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DIY: 11 ways to optimize your binoculars

Binoculars DIY DSO Filters Observing Optics Solar
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#1 Helmut L

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Posted 25 September 2021 - 02:08 PM

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.

 

Heat band with power bank
 
Heat band on eye pieces

 

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).

 

Objective blinds
 
Binocular blinds attachement

 

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.

 

Eye shields


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.
 

Filter attachement
 
2x54 filter attachement

 

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.

 

Sun filters
 
Sun filter attachement

 
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)

 

Forehead rest attached to binoculars

 

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.

 

Laser attachement
 
Laser attached to forehead rest

 
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.

 

Added weight

 

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.

 

Smartphone attached to binoculars

 

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.

 

Dew caps
 
Dew caps

 
Surely you also have a tip or two to share?
Also, let me know if you have adapted one or two things.

 

Clear skies
Helmut


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#2 Rutilus

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Posted 25 September 2021 - 02:16 PM

I adapted and modyfied most of the original binocular.

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#3 PEterW

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Posted 25 September 2021 - 04:00 PM

Need to make some more 11, then I could use the heaters for 1.. as when I use 4 I get fogging issues. I’m looking if for a good way to achieve 5 so the filters don’t drop out when you look up…
8 certainly helps for higher powers.
I’ve made a prototype 7 using variable spacing astro widget, but need to tweak the design a bit and add some (thin) padding so it’s still stable and a bit more comfortable.
For stable zenith observing I’d add a pillow for number 12, then your head and the binoculars are stable as you lie on the ground.
Great suggestions.
Peter

#4 drt3d

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Posted 25 September 2021 - 04:14 PM

Very nice tips, thanks for sharing!

 

I do a lot of solar sunspot observing. I always had a bit of trouble finding the sun. Then I read about using the shadows and tried it. It works great. You can buy some tools to help you locate the sun, but it is nice to know that you can do it (with mounted binoculars) just by observing the shadows.

 

Here is a picture when my binoculars (APM 70mm/90) have the sun centered in view:

 

BinocularShadow-small.jpg

 

My phone was not perfectly leveled. What you see is the shadow of the binocular handle. It is of course perfectly centered. The top shadow touches the screw hole.

 

If I align my binoculars for the shadows to look like that, the sun will be in the field of view (or very close).

 

George



#5 ECP M42

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Posted 25 September 2021 - 04:53 PM

All great advice, Helmut. Bravo, bravo, bravo! waytogo.gif



#6 sevenofnine

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Posted 25 September 2021 - 07:33 PM

Thanks for the tips! applause.gif

 

I learned this trick on a birding forum. To steady a hand held binocular, use the strap around your neck as a brace. hmm.gif  First, use the binoculars as you normally would with the strap around your neck. Now, one hand at a time, reach through the hole created by the strap and binoculars and grab the objectives near the ends. You may need to tighten or loosen the strap to make this work. When the strap is the right length, it will pull tight against the back of your neck and steady the binocular. This works very well with higher powered optics like 10x-12x. I was amazed! shocked.gif


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#7 MT4

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Posted 25 September 2021 - 11:16 PM

Great tips and thank you for sharing.

 

I've used some of your ideas with great success: #2, #3, #4, #10 and #11.

 

On #3, aperture masking, I've made custom aperture masks using black cardboard sheets and have aways used double-sided tape to attach them to the objectives.  The downside is that changing masks is a very tedious process.  Your solution, Velcro, is much more elegant.  In fact, I am kicking myself for not thinking of this idea smile.gif

 

Here's a tip of my own:   On binoculars that have threads on the objective side, I've used step-down rings of various sizes to mask down the aperture.  Also, with 48mm step-down rings, you can try nebula filters and the like, many of which are 48mm in diameter.



#8 Helmut L

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Posted 26 September 2021 - 11:12 PM

 I’m looking if for a good way to achieve 5 so the filters don’t drop out when you look up…

In my solution the filters are pressed against the foam rubber inside the rubber eye cups. There is no way they could drop out.

 

You can buy some tools to help you locate the sun, but it is nice to know that you can do it (with mounted binoculars) just by observing the shadows.

Also, if your are observing from a reclining chair with handheld binoculars, you only have to make sure that the shadows of the forelegs are in line with the hind ones. Make the shadow the smallest possible. This way the reclining chair points in the right direction (azimut) and you only have to swipe up or down to find the sun.

 

 To steady a hand held binocular, use the strap around your neck as a brace. 

I usually observe from a reclining chair. I wonder if this will also work seated? I will try the next time I'm observing.



#9 MT4

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Posted 26 September 2021 - 11:16 PM

Inspired by this binocular DIY thread, I've created custom lens hoods out of black cardboard sheets for some of my favorite binos.   In one fell swoop, these custom hoods have solved some of the biggest issues with using these excellent binos for me:

 

1) Stray-light control issues with the Nikon 18x70 and the Fujinon FMT-SX 10x50

2) Protection against the elements, e.g. high humidity and sudden rains

3) This last one isn't any bino's fault but my own:  my tendency to think about cleaning optics.  With these hoods on, I can finally relax and use my binos with confidence smile.gif

 

I actually like the new looks with the hoods on.  They look like three brothers from a nice family, or perhaps two brothers and a sister smile.gif

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Edited by MT4, 27 September 2021 - 02:42 AM.

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#10 ihf

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Posted 27 September 2021 - 02:03 AM

Helmut, do you mind PMing me where to find a laser pointer in Germany? whistling.gif Otherwise I presume eBay is the way to go. tonofbricks.gif



#11 Helmut L

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Posted 27 September 2021 - 11:31 PM

Inspired by this binocular DIY thread, I've created custom lens hoods out of black cardboard sheets for some of my favorite binos.   In one fell swoop, these custom hoods have solved some of the biggest issues with using these excellent binos for me:

 

1) Stray-light control issues with the Nikon 18x70 and the Fujinon FMT-SX 10x50

2) Protection against the elements, e.g. high humidity and sudden rains

3) This last one isn't any bino's fault but my own:  my tendency to think about cleaning optics.  With these hoods on, I can finally relax and use my binos with confidence smile.gif

Well done! Looks quite nice your collection. 

 

Since I don't have any issues with dew on my 20x80s I haven't built dew caps for them. But I have totally forgotten that this could also solve issues with stray-light. I get reflections (or ghost images) when pointing the binoculars at the bottom left or bottom right (diagonally) of the moon or bright stars. Was this also your case with the Nikon and Fujinon?


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#12 MT4

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Posted 28 September 2021 - 12:21 AM

Well done! Looks quite nice your collection. 

 

Since I don't have any issues with dew on my 20x80s I haven't built dew caps for them. But I have totally forgotten that this could also solve issues with stray-light. I get reflections (or ghost images) when pointing the binoculars at the bottom left or bottom right (diagonally) of the moon or bright stars. Was this also your case with the Nikon and Fujinon?

 

Yeah one of the Nikon 18x70's weak points, possibly its biggest, is stray-light control.   When the full moon is in the sky, point the Nikon near it and you may get annoying light reflections in the view.  My custom lens hoods, fashioned out of black cardboard, have a rather nice "feature" in that I can slide the hoods further in or back out to get the best protection against stray lights without the view getting vignetted.

 

I don't know why I had put up with the issue for so long, until I read your DIY thread and got inspired by it. (The idea of using black cardboard to make custom lens hoods came to me instantly since I was already using black cardboard as custom light shields to block annoying street/park lights.   I am actually going to upgrade to grade-1 blackout curtains for even better protection against those pesky lights, but that's a different story.)


Edited by MT4, 28 September 2021 - 12:25 AM.


#13 steveincolo

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Posted 29 September 2021 - 01:02 PM

Thanks for the tips! applause.gif

 

I learned this trick on a birding forum. To steady a hand held binocular, use the strap around your neck as a brace. hmm.gif  First, use the binoculars as you normally would with the strap around your neck. Now, one hand at a time, reach through the hole created by the strap and binoculars and grab the objectives near the ends. You may need to tighten or loosen the strap to make this work. When the strap is the right length, it will pull tight against the back of your neck and steady the binocular. This works very well with higher powered optics like 10x-12x. I was amazed! shocked.gif

OMG.  I just tried this, daytime, with my 12x50 and 10x70.  Can't wait to try it at night! 


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