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My New C90 Spotting Scope and Associated Stuff

Posted by Paul Turner   05/01/2005 12:00AM

Many moons ago I had some Zeiss 10x40 BGT binoculars. They were pretty heavy it seemed so over the course of the many moons I carried them into the field less and less. Ditto with a Bushnell Sentry II spotting scope with 20 x fixed eyepiece on a Bush Hawk mount. Instead, I relied on bird song and gestaldt for identification. Sometimes though I would be forced to carry my equipment, especially if people were around, because my activities were generally being paid for by the Endangered Species Act. (Lots of people, you see, believe that a biologist should have some equipment, if they are getting paid a bunch of tax payer money to do something). After a while I lost the Zeiss binoculars. They may have been left in a rent-a-car. I still have the little Bushnell scope though. It’s seen a good many shorebirds fairly well.

Then just a few moons ago the White Goddess commanded, “Go get yourself some Nikon 10x42 Superior E’s, cause you need to look around some.” As a Crumby (sic) Ovate in his 19th year of Druid training, I followed orders. Lo and behold! (editor's note: In the Druidic tradition, an Ovate seeks understanding through study of the natural world)

Following the Superior E epiphany I decided, without any additional input from the White Goddess to acquire a new spotting scope. And the actual review starts here.

I am a telescope ignoramus. Three weeks ago I would have thought catadioptic (did I spell it right) was a foreign word. So what I have learned to date has come from the internet; manufacturer adds and the few reviews one can ferret out of the electrified mish-mash. So I wound up with a Celestron C90, one of the new, allegedly water proof ones, and a Davis & Sanford Magnum X3T tripod. I got the latter because the salesman at Adorama said they were out of the one that was on the sale special, but he assured me that I would “really like this one”. And though, perhaps due to not having anything to compare it too, I do like it.

So far I have used this rig in the backyard several times, once in the front yard (the pre-dawn of May Day to look at the Moon: Jeez Louise with an XCEL 12.5 mm), and on a Big Sit at the mouth of the Colorado River in Matagorda County, Texas. One of the things I really like to look at is a big old nasty thistle (Cirsium horridulum) that grows in the back yard. I like to watch the bugs and bees on the flowers from about 60 feet. At 60x with a cheap Knight Owl 20 mm I can count stamens all day. Also, at dusk at Matagorda with the wind blowing 20 mph from atop the hood of a Chevy Tahoe, I could identify a Whimbrel (clearly see the head streaks at about 1000 feet). Unfortunately, for the purpose of this review, I can’t remember the eyepiece. It was either the 32 mm Celestron that comes with the scope, or a 40 mm Knight Owl. I have also looked at Jupiter a couple of times with a Celestron XCEL 12.5mm, 97x. I can see two bands and what are probably three moons. By the way, I am also an astronomy ignoramus.

I f you have not caught my drift yet, this is lotsa fun. I have acquired for about $510.00 including tax, the scope, tripod and six eyepieces. These are Knight Owls 40 mm, 25 mm, 20 mm and 15 mm. I also got a Celestron XCEL 18 mm in addition to the other one above. So that makes seven eyepieces, right. The biggest relative outlay was for the XCELS. I’m not too sure about them being much of a bargain although there was sure a lot more stuff on the moon than I expected using that 12.5 mm.

Image quality with any of these eyepieces is nowhere near as good as in the Nikon Superior E’s. The 40 mm Knight Owl though is as good as my Swift Ultralite 8x42 porros. The 25 mm Knight Owl is also very good. Terrestrial image quality tails off at the higher magnifications, although I find the views acceptable with the 18 mm and 20 mm eyepieces.

If you go through the eyepieces from lowest to highest magnification, very little focusing is required using either the star diagonal or the erecting prism. About half a turn is the maximum it takes. I have not tried jumping around, like from 12.5 mm to 32 mm, and that would be a trick given the balancing act limitations of the tripod scope combo.

Image quality is better through the star diagonal than the erecting prism. What are options for acquiring a better erecting prism? Also, that 32 mm plossl that comes with the scope seems a weak link compared to the Knight Owls. Why doesn’t Celestron include a better eyepiece? Even the rubber eyeglass protector on it is troubling. It won’t stay rolled down and pops back out when I am trying to look at stuff.

The flip down attached objective lens cover is wonderful. I would have already lost any other kind. The telescope case is good for protecting the telescope, but worthless for carrying eyepieces including the one that comes with the scope. You only get two eyepiece holes and they are too little. The finder scope is OK. The provided eyepiece does not come with end caps which is annoying, but I am going to get a better eyepiece in the 30 mm range anyway. There is only one protective insert for the star diagonal hole and the erecting prism hole. So you have to keep an eyepiece in one or the other all the time when the telescope is standing around outside. Why couldn’t Celestron have provided two? These items are bound to be pretty cheap, like maybe a nickel. If you switch an eyepiece from the star diagonal to the erecting prism, you have to do some major refocusing. Also, the images are comparably bigger in the erecting prism. Finally, that tripod I like comes with a dandy tote bag.

All in all, I am pleased, but like, no doubt, most of you, not entirely satisfied.

My apologies to Anacortes for not buying anything from them. I didn’t discover Anacortes and Astromart until after the frenzy had subsided.

Click here for more about this subject. -Ed.