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Pentax PCF V 16x60mm

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Date: 8-16-2001
Price: $185.00
Design: 60mm objective lenses with Bak-4 prisms and Full Multi Coatings
Description: Large astronomical binoculars with rubber armor and super multi-coated optics.  Also features 21mm eye relief.

Review

Well it is about that time again, time for me to write a long overdue review.  Earlier this year I found out the hard way that not having binoculars was going to drive me crazy.  It was even worse now that I have moved to an even more observer unfriendly area of town and I have to deal with not only sky glow but many, many big trees.  So in the spirit of being a good amateur astronomer I decided that it was time to go shopping.

The Qualifications

When looking for my new binoculars I knew immediately that I did not wand the same junk I have had in the past.  The generic Chinese 10x50s that are so common for $50 were just not going to cut it.  I also new that these were basically going to replace my telescope for the time being as my primary instrument, and as such I knew that I had to go large, but not too large – I set my limit in the 60mm range.  Lastly price was important, but not that important.  I decided to give myself a $250 limit.

The Contenders

Like usual, I got entirely too involved in my search.  I began to spend hours doing research and price comparisons until I finally narrowed the field.  Generally I like to get the best price/performance contender, or else I tend to regret the purchase after it is made.  So after pricing and reading numerous reviews, I had three to choose from. 

First on the list I had the Orion Mini Giant 9x63s.  I have always had good luck with Orion products and I had also heard excellent things about these binoculars.  Second I had the Oberwerks in mind.  While I had not decided on the size the price/performance offered by these binoculars is very impressive.  Lastly there was the  dark horse, the Pentax PCF V 16x60s.  While there were just a few reviews for these binoculars they did fall into the right price range and carried an impressive brand reputation with them.

After agonizing for what seemed weeks I ended up ordering the Pentax models.  My primary reason for going with these was the reputable ultra sharp optics and secondly the easy holdability for their large size and high power.  Plus the high powers would help increase contrast on faint objects, and as we all know that is a necessity if you live in the city.  Even though I chose these, all of the binoculars mentioned were very impressive and would probably have made me happy.

Unpacking and First Light

I went against common convention and ordered these from a small camera shop in New York City for only $185.  The store called me the next day to confirm and promptly shipped them to me.  After waiting the standard five days for UPS the box arrived in pristine condition.  They were packed very well and came with a large slightly padded case as well as caps and a cleaning cloth.

My initial inspection of the optics left me absolutely impressed.  The coatings on the objective lenses were evenly applied and were of the quality Chinese green variety.  Don’t get me wrong, the coatings actually looked good even though it was obviously done in China.  However, the coatings on the eye lenses left me absolutely stunned.  They had a very nice high quality deep FMC look to them.  Anyways looking into either end of the binoculars revealed a very dark interior and very few reflections, even in a fully lit room – it was almost like peering into a deep well.  The mechanical construction felt very nice and extremely rigid.  They have a nice rubber coating, focus lock, hard eyecups (which take a bit of getting used to), and an ingenious design.  They hold and feel much like roof prism binoculars, which makes them a bit more comfortable during long sessions.  I believe that even though these are now built in China, it is in a Pentax factory and the final products are hand selected in Japan before actual shipping, so you do get better QC with these binoculars than you would with an average Chinese models.

Now before you think I am nuts, yes these 16x binoculars are easily hand holdable.  Sure it can be a bit tiring and a little shaky but you can get amazing results nonetheless.  While they weigh in at 42oz their design helps to equally distribute the weight into a very light feeling system.  That basically translates into the fact that they don’t feel much heavier than my old 10x50s.  With that being said I have spent quite long sessions with these and have yet seriously begun looking for a tripod.

Well after the initial checkout I decided to give them a quick go outside.  It was still daytime but I wanted to see what they could really do.  Well at first I was nearly blinded, as the sun was shining and snow still covered the ground.  It was extremely bright, too bright as chromatic aberration was fairly obvious.  After thinking about the situation I decided that it was probably nothing to worry about, and a quick check with my other 6x30s proved that they were suffering the same ailment.  Damn bright snow.  I did get a chance to check out a gray blob about 2 miles away and confirmed that it was a large flock of birds off in the distance.  16x power is amazing for long distance viewing - the image went from a blob with normal eyesight, to a mass of dots with the 6x30s, and ending with about 10 individual Sparrows within the field of the Pentax binoculars.  Needless to say I was impressed.  It should also be mentioned here that the field is as advertised, sharp from edge to edge – there is absolutely no distortion whatsoever even within the last 5%.  I am curious as to how much sharper they could actually make the 20x models with a built in field flattener.

The Night Sky

It was actually a few weeks later when I got my first real chance to use them for the first time under the stars.  I was up north and as usual expecting extremely dark skies and spectacular views.  However, as dusk fell I first decided to focus on Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon.

While the moon was a about quarter full it is amazing how bright it seems under very dark skies.  It is even much brighter when you are looking at it through 16x60 binoculars, it was almost blinding.  But as my eyes adjusted the sight was quite amazing, very similar in quality to a good telescope view.  The moon appears large enough to pick out significant detail to make these worthwhile for everyday lunar observations.  There was a bit of color but that was primarily only a problem when eye placement was a bit off center.  Overall the views were very pleasing once I adjusted to the extreme brightness.

The planets similarly offered up some very good views.  Jupiter was amazing as multiple faint bands were evident.  I always enjoy the moons also.  Once again color was there but not significant.  Saturn like usual presented itself as an oblong football with some evidence of the rings themselves.  While not as impressive as Jupiter, due to its lack of color, it was still a very good sight.  I did however get a chance to test the edge correction on Saturn.  I slowly moved the planet from the center to the outside of the view and witnessed what other owners have raved about.  There is almost zero distortion at the edge of the field.  I knew that this would be helpful in the next few hours as I gazed deeper into space.

I spent the next few hours just randomly looking through the sky.  Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what I was looking at – I just got lost in it.  As I jumped from cluster to cluster I grew more and more amazed with each one.  Stars were exact points to the edge, colors were bright and very apparent, and focus stayed locked perfectly.  It was one of the most enjoyable nights I have spent under the stars in quite a long time.

Conclusion

While these are a bit more expensive than their cousins, I truly believe that it has been worth it.  From the perfect images to the focus lock they offer everything an astronomer would want in a pair of binoculars.  It should also be mentioned that all of my observations to data have been done without the support of a tripod, that is how truly comfortable they are to hold.  So if you are in the market at least head down to a local retailer and check these out.  I even hear that the rest of the family also does quite a good job.  I think Pentax proves that with care good products can come from china at a good price. 

Submitted by Curt Irwin - irwincur@excite.com - Grand Rapids, MI

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