All of these binoculars work nicely under the night sky. The most expensive pair cost $16 — far less than if purchased new. Photo by Gary Seronik
By Gary Seronik
I’m a real thrift-store junkie. I can’t resist a good deal on something useful — and for me, few things are more useful than a nice pair of stargazing binoculars. I’ve purchased a number of excellent binos at bargain prices, but I’ll be the first to tell you it’s easy to get burned if you’re not careful. So, here are a few tips to help you sort the good from the bad and the ugly.
Tip #1: Pick up the binoculars and use them to view a distant target — the farther the better. Focus carefully, and look for 10 to 15 seconds. When you put the binos down, how do your eyes feel? Be alert for any sign of eye strain, which indicates poorly collimated optics — a common problem you definitely want to avoid.
Tip #2: Hold the binoculars up a few inches from your eyes with the objective lenses facing you (the opposite end you normally look through) and look at a bright light. Don’t worry about dust or smudges on the outside lenses, what you’re hunting for is any obvious internal haziness that could indicate fungus marring the lenses or prisms — and that’s bad news.
Tip #3: Examine the exterior of the binoculars. Pristine condition doesn’t guarantee there won’t be other problems, if you don’t see any serious dings or wear and tear, it’s a sign that the previous owner likely handled the binos with care.
Tip #4: Do your research. It’s very easy to overpay if you don’t know the true value of what you’re looking at. Search for your binoculars on eBay and click on “show only completed auctions” to find out what they actually sell for, not what the owner dreamed he/she might get.
Tip #5: Avoid antique stores. Binoculars sold there are generally overpriced and often not in good working order. I once saw a pair of 1970s “vintage” Tasco binoculars being sold for double what the current version costs new. In antique world, old = valuable. In astronomy world, old = old.
Tip #6: Never, ever buy used binoculars sight unseen.
If you follow these tips you can come away with an excellent piece of gear at a great price. And that’s a good feeling.