Too Late For Christmas Gift Suggestions

My gift-giving strategy, which works pretty well, is to maintain a "present pile" on which I put whatever nifty things I find whenever I find them. This is much less soul-destroyingly organised than Doing Your Christmas Shopping Early, but it can amount to the same thing - you just have to match gifts to people later on.

I buy a lot of products aimed at kids as presents, because you can give them to anybody. A good toy is, in my opinion, better than 90% of gifts meant for adults.

Accordingly, allow me to recommend Navir's line of toy optical devices.

Navir's flagship product, on display in overpriced-allegedly-educational-toy-stores the world over, is the Optic Wonder (that's it right there on their home page), different versions of which combine a folding opera-glass contraption with several other thingies.

The Optic Wonder does indeed work as binoculars and a microscope and all the other stuff they talk about, but its optical quality can't help but be pretty darn poor, since its lenses are unenclosed and ambient light can leak in all around. Light leaks are not a big deal for magnifiers, but they're very bad for telescopes; they give you a washed-out view, and can make it hard to see anything if there's a lot of ambient light hitting the lenses and not a lot coming from the target.

So I'd rather have more specialised toys, that're closer in design to the proper grown-up versions. And Navir have lots of those.

Navir Super 40 binoculars

I bought a slightly used set of their Super 40 Red binoculars a while ago, and was impressed enough to get another new and shiny set to give away.

They're plain "Galilean" binoculars (Wikipedia has an excellent article explaining all this), with just a lens at each end, so they only manage 3.5X magnification. But they're solid and feel nice and work well and are, most importantly, cheap - $AU14 plus delivery, from this eBay seller, for the ones I bought.

The Super 40s are sized for a child's hands, but an adult can use them easily enough.

If your play scenarios run less to "intrepid explorer" and more to "battleship commander", the more imposing Super 60s may be in order. They've got a whole 4.5X magnification and 60mm objective lenses, which means that they may actually qualify as the world's cheapest astronomical binoculars, if they can manage half-decent sharpness. Low magnification and high light-gathering ability is, as I have explained in the past, exactly what you want from a basic astronomical instrument, because many interesting things in the sky are quite large, but very dim.

"Proper" binoculars have, for more than a century now, used prisms of one kind or another to allow wider spacing of the objective lenses (for a bit more stereo effect) and higher magnification (the prisms fold a longer optical path into the instrument without making it unmanageably bulky). But 3.5X magnification is actually quite enough for many viewing tasks, and it also means the image doesn't jump around annoyingly. And the image quality really is pretty good, too; certainly not excellent, but if you assume "toy binoculars" equals "useless binoculars", these cheapies will surprise you.

Cheap telescopes, in contrast, invariably have frankly lousy image quality. They don't have to, but they're forced into it by the fact that they've all got lots of magnification. That's because you just can't sell a cheap telescope that only says "10X" on the side. High magnification, unfortunately, also magnifies all of the problems with cheap lenses and tubes. Focus consistency (if it's sharp in the middle of the circle it'll be blurry on the edges), chromatic aberration (coloured fringes on everything), light leaks and internal reflections (because matte black light-tight tubing is more expensive than cheerfully coloured plastic). All perfectly tolerable at 3.5X, but awful at 30X.

Navir Explorer telescope

That said, I like the Navir Explorer telescope. It cost me only another $AU14 plus delivery, and for that price it is a fine product. It's another basic Galilean design, with a not-too-stupid 15X magnification and the classic collapsible design that's essential for games of Horatio Hornblower Versus Blackbeard The Pirate.

You can pay a lot more than this for a Super Professional 50X Astronomical Very Good Telescope in a department store and get surprisingly little extra for your money. It's much harder to see things clearly through the Explorer than through the lower magnification binoculars, but at least you don't feel ripped off.

Navir Looky periscope

And then, there's this. It's the Looky periscope, and it does what you'd expect it to do. Collapsible tube, mirror at each end, siblings, for the spying on. It cost me only $AU10 plus delivery.

Navir have a couple of more impressive periscopes - one tank-ish version and one with magnification - but they're not nearly as sneaky as the little one-eyed Looky.

The Looky is the least educational Navir product I've bought, but it's also the one I most want to keep for myself.

2 Responses to “Too Late For Christmas Gift Suggestions”

  1. Steven Den Beste Says:

    That "optic wonder" is nearly identical to toys my grandmother gave to my brother and I when I was in grade school, more than 40 years ago. About the only difference is that the "optic wonder" seems to be slightly better made, and the ones we had were made of clear plastic.

  2. fad Says:

    Terrific Scientific in Annandale sell quite a few Navir products.

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