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Binocular Advisor

Michael and Diane give specific suggestions


 
Diane Porter

We're starting to add some more detailed questions that people have asked us about binoculars. Maybe your question is answered here.

-- Michael and Diane Porter

Michael Porter

SLC OR EL

Situation: I need some help in choosing between the Swarovski EL and the Swarovski SLC models. Can you give me the main differences in the two? I am looking at either the 10 x 42 or 10 x 50 size. I am 65 years old and wear glasses. I will be using them for both bird watching and hunting. -- Phil, Utah

Our Answer: The SLC is the older model. It's an outstanding line of binoculars. No other binoculars in the world have better optical performance.

But they're heavy.

Despite their weight, if you set your heart on a 10x50 Swarovski, you'll have to get the SLC 10x50. It is one of the greatest binoculars ever made, but I personally wouldn't carry one around. It weighs 40.9 oz. But when we were testing full-size binoculars for a review Michael loved to take it out. It has phenomenal eye relief for glasses wearers. The published eye relief is 17mm, but it is better for glasses than many binoculars that claim 20 or 21mm. And it is a gorgeous, bright view.

A few years ago, Swarovski came out with a new line, the EL, with equally outstanding optical quality. I can't say they're better, because I'm not sure it is possible to get any better, but they are just as good. (However, the EL doesn't come in a 10x50.)

The biggest difference is in the housing. The Swarovski EL has a hollow bridge, or you might call it an open hinge. This allows you to wrap your hand around one barrel and hold the binocular in one hand. (At that EL link, scroll down the page for a small photo of a hand holding an EL.)

It's also lighter in weight. The 10x42 EL is 27.5 oz. , compared to 30.7 oz. in the SLC.

I (Diane) carried a 10x42 Swarovski EL for several years, but when I started needing to wear my glasses all the time instead of just for reading, I began to find myself pushing my ELs hard against my glasses, trying to get that little bit closer to the eyepiece. After a while I got tired of that. I sold my ELs and bought a Nikon Premier 10x42, which also has absolutely first-rate optics, but it has better eye relief and works very well with my glasses.

Personally, with my fairly large glasses, I would not choose an EL 10x42. The EL 8.5x42 is fine with glasses, but the ten-power EL just doesn't quite do it. If I were a younger, stronger person, and if I insisted on 10 power, I might consider the SLC 10x50. As it happens, like you, I'm 65, and I'm no Amazon. And I also prefer 10-power binoculars. That's why I went to the Nikon Premier. The only other top 10x42 I know of that really works well for glasses wearers is the Zeiss Victory FLT 10x42.

I gave the slight edge to the Nikon, but Michael said he would have chosen the Zeiss if he were getting new binoculars. They're that close in quality.


NIGHT OR DAY

Situation: I enjoyed your website giving advice on which binoculars to buy. I'm thinking of getting binoculars as a first time gift to my hubby. Would binoculars used for birding be different from binoculars that he would use to look at the stars, meteors, etc.? -- Denyce

Our answer : For night viewing, you would want something in which the second number is at least 42, such as Eagle Optics Ranger 8x42.

That second number in the 8x42 means the diameter (in millimeters) of the objective lens (the lens farthest from your eye). The bigger the objective lens, the more light the binocular can take in, and the brighter the image can look, especially when it's dark outside.

So an 8x42 binocular will be better for star gazing than something with a smaller objective lens, such as an 8x25. The 8x42 Ranger will also be fine for daytime birding use.

However, if he were going to use the binocular only in daytime, then he could get away with a smaller aperture, such as an 8x32. A 32mm binocular is going to be smaller, lighter weight, and just as bright in daylight.

There is also a smaller Eagle Optics Ranger 8x32, which most people find very nice for daytime viewing. Another good 8x32 binocular is the Celestron Noble.

If you want more details about 8x32 binoculars, you might like to read Mid-sized Binoculars.



MIDDLE SCHOOL

Situation: What binoculars would you recommend for use by middle school students to birdwatch in the woods? I am establishing an outdoor classroom in the stand of woods on school property, and would like to do some birdwatching. We may also use them in our garden courtyard to watch the birds and butterflies. We would need to get something inexpensive, but functional and durable. (A tall order). Thanks. -- Judy

Our answer : It is a tall order, because durability comes with higher expense. While very expensive binoculars survive amazing abuse, no economical binocular will withstand rough treatment (dropping, tossing, two kids yanking, etc.). If they are knocked about, binoculars will get out of alignment, and then they will not be pleasant to use and can cause eye strain.

I'll start with my top recommendation and work down to lesser choices.

We have had very good results with the 8-power Eagle Optics Triumph binocular. It is small and easy to handle, and it holds up quite well even for kid use, provided someone impresses the kids with a few rules. (Always use the binocular with the strap around your neck. Don't swing it in the air by the strap, don't toss it into the box when you're done. And so on.) It's the least expensive good binocular you can buy, and it works both for people who wear glasses and those who do not.

Another binocular that we sell for kids is the 8-power Eagle Optics Energy. This one costs less. It may get out of alignment more easily than the Triumph, but with care it can serve well also. This one does not work well for people who wear glasses, but I guess most middle school kids don't wear them. An advantage of the Energy is that is comes in five colors (red, green, yellow, blue, and silver).

One other binocular some people get for kids is the Shockwave. This one is only 4 power, and so we usually sell it for small children who don't want to feel left out when older siblings are receiving binoculars. It's not a high quality optical instrument, but it's small, and kids who are not serious birdwatchers do have a lot of fun with it. It is very inexpensive.


NOT VERY STEADY HANDS

Situation: I've been thinking of purchasing new binoculars, but I don't have very steady hands. Are there any binoculars that might help to reduce the shaking? -- Elaine

Our answer : Good 7-power binoculars will give much better results than higher-magnification binoculars, because the more the binoculars magnify the object, the more they magnify the shake. As a result, people whose hands are not particularly steady actually see more detail with 7 power!

Here are some 7-power binoculars:

Eagle Optics Triumph 7x35. This is a nice binocular at a low price ($59). Its advantages are a wide field of view, a pleasant feel to the hand, and economy. Its drawbacks are that it does not work very well for a person who has to wear glasses while looking through binoculars, and it is not waterproof. Obviously it will not give the optical quality of a high-end binocular, but it does a decent job, and it's quite popular.

Another very popular binocular is the Pentax Papilio (which means "butterfly," because it's great for watching butterflies). It comes in a 6.5x21 size. That should be really good for being easy to hold steady. It's also small and lightweight. Not waterproof, but it does have a remarkable talent -- it focuses really close. We're talking 1.5 feet! That's nice for looking at flowers and butterflies in the garden. But it also works great at any distance. It might be just the thing you're looking for.

At the other of the price spectrum is one of the world's great binoculars, the Zeiss Victory FL 7x42. This is a magnificent binocular, with spectacular clarity and a splendidly wide field of view. It is waterproof, and it works wonderfully well even if you wear glasses. If you can afford its hefty price, it is a treasure worth reaching for.

One other option to consider. You might want to think about getting a stabilized binocular, which makes the image steady even when the hands are not. We generally don't recommend stabilized binoculars for birdwatching, because they're heavy, they require batteries, and their optics are usually inferior to regular binoculars. However, If you have a pronounced tremor, stabilized can make the difference between a nice clear picture and a blurry mess. The one we like the best is the Canon Image Stabilized 10x42 L. It's new, with improved, brighter optics, and it's waterproof. (The old ones were ruined if water got in.) It is rather heavy -- over two pounds -- and expensive, but it might be your best option.


BEST OF THE MID PRICED

Situation: I think your advice section on binoculars is great. However you talk a lot about the very best which I would love, but they are out of my range. Can you advise on the better of the mid-range models. I wear glasses and want a 10x power.-- Peter

Our answer : We recommend the Eagle Optics Ranger 8x42. It has very good optics, and it works well with glasses.


Well, what do you think? Did you find something of use to you here?

Let us know.

--Michael and Diane Porter

 

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