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Antares Binoviewer vs. TeleVue Bino Vue - PoorBoy vs. the Prince

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Recently I had the chance to test two binoviewers, the Antares 1.25-inch binocular eyepiece holder and the TeleVue Bino Vue with 2X amplifier, a piece of hardware that many amateur astronomers dream of acquiring one day. I do not have the long experience that most of the senior members at CloudyNights.com have and hence you won’t see many familiar “buzz” words and terms here, but I'll present the facts in the way I saw them. Hopefully you will find this review useful.

The Antares was bought from Scope City for $120, the TeleVue was bought from Telescopes.com for a final cost of $460. How I landed that price on a brand new TeleVue is a long story but let's say that I was both lucky enough and smart enough to stack many offers on top of each other lowering the price of the last one left in their inventory from $1050 down to $460. Just a nice Christmas gift to myself...

The Antares binoviewer had some decent features listed on Scope City's web site:

- Lightweight

- 20 mm clear aperture

- Fully broadband multi-coatings

- Brilliant enlarged BAK-4 prisms

- 1.25" standard nosepiece w/ filter threads

- 52 mm to 75 mm IPD

- 2x solid aluminum dust caps

When I placed the order that took more than a week just to go through (due to Scope City's service) there was one more feature listed online:

- New improved version with collet type eyepiece holders (no thumbscrews)

That was not what they shipped to one of their Southern California stores from where I picked it up. I was presented with the old version (thumbscrews) and no aluminum dust caps. It came in a nice plain white paper box with a lot of padding inside and three plastic dust caps. The store manager did call Antares to inquire on the collet type model that was sold in the UK and other places around the globe. He was told that they do not sell this version in the USA; the following day Scope City had removed the “improved version” line from the bino’s features listed on their web site.

The Antares bino was well constructed and felt anything but cheap. Without eyepieces it weighed 508 grams according to my digital scale. Externally it looked the same like the one made by Celestron, Orion, William Optics, and many other optics’ vendors. The difference was in the color and the fact that it had the lowest price available out there. No instructions were included and hence I downloaded those by Orion Telescopes that basically sells the same bino in an aluminum case.

Antares binoviewer: US model on the left, rest of the globe on the right.

The binoviewer was bought mainly to observe the moon. Hence when the moon was out I was out too, armed with a Celestron C8 SGT, a Vixen flip mirror, the Antares bino and two 1.25" 25 mm E-lux Celestron eyepieces. The views of the moon were good but I noticed two things right away, one I liked and one I did not. There was no image merging problem with the Antares; it would merge images at any IPD with the 25 mm eyepieces. The picture however was not very sharp at a radius 2/3 away from the center. That could be due to the bino itself or the eyepieces. At the time I did not have more eyepieces to test it further. I did notice that the bino reduced the moon’s brightness, something that is almost always good while observing the moon at low magnifications but when I used a Zhumell Barlow to get closer views the picture became too dark to observe details. A closer examination of the interior holes just above the prisms showed that the claim of the 20 mm clear aperture might have not been true. Jupiter did not look very good either with the above mentioned setup even when the Barlow was not used.

I thought about it and decided that I needed something better. The moon views through the bino were borderline acceptable and higher power better quality eyepieces without a Barlow could have perhaps worked well. But here in broader L.A. we have a huge light pollution problem and the Antares was not going to make it. My backyard "features" a bright street light in one of its corners by the way; talk about ideal environment for stargazing. The bino was sent back and took them more than five weeks to refund my money. Scope City won't be getting my business again.

A couple of days after I shipped the Antares back, I spotted a sale on Telescopes.com on the TeleVue binoviewers with the 2X amplifier, model BVP-2002. I have had mostly good experiences with that store; they don't make your life difficult with returns as long as you do not abuse the items you send back. I placed an order for the TeleVue faster that you can say "bino", stacking various offers on top of each other and 3-4 days later it arrived with free shipping at my doorstep with a total and final cost to me of just under $460. I know that some of you would kill your mother to get this low price but I bought the last one so that you did not have to do such a bad thing...

The TeleVue weighed 618 grams with the extension tubes or 734 grams with the 2X amplifier/corrector. It came in a plain white paper box that was of lower quality compared to the Antares one. That box however was twice as big as the Antares box. The bino was packed in lots of bubble wrap inside the box with tape placed carefully at any point of the wrap that could expose the instrument. It felt cheap however compared to the padding of the Antares. Only the 2X amplifier's box was better looking. Now, why would they pack a $1050 instrument in a paper box instead of a nice aluminum $20 case I do not know.

TeleVue Bino Vue with 2X Amplifier, 6 mm 66-deg SkyWatcher EPs,

25 mm 50-deg Celestron E-Lux EPs and 15 mm 52-deg Celestron Omni EPs.

The Bino Vue does look a bit cheap; at least the two plastic covers on the sides do. I understand that they tried to keep the weight as low as possible but they could have made some thin aluminum covers for the sides. As soon as you put it in your hands though you get the feeling that this bino means serious business. The collet type eyepiece holders are big and so are the prism surfaces inside them. It has a solid feeling like the Antares does but it is also bigger in size. Instructions are included and TeleVue's web site has more instructions available for those that need them.

TeleVue Bino Vue with 6 mm SkyWatcher EPs and dual-speed Zhumell focuser.

This setup is used for low-angle observing.

Same setup as before plus the Vixen Flip Mirror Diagonal. Total weight: 2.134 kgs !!!

After the initial feeling of a $1050 piece of hardware in my hands it was time to test it. The moon was still out and so was Jupiter. This time I had additional eyepieces of slightly better quality than the E-lux ones to work with: a pair of 1.25" 15 mm and a pair of 1.25" 12 mm 52-deg FOV Celestron Omnis. The first issues I noticed were: (a) no easy merging of the images with the 25 mm eyepieces I had used with the Antares and, (B) a focusing problem that I did not have with the Antares. Both problems took a little bit of getting used to. Eventually, I mastered the easy solutions that others had employed and posted in various astronomy forums. Image merging does depend on your brain and you have to train yourself on it if you ever buy a good quality binoviewer. But that is something you forget once you aim a Bino Vue equipped scope at the moon. It feels as if you are there and the close-ups are of the "wow" type. Jupiter can be nice looking as well on a good night and it feels as if it floats in space. Another issue is that as you adjust the IPD of the Bino Vue you will find the ends of the range to be of lower brightness than the middle of it. For best results stay near the middle of the range.

So, did I keep this one? You bet I did and since then I keep adding eyepiece pairs of decent quality, higher FOV and low price. I don't really like Barlows, I prefer to change the eyepieces instead of moving the $1050 bino in and out of the focuser. The latest "toy" is a pair of 1.25” 6 mm 66-deg FOV SkyWatcher eyepieces that were on sale (did you notice a pattern here?) but now the problem is that after months of dry weather in Southern California we are getting a much-needed rain season and hence I'll have to wait for clear skies to test the eyepieces. The truth and nothing but the truth is that once you look at the moon through a good bino you cannot go back to using one eye. We are made with two and we should use both of them all the time. The feeling is the same when you use a microscope with a bino head; I have one and it is not the same when I look through the bino and then compare the view to the picture of the live microscope camera. A bino gives you always a 3-D feeling though it is not exactly 3-D.

The heavy setup attached to the rear of the Celestron C8 SGT.

Note a small aluminum weight attached on the front of the scope for better balancing.

What about the 2X amplifier? It was part of the $460 deal too as you may recall. The amplifier is not needed with an SCT but this is not the case with a Meade DS2090 OTA that I use from time to time. With that scope the 2X showed why it is expensive. It worked very well and the views of the moon were sharp. This is what was made for and there is nothing else to add here.

Bino Vue with 2X amplifier/corrector on the Meade DS2090 refractor.

A small aluminum weight (not shown) is also required on the front for better balancing.

The iOptron moves everything without a lot of effort, but shaking can be bad.

One last note on using a heavy binoviewer: the balance of any scope will be affected and requires some remedy. In order to balance the scopes without spending a fortune in specialized weights I visited our local Harbor Freight store. For $1 they sell some nice solid cylindrical aluminum weights called “balance adapters for motorcycles” that feature a nice long thru-hole in the center. With a 4-inch 1/4 #20 screw and some washers selling for $1 from a hardware store you can securely attach the weight to the dovetail of the scope and it will work perfectly. Check the C8 picture above.

In conclusion, the Antares is good for starters. The views of the moon won't disappoint you if you use good quality eyepieces but everything else most likely will, especially in highly light-polluted areas. The TeleVue Bino Vue on the other hand shows its class right away, even on DSO. What I do not like is the absence of an aluminum case and the $1050 price tag. I think it's too high. Something around $550 would be more logical. No matter which bino you choose be prepared to spend double the amount of money on eyepieces. I would not personally go with a Barlow when I am using such an expensive bino and I need to switch to high power. Dropping a $100 eyepiece is bad but by dropping a $1050 bino you commit a sin and you need to keep in mind that while you are out there checking the skies God is watching you all the time. So, no drinking, no smoking and no bino-dropping please.

Clear skies.


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