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Orion 15x70 Little Giants

For quite a while, I'd been wanting a pair of medium aperture binoculars to replace my 8x-20x Minolta-EZ Zooms. The zooms have been cheap fun (on sale) for about $100.00 at the local Sports Authority a couple of years ago) but after I got to use a friend's pair of Fujinon 10x70s in Arizona... well, what can I say. My Minolta Zoom days were numbered after that.

My main observing tool is a Takahashi FS102 on an EM10USD mount and I love it. It also occupies the bulk of my astronomy budget, so getting a pair of the Fuji's just hasn't been in the cards.

I'd been eyeing the Orion Little Giant-II binos for quite a while and was encouraged by both their price and Todd Gross's favorable review (thanks, Todd)

A recent move has brought me to slightly darker skies and whole portions of the sky I did not have ready access to in my old location - mainly the Southern part - and I wanted a ready-at-hand tool to help me get as intimately familiar with this new terrain as I was with my "Old Sky".

The Ordering:

So I went online to Orion and ordered their Little Giant-II 15x70 binoculars.

The online ordering went very smoothly and their follow-up emails efficiently apprised me of the status of my order. I ordered on August 30th and the package arrived undented via UPS on September 1st. Nice.

In an offhand note to Orion when placing the order, I had said "Pick a good pair and pack 'em carefully ."

They did. The inner box was fully bubble-wrapped and rode in a sea of plastic peanuts. It could have cradled a dozen eggs safely. The unmarked, sky blue inner box contained the binoculars in a black hide and hide-finished, red felt-lined case with snapping lid strap and chromed hardware. Also included was one L-adapter,4 lens caps, a useful Orion-published usage/maintenance sheet and a 1-1/4" wide web-belt-material neck strap, a nice touch. Appreciated, also , were the long center-based focusing wheel and the rubber gripped eye-pieces.

The first thing I noticed was how light they feel! At just 2 pounds, 14 ounces, they make the almost 5 pound Fujinons seem like iron cannons. I found I can hold these even steadier than I can my 50mm Minoltas, which I think may be due to the weight/length ratio, I'm not sure. They're so light for their aperture that my first thought when I pulled them out of the case was "Jeeze Louise, did they leave out the freakin' lenses?". ( I always panic a little on mail-order, don't you? )
The 8mm eye-relief is right at my favorite distance for binos (too much and it doesn't feel "intimate" enough for me) but glasses wearers should beware. Todd Gross claims he can use these with his "thin glasses" but it would probably be pretty dicey for many glasses wearers. Note that the Orion 10x70's have an additional 10mm for 18mm total ER.

The exit pupils, when viewed by holding the binoculars away from your eyes, are perfectly round (not squared off) and, according Harrington, the exit pupil is 4.7mm. The coatings are solid and effective, the fit and finish is clean and error-free. The diopter and focusing mechanisms are smooth and quiet on this pair.

The View:

A daylight test revealed strengths and an important weakness. The easily focused image of the hills across the local valley was very bright and quite sharp out to just past half way from the center to the edge, where the image clarity began to degrade. I expected this - these aren't Fujinons - but since I'm usually most attentive to the on-axis image anyway, I did not find it terribly distracting. Overall, my first impression of these $259.00 binos was an unqualified "Oh, YEAH!". These just felt "right" in my hand and placing them to my eyes was a perfect and comfortable fit.

Fortunately the weather that night was clear and I had a chance to check them out:

Wow. Nice. Stars came to tightly congealed points, unlike in my Minoltas where stars often had little points and flares. Focus is not mushy at all and has a nice "arrival point". I actually found the off-axis clarity to be less of a problem at night. The edges are clear enough that my peripheral vision could clearly catch the context of things as I scanned well enough that it didn't distract from the main event on-axis and the main event was, to me, quite spectacular.

I found stuff I've NEVER seen around this suburban neck of the woods even though my 4" refractor, including M33 and a piece of the veil. On this "Last Quarter Moon" evening, I found M51, M81, M82 and M101. Extension, for crying out loud, on M31, a waist on the dumbbell and detectable rings on Saturn. A real surprise was Jupiter. There was definite color fringing outside of focus on Jupiter, which is to be expected with achromats, but when I got the focus just right, Jupiter was a tight, clean ball with hardly any noticeable color fringing. Jupiter and the silver needle-point moons were a very nice sight in these. For my local skies, the 15x yields an excellent contrast, doing a lot to help clean out the local light pollution - another reason I opted for the 15x over the 10x.

Oh, yes - that Southern sky? I bagged M72, M2 and M15 as well that night .

Reclining on the patio, I found I could gaze for a minute or two, rest for just a bit and gaze some more, keeping that rhythm up for an hour or so with no arm fatigue - probably the most unique benefit of these binos.

I don't know about you but, for me, the whole purpose of binoculars is portability and though these DO work swell on a tripod (I tried that too) I think it's a real plus that they work just fine on their own. To me, they aren't any harder to hold steady than my Minoltas at 10 power. The view jiggles some, but by resting the eye-cup against my upper orbital ridge, I can quiet that down quite a bit. Certainly enough to make using them for 2 hours an uninterrupted treat.

Bottom line: Bearing in mind the caveats mentioned, I believe these are a fine product for the money. I would recommend them to amateurs who understand the hand-holding limitation of binoculars over 7 power and I would also like to hear from anyone who's used their 10x70 model.

Follow-up 9 months later: On a recent sojourn to Arizona, these binos were an absolute pleasure for both observational scanning of the Milky Way and for use as an aid in targeting my non-goto FS102 for CCD work. There were almost a dozen experienced amateur astronomers along on this trip and all those who looked through these rendered very positive and un-solicited praise on their image quality and ease of use.

These are definite "keepers".


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