VIXEN 16 X 80 ARK BINOCULARS
By Ralph Hildebrand
I purchased my first “big” binoculars in Sept. 1984, after reading Terence Dickinson’s book Night Watch...and I just had to have a pair. First went to a local telescope shop and saw a pair of 11 X 80 Celestron binoculars for $599.00, way too rich for my blood. Then, by chance, I heard of a guy who had a telescope building shop and he also imported many telescope accessories, including binoculars. I found the location of his shop, and by good fortune, he had 11 X 80 binoculars. I asked him how much and he looked at me and answered, $240.00.
I couldn’t believe it, I asked him if he would take a post-dated cheque, since I wouldn’t have the funds for at least 4 days, he agreed and accepted my cheque. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship; I have since bought 6 telescopes from him and numerous eyepieces and accessories.
Those early 11 X 80’s were quite primitive compared to what’s available today. But still, I had fallen in love with them and was impressed even by their mediocre performance.
Those 11 X 80’s went with me to the 1985 star party on top of Mount Kobau in BC’s Okanagan Valley, and then to Hawaii on our honeymoon in Mar. 1986 (with my previous wife) where I saw Comet Halley from the balcony of the condo that we rented. They also accompanied us to Australia in Nov. 1988. Needless to say, they traveled far and wide and I saw many amazing sights with them.
The only problem with these 11 X 80’s was the reverse Kellner eyepieces giving only about a 45-degree apparent field. I’ve always been a wide-field junkie! After a few years I sold them at my club’s astro-swap for the same price that I paid for them.
The next big binoculars were the 25 X 100’s that I bought from the same guy that sold me the 11 X 80’s. But I was never really happy with their performance. Disappointed, I sold these as well.
After many years of owning and looking through many different binoculars, I realized what criteria I was looking for in the “perfect” astro-binocular. (Perfect for me, not necessarily for everyone else).
First: Aperture. Too much and they become too heavy (Above 80mm). Too little and you do not get enough light gathering ability.
Second: Good quality eyepieces with large apparent field of view. At least wide-angle “Erfle” style eyepieces, otherwise it’s like looking through a narrow pipe.
Third: Conventional types of glass for the objective lenses, otherwise in 80mm sizes, ED and Flourite lenses would be very cost prohibitive.
Fourth: Good quality prisms and multi-coatings. Otherwise you will get excessive light loss and the image quality will suffer.
Fifth: Light weight alloy construction and structural support connecting the two “tubes” of the binocular to ensure that the binocular does not “de-collimate”.
Sixth: (And this IS important) Light enough so that I can hand hold them steady enough for a reasonable length of time. I do not want to have to use a photo tripod.
Seventh: Center focusing and separate dioptre adjustments. I never could get the hang of separate focusing eyepieces. Plus, with center focusing, they are much easier to use for daytime terrestrial viewing.
About 2 years ago, I purchased the 16 X 80 Vixen Binoculars from a local vendor, and I do not regret that decision! Before I bought, I did some serious research on this particular model.
I had to choose between the 12 X 80, 16 X 80 and the 20 X 80 models. What swayed my decision to buy the 16 X 80 was the fact that they had 70-degree apparent field wide angle eyepieces, and have a true field of almost 4.5 degrees. Also, being made of a light-weight aluminum alloy, they weigh in at only about 5 lbs. This makes them easily hand hold able, for me anyways. Plus, they have the objective bridge and a structure support to keep the two big objective lenses in perfect alignment.
Checking the objective lenses in bright light, I could tell the large 80mm lenses were beautifully coated with deep green anti-reflective coatings, the prisms (BAK 4 and not the cheaper BK7 prisms) looked good and turning them around I could tell that the eyepieces were also well coated. The objectives come with dew-shields that extend to over 3 inches over the objective lenses. The eyepieces also have extending eyecups when turned outwards. This does not affect the eyepiece position.
I have used them many times, and have never been disappointed. The Moon, Jupiter, Saturn are quite nice in these binos. I have also used them on deep-sky objects. M42 is surprisingly bright and detailed, even from suburban skies. M81 and M82 are easily visible. M45, the Pleiades are fantastic. From my backyard in light polluted skies, M13 is big and beautiful. Wow is it ever big, like looking through a big telescope. The eyepieces are of a wide angle “Erfle” type and deep sky objects are similar to viewing through a small refractor with a 24mm Panoptic eyepiece, except with both eyes.
From our “dark-sky” observing site, these 16 X 80 beauties really show their stuff. Sitting back in my heavy-duty lawn chair, I easily picked out M81 and M82. M51 was quite amazing. I can’t wait to try them out on the Summer Milky way from our dark-sky observing site!
Having these beauties in my equipment arsenal makes observing very easy, they are extremely portable and light. So, for those times when I don’t feel like bringing out my telescope, I just haul out these guys, set up a lawn chair and start viewing, for as long or as short a time that I like. Even daytime viewing is great and I have always loved watching planes. And living on the flight path to Vancouver International Airport makes this easy. Also, when the planes are at high altitude and spewing out the contrails behind them is also an interest of mine. Even at long distance, I am able to make out what type of plane it is, and am actually able to see detail on the plane...depending on its distance, of course.
I have about 40 odd years experience as an amateur astronomer, and I have looked through dozens and dozens of binoculars. I cannot think of any other binoculars that have the same capabilities as my 16 X 80 Vixen`s that can be easily hand-hold able, and are perfect for observational astronomy. I do not count heavier binoculars that require a tripod because that would defeat the purpose of being light enough to be easily hand hold able.
My requirements and expectations are quite stringent, my Vixens may not have the ED or Fluorite lenses that other high-end binoculars do, but for what I paid for them, and they were not cheap, they are still about one-quarter the price of binoculars with exotic lenses, and besides fulfilling my budget requirements, these binoculars are perfect for my needs. I also adapted the straps for the case for the binoculars; they are wide, comfortable and clip onto the clips on the back of the binoculars. So I don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping them. When not in use, the binoculars are stored with their lens caps on and in the included heavy duty Vixen carrying case. So they are quite safe when being stored.
Needless to say, these binoculars are not for everyone, they can be expensive and can only be hand hold able by certain people. I have many years of experience using large binoculars, sitting comfortably leaning back in a comfortable lawn chair.
I look forward to many nights this summer using these babies and sharing the views with my observing buddies.