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- SharpStar Askar ACL200 200-mm f/4 astrographic telephoto lens
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- Astrotrac 360 tracking platform – first impression
- FIELD TEST: CARL ZEISS APOCHROMATIC & SHARPEST (CZAS) BINOVIEWER
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- FIELD TEST OF THE BAADER MAXBRIGHT® II BINOVIEWER
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Readers Choice - Gear of the Year 2008
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Readers Choice - Gear of the Year 2008
Tom Trusock 1/09
Another year older and deeper in debt - that's how the saying goes. And after last year, it's true. If nothing else, 2008 was a very interesting life experience for many. But some things don't change and as sure as clouds follow a new astro-purchase, manufacturers still come out with new gear. Back in the waning months of 2008 we asked you - our forum members - to nominate and then vote to choose the best and most interesting gear of the year.
Tele Vue 8mm Ethos
Well, you've got to hand it to Tele Vue. And apparently, you did. They were your landslide pick in 2007 with the 13 Ethos, and they've repeated the performance in 2008 with their introduction of the 8mm Ethos. For those who have been living under a rock, or on a deserted island in the south pacific (or both), the Ethos line of eyepieces is the first commercial widefield to break the three digit AFOV barrier. The performance of the 13mm was nothing short of amazing, and the 8mm follows in it's bigger brothers footsteps. Who would have thought that the 82 degree field of yesterdays uberwides would ever feel restrictive? The price is $585 and they are available through your favorite Tele Vue dealer.
First Look: Tele Vue 8mm Ethos
Lunt Solar Scopes
Our runner up this year is a newcomer to the field - literally, and it's more of a company than a product! Lunt solar has shaken the community with the introduction of several new products for the solar observer that set both new price and performance standards. Pricing is $800 and up. (Exact pricing depends on product.)
Lunt Solar Systems LLC
Spike-a Bahtinov and PHD
We have met the imagers, and they are us... With ever increasing amounts of light pollution in the local area more and more amateurs are turning to imaging. And that means more and more are needing focusing and guiding solutions. Enter two diverse products to help the astrophotographer get the most of their limited time: the Spike-a Bahtinov focusing mask, and Stark Labs' freeware autoguider PHD v1.8. For those not familiar with the Spike-a Bahtinov mask, it's an innovative focus aid that quickly and easily allows you to achieve exact focus. It's available in various sizes from 4" to 14", and costs from $69.95 to $99.95. And PHD? While Stark Labs accepts donations, they are actually giving their product away. Come on, what's better than free? I don't know about you, but it makes me want to give them money just on general principles. And I'm not even an imager. PHD is available for both Windows and Macintosh platforms.
Obsession 15" UC
An increasing number of amateurs are driving to dark sites for visual sessions, and as always, space is at a premium. For many, that means the new Obsession UC line is just the ticket. following on the heals of the 18" UC, Kriege and company introduced the 15" Ultra Compact in 2008. These scopes are designed to pack the most aperture into the smallest package possible, and the 15" makes it even smaller yet. Available from Obsession Telescopes at a cost of $4995 for the basic package.
First Look: Obsession 15" UC
StarShoot Pro Deep Space Color CCD Camera
Orion broke some technology and price barriers with it's Starshoot pro series of cameras. With 6.1 megapixels, and a price point of around $1300 imagers are finally brought - somewhat inexpensively - into the range where consumer digital cameras have been for years. What's not to love?
Trend: Inexpensive Ritchie-Chretien Telescopes
You say you need a telescope for that new camera? Well, both AT and Deepsky introduced a line up of new, inexpensive Ritchie-Chretien telescopes. Optimized for imaging, you can get the AT 6" version for as little as $800. Further, AT also an 8" with plans for larger sizes (10, 12 and 16) in the future. DeepSky currently offers a 10" (in two versions) with a 14" promised for sometime in 2009. Other sizes are available at increased price, but all are far lower than what we've seen in the past. Reports are starting to trickle in on some of these, and they certainly look promising. You, the reader, must think so too - as they made it into the top ten pieces of Gear of the Year for 2008.
Zeiss Abbe Orthoscopic II
But as some of our other products have shown, don't count the visual observer out just yet. The next product chosen by our readers is a new version of a classic: the re-issue of the Zeiss Abbe Ortho. The original version of this eyepiece commands a stellar price on the new market - it's only fitting that the latest incarnation commands a similarly stellar price on the new market. Dollar for dollar tho, forum members swear that it provides them with some of the best lunar and planetary views they've ever had. It sure looks like the ZAO II's are destined to be a classic.
EON 120 Apochromatic Refractor
Orion had another big hit with our forum members this year - their EON 120 refractor. This fpl-53 based f7.5 120mm doublet retails for around $2000 and offers some very nice performance both optically and mechanically - especially for the money.
TMB 92SS Apochromatic Refractor
For portable setups, TMB released a scope that some call - "Son of Stowaway". This 92mm f5.5 telescope weighs 8.5 lbs, and is a mere 13.25 inches long with the focuser racked in, and the dew shield collapsed. It sports an fpl-53 based triplet on one end and a custom Feathertouch focuser on the other. It'll set you back 2k, but if you're into small - this is one seriously cool new telescope.
TMB Signature Series / TMB Telescopes
And the final product in our top 10 this year is a new mount to put all these toys on. Celestron has introduced it's CGEM middle weight german equatorial. Designed for a a maximum load of 40lbs, this is a new ride for their 11 inch SCT (and other optics as well). This computerized mount is supplied with a 17lb counterweight when sold alone. It'll set you back around $1400.
There you have it - your top choices for 2008. It's always good to see innovation in the astro-industry, and especially good to see it in years like last year. There were a number of other stellar products that didn't quite make the cut - here's hoping they'll make it in 2009 - but that will be up to you. NEAF 2009 is right around the corner, and we'll be bringing you the latest live from the show.
Finally, it's been tough times for the guys and gals who make (and sell) our favorite toys, and I'd like to take a minute to thank them for sticking with it throughout 2008. I'd also like to thank our readers - nearly 30k strong - that make the CN forums the most active and friendly astronomy forum on the internet.
Congratulations to all the 2008 winners, and here's wishing everyone the best in 2009.