Saturday, February 2, 2013

The BIG Glasses!

A few weeks ago I posted that most amateur astronomers own more than one telescope.  Some are better at some things than others, some are easier to carry outside and set up, some do better under a dark perfect sky.  I love binoculars - using both eyes with which to observe is more relaxing, and you seem to see more than squinting with a single eye.  So I've also got more than one pair of binoculars too.  Interestingly, most all of them were acquired from my friend Dick!  He has a local reputation of buying optical doodads, evaluating and using them for a few weeks or months, then reselling them, usually at a fraction of their original cost.  A couple pair he has given me for various reasons, a few were sold at bargain prices.  I think this pair he actually made a few dollars!

What you are looking at is a WWII war prize!  The story that I remember him telling me is that when we occupied Japan after the end of the War, a sailor asked his commanding officer if he could take these home.  They have been stored in a wooden box, complete with some tools until Dick acquired them from the sailor himself.  By that time (in 1990), the sailor was getting up in age, had a hard time toting them around, and was looking to pass them along.  Dick gladly paid him a fair price, used them a month or so, then sold them to me at a 33% markup, as I recall.  He loved them as well, but the only reason that he let these go was that a year or so before, he obtained an identical pair from a used equipment dealer out of San Diego (in much poorer condition), had them cleaned, had optical coatings applied, and as an optical designer, designed and had built new custom eyepieces.  I believe there is an article he wrote about the experience in the ole' Telescope Making Magazine in the '90s.  I can look up the article or even provide copies if anyone is interested...

Anyway, I loved them, made the wooden Dobsonian mount so that they would interface with the sturdy tripod shown, which I obtained from a different source earlier.  The binoculars are 20X120, twenty power, with lenses just under 5" in diameter.  They were made by Nikko, which became Nikon after the War.  Interestingly, the virtual twins of these Dick has were made by Tokyo Optical - obviously a design made by several contractors.  My understanding is that Japan lagged in radar development during the War, but they had these excellent binoculars, as well as others up to 8" in diameter that worked well under low light levels, so Japan fought to a near draw with the allies during the early parts of the War.  Unfortunately, Dick kept the original wooden box, tools and sights for use with his rebuilt binoculars.  The sights shown here are brass replicas a machinist friend made.
While optical coatings were in their infancy during WWII, these are uncoated, so throughput is likely only 50% or so, but the optics are EXCELLENT!  They've never been apart - the wax seals are undisturbed and they are incredibly sharp.  One view that comes to mind is when I set up on Kitt Peak, and looked at an Indian village about 6 miles away.  I spotted a couple kids shooting baskets on a basketball court, and you could easily see the color of their shirts.  At the Grand Canyon Star Party it is fun to spot hikers on trails and see visitors at the north rim lodge 10 miles away!  At night, even with the uncoated optics, a multitude of galaxies and clusters can be spotted, and I've had lots of breathtaking views of the sun (properly filtered) and moon rising/setting behind distant mountains.  The 45 degree deviation of the eyepieces make observing at high elevations very comfortable.  Shown in these 2 pictures are the wax seals, the internal baffles to block stray light, and the extendable sun shades that work quite well.
It is difficult to demonstrate how well they work without having you over to look through them, but enclosed here is a shot I took about a week ago of the filtered sun (I got solar filters early on for them - great for solar eclipses!) with the digital SLR.  There are better ways to photograph the sun, but you get a feel for it.  Sunspots, even solar granulation is easily visible by eye, not so much in this image.  North is at about the 2 o'clock position in this image.
In short, I love them, but at 40 pounds they are difficult to move around and set up.  I kid folks that the neck strap is a killer!  And the tripod, necessarily rock solid, weighs another 50 pounds or more too.  But the views are generally very worthwhile.  I think I'll lug them to the Canyon again this June - selfish of me to keep the view to myself!

1 comment:

Joseph Chklovski said...

I am so excited to read your post about the story of binoculars. Thanks for sharing such an impressive post. Your post is more beneficial for Astronomer students.