Monthly Archives: July 2014

Opticron MM3 50 mm spotting scope

I have had the Opticron MM3 50 ED for some time now. I have taken it out to several local lakes, quarries and rivers in search of waterfowl at this time of the year. I also spent all afternoon yesterday comparing it directly with an inexpensive 50 mm ED spotter I picked up this past December.

MM3

One of the most commonly accepted bits of wisdom shared here in the spotting scope forums is that practically any scope can look good at lower magnifications. It isn’t until you move up the magnification scale that you can begin to notice the difference between an average scope and an exceptional one. This was certainly the case here. The other scope performs at an acceptable level at/up to about 30x. Once beyond that obvious optical aberrations start degrading the image. This wasn’t the case with the Opticron.  Continue reading

Sightron Blue Sky SII 8×32

In my never ending quest to find the perfect binocular I have ventured far from the mainstream binocular market. The company name “Sightron” will carry little recognition for most birders but those in the US hunting population are very familiar with their optics’ products as they have been producing high quality optics for many years. Admittedly, I knew next to nothing about Sightron other than to see occasional posts in reference to their riflescope products over on 24hourcampfire. I never imagined that they produced binoculars not to mention one that I would end up trying.

What led me to them was a bit of a roundabout journey. Many evenings I surf ebay, amazon and various other places around the net in search of “good deals” on more well-known optics. You might be surprised though with what you find if you type in “8×42 or 8×32 binoculars” in a search engine or two instead of just typing “Nikon” or “Bushnell”. It was just such a search that led me to find many of the other bins I have tried in the last three or four months.   Continue reading

Bresser Everest ED 8×42

While discussing the new Celestron M2 Regal spotting scope over in the spotting scope forum I noted a new poster, Optics Camp, who is a fairly local dealer for Celestron. After checking out the website I found the Bresser Everest. What caught my attention about it was the list of features and the price. Extra low dispersion glass plus all the other usual roof prism bells and whistles (fully multi-coated, phase coated, waterproof, etc…). The least expensive ED glass roof prism model that I remember seeing recently was the Bushnell Legend Ultra. I think that, with the rebate which was briefly offered, the price was around $229. The Bresser was less expensive by $10-$15 and that was the regular price.

I thoroughly enjoy seeing the “trickle down” effect when it comes to optics. Four or five years ago we started seeing ED glass objective designs in binoculars at the $400-$500 price point. Now we have one down at the $200 price point. ED glass is “all well and good” but can be literally worthless if the rest of the binocular’s optical system isn’t designed to take advantage of the benefits that it can offer. I have immediate recollection of one, fairly popular, “ED glass” binocular that actually offered worse performance than similarly priced non-ED models when it came to chromatic aberration control. Thankfully that isn’t really the case here.   Continue reading

Nikon Monarch 7 8×30 versus Leupold Mojave 8×32

If you have been reading along in either the Nikon or Leupold subforums you know that I recently had the opportunity to compare a variety of 8×30-something format roofs down at Cape May a couple of weekends ago. At the time I became extremely enamored with the Monarch 7 because of both its handling and its optical performance. Well, I finally caved a few days ago and ordered one from B and H Photo. It came two days ago and I have been comparing it to the Leupold Mojave 8×32 ever since. SteveC also now has both of these binoculars in his possession. He pm’ed me his initial impressions and they pretty much correlate with my own experiences. I leave it up to him to chime in with those thoughts at some point after this is posted.

One disclaimer before you read further. The specific Nikon unit that I have seems to be suffering from the same lack of internal blackening on a few of the internal components. This can, and does, affect a variety of optical areas but, in my opinion, the worst is contrast. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this post.

On paper the two binoculars seem quite evenly matched.

Nikon Monarch 7

Magnification 8.0x
Objective Lens Diameter 30 mm
Angle of View 8.3° (actual)
Field-of-View 436.75′ @ 1000 yd / 145 m @ 1000 m
Minimum Focus Distance 6.56′ / 2 m
Eye Relief 15.1 mm
Interpupillary Adjustment 56 – 72 mm
Weight 15.34 oz / 435 g

Leupold Mojave

Magnification 8.0x
Objective Lens Diameter 32 mm
Angle of View 8.0° (actual)
Field-of-View 420′ @ 1000 yd / 140 m @ 1000 m
Minimum Focus Distance 7′ / 2.13 cm
Eye Relief 16 mm
Interpupillary Adjustment 58 – 74 mm
Weight 17 oz / 482 g

Initial Impressions only…..

Ergonomics:

To cut to the chase, I like both. I have had the Mojave for a longer period of time and have grown accustomed to how it feels. The only issue with them that I have with them in this area is the strap lug. If it were a half inch closer to the oculars then it would be excellent.

Having said that I will say that I definitely prefer the Monarch 7. Not just how they feel in my hands though but also how they feel up to my eyes. Though I don’t find the wider diameter eyecups of the Mojave an issue I do find the Nikon’s narrower diameter eyecups and larger oculars more enjoyable. They tend to allow for more of an immersive experience. I also find the texture of the Nikon’s rubber armoring more pleasing. It has a bit more of a cushion to it despite the fact that it appears thinner in diameter in comparison to the Leupold. The focusing tension also has more a solid, controllable feel to it.

Optical Performance:

These two binoculars are more alike than not in the grand scheme of things. Considering the similarity in their physical dimensions and their listed specs I believe they would have to be. Both offer generous sweet spots with very good performance overall inside of the sweet spot. Both suffer from off axis performance issues but not to any great degree. So, if I had to break it down based on the various optical attributes it would go something like this….

All characteristics are “apparent” in nature.

Brightness: Tough call. Probably a tie. At times I get the impression the Leupold is brighter but then at other times I can’t tell a difference. I need more time to evaluate them to get a true impression.

Contrast: Because of the issue mentioned earlier I would have to give this one to the Leupold. Color saturation is excellent. Blacks are really black and whites are really white. Even when trying to discern differences in color at great distances the Leupold shines. This subsequently leads to an increase in perceived sharpness but I don’t want to get to that yet. The Leupold does not appear to have “poor contrast” but rather just isn’t up to the level of the Leupold.

Sharpness: Again the nod has to go to the Leupold. As a test for this I started looking at individual trees and rock outcroppings on a mountain ridge about 3/4 of a mile west of my location. With the Leupold I feel like I can look at ever nook and cranny there. Not so much with the Nikon.

Sweet Spot Size: My “impression” is that the Nikon is slightly better than the Leupold…or maybe I should say that the transition from the sweet spot to the edge of the field of view is more gradual in the Nikon. I can sense the more abrupt change in the Leupold though even the Leupold isn’t even down to the level of fair in this area. It is actually quite good.

CA control: I would call it a tie here as well. Though the Nikon sports ED glass the Leupold controls CA very well within the sweet spot. If you handed me both and asked me to pick out which one had the ED glass and which one didn’t I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. I am going to try to push them in this area as time passes. Maybe then I might see more of a difference between them.

All I can think of for now. I will leave you with some comparison pics.

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Zen Ray 7×43 ED3


Comparison with the 8×43 ED3:I have had the rare opportunity to be able to try out Zen Ray’s new 7×43 ED3 binocular for the last week. The unit that I have in my possession is a prototype and not a production unit. I make mention of this simply because there are several key issues which will be commented on later in the review where this becomes pertinent. It seems appropriate for me to compare the 7×43 to the 8×43 since all of the comments that pertain to one can be applied to the other.

For the most part the 7×43 unit is identical to the 8×43 externally with a few notable exceptions. The eyecup design of the 7×43 is longer (not away from the eyepiece but actually longer into the binocular body). The eyecups also fit more loosely than the 8×43 unit. Further, the antireflective coatings on the eyepiece are of a different color and “dimmer” than that of the 8×43. Objective color reflections are identical. The physical length and weight is identical between both binoculars. The diameter of the ocular lens is narrower on the 7×43 I am assuming because the 7x magnification design warrants it.

The only other external difference between the two configurations is in the focusing knob feel. The 8×43 displays about 1/8th of inch of play which does not change the focus point. The 7×43 does not display any play whatsoever and is extremely precise throughout the focus range. Focusing speed, direction and overall feel are identical between the two configurations.
Looking down the barrels from the objective side also revealed one key difference between the two models. The internal threaded baffling in the 7×43 unit is not as deep as the 8×43. They are “finer”. This, along with the eyepiece reflections I mentioned earlier will play a part in the optical performance comments I am to mention next.

Optical Impressions:

Optically the 7×43 shares the same neutral color representation of the 8×43 primarily because of the specific formula of the antireflective coatings used in the ED3 design. As referenced in the 8×43 review this is a change from the slightly warm color bias of the ED2. The apparent field of view is narrower in the 7×43 design, 58.6 degrees versus the 65 degrees of the 8×43. In practical use I cannot tell much of a difference.

Eye relief for the 7×43 is listed at 20 mm. I have no problem seeing the full field of view with the eyecups fully collapsed. I do not wear glassed but because of my facial characteristics, large nose and relatively close-set eyes, I find that I need to use most binoculars with the eyecups in the fully collapsed position.

Close focus is right at 6 feet for my eyes.

In terms of the image, it is everything you would hope for in a high quality 7×43 binocular. The 440 foot field of view is expansive. Depth of field is also excellent. It does not give quite the “apparent” depth of field of a similarly configured porro prism model but the depth of field is still noticeably better than the 8×43 model. Very little refocusing is needed over a good percentage of typical birding distances. When you couple this with the faster focus of the ED3 design, one full turn from close focus to infinity, then you find a very easy combination to use out in the field. The larger exit pupil also comes into play here. One of the reasons I have always been so fond of the 7×40-something configuration is the large 6 mm exit pupil. The 6 mm diameter gives my eye more room to roam around the image. For the type of birding I primarily do, hawk watching mostly but also waterfowl, this characteristic makes using the binocular so much more comfortable.

Just like the other configurations of this model the image is exceptionally sharp mostly due to the use of extra low dispersion glass in the objectives but also because of the rest of the binoculars’ design takes full advantage of that ED glass.

Color saturation appears very good, again, probably in large part to the combination of ED glass and high quality antireflective coatings. Colors are well represented but do not necessarily have quite the “pop” that some of the ED3’s optical competition does (thinking Nikon and Leica in this case). Though not necessarily the case with the Nikon and Leica models I do find that many times a binocular with a specific color bias represents certain similar colors with better color saturation. Since the ED3 is fairly neutral in color representation I do not necessarily get “deep reds” or “brilliant blues” in much the same way as I would in other models. I often felt the same way about the Zeiss FLs that I owned for several years. The color representation was fairly neutral but specific colors might not necessarily have been as vibrant as competing models. I do remember an extensive explanation of this phenomenon with the FL in particular but do not have it on hand at the moment to continue the discussion further.

Apparent brightness is interesting for lack of a better word. In just about every condition I have tried these binoculars in the apparent brightness appears to be fairly equal between the 8×43 and 7×43 units. This really surprised me as I had fully expected the 7×43 to give me more of that overwhelming brightness that the 7×42 FL does even in comparison to the 8×42 FL. Before I expand on that issue let me also mention….

The sweet spot of image in focus and free of distortion is another issue worth discussing. This was something else that did not fully live up to my expectations. I do realize that different individuals have different preferences for what is “acceptable” in terms of the size of the sweet spot. Personally I find it directly related to the type and degree of distortion visible outside of the sweet spot. Some distortions can be distracting because of their severity while others can be distracting because they occupy such a large portion of the image. To put it simply, the size of the sweet spot in the 7×43 is smaller, to my eyes, than the 8×43. Conversely the amount of astigmatism in the outer edge of the image is too much for me to call the image “excellent” or “ideal”. I am not going to throw around estimated percentages with this one because I truly have not attempted to estimate it. I would estimate the 8×43 ED3 to have a respectably sized sweet spot in the range of 70-75%. I am sure if I actually tried to verify that in a scientific manner then the true size may actually be smaller but I am referring more to the perception of the size of the sweet spot rather than the actual measurement. Sadly, the 7×43 seems to be less than that 70-75%.

Depending on how you use the binocular this may or may not be an issue. When utilizing the binocular this past weekend I noticed the distortion but did not feel that it took away from the overall quality of the view. This past week when I had more time to sit down with it and literally “look for it” then I found it to be more objectionable. Further, when I compared it with two other models which both have exceptionally wide sweet spots then I became more aware of how much it took away from the potential total viewing experience. Coincidentally I had much the same experience when I first had my hands on one of the initial 7×36 ED2 units. After using the 8×43 ED2 for so long I immediately noticed what I felt was a smaller sweet spot and more distortion around the outer edge of the image.

Clarifications:

All hope is not lost though. After making all of these observations I emailed Charles so that he would have the opportunity to clarify some of my concerns. From what he related many of my concerns are the result of this 7×43 unit being a prototype of the configuration. The production units of the 7×43 will have eyecups practically identical to the 8×43. The difference in eyepiece reflections was due to not having the full multi-coating on some of the lens elements…again a prototype concern not a production unit issue. The difference in internal baffling was also specific to the prototype and not something that will be evident in the production model.

I also have hope that the production unit will also have a sweet spot similar in size to that of the 8×43 model. My hope actually relates back to the 7×36 situation I mentioned earlier. This past week I had the opportunity to try out some of the 7×36 ED2s once again. I tried three of the units. All three had sweet spots notably larger than what I remember from that first production run. The distortion in the outer edge of the image was still different from the 8x43s but the size of the sweet spot itself seemed to be notably better than what I remembered. I am hoping that will also be the case with the 7×43 when the time comes next month.

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