Vixen’s New Binocular – The Cat’s Eyes (or SG2.1×42)

Image: Vixen Japan

Image: Vixen Japan

This year is turning out to be a very interesting one for new products – but I doubt you will have seen anything like this before… It’s a very strange-looking binocular, but like many Vixen products, I think it’s a hidden gem worthy of a proper write-up – this is it.

So, what are other people saying about these?  The general remarks are:

  • They are a ‘Galilean Optic’ – no prisms – the eyepieces set the image right-way-up instead
  • They are designed for wide-field observation of the night sky
  • They aren’t going to give a full field of view to wearers of spectacles

Of course I have a great deal more to say – not least because I have been playing with these for a week now and there is much more to these than meets the eye (okay, okay, pardon the pun).

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that you do look a bit funny when you use these – appearance-wise you could be compared to Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit) and indeed the Minions from Despicable Me…

Image: Me.

Image: Me.

Why am I highlighting this seemingly irrelevant point? Well it does tell you a little about the binocular!  For a start you can see that my eyes are a little off-centre in the binocular.  I make no secret of the fact that this is because I have a nose with a high bridge (yes, alright, a big nose!) and my eyes are a bit closer together than they could be (actually my inter-pupillary distance (IPD) is fairly average… it’s just my nose) – so they don’t actually fit me all that well.  In a normal binocular that would be a problem – but with an exit pupil of 20mm diameter (vast!) this binocular can be used as long as your pupils are somewhere in the eyepieces.  Of course if you get your pupils in the centre, you get the widest, roundest field of view – but I found them most comfortable as pictured above.  Like a lot of things in optics, this is a little compromise.

Another thing that can be seen from the image above is that they make my eyes look bigger… this is the really important thing!  What this means is that by using them you are effectively increasing the size of your pupils (I simplify but you get the point)… it’s like having bigger eyes… like the eyes of a cat.  Cats can see in the dark!

Not ALL of the light from the 42mm objective makes it to your eyes – but the brightening effect is tremendous!  I first took these out in the early evening and was immediately struck by the radical change in appearance of the woods opposite my house.  Something told me they were going to be a lot of fun, but sadly I was cursed with a cloudy night.  So I thought I would watch some TV…

 

WP_20140523_22_51_27_Pro

This is my 42″ Sony Bravia LCD TV. My wife says it is a bit too big for the room (though I beg to differ and it is more in context now that we have surrounded it with shelves full of all sorts of rubbish, and books). I know what you are thinking… I am getting off topic.

But of course I still had the binoculars in front of me and thought I might try them indoors….

Supersize TV...

Yes – this is my 88″ TV! OK – it’s the 42″ through the binoculars (photographed using my phone at the same distance as the previous picture) – but WOW! If it were only comfortable to wear the binoculars all the time I’d never want for that £35,000 Samsung beast I found at Bentalls the other week! Anyway, there is a serious point to this – if you look at the picture it will give you an idea of the level of distortion and field curvature that is seen with these. The binoculars aren’t perfect in their rendition of the view – but they are jolly good fun!  The curving / soft focus effect is lessened at distance, but only a bit.

Luckily, I spent the following six nights in the South of France…. and got a couple of nights of very decent sky indeed.  It’s no exaggeration to say that many more stars can be seen with these binoculars than with the naked eye.  They will reveal all the fainter constellations – like the stars of Ursa Major that aren’t in the Plough – or even Ursa Minor!  Come Summer, the Milky Way in the region of Patrick Moore’s “Summer Triangle” will be truly spectacular.  They’re not about magnification (2.1x isn’t much) but boy are they bright.  Great for larger objects – don’t expect them to touch planets or planetary nebulae.  And no use for bird-watching!

When looking at the night sky, you rapidly forget that the field isn’t exactly flat – the experience is immersive and you tend to get thoroughly lost in the wonder of it all… remember I can be pretty cynical when it comes to optics so I’m not over-stating that – there is a definite wow-factor with these that I haven’t experienced elsewhere.

A few aspects of the handling are worth mentioning here:

  • They have individual eyepiece focusing.  This makes them very flexible for those with eyes that have different prescriptions (because you will want to take your glasses off for these).  It can be a pain to get right but once set, they have such massive depth of field you won’t have to focus them again – even close up (down to 3m).
  • There is no rubber armouring – so they aren’t very grippy and of course with their short size there isn’t much to grab hold of.  Just as well they come with a neck lanyard!  Just make sure you use it.
  • The bridge is metal – so can be a little hard on your nose if its shaped like mine (for your sake, I hope it’s not).

So – the verdict.  They do take a bit of getting used to – and they really are only useful for the night sky – but these are loads of fun to use and I expect they’ll go down a storm at star parties.  At £229 they are an investment rather than a whim, but something tells me they’ll be popular.  It’s a bit like buying a Lamborghini – great fun and to hell with the practicalities!  Just ENJOY!

NP

4 comments on “Vixen’s New Binocular – The Cat’s Eyes (or SG2.1×42)
  1. Jim Andraza says:

    I assume they might also be used at concerts? Opera glasses on steroids.

    JA

  2. Derek Bullman says:

    Thanks for the very useful writeup. Would these be any use for watching cricket and other sports? Would the field curvature be a problem? Do you know whether any other manufacturer is likely to produce anything similar? Ordinary 8 x 30 and other wide field glasses are much too powerful for cricket.
    Good luck with the move.
    Derek Bullman

  3. Joe Romaninsky says:

    Am waiting on delivery of the 2.1×42. I’ll post my first light impressions when weather permits. (Live in Pocono Mount-
    ans in Pennsylvania, USA. We’re blessed with dark skies
    on the infrequent nights they appear). Thanks for the
    interesting review. My high bridge nose might also be a
    problem.

  4. Philip J Tramdack says:

    Neil, I live in New Castle, a small city in Western Pennsylvania. The surrounding countryside is pretty dark but the limiting magnitude on the best of nights (Sky Quality Meter around 19.50 to 19.60) is barely 4.5. I use various telescopes from my backyard shelter and generally point the scopes with a laser pointer. I would say that the Vixen 2.1 x 42s are the single biggest innovation I have incorporated into my observing since I started logging observations in June 1992, and I am not exaggerating. Last week I made my 800th session. This year I am up to 55 sessions, all because I can point my laser finder WHILE looking through the binocs. When you can see a whole constellation that would normally be invisible from the city, like Cancer (I enjoy early morning observing, by the way– Cancer is up at 4:00 AM in November. ) all things are possible. I am able to track down double stars I would never find otherwise and point right at clusters that would elude me. I appreciate your review, and write this to ask you to consider updating your informative essay to suggest that this tool may be the biggest boon ever to the urban/ suburban observer, because you can see deeper into your light-polluted sky. By the way, the construction and design values are thoroughly Vixen: solid, well made and optically top-flight. Thank you. PJTramdack

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