel right and, in my opinion, is a weak
spot. I plan on drilling out and re-threading both in the near
mounting these, it’s important that you balance them for your own
observing tastes. This is the first pair of binoculars I’ve
owned with a mounting post and I immediately adjusted the post
position so that they were balanced horizontally on the post. This
turns out to be a mistake for astronomical use and, I’ve since
learned, it’s a mistake that many people make. Anytime
the binoculars were elevated to any angle they "wanted" to
keep climbing - the Center of Gravity (CG) shifts back with elevation
and the imbalance gets greater with increased elevation. There’s no
way to avoid this with a traditional tripod setup – the CG is not
on the axis of rotation as it is on, say, a Helix Alt-Az mount –
but there is a way to minimize its impact on your observing. The
binoculars should be mounted on the tripod and then adjusted to
balance at an elevation angle that is about halfway through your
typical range of use. I have lots of
viewing obstacles in my neighborhood so I rarely drop below 30
degrees and I'm often close to 90. I adjusted the position on the
post so that it would balance (with no tension on the elevation knob)
at about 60 degrees of elevation. That means at horizontal it's
inclined to sag toward the ground but it also means that it takes
very little effort to control through most of the useful range.
first night offered only a little bit of clear sky. It was about 0°C
and the wind was blowing my whole setup pretty hard when I started
putting it through its paces. The first thing I noticed - this is a
whole different beast from my 15x70s. It took a lot of effort to set
and control the elevation (this was before I’d rebalanced them as
described above). And it was hard to find things – sighting over
the top of the binoculars just didn’t give me enough perspective to
readily find even bright objects easily. Remember this is only a 2.4
degree Field of View.
that wind blowing, stability matters and my setup felt pretty stable.
Even with the center column cranked way up, the 10 pounds of weight
seemed to damp out a lot of vibration. One scary moment – the wind
blew the binoculars hard enough to cause them to unwind half a turn
from the mounting plate. Seeing them turning by themselves with the
objectives swinging toward the ground was enough to get the adrenalin
pumping. I’ve since added a bit of loctite between the post and
extension and some rubber cement between the extension and the tripod
plate – the friction contact alone just isn’t secure
These problems aside, in an hour of viewing I saw some
beautiful sights – and keep in mind that this is in well lit
suburban skies. M36 and M38 showed lots of stars – not something
I’d seen before (in my local skies) with my 15x70s. M42 had its
well known shape and appeared wispy and delicate and M43 showed some
faint nebular glow. The trapezium was actually separable into three
and sometimes four components. I did a quick turn through the
Pleiades, the Beehive – both impressive but actually better framed
in the 15x70s. Saturn’s rings were clearly separated from the
planet – but there is a bit of flaring that distracts from the
came away from that first night with a mixed impression – more
work, harder to use, better views.
the first week I managed to get out four times and my impressions
steadily improved. Once I rebalanced the binoculars at 60 degrees it
became much easier to manipulate and control them. I also added the
second arm that came with my mount’s head and reversed them so they
were pointing away from me – I’m not sure why this seems better
but it does (at least for me).
ability to sight directly to bright objects improved but was still
challenging. I actually sight along each barrel from the top with
only one eye and then along the side of the barrel – it works, but
it’s time consuming.
my second night out - with better skies - I carefully adjusted the
focus. This is the first binocular I’ve owned with individual
focusers and I found using them intuitively easier than the center
focuser/right diopter adjustment that I’m used to. Both focusers
were smooth and easy to adjust. I then went through two sessions over
the next two days without touching the focusers - they held focus
through break down and set up twice and I just didn’t need to
keep the binoculars set up on the tripod in my garage. When I head
outside I just pick them up extend and lock each leg, remove the
covers and start – the whole process takes less than a minute.
Breakdown is just as easy and quick.
started to become a bit more methodical in my observing and went
after objects that I hadn’t been able to find before. I hunted down
a bunch of galaxies in the Virgo cluster (just smudges but very
visible) and then revisited objects that I’d only before found with
much work - galaxies M81 and M82 were easier to find, brighter, and
M82 showed some elongation and definition and both showed brightness
at the core. Star hopping with this is just a pleasure using a Sky
Atlas 2000. The field of view is big enough to make star hopping easy
and bright and contrasty enough to use even very dim stars as
guideposts – I found myself puzzling over asterisms that were not
visible in my SA2000 simply because they were too dim to be shown.
stayed out late one night and got to admire the color and clean
separation of Albireo and the many double and triples in the
Lyra/Cygnus constellations. The Ring Nebula in Lyra was readily
visible with brightness on the outer ring but no star at the center.
me, the Garretts seem sharp all the way to the edges left to right in
the FOV with only the smallest bit of blurring and darkening at the
extreme edges. But I noticed that the top of the FOV seemed to
elongate stars vertically and the bottom seemed to (very slightly)
elongate them horizontally. At first I noticed only the elongation at
the top and I thought it might be an off axis sharpness issue but the
bottom distortion seemed to suggest something else. I exchanged
emails with Zach Garrett about this and he seemed genuinely puzzled –
he had checked these out himself and didn’t notice anything like
that. I tried experimenting with different viewing angles and
different eye positions and could often eliminate the distortion. I
also compared them with my other binoculars and could now see similar
distortion in those instruments. I’ve tentatively concluded that
this is an artifact of either my eyes or of how I observe. It doesn’t
detract from my viewing and I’m continuing to experiment with new
observing behaviors to minimize or eliminate it. I do not believe it
is a characteristic of the Garrett optics – this is just the first
time I’ve routinely observed through tripod mounted binoculars.
optics do show some CA on bright objects perhaps most noticeable on
lunar observation. Planets and very bright stars exhibit flaring
making the view a bit frustrating – I’m always trying to shift my
eyes to eliminate the flaring and it often shifts from one eye to the
other. Ah well – that’s really not what these are for and it’s
why I have my small refractor.
now been using the Garretts for almost a month and I'm more impressed
by them everyday. After two weeks of using them I added an index
finder (a Burgess MRF) and at that point I just stopped noticing
them; nothing about them distracted me from the viewing which is what
this is all about. Aiming them is now trivially easy and, once at my
starting point, my ability to star hop in bigger hops is improving
all the time. The whole setup feels like a natural extension of my
ability to see.
haven’t measured the FOV, but I use charts with a 2.4 degree circle
drawn around my targets and the views seem the same in the Garretts –
I have no reason to think they are any more or less than claimed. And
the brightness, contrast and sharpness of the FOV is more than
adequate across the whole field to make star-hopping easy.
I haven’t measured the eye relief, but I’m able to observe
comfortably with and without my glasses. I rarely use glasses when
observing but sometimes I forget to remove them when I switch from
chart to eyepiece. Sometimes I notice them and other times I don’t
– which to me means the eye relief is adequate.
Garretts have become my observing instrument of choice. I still use
my handhelds (8x42 that are always within easy reach) and my 15x70s
(always in my car with the monopod for quick stops on the road). If
I’m at home I’ll often have the big dob out along with the
Garretts for better views of some DSOs - there’s nothing like
seeing M13 in a big dob. But the best is tossing (figuratively) the
Garretts in the back of the car (maybe along with my small refractor)
and driving out to dark skies. It’s here that the Garretts really
shine and you can start to appreciate the difference that the
additional aperture and magnification give you.
in Delaplane Virginia, the skies are quite a bit darker than at home.
I’d been doing some practicing for the Messier Marathon and, using
only the Garretts, I was able to run a list of 21 Messier objects in
less than an hour. Started with the easy ones M45, M42, M43, and, as
the sky darkened, moved along to the Auriga clusters, the Crab, M78
in Orion, the clusters of Canis Major and Pupis, and ending on the
Galaxies M81, M82 – both strikingly visible as galaxies instead of
the elongated smudges I see from my home skies. This was an unhurried
pace – I got to pause and admire each of these and spent some time
with averted vision counting stars in M36 and M46, and I spent a long
time admiring the M81/M82 pair. These are all relatively easy objects
to find and I’d found them all at home as well – there was just a
lot more to see out here. Once again, the focusers might have been
tweaked just a bit (or not – I honestly can’t remember) but
they’re normally untouched in these sessions.
hours later I was able to run the 16 Messiers in the Virgo galaxy
cluster in less than an hour. Starting with a visual on Vindemaitrix
and using the B1 insert in the Sky Atlas 2000, I was able to “circle
hop” the images in the FOV to quickly cover the territory between
objects. The index finder allowed for an easy visual jump to Chertan
in Leo and in ten more minutes I’d added the five galaxies in Leo
to my check list. Unlike the previous list, I’d only seen about
half of these at home and they only looked like the faintest of
smudges. Here, these were clearly galaxies with definition, shape,
and varying brightness.
don’t normally race around the sky like this – but a Messier
Marathon is just that. The combination of the Garrett’s great
imagery and focusers, the steady mount, and the index finder made
this an enjoyable relaxed tour instead of the frantic and uncertain
pressure cooker it can sometimes be.
Garrett Optical Gemini 25x100s are the real thing. They give great
views of stars, clusters, Galaxies and Nebulae. They exhibit a very
high quality of build and Zach Garrett inspires confidence in his
readiness to stand by his product. They’re not for Lunar or
Planetary observing – they’ll do an OK job there, but the color
(Chromatic Abberation) on the moon and the flaring on bright objects
like planets will prove distracting. If you decide to acquire these
make sure you’ve got a mount that will easily handle the ten
pounds, do take the time to balance them correctly, and seriously
consider adding an index finder. So configured and equipped, they
will provide outstanding and memorable tours of the night sky.