We are more excited about the Celestron EclipSmart 2x Power Viewers than we are about any other eclipse-viewing setup we tried. Of all the paper options we tested, these viewers produced the clearest image. They zoom in slightly (2x zoom instead of 8x to 10x for regular binoculars), which makes the view of the sun more engaging without overwhelming the field of view. We also like that Celestron is a reputable telescope manufacturer that guarantees its gear’s compliance with the proper ISO 12312-2 safety standard (the guarantee is written on the package).
Both Andy Lunt, owner of Lunt Solar Systems, and Rick Fienberg of the American Astronomical Society told us they recommended binoculars for viewing the eclipse because binoculars offered a slightly zoomed-in vantage without getting so close that you couldn’t keep the image in the frame. While you can certainly buy nice binoculars and put filters in front of the lenses, a good paper viewer is a really economical setup, and our testers loved the fun factor of the whole Celestron package: The EclipSmart 2x Power Viewers come in a two-pack for sharing and include a small insert with a useful map and other eclipse-related factoids.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $25.
If you already have binoculars, or are considering investing in a set ahead of the eclipse, DayStar’s Universal Lens Filters can slip easily onto any pair you have around the house. They come with a premade housing that you fold, origami-style, into a cylinder and then fit over the lenses. Amazon customer reviews note that these can be prone to sliding off—ours did a little, too. But they’re built that way to accommodate a wide variety of lens sizes, and securing them with a spot of Scotch tape is easy enough. You could also buy certified solar-filter paper sheets and rubber-band them around the lenses, but we think the DayStar option is more elegant and less prone to error. Like Celestron, DayStar sells its own branded eclipse-viewing stuff, certified to the proper ISO standard.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $14.
If you don’t need any magnification, American Paper Optics Eclipse Glasses are cheap and certified, and they come in packs of five or 10, so if somebody rips one, you have plenty more to pass around. And if you want to snap a photo on your phone, a pair of paper glasses is all you need—the American Astronomical Society’s Rick Fienberg suggested that people cut “one filter (including its housing) from a pair of paper eclipse glasses and tape it over the camera (i.e., tape it to the back of your phone) so that you don’t have to worry about it blowing away.” However, these paper glasses may not work well over existing eyeglasses.
In our research, paper glasses were far and away the favorite option, even among our experts, but if your heart is set on a sturdier pair, or if you want something that fits easily over prescription eyeglasses, we like the Eclipser HD Safe Solar Glasses. Eclipser is a brand of American Paper Optics, a trusted source. With a plastic pair, you’ll find some minor differences from paper glasses, including less light leakage from the periphery (though that won’t affect your viewing); the Eclipser HD also fits over eyeglasses. The company even sells a Bill Nye–endorsed edition of these shades.
You can find cheaper options, such as these from Lifecolor, but we couldn’t vet their compliance with the ISO standard, and we felt like this whole category was where we began stepping into questionable safety territory. Not to mention, they all felt flimsy. We tried to test another reputable pair from Rainbow Symphony, but those glasses were sold out on Amazon at the time of our review, and when purchased directly from the Rainbow Symphony site, they were more expensive than our pick.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $13.
Through the course of talking with our experts and trying photography ourselves, we learned that photographing the eclipse might not be that much fun—getting good results is hard. But if you know what you’re doing or just wanna give it a shot, we tested and liked using the 50mm DayStar Universal Lens Filter (also available in 70mm and 90mm versions for larger lenses). It is the same type of filter as the binocular-lens filters mentioned above, manufactured by the same reputable company, DayStar. Unsurprisingly, in our tests this filter also had the same slipping issue as the DayStar binocular filters, but again, it was nothing that Scotch tape couldn’t fix. For some tips from our experts about snapping the best shots, see our section on photographing the eclipse.
Regardless of which filters or glasses you buy, it’s imperative that they meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard. If our picks are unavailable for any reason, make sure whatever you get has that certification clearly stamped on the package. “I have recently seen a lot of dubious product hit the markets,” Andy Lunt, owner of Lunt Solar Systems, told us. “While price is normally the driving factor in product selection the customer should ask about safety. If the company does not reply, or cannot provide the documentation, they should buy elsewhere.” A list of reputable manufacturers is available here.
Why you should trust us
We talked to several experts, including Rick Fienberg of the American Astronomical Society. Former editor in chief of Sky & Telescope magazine, Fienberg is a valuable safety resource, and he helped us choose the best gear.
We also interviewed Andy Lunt, owner of Lunt Solar Systems, a manufacturer of sun filters and telescopes for 10 years. Lunt is currently partnered with NASA, and the company is tasked with providing 6K live feeds through its equipment for the NASA Eclipse Megacast.
Who should get this
This coming August 21 is a big day for lovers of astronomy, as it’s the first major solar eclipse visible in the US in 38 years. And if you want to watch, you’ll need a pair of eclipse glasses. Without protection, “the bright visible sunlight focused onto your retina will cause a photochemical reaction that will damage and perhaps even destroy your eyes’ light-sensitive rod and cone cells,” said Fienberg. “You may notice temporary — or permanent — blind spots or dark spots in your field of vision.”
“[Eclipse glasses] reduce the sun’s brightness by a factor of about 500,000, making it appear about as bright as the full moon.” —Rick Fienberg, American Astronomical Society
Solar eclipse glasses that are properly made—meaning that they are certified to meet this ISO standard we keep talking about, number 12312-2—“reduce the sun’s brightness by a factor of about 500,000, making it appear about as bright as the full moon,” Fienberg continued. “They also block harmful solar ultraviolet and infrared radiation. Note that eclipse glasses block about 100,000 times more light than even the darkest ordinary sunglasses!”
If you’re just looking at the sun, a cheap pair of paper or plastic shades is sufficient. But you need to take additional precautions if you’re viewing the sun through a device with optical lenses such as a telescope, a DSLR lens, or a set of binoculars. “When using optics to view the sun … filters must be placed over the front of the optics,” said Fienberg. “The optics collect so much light that … you’ll likely suffer thermal burns on your retina, which will destroy (not just damage) your eyes’ rods and cones.”
Though it may seem counterintuitive, you don’t need eclipse shades to see the actual eclipse, or the moment when the moon fully covers the sun. However, only people in the path of totality will get a glimpse of the full eclipse phase: “If you’re within the path of totality on August 21st, do not use your eclipse glasses during the total phase of the eclipse,” said Fienberg. “During totality, it is safe to view the Sun without protection. If you don’t remove your eclipse glasses, you won’t see anything during totality!”
“During totality, it is safe to view the Sun without protection.”—Rick Fienberg
But for all other stages of the eclipse, even when the sun is just a tiny sliver, and for everyone who is not in the path of totality, “you will need glasses at all times to view the event,” said Andy Lunt. “Only people in the line of totality can remove their glasses during the event to view the corona. I have heard many people say, ‘well, I’m not going to the line so I don’t need glasses.’ Nothing is more from the truth.”
For more information on how to view an eclipse safely, Fienberg pointed us to this guide from the American Astronomical Society.
How we picked and tested
Our most important criterion for picking solar eclipse shades was safety. According to Fienberg, “The only eclipse glasses that anyone should use are ones certified to meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for filters for direct viewing of the sun.”
Since you can find a proliferation of glasses for sale online, we then verified who the trusted manufacturers were and selected models only from that pool of options. As Fienberg said, “To date five manufacturers have certified that their eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical, TSE 17, and Baader Planetarium. If an online retailer or other source doesn’t explicitly say who manufactures their eclipse glasses, you should ask, and if they don’t respond with one of the five manufacturers listed above, play it safe and shop elsewhere.”
Based on these criteria, we picked through about 30 models on Amazon and selected 10 to try, including paper and plastic glasses and lens filters. We made sure the paper glasses arrived properly packaged, completely flat and unfolded, with no creases or cuts in the lenses. If you do get a pair that for some reason has a tear, do not use it.
We assembled the premade options to see how easy they were to use. We tried on all the glasses, and we checked to see which ones worked with eyeglasses. We considered cost, too. And finally, we paid attention to the models that got us excited—the eclipse is an exciting event, after all.
Why not a telescope?
“Most people will do better with binoculars, as they’re easier to use and have sufficient magnification,” mentioned Fienberg. “I always observe totality with binoculars, as the field of view of a telescope isn’t wide enough to show much of the magnificent solar corona (wispy outer atmosphere), which stretches several solar diameters in various directions.” Basically, using a telescope is like trying to watch a TV while sitting 2 feet away: You’ll be able to get a part of the screen in greater detail, but you’re literally missing the bigger picture.
However, if you are a dedicated astronomer and inclined to make a purchase, Andy Lunt told us he recommended a white light solar wedge for use on standard telescopes (his company manufactures this product). He has a point: “The addition of a solar product to a nighttime scope doubles its usefulness and allows for astronomy to be done during the day,” Lunt said. That means looking at sunspots and ongoing “granular observations.” The particular filter Lunt recommended works on refractors up to 100mm in diameter, and can also work “with simple webcams and DSLRs.”
How to photograph the eclipse
Taking photos of the solar eclipse is hard, and both our experts shied away from the idea: “The sun is very small in the sky, so most cell-phone cameras will produce at best a small, low-resolution view of the partially eclipsed sun. You might have better luck, and more fun, simply taking pictures of other people watching the eclipse,” said Fienberg.
”Too often I see people trying so hard to get an image of totality they end up missing everything. Cameras cannot capture the feeling you get.” —Andy Lunt, owner of Lunt Solar Systems
If you go for it, use a filter—either cut out and tape a lens from one of your paper glasses over the front of your phone, as Fienberg recommended, or hold a piece of filter paper in front of both you and your phone camera lens. For more tips on photographing with your phone, Fienberg pointed us to this resource.
If you’d like to try to get images with your DSLR, Lunt told us he approved of the use of a filter like the one we recommend above: “They can be quite useful for people who are not in the line of totality for doing timelapse. It should be noted that people in the line of totality will need to remove this filter during totality if they wish to image the Corona.” After the eclipse, “remember to place the filter back on the camera before the sun breaks around the moon.”
Finally, “I like to remind people to test their equipment prior to the event,” said Lunt. “But put the tech down during the totality and simply look up and experience the show. Too often I see people trying so hard to get an image of totality they end up missing everything. Cameras cannot capture the feeling you get.”