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Pentax PCF Binocular Lineup

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I’m a retired fish and wildlife biologist, avid outdoorsman, and amateur astronomy buff. As a working biologist, I was fortunate to use some of the finest opticsavailable, on a regular basis. I have a “thing” for binoculars, and over the years have amassed a “collection” of more than 40 binoculars of all descriptions. I use the term “collection” lightly, as I’m not a collector, just an avid user. You’ll seldom find me without a binocular somewhere close at hand!

I’ve accumulated a set of Pentax PCF binoculars that I often use for night sky viewing:

7x50 PCF(Japanese)
12x50 PCF(Japanese)
16x60 PCF WP(Chinese)
20x60 PCF WPII(Chinese)

This is a review of the suitability of these binoculars for astronomy purposes, as well as for daytime viewing. These are all reasonably priced porro-prism glasses, rugged, fairly ergonomic (more on that later) and have decent optics.

The 7x50 PCF is fine for sweeping the Milky Way and getting lost in the sea of stars that you don’t see with the naked eye. Large objects like the Andromeda Galaxy, moon, Coathanger cluster, and Pleiades show up well. They are very sharp in the center and acceptably sharp out to 90% or more, with ever-so-slight coma near the edge of the field of view. These are a great to hand to a friend who is not used to binoculars or astronomy. They gather plenty of light, and are easy to hand hold. These work fine for daytime viewing as well, although they’re rather big and heavy for carrying. They wouldn’t be my first choice for daytime use but would suffice as a general purpose optic for someone that can only have one binocular and likes to view the night sky. The 6.2º angle of view certainly does not put these in the wide-field class but is acceptable. Eye relief is 20mm to accommodate those who need to view through eye glasses. The close focus of about 12 ft. would serve most people well for daytime viewing.

The 12x50 PCF is a big step up from the 7x50. With this glass all the popular binocular attractions are easy to see. They are acceptably bright, very sharp out to 90% or beyond, with very slight coma at the outer edge that is not distracting to me. Most of my viewing is sitting with some kind of brace, or lying on my back and I can handhold these within reason. It’s amazing though how much more you can see if you just mount these on a tripod or parallel mount. I’m often too lazy or pressed for time so I just brace myself as best I can, but I truly enjoy the view more when they’re mounted. The angle of view is 4.2º; adequate, but not as wide as some 12x binoculars. They are not as bright as a good 12x60 or 12x70, but their relatively compact size, light weight, and ease of use are attractive attributes. 20mm of eye relief should work with most eye glass wearers. During daytime use, the 12x50 PCF works well on a car window mount for viewing distant wildlife. They are rather large for general carry, and 12x is a bit too much for effective hand-holding. But they work great for most astronomy use, and work very well as a low-power “spotting scope” for daytime use when mounted.

I really like my 16x60 PDF WP! This is my go-to glass for most night sky viewing. I can see noticeably more detail with this binocular compared to the 12x50. The binocular-friendly doubles are all easy to see, and objects like the Orion Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, and most open clusters really come to life. The moons of Jupiter are sharp and vivid. With bright objects like the moon and Jupiter there is a bit of off-axis flare or ghosting, but this is minimal when the object is centered. Stars are very sharp pin-points clear to the edge. You might find a tiny bit of coma at the extreme edge if you really look for it, but it’s certainly not noticeable otherwise. I have to admit to hand-holding these often, even though they are definitely better mounted. If I’m really well-braced I can get a decent view hand-held, but on a tripod or parallel mount they are wonderful. At 2.8º the angle of view is quite narrow. This is workable for me, but may be bothersome to those who prefer wider views. 15x70’s certainly provide more expanse and maybe a bit more light, but at a substantial cost in weight and bulk. I enjoy the spontaneity of the lighter, more compact 16x60. Eye relief is 20mm. One quirk of this binocular is that your eyes need to be in very close alignment with the eyepieces. If you’re off a bit, you may experience some blackout. It doesn’t take long to get used to this and it really isn’t a problem, but may be disconcerting at first. This binocular makes a great day-use spotting instrument for distant wildlife viewing when mounted. It’s my favorite for whale-watching at the beach, or spotting bighorn sheep on the cliffs. One thing though; these are no longer in production, but you can probably pick up a used 16x60 if you are patient.

The Pentax 20x60 PCF WPII is a great binocular too. The size is similar to the 16x, very light and compact for a high-power binocular. I don’t see a huge advantage from the additional magnification over the 16x, and the 20x may not be quite as bright. Never-the-less, the 20x60 provides excellent views of most objects that are within reach of binoculars. Stars are sharp well out to the edge of the field, and contrast is good. In a pinch I can hand-hold the 20x if I sit with my back against a wall with elbows braced on my knees. I can manage pretty well lying on my back, too. But to get the best out of this glass, you really should mount it well. It’s hard to beat on my home-made parallel mount. The 2.2º angle of view is pretty tight, but I don’t have any difficulty lining it up. This won’t satisfy the wide-field fanatic, but everything you see will be sharp. Eye relief is 20mm+, and eyeglass wearers can see the entire field of view. These share the same quirk with the 16x60; your eye alignment needs to be right on or you may get some blackout. Can you see more objects through a 20x70 or 80? Probably, but those are really big glasses, and heavy. The Pentax 20x60 is highly portable, and easy to put into action. This binocular is a fine high-power spotter for daytime use on a window mount or tripod. It provides excellent detail for long-range birding, and is much more comfortable than a 20x spotting scope. The 60mm objective is a bit dim for dawn and twilight use, but excellent for most daytime use.

For the person that wants a set of binoculars with a range of magnification (say 7x, 12x, and 20x) the Pentax PCF series offers a lot for the money. They all have a similar shape, feel, and operating style. Although the 16x and 20x are larger than the others, they handle in a very similar manner. The shape is somewhat non-traditional, more reminiscent of a roof-prism design than your typical porro-prism, with a different feel than most porros. However they are comfortable to use and you’ll soon get used to the feel. One trait they all share that I don’t care for is the lens caps. They don’t stay on very well, especially out of the padded carrying case. I don’t use the caps much, so generally avoid this nuisance. All-in-all, the Pentax PCF series are rugged binoculars that provide nice views, night or day, for a modest price. I can recommend them to anyone looking for a decent mid-priced binocular.


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