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Opinions on Some used Widefield Eyepieces
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I am a big fan of what Al Nagler referred to as the “spacewalk” experience. I like widefield eyepieces and huge eyelenses. Although the latest Nagler line (Type 6) provides nice wide fields and great performance in a smaller, lighter package, they just aren’t the same to me. I’m also an Astromart fan - I love trying different pieces of gear and then changing to something else. I don’t think either of these preferences are very unusual - and they certainly aren’t mutually exclusive. There are a great many older eyepieces out there and some of them represent great value for their price.
Buying used premium eyepieces isn’t risk-free, but I can report that amateur astronomers generally take very good care of their expensive eyepieces. Most of the used ones I’ve acquired (and all of them that I have sold) were disposed of not because they were worn out or damaged, but because they had been replaced with more modern units. I like the modern ones also, especially the Type 4 Naglers, but the classic eyepieces can be great performers at a more reasonable price. I won’t go into lengthy performance evaluations on these, but rest assured I have owned and used the ones I’ll discuss and have been pleased with them. I should comment that I use mostly slower optics; I’m an SCT fan. All the eyepieces mentioned here do very well indeed at F/10. The Naglers and Meade UWA’s generally get very good reviews in faster optics, while the SWA’s and Widefields aren’t considered very good for fast telescopes.
Classic widefield eyepieces generally belong to one of three categories. The oldest ones were produced in Japan and have smooth sides (no knurling) and no eyecup grooves. Later Japanese production units do have the knurling and eyecups, and thus a more modern appearance. The next generation were produced in Taiwan. The later Japanese units tend to command the highest prices, although some folks regard the smooth sided versions as the real classics. I wouldn’t be too concerned about the Taiwan-sourced units; after all, the current Type 4 and Type 5 Naglers, among others, are sourced from there.
The longest focal length classic widefield Tele Vues are called the Wide Field series. They had an apparent FOV of about 65 degrees. They were replaced by the Panoptic line by Tele Vue, but Meade’s current SWA series is very comparable. The big bombers in this line are the 32mm and the 40mm jobs, both in 2” format. For comparison, the current Taiwanese Meade offerings are about $240 and $300 respectively. You’ll see 32mm SWA’s for around $175 and 40mm SWA’s for around $225. Original Japanese Tele Vue Widefields go for a little more. The jump-on-it price for any of these is $150 for the 32mm and $200 for the 40mm, especially if they are from Japan. I sold my 40mm SWA when I got the 35mm Panoptic - and ended up buying it back (though I still have the 35mm Pan). There were smaller Tele Vue widefields but I haven’t used those. I have used the 13.8mm and 18mm Meade SWA’s and they are nice eyepieces but not in the size/weight class being discussed here.
For higher magnifications and really wide views we can look at the original (sometimes called Type 1) Naglers and the similar Meade UWA’s. These guys go over 80 degrees in apparent FOV. T1 Naglers were made in 4.8mm, 7mm. 9mm, 11mm, and 13mm focal lengths. Comparable Meade UWA’s are available in 4.7mm, 6.7mm, 8.8mm, and 14mm. The interesting ones are the 9mm and larger. The 11mm and 13mm Naglers are a little bit collectable, and we don’t want to pay a premium for that so we’ll concentrate on the 9mm Nagler and the Meade 8.8 and 14mm UWA’s, all of which are 1.25” eyepieces with 2” barrels. For reference, the 8.8mm UWA is about $240 today and the 14mm UWA is around $300. These are truly excellent eyepieces - at market price they are great values. I’d jump on a nice 8.8UWA for $150 or a 14UWA for $200. The 9mm Nagler would be a deal at $175. I sold my UWA’s when I went to T4 Naglers and wound up getting another pair just because I like them.
The next generation of Naglers are the Type 2 units. These were made in 12mm, 16mm, and 20mm. The 20mm Nagler Type 2 was called the Holy Hand Grenade and is a heavy bugger. It’s heavier than the immense 31mm Type 5! The 20mm has some collector value so bargains are hard to find. A great deal would be $250 but if you can find a nice 20mm T2 for under $300 it’s worth considering; I sold mine when I got the 22mm T4 but I’ll replace it someday. The 12mm or 16mm would be a good deal at around $200.
I think any eyepiece case would be enhanced with the 8.8mm and 14mm UWA’s - I can’t recommend them highly enough for the price. The Type 2 Naglers would be nice, as would the 32mm and 40mm SWA’s but I apparently don’t find them quite as essential. Other wide field eyepieces to watch for are the current model Proxima 31mm ($150 from Hands On Optics), which shows up for under $100 used from time to time, and the Tele Vue 55mm Plossl ($225 new) or
Meade’s 56mm Plossl ($200 new). The latter two aren’t too good in faster telescopes but give a very wide true FOV for under $150 on the used market.
Disclaimer: I have no commercial relationship with any of the vendors or manufacturers mentioned in this article. I do have an Astromart account and occasionally pay for a short-term sponsorship there because I find it so extremely useful.