Hi. It’s been over a year since I have discovered this resourceful forum. Since then, I’m grazing through the different threads of cloudynights and have learned a lot! This time, I wanted to give back, so I decided to sign in and start a new thread. Hope you like it. With only 4 years of observing practice, many of you would call me a beginner, but maybe you guys can learn something from me too!? Here are 11 ways to optimize your binoculars:
1. Heat your eyepieces
2 years ago, I nearly quit binocular astronomy because of extensive fogging up of the eyepieces. It was very frustrating and it seemed, that there was not much to do about it. But then I thought about heating the eyepieces while observing so they won’t get cold and this way not fog up. In astronomy shops you will find heat bands in different sorts of length which come with a USB connector. You will also need some sort of power supply like a power bank. In my case a heat band with a length of 30cm and a 20,000mAh power bank does the job for a whole night. Focusing could be a bit more difficult now, so be sure to check out tip 2.
2. Mark your focus position
Why focusing every time on a star before observing? Do it ones and for all and mark down your focus position on the eyepieces in order to spend less time focusing and more time observing.
3. Reduce your aperture
Why you would want to do that? Well, there are targets in the sky, which are quite bright (like the moon, the planets, the sun) where you don’t need all the light gathering capabilities of your bino. By cutting down the aperture, the f-ratio will be raised and chromatic aberration becomes less apparent. This will also benefit splitting tight double stars. My Helios Lightquest HR 20x80 is f4 so CA on bright targets is a problem. I used cardboard 1mm thick and attached the blinds with Velcro on the objective side. This way they can be attached/detached quickly. I have built 60, 40, 30, 20 and 13mm blinds and discovered, that 30mm worked best for planets, moon and sun (resulting in a 1.5mm exit pupil).
4. Shield your view from ambient light
Shielding your view from ambient light will make your observations more focused and it helps a lot perceiving detail. Even at a dark site! Furthermore, it makes observing much more comfortable, especially with my 2x54. Definitely try it out. Whether with winged eye cups or a bino bandit. Or do it yourself and cut one out of foam rubber, my favorite material when it comes to DIY (mine is 3mm thick). Fogging up of the eyepieces can be a problem here so be sure to check out tip 1.
5. Build filter adapters
Many times, I have read, that filters belong to the objective side and I understand why. But with big binoculars you won’t find large enough ones easily. So, I tried to fix them to the eyepieces and it worked well over nearly 70% of the field of view! In my case this makes 2.3 degrees and even large nebulas like North-America or Cirrus fit in that. And speaking of nebulas the gain in contrast is enormous! Attaching filters on the eyepieces also comes in handy observing small planetary nebulas. By swiping the field, you can easily determine, which of the points is the PN because it will fade in (center of FOV) and out (border of FOV). This makes observing them so much more fun.
To fixate the filters to the eye cups I use foam rubber. If you cut it to strips a little bit shorter than the circumference of the filters you can remove the filters easily with a small wire (see picture below). I leave the foam rubber strips inside the eyepieces all the time even if I do not plan to observe with filters.The greater the eye relief of your binocs and the flatter the filters the better so you don’t come in contact with them while observing.
I am using a OIII and UHC at the same time. This way there is a whole bunch of new targets reachable with my 20x80. My favorite definitely is the Helix nebula. Without filters barely visible, with filters one of my favorite DSOs overall. Sadly, with my 2x54 I couldn’t see any of the large nebulas, but I haven’t tried Rosette, California or Barnards Loop yet.
6. Build solar filters
With solar maximum ahead there soon won’t be any day where the sun is blank. Each day the sight is different. And the sun is a perfect binocular target. Building solar filters is relatively easy but takes a bit of time. But I can assure you, it is definitely worth the effort and solar filter film can be bought cheaply. Here are pictures from the second ones I have built for my 20x80. I used cardboard 1 mm thick which I glued together to make it even thicker. To raise the contrast, it was beneficial to reduce the aperture to 30mm (see tip 3). With this setup I can see sunspots as small as size 10 if they stand alone.
7. Build a forehead rest (handheld binoculars)
Reading of it for the first time it sounded silly. But building one was fairly easy, so I tried it and was quite astonished. The view becomes a bit more stable when you use your binoculars handheld. But more important: it is more comfortable, because there is less pressure on your eye sockets, especially when observing near the zenit. This will also solve the problem of a changed center focus of cheap binoculars due to pressure on the eyepieces! It can also help if you have issues with fogging up of your eyepieces because they do not need to sink into your eye sockets anymore. Or, if you have to use glasses while observing, this may be what you need to stabilize your view. (Also see tip 8 for a more detailed view)
8. Attach a laser
The larger the magnification, the narrower the field of view. This makes pointing your binocs in the right direction harder. A laser can help here. Furthermore, while observing together with others you can point at what you are looking at.
9. Add weight (handheld binoculars)
I have found that the heavier the binoculars, the steadier the views. And in a reclining chair with elbows resting on the armrests the weight doesn’t really matter. There are different ways to add weight, but the best way is to hang some weight on the tripod screw. Be sure to also add a forehead rest (tip 7) because the added weight raises the pressure on the eyepieces while observing near the zenit. This could be uncomfortable and change the center focus of cheap binoculars.
10. Attach a smartphone
With mobile apps (like Stellarium mobile) showing the sky according to where you are looking you could attach your star map right on top of your binoculars. Unfortunately, this didn’t work for me because of a bad alignment of the view with my smartphone. But maybe it will work with your phone. Be sure to tape red film on the display, use the night mode and reduce the brightness of the display as much as possible in order to not ruin your night vision.
11. Attach dew caps
If dew on the objectives is a problem for you, you could attach dew caps. They are easily built and the dew on the objectives is gone. Often it is recommended that they have a length half the size of the objectives.
Surely you also have a tip or two to share?
Also, let me know if you have adapted one or two things.