MG1962- Higher magnification is defintely needed for faint stars. The trade off is a decreased field of view and the loss of the outer comparison stars. (AAVSO charts are perfectly suited to accomodate whatever level of magnification you're using) We're getting similar results, I use 63X and 163X and gain about a magnitude as well in my 8" SCT. Seeing isn't really much of a factor with higher mags though. Purposefully defocusing stars for brightness comparison is an acceptable and very effective method for making an estimate, so a lttle fuzziness due to poor seeing shouldn't affect one's ability to compare nearby stars.