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Your Experience Using 6-inch & 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescopes-SCTs as Spotting Scopes for Terrestrial Observing/Viewing in Low Light Conditions?

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#1 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:34 PM

Hi,

 

As the title says, I would like to hear about your personal experiences using 6-inch and 8-inch (or even larger) sized SCTs for terrestrial observing/viewing in low light conditions (i.e. on an overcast day, at twilight/dusk/dawn, at night). 

 

Information on the subject is sparse and I thought it would be worth it having a thread to share our direct observations or comments about this topic.  Pictures of your setup are most welcome too!

 

I left Maksutov telescopes out mostly because in the larger sizes their long focal length makes them less suitable for terrestrial viewing, but if you have a positive experience using a 6-inch or larger Mak that contradicts this assumption please feel free to post here too.

 

Thank you in advance for your comments, reports and photos!



#2 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:37 PM

(Continued from previous post)

 

My previous experience and environment:

 

Although I have been observing the night sky with telescopes and binoculars for many years, my experience doing terrestrial observing is very limited, mostly because of the location of my single-floor house in a suburban area.  But that started to change a year ago after I purchased an ultra-portable Tele Vue TV-60 refractor that I set on a regular photo tripod.  I am lucky to be near a small hill about 1 km away (0.6 miles) that is a natural reserve with dense vegetation and visited by a fair number of bird species and other small fauna, so this is my favorite place for doing terrestrial observing.  The climate where I live it’s mostly humid (clouded or raining most of the year) so I don’t get to use my telescopes as frequently as I would like.  But the TV-60 showed me that I could have almost as much fun looking at birds and trees on cloudy days as I do watching the stars at night!

 

This is my view from my home at dusk of the hill-top that I look with my scopes when I do terrestrial viewing.

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#3 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:39 PM

(Continued from previous post)

 

Using commercial spotting scopes:

 

After months of greatly enjoying my TV-60 as a terrestrial scope, I purchased a couple of nice spotting scopes to continue rejoicing in my new pastime without having to worry about the weather (rain).  An important limitation with long distance terrestrial viewing with a spotting scope (or any kind of telescope for that matter) is the distortion caused by the effects of heat waves but there are also other limiting factors like glare and the loss in air transparency caused by fog, precipitation, humidity, particles of dust or smoke suspended in the air, etc.  Of all the aforementioned, shimmering caused by heat waves is by far the most common limiting factor for doing terrestrial observing during the day.  For this reason and because of my daily schedule I normally do most of my terrestrial viewing at dusk or at night.  Of course, when I have some spare time and the air is calm (like on an overcast day) I love using my spotting scopes during the day too.

 

In spite of their small aperture, commercial spotting scopes generally work fine for viewing during the day when used within the typical magnification range (from 20x to 60x) provided by their zoom eyepieces, but after dusk the situation changes pronouncedly.  In order to keep using my (80 mm-100 mm) spotting scopes in low light conditions I had to choose between dropping the magnification significantly (to increase the exit pupil and get a brighter image) or be content with looking at well magnified but dim images.  Neither option seemed attractive enough to me, so I started trying with astronomical telescopes of larger aperture than my spotting scopes.  The natural choice would be using a larger refractor (after all most spotting scopes are refractors), but setting up a 5-inch apo refractor for terrestrial viewing at night seems like a lot of work to me for just a small increase in image brightness.  I wanted more!

 

Here is a picture of my two larger commercial spotting scopes with their respective zoom eyepiece:  Celestron Regal M2 100ED and Pentax PF-80ED-A.  The Pentax is my travelling spotting scope (smaller, lighter and more efficient) and the Celestron Regal is my stay at home spotter.

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#4 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:41 PM

(Continued from previous post)

 

Using a 6-inch SCT as a spotting scope:

 

When I tried using my Celestron C6 f/10 XLT SCT OTA for terrestrial viewing in low light conditions, a new world opened before my eyes!  Not only are images visibly brighter in a 6-inch scope than with a regular 60mm to 100mm spotting scope used at the same magnification but they also show more resolution (as expected) that permits observing finer details in any object that you are looking through the scope.  All this goodness comes at a price if you are bent on using a compact medium aperture astronomical telescope for terrestrial viewing and that is the moderate loss in contrast caused by the relatively large central obstruction of SCTs.  With my 80mm ED spotter during the day I can usually see the color, general shape and apparent size of a small flower half a mile away (805 m) and that’s fantastic (compared to a using regular binoculars or the naked eye), but with the humble 6-inch SCT I can see a more detailed (visual) image and be able to distinguish and possibly identify the type of flower –say a rose from a geranium or a daisy flower -this happened to me the very first time that I used the C6 SCT for terrestrial.

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#5 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:42 PM

(Continued from previous post)

 

For terrestrial viewing I use my C6 SCT on a Manfrotto 117B Geared Tripod with 503HDV Pro Fluid Video Head and 500PLONG Camera Plate attached to the scope dovetail.

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#6 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:43 PM

(Continued from previous post)

 

The only accessory that I required purchasing for using my C6 SCT for terrestrial viewing is a 1.25” 45-degree erecting prism diagonal of decent quality.  I could have used a standard/dielectric mirror diagonal or a 60-degree dielectric diagonal but unfortunately they produce mirror-reversed images and I wanted to have correct images even if that means sacrificing a small edge in image quality -I’m satisfied with the images that I get using my erecting prism diagonal.  Another reason why I chose this type of prism diagonal is because I prefer viewing through the scope while comfortably sitting and looking from one side at the back of the SCT –when looking from one side of a mirror diagonal the images at the eyepiece appear to be upside down, not viable for me.

 

I normally use the C6 SCT for viewing terrestrial objects in low-light conditions at moderate magnifications (58x with a 26 mm Explore Scientific 62-deg series eyepiece and 75x with a 20 mm Pentax XW eyepiece on a Tele Vue 45 Degree Erecting Prism Diagonal-1.25”) and still have a moderately bright image with good color saturation.  I prefer using eyepieces with long eye relief because they are more comfortable for viewing for extended periods.

 

To complement the restricted FOV of the C6 SCT at medium-high power I installed (using a Celestron finder bracket) a Stellarvue 50mm Finder Scope with a Pentax 8.5 mm XF eyepiece that results in 23.5X with a True FOV of approx. 2.5°, effectively turning the finder scope into a small spotting scope.

 

I am very pleased using my C6 SCT as a spotting scope for long distance viewing on cloudy days (when shimmering is minimal) and after dusk when my regular spotting scope would not be of much use!

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  • Celestron-6in SCT+SV 50mm Finder+Pentax 8.5mm XF eyepiece-800x480_112121.jpg

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#7 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:47 PM

 

(Continued from previous post)

 

Using an 8-inch SCT as a spotting scope:

 

If using a 6-inch SCT as a spotting scope in low-light conditions for terrestrial viewing is good, an 8-inch SCT spotting scope for the same use must be better, right?  In short, yes!  But to elaborate:  Yes, using an 8-inch SCT for doing terrestrial viewing in low light conditions is great with the additional light gathering power, more resolving power and ability to deliver higher magnification at the same exit pupil than a 6-inch scope, but with these pluses comes the need for a higher carrying capacity Alt-Az mount on a sturdy tripod and this can turn expensive real quick if you don’t already own one (the mount).  Luckily for me, I already owned a Meade LX200 8-inch f/10 SCT OTA of good optical quality and I had in store a new-in-box heavy duty photo tripod and video head that I had purchased years ago for a project (binocular telescope) that was later cancelled.

 

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#8 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:48 PM

(Continued from previous post)

 

For terrestrial viewing I use my Meade 8” SCT on a Manfrotto 161MK2B Super Pro Geared Tripod with 519 Pro Fluid Video Head and ADM V Series Saddle-Tapped Hole Version (VSAD-TPD) attached to the 501PL Camera Plate to accept the Vixen-type dovetail of my Meade 8” SCT.

 

To complement my Meade 8” SCT I installed (using a Meade finder bracket) a Stellarvue 50mm Finder Scope with a Pentax 8.5 mm XF eyepiece that results in 23.5X with a True FOV of approx. 2.5°, used as a small piggyback spotting scope like I did with my C6.

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  • Meade-8in SCT+Manfrotto-519 video head+ADM saddle-1400x840_100846.jpg


#9 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:49 PM

(Continued from previous post)

 

As could be expected the 8-inch SCT provides brighter images than a 6-inch SCT while used at the same magnification or a higher magnification view at the same brightness (same exit pupil) than the 6-inch.  In my case, I prefer to keep the same exit pupil (brightness) and be able to use more magnification (77X with a 26 mm ES 62-deg series eyepiece, 100X with a 20mm Pentax XW eyepiece and 143X with a 14mm Pentax XW eyepiece on a Tele Vue 45 Degree Erecting Prism Diagonal-1.25”).  Also, the images in the 8-inch scope have a higher resolution permitting observing finer details in the object being viewed.

 

With this scope I have had fun cataloguing domestic cats by their colors and sometimes even by their breed at 1 km away (0.6 miles).  I have looked at a wasp nest hanging from a tree at approx. the same distance (although I have not been able to resolve the individual wasps yet). I have also observed a good variety of colorful butterflies flying around plants and recognized a few bird or plant species that were still farther away (up to maybe 1 mile) all this during the day.  Looking at the same distance (1 km or 0.6 miles) at night I could still see brighter patches in a cat’s fur (depending on how close the cat is to a light source) and twice I have seen a bat in flight feeding on insects near a street light (I can actually see the insects that they chase as little bright dots of different sizes revolving around the light bulb that is shielded from my point of view).  I have also seen some trees with large leaves at night in the middle of the hill nearby illuminated only by the light coming from the public illumination from the city (light pollution).

 

I am extremely pleased using my 8-inch SCT as a spotting scope for terrestrial viewing in low light conditions and it gets the nod over my C6 SCT.  The 8-inch SCT is “miles ahead” of my regular spotting scopes except on a hot day morning or afternoon, when the smaller scopes using a lower magnification give a more aesthetically pleasing view!

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#10 vtornado

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:51 PM

I have a C5, works in the day as a spotter. Last month I had a visiting great horned owl in the yard at dusk.

F10, 1250mm was too dark to focus.  I switched to a orion short tube, 400mm f/5

 

 

 

 


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#11 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:53 PM

(Continued from previous post – last one!)

 

Since it rains frequently where I live, for terrestrial viewing I usually setup my scope under the eaves of my house where I’m partially shielded from the rain and always make sure to use a flexible dew shield on the scope.  I also made a water resistant jacket/cover for the 8-inch scope out of a camping waterproof camouflage dry bag to protect it from the drizzle or light rain along with the dew shield.  Of course, I don’t use my scopes in heavy rainfall!

 

So far this has been my very limited but positive experience using these two highly capable telescopes for terrestrial viewing.  Naturally, for viewing any object at night through these telescopes a source of visible light to illuminate the object of interest must be present, after all these are not night vision scopes that can work with infrared light unless you add such a device!

 

I hope that others may contribute to this topic by posting their own experiences.  Thank you!

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#12 MortonH

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 08:59 PM

I have a C5, works in the day as a spotter. Last month I had a visiting great horned owl in the yard at dusk.

F10, 1250mm was too dark to focus.  I switched to a orion short tube, 400mm f/5

 

The scope being f/10 and 1250mm doesn't make it too dark, it's the eyepiece you use with it and therefore the magnification and exit pupil.  Without specifying the eyepiece(s) used in each scope your statement means nothing. 


Edited by MortonH, 17 August 2019 - 08:59 PM.


#13 Migwan

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 09:34 PM

.  Without specifying the eyepiece(s) used in each scope your statement means nothing. 

Really?

 

jd



#14 vtornado

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 09:44 PM

The scope being f/10 and 1250mm doesn't make it too dark, it's the eyepiece you use with it and therefore the magnification and exit pupil.  Without specifying the eyepiece(s) used in each scope your statement means nothing. 

I was taking pictures with an SLR off the back too dark to achieve sharp focus


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#15 Castor

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 09:45 PM

I have a C5, works in the day as a spotter. Last month I had a visiting great horned owl in the yard at dusk.

F10, 1250mm was too dark to focus.  I switched to a orion short tube, 400mm f/5

 

Hi vtornado,

 

Thank you for your comments!

 

There are so many variables (distance to the object being observed, proximity and brightness of a light source to the object, transparency of the air, reflectivity of the object, contrast of the object against its background, etc.) that must be taken into account for using scopes for terrestrial viewing in low light conditions that it makes it very hard to predict the visibility of an object and the only way is to find out is by experimentation.

    

I’m sure an owl is a tough target at dusk with little light available.  I haven’t being able to see any and believe me, I have tried!


Edited by Castor, 17 August 2019 - 09:51 PM.


#16 vtornado

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 10:24 PM

Yes brown owl in a brown tree, low light.  Distance was about 100 feet.

I would upload my pic but it is 2MB


Edited by vtornado, 17 August 2019 - 10:25 PM.

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#17 fcathell

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Posted 17 August 2019 - 10:38 PM

One thing to keep in mind with daytime terrestrial viewing is that the pupil of you eye is probably only about 2 mm in diameter. Any scope producing a larger exit pupil out of the eyepiece than this effectively has a stopped down aperture. Since the scope's exit pupil is just the aperture divided by the magnification, you would have to be using a 6" (150mm) scope at 75X to get full use of the aperture. Since most terrestrial viewing is done in the 10X to 30X range, a scope with a 60mm aperture should be adequate for most applications.  That's why you don't see dedicated spotting scopes much larger than this. Heavy duty bird watchers frequently have C-5s or similar because here you can take advantage of the full aperture at 60X or higher. Also note that a standard 7X50 pair of binocs is not fully utilized in the daylight because the exit pupil is about 7mm, far larger than a normal eye pupil diameter in the daytime.

 

Frank 


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#18 Castor

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Posted 18 August 2019 - 12:50 AM

Thank you Frank, excellent analysis and recommendations! waytogo.gif

 

My favorite eyepiece in both scopes for day or night-time use is a 20mm Pentax XW eyepiece that results in an exit pupil of 2 mm and a magnification of 75X in the 6-inch scope and 100X in the 8-inch scope.  Sometimes, when the air is calm (mostly at night) and there is sufficient light I like to use a 14mm Pentax XW with a resulting exit pupil of 1.4 mm in either scope (both used at f/10).  At night when the object that I want to see is relatively large but dim I use either a 26 mm or a 30 mm ES eyepiece to increase the exit pupil and if that doesn’t work I always keep a 40 mm Meade S.4000 Plossl handy, just in case!



#19 Migwan

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Posted 18 August 2019 - 11:28 AM

My back yard is designed to attract birds to the middle of a rather boring monculture farm.  Get around 100 species visiting per year, including around 20 regulars.   I love binoculars, but find the f5 ST80 at 16.6x and 4° the most useful considering shorter distance than the OP is scoping. 

 

Thought about a C5 or similar, but the boss has me on an optical purchase lockdown.   So I am converting an old Tokina 400mm complex camera lens that looks a lot like a C4.   Tried it with shorty barlow to pull it into focus, but way too high power narrow fov.  So I have ordered a 1.25" .5x reducer to tone it down a bit.  Won't quite be as good as a C4, but will only have $25 of new money into.

 

Now all I need to do is to smuggle in a tripod without getting caught.  Castor, those tripods are awesome. 

 

jd


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#20 Castor

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Posted 18 August 2019 - 12:04 PM

Hi JD,

 

Thank you for your comments!  I wish I had a place with open vistas to view lots of birds like you, kudos on designing your backyard to attract them! bow.gif

 

I fully agree with your observation about short FL refractors with the wide fields of view being more useful for doing terrestrial observing at close range than SCTs -I consider the latter in their medium sizes (6” to 8”) as instruments more suitable for viewing at long distances because of their better resolving power.

 

Thanks for the compliment on the tripods, I consider them a lifetime investment!  Good luck with your camera lens conversion project! smile.gif 


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#21 fcathell

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Posted 18 August 2019 - 01:22 PM

 < "the boss has me on an optical purchase lockdown" >

 

You're cracking me up. Man do I know what this is all about with my first wife who passed away in 1999.  Great lady, but I too had to sneak equipment in the house. If she said, "That looks new!", I would just say, "Oh no, had it for years - you just never never noticed it." The present wife never asks any questions.  In fact she encourages me in the hobby. Maybe there is an ulterior motive here???

 

Frank 


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#22 photoracer18

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Posted 20 August 2019 - 03:15 PM

I used my original orange fork-mounted C8 as a spotting scope back in the late 70's on occasion. It worked pretty well although I would not call it portable. These days I have a Pentax PF-100ED spotting scope plus a LOMO 95 Mak that works excellent as one also. I have also used C5 SCTs both the F10 and F6 versions. If you can find one of the WO 2" Amici diagonals I can recommend them also.

I have a full set of the Pentax XL eyepieces, including the 8-24 zoom I prefer for spotting scope use even on one of my 80mm refractors.


Edited by photoracer18, 20 August 2019 - 03:17 PM.

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#23 starman876

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Posted 20 August 2019 - 05:04 PM

I had excellent results using a 6" plain cassegrain as a spotting scope.  I believe the optics are from Coulter.  I still have the optics and the tube I had them in.


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#24 Castor

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Posted 21 August 2019 - 03:58 PM

Thank you photoracer18 and starman876 for your comments!

 

5-inch and 6-inch SCTs seem like good middle ground options for deeper reach than with traditional spotting scopes while still remaining somewhat portable.

 

The Pentax PF-100ED was my first option for a larger spotting scope, but unfortunately at its normal price of $ 1,699 was beyond my budget and I had to compromise to the Celestron Regal M2 100ED.  I hope that you enjoy yours! smile.gif 



#25 Castor

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Posted 06 September 2019 - 03:12 AM

Doing Terrestrial Viewing on a Cloudy, Rainy Afternoon at home – Distance: From 970 m (0.60 miles) to 1200 m (0.75 miles).

 

Last Sunday afternoon (Sept. 1st) the sky was overcast and it was about to start raining.  I took a peek through my Celestron Regal M2 100ED Spotting Scope at 64X while aimed at the small hill nearby and I was amazed to see the clarity of the views, no heat waves causing any shimmering!  I quickly setup my Celestron 6-inch f/10 SCT (C6) spotter and started taking a few pictures through the scope’s eyepiece with my cell phone to illustrate some of the objects that I viewed with my SCTs as commented before.   However, when I noticed that the air was so still while viewing through the C6 at 107X I decided to switch the scope and go for my Meade 8-inch f/10 SCT (M8) with Pentax 14 mm XW eyepiece that produces 143X (nominally) with the M8.  Just as soon as I finished setting up the M8, a light rain began to fall and transparency deteriorated quickly but that didn’t deter me from my initial goal.  Who knows when I will have the chance again to use this magnification for terrestrial viewing during the day!

 

Here is a cropped picture with a panoramic view of the hill that I took with my cell phone that cloudy/rainy afternoon at 4:19 pm local time and it shows the actual weather and light conditions present when I took the photos through my scopes posted here (from approx. 3 pm to 5 pm).  As I mentioned in my initial post, this small hill is a natural reserve located about 0.6 miles away from my suburban home and the subjects that I view during the day (mostly plants, trees, birds and butterflies) lie within a distance range from 970 m (0.60 miles) at the foot of the hill to 1,200 m (0.75 miles) at the top of the hill, as measured using the Google Earth app.

 

I used the camera of my lowly Samsung S3 Mini cell phone at x1.0 (without zoom) to take all the pictures taken through my scopes (posted here) using the afocal method, by means of hand holding the cell phone above the eyepiece (mostly a Pentax 14mm XW for 143X with the 8” f/10 SCT).  The image size of the pictures was reduced to comply with CN regulations, except for the small cropped photos that are shown at native resolution.  No image post-processing was done to any of the pictures as you can clearly see by their washed out look -probably the result of using a telescope not optimized for daytime use (SCTs with original baffles) and the high level of relative humidity present in the air when the photos were taken, including light rain.  My goal was not to offer nice, aesthetically pleasing pictures, but to try to illustrate what the observer can see through the eyepiece –actually, the visual images through the scope appear more magnified and more detailed than it looks in the pictures shown here, but with my very limited technical and artistic skills that’s as far as I am willing to go, so I apologize for the low quality! blush.gif 

Attached Thumbnails

  • hill-top_panoramic_view-cloudy_afternoon_from_home-crop-1600x577_161903.jpg

Edited by Castor, 06 September 2019 - 04:12 AM.



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