Before commencing my little review, I should establish my connection to
the subject. Brandons have been a presence throughout my astronomical
career for the simple reason that Candor, New York, site of Don V.
Yeier's humble little shop, lies only about thirty miles from my home
town, where I've lived for all but eight years of my life.
When I was a kid just getting into astronomy, all the coolest local
amateurs used these eyepieces, which were then widely considered the
best in the world. And so they probably were. I would only
embarrass myself if I tried to fully describe the aura of awesomeness
which these sleek black marvels possessed. Even the name, Brandon,
had a numinous quality. If I think back hard enough, I can still
summon a little of that feeling.
Thus when it came time for me to
acquire my first substantial telescope, it was only natural that I too
join this exalted group. Back then, Don sometimes held special sales
and auctions right there at VERNONscope, beneath a party pavilion. It
was the summer of 1972, I needed eyepieces, Don was having an auction,
there I was, in Candor.
For me, the best feature of this event was the sale of Don's Brandon
"seconds". I suppose today's equivalent is the TeleVue "blem" sale
sometimes held at NEAF. Don's seconds mostly consisted of engraving
errors or cosmetic flaws on the barrels...I'm not aware of any that
involved the glass. My budget (barely) accommodated the initial
of two eyepieces. I was building a 3" f/15 refractor. I chose an 8mm
for high power and a 24mm for a low/medium power. I forked over my
money to Don's wife and held these fantastic objects in my hands. They
were mine! I was now a serious amateur astronomer, because I had
Brandons! Black volcano-top eyepieces, each protected by one of those
neat screw-on aluminum cans, a cool amenity which I still think Don
should bring back! The 24mm was particularly impressive because of its
huge eye lens, unlike anything else I'd seen. I thought of it
as the "TV Screen Eyepiece." I was lucky. Without that sale and the
proximity of VERNONscope, who knows what eyepieces I would have wound
up with? Kellners from Edmund, maybe?
How much money were
each! I don't know what the price was for "firsts" back then...maybe
$30 or $35?
Yes, those were different times.
Over the next year or so I accumulated more Brandons as my feeble
finances permitted. First a 16mm...then a 32mm...and finally a 12mm.
Somewhere in there I also picked up a 2X Dakin Barlow (also in a can!)
and five or six filters. For many years, Brandons were the only
eyepieces I used.
Eventually I was seduced away by newfangled optics
like Naglers, Ultra Wides, Radians, and Panoptics. The Brandons saw
less and less light. Their reputation faded in the general amateur
community. I rarely heard about them anymore, especially as they shot
up in price to over $200 each. No doubt they still had their loyal
fans, and they still do. Today they're undergoing a resurgence of
popularity due to the enthusiasm of highly vocal fans: eyepiece
purists who ascribe to the Brandons such nigh-supernatural qualities as
a 3-D quality to the view, making the sky look "alive", not to mention
claims of superior sharpness, contrast, and color rendition.
As a guy who has a set of Brandons lovingly tucked away and many fond
memories of them, I sometimes wonder what I'm missing, and whether I'm
ignoring actual superior performance in favor of the wider fields and
generally better eye relief of more modern designs. So, I occasionally
haul them out to make comparisons. What follows are my own observations
and opinions of Brandon quality.
First, their physical characteristics. I've measured the apparent
field of my Brandons by timing star crossings and also by measuring
their field stops. They are all in the range of 42-45 degrees. The
Brandon apparent field is generally stated to be 50 degrees, but this
is a "round numbers" approximation at best. All my Brandons date from
the 1970s. It's likely that the field stops have varied in size over
the years, meaning that modern Brandons might have bigger fields than
mine. If so, that larger field comes at a price. Brandons are not
terribly well corrected for astigmatism around the edges, as I can see
when using them in my apochromatic refractors. Increasing the field
only brings more of this astigmatism into view. There's a good reason
for limiting them to 42 or 43 degrees. After all, Don could easily make
65 degree Brandons just by using bigger field stops, but the periphery
of those fields would be a mess. This would be particularly evident
when using them in fast reflectors, a kind of telescope not in wide use
when Brandons were originally designed. They are better in
slower telescopes, and are meant to be used in them. Naglers, Radians,
and their relatives are simply better corrected at the edges of their
wide fields, no matter what telescope you're using.
Some observers are put off by what they perceive to be the tight eye
relief of Brandons, but this concern seems exaggerated to me. I wear
glasses, and I can see the entire field of all my Brandons with my
glasses on, except for the 8mm. Admittedly, my glasses are thin.
Actually the eye relief of the 32mm is
huge, and I can't imagine anyone struggling with the 24mm either. The
8mm is the only real eyelash-brusher in the set (unless your set also
includes a 6mm). This relatively decent eye relief is also partially a
product of the small apparent field. If you increased the apparent
field of the 12mm, for example, you'd have to squinch your eye in
closer to see the whole thing.
As for their optical performance: on axis, I see very little or
no difference between Brandons and other high-end eyepieces. I'm sorry.
I wish I did. It is tempting to suppose that an eyepiece with fewer
elements and what's claimed to be higher standards of manufacture
present cleaner, crisper, brighter views than today's multi-element
wide-field eyepieces. But I see only the tiniest differences, so small
I have no real faith in their reality, or no differences at all. Some
observers claim that Brandons have a whiter, more neutral color
rendition than some other eyepieces, which they go so far as to call
"coffee-colored." If that's true, the difference is so minute that I've
been unable to discern it in any convincing way. Others claim that
Brandons have higher light transmission. I haven't been able to verify
that in tests of limiting magnitude.
So, maybe it's me. Maybe my observing skills are too coarse to perceive
differences which thrill others at first glance and induce Brandon
loyalty to the exclusion of anything else. Maybe.
They are certainly very good eyepieces. They have features that I like.
For one thing,
because of their thin aluminum barrels and minimal glass, they're
weightless. I think my entire set, plus the Dakin, plus the filters,
all in their cans, and in a metal box, weighs less than a 31mm
Nagler. This could be valuable in cases where telescopes are very
delicately balanced. They'd also be very good binoviewer pairs, adding
almost nothing to the weight of a hefty bino. I like them in
small telescopes such as my Questar (where they're very much at home)
my PST. Their axial performance, while not vaulting dramatically beyond
of other high-end eyepieces, is certainly equal to any of them, and
could easily be all that many observers would ever need. I also
appreciate that they're still made in the United States. They're
expensive, true, but it's nice to encounter proof that somebody in this
country still knows how to make things and do it very well. Finally, I
think the black volcano-top versions could well be the best-looking
eyepieces ever made.
My hope is that Don Yeier, who doesn't seem to be getting any older,
will continue to satisfy his fans with Brandon eyepieces and other
products for a long time to come. After all, Candor needs some reason
to be a little bit famous. The ice cream stand and the mini-golf course
aren't enough by themselves.
Copyright by Joe Bergeron.