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Full-size Binoculars Reviews

Michael Porter by Michael and Diane Porter Diane Porter

(Part II of Optics Roundup, which appeared in
Bird Watcher's Digest
, January, 2000.)

Recent advances in birding binoculars
Warranties on birding binoculars
Table of binoculars specs

Enjoying binocularsHere are reviews of some notable binoculars that our panel of judges evaluated in the fall of 1999. Some of these items have update notices added in October 2002, as some of these binoculars have been discontinued and/or replaced by the manufactures.

For binoculars not described here, please check the accompanying chart, which covers additional models.

Warranty service is described in Warranties on birding binoculars. Variances from the usual sort of warranty is mentioned at the end of each manufacturer's account.



Bausch & Lomb Elites
For super close focus
Roof prism, 8X32, 10X42, and 8X50

B&L Elite binocularThe judges were impressed with the brightness of all the Elites and by the 5-foot close focus of the 8X32 and the 10X42. However, the Elites were not as edge-to-edge sharp as the other top roof prism binoculars.

The Elites are phase corrected, nitrogen filled, and waterproof to 9 feet. At 28 to 30 ounces, these binoculars hang fairly lightly from the neck. The soft-armored surface feels exceptionally pleasant to the touch. Most of our judges liked the sculpted body, with indentations for the thumbs, although one found the grooves actually interfered with his grip. The diopter adjustment is tight enough not to get knocked off its setting accidentally. The strap snaps into the binocular instantly, with no threading through loops.

Our judges wished the 8X32 and the 10X42 Elites had eyecups that pull out or twist up. (The 8X50s do have pull-out eyecups.)

Warranty: Note that some of the Elites were not waterproof until 1996 or 1997. Older, non-waterproof Elites are not warranted against water damage.

Bausch & Lomb Custom Compact
F or when less is more

Porro prism, 7X26

Custom CompactThisbinocular focuses to 8 feet, has fairly good eye relief (16 mm.) for glasses wearers, and weighs only 13 ounces. It gives a bright picture in daylight. (It may dim at dusk for some users, because its exit pupil is only 3.7 mm.)

We like its rubber armoring and well engineered body, with a smooth focus wheel. The unusual silhouette comes from the reverse-Porro-prism design: the objective lenses are closer together than the eyepieces.

The one drawback of this binocular is that it is NOT WATERPROOF.

Brunton Eterna
With the Bino-GloveŠ

Roof prism, 7X42 and 10X42

Brunton EternaAlthough these are among the less expensive roof prism binoculars we tested, they have many useful and unusual features. The eyecups pull out instantly to the extended position. The recessed diopter adjustment is secure against getting knocked off its setting.

This is one binocular with a truly usable carrying case. The Bino-GloveŠ form-fits the binocular and peels back so that you can use the binoculars and reach all the controls. The binoculars also sport soft, non-slip armoring. Flexible hinges attach the lens caps. When open, the lens caps can act as miniature sunshields.

While Eternas are not phase corrected, they are nitrogen purged and waterproof to one meter for five minutes. They focus to 5.5 feet.

Fujiyama Techo-Stabi
Roof prism, 14X40

Fujiyama's digital image stabilizing system compensates for hand tremor and the motion of a boat, airplane, or helicopter. It comes with a hand strap as well as a neck strap. At 43 ounces, it might be friendlier next to one in a helicopter than hanging from one's neck. Neverthess, it would be an interesting instrument to have along on a pelagic trip in rough weather. It's waterproof, and the roof prisms are phase coated.

Warranty: 1-year warranty against defects of material or manufacturing, valid for original owner only.

Bushnell Birder, a starter binocular
Porro prism, 8X40

Bushnell BirderThis may be the best cheap binocular a birder can get away with. Suggested retail price is $75. Our price is a little lower.

For such an inexpensive binocular, the optics are remarkably decent. Although they are not constructed as sturdily as thousand-dollar optics, the Bushnell Birders have served many birders as their first binoculars. Even after one moves up to higher-quality binoculars, these come in handy as loaners.

Canon, Stabilized
Porro prism, 15X45, 12X36 IS, and 10X30 IS

We tested only the newest in Canon's IS line, the 10X30 model. Push a button on the top of these image-stabilized binoculars, and suddenly the image steadies. Although these binoculars may not rival the brightness and resolution of the top binoculars under ordinary circumstances, they let you see birds that would otherwise be only a blur from a moving boat or car. They weigh 22 ounces, plus 2 AA batteries.

Celestron Regal
Roof prism, 7X36, 10X50, 8X42 (Ranger only), 10X42 (Ranger only)

Celestron makes the Regal. It's waterproof.

Our judges found them exceptionally comfortable in the hand, fast focusing, nicely balanced, with slim body, pleasant soft coating, and good eye relief. The only criticisms leveled against these binoculars were that the diopter adjustment does not lock (although it's reasonably firm) and that the eyecups are the old fold-down rubber style.

Compared to other 10X50 binoculars, the 10X50 Regal/Ranger is remarkably light weight (28 ounces) and comfortable to hold.

Eagle Optics also sells phase-corrected versions of the Rangers in 8X32, 8X42, 10X42, and 10X50. These models cost about $110 more than the regular non-phase-corrected Rangers. Our judges tried and particularly liked the phase corrected Eagle Optics Ranger 8X42.

Warranty: Celestron's warranty against manufacturer's defects is good during the life of the binoculars and is not limited to the original owner. However, the owner must produce proof of purchase. The binoculars made by Celestron with the Eagle Optics brand carry the same guarantee.

Eagle Optics Voyager
(replaced2002 by Eagle Optics Triumph)
Reverse Porro prism, 8X25 and 10X25

Eagle Optics TriumphUpdate 2002
Eagle Optics has discontinued their Voyager binoculars. The Voyagers have been replaced by an improved binocular, the Eagle Optics Triumph (see photo at right).

The Triumph has an improved, non-slip metallic surface. It also has denser glass (BAK-4) and fully multi-coated lenses. It's actually a better binocular optically than the Voyager was.


Tasco's Rare Bird series was wonderful but short-lived. Tasco has sold its intellectual property to Bausch and Lomb, and its binoculars are no more.

If you want high quality, compact, moderately pricedbincoulars, we suggest the new Pentax DCF MP 10x25 or Pentax DCF MP 8x25.



Kowa MG
Porro prism, 7X40 and 10X40

Kowa Porro prism binoculars are relatively economical. The Kowa 7X40s offer among the longest eye relief (22.5 mm.) among Porro prism binoculars for glasses wearers. They have an especially slip-proof covering.

Warranty: Kowa says will decline warranty service on grey market products, but they report no such problems to date.

Nikon Venturer LX
A really sharp binocular

Roof prism, 8X42 and 10X42, each the same size, shape and weight.

Nikon Venturer LXNikon Venturers deliver a bright, clear picture. They're waterproof, and like all the top roof prism binoculars, they are nitrogen purged, nitrogen filled, and phase corrected. The non-slip texture and soft armoring feel nice in the hand.

The panel of judges praised the Venturer's edge-to-edge sharpness, the equal of Swarovski's and Leica's. Its fast focus also received favorable mention. About half the judges however, found it a bit heavy. (At 34.6 ounces, it's one of the weightiest roof prisms we tested.)

Eyecups twist up or down, so you can dial the exact amount of eye relief that your eyes and glasses need. Unusual among 10-power binoculars, the 10X42 model has enough eye relief even for eyeglasses that ride a long way from the eye, allowing the user to see the whole picture. Close focus goes down to 9.6 feet. The diopter adjustment locks so that it won't accidentally get knocked off its setting.

See more about Nikon Venturer LX.

Nikon Superior E
Porro prism, 8X32, 10X42, and 12X50

Nikon Superior E 10x42We tested only the 10X42. Although our judges found it less sharp and not so close focusing as the 10X42 Venturer LX, we still rated it one of the best Porro prism binoculars. It is water resistant but not waterproof. It has good eye relief (17.4 mm.)

Nikon's unique "tactile protein rubber armor" provides a pleasant touch and sure grip. The instrument we tested had a particularly smooth-turning focus knob. You can buy a tripod adapter from Nikon for $60.

Warranty: Nikon promises to provide the original owner of Venturer LX or Superior E binoculars with free repair or replacement for any defects in manufacturing or materials for 25 years. Nikon representatives cautioned that customers should buy from an authorized Nikon dealer and obtain a USA warranty document, without which the product is not covered by warranty and will not be repaired.

See more about Nikon Superior E.

Deutsche Optic Optolyth Alpin
Porro prism, 8X40 and 10X50

The Optolyth is a good basic binocular. It has rubber armoring, a pleasant, sure grip and a slender, easy-to-hold shape. It focuses closer (10 feet) than most Porro prism binoculars. It is nitrogen filled and water resistant but should not be submerged.

Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty. However, Deutsche Optik will charge for repairs to Optolyth instruments, which have been purchased through the gray market or otherwise not sold by Deutsche Optik. To qualify for warranty service, such instruments must be sent to Germany.

Pentax DCF WPPentax DCF WP
A remarkable bargain

Roof prism, 8X42 and 10X42

All the judges loved the new waterproof Pentaxes. Going by optical quality and nicety of design, you'd have to class these DCF WPs with the top roof prisms on the market. Nitrogen purged and nitrogen filled, they withstand submersion in water to three feet deep. With phase corrected lenses, they deliver the contrast and brightness usually encountered only in the top roof prism binoculars on the market.

The biggest surprise is the price, which is just a bit over half the cost of comparable binoculars from Leica, Nikon, and Swarovski. So why not buy the Pentaxes and save a bundle? Good question!

Pentax DCF WPs meets the criteria for excellent engineering details: light weight (26.8 ounces), pleasant non-slip surface, pull-out eyecups, and a snug diopter adjustment that clicks to each increment. Optical qualities are excellent also. The binoculars focus down to about 8 feet, and they give a bright, clear image.

The Pentaxes appeared to equal the sharpness of the Swarovskis, Leicas, and the Nikon Venturers in the center of the field of view. Only when we used the USAF optical resolution chart to compare the binoculars critically in side-by-side tests did we detect a difference: in the extreme outer limits of the field, the Swarovskis, Leicas, and Nikons provided higher resolving power. However, a birder normally places the bird in the center of the field of view, where the human eye enjoys the greatest resolution.

We think these Pentaxes issue a serious challenge to the leaders of the industry and prove that it's possible to make an outstanding waterproof, phase-corrected binocular at a moderate price.

Warranty. The warranty against manufacturing defects does not expire when the binoculars change hands. Furthermore, if a Pentax binocular arrives for a minor repair job such as repair of loose prisms, missing or loose eyepieces, loose objectives, broken strap lugs, or broken diopter adjustment, or for collimation or realignment of optics, Pentax policy is to repair it under warranty without charge. Major repairs jobs, such as scratched lenses or smashed binoculars, or evidencing neglect or deliberate damage, are repaired for a fee.

One caution is that Pentax does not cover binoculars purchased from gray market sources.

Swift UltraLite
Porro prism, 8X44 and 10X42

Unlike many Porro prism binoculars, these UltraLites work for people who wear glasses. With 21 and 22 mm. of eye relief, they are among the best on this score. They're compact, with a soft, pleasant covering, easy to hold, and relatively lightweight (21 and 25 ounces).

Swift Plover
Porro prism, 8X40

This binocular came late and was not seen by most of the judges, but those who saw it liked the bright image it provided and the unusually wide field of view. Its covering has a pleasant finish and is easy to hold.

Swarovski SLC, nearly perfect
Roof prism, 8X30, 10X42, 10X50, and 7X42

Swarovski SLCThese are wonderful binoculars that have earned the respect of birders over the years. They have impeccable optical qualities: waterproof, nitrogen purged and nitrogen filled, and phase corrected.

They also have outstanding fit-and-feel characteristics, including an easy-grip rubber shell, locking diopter adjustment that won't get knocked off its setting, and unlosable objective lens caps that attach to the binoculars.

One of our glasses-wearing judges could hardly put the 10X50s (the tall ones in the photo) down to test anything else, because he loved their luminous brightness and the full picture that they afforded him. He'd never found a 10-power binocular that worked so well with his glasses. To enjoy that view he was willing to carry the 41.6-ounce weight.

The judges also praised the optical quality of the 10X42 and 7X42 SLCs. These binoculars weigh in at 30.7 and 33.5 ounces, respectively, and such weights are not unusual in binoculars with such superior resolution and brightness.

Swarovski SLC 8X30The Swarovski 8X30s, however, which weigh just 19 ounces, excited particular admiration and envy. This gem won the top marks among the medium-to-small binoculars. Although the 8X30s give a brilliant picture in daylight, the image dims at dusk, because the exit pupil is only 3.7 mm.

An oddity of this model is the focus knob's placement at the far end of the central shaft. One birder commented that she likes being able to focus with her ring finger, leaving her index and middle fingers free to stabilize the binoculars. By the way, the 8X30s cost considerably less than other Swarovskis.

Swarovski EL
New standard in birding binoculars

Roof prism, 8.5X 42 and 10X42

Swarovski ELSwarovski has now outdone itself. Several years ago, Swarovski invited a team of world-class birders, including Pete Dunne and the late Claudia Wilds, to meet with Swarovski engineers and dream up the ideal binocular for birders. Taking the suggestions back to Austria, the engineers designed a brand new binocular, the Swarovski EL, waterproof, light in weight, close focusing, phase corrected, and with superb optics.

When you pick up these binoculars you immediately notice their remarkable lightness, due in part to the space-age, lightweight magnesium housing inside. Your fingers wrap around the pleasant-to-touch barrels, tucking into the big hollow space between them: Swarovski has eliminated the bridge, further reducing the weight and giving the binoculars a distinctive silhouette. You'll notice that you can easily hold these binoculars with one hand.

To enable the birder to focus finely, the designers built 2-1/2 turns on the focus wheel between 8 feet and infinity. All but one turn of that, however, takes place between 8 and 18 feet. While not as fast to focus as the Nikon Venturers, you get more fine control. It's a tradeoff of benefits and a matter of personal preference.

Although the suggested retail price of the EL Swarovskis is comparable to top roof prism binoculars, the Swarovski ELs may end up costing more, because they are not often discounted so heavily as the other brands. However, if money is not a controlling factor, the Swarovski ELs must be seen before any other top binoculars is chosen. These glasses show what Swarovski can do when it sets out to capture the top of the mountain.

Warranty: Swarovski's respected limited lifetime warranty covers any and all failures of workmanship or material. Officially, the warranty applies only to original owner. However, Swarovski enjoys a superb reputation for binoculars warranty service that goes far beyond what is promised.

See more about the new Swarovski ELs.

Steiner's Rocky S, made in Germany
Roof prism, 8X42 and 10X42

This trim, relatively lightweight binocular offers many smart engineering details. It's rubber-armored, pressurized with dry nitrogen, and waterproof to 16 feet. The objective lens caps are attached but removable by means of a clever clasp. If you don't wear glasses, you can extend the eyecups, which then wrap around to block light from the sides. The strap attachment is ingenious.

The 8X42s offer a remarkable 23 mm. of eye relief. The focus knob turns smoothly, with no slop or glitchiness. There is a tripod mount. The binoculars withstand temperatures from 176 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 40 degrees. The carrying case also holds a field guide.

The Rocky S is not phase corrected, and our judges found the resolution lower than that of the Pentax CDF WPs. However, these are good, serviceable optics.

Warranty: Limited warranty against manufacturer's defect lasts for 30 years. The warranty survives change of ownership, provided the sales receipts including that of the original purchase are provided.

Zeiss ClassiCZeiss ClassiC
Still great after all these years

Roof prism, 7X42 and 10X40

The 7X42 Zeiss ClassiC, a venerable binocular, continues to provide a wide angle and some of the finest viewing that eyeglass wearers can get. (Zeiss invented anti-reflective coating back in 1935 and have had many years to perfect this technology.)

The ClassiCs still have the traditional fold-down rubber eyecups. Like all Zeiss products, they are waterproof. They are also a good buy, less expensive than other top roof prism binoculars.

Zeiss B/GAT Design Selection
Roof prism, 7x45, 8x56, 10x56 (the Night Owl)

The new design is strikingly good looking, with a smooth, two-tone, semi-hard armor replacing the older ribbed-rubber covering of the ClassiC Zeiss. They fit well in the hand, and the optics are superb. Of course, we would expect nothing less from Zeiss.

However, even more striking than the design is the weight. The Zeiss 7x42 classic, long a star performer that delivered one of the best images you could see through glass, weighed only 28 oz. The DesignSelection 7x45 weighs 41 oz. Ouch!

The 10x56 DesignSelection Nightowls are a different story. Their 50.3 oz weight is justified by their incredible ability to resolve detail in dim light. They would be worth owning just for crepuscular use.

All the Design Selection binoculars have old-fashioned roll-down rubber eyecups. Zeiss added light-blocking side-wings to the eyecup shape, which is good for non-eyeglasses wearers but makes them hard to fold down.

Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty. One caution is that Zeiss does not extend warranty service to binoculars purchased from gray market sources. Be sure that you are getting a USA warranty card with your Zeiss binoculars.