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Mid-sized Binoculars
The Reviews

from "Hands-on field Tests"
in Bird Watcher's Digest, January, 2005
Michael Porter Diane Porter
by Michael and Diane Porter

Here are the reviews of mid-sized binoculars, which our team of Iowa birders looked at for Bird Watcher's Digest, January, 2005. We' ve supplemented these reports with a few addtional binoculars that have come out during 2005.

MID-SIZED BINOCULARS OF NOTE

In this survey, we found less difference between binoculars than we observed a few years ago. Manufacturers have been converging toward a high standard of design and optical quality. Close-focusing, waterproof, nitrogen purged, phase corrected, rubber armored binoculars are the order of the day. As far as optical coatings are concerned, the secrets are out, and manufacturers have access to similar technologies. Comparing the top binoculars, we found the optical quality quite even. We were also surprised to find that the mid-priced binoculars approached the quality of the greats much more closely than we’d expected.

In the following accounts, we have included scores for the models we looked at, representing a subjective overall impression of each binocular’s quality. Because the issue of eye relief has such great importance to a person who wears glasses, especially with mid-sized binoculars, we assigned two scores for each instrument: one for use without glasses and one for use with glasses. The highest possible score is 10.

The mid-sized binoculars we reviewed are listed below in alphabetical order. All are roof prism design. All are waterproof, nitrogen-purged, and phase-corrected. Each one normally comes with case, neck strap, and lens caps.


Alpen Apex 8x32
Score without glasses 7; score with glasses 6

Alpen has packaged this binocular nicely in attractive dark green rubber armoring and given it tethered objective lens covers and twist-up eyecups. Although its resolution and brightness are not exceptional, this binocular does focus as close as 4 feet. Our glasses-wearing judges found the eye relief (16mm) somewhat inadequate, but it is comfortable for someone who does not wear glasses.


Brunton Eterna
8x32: score without glasses 7; score with glasses 6
10x32: score without glasses 7; score with glasses 5

This model has been discontinued or redesigned and is no longer available. We mention it only for the sake of historical completeness.


Celestron Noble 8x32Celestron Noble 8x32
Score without glasses 9; score with glasses 9

This midsize binocular has great optics and great eye relief. It is one of our favorites. Please see price info or read the complete review.


Eagle Optics Ranger
Score without glasses 8; score with glasses 7

This is a good one, at moderate cost. Please see price info or read our full review.


Leica Trinovid BN 8x32
Score without glasses 9; score with glasses 8

Leica is still making and selling its older Trinovid binoculars, even though the new Ultravid is now available. The Trinovid still gets a lot of respect for its sublimely bright and clear optical quality. Our judges especially liked the 8x32 mid-sized Trinovid. Its close focus of 7.2 feet is not shabby. At 22 ounces, it’s a manageable weight, but some of our judges complained about its hard exterior. Eye relief is 15mm, which is fair (but not outstanding) for eyeglass wearers. See price info.


Leica Ultravid 10x32
Score without glasses 10; score with glasses 6

Please see price info or read our full review.


Leupold Wind River Katmai 10x32
Score without glasses 7; score with glasses 6

Honors for shortest binocular in our survey go to the four-inch Leupold Wind River. Its eyecups twist up with positive-click stops to help in choosing the right degree of eye relief. Although the Wind River had the narrowest field of view (334 ft.) of all the 8x32s we looked at, the 4.9-foot close focus and compact shape may make this a suitable choice for a person who wants to be ready for butterfly watching without having to carry a large binocular. Its eye relief is 16mm.


Minox 8x32
Score without glasses 9; score with glasses 7

In our tests, most of our judges liked the 32mm Minox, although two of our judges mentioned that the focus knob was hard to turn and the central hinge a bit stiff. The Minox focuses down to 5 feet, which is about the minimum distance at which both eyes can converge through binoculars. At that close reach, to get both eyes looking at the same thing, one has to nudge the two barrels a bit closer together than normal and slightly over converge one’s eyes. Then, in the sliver of overlap between the two barrels, the supernaturally magnified object looks realer than real.

The mid-sized Minox comes in 8x32 and 10x32. We looked at the 8x32. It’s less than 5 inches long and weighs only 21.7 oz. It actually has a wider field of view than the full-sized, 8.5x42, Minox.


Nikon Premier LX 8x32
Score without glasses 10; score with glasses 9

Please read our full review.


Pentax DCF XP
8x33: score without glasses 7; score with glasses 6
10x33: score without glasses 7; score with glasses 5

With this close- and-fast-focusing binocular, you can zip with one motion of your index finger from looking at your own shoelaces to zeroing in on a hawk circling against the clouds. The Pentax DCF XP weighs a mere 17.6 ounces. Two of our judges remarked that it perfectly fit their hands and was a pleasure to hold. It has tethered objective lens covers that won’t get lost.

Optically, we found it pretty good. Although it tested slightly less sharp than the full-sized Pentax DCF HRII and the Pentax DCF SP, its resolution did not disappoint when used without close comparison to its full-sized relatives.

The narrowness of the field of view bothered several of our judges. In the 10x33 model, it provides a field only 279 feet wide at 1,000 yards—the narrowest field of view of any 10-power binocular in the mid-sized survey. The 8x33 was the second narrowest (342 ft.) among the 8-power binoculars. Nevertheless, it’s a moderately priced, lightweight, remarkably compact binocular for birding and butterfly watching.


Swarovski EL
Swarovski EL 32mm8x32: score without glasses 10; score with glasses 8
10x32: score without glasses 10; score with glasses 6

Please see price info or read our full review.


Swarovski SLC 8x30
Score without glasses 9; score with glasses 7

The Swarovski SLCs have been around for a few years and they remain in high regard among birders even though Swarovski has since brought out the closer-focusing EL line. Most of the SLC’s are heavier than the comparable ELs, but this smallest (8x30) SLC weighs just 20.8 ounces, an ounce under the EL 8x32. Our judges loved this binocular, which we found as bright as any binocular in the survey. The optics are superb—sharp, with great contrast and with no chromatic aberration.

It doesn’t focus quite as close (13 feet) as the Swarovski 8x32 EL (which focuses at 7 feet), and it doesn’t have the EL’s hollow bridge. On the other hand, it costs only 2⁄3 as much as its sibling competitor. The eye relief of 15mm is the same as the Swarovski EL 8x32.

An oddity of the 8x30 SLC is the focus knob’s placement at the far end of the central shaft. One of our judges found it difficult to find with his little finger. However, many birders like being able to focus with the pinkie or ring finger, leaving the index and middle fingers free to stabilize the binoculars. One person on our panel declared it “a little jewel.”


Zeiss Conquest 8x30 and 10x30
8x30: score without glasses 8; score with glasses 7
10x30: score without glasses 8; score with glasses 6

When you first pick up the mid-sized Conquest, you notice that it feels lighter than you expect it to. At 15.9 or 16.4 ounces, the Conquests were the lightest-weight binoculars we tested. Zeiss employed its weight-trimming techniques in the lenses, while maintaining good optical quality.

Both models focus down to 9.8 feet. We found the focus knob somewhat stiff. The eye relief seems only marginally adequate for most glasses wearers, and the field of view less generous than most of the binoculars in the survey. However, it is optically sharp and bright. Its price is one third that of Zeiss’s top-line Victory FLs.

See
price info on the 8x30 or price info on the 10x30.


Zeiss Victory 32mm FLZeiss 32 Victory FL 8x32 and 10x32
Score without glasses 10; score with glasses 10

Our very favorite mid-sized binocular. Please see price info on the 8x32 or price info on the 10x32. Or maybe you would like to read our full review.

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Alpen Apex

Brunton Eterna

Celestron Noble

Eagle Optics Ranger

Minox

Leica Trinovid (older)

Leica Ultravid (new)

Nikon Premier

Pentax DCF XP

Swarovski EL

Swarovski SLC

Zeiss Conquest

Zeiss Victory

 

 

 

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