Binoculars come in a wide range of shapes and sizes these days, and an even wider range of prices. It's easy to spend less than $100 or more than $500 for what may appear to be, at least outwardly, comparable models. While they may look the same, they are probably quite different on the inside.
Recently, the binocular market has seen a flood of giant binoculars at prices that were unheard of just a few years ago. In general, giant binoculars are defined as those that magnify the view 10 times or more and have 70-mm or larger front (objective) lenses. It used to be that the least expensive giant binoculars cost in excess of $150, even $200. All that changed not long ago, when the bottom fell out of the price cellar. Now, several companies import giant binoculars that sell for half that, or less.
Celestron's 15x70 SkyMaster binoculars are one of the leaders in the low-price giant binocular arena. They certainly sound good on paper. The SkyMasters include multicoated optics and BaK-4 internal prisms, two features that promise brighter, better images, and key points to look for when judging a pair of binoculars. They also come with an adapter for attaching them to a photo tripod, which is a must to use them to their fullest, and a soft carrying case. But just because they are cheap doesn't always mean they are worth the price. Would it be better to save up for a more expensive pair?
To find the answer, I had an opportunity recently to judge the SkyMasters against a pair of Fujinon 16x70 FMT-SX binoculars , one of the finest pairs of giant binoculars sold today. Like the SkyMasters, the Fujinons feature BaK-4 prisms, but also have fully multicoated optics. As a general rule, superior coatings mean superior image sharpness and contrast. But then, that should be expected, given that the Fujinons cost many times more than the Celestrons.
While the Fujinons were clearly the better performer, the Celestron SkyMasters held up admirably. Image brightness, quality, and contrast were all remarkable considering their bargain price. Although images were a little soft across the outer 25% of the Celestron's field, the overall view was impressive nonetheless.
Some inexpensive binoculars have very sloppy focusing, causing the eyepieces to tilt and shift. Not so with the SkyMasters. I found that their center-focusing mechanism worked smoothly, with no apparently backlash or wobble. Eye relief (the distance you hold your eyes away from the eyepieces to see the full field) is stated to be 18 mm, a good distance for higher power binoculars and an important consideration if you must wear glasses when viewing. The SkyMasters are also light enough to support by hand for short periods of time, although buyers would be well advised to mount them on a sturdy photo tripod.
The bottom line is, if you are considering a pair of giant binoculars, whether for bird watching, stargazing, or another recreational use, and have a limited budget, Celestron's giant 15x70 SkyMasters represent an excellent value. --Phil Harrington, author of Star Ware and Star Watch
- Exceptional value for the price
- Light enough to support by hand
- BaK-4 prisms
- Multicoated optics
- Outer 25% of the field is soft and a little blurry
- Requires a tripod to use for extended periods