Viking Ventura 8×25 binoculars review

The Viking Ventura 8×25 are a great example of a binocular where a clear and crisp view can yield better results than many similar priced options in a similar price range with a wider FOV and AFOV.

The batch that we tested came in a plain outer box. Though I believe some also come in the blue and white Viking boxes. The case was a soft pouch, which I really liked, as it offered good padding, and could be folded up to neatly fit in a pocket when not needed. The binoculars come with individual lens caps that are universal on both objective lenses and eyepieces. The strap included is padded and quick release.

Straight out the box, the Ventura look very neat, and despite weighing just over 300g they feel very solid. The twist eye cups feel very good quality with a smooth twist action. They stay nicely in place once set. The focus wheel is not the smoothest I have tested, but was still very easy to operate with one finder.

I found eye relief just long enough to use with spectacles on. As mentioned earlier, these are not the widest field of view in this category at 6.3 degrees, plus the AFOV is not the widest. But as customers at our optics weekends have mentioned when purchasing from us, this is quickly forgotten when you look through them. The image is crisp and bright with very little chromatic aberration considering they are not ED glass. Proving that sometimes you have to forget what it says on the tin and try them out. You get a lovely flat field with virtually no pincushion distortion. Image is sharp to the outer 20% where you will find a little fall off in focus, but well within tolerances and better than the 10×25 I tested.

Close focus is quoted at 4m, but I found this to be around 2.5m. Overall the Viking Ventura offer a quality image, that is related in the price, with exceptional brightness for such a compact set, with very small amounts of false colour. Some may prefer a standard neck strap to quick release. But that is easily remedied. Definitely worth a look if you get a chance.

To purchase, click HERE

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Viking Cygnus ED 8×42 monocular review

Straight out the box and soft Nylon case, the Viking Cygnus ED 8×42 monocular feels very solid and well built. Weighing nearly 50g more than the non ED version, their is obviously less plastic / polycarbonate in the shell.

In the hand they balance nicely, and have a secure grip. A drop down lens cover protects the objective lens, while a pull off one covers the eyepiece. The top focus wheel is smaller than some in this type of monocular, but is very smooth to use with no back lash or tight spots. The eye cup is twist type, which I estimated to be around 15mm. So just enough for most spectacle wearers. You get a nice soft wrist strap and a standard Nylon case with belt loop. The wrist strap connector can be removed to reveal a standard tripod thread which is handy.

So what about the optics ?. You are instantly met by a bright and sharp image with excellent clarity. The fully multi-coated optics with ED glass offer excellent sharpness across most of the field. Only the outer 10-15% drop of in sharpness, but only by a small amount. In the centre 60-70% there is virtually no chromatic aberration, with outside this showing only a small amount. This is s big plus point if viewing wildlife in high contrast situations. Pin cushion distortion is also at very low levels. Testing the clarity against a very challenging and heavily back lit tree, I was able to make out birds in the branches that were invisible to the naked eye. I would imagine these will great as a wide field astronomy optic.

Close focus is quoted as 2m, but I found it to be around 1.3m, Field of view is a generous 7.5 degrees. So should make tracking of moving wildlife easy. The AFOV is also wide.

Summing up this is a capable and affordable monocular that I am sure will surprise you with the clarity of image.

Plus points – Image clarity and lack of CA . Only minus point – Would have been nicer to have a better case. Excellent value.

You can purchase from Northern Optics HERE

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Celestron Ultima porro 8×32 binoculars review

At a time where most new bird binoculars are roof prism, its nice to see Celestron staying with the traditional porro prism binoculars. Available in 32mm, 42mm and 50mm variants, the Ultima porro series retain an almost retro look with up to date high grade optics.

This particular set we are looking at is the 8×32. At around 520g it is an ideal option for bird watching on the go. Plus wide field hand held astronomy. 1st thing you notice out the box is how compact they are. Secondly you may wonder where the focus wheel is. Rather than the wide focus wheels you get with most porro prism binoculars, you get a narrow wheel nearer to the eyepieces. This helps make them look much less cluttered, and is a joy to use, being very smooth in operation with no slack or tight spots. The right eye dioptre adjustment is done by twisting the whole eyepiece, rather than having a separate adjuster like so many others have. No doubt this helps keep the cost down.

The rubber eye cups are fold down. These are some of the most comfortable I have used, in this design, and fold down easily. Eye relief is 15mm. One thing I did notice was a little internal reflection on the inside of the barrels. But this is easily remedied with practice, getting your eyes at the correct distance from the eyepieces.

The field of view is a very generous 142m @ 1000m or 8.1 degrees. Other than a noticeable fall off in the outer 15%, the view is very crisp and bright with good contrast. I compared to a £189 set of ED 8×32 roof prism binoculars to find the £129 (price at the time of this review) gave the brighter image. This shows that pound for pound, the porro prism binoculars can outperform similar sized roofs.

Pincushion distortion is just about evident, but hardly noticeable unless you are specifically looking for it. For a non ED glass set of binoculars, levels of chromatic aberration are extremely low, with very small levels of red , yellow and purple colour fringing only seen on high contrast subjects, such as heavily back lit tree branches.

Case included is a good quality Nylon, with plenty of room inside. You get a padded strap, drop down objective lens covers and single eyepiece eye piece caps. Though I would prefer an all in one eyepiece flexible lens cover for the eyepieces, that you can thread the neck strap through.

Optics are fully multi-coated with BaK-4 prisms. Summing up, you certainly get a bright and clear image for the low price. Very easy to handle and use if you are a beginner.

Available to purchase HERE

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Skywatcher Heritage 150P flextube telescope. A great starter scope

The Skywatcher Heritage flextube 150P dobsonian telescope gives you an affordable mid sized telescope that can give excellent results. For people just starting out in astronomy, they need to complicated mount or set up time. Straight out the box, the Heritage 150P can be set up in minutes, as it is already connected to the table top mount. All you need do is remove the lower packaging and extend the OTA till it is fully open. Although described as a table top mount, it can also be used on the floor while seated.

Complete with 10mm and 25mm modified achromatic eyepieces which give 30x and 75x, you are good to go. These magnifications will open your eyes to many night sky delights. At a later date you can upgrade to better quality plossls, but these are fine for starters.

The 150mm (6″) mirror will let plenty of light in for seeing many deep space objects such and the brighter galaxies and nebula, as well as countless rich field areas and star clusters.

A helical focuser is used on the 150P and 130P Heritage flextubes. With this, you screw the eyepiece in and out for focus rather than use a rack and pinion. The helical focuser may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But I find it easy to use.

Finderscope is a single red dot type, which is easy to fit and set up. Finally if buying as a gift , the scope comes packaged in a colourful box showing info and images.Magnifications (with eyepieces supplied): x30 & x75

Available to purchase HERE

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What is an aperture mask for a telescope

Often integrated into a telescope lens / OTA cover, an aperture mask reduced the effective diameter of the main objective lens or mirror. Although you lose resolution, you also reduced the effects of atmospheric turbulence under bad seeing conditions. Also reduced brightness of the full Moon, which will be very bright and dazzling through a large telescope. If your telescope cover does not have a built in aperture mask, they are easy to make out of cardboard.

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Celestron astromaster 102 AZ review

The Celestron astromaster 102AZ is a great example of a telescope that proves high magnification and large aperture are not an essential requirement when starting out in astronomy. If you are starting out, the simple AZ mount and straight though optics (refractor as apposed to a Newtonian reflector ) make for easy set up in minutes with no polar alignment and balancing the OTA with counter weights. On top of this, the erect image diagonal with left / right orientation with a combination or a wide field of view (20mm eyepiece) makes finding objects in the night sky easy. Finder scope is a standard red dot finder.

Do not think this is a telescope for astronomy only. It is ideal for terrestrial use, including looking at ships at sea, views over distant landscapes, but also with a close focus of around 8 metres can also be used for looking at birds in the back garden. For the DSLR / mirrorless camera users, there is a built in t-ring for prime focus photography.

The short tube 660mm f6.6 102mm lens gives very good contrast, considering it is fully coated optics. Chromatic aberration is visible on high contrast subjects. But a simple upgrade to multi-coated plossl eyepieces will help reduce this. Eyepieces included are modified achromatics of 10mm and 20mm, which give 33x and 66x. These magnifications are perfect for finding you way around the night sky, and from dark sky locations will reveal many of the brighter galaxies and nebula. This scope will also make the colours of stars more vivid.

The focus is very smooth to use, and adds to the ease of use. On the subject of the focuser, it has a a built in 1.25″ adapter. This can be removed to accept 2″ diagonals for a picture window FOV. But note that a diagonal 2″ mirror will not get infinity focus. So you will need to get a mirror version.

No point in a getting a telescope with an insufficient mount. No worries here, as a combination of a good quality aluminium AZ tripod and short tube OTA makes it very steay.

Over all a nice starter package to get you started in astronomy, with the added benefit of being a great choice for terrestrial use.

Available to purchase HERE

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Hawke Endurance ED 8×25 monocular review

The Hawke Endurance 8×25 ED monocular is an ultra compact solution, weighing only 150g. Ideal for keeping in a pocket or hanging from your wrist with the strap included. Can also be attached to a belt , using the soft nylon case included. Other features and a twist eye cup and lens caps , which has a stay on , drop down objective cover.

So what about the optics. You get fully mulit-coated ED glass with phase corrected BAk-4 prisms. End result is big optics performance from a compact monocular. The image is very sharp for around 80% from centre, where it gets a little softer (and I mean a little) towards the edge. Unless you know what you are looking for, chromatic aberration is hardly evident. Looking into heavily back lit branches in trees show virtually no colour fringing. Another plus point is the total lack of internal reflection.

Field of view is 119m @ 1000m with an AFOV of 54 degrees. Eye cup is twist type with 13mm eye relief. The focus wheel is small, but turns easily. Close focus is 5m and is fully nitrogen waterproof.

All in all and cracking little monocular that will be a great take anywhere solution.

Plus points – Very bright image with extremely low levels of CA

Minus points – 5m close focus and short eye relief

Available to purchase from Northern Optics

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Sigma 21-35mm f3.5 – 4.2 first impressions, with sample images

Bought an early 80s Sigma 21-35mm f3.5 – 4.2 from a vintage lens shop for the princely sum of just £39 + postage. On top of this I needed to get an OM to EOS adapter so I could use it on my 1100D (apologies to film camera users).

This particular lens was priced so low because it was described as having a sticky zoom and focus. But as the optics seemed OK (on the images) I went for it. So when it arrived, the first thing I noticed was the build quality. Compared to my stock EOS 18-55mm stock lens, the sigma felt and looked in a different league. It felt so solid, and weighty for such a compact lens. But I saw this as a good thing. From an optics sellers myself, I never say heavy. I say well built.

Visually, the optics were externally and internally free of dust and fungus. This from a 40ish year old lens. Boy that front lens element looks impressive. Will need to get a 77mm UV filter at some point. When when out on walks and cycle rides, the lens cap goes on in between all photos. The lens hood remains permanently in place.

This is one of those rare wide angle zooms with a push pull zoom action. So the description said the zoom action and focus is stiff. I found the focus fine, and smooth with no tight points. But yes, the zoom action is VERY stiff. But no problem, as there is no rush with landscape photography while you slowly get to the desired focal length.

So what about image quality. At first I found focus quite tricky getting right. First photos, despite looking through the camera where anything but sharp. But then it all fell into place when I went out and about to do some landscapes. I quickly realized that using at 21mm f8 , you simply turn the focus to infinity until it turns no more. Then take the photo, to find the incredible depth of field makes every thing pin sharp from around 6ft to infinity. Problem solved. As I will be taking most images at 21mm f8, there is no need to worry about focus. Simply point and shoot. BTW when I say move the focus to infinity, I mean I am guessing its infinity, because the focus and DOF scales have worn out. I personally found minus one stop exposure compensation is needed for correct exposure.

On the subject of aperture. From 3.5- 4.2 there is 3 clicks, with then half stops from there on in up to f22 . The aperture adjustment, just like the zoom is a little stiff to use with this example. But I`m in no hurry, so its not a problem So am impressed with my little Sigma. 100% yes . Below is the lens itself, together with a couple of images. The landscape is set on infinity 21mm f8 , where the astro image was around f5.6 for 15 seconds. Just a little coma smearing in the corners, but not obvious unless you zoom in. Once I have had this lens a while longer, I may give a more long term review, and no doubt share any tips , plus and minus points I have picked up along the way.

Sigma 21-35mm f3.5 – 4.2
21mm f8 400 ISO . Check that depth of field
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Hawke Endurance ED 12×50 binoculars. Blog post 2nd Aug 2020

A customer came to the Northern optics Optics weekend looking for a set of good quality binoculars for birdwatching. Knowing the reserve they visit, I was aware that they needed a little extra magnification without reducing image quality.

After try 8x and 10x options, they tried the Hawke Endurance ED 12×50 binoculars. There was an instant WOW reponse from the buyer, who had no hesitation in purchasing. The clear view with reduced chromatic aberration ticked two very large boxes.

With a field of view at 105m @ 1000m , plus a 60 degree apparent field, these give a very comfortable and wide view for such a high magnification set. The new 2020 design not only looks the part, but are very easy to hand hold despite weighing just over 800g.

Focusing is very easy , with a better than expected 2.5m close focus. This means they are not just for ling distance observations.

FMC optics with ED glass and silver coated BaK-4 prisms, together with larger 50mm objective lenses give excellent brightness with minimal chromatic aberrationn. Click HERE to buy

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Hawke Endurance ED 12×50 binoculars. 2020 update

Hawke Endurance ED 12×50 binoculars

The Hawke Endurance ED 12×50 binoculars have made a come back in 2020, featuring a brand new body design and look. Available in black or green , with a textured rubber finish for easy handling. Despite weighing 805g, I found them very easy to hand hold. On paper 5.2 degree FOV may seem narrow. But with a generous apparent field, the view seems wider than expected when you look through the eyepieces.

ED stands for low dispersion glass. This helps reduce the effects of colour fringing , but not fully eliminating chromatic aberration, with just a little showing around high contrast subjects. With an exit pupil of just over 4mm and 50mm objective lenses, the image is very bright with punchy contrast. A little fall off towards the edges, but well within tolerances.

Overall build quality is excellent. This extends to the solid but comfortable twist eye cups. With eye relief of 15mm, they may not suit all spectacle wearers, so best try a set if in doubt. The focus wheel is a little stiffer than some, but not an issue. Close focus is very good for a set with 12x power.

Accessories include a semi soft case, padded strap and lens covers. Warranty is the now standard but excellent life time offering.

12×50 is a great choice for looking at distant wildlife, ships at sea and plane spotting, where a wide field of view is not at the top of the list. But make no mistake, they are just as capable looking at wild life in the back garden or when out on bird watching walks.

Click HERE to buy

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