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More than just binoculars

April 7, 2009

Every birder is well aware of the Big Three. Not the American automakers, of course, I’m speaking of Swarovski, Leica, and Zeiss, those glassmakers who, through quality and tradition, have come to dominate the high end optic market. There the sort of binoculars birders dream about, and when I made my own personal dream come true with the Zeiss last summer I found out why. They’re great; crystal clear and comfortable and bright as can be, but Zeiss isn’t only known for binoculars, at least, they didn’t used to be.

At my day job I work at the Morehead Planetarium on the campus of the University of North Carolina, and if any of you have any experience with planetariums in general you may or may not know that the mechanism that projects the star field or film on the domed ceiling is a pretty impressive piece of machinery. The ability to produce several hundred individual celestial bodies requires some fancy engineering, especially when you consider that the modern planetarium projector was first invented back in 1924. And the inventor? None other than Carl Zeiss, the binocular man himself.

Morehead’s projector is a Zeiss model Mark VI, incidentally the same model derided as an “overhead projector” by then-presidential candidate John McCain in a presidential debate. The Mark VI is notable for its variable step motor, which allows for multiple objects to move independent of each other and has become a standard for any projected motions in the sky, which I’m sure you’ll all find quite impressive even if McCain didn’t. It was first produced in the 60s and this one was acquired by my planetarium in 1969. 40 years later it’s still in use, for better or for worse, but undoubtedly an indication of the craftsmanship that goes into Zeiss optical equipment, from my Victory FLs to a 15 foot tall, two and a half ton, multi-million dollar projector.

In any case, Zeiss is more than just binoculars and scopes, and it’s funny where you find connections.

  1. John permalink
    April 7, 2009 3:52 pm

    Well, it does project things overhead…

  2. Nate permalink
    April 8, 2009 2:18 pm

    @john- Right, and it even magnifies far away objects, virtually…

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