I’ve always had an interest in casual stargazing (calling it amateur astronomy would be a stretch for me). I enjoy it, but am not going to throw huge sums of money into it, which is why I was intrigued by the William Optics Binoviewer as a low cost way to get BOTH eyes involved in the viewing.
I don’t know anyone that has a binoviewer, but I had been hearing tales from the fringe of wonderous sights to be seen through such fabled device. Few reviews exist on the Internet and fewer still videos. What is out there is from people with MUCH nicer setups than I have, so that information is of little use for an entry-level person like me. What I did gather is that it probably wouldn’t work with my existing reflector telescope, so that kept me from trying binoviewing for some time… However, as fate would have it, I recently was able to make a trade for a bargain basement Tasco refractor. While nothing to write home about, the optics were clean and it has a ton of backfocus (which appears to be a requirement for binoviewers).
Having that refractor in hand gave me the courage to finally order a binoviewer kit, since it seemed like it at least stood a chance of focusing with it. I looked at Orion’s binoviewer, but that would require me ordering matching eyepieces as well (maybe just one as I have a selection of 1.25″ Orion Plossls already). The William Optic unit I ran across included matched 20mm eyepieces for an unbeatable price (cheaper than the Orion with one eyepiece tacked on). It also includes a 1.6x mini-barlow with the idea that you can use it to potentially get focus in telescopes that otherwise would be unable to focus with the binoviewer in place. Order was placed with OPT (Oceanside Photo & Telescope) and a week later I had a beautifully packaged binoviewer in hand.
My first target was a 3/4 Moon with the Tasco 60mm refractor. First I tried the binoviewers “native”, but surprisingly could not get focus. Very surprised and a little disappointed, I grabbed the included 1.6x mini-barlow and screwed it into place. I was able to get focus quite easily then, and after a little fiddling with the inter-eye distance adjustment I was able to merge the image. Spectacular doesn’t truly describe it. Even at a much lower effective magnification than I’ve used in the past, I felt more like I was “right there” at the Moon. I do have to note that atmospheric distortion was more noticeable at first, but eventually my brain seemed to tune it out. The William Optics unit also has separately adjustable eyepiece focus, but after fiddling around with it a bit, it really didn’t seem to help and I ended up back at the “out of the box” setting. Could be related to my very poor (but corrected with contacts) eyesight and might be more useful to someone with normal vision. As a side note I was still able to screw in my adjustable Moon filter with this combination to keep the brightness reasonable.
A few days later, we finally had clear skies again during daylight hours, so I grabbed my Orion 130ST with solar filter and headed outside. Why daylight solar observing and not nighttime? Well, I was expecting having problems getting focus (if I ever could at all), so figured it’d be easier to see and try all my possible barlow combos during the day! No focus native, no surprise. 1.6x barlow, no focus either. No surprise, only slight disappointment. OK, let’s start higher and throw the 1.6x barlow on with my Orion Tri-power (3x) barlow. Success! Easy focus, but the Sun is way too huge. Time to go for lower magnification. Swap the 3x for an Orion Shorty 2x (1.6x still also attached). Focus again! All right! How about removing that 1.6x and going with just the 3x. Yep, still working! Can we focus with just the Shorty 2x? Indeed we can! So, while the included 1.6x wasn’t quite enough, a Shorty 2x was able to get me focus on this 130mm reflector! It makes for a larger image of the Sun than is ideal, but provides hope that nighttime sights can in fact be seen with this reflector/binoviewer combo. As for the Sun as a specific target, I found it VERY hard to merge. Nearly a full minute of fiddling around before I found the exact combination of spacing, eye location, and shading myself from the Sun that allowed a merge. With just a white light filter and only 1 sunspot in sight, it was not as awe inspiring as the Moon, but it was still impressive.
In summary, if you are a low budget person like me, don’t think binoviewing is totally out of reach. The William Optic unit performed very well with both my bargain basement and my better quality, but still entry-level equipment. I look forward to trying to catch some planets, as well as some higher magnification attempts at the Moon now that I know the configuration to focus the reflector. Being able to successfully merge the images at high magnification is a concern, we’ll see how far I can push it before merge failure or optical quality degrades noticeably! Given the specs, it appears that even if I wanted to buy more eyepieces of lower power, it probably wouldn’t be too helpful in trying to get widefield views (sounds like that’s an advantage of the binoviewers that cost multiples of this unit). Hopefully I’ll be able to report back in the weeks to come on what I can try!