Try using binoculars freehand when looking at the night sky far above the horizon. You’re not alone If you have trouble holding them steady. It can be frustrating, but it’s easily solved. Read on…
When I first used the bigger binoculars as a newbie looking up at the night sky and wanting a clear view of Saturn and Jupiter, I had trouble. The planet just kept jumping around in the view, I couldn’t get it in focus and my arms got tired holding bulky binoculars up to the sky.
Bracing your elbows on a table, a fence, or the roof of your car and holding the binoculars is a way of overcoming the shaking.
However, it can be impractical and doesn’t always give you that right positioning for comfort when you’re exploring the night sky with binoculars.
Lying on back
I found lying on my back on my driveway worked wonders. This was a fun thing to do with the family also. Our driveway is somewhat sloped and faces toward the east, so it was an ideal solution for observing the rising Moon and any planets.
But for something more comfortable and portable…I found this idea of an inflatable air mattress or pool lounge. Terence Dickinson wrote of this in his NightWatch Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. He claims it is “one of the best binocular accessories” to have.
It’s lightweight, so an inflatable accessory like this is perfect for taking to that dark spot for stargazing. It’s probably one of the ‘best things’ to have if you’re moving to a spot away from the light pollution (when those tips to observe planets and stars in the city just aren’t enough).
Using a tripod
If the binoculars have a threaded hole for attaching to a tripod use this to attach them to a camera tripod (I have a how-to also) and you’ll have the most steady and secure outcome. You’ll easily be able to make fine adjustments in positioning the binoculars as the planet moves across the sky.
You can also get universal tripod mounts, like the one below, if your pair of binoculars doesn’t have this adapter hole. This is what I’ve used with my early binoculars. It worked fabulously and is versatile enough to use with other devices.
These mounts attach to the camera tripod and you can then strap or bracket your binoculars to the tripod. This option is less expensive than upgrading binoculars to ones with the tripod threaded hole, especially when you’re first starting out and not looking to invest in another set of binoculars but rather use what you have already as ‘training wheels’.
Snapzoom Universal Binocular Tripod Mount
Available at Amazon
The SnapZoom Universal Binocular Tripod Mount shown is an example of what you can do with binoculars that don’t have that threaded tripod socket.
Image Stabilization Binoculars
Another alternative is to buy binoculars that have an image stabilization feature, designed with sensors to detect movement and compensate for the shaking when handheld.
The Canon 15×50 IS is one type with this feature but you’ll find these come with a high price tag, though they are described by Dickinson, and other professional users, as worth it. I wrote more about these and two other high-end binoculars recommended for stargazing in my article on choosing binoculars for astronomy.
- NightWatch, a Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terence Dickinson (available at Amazon). This book contains sky charts and has a spring binding and so is practical for use on location.