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A Comparative Analysis of Leading Binoculars
on September 15, 2012
After years of suffering with dark, weak, wobbly binoculars (thank you, Magnacraft), I found myself needing two types: the best quality I could find (1) at any weight but under $250 for use within a drive of home (home binocs), and (2) under 10 oz, easy to travel with in tour groups, simple for impatient family members, and ideal for night concerts and day baseball games (travel binocs).
After studying reviews and comments thoroughly, I concluded there are brilliant experts commenting regularly on Amazon - much more insightful than the professional reviewers who focus on expensive, heavy devices purchased by others of their ilk. From my fellow consumers' insights, I purchased 11 binoculars with at least 70% five-star ratings that fit my general specifications for home or travel.
GENERAL CONCLUSIONS. After exhaustive examination - reading a DVD box at 46 feet, finding individual cattle from a moving minivan, and watching stars and planets in my backyard - I concluded the essential attributes for binoculars across categories are:
(A) Plenty of Light brought to your eye. Light is determined by the diameter of the light-gathering lens divided by the magnification. In other words, an 8x42 pair has a ratio of 5.25 and produces LOTS of light, while a 10x21 pair has a ratio of 2.1 and always appear dark. Conclusion: About 3.0 is adequate and the best available for compact binoculars.
(B) Good Stability of View. View stability depends on (i) the degrees of field of vision (can you find what you are looking for), (ii) the depth of visibility (do you have to refocus for every few feet of depth), and (iii) wobble (which is itself determined by (i) and (ii)). Conclusion: field of vision is rarely as broad as advertised, depth of visibility depends on the lens quality and you just have to check it out, and any binoc with a magnification of 10 or higher proved to have poor stability of view without a tripod, at least for me. There is a big difference between 8x and 10x, particularly below a 42 lens diameter.
SPECIFIC CONCLUSIONS. (Home Binoculars) The best Home Binoc was the Nikon Monarch ATM 8x42, and it outperformed all other 10 by a wide margin. I could read a DVD box at 46 feet, keep a broad and stable view to find the cow with three white spots while bouncing in a minivan, and find and watch Mars. At 24 oz, it's too big for constant lugging, but oh what a treat. At $230, it was comparable in price to the Vixen 14502 Foresta 8x42 and the Bushnell Ultra HD 8x42, but it performed noticeably better, particularly on view stability. Several cheaper, heavy models under $100 had cloudy lens.
(Travel Binoculars) The Pentax 8x25 UCF XII and the Olympus 8x25 PCI were best in class, although the Pentax had less wobble, more clarity while the Olympus provided more light and more accurate color tones, but a smaller field of vision. (Forget finding the cow, but if you found it, you could count its ear hairs at dusk). Both were 10 oz, and about $65; the Pentax, which gets slightly better overall reviews, is larger but felt better in my hand. Small hands, viewing at dusk, standing still = Olympus. Larger hands, viewing in daylight, on a bus = Pentax. Lastly, the itty bitty Olympus 7x21 PC III at 7 oz in metallic blue is adorable and $24 (refurbished), with fantastic clarity and ease of use, but a very narrow field of vision, despite its 7.5% claim.
So what did we do? I decided to travel with the heavy Nikon Monarch, but kept the Pentax 8x25 in reserve. Different members of my family preferred the Pentax 8x25, the Olympus 8x25, and the Olympus 7x21, each predictably on the basis of the decision maker's age, size, and goals. None showed any interest in the other six binocs.
As a final note, Beware of imperfection and non-Amazon sellers. Two of the 11 binocs arrived with lens imperfections. The heavy Bushnell Falcon (7x36) at $30 had a cloudy lens, and Amazon accepted the return promptly. The lightweight but expensive Nikon Travelite 10x25, already with little light and a small field of vision, had a defective lens, making it darker. The vendor wanted me to pay shipping in both directions plus a restocking fee to return the defective item.
Good luck with your decision. I hope my odyssey was helpful to you.