Equipment Reviews - Page 6

1) TMB Optical 40mm Paragon and 30mm 2" Eyepieces

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1) TMB Optical 40mm and 30mm Paragon 2" Eyepieces

TMB Optical 40mm Paragon 2" Eyepiece

Photo courtesy Burgess Optical

TMB Optical 40mm and 30mm Paragon 2" Eyepieces

Photo courtesy Burgess Optical

Overview

When I bought my first telescope in 1971, the most common wide-angle eyepieces that were available to amateur astronomers were Konigs and Erfles, and some of the Erfles were of WWII vintage. These eyepieces did not provide sharp images to the edge of the field of view, but they provided wide-field observing up to 65 degrees which was nice for deep-sky objects.

For lunar, planetary, and double star observing many amateurs used eyepieces that had a narrower field of view and provided better light transmission, higher contrast, and sharper on axis images. Indeed, when I purchased my C8 I bought three Konig eyepieces for it for wide field observing (a 32mm, 24mm, and 16mm), and two Meade Research Grade Orthoscopic eyepieces (a 10mm and 7mm) plus a Barlow. At the time it seemed like amateurs would always buy wide field eyepieces for deep-sky objects and narrow field Orthoscopic or Plossl eyepieces for lunar, planetary, and double star observing.

Things began to change in the early 1980's when Al Nagler began introducing improvements to the Erfle design, such as the TV Wide Field eyepiece and later the Panoptic, both of which offered a 65-degree field of view. He introduced also a new type of ultra-wide angle eyepiece, the Nagler, which provided a well-corrected 82 degrees field of view. Other companies have followed suite and began offering wide angle and ultra-wide angle eyepieces. Over time these eyepieces have been improved and many more focal lengths have been added, so that today some amateurs feel they only need to buy wide angle and ultra-wide angle eyepieces for all of their observing needs. Still, there remain some observers who buy wide angle, ultra-wide angle, and narrow field eyepieces for their observing needs.

For many years the TV Panoptics and Naglers have been the eyepiece of choice for my wide field observing, and I used Orthoscopic, Plossl, and Monocentric eyepieces for lunar, planetary, deep-sky and double star observing when I wanted to bring out the finest detail. When I heard that TMB Optical in partnership with Burgess Optical was introducing a line of new wide field eyepieces called the Paragons, I was curious as to how it would compare with the Panoptics. So I ordered a Paragon 40mm 2" Orthoscopic Super-Wide eyepiece. After testing it for several months on a variety of subjects including deep-sky objects, stars, the Moon, and Saturn, the Paragon seems to offer advantages of both wide field eyepieces as well as the better light transmission, higher contrast, and sharper on axis images found in narrow field eyepieces.

Eyepiece Comparisons

The Paragon arrived packed in a box and came with dust caps for both the eye lens and field lens. Taking the eyepiece out of the box the eyepiece feels well built, with a solid feel to it. The double rubber grip gives the feeling of security when you pick the eyepiece up. The fold down rubber eyecup has threads on its interior, which may help to reduce stray light from striking the eye lens.

I carefully cleaned the 41mm Panoptic before doing the eyepiece comparisons. Side by side both eyepieces have the same approximate height of 5", although the Panoptic is wider at approximately 2.75”, while the Paragon is 2.25" wide. The Panoptic is also heavier at 2.10 lbs. to the Paragons’ 1.5 lbs. The Panoptic sells for $510.00 while the Paragon sells for $249.00. The eye relief in the Panoptic is listed as 27mm while the Paragon is listed as 16mm, but in observing with the eyepieces in the field I found both equally comfortable to use.

I held both eyepieces up to a bright white light to inspect the coatings. The Paragon eye lens coatings are very dark and the reflections are muted. For the Panoptic the eye lens coatings are not as dark and the reflections are a bright green. The coatings of the field lens of the Paragon also appear darker than the coatings of the field lens on the Panoptic, and the reflections are muted in the Paragon compared to the Panoptic.

According to the specifications of the Paragon eyepieces they offer an apparent field of view of 69°, and the true apparent field of view of 68°. The eyepieces have six elements in four groups, and all air-to-glass surfaces are treated with broadband coatings that transmit 99.98%. The Paragon also utilizes internal spacers with non-reflective anodizing and micro-baffles to reduce internal reflections.

Other focal lengths that are planned for the Paragon line include a 30mm 2", a 24mm 1.25", a 20mm 1.25", and a 16mm 1.25".

I used three telescopes during these tests, including a TMB 4.1" (105mm) f/6.2 refractor, a TMB 5.1" (130mm) f/9.25 refractor, and a TMB 7" (175mm) f/8 refractor. Here is the magnification and exit pupil of the TV 41mm Panoptic and TMB 40mm Paragon:

Telescope TV 41mm Panoptic magnification and exit pupil TMB 40mm Paragon magnification and exit pupil
TMB 4.1" (105mm) f/6.2 refractor 16x, 6.6mm 16x, 6.5mm
TMB 5.1" (130mm) f/9.25 refractor 29x, 4.4mm 30x, 4.3mm
TMB 7" (175mm) f/8 refractor 34x, 5.1mm 35x, 5mm

Daylight Tests

I set the TMB 105mm up out side and observed some nearby birds and trees. The detail on the birds, such as their eyes, feathers, and plumage, was sharper, brighter and showed more detail in the Paragon than in the Panoptic. The colors were more pronounced as well. This was true also of some nearby pine trees and bushes as the detail stood out better. People who enjoy using their portable telescopes during the day to observe nature will find these eyepieces very useful.

Solar System Objects

Sun

I observed the Sun with the 130mm f/9.25 and a Baader solar filter. The view through the Panoptic and Paragon were similar in some ways, but the Paragon showed less scattered light around the Sun than the Panoptic did. In addition two sunspot groups showed higher contrast and better sharpness in the Paragon, and limb darkening around the edges of the Sun was easier to see in Paragon as well.

I noticed also that the field in the Paragon is flat, as when I moved the Sun towards the edge of the field of view it did not become larger as it did in the Panoptic. In the Panoptic the Sun became somewhat egg shaped as it got near the edge. I feel that the Paragon eyepieces, particularly the shorter focal length would make fine eyepieces for observing the Sun due to their flat field, sharpness, contrast, wide field of view, and lower light scatter.

Moon

I observed the Moon on several occasions with TMB 105mm f/6.2 and 130mm f/9.25. One of the first things I noticed was that the view through the Paragon appeared sharper and with finer detail than the Panoptic. That is the lunar features appeared crisper and with higher contrast, and the and the color of the lunar mare are more pronounced in the Paragon than the Panoptic. In addition there was less light scatter around the Moon, and fainter stars near the Moon was easier to see in the Paragon. The view reminds me more of a well made planetary eyepiece rather than the view through a wide-angle eyepiece.

As with the Sun, I feel that the Paragon eyepieces, particularly the shorter focal length would make fine eyepieces for observing the Moon due to their flat field, sharpness, contrast, wide field of view, and lower light scatter.

Saturn

Saturn's globe and rings were easier to see and better resolved in the Paragon in the TMB 130mm f/9.25 then in the Panoptic. In addition the moons Titan and Rhea were easier to see as well.

Comets

I had the opportunity to observe Comet C2006 M4 SWAN (2006) several times and compare the views through the Panoptic and Paragon. Through the TMB 105mm f/6.2 with the Panoptic the comet showed a stellar pseudo-nucleus with one or two comas. Through the Paragon the pseudo-nucleus was more prominent and I was able to discern a brighter outer coma and fainter inner coma. Also with the Paragon I was able to see a faint tail that extended about 2 degrees in length by gently rocking the telescope back and forth. The Panoptic had better edge definition with less astigmatism, which is more noticeable with longer focal length eyepieces (like a 41mm or 40mm) than shorter focal length ones.

On another night using the TMB 105mm the Paragon brought out more detail in the comets' pseudo-nucleus, inner and outer coma, and the striated appearance to the tails of the comet.

I observed the comet again on a different night with the TMB 175mm f/8. The Paragon did a better job in bringing out the detail in the comet than the Panoptic. For example the stellar pseudo-nucleus, and inner and outer coma, which had a blue green color to it, was more pronounced. Also the tail, which was fan-shaped near the outer coma, became straighter further way from the coma and appeared more striated, was also easier to see in the Paragon.

Comet 17P Holmes Sketches and Observing Reports where I used the 40mm and 30mm Paragons along with TMB Super Monocentric Eyepieces

Comet 17P Holmes, October 26th, 2007

Comet 17P Holmes, October 29th, 2007

Comet 17P Holmes, November 5th, 2007

Comet 17P Holmes, November 11th, 2007

Comet 17P Holmes, November 12th, 2007

Comet 17P Holmes, November 17th, 2007

Deep Sky Objects, Double Stars, and Bright Stars

To see how well the Panoptic and Paragon performed on different deep-sky objects I observed a variety of objects that are visible in the summer, fall, winter, and spring nighttime skies. This included planetary nebulae M27 and M57; emission nebulae M17, M42, the Veil and North America Nebulae; diffuse nebulae M78; spiral galaxies M31, M33, and M81; elliptical galaxies M32 and M110; irregular galaxy M82; open clusters M11, M18, M35, M41, NGC 884 & 869, NGC 2158, and NGC 7789; globular cluster M13; the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud M24; double stars including Alberio, Alnilam, Alnitak, Mintaka, and Sigma Orionis which is a quadruple star; and bright stars including Sirius, and Betelgueuse. The limiting magnitude during most of the tests ranges from 4.8 to 5.5, and the seeing was good.

During my tests I noted that the Paragon had a darker sky background, higher contrast, light transmission, and sharpness. The Panoptic had less astigmatism near the edge of the field of view, which was most noticeable in the 105mm f/6.2. The Panoptic has barrel distortion, which increases magnification at the edge of the field of view (that is, the magnification increases from center to edge). I noted this when I moved deep-sky objects like M13 towards the edge of the field of view and it became enlarged and distorted. The Paragon has a flat field, which means as objects are moved from the center of the field of view to the edge they remain the same size. The lighter weight of the Paragon meant I did not need to rebalance the telescope when I inserted smaller, lighter eyepieces, something I needed to do more often with the Panoptic, which is heavier.

Alberio - This pretty double star is located in Cygnus and the color contrast between the larger yellow star and smaller blue star is striking in the Paragon in the TMB 130mm f/9.25. Once again the view reminds me more of a well made planetary eyepiece rather than the view through a wide-angle eyepiece. Although the view through the Panoptic is nice the color contrast between the two stars is not as pronounced and the sky background was not as dark.

Alnilam, Alnitak, Mintaka, & Sigma Orionis - Located in Orion, Alnilam, Alnitak, and Mintaka are double stars while Sigma Orionis is a quadruple star. In each case through the TMB 130mm f/9.25 with the Paragon these stars were better resolved and the companion stars were easier to see then in the Panoptic. In addition the color contrast was not as pronounced and the sky background was not as dark in the Panoptic.

Betelgueuse - The bright orange star in Orion's upper left shoulder, it appeared brighter, better resolved, and the orange color was more pronounced in the Paragon than the Panoptic in the TMB 130mm f/9.25.

M11 - In the TMB 130mm f/9.25 with the Panoptic this open cluster appears small with many stars that are beginning to be resolved. The brightest star in this cluster is located near the lower right hand corner. There is a pretty yellow/blue star located to the upper left hand side. In the Paragon the cluster appears larger, brighter, and better resolved with many more stars visible. The sky background appears darker, and the contrast seems higher in the Paragon as well, and the color of the stars such as the yellow-blue star seem more pronounced also.

Panning the TMB 130mm f/9.25 further along the Milky Way from M11 up towards Cygnus I came across a tight double star in which both stars appeared to be white and of equal magnitude. Through the Paragon the stars were well resolved and reminded me of two diamonds on a black background. The view reminds me of how double stars appear in a high quality planetary eyepiece like a Orthoscopic, Plossl, or Monocentric. Through the Panoptic the view was similar but the stars and sky background do not have the same snap or contrast to them, nor did the view remind me of a planetary eyepiece. This being the case the shorter focal length Paragons may work well for double star observing.

M13 - Through the TMB 130mm f/9.25 this cluster is partially resolved around the edges in the Panoptic. Through the Paragon it is better resolved around the edges and the cluster appears brighter. Through the TMB 175mm f/8 the Paragon resolved the stars across in front of the cluster as well as around the outer edges better than the Panoptic did. In addition the sky background appeared darker in the Paragon, the stars were sharper, and brighter than in the Panoptic. When I moved M13 towards the edge of the field of view in the Panoptic the cluster became enlarged and distorted. The Paragon showed a flat field where M13 remained the same shape and size as I moved the cluster towards the edge of the field of view.

M17, M18, & M24 - I was scanning through the Milky Way one night after observing Comet SWAN and noted that all three of these deep-sky objects fit into the same field of view of both the Panoptic and the Paragon. They were however low in the sky, only around 15 degrees in elevation. After comparing the view through the Panoptic and Paragon I noted that the Paragon showed the swan shape of M17 better, the open cluster M18 was better resolved, and M24 the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud was resolved better. In addition all three objects were brighter in the Paragon.

M27 - In the Panoptic this planetary nebula appears large, bright, with a light green color to it in the TMB 130mm f/9.25. The apple-core shape is pronounced, with the football shape extensions visible on both sides. Some mottling is visible in the interior of the nebula. In the Paragon M27 appears larger, brighter, with the color more pronounced. Also the football extensions are easier to see and longer. There is a more "subtleness" to the view in the Paragon than the Panoptic.

M31, M32, M110 - I observed the Andromeda Galaxy and its satellite galaxies several times with all three telescopes to compare the Panoptic and Paragon eyepieces. Here is a summary of those observations. Through the TMB 105mm f/6.2 with the Paragon the galaxy, along with M32 and M110, look very nice with M31 taking up most of the field of view. M31 shows a brighter central area almost starlight nucleus to it, as well as hints of dust lanes and detail around the central nucleus. M32 is small and compact with a brighter central area, while M110 appears elongated. The Panoptic did not show the same level of detail as the Paragon did in and around the central area of M31, nor did M110 or M32 show up as well or with as much detail.

M31 through the TMB 130mm f/9.25 with the Paragon the dust lanes are more pronounced, and the dust lanes around both sides of the nucleus give a "race track" appearance of dark lanes around the central region, which are most apparent on the right hand side. The central bulge of the galaxy is quite evident and has a stellar appearance to its center. M32 appears larger and has a star like nucleus to it, and M110 appears larger and elongated. The view through the Panoptic is nice, but it lacks the fine subtle detail visible in the Paragon that makes the view more impressive.

Through the TMB 175mm f/8 with the Paragon two dust lanes were visible, and the race track appearance around both sides of the nucleus of M31 is more evident. While I have noted this detail before easier to see and more sharply defined this time in the Paragon. In addition M110 seemed more elongated. The Panoptic did not show as much fine detail.

M33 - Through the TMB 130mm f/9.25 with the Panoptic the galaxy appears large, faint, with a slight green/gray color to it. With averted vision the galaxy appears to have some mottling visible, with perhaps a somewhat brighter central region. Through the Paragon the galaxy appears larger, brighter, and has more of a light green color to it. Also the central area and the mottling is more pronounced.

M35 & NGC 2158 - are open clusters located in the constellation of Gemini. Through the TMB 130mm f/9.25 with the Panoptic M35 appears large with many members and well resolved. The smaller open cluster NGC 2158 located off to the south west side of M35 was visible as well. Through the Paragon M35 appears larger and brighter and the stars are better resolved as well. NGC 2158 appears larger and brighter also.

M41 - This open cluster looked pretty in the TMB 130mm with the Panoptic and the red star near the center of the cluster was prominent. Through the Paragon the stars were better resolved and the color of the red star was more pronounced.

M42 - The Orion Nebula appeared large and bright with a light blue color to it in the TMB 105mm f/6.2 at 16x with the Paragon. The detail visible included the "bat wings" along the bottom of the nebula, the central area with a partially resolved trapezium 2 of the 4 stars, and the upper fainter portion of the nebula. Through the Panoptic the nebula was not as bright and there was less detail visible in the nebula.

Through the TMB 130mm f/9.25 with the Panoptic the central region of M42 had a somewhat of a "cirrus" appearance to it, and was light blue color. Four stars were visible in the Trapezium although the fourth star was harder to see. The nebula extended up from the bat wings along the bottom of the nebula towards the upper left-hand portion of M42. M43 was visible below M42, as was NGC 1977, which is an emission and reflection nebula. NGC 1980, an emission nebula and open cluster, was visible above M42. Through the Paragon M42 appeared larger, brighter, and showed finer detail. For example the "cirrus" appearance of the central region was more pronounced, and the nebula extended up towards the upper right hand portion of M42. In addition the 4th star in the Trapezium was easier to see. M43, NGC 1977, and NGC 1980 appeared larger, brighter, and showed finer detail as well.

M45 - Through the TMB 105mm f/6.2 the Pleiades look very pretty in both eyepieces, and the central orange and blue stars prominent in both eyepieces. The Paragon shows a brighter image and higher contrast than the Panoptic, and the colors of two central stars were more pronounced in the Paragon.

M57 - The Ring Nebula was low in the sky when I observed it, about 30 degrees in elevation. Through the TMB 105mm f/6.2 the nebula and nearby stars appeared brighter and better resolved in the Paragon than the Panoptic. The sky background appeared darker as well.

M71 - This globular cluster through TMB 130mm f/9.25 has and irregular shape and appears small and faint through the Paragon with a few of the outer stars resolved. It is not as bright or resolved in the Panoptic.

M78 - Through the Panoptic using the TMB 130mm f/9.25 the nebula has a comet shape to it. It appears small with two stars visible near the center that averted vision helps to bring out. In the Paragon the nebula appeared larger, brighter, and has a striated appearance to it. The two stars visible near the center can be seen with direct vision.

M81 & M82 - When I observed these galaxies during the fall when they were relatively low in the northern sky (~25 degrees in elevation). Through the TMB 130mm f/9.25 in the Panoptic I was able to see M81 fairly easily, which at magnitude 7.8 is the brighter of the two galaxies. However I was unable to see M82 which has a magnitude of 9.2. I then inserted the Paragon and was able to see both galaxies. I reinserted the Panoptic and was able to see M82 this time but it required averted vision. Both galaxies were noticeably easier to see in the Paragon.

NGC 884 & NGC 869, The Double Cluster - Through the TMB 130mm f/9.25 the Double Cluster is very pretty in both eyepieces. However in the Paragon and the stars are better resolved than in the Panoptic, and the colors are more pronounced.

NGC 6960, NGC 6992-6995, The Veil Nebula - Through the TMB 105mm f/6.2 with the Paragon I was able to see NGC 6960, which is the western part centered on the star 52 Cygni, without a Lumicon OIII filter. In the Panoptic NGC 6960 was faintly visible without the OIII filter as well, but it was not as bright or as well defined as it was in the Paragon. NGC 6992-6995, which compose the eastern part of the Veil, showed more filamentary portions to it in the Paragon with the OIII filter than the Panoptic did, and it appeared larger and brighter as well. Both portions showed more filamentary detail in the Paragon than the Panoptic.

NGC 7000, North America Nebula - I used a Lumicon OIII filter with the TMB 105mm f/6.2 to help bring out the detail. In general, I felt that the Paragon showed a brighter image and had higher contrast than the Panoptic. What this translated to was the ability to see fainter detail in the Paragon. For example, I was able to see more detail in the Central America and Mexico region of the nebula in the Paragon than in the Panoptic. In addition, there appeared to be mottling visible in the United States portion of the nebula through the Paragon that was not visible in the Panoptic. Also the nebula appeared larger and brighter in the Paragon. Interestingly even without a filter I was able to see portions of the nebula, such as the Central America and Mexico portion in the Paragon but not in the Panoptic.

NGC 7789 - In the TMB 130mm f/9.25 with the Panoptic this open cluster appears very large, faint and pretty. In the Paragon the cluster appears larger, brighter, and has more stars that is visible with both direct and averted vision. When I observed it again on another night with the TMB 175mm f/8 the cluster appeared larger, brighter, and better resolved in the Paragon than the Panoptic.

Sirius - In the Paragon the star image was sharper and tighter, and there was less scattered light around it, and the faint stars around it were easier to see then in the Panoptic in the TMB 130mm f/9.25.

Update, February 28th, 2011

Since purchasing the 40mm Paragon I went on to purchase a 30mm Paragon also. It performs as well as the 40mm so these are the two eyepieces I use for low power observing.

The Paragons are no longer available from Burgess Optical, but do show up for sale on Astromart from time to time. However I have heard that Astronomics now offers Astro-Tech Titan Type II ED 40mm, 35mm, and 30 mm 2" 68° wide field eyepieces that are supposed to be based on the TMB Paragon design, and may come out with them in 20mm, 15mm, and 10mm 1.25" size. I have not had the chance to try these yet, but if they are as good as the original Paragons than it may complete the line that the late Thomas M. Back was considering offering.

Summary

Overall I have been very impressed by the 40mm and 30mm eyepieces. Its’ darker sky background, higher contrast, light transmission, and sharpness enabled me to see detail I have not seen in other wide-angle eyepieces. It made me curious as to how much additional detail would be visible in other deep-sky objects I have observed before, or observed in nature during the day.

Also, I feel the Paragon is the next step in eyepiece design for wide field observing, and is unique in that it offers also the better light transmission, higher contrast, and sharper on axis images found in narrow field eyepieces. For this reason it works well not just for deep-sky observing but also for double star observing, wide field solar and lunar observing, and observing nature. I believe the shorter focal length versions of the Paragons would work well also for variable star observing, solar observing, eclipses, Mercury and Venus transits of the Sun, and lunar occultation’s of bright stars and planets where a wide field of view and high image quality helps to bring out finest detail. Highly recommended.


Article © 2000 - 2015, Eric Jamison, All rights reserved.

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