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Apogee 25 x 100mm

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Date: 2-14-2003
Price: $299.99
Design: 100mm objective lenses with Bak-4 prisms and multi-coated optics
Description: Very large astronomical binoculars weighing in at over 10lbs.

Review

I have been enjoying astronomy for over forty years.  I own a 10" f/4.5 dob (review here in the archives), a 80mm f/5 refractor on a GEM, a twin 8" Newtonian binocular scope that I just finished making, a pair of Binolux 7x35 binoculars as well as a pair of 12x60 Visioneer binoculars that I use on a  home made parallelogram mount.  I have always preferred two eyed viewing and lately I have been on a quest of sorts to explore the various ways to use both eyes in astronomical observing.  Hence my "Dyno-Bino" project.  Wonderful viewing, comfortable, less eye strain, etc, but the drawback (isn't there always something) is ease of portability.  Just as I purchased my 80mm f/5 for a quick 'grab and go' scope, I needed something as an alternative to the binoscope for quicker setups.  And yesterday I received delivery of my new Apogee 25x100 binos!  Introductory cost of $299 plus $ 20 S&H.  Skeptical about the cost, contacting Apogee confirmed the price and the fact that they would take it back if I was not satisfied with the performance.  Why not give 'em a try?  

The UPS/FedEx/Flying Tiger/etc, guy left the package outside my front door without even ringing the bell.  Good thing it wasn't next week, because I am going away for a week and the package would have gotten damaged at best, or stolen at worst.  I don't quite understand the mentality of these delivery services.  I also have to say that although Apogee was easy to order from, I never received any communication from them throughout my purchase experience back in November.  They never acknowledged my e-mailed order until I contacted them in December and asked them if they had even seen my purchase request.   They never let me know that it was being shipped other than telling me back in December that it wouldn't be until sometime late January or February.  The package just showed up at my door step.  I suppose it could have been worse and not showed up at all.

The packing was of very heavy duty cardboard and didn't appear to be damaged anywhere.  Good sign, since nowhere on the package did it say that the contents was fragile, or that it was not to be drop kicked or thrown from a three story window.  (maybe Apogee does this on purpose to confuse the delivery men).  The cardboard surrounded a very nice heavy duty zippered black Cordura fabric case that in turn housed a snuggly fitted padded jacket around the binoculars.  The binocs are Velcro strapped to the jacket and almost impossible to take out of the case without removing the entire jacket and then unstrapping the optics.  For packing purposes this seemed about right, but on a day to day basis when the instrument doesn't need that kind of protection, just slipping them down into the jacket is more than enough.
The fit and finish on the binos is very good.  No mold squeeze out, no loose leatherette edges, the chromed back plates are polished to a stunning mirror finish with no fingerprints or smudges.  Rubber friction fit objective caps and a one piece ep cover (that doesn't seem to have any way of staying on the ep's) come with a strap and lens cloth.  No instruction book, no manner of any written information regarding care, use, balancing, focusing, etc.  Agreed that a pair of binoculars isn't all that complicated and with 100mm objectives it's not that hard to tell which end to look into, but still, I would think that some sort written booklet would accompany the unit even if only to state a warranty of some sort.

I took the binos out of the jacket.  These are not light!  It takes a good grip on the central shaft that holds the individual OTA's together to move the ten plus pounds around.  Hand holding these is out of the question even if you have arms like Arnold Schwartzenagger (sp?).  My oak parallelogram mount would snap like a match stick, so I fastened them to my medium duty photo tripod using the heavy chromed adjustable support that slides on a central 5/8" diameter shaft.  I could instantly tell that this tripod is completely overwhelmed by these binocs.  I could lock down the head, but movement with it unlocked was precarious at best unless I steadied the unit with my other hand as I moved it in altitude.  The sliding mount is very good for letting you find the instrument's balance point so that the binocs don't pull too heavily either forwards or backwards.  But tilting them shifts the center of gravity and the procedure almost begs for a counterweight.  Taking the setup outside I was happy to see the bright waxing moon in the clear blue sky.  A few minutes of turning and adjusting showed me that I would do well to install a single unit aiming device on them.  If locating the moon in broad daylight was going to be this much work, finding a galaxy or star cluster was going to be doubly hard at night.  The focusing is performed by first turning one ep until the view is focused and then turning the other ep to match.  The temperature was somewhere around 18 degrees F. and the focusers were sluggish, but smooth.  Finally, having  located my target, I was very pleased with the view.  Collimation was dead on.  I didn't have to flex my eyes at all, and the images merged without any effort.  The binocular's mounting flexed very generously at the joint to allow for various interocular distances and stayed wherever I put them.  The eye relief is fair to good and without glasses placing my eyes right at the rubber eye cups gave me a full view with no vigneting.  Eyeglass wearers might have a slight cut off unless they either fold back the rubber guards or press the eyeglass lenses tight against the eyecups.  (I folded the eyecups back and put on my reading glasses to find that I was able to see the full FOV.)  At 25x the craters and terminator were crisp and clean.  There was an immediate indication of some yellow towards the edge of the moon, but then I didn't expect APO performance either.  Some will find that the amount of color is objectionable.  I find it to be an acceptable trade off considering the cost.  My 80mm f/5 scope, and my 12x60 binoculars show less color, but then again the trade off is either using one eye, or getting less magnification.  Panning the binocs around I noticed a fair amount of spherical aberration visible as a pin-cushion effect on parallel lines.  But I didn't purchase these to do ground based observing and find with astronomical observing there is rarely a grid like structure to point up this optical failing.  The individual ep focusing also slows terrestrial viewing considerably and IMHO birders would be frustrated using this kind of setup.  The field of view appears to stay in focus about 75% or 80%  of the way to the edge.  The image starts to go soft at the very edge but looking at any object in the 'sweet spot' still gives you a good amount of "elbow room" in the view and my peripheral vision didn't seem to mind the out of focus edge at all.

Family obligations prevented me from doing any astro testing of the binocs last night and I see the forecast calls for clouds to roll in with snow tonight.  If I don't get a chance to try them out tomorrow night, I won't get to try at all for another week due to being away.  But stay tuned for an update.  From what I can tell at this point, the 25x100 Apogees seem to do what is expected of them.  The optics perform well as long as you don't mind a little color.  They will definitely need a sturdy mount, (hurray! yet another project to work on....!) perhaps I will try my hand at a swiveling all- in- one mount/chair ala the 'couch potato chair' that some of you may have seen made by Sim Pincheloup of Houston, TX.  Clear skies all.

Update 3-7-2003

Finally after weeks of bad weather, a few snow storms and overall bad seeing, the skies cleared enough the other night for me to give it another go.  The seeing was perhaps a 5 to 6 with the magnitude of the sky being about 3 to 4, with no moon.  Some scattered clouds but enough large spaces in between to do the job.

Just focusing in on any star to check collimation I found the binos merge the images very well.  I didn’t have to force my eyes to combine the two sides at all.  Just nice relaxed viewing.  Good sign.  I’ve had binoculars that allowed daytime views, but stars would just not merge no matter what I did.  My take on this is that the bright daytime viewing gives one images that are so bright and rich in contrast that the brain has an easier time overlapping on eye’s view over the other even if the view from one eye is a bit off center.  Too much off center of course and you’ll end up with two misaligned images.  But with night time viewing, being that the only object one is looking at is a pinpoint of light, there isn’t enough ‘view’ to grab on to.  If the optics aren’t spot on, the images just won’t merge.

I panned over to M42 before it got too low in the sky.  Good nebulosity.  The trapezium was just barely distinguishable, but only three of the four main stars due to blur.  Far more wispiness in the dust lanes than with my 12x60 binoculars.  Over to the Pleiades which were all encompassed by the FOV, showed a myriad of pinpoint stars but with no hint of nebulosity.  To see just how much light grab these binocs really had, I went over to try and see m51 near the big dipper.  The galaxy was high in the sky and once again I saw that my photo tripod is not the thing to use with these heavy weights.  With much struggling to position myself under the binocs, I hopped over to the galaxies’ location.  The smaller field of view on these binocs makes star hopping far more important.  My 12x60’s show Alcaid, 24 Canes Venatici, and M51 all within the same field.  The Apogee’s smaller field of view does not allow this luxury.  But with some judicial locking and unlocking of the tripod head, I was quickly able to locate the DSO.  I was quite surprised that the view was as clear as it was.  I could make out the two galaxy centers.  I must admit that from my backyard, due to light pollution, I am usually not able to see M51 even with my 10” dob unless the sky is far darker than it was this night.  Over to M101, the true test of light grabbing ability.  No luck there though.  I find that M101 is far more elusive than M51, and tonight the sky just would not give up the faint, face on spiral.

Saturn.  Here the Apogees have met their match.  Due to the planet’s brightness, I could not see the rings and the planet was a fuzzy blob of light that just wouldn’t focus down to a well defined object.  In hind sight, I should have placed a couple of neutral density filters over the ep’s to see if cutting down the amount of light would help resolve the finer details.  But at the time, no amount of focus adjustment would do the trick.  Slightly out of focus images (both inside and outside of focus) showed nice symmetrically round pools of light indicating that the placement of the objectives was correct in relationship to the optical axis and there was no indication of optical pinching of any kind at the objectives.  Jupiter, brighter than Saturn on the other hand, showed up as a nice round disk with the extreme edge being tinged with yellow/purple shades.  The four major moons stood out as sharp lights around the planet and again, I think in hindsight, with some way to cut the amount of light, (perhaps an aperture mask for each objective?) I think that the atmospheric bands would have been observable.  I will definitely have to try this next time out.

In conclusion, overall I am very pleased with the binoculars.  Had I paid a few thousand dollars, I would definitely have been disappointed in the lack of color correction, the pin cushioning, lack of edge sharpness, and the inability to get very bright objects to focus down to a clean image.  But everything is relative.  Given that the cost is comparable to some single premium eyepieces for my telescope, and magnitudes less than what binoculars of this size used to go for, I cannot in all honesty complain.  The light gathering ability of the Apogee’s is very impressive and I am sure that with the acquisition of a suitable mount, I will be getting many hours of pleasurable use out of them.

Submitted by Eugene Artemyeff

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