The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Televue Nagler 31mm Type 5, University Optics 32mm König Mk-80 and Meade 30mm QX Wide Angle Three Way Eyepiece Shootout.
Disclaimer: I have no vested interest in any of the eyepiece manufacturers discussed in this review. All eyepieces were obtained through normal commercial channels. No eyepiece was harmed or in any way mistreated in the making of this review.
Will this be just another spaghetti western? Or will Sergio Leone direct another grand opus and make his “Dollars” trilogy a quadrilogy? Will Ennio Morricone once again rouse us with one of his inspiring musical themes for this three way shootout? Hang on to them hats boys, light those cee-gars and read on……
When it comes to those super-duper, ultra mega monster AFOV wide angle eyepieces, everyone has heard of, a few lucky ones have looked through and even fewer even luckier ones own a Terminagler. But for us mere mortals who actually have to work for a living, dropping those hard earned dollars on a Televue Nagler 31mm Type 5 is easier said than done. Are there any other eyepieces which are within the financial reach of most amateur astronomers that can provide the same or better performance than the Terminagler? Reading all those reviews, the answer would probably be a resounding NO. But never one to follow conventional thinking, and being a bit of a tightwad (Oh, why be kind? I’m just plain cheap!), I just had to find out for sure.
I lucked out in being able to purchase a used University Optics 32mm Mk-80 eyepiece from a seller on Astromart for a very decent price. I have also owned a new Meade 30mm QX wide angle eyepiece for several months which I had bought new from Astronomics. Two other members of the Brazos Valley Astronomy Club, Mark Spearman and Kelsey Golden, joined me for the purposes of this review.
The scopes in which these eyepieces were put through their paces were, Kelsey Golden’s Orion 8 inch f/5 Newtonian, Mark’s Takahashi TOA130 f/7.7 refractor equipped with a William Optics Dielectric refractor diagonal, and my Celestron C8 XLT 8 inch f/10 SCT equipped with an Antares enhanced reflectivity mirror diagonal. All scopes were in excellent collimation and were allowed to cool down to ambient temperatures before testing commenced.
The review was conducted on a gloriously clear, cool and crisp moonless night of good seeing and excellent transparency from Mark’s rural observatory just outside of Wheelock, TX. Zenithal magnitude was estimated to be around 6.5 and on that night, the winter milky way was clearly visible as a fat and bloated nebulous cloud stretching from the southern horizon to northern horizon as it meandered through Vela, Monoceros, Gemini, Auriga, Perseus and Cassiopeia.
Round 1: Fit and Finish and General Eyepiece Comments
The terminagler should be renamed “Al’s Glass Grenade”. It is a heavy mother, and feels extremely substantial in your hand. It is extremely well made, with a nice rubber grip ring running around the body, and the barrel has the usual safety undercut. Balancing this eyepiece was not an issue in any of the scopes used, but may be a problem for Dob owners. The rubber eyeguard cup is a nice addition which guides the user in proper eye placement. The eyepiece coatings are a very deep blue-green purple and reflections are extremely muted, even in broad daylight. In short, the fit and finish are on par with its cost, which is considerable at $640 new, although you could pick up a good condition used one for around 85% of new cost.
The University Optics 32mm Mk-80 eyepiece is also an extremely well made good looking eyepiece. Unlike the terminagler, it is much lighter and may be renamed “UO’s Glass Grenade Junior”. Although it is lighter in weight, no compromises have been made in its construction. Balancing this eyepiece again was not in issue in any of the scopes used, and because of its lighter weight should not cause balance issues in Dobs. Unlike the Nagler and the QX, this eyepiece has a hard rubber eyeguard ring running around the top and I slightly preferred this design over the other two, simply because it looks cool and works extremely well in positioning your eye to the optimum viewing spot. The full multicoatings on this eyepiece display a very deep blue-green purple color and once again reflections are quite muted, even in broad daylight. The reflection intensity here was found to be just a bit higher than that from the Nagler, but MUCH lower than from the QX. Once again the eyepiece barrel has a safety undercut. In short, here too, the fit and finish are on par and what you’d expect for its price which is middling at around $300 new, although you could pick up a good condition used one for around 75% of new cost.
The Meade 30mm QX eyepiece appears to be well made at first glance. A closer inspection reveals some issues however. First, the rubber grip ring running around the eyepiece body had several missing indentations when I got it. Second, the rubber eyeguard cup had a longish tear in it just where it went over the body. The eyepiece had a light greenish coating but I found that there were noticeable coating imperfections which looked like tiny bubbles and also the level of reflections from the coatings was MUCH higher than either the Nagler or the Mk-80. In addition, what really ticked me off was that there was a FULLY UNCOATED area about 2 mm thick and around 10mm long about 30% out from the center of the lens. Once again the eyepiece barrel has a safety undercut. Although it costs much less than the other two eyepieces ($89), these fit and finish issues should not exist IMHO.
Points Tally: 31mm Nagler – 10/10, 32mm Mk-80 – 9/10, 30mm QX – 5/10.
Round 2: Edge Performance and Aberrations
We’ve all heard that eyepiece design is all about compromises. If that’s true, then I must say that the 31mm Nagler is the least compromising eyepiece in its performance under the stars. Take its edge performance for example. This eyepiece truly shines in providing impossibly pinpoint and razor sharp stars across the width of its substantial FOV, no matter the focal ratio of the scope you’re viewing through. In my f/10 8 inch SCT, it comfortably fit both M42 and M43 with a small amount of room to spare. I could detect no edge softening and stars stayed sharply pinpoint across the field of view. Moving the objects around the field did not introduce any noticeable change in the sharpness of stars or the detail seen in the nebulosity except maybe out at the very edges say 99% of the way out. This is some truly remarkable edge performance from this hefty eyepiece.
The University Optics 32mm Mk-30 is also one impressively uncompromising eyepiece at this longer focal ratio. Once again, it comfortably fit M42 and M43 in the FOV with about the same small amount of room to spare. I couldn’t detect any edge softening or change in the sharpness of stars and the nebulosity even when moved out to the extreme edges say 99% of the way out. Once again I was astonished at the edge performance of this eyepiece at this focal ratio.
The Meade QX 30mm eyepiece failed this test miserably. People say that even mediocre widefield eyepieces perform well in long focal ratio scopes. Well, if that is the case, the Meade QX eyepiece is way less than mediocre. Although it barely fit both M42 and M43 in the FOV, stars began to soften around 50% of the way out from the center and turned to extremely messy blobs and seagulls around 80% of the way out with progressively worsening performance all the way out to the edge. I was amazed at how UGLY the edge performance of this eyepiece was in this slower focal ratio scope.
Next, I placed the 31mm Nagler in the TOA130 with it’s slightly shorter focal ratio of f/7.7, and was immediately pleased with the results. Now both M42 and M43 were fit in the field with lots of room to spare. Also, the stars retained their pinpoint appearance and razor sharp looks except at the very edges. In moving the objects around the field of view, I detected some very mild softening in the star sharpness beginning at around 85% of the way out from the center. There was very mild loss of detail in the nebulosity, i.e. much less mottling at around this point in the FOV. At the extreme edges the stars began to turn into seagulls, but again I had to look really hard to see this effect. Still this was exceptionally wonderful edge performance from this eyepiece at this slightly faster focal ratio.
The University Optics Mk-80 eyepiece performed just a tad behind the Nagler in the TOA130. Once again both M42 and M43 were fit in the FOV with room to spare. Stars and nebulosity retained sharpness and detail except once again at the every edges. Upon moving the objects around in the field, I detected some very mild softening in the star sharpness beginning at around 80% of the way out from the center. There was a bit more noticeable loss of detail, i.e. much less mottling and wispiness at around this point in the FOV. At around 90% of the way out, the stars began to turn into seagulls, and it was a bit easier to see this effect as compared to the Nagler. However, it was still excellent edge performance from this eyepiece at this slightly faster focal ratio.
The Meade QX 30mm eyepiece on the other hand went almost to pieces in the TOA. Stars began to soften at around 35% out from the center and at around 50% of the way out, stars took on a seagull shape which was readily apparent. Nebulosity was well almost wiped out into a smeared mess at around this point. Once again, exceptionally UGLY edge performance provided by the Meade eyepiece.
Finally, the Nagler was placed in the f/5 Newtonian scope. I was still amazed at what the Nagler was showing in this eyepiece. Not only did it place both M42 and M43 in the FOV, but it also comfortably fit NGC1977 the running man nebula in the same FOV with a bit of room to spare. Here the faster focal ratio showed up as a small but noticeable star softening beginning at around 70% out from the center of field of view. There was very mild loss of detail in the nebulosity, i.e. much less mottling at around this point in the FOV. At around 85% out from the center the stars began to turn into seagulls, and it was readily noticeable. At the very extreme edges, say 99% of the ways out, the stars were smeared out almost completely. Of course, this effect is expected. What surprised me was that a huge chunk of the FOV was still wonderfully useable even in this moderately fast focal ratio scope. I think it was once again truly exceptional edge performance delivered by this eyepiece.
The UO Mk-80 performed a bit worse than the Nagler in the f/5 Newtonian. Once again M42, M43 and NGC1977 were placed in the FOV with a bit of room to spare, but stars began to soften a little earlier, say at around 60% out from the center with seagulls appearing at around 70% out from the center, and a smeared mess at the edges, say 90% out from the center. Still, I was impressed and pleased with the overall performance of the eyepiece even at this fast focal ratio, as IMHO most of the FOV was useable and in fact quite enjoyable.
The Meade QX eyepiece died completely in this f/5 Newtonian. Although M42, M43 and NGC1977 were barely fit into the FOV, if M43 was placed in the center, NGC1977 and the outer 70% of M42 were essentially completely smeared out. Star softening began at around 20% out from the center and seagulls began to appear at around 30 to 35% out from the center. Beyond this stars looked like great big arcs. Once again, it was extremely POOR performance from this eyepiece.
Points Tally: 31mm Nagler – 10/10, 32mm Mk-80 – 7/10, 30mm QX – 3/10.
Round 3: Light Throughput
For this round the scopes were pointed towards the rich starfield surrounding M35, an extremely impressive open cluster in Gemini. In all scopes, the UO Mk-80 provided the best overall light throughput. In fact, as I panned the cluster and it’s surrounding around the FOV, using my C8 and the Nagler, NGC2158, a rich, compressed but fainter open cluster at the edge of M35 just jumped out at me. When this object was placed in the center, I could clearly see extensive mottling with direct vision which resolved into a multitude of faint stars with averted vision. Switching out from the Nagler to the UO Mk-80 eyepiece didn’t change the situation much. There was a small, but noticeable brightening of this faint NGC cluster, and I could see a bit more mottling, almost resolution into stars with direct vision, and easy resolution with slight averted vision. Before you ask, the brightening was not due to the slightly lower magnification provided by this eyepiece since the sky remained equally dark in all three eyepieces. The Nagler provided extremely good light throughput, just a touch behind the UO Mk-80 as noted above. The Meade QX on the other hand, lagged far behind either of these eyepieces. Remember the FULLY UNCOATED line in the eyepiece? Well, when NGC2138 was placed such that it was bisected by this line, I could clearly see significant dimming of the object and lowered resolution in this area. In fact, there was much less mottling of this cluster in the QX and resolution into stars was difficult even with extreme averted vision. These observations were mirrored in the TOA as well as the Newtonian, in that the UO 32mm Mk-80 provided just a touch better light throughput than the Nagler which in turn was SIGNIFICANTLY better than the QX.
These observations were mirrored in the way in which these eyepieces performed on the Leo trio, M65, M66 and NGC3628, three galaxies which occupy slightly over one degree of sky in Leo. Of these three, NGC3628 has an interesting feature in that it is almost edge on and there is a dark dust lane which bisects it from edge to edge. Now, all three eyepieces can frame these galaxies in the FOV in the C8, however, they appear to be a bit more luminous through the UO Mk-80. If NGC3628 is placed in the center of the field, it is very easy to spot its elongated nature and the dark dust lane which bisects it. In fact with extreme averted vision, some evidence of mottling within the dust lane was seen. In the Nagler all three galaxies can once again be included in the FOV with room to spare, however, they appear to be just a touch dimmer in the Nagler. When NGC3628 is placed in the center of the field, it is again easy to spot the elongated nature and the dark dust lane, but even with extreme averted vision, mottling within this dust lane is very difficult to spot. The apparent sizes of all three galaxies appear to be nearly identical in both the Nagler and the Mk-30. The QX eyepiece also allows all three galaxies to be fit in the FOV with less room to spare. However, they all appear to be dim grayish smudges, with no evidence of the dust lane in NGC3628 even when it is placed in the center with direct vision. The dust lane was spotted only with extreme averted vision, but it was difficult at best. Once again, these observations were mirrored in the TOA as well as the Newtonian, in that the UO 32mm Mk-80 provided just a touch better light throughput than the Nagler which in turn was SIGNIFICANTLY better than the QX.
Points Tally: UO 32mm Mk-80 – 10/10, 31mm Nagler – 9/10, 30mm QX – 6/10.
Round 4: Blackout and Kidney Beaning
Of all the eyepieces, the easiest one to use as far as eye positioning goes was the UO 32mm Mk-80. It was the most forgiving of head position, and had much less tendency to blackout, even when I had to move my head slightly to try to take in its expansive FOV. In fact, I didn’t notice any kidney beaning when my eye was roving around, and I suspect part of this was due to its large eyeguard ring which allowed accurate head positioning. It was truly a joy to use. The Nagler had a higher incidence of blackout problems, but again it was fairly forgiving of head position. The eyeguard cup did allow fairly accurate eye placement and although I did notice some kidney beaning it was nothing to write home about. Similarly, the QX eyepiece was also quite forgiving of head position although it had the highest tendency to blackout, but not by leaps and bounds. It was the least forgiving of all three eyepieces in terms of kidney beaning, in that even slight bobbing motions in my head placement immediately resulted in a bit of kidney beaning. However, overall I found this eyepiece to be quite easy to use.
Points Tally: UO 32mm Mk-80 – 10/10, 31mm Nagler – 9/10, 30mm QX – 8/10.
Round 5: Eye Relief
I am an eyeglass wearer, and I hate to take my eyeglasses off when observing, particularly since I have just a touch of astigmatism in my dominant (right) eye. However, all three eyepieces have sufficient eye relief to allow eyeglass wearers to enjoy widefield viewing regardless of whether they’re wearing their eyeglasses or not. In practice, I found the QX eyepiece to provide a touch more eye relief than the Mk-32 which had a bit higher eye relief than the Nagler. Again, I must emphasize that the differences in eye relief weren’t large, and all three eyepieces may be used by eyeglass wearers, although the Nagler did display the tightest eye relief of all three.
Points Tally: 30mm QX – 9/10, UO 32mm Mk-80 – 8/10, 31mm Nagler – 7/10.
Round 6: Immersiveness
Of these three eyepieces, the Nagler provided the most immersive viewing experience. Its FOV is so large that I had to literally move my head around and keep my eye roving around to barely detect the field stop. This eyepiece truly got out of the way, and made the scope disappear and provided a wonderful “spacewalk” experience. In addition, because it is better corrected at the edge, the overall spacewalk experience was enhanced by sharp pinpoint star fields all over. I almost felt that I was floating in space. It was a truly joyous experience to be able to use this eyepiece.
The UO 32mm Mk-80 also provided an extremely immersive viewing experience. Once again, it’s huge 80 plus degree FOV was so expansive that I found myself moving my head around to barely detect the field stop. This eyepiece, like the Nagler just got out of the way making me feel like I was floating in space, particularly in the C8. Of course, because of it’s slightly lower edge performance, it was just a tad less immersive than the Nagler, particularly in the Newtonian scope. Still it was wonderful to have that “Picture Window into Space” experience with this eyepiece.
The Meade QX eyepiece was the least immersive one. It was more like looking through a “porthole” in space….albeit a porthole with poor edges which blurred the view anywhere but at the center of the FOV. In addition, I could easily detect the field stop by moving my eye around while keeping my head centered with this eyepiece, so it still felt like I was looking through an eyepiece, and not having a “spacewalk”. In addition, its higher blackout and kidney beaning incidence further marred the “spacewalk” experience.
Points Tally: 31mm Nagler – 10/10, 32mm Mk-80 – 7/10, 30mm QX – 4/10.
At the end of this review, when the points are totaled up, we find that the 31mm Nagler wins quite handily by accruing the highest points tally. However, we can see that the UO 32mm Mk-80 is a close runner-up. The QX on the other hand is a dismal overall performer and the other two eyepieces do not have to worry about being in any sort of danger from this eyepiece.
Now all that being said, if I had to choose ONE eyepiece, and ONE eyepiece alone, I’d personally choose the UO 32mm Mk-80. What????? What????? Why????? Here’s the thing, y’all. When I’m visually observing deepsky objects, I invariably find myself reaching for my slow focal ratio C8 SCT. In that scope the performance of the UO and the Nagler are just too darn close. Therefore, I can’t justify spending all that additional moolah to get a 31mm Nagler. In this instance, the UO 32mm Mk-80 is my favorite super duper mega monster FOV deepsky eyepiece. Of course, your milage may vary. For example, if you own a fast Newtonian, well, let’s face it; the UO is no Nagler Killer. However, it is still one impressive eyepiece and at a price less than half the cost of the Nagler it is a steal.
The one eyepiece that I would NOT recommend to ANYONE, even if they’re on a budget would be the Meade 30mm QX. Yes, it’s cheap, yes it provides widefield views, but seriously, don’t buy it. Just get a high end Plossl eyepiece, such as the Televue 32mm Plossl for a few dollars more. You’ll be glad you did.
Click here for more about the 31mm TermiNagler. -Ed.
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