I had heard a few comments earlier in the year about this scope and the recent mention of it on this forum plus the thread over on OT about it finally pushed me into pulling the trigger on one. It arrived today and I wasted no time setting it up on one of my tripods to compare it directly to my Pentax 65 ED A and my Promaster Infinity Elite ED 65 spotting scopes. For those of you not familiar with any of these scopes they are rather unique in that they accept any standard 1.25 astro eyepieces. This makes them exceptionally versatile as the options are practically endless.
I have been using the Pentax 65 for about three years now with a variety of eyepieces. There are several that I would recommend but I eventually settled on using an inexpensive Orion zoom eyepiece coupled with the Pentax XW 20 mm eyepiece as my “combination” for this scope. With this combination I feel as if I have all my bases covered. I use the scope primarily with the XW 20 particularly for my hawkwatching excursions. The superb optical performance of this combination rivals anything I have had the pleasure to look through. I have a hard time imagining anything better optically that is, until now.
The Promaster ED 65 is a scope I picked up about a month ago to serve as a backup to the Pentax. It comes with an unusually wide zoom eyepiece that is possibly a clone to the highly regarded Baader Hyperion zoom. Optical performance for this scope is in many ways comparable with the Pentax in terms of its color fringing control, brightness, apparent sharpness and overall compact nature. Actually, it is a bit more compact than the Pentax if you can believe it. I have been using it with the zoom quite a bit over the last few weeks.
The Celestron enters the picture because of the recent discussion on whether or not this scope actually has an APO objective that utilizes Fluorite crystal in the design. From what I have read here and elsewhere on the net this is only found on a few scopes currently on the market and nothing close to the price range that the Celestron falls into. So, I decided to see what all the fuss was about and ordered one.
Hmm, I am not sure where to start….
Physically the scope is larger and heavier than either the Promaster or the Pentax. You can look up the exact numbers if you like but I will try to take a picture of the three scopes side by side so you can at least see the physical size difference.
Overall fit and finish of the Celestron is excellent. The dual focusing knob is extremely precise and has a very solid feel to it. The zoom collar on the eyepiece is arguably the smoothest I have ever had the privelege of using. Everything about the scope seems to reflect alot of thought and effort went into the design.
Optically the scope is brilliant. The image is extremely sharp, bright and has, arguably, the best contrast of any binocular or spotting scope I have looked through or used. Chromatic Aberration is very well controlled. In fact I have yet to detect any in the variety of situations I have placed the scope in…and at any of the magnifications within the zoom range. Speaking of which, even at maximum zoom the image is still very clear, very sharp and filled with color. I get very little of the “dim, high magnification image” that I have found on just about any other scope. This image very much rivals the lower magnification setting. Impressive indeed! There were actually one or two occasions when I left the scope on maximum zoom and walked away from it. When I came back and went to find something in the eyepiece I actually forget that I had it at the highest setting!
Comparing the three scopes at their lowest power setting reveals very similar images. The Pentax with the XW 20 mm eyepiece provides a very color neutral image. The Promaster ED has a slightly warm color bias that I am finding quite often on the lower-priced ED glass. The Celestron has something between a neutral bias to an almost “blue-green” much like that of the Zeiss FL series of binoculars. At the higher magnification setting there is no comparison between either of the other two scopes and the Celestron.
The Celestron’s brightness seems to be about at the same level as the Pentax and better than the Promaster. Apparent sharpness seems to be equal between the Pentax and the Celestron with maybe a slight nod going to the Celestron. The contrast level though is where the Celestron really seems to have it together. In my humble opinion the Celestron beats the Pentax 65 ED even with the XW 20 mm eyepiece. The contrast difference in noticeable in just about any application I put it into. I really don’t have the words for it as I thought the Pentax with the XW 20 was just about as good as it gets. The fact that the Celestron betters it speaks volumnes for the optical performance of this scope.
Some other comments….
…the field of view with the included Celestron zoom is respectable. It is better than the average zoom eyepiece (by direct comparison) but a bit narrower at all magnification settings than the Baader Hyperion clone on the Promaster. The plus side though is that the edge sharpness is very good. Better than the Promaster and nearly as good as the XW 20 on the Pentax.
With the 1.25 inch eyepiece capability of the Celestron I decided to try the Pentax XW 20 mm eyepiece on it. The image is excellent and entirely comparable with the XW 20 in the Pentax 65 scope with one key exception. Something in the Celestron scope blocks the bottom 10% of the image. It is strange. The obstruction is a straight line, almost gray in color if I had to lay an impression on it, over the very bottom of the field of view. I don’t run into this issue with other 1.25 inch eyepieces that I have on hand so I must assume it is something to do with the nature of the XW’s design. Thoughts on this would be appreciated.
Now the real beauty of this scope is the price. This scope regularly retails between $420-$500 depending on where you purchase it. For this type of optical performance, quality level and adjustability I cannot think of a better bargain out there right now.
The 80 mm version, which I also just ordered, retails for right between $575-$650. I will report on it once it arrives.
Two big thumbs up on this scope gentlemen!
Digiscoped pic with the Regal 80….