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First Light with a Burgess Optics Binoviewer

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Disclaimer: I have been more of an imager the last couple of years, so I can't say I'm a veteran visual observer. In fact, nowadays when a new Nagler or Panoptic comes to market, I have the initial rush of "oooo-new eyepiece!" Then I pause, and ask myself "So, how often will you use that?" and I stop drooling.

When the Burgess Optics binoviewer came to market, I was intrigued by that product. For a very reasonable price, I can get into binoviewing. I remember a review of high-end binoviewers in an astronomy magazine where the reviewer remarked on how binoviewers were very helpful in high-power lunar and planetary gazing. With two-eyed gazing versus Cyclops viewing, the floater pattern in one eye was canceled out by the floater pattern in the other eye, presenting a cleaner view of the target overall. Wouldn't that be nice for Mars?

Fast forward to the weekend of September 24th, I was at Scopeout in Cincinnati, where Burgess Optical had a booth. I chatted with Bill Burgess himself about the binoviewer, and before long I had a cosmetic blemished special in my hands for an even better price than the brand-new unblemished models. This is the model that comes with three nylon set screws for each eyepiece. This allows for fine adjustment/centering of each eyepiece. It also came with a pair of 20mm eyepieces.

Last night was surprisingly clear, given that it was just two days after that purchase. I wasted no time in setting up my equipment for a first pass at using this new acquisition. I used an 8" LX200 classic, and the binoviewers rode in a Takahashi 1.25" prism diagonal. I used the 20mm eyepieces that came with the binoviewers.

First whiff: Oh, that new-equipment smell! If only it could last.

One of my apprehensions regarding binoviewing was the statement that some people have trouble merging the two images. I was also apprehensive about the ease of centering the eyepieces in their drawtubes. As it turns out, I am apparently one of those people who don't have trouble merging images. I also did not have trouble centering the eyepieces in the drawtube. Adjusting the binoviewer separation was enough to allow me to center the FOV and frame the objects being observed.

First target after aligning the scope was M13 (the Hercules cluster), which may have been a mistake; as dim as the target is (further attenuated by the beam split), I could not find focus at first. Before I thought to slew to a bright star to get focus, I saw a relatively bright star in the FOV and used that to focus using my left eye. I used the helical fine focuser to bring the right eye to close focus. That did not quite work, as I ran out of focus travel turning counter-clockwise. I was real close, though, so I did not worry about that. Fine focusing will wait for another night. Once I optimized the binoviewer width and tuned the eyepieces, M13 started to resolve into stars. I did not have a "wow!" experience - I've seen better views of M13, though I will qualify that statement with the fact that my backyard skies are probably around Mag 4 or 4.5, and I was comparing the view with large aperture memories of M13 in dark skies.

Next target: M57, the Ring Nebula. Here I started to experience the pseudo-3D effect of binoviewing reported by so many. This was exacerbated by the eye relief of the supplied 20mm eyepieces. I found that I had to bring my head back above the rubber eyecups to prevent image blackout; this optimal distance also helped to merge the images in my eyes. Now, I'm used to pressing my eyes against the rubber eyecups of eyepieces, as this helps steady my viewing. With that steadying aspect missing, the view through the binoviewers bobbed and weaved about. While this is more a result of the eyepieces, this also gave an interesting effect: as my eyes compensated for the minute bobbing of my head, so did my view of M57. This only helped to enhance the illusion of gazing out a window the object. The net effect was that M57 had a more "real" feeling to it. I was really staring at some object in space.

It was about 8:30 PM at this point - not quite that dark yet. It was deep twilight, but not fully dark. On a whim, I pointed my scope at NGC 7331. Now, I don't remember that I've ever tried seeing this relatively faint galaxy from my back yard before. Either way, when I tried it, I'm pretty sure I saw a faint extended fuzzines in the FOV. Curiously, later that evening, I could only just make it out with averted vision. This runs counter to my normal expectation that it would be more easily visible later on, with the sky darker and all.

The highlights of that evening followed later on: at 100X, I could only check out the Double Cluster one object at a time: once more I had that "porthole in space" feeling (is this what having a Nagler is like?). Interestingly, the bright red stars that are visible in Cyclops mode did not reveal their color with the binoviewers. Checking out M31, I am almost certain that I was able to discern a dust lane as a darkening from the core, followed by a lightening that could only be one of its arms.

I'm pretty satisfied with this binoviewer. It delivers as promised within its limitations. As this was first light, I have yet to test those limitations, but given my propensity against collecting eyepieces, it may be a while before I test those limts. Even my wife, who had trouble initially with the binoviewers, agrees that they were a good buy. And if I ever use it enough to want to get past its limits, isn't that what "starter equipment" is for?


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