32mm Plossls Shootout
First a bit of history. Like many I have started the hobby with cheap stock Plossls, eventually upgraded to TeleVue Plossls and never look back. They are well known for good performance but 32mm and 42mm are extra wide and pretty heavy. So, when I started building EP set to take on travels with my Onyx 80ED I picked a couple of lightweight Plossls to try: Meade 4000 SuperPlossl 32mm and Baader Classic Plossl 32mm (part of Baader BCO set).
Over the years there were a few models of TV and Meade Plossls. My TV is the later model, but made in Japan, and Meade is yellow letter version made in China. As far as I know there is only one version of Baader Plossl. :)
Naturally, I wanted to see how well (or rather how bad :)) they would perform in comparison to TV.
A few nights ago Orion was sitting in the prime position so I picked Orion Nebula as a target for the shootout. I pointed 8” SCT with TV 32mm Plossl and was rewarded with a great view: M42 occupied all FOV and extended beyond. Faint filaments coming from two wings were well defined, and central portion was filled with fine structure. Next 30 minutes I kept switching between three 32mm Plossls – TeleVue, Baader Classic and Meade 4000 - to compare how well they capture faint outskirts, dark and shaded areas in the bright middle, colors and sharpness of trapezium stars and a few faint stars in the FOV.
Overall view: First surprise was how well all three Plossls captured the intricate view. I had hard time deciding which view I like better, all three were very close. TV had warmer tones, Meade colder, and Baader was most neutral. At the end I had a slight preference for TV with a bit more depth in the view than Meade and wider FOV than Baader.
Field of View: First obvious thing was narrower AFV of Baader. From my field stop measurements I calculated FOV of 43 deg for Baader and 49 deg for TV. This ~14% difference was quite obvious. Calculated FOV for Meade was 46.5 deg, only ~5% smaller than TV, and this difference was very hard to catch by eye. So, for the practical purposes I would say the difference in FOV between TV and Meade is negligible.
Sharpness: Sharpness was judged from how sharp and pinpoint like the stars are. I was pleasantly surprised that all three Plossls delivered superb views. Stars appeared equally sharp with about the same level of scatter control. Different colors of Trapezium stars were well defined in all three, with slight difference in overall tone.
Contrast: Amount of resolved details in the nebula was about the same for all three Plossls. Looking close at fine details, small differences have emerged. Dark features and areas of different brightness in the nebula were a tad better defined in TV Plossl, and central darker area around Trapezium was noticeably large than in Meade 4000. Baader was between the two in terms on contrast.
Brightness/transmittance: Central area appeared brightest in Meade and the faint outskirts of the nebula extended a bit further (using field stars as a reference) in Meade than in TV. Once again Baader performance was in between the two others.
Weight/size: Typically, is not very important. They are Plossls not glass pineapples after all. :) But if you are short on space in your EP box, or using them in small scope with limited balancing options, slim profile of Baader and Meade and light weight (3.3oz) is an advantage over wider and heavier (6.6oz) TV.
Overall, it was neck to neck performance. All three performed well and you will be happy with either. For very faint targets I would pick Meade. If I am looking for more defined details in large brighter targets I would pick TV. Baader could be a nice compromise between the two, if you don’t mind a bit narrower FOV.
Somewhat unexpected outcome in these tests was that there was no clear-cut winner. I expected TV to win in all categories, but it only had an edge in contrast, but underperformed in transmittance. Which bring us to the final category:
Performance vs Price: Meade is the clear winner at the list price 2-3x less than the other two.