Optics

There is now a vast array of binoculars and spotting scopes available to birders and making a choice is difficult for anyone considering purchasing optics at the bottom end of the market. The difference in performance between top tier optics and those in the mid to low eschelons of the quality spectrum is gradually narrowing, with many good, low cost models coming out of China at present. But how much longer will this last? With the current rate of inflation there running at 16% and labour costs rising by 25% per annum many of today’s ‘good value’ models may become more expensive in the not too distant future …

With consumer confidence at an all time low and purse strings tighter than ever, when it comes to binoculars I am often asked my opinion on which models offer value for money within certain – usually low – price brackets or for a certain specification. While this is a matter of personal taste I can only offer comment on models of which I have had some experience.

Of the sub-£500 models I have tested over the past year I was quite impressed with the Eden Quality ED 8×42 binocular at £245. This has a great field of view (142 m @ 1000 m), ED glass and central dioptre adjustment and it is also reasonably light and compact and it has water-repellent coatings; for the price I thought it was good value and the guarantee is 25 years http://www.edenwebshops.co.uk/. Also from Eden their HD 8×42 takes some beating at only £129. The downside is that you can only get them via the internet (there are no UK stockists) so you can’t test them first.
Also excellent are the new Hawke Sapphire ED 8×43 (open bridge) and ED 8×42 (top hinge) models, at £480 and £430 respectively; both are very good indeed with a great 142 m field of view and super image. The 43 mm model is marginally better but it’s larger – the 42 mm is more compact. Water-repellent coatings are also featured. Guarantee is 10 years http://www.deben.com/ Another one I like is the New Nikon Prostaff 7 binocular. For the price (£250) the image is very good, although the field of view is only 110 m. Guarantee 10 years. http://www.europe-nikon.com/en_GB/

I have been reviewing birding optics for Birdwatch magazine since 2002 and a number of recent review articles available online are listed below.

 

Barr & Stroud

Sahara 8×32 and 8×42 Savannah 10×42

Barska

Naturescape 10×42

 

Eden

Eden Quality XP 8×42  Eden Quality ED 8×42   

Eden Quality 8×42 HD

 

Hawke

Endurance CF 8×32 and 8×42 and Nature-Trek 8×42 binoculars

Frontier ED 8×43 Frontier 8×42 Frontier ED 8×36

Helios

Nirvana ED 8×42         Mistral WP4 8×42 and Ultrasport 8×42

 

Kowa

  Genesis33 Prominar 8×33 X D 8.5×44 and 10.5×44

8×42 BD

 

Leica

Monovid 8×20 monocular Ultravid 8×32 HD

Nikon

EDG 8×32 DF

 

Opticron

8×42 Countryman BGA T PC Oasis and HR WP binoculars

Verano BGA PC Oasis 8×32 and 8×42 binoculars Aurora BGA 8×42

RSPB

RSPB 8×42 HD binocular RSPB 8.5×42 WPG

Sony

Sony DEV-5 Digital Recording Binocular

 

Steiner

Discovery 8×44 and 10×44 binoculars SkyHawk Pro 8×42 

Swarovski

EL 8×32

Vanguard

Spirit 8×42

 

Viking Optical

Viking 8×42 ED Viking 8×32 and 8×42 MD

8 Responses to Optics

  1. Barbara Nunn says:

    I find your comments useful, Mike, as I am looking to buy a cheaper pair of x8 to complement my x10 Swarovski. I know describing optics involves a lot of numbers already, but I do think the actual weight should always be given as it is a vital factor in the choice – especially for women.

    • Mike Alibone says:

      You are of course right, Barbara. In all my formal Birdwatch reviews I quote and comment on the weight but I do tend to overlook this when I advise people verbally, unless the weight is exceptional in terms of it being either very light or very heavy. Many manufacturers have gone to great lengths in recent years to minimise weight (e.g. thinner rubber armour, magnesium or polycarbonate vs. aluminium body) and generally, this seems to have been successful.

      • Barbara Nunn says:

        After Bird Fair, I’m now thinking of updating to latest Swarovski EL 8×32. Have you reviewed these? When I clicked on the Swarovski link on your optics page, I was taken to Helios Mistral.

      • Mike Alibone says:

        Barbara, my apologies. I have now fixed the link but I guess you’ve already found the review. This model is really nice … !

      • Barbara N says:

        Thanks, Mike. Now read review and sound perfect! Cost not so bad if I can get a reasonable price for my “old” Swarovski 10×32 some time.

        On 5 November 2014 23:30, Northantsbirds wrote:

        > Mike Alibone commented: “Barbara, my apologies. I have now fixed the > link but I guess you’ve already found the review. This model is really nice > … !”

  2. Eoin says:

    Hi Mike,
    I’m looking for a spotting scope in the sub-£250 price range. Am I being realistic in finding something worthwhile for this price? I haven’t owned one before.

    • Mike Alibone says:

      To get a decent scope for £250, including eyepiece, is going to be very tricky – you should consider spending at least double this. You don’t say of you prefer a zoom or fixed magnification eyepiece. Zooms these days are a lot better than they used to be and, personally, I prefer them. You will get a reasonable quality of image up to about 40x-45x magnification but after this they frequently become dark and the image loses sharpness and focussing becomes difficult.

      One scope I tested a couple of years ago and which stood out as being pretty good quality was the Acuter DS PRO Series DS20-60x80A, which has dual focussing and delivered a reasonably sharp image. Currently it retails at £249 but they have since brought out an updated version with ED glass, the DS20-60x80A-ED for £479. I haven’t tested it but if it’s better than the non-ED model I imagine it will be pretty good for the price. Bear in mind it has only 1 year guarantee.

      While smaller models are less expensive, try and go for an 80 mm objective as the light-gathering capacity is greater and the resolution (= image sharpness, or amount of detail you can see) will be higher.

      Have a look at what Opticron and Hawke have to offer and also check out the Nikon Prostaff 5 Fieldscope 82 mm (£360) + zoom eyepiece (£140) – I haven’t seen it but if it’s like their Prostaff bins it will be good.

      If you want an idea of pricing and specs for all models you can download the full listing from the Birdwatch website at: http://tinyurl.com/q6jur8o
      Hope this is helpful.

  3. Eoin says:

    Thanks for the reply Mike. V. helpful.

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