Saturday, February 23, 2013

Binocular Overdose!

Today was day 2 of the Binocular History Society meeting, held at the home of local collector Steve, up on the far NE side of Tucson, nestled between the Catalina Mountains to the north and the Rincon Mountains to the east.  It was a longish drive from the central part of town, so we missed part of the "swap meet", and the official picture of the day from our buddy Dick Buchroeder who supplied the shot at left.  There are a few people from Tucson, but there are a number from Phoenix, one from Iowa and Washington State as well. 
Our host Steve has an incredible collection, and most of it is still in storage in Washington, as he continues his relocation to Tucson.  Highlights included some aged big Zeiss binoculars, or perhaps better referred to as double telescopes!  Now I've seen these before - in fact, posted about them!  They were in the collection of the State Museum in Columbia, South Carolina, donated by Bob Ariail a few years back.  Of course, it is always better to look THROUGH them rather than AT them, so it was great to have a chance to do so.  While these I think are smaller than the 130mm in the above museum link, they are quite good - difficult to believe they are approaching 100 years old!  The weird-looking assembly in the rear is actually a turret eyepiece, allowing you to change the eyepiece, thus the magnification to 3 different powers.  It was great to sit in a chair, use the nice controls to scan across the landscape, and change the magnification at will - the device worked absolutely perfectly and the optical quality was excellent.
These binoculars are also Zeiss, but I think they are a little older.  They also have turret eyepieces, and can vary the magnification from 23X, 45X or 100X - yes, 100 power!  Again, the optical quality and collimation was good, but the clarity wasn't quite as good as the pair above.  High power was pushing it, but the low powers were quite good...
It wasn't all play, though...  We were invited to bring in some of our favorite binoculars to compare to other's favorites and there were some very good performers.  Comparisons were non-trivial, there were a number of criteria we needed to rate, including resolution, contrast, ability to use glasses, those sorts of things.  It is difficult, perhaps not even fair to compare modern binocs to older uncoated models, so most of these were from the last couple decades, most of very high quality.  There were many of Zeiss and Nikon manufacture, but a number that were new to me.  Results will be compiled overnight and reported tomorrow morning... 
One big surprise was presented to me later in the afternoon as it was passed around the group.  Though of unmarked manufacture, they were supposedly Zeiss, manufactured for the German war effort under the code name blc, highly prized by u-boat commanders (M.S.S. supposedly stands for Marine Signal Station).  They were quite stunning visually, with enough eye relief to allow my glasses, low distortion and very high acuity.  They have the reputation as the "best handheld military binocular ever made!"  And yes, they have the Nazi swastika stamped on the right side...  From my Internet research tonight they are quite rare, but I'd love to try them out under a dark sky sometime!
The last item of this post is a device I'd never seen or heard about before - but Steve had 2 in his garage!  This was a multiple-position fire control sight.  This one had 3 pairs of objectives and observing positions, one behind/below, the others on the right and left side.  The optics were quite exceptional in quality, and supposedly were used on German cruisers to control anti-aircraft or canon fire.  I'm not sure what the redundant sights get you - perhaps I'll learn more tomorrow as there is a talk on "Fire Direction Optics", though it covers the Japanese Navy...  I've been spoiled by my limited binocular exposure, but I sure learned a lot today as I got to use all of the varied units presented.  After thinking about what I've seen, I'll have to ask more questions tomorrow - my last chance this meeting!

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