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Tele Vue 24mm Panoptic

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To say that my first experience with a wide-angle eyepiece was inspiring would be an understatement. Having previously believed that Plossls were panoramic, I was blown away by an expansive (albeit rather poorly corrected) 65 degree field, and instantly transformed into a wide-angle addict. As a long-time lover of open clusters, I felt that wide-angle eyepieces allowed me to travel to them, increasing the magnification without cutting off any of the stars. I felt as though I were among the stars, and the experience to this day makes my body feel lighter. Simply put, I crave immersion. Years later, my eyepiece collection contains a healthy number of such oculars, but for a long time I opted to save money, and upgraded through generations of inexpensive designs with smudgy edges from field curvature and abysmal lateral colour. Leafing through the pages of Sky & Telescope, I would dream of owning a fleet of Tele Vue Nagler eyepieces. That dream seemed a long way off, and frankly it still does! But Tele Vue have also attempted to bring us Nagler-like performance at a more attractive price, albeit it over a smaller field. They’re called Panoptics, and in the 1.25” format, the 24mm is king. The question is, how does it measure up?

Sky-Watcher Equinox-66 PRO

Sky-Watcher Equinox-66 PRO

In my time as an astronomer I’ve been fortunate to tour some of the world’s most majestic night skies, from remote, southern deserts to mountain tops thousands of feet above sea level, and wherever I could I brought with me a small telescope. It’s always moved me in a certain way to see just how much more can be experienced with even the smallest rich field refractor over the unaided eye alone, and in many ways small telescopes continue to be my weapons of choice in the hobby. The technology in amateur instruments today is so good that a compact, lightweight refractor can delivery stunningly high-contrast images, and overstep its perceived aperture limitations to bring out faint objects and planetary features alike. But light is a cruel mistress, and shorter, faster optical systems are relatively more prone to aberrations, which creep in and spoil the image. Enter the ED refractor – a species incorporating exotic glass types and high-precision figuring to outpace aberrations without resorting to longer focal lengths. With the right execution, these can make for exceptional portable instruments. Should Sky-Watcher’s Equinox-66 PRO be counted among them?

Vixen NLV 20mm

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Let me confess that I have a bit of a soft spot for Vixen – a company deeply rooted in the astronomy industry, and the manufacturer of the first Plossl I ever bought. That beautifully crafted Japanese-made glass completely transformed the performance of my first telescope, and to this day I haven’t yet discovered a finer example (read: Tele Vue don’t cover that particular focal length). With that in mind, I’ve been careful to give the Vixen NLV 20mm a fair test. As far as I can track down, Vixen first introduced their Lanthanum range (since known as LV and NLV) in 1994, and whilst the principal concept behind these eyepieces – namely the use of Lanthanum-doped glass – hasn’t changed, the focal lengths, housing, and perhaps coatings have undergone a few revisions. The NLV are quite different in appearance from their ancestors; indeed nothing else on the market, regardless of manufacturer, look quite like them. But how does the 20mm perform, and does it deserve a spot in your collection?