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Optical Snobbery: a person view

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#1 BillC

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 12:39 AM

Well, I am one who has often been accused of being an optics snob and putting people down for liking inexpensive instruments. Frankly, it’s just not true. And with over 900 posts, I would respectfully ask anyone to dredge up one wherein I have attacked someone for their choice of binoculars.

In all humility, however, I do get a bit agitated when people pop on the list and start making statements that have no basis in reality and with the proponent having little or no experience in optics to base those statements on.

Do I also put folks down who can’t match my longevity in the field? Nope! It has never happened; it never will. But then, what is the purpose of this list? Is it to be a mutual admiration society for users of CHEAP binoculars or users of EXPENSIVE binoculars? Or, is it to come together to teach and to learn?

And, if our purpose is to learn, should those of us who have been in the profession all their lives bite our lips so some newbie—or oldbee—can save face after making ill-advised pronouncements. I think folks need to search their souls to determine why they come here—to teach and to learn, or to enjoy a daily session of romper room where quickly formed opinions are as valid as fact. Or where the quality of a binocular, as determined by an observer who has only owned one binocular, is as valid as the opinion of someone who has been observing for years and who has looked through dozens of binoculars, ranging from the very worst to the very best.

When I hear the old “tack sharp,” for example coming from the owner of his first binocular, I have to question the validity of the comment. And we have all seen folks try to take users of high-quality instruments down a notch by stating how great their cheap binocular is. And, of course, some are quite adamant about it. But, when some of us have already been told that it is the person’s first binocular or that he is “new to observing,” I ask in all kindness and humility: what are we to think? I for, one must think, “To what are you making a comparison?” Or, “Sir, since you keep confusing distortion with field curvature, should you be creating tutorials?”

Is that not a valid point on my part? Astronomy does NOT, have to be expensive. And I am pleased to see ANYone turn ANY instrument of ANY quality to the stars.

HOWEVER, when a person starts with the sweeping generalizations that some of us feel are unfounded, the person making the statements needs to be ready to state more than a one-shot opinion. Usually, they can’t.

Am I jaded? Have I not admitted many times to being jaded? Just about EVERY DAY, I have to deal with people who remember things differently than they happened or who, with a binocular article under their arm—written by some well-meaning but ill-informed freelancer—is ready to challenge something I have said. Do I back away in order to make a sale? No. Will I ever back away to make a sale? No. Then why should I—or any of the other more experience people--be different on the list?

I wish I had a dime for every time some old veteran has regaled me with stories of the mystical / magical binoculars he used during “the war.”

Some of these guys tell me of things they saw with a Mk28 7x50 that couldn’t have been seen because of, if for no other reason, the curvature of the earth. I hear how they were better than anything the Germans had. I hear how they are superior to any binocular on the market, today. I hear how they gather more might that even some of the 80mm binoculars I sell.

These gentlemen, in my book, are heroes all. However, virtually everything they tell me is wrong. Why?

1) They don’t know anything about optics.
2) They don’t expect anyone else to know anything about optics.
3) They have come to believe their own fish stories.

But, guess what happens when I tell them that I am a retired Chief Opticalman and have repaired and restored hundreds of the binoculars just like those they used 4 or 5 days out of their 2-year enlistment? You got it. They get angry! Hang the truth; hang the unseen realities; they have expressed an opinion and, right or wrong, it has to be right.

I don’t see this list as being much different. I do not mean that to be offensive. It is just my take. I think there are folks here who would just love for the more senior optics lovers here to just go away. That way, they could say whatever they wanted without fear of having to stand behind what they say. That’s a nice gig, but rarely comes in the real world. Of course, there are any number of lists out there where everyone is an equal, everyone's opinion is the same. However, to me that is a blind leading the blind mentality. Perhaps that is an unpopular opinion. However, am I not entitled to it?

What do you call the world’s most renown brain surgeon?
Doctor.

What do you call the young man who just got out of med school?
Doctor.

Now, if you had a bullet in the brain, which one would you want working on you? After all, they are both doctors, aren’t they?

Use your bino. Be happy with your bino. Tell all about your observations and BE part of the group. Not Rich guys who wouldn’t use anything but a Zeiss or Swarovski, or lowenders who think $70 will buy optical Nirvana. Sleep with your bino under your pillow. Rest assured that unlimited warranties do not tell you what they tell every seasoned observer. But, throw out a bunch of stuff that needs to be challenged, and, on this list, it’s going to get challenged.

Frankly, if taking the high road on education, and standing up for truth and the novice looking for solid information, makes me appear unfriendly at times, so be it.

As Auntie Em said in The Wizard of Oz: “I am gentle with gentle people.”

I’ll crawl back into my hole, now.

Cheers,

Bill

P.S. I, for one, would be pleased for anyone who finds errors in my thinking to point it out for all to see. Just be prepared to stand your ground in case facts and figures start flying. :jump:
 

#2 BillC

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 12:42 AM

And dear moderators:

If someone needs to "flame" me for my opinion, let'em. These pages are being archived. I am prepared to have my opinions last a while. Perhaps others would like the same opportunity.

Cheers,

Bill
 

#3 DJB

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 02:18 AM

Hi Bill,

Thank you. Good reading and good subjective common sense on your part. Ain't it the truth, tho, what you say.

I am confident that all of the points you make are valid. Perhaps we'll all start to think a bit more before posting as I certainly see that you do. I think that would be advisable in any case, however.

Best regards,
Dave.
 

#4 Steve Napier

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 04:18 AM

Bill,that was fantastic {as usual}.
I"ve made posts in the past about being very wary as to people"s statments on here,comments such as "Awesome binoculars" when talking about a pair of £9.99 Bushnell"s.
I myself have NEVER tried to slate these people,just tried to put their comments in perspective.
HOWEVER,because Im Steve Napier AND NOT, Bill Cook I always seem to get hit with negative responses.I trust people will give you and your excellent posts a lot more thought, Bill.

The question that really haunts me though Bill is,if Kenny Jones had a bullet in the brain.....would anyone notice?
Steve.
 

#5 Robert A.

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 05:20 AM

Oh Steve, Shocking humor...
I would miss him.
Rob.
 

#6 edwincjones

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 06:22 AM

In my lifetime, I have had > 20 cars from the humble VW Beetle to a 4x4 truck. They all worked, they all got me from one place to another, they were different, some had more or less style and status, some were liked more than others-they all wore out and were traded in on a newer model.

The purpose of a car is to take me (and others) from one place to another. The purpose of astronomical binoculars are to see the sky.

Maybe we should focus more on the middle of the road binoculars, the Fords % Chevys, instead of Yugos vs BMWs of the binocular world.

If you look a one object, say M45-just how much different is it when viewing with low end, middle, or high end binocs?

edj
 

#7 ZachK

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 06:56 AM

Well said Bill, lets all remember that we are doing astronomy for FUN. I've been very happy with my Celestron 15x70's. I've had them out maybe 4 nights a week since I got them and my family and I have had a blast with them. I've also had a good time with the 7x50's that I picked up in a photo store, and I intend to keep having fun with any type of optics I can fit in my budget. (Next target is a 10" dobsonian)

If you are having fun with the binoculars that you are using than they are doing their job.

In my celestron's the stars at the edge of the field are not "tack-sharp" but that doesn't stop me from using them to observe the night sky. Next year maybe I'll be able to afford something better, but until then I intend to have as much fun as I can with these. Of course I might well decide its a better bet to buy 3 more pairs so my wife and both my my teens can have their own binocular. For us astronomy is a family activity.
 

#8 EdZ

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 07:04 AM

The purpose of astronomical binoculars are to see the sky.

If you look a one object, say M45-just how much different is it when viewing with low end, middle, or high end binocs? edj


Well Ed, I agree whole-heartedly with your first quote here.

But, the second, well, I guess I would say probably not much. But the brightest cluster in all the sky is no way to compare instruments to declare there is not much difference between low, mid or high end.

Better maybe to select one from this short list; M33, the Pinwheel galaxy; NGC2244, the Rosette nebula; NGC7000, the North America nebula; M101, the Ursa Major face-on galaxy; M67, a dense but faint ancient cluster; M4, the globular cluster in Scorpius; NGC6992-6995, the Veil nebula. These would highlight some of the differences present.

edz
 

#9 JHollJr

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 07:22 AM

I am fairly new to this forum, but from the quality of posts I learned very quickly to highly regard Bill's posts. I'm here to learn and want all opinions. To the extent that I am able I will winnow the chaff from the wheat.
 

#10 Glassthrower

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 11:40 AM

I get a little peeved now when Bill has to post a lengthy exoneration/explanation of himself to defend his views. Frankly, this group is much better off for the likes of Bill Cook and Ed Zarenski. Sure, as a newbie myself, I have often been on the receiving end of a comeuppance or two (or five), but the intention was always to clarify and educate, not to flame or vilify. Sometimes the sting one feels in this forum is not a bad thing, it's a sign of a lesson to be learned. Also keep in mind (to anyone who feels stung or burned), that some folks around here have been on this list for several years, going back to 2002. Countless times the same arguments have broken out about brand X vs brand Y, and how binocular A for $99 is a better buy than binocular B at $500. When one smells smoke, it's best to drown the kindling before a full-blown bonfire breaks out. That is what I see happen most often - a generous dose of reality in the face to prevent a long, rambling and repetitive conflict that proves nothing in the end.

Opinions are a dime a dozen, but one fact holds true for anything (especially optics) : you get what you pay for. A $69 binocular is not going to perform as well (or hold up as well) as a $500 binocular, less yet a $5000 binocular. Premium optics are "premium" for a reason, not just because gullible rich people will pay for a name/brand/label - like designer clothing. Having said that, one can get plenty of enjoyment out of a cheap binocular - I certainly do. I love my 15x70 Skymasters and I have owned them for about two years and have no complaints about them. When I first reviewed my 25x100 Skymaster (and my replacement pair), I quoted the view as being sharp out to about 75 or 80% of the FOV. After looking through a premium binocular and doing MUCH reading about premium binoculars, I realized that my 80% statement was overly optimistic. In reality, they are sharp out to about 50 or 60% of the FOV. Beyond that, the view degrades significantly due to curvature and coma - those two conditions being easy to overlook or misinterpet in the initial rush to assess optical quality during limited testing. When one considers that a $5000 Kowa Highlander is sharp out to about 80% of the FOV, it becomes obvious that a $69 (or $200) Skymaster binocular is not going to exhibit the same edge performance. The difference is in the expectations and interpetation of the reviewer.

If this is "snobbery", then I guess I will suffer it, because I am learning a great deal about optics and binoculars. I am much better off today than I was when my post count was 10. Sure, I have taken my share of lumps, just ask anyone in here about the time I saw 5 moons of Jupiter in my binoculars....but I am better off for it.

Clear dark skies...

MikeG
 

#11 Joad

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 12:27 PM

The solution to our problem is clear and easy: it is time to get a man in the White House who recognizes that premium optics, dad gummit, are not a privilege: they are a right! An entitlement! Now, if you will all just support my campaign for the presidency (you are hearing my declaration of candidacy first right here folks), I will promise you a Kowa in every pot and a Fujinon 45° 40X150ED in every garage. Swarovskis will not only be in every living room, but people will even know how to pronounce the name. Fluorite triplets will be so widely distributed that everyone will learn how to spell "fluorite" correctly. Chromatic aberration will become so rare that we won't even have to learn how to spell "aberration." I will introduce a new post in my Cabinet called the Secretary of Binoculars, and I will invite Bill Cook to fill it. All owners of non-premium glass will be invited to turn their stuff in at convenient neighborhood centers in exchange for the equipment that we all deserve.

Yes, I will promise you all this, and cut your taxes too. Just remember to vote Joad in 2008, leader of the Binocular Party.
 

#12 photonovore

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 01:04 PM

I'm somewhat puzzled---from what i've seen (maybe missed something lately, haven't been around as much?) Bill's professionally based input on binoculars recieves adoration and appreciation 99% of the time in this forum. As for opinions others post, everybody has an opinion and has the right to express that opinion--and let others judge the validity as they wish. It all usually shakes out in the end.

As far as optical snobbery goes, one cannot deny that consumer optics are no different than any other consumer product grouping--there is the high-end "brand" segment and all the rest. And like any other consumer product group, the high-end products appeal mostly to those who get a kick out of 'wearing the brand' and not to those looking for a good cost/value relationship where brand recognition doesn't carry the bulk of the added value.

Perhaps the conflict (such as it is) arises from a differing perspective--that of technician vs. user. Most casual users demand two things out of a pair of binoculars: that they get a good enough alignment so they don't get a headache using them and second that the view is of roughly equivalant quality to the unmagnified naked eye view they are otherwise used to getting--and then the user is happy with them--but this same pair could well give a technician angina attacks I can imagine. I suspect much of what a technician sees as important, *most* casual users of binoculars just wouldn't notice even in absence--and there-in lies the disconnect.

For example, binoculars, due to their low magnification, operate at 1/3 of the theoretical diffraction limit of their objectives, so their optical figuring requirements for optimal visual performance are much reduced compared to telescopes designed to use routinely higher magnifications. 1/10 or even 1/3 wave optics are meaningless in binoculars as the optical correction such tolerances afford are totally invisible at the magnifications binoculars operate at (excepting binocular telescopes). What's left? decent prisms (cheap), decent coatings that eliminate a discernable 10% difference in transmission from the "penultimate" (also cheap) decent widefield correection in the EP end and mechanical quality-. The last two are the only places where a significant and legitimate cost differential could possibly be justified in such a essentially simple optical instrument and the former is limited to appreciation to only the most discerning users---most casual users concentrate (and judge) on the center of the field-- and as most binos are used handheld anyway (targets automatically centered) that is totally appropriate--especially considering the reduced acuity characterisitics of the human eye vis a vis peripheral vision in addition. As for mechanical quality and 'repairability/adjustability', face it--most binoculars are considered as disposable as designer sunglasses to most consumers. People just don't commonly value repairability these days--they simply *replace* as needed instead. :shrug:

One thing I can see and understand perfectly is the effect the last few years' explosion of "casual user acceptable" imported & glued-together binoculars may be having upon the mid end market segment of the binocular market--and how such a market evolution could be expected to effect someone whose profession is somewhat dependant upon sustained popularity of higher quality equipment (repairable instead of disposable). But, really, if people cannot discern the difference or appreciate the cost/value relationship of "quality" binoculars vs. "cheap" binoculars, spot-on collimation vs. ballpark collimation, there is little to be gained (IMHO) in getting upset with them--people will see what they see and be happy with what makes them happy; and that's the final arbiter of acceptable quality in any consumer product, like it or not.

Times change. I imagine there are many former Swiss watchmakers that share your pain. :(
 

#13 microbes

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 02:36 PM

one fact holds true for anything (especially optics) : you get what you pay for. A $69 binocular is not going to perform as well (or hold up as well) as a $500 binocular, less yet a $5000 binocular. Premium optics are "premium" for a reason, not just because gullible rich people will pay for a name/brand/label - like designer clothing.



I think anyone who would expect a $69 pair of binos to perform on par with a $500 pair (or a $5000 pair) isn't thinking about it very hard. I wouldn't expect a VW bug to perform on par with a Porche.

The real question should be "how do they compare with others in that price range". If I'm going to spend $50 (or $500, or $5,000, which isn't likely in my case) I want the best bang for the buck.

I know I have not even looked though a really high end pair. I'm not going to let that keep me from injoying the pairs I have, but I am smart enough to know they are not on par with high end stuff.


 

#14 edwincjones

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 04:15 PM

JOAD IN 2008
JOAD IN 2008
JOAD IN 2008

you got my vote

edj
 

#15 Bonco

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 04:36 PM

I think my post on Celestron 15X70's and subsequent replies precipitated this thread. There IS snobbery here on this list and one writer hit the nail right on the head mentioning the difference between a technicians' viewpoint and a causual observer. I'm new to this forum but not new to observational astronomy. I'm no technician but can pick up a pair of bino's, look at a few astro objects and determine if the view/fit/feel are worth the price. On astromart there is currently an ad for older 15X70 binos that says:"...not from the current crop of Chinese junk." Quite frankly I am amazed at the quality/prices of current Chinese products. I praised the Celestron 15X70's as they exceeded my expectations for the price I paid. The intent of my email was to let a new buyer know they are not junk. Never intended my simple musing to cause owners to trash their $500 bino's and rush out and get the cheap versions. People sometimes get too emotional over the tool and forget that the enjoyment comes from the proper use of said tool and some can't afford the very best. I also didn't appreciate the comment that as long as I didn't view thru really good bino's I'd remain happy....Hmmm looked thru lots of bino's of all types over the last 45 years, me thinks I have a resonable basis to make casual evaluations. Take care, Bonco
 

#16 mttafire

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 05:32 PM

I agree Bonco. Instead of enjoying binoculars and loving the hobby some seem to want look at all the technical and Mumbo jumbo data and forget what thier actually looking at. I do spend money on nice astronomy products I.E. telescope...etc. BUT a 63.00 pair of Celestrons IS a great deal on a really good binocular for astronomy period. As i stated before this forum is not very welcoming or "friend" like the others are. Not sure why really but you just dont have this problem anywhere else on here. I would love to hear encouragement for the lowly sub 100.00 bino people. You get that on all the other forums when it comes to economical priced astronomy products. Here you just get grief from a select few who are in a position to "change the tone". Again i do like the attitude of most here but the select few that should be doing the back patting instaed are so abrasive that i now understand why some have left this forum and went to others on Cloudy nights.
 

#17 XT10Guy

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 05:43 PM

Bonco,

Thank you for your report on your Celestron 15x70s. I too am not qualified to report on binoculars in this forum since I have not looked through or compared many. In fact, I have only looked through Oberwerk 11x56, 20x90, and 15x70 Ultras. Being new to the bino world (just a year) it is not hard to impress me (shoot, I was blown away by the 11x56s that go for under 100$ new - but they were the first binos above $20 that I looked through). I gladly leave it to folks like BillC and EdZ to tell me which binoculars are best and where mine fit in. I will even ignore my own perceptions through me own eyes because BillC and EdZ have studied this topic, written reports, cited graphs and charts, and just know a *Word deleted by the CN gnaughties gnomes* of a lot more than me about what I should think of binos. But between you and me ... grabbing those 15x70 ultras and laying back to look up at the sky was awesome baby! (this is not meant as an endorsement of any particular product - you should not take my word for it since I know jack.) Bonco, I am glad you were pleasently surprised with the Celestron 15x70s after the reviews you read about them. HAVE FUN!

Bob
 

#18 mttafire

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 05:58 PM

The above post hits it right on the head.. As i stated..Only on the bino forum.
 

#19 microbes

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 06:19 PM

would love to hear encouragement for the lowly sub 100.00 bino people.



You might not get that idea reading here, but I'd bet that there are many more sub $100 pairs of binos being used for astronomy than $1000 pairs.

I'd love to see comparisons between them. It doesn't do alot of good to compare them to a $1000 set (kind of silly if you ask me). I would hope that we all know that short of being run over with a truck that a $1000 pair of binos are better than a $70 pair. What I'm interested in is how they compare to others in the same price range. Are they a "bang for the buck" or not? Is there something better at that price point?

As someone else said (and I firmly agree with) astronomy doesn't have to be expensive. Nothing wrong with finely engineered equipment if you can afford it and want to spend the money, but there is also nothing wrong with laying in the beach chair scanning the sky with a cheap pair of used Tascos.
 

#20 Bob W6PU

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 06:23 PM

Mttafire and Bonco, I think that anyone who has spent much time on the other CN forums, and experienced the general camaraderie, will agree with your observations!

Bob in NM
 

#21 EdZ

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 06:41 PM

Bill,
What I said was

"I think the things you give up in the less expensive binoculars are really the the things that make the difference between the average binocular and an excellent binocular. Of course, if you never compare your binocular to an excellent binoculaar, you won't ever see those differences"

and yes i did say
"and you will be happy with what you have."

Don't think I said that because I think no one should own cheap binoculars. I got a half dozen binoculars in the house that I bought for less than $100. But none of them compare to better binoculars. That's what I'm saying, and call that what you want, but I've put them all thru their paces and that's how it all falls out. That's reality.

And oh yeh, I like my cheap binoculars. But I know what they are. I use cheap eyepieces too, but I know what they are. I got some real cheap scopes, one's good, but two are real trash. I know how my stuff compares.

edz

let me say one more thing about these forums. The same attitude we saw in the locked post has been brought over here. An attitude has been displayed consistent with some past posts. There seesm to be an intent on bashing this forum more than anything else. The 15x70 thread got locked down because some did not abide by the rules or listen to advice. You need to abide by the rules or you don't play here. You talk about issues, not people. You do not disrespect people. If you have issues, take your issues to the administration. If you want to bash, there are other places available for that, not on this website.

edz
 

#22 Joad

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 06:51 PM

I know that this will strike some of you as being uncomradely, but I will only say that as a moderator on Cloudy Nights I am kept abreast of what goes on all the forums. While all of the forums are great places to be, to learn, to share, even to cut up a bit (though cutting up is the purpose of the Off Topic Observatory), many have their moments of less than comradely participation. That's why there are moderators.

The most common source of hurt feelings on Binoculars (not the only one, I grant, but the most common), is definitely this one: the cost of binoculars problem. When it finally settles down after the current conflagration, it is likely to return again someday. The controversy appears to be "structural," as they say, built into the situation, into binocular ownership and connoisseurship itself. Nothing I have attempted to do (and I have attempted to deflect the more biting comments in many such debates before this one) seems to work.

After a certain point, I have a responsibility to act, however. When the comments turn upon specific individuals, they are not playing nice, and we are required to play nice. If you have a complaint about an individual, the correct practice is to take the matter up with a moderator or administrator of your choice (doesn't have to be a bino mod, of course). And if you have a complaint about the forum, the protocol is the same.

Thank you for your attention.

Joad
Binoculars Moderator
 

#23 ngc6475

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 06:59 PM

"Instead of enjoying binoculars and loving the hobby some seem to want look at all the technical and Mumbo jumbo data and forget what thier actually looking at."

I don't know about that. Ed's sky surveys using binoculars are nothing short of amazing.

I'll leave it to others to argue about the "atmosphere" here at the Binoculars Forum, but the level of expertise and experience that exists here is at least as high as anywhere else on CN. In my extremely humble opinion, if you're looking for information about binoculars and astronomical observing through binoculars, there is no better place anywhere on the web. Period.
 

#24 blandp11

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 07:00 PM

The two sides (if there are just two) tend to make strawmen of each other's position. To wit:

"You say my binoculars are junk hence worthless for observing; by implication I am too stupid to know the difference."

and

"You say I am a status seeking snob who buys binoculars just because they are expensive rather than being appreciably better."

I do not think too many folks I've run across either in cyberspace or 3D space actual hold those beliefs. Recognizing that is a good first step.

Philip
 

#25 Bonco

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 08:05 PM

The Bino Forum is a valuable resource. Recently I spent a few hours reading most of the posts. I found the technical info to be superb and very informative. I'll not offer technical info as I'm not qualified. But I have enough experience to offer purchase advice and observational opinions. The guys that run this forum are top notch, all of us can learn from them. However a slight modification is needed to eliminate the Snobbery syndrome that has been noticed by me and others.
Take care, Bonco
 


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