Orion Mini-Giant 8x56mm
Design: 56mm objective lenses with Bak-4 prisms
Description: Large astronomical binoculars with rubber armor and fully multi-coated optics. 5.8 degree field of view.
am a 30-year-old electrical engineer who has been observing for two years from
my fairly dark suburban backyard in central Virginia. I also make
occasional trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway (about 40 minutes west) to observe
under much darker skies. When I began in astronomy, I already owned a pair
of Bushnell zoom binoculars (7-21 x 40 mm). The zooms treated me well
enough to get started, but after a year or so I wanted a pair of
"real" astronomy binoculars: larger objectives, better optical
coatings, and no zoom optics to degrade the images. I immediately turned
to Orion because I have been so impressed with their quality and service.
I was looking for binoculars in the $120-$180 price range, and I considered both the 8x56 Mini-Giants and Orion's Ultraview line (7x50 or 10x50). The 10x50 Ultraviews seem to get rave reviews from everyone, but most people recommend a tripod at 10x for reasonably steady viewing. I wanted something that I could hand-hold, for observing on a whim without the setup time of a tripod. Thus, I opted for a lower magnification and the correspondingly larger exit pupil. Both the Ultraviews and the Mini-Giants appear to be made by the same manufacturer and share the same quality and features, so I chose the 8x56 over the 7x50 simply because of the larger objectives and slightly higher power. (Both models weigh the same--32 ounces.)
My 8x56 Mini-Giants arrived promptly and in perfect condition. They showed a level of mechanical fit and finish that is substantially better than my older Bushnell binocs. The fully multi-coated optics showed a dark purple reflection with no hint of imperfections. I couldn't wait for the sun to set to try them out, so I immediately went outside and looked up and down my
street. The sharpness and clarity were stunning in daylight, and as evening turned to twilight, I was amazed at how bright the images remained. These binoculars work extremely well for low-light nature observation as well as for astronomy!
The real test, though, came that night. Once again I was astonished at the clarity and brightness of the images in the binoculars. Stars were sharp all the way to the edges of the 5.8 degree field. I immediately spotted clusters that had eluded me with the Bushnell binocs. I could plainly see M81 and M82, even in my somewhat-polluted suburban skies. Jupiter's disk and four large moons were all clearly visible and distinct (especially when I braced the binoculars by putting my elbows on the deck railing). Under darker skies, where I can take full advantage of their 7mm exit pupil, these binoculars are truly amazing. One warning, though: I once made the mistake of looking at the moon through these binocs after my eyes had already dark-adapted--Ouch! I almost fell over from the intensity! Unless the moon is a mere crescent, it is far too bright to observe comfortably with these binoculars.
Orion includes dust caps and a hard case with their Mini-Giants which are nothing fancy, but are perfectly adequate to store and protect the binoculars. The deluxe neck strap for the binoculars is wonderful-it distributes the weight of the binoculars comfortably and the length is adjustable. The strap on the case, however, is another matter. It seems to be made of some flimsy vinyl material and is far too thin to carry comfortably for long periods. This isn't an issue for me most of the time, but I would recommend replacing it if you carry your binoculars for long periods in their case.
The case strap is really the only complaint I have with these binoculars. The only other constructive criticism I could offer Orion is to make the right diopter a little harder to adjust; it moves so smoothly that I sometimes turn it inadvertently. There is no detent at 0 to let you find it by feel, so a flashlight is required to verify the setting.
These two small criticisms should in no way discourage anyone from rushing out to buy a pair of these binoculars. Make no mistake: I absolutely love them! The optics are impressive, the mechanical construction is solid, and they are light enough to hand-hold for long periods. I truly believe that they are the best buy available in this price range. (Similar binoculars are available from Bausch & Lomb, among others, but cost at least $50-$100 more.) The only alternative you might consider is Orion's 10x50 Ultraview (also $159), especially if you want their higher magnification or will primarily use them under brighter, light-polluted skies.
Submitted by Neil Hobbs - firstname.lastname@example.org - Forest, VA