Author Archives: Frank Dickman

Athlon Optics Argos 8×34

I haven’t had much time lately to sit down and share my thoughts on a few of the more recent binoculars that have graced my home. Besides all of the usual holiday hustle and bustle I have been intently birding my local patch(es) in search of any new and interesting birds. With the holidays over and a great start to my year list I thought it was time to finally sit down and put something together for the handful of models worthy of review. First on the list is the Athlon Argos.

focusing knob


I am sure your first thought after reading that statement is “who is Athlon” and what is the Argos model. Athlon is relatively new company staffed by a variety of gifted individuals that had worked for Bushnell in recent years. These gentlemen had the idea that they could offer high quality optics directly to consumers at a very reasonable price. It seems they succeeded from what I have seen with the Argos model.

Athlon Optics has 6 binocular lines and 2 spotting scope lines. Each line is geared for a specific level of performance for that particular price point. Their most expensive binocular model, the Cronus, has an MSRP just under $600 but sports an impressive list of features not the least of which being a field flattener element.

So where does the Argos fit into their lineup?

Its price point, around $200 MSRP, puts in the lower middle of their various binocular lines. The inevitable question is why I would request to have one of the lower price models for review instead of one of their higher price and higher performing models. Well, there are a few answers to that question. For one, I look for the best “value” in terms of optics. I would much rather spend $200 on a binocular that performs like the average $400 model rather than spend $400 on an average $400 model.

Second, some of the specs and features of the Argos jumped out at me. For one it is lightweight. Two it is an open bridge design. Three it has an advertised 34 mm objective diameter and, four, it had a listed field of view of over 400 feet. The last point, as it turns out, was a typo on the website. The actual field of view is 7.1 degrees (371 feet)…..a bit of a letdown but not a deal breaker when you handle and look through this model.
Lastly, I did also request their high end Cronus model but it was not available prior to the holidays (hopefully more on that in the near future).


So let us start with the basic advertised specifications and features:

EYE RELIEF  17.4 mm
FIELD OF VIEW FEET @1000 Yards 407 ft
CLOSE FOCUS  4 m /13 ft
WEIGHT 16.3 oz

ESP Dielectric Coating– Enhanced Spectral Prism Dielectric Coating ESP Dielectric Coating is a multi layer prism coating that reflects over 99% of the light to your eyes bringing you a clear, bright image that displays accurate color reproduction.

XPL Coating– Xtra Protective Layer coating XPL Coating gives you an extra protection on the exterior lenses from dirt, oil and scratches

Phase Corrected prisms  Phase corrected prisms produce images that have better contrast, a higher resolution and better color reproduction

BaK4 prisms  Bak-4 glass prisms reflect more light to your eyes which will give you brighter and sharper image.

Advanced FMC  Advanced Fully Multi-Coated lenses gives you better light transmission to bring optimum brightness and true color across the entire light spectrum.

Long Eye Relief  Long eye relief can be particularly important for eyeglass wearers because longer eye relief allows them to still see the entire field of view.

Close Focus  Close focus is important for those who are nature observers and especially important if you are going to watch butterflies or insects

Twist Up Eyecups  Twist up eyecups with intermediate stops allow you to set the eyecups to the ideal eye relief for you eyes

Waterproof  Waterproof to protect the binocular in the harshest weather conditions or if accidentally submerged underwater

That information is a direct copy/paste from the Athlon website. So, as you can see, the only two features that it does not offer are ED glass and a field flattening element in the eyepiece design. Keep in mind this model does have a regular “street price” of around $170.

Optical Performance:

Optical performance is always my first place to start. Don’t get me wrong. I think ergonomics and mechanics can play an equally important role but optical performance is the foundation to which the other two build upon (in my opinion).

As mentioned above the field of view should be considered average for a 30-something class binocular. Typically as you move up in objective size with a particular binocular line you lose field of view (assuming all else is equal). Your normal 8×30 or 8×32 model has an average field of view around 393 feet (7.5 degrees) with some of the more impressive models approaching and exceeding 420 feet. The 34 mm objective brings that field of view down a bit but not objectionably so.

So what strikes me about the optical performance of this model?

Good question. I think, optically, the size of the sweet spot and the overall transition from the sweet spot out to the field stop is what I like most. The apparent sweet spot size is approximately 80% of the field with a very gradual transition to the out of focus edge of the field of view. Image deterioration at the edge seems to be entirely field curvature. The out of focus area is only just out of focus as a slight bump of the focusing knob brings it into focus.

How about the other optical performance areas such as apparent brightness, sharpness, contrast, etc…?

My experience with this and other models at this price point leads me to believe that it is slightly above average in most areas. Apparent sharpness within the sweet spot is more than acceptable. The contrast level is good but not very good or excellent. CA control is surprisingly better than expected within the sweet spot. Apparent brightness is above average. The image also has a neutral to ever so slightly warm color representation.

So what do I think about the overall image representation?

I like it. The combination of sweet spot size, color representation and apparent sharpness all make the image seem very natural to my eyes. There isn’t any eyestrain either because of alignment issues or excessive distortions or aberrations. So, in other words, the binocular is a solid little performer at the $200 price point. I definitely prefer its optical performance over some other recently introduced models reviewed previously at this price point.

The minimum close focusing distance for my eyes is approximately 7 feet.



No optical performance pun intended but I think this is where this model really shines. I genuinely love the ergonomics of this model. The barrels are long and without bumps or extrusions. As a result there is plenty of room for your fingers to fit in between the barrels. In addition the eyecups are nicely contoured along the rim so the eyecups fit comfortably in/around my eye sockets.

The binoculars feel even more lightweight than their listed 16.3 ounce weight which is most likely the result of open bridge design coupled with the fairly long , for a 30 mm class, barrels (5.25 inches). The focusing knob is large and the positioning of the open bridge design easily allows my index finger to rest comfortably across it during regular use.


The ocular diameter appears fairly large in relation to the diameter of the eyecups. In my experience this makes for easy eye placement especially when coupled with the 4.25 mm exit pupil (and as opposed to the 3.75 mm exit pupil of an 8×30 model).


In regular use I have no major objections to the mechanical performance of this model. I do have some nitpicks though that I will get into shortly. Central hinge tension is good with the IPD setting not moving during regular use. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. It takes approximately 1.5 turns of the focusing knob to cover that distance with a little (1/4 of a turn) remaining beyond infinity for my eyes. Focusing tension is smooth with slightly less than average tension. I do not find this objectionable since the focusing speed is average to slightly slow.


There is a small amount of play in the focusing knob at one point in the focusing range. It is not large, maybe 1/8th of an inch but I do notice it on occasion during regular use.

The eyecups rotate out for non-eyeglass wearing individuals. I don’t wear glasses but typically have to use a binocular with the eyecups fully collapsed to see the full field of view. Blame my big nose and close-set eyes for that situation. The eyecups work very well either fully collapsed or fully extended. There feels like there should be an intermediate setting but the eyecups do not stay set in any position other than the two mentioned.



So what are my final thoughts on this model?

In general I like it. It fits a useful niche. The binocular is smaller than a full-sized 40 mm model and light enough for you to wear around your neck all day and not even notice that it is there. The ergonomics are excellent in my opinion. I love holding and using this model. Optically it punches slightly above its price point. If only the field of view was closer to its advertised 407 feet I think I might be more enthusiastic  about its overall optical performance. Still, even with that small nitpick I could easily see myself using this little model as a regular day to day binocular….and let us not forget one of its more appealing overall characteristics….its price. 

Theron Optics Questa 8×42

I have been meaning to sit down and type up a review of the new Theron Questa 8×42 for a few days but just haven’t had the time until now. The Questa is a new model which has just been added to the Theron lineup and is available in both the 8×42 and 10×42 configurations. For those not familiar with Theron Optics they are a house brand for a company known at Predator Optics. Predator Optics sells a wide variety of sport optic and outdoor gear. The Theron Optics division has been in existence for the last 7 or 8 years and has been known for providing very good optical optical performance for the price (value). Prior to the introduction of the Questa their highest performing model was the Wapiti ED-APO. The Wapiti ED-APO, introduced several years ago, has many of the high end features such as dielectric prism coating and ED glass lenses. The Questa has the same features but takes performance to another level by introducing field flatteners in the eyepiece design.


Looking at the entire binocular market a potential buyer will find very few consumer-grade binoculars that utilize field flatteners. For many years only one or two companies, such as Nikon, utilized field flatteners in any of their binoculars. That small group got a little bigger several years ago when Swarovski introduced their Swarovision models. Since then one or two other models utilizing field flatteners have been introduced, the latest being the Theron Questa.

So, what makes the use of a field flattener so important? Well, what it does allow for is to have more of the field of view in focus. We often hear the phrase “edge to edge” sharpness. Field flattened binoculars often come the closest to being able to produce this level of performance. This then begs the question as to why more companies aren’t using them in their designs. As with any optical design there are drawbacks. The most often mentioned in this case is AMD (Angular Magnification Distortion) or “rolling ball” as it has been affectionately called as of late. AMD refers to a phenomenon where the image appears to roll as if across the surface of a ball when panning with the binocular. To counteract this to some extent manufacturers introduced some percentage of pincushion distortion. Such is the case with the Theron Questa. As someone that can notice AMD but is not bothered by it unless it is excessive I can happily report that the Questa displays very little of it.

So before we go into my impressions of optical performance, ergonomics, etc… let’s look at the basic features/specifications of the binocular.

8×42 model

– 22.6 mm of eye relief

– 425 foot (8.1 degree) field of view

– 822 grams (28.9 ounces)

– 6.2 inches tall

– Dielectric/phase coated, prisms

– Broadband Fully multicoated lenses

– ED glass objective design

– Nitrogren filled / waterproof

– 4 foot close focus

– 1.25 rotations from close focus to infinity counterclockwise (with an additional .25 rotation past infinity)


– Same overall specs and features as the 8x but with a 336 foot (6.4 degree) field of view, 18.5 mm of eye relief and an 812 gram (28.6 ounce) weight

Optical Performance:

As mentioned above the most prominent advertising feature with this model is the edge to edge sharpness. Does it really deliver edge to edge sharpness? Yes and no. As I have mentioned when describing various field flattener models in the past the image is sharp across more of the field of view than non-field flattened models. Is it edge to edge? Yes, in a sense it is however there is a small zone where the image loses a very small amount of sharpness. I would estimate the inner 3/4ths of the field of view is sharp and then there is about 10% of the field of view is slightly less sharp followed by the remaining 15% of outer edge of the image being as sharp as the central 75%. As has been discussed previously this “ring” is possibly where the AMD and pincushion distortion overlap within the image.

Apparent sharpness inside the sweetspot and at the edge is excellent. I have no difficulty pulling out the finest detail both at close focus and out on distant targets. CA control is excellent in the central 75% with a gradual worsening outwards. I would call it moderate at the very outer edge.
Apparent contrast is very good but a slightly warm to neutral color bias does influence this area to some extent. Apparent brightness is excellent and in comparison to just about every other binocular I have on hand it is notably brighter in challenging conditions.

When you combine all of these attributes then the resulting experience is truly extraordinary. The field of view is wide, so much of the image is in focus with the center, colors are accurately represented, CA is well controlled and the image is bright. I would use the term “panoramic” to describe the experience. Only a few of the binoculars I have owned in the past gave me a similar experience. The Meopta Meostar and Nikon Premier LX/HG/Venturer are the two that immediately come to mind because of the field flattener elements with the understanding that the Questas is a bit better because of the effective use of ED glass and the notably wider field of view. Definitely an “immersive” experience.


The largest objections to previous versions of this design was that the large oculars forced the eyecup diameter to be larger than average. This in turn forced consumers to use wider IPD settings to compensate to some extent. This created a less than ideal viewing comfort level for many individuals.


That issue has now been resolved with the Questa design. The eyecups are notably narrower at both the base and end which allows for narrower IPD settings and a much more appreciable comfort level. The eyecups have one intermediate setting between fully collapsed and fully extended and have a solid feel to their design.

The rubber armoring is smooth in texture and very pleasing to the touch. Unlike one of the previous versions of this design this model has narrower overall feel as a result. The texture of the rubber in combination with the thumb indents provides a similar feeling to that of the original Swarovski EL 8×32.

Both the focusing speed and tension of the Questa are close to ideal. As mentioned in the specs above it takes 1.25 revolutions to go from a close focus of about 4 feet all the way out to infinity. I tend to find binoculars with 1.25-1.5 revolutions to be ideal as they provide a nice compromise between too fast and too slow so long as the focusing tension is sufficient enough not overshoot “perfect focus” on any given object. This is the case with this model.

I have not noted any fit and finish issues with this model. Every component performs as intended (eyecups, central hinge, diopter, focuser, etc…). The diopter adjustment is located in the classic position around the right eyepiece. It does not lock but does have enough resistance to keep it locked in place.


Accessories include carrying case, neckstrap, objective covers and rainguard. The Questas carry a one year no-fault warranty and a lifetime manufacturer defect warranty. They have a listed retail price of $499 but are currently on an introductory sale price of $425.


Not really as my concerns with the previous versions have all been addressed. Some individuals might find the listed 28.9 ounce weight objectionable It is an ounce or so heavier than the premium models offered…

Swarovski SV 8.5 x43 – 28 ounces
Zeiss SF 8×42 – 27.5 ounces
Leica Ultravid Plus 8×42 – 27.9 ounces
Nikon EDG 8×42 – 27.7 ounces

Compared to some other popular mid-high priced models….

Leica Trinovid 8×42 – 28.6 ounces
Meopta Meostar HD 10×42 – 27 ounces
Zeiss Conquest HD – 28 ounces

I often find it interesting to compare specs on paper with various models. Keeping that in mind the Questa compares very favorably with models costing 4-5 times the price. Obviously, as fun as that might be, the real test is in actual use. I would encourage anyone to compare the Questa with any of the models listed above and report your experiences. There might not be as big of a gap as the price would dictate.

In summary, I find the Questa to be a bit of a game-changer for a variety of reasons. Yes, there were two models based on the same design from other companies but the eyecup size made “ease of use” much more difficult for me at least. This binocular has all of their benefits and none of their concerns. Optically this binocular has everything going for it…wide field of view, very good CA control, a huge sweet spot, excellent brightness and color and, ergonomically, I find it a pleasure to use.

The real question, as with many optics coming out of China, is whether or not the quality control is going to be good from unit to unit. With a sample of one in my possession I cannot comment on that issue but would be interested in others’ comments once more of these are purchased.

Two big thumbs up from me on this binocular!

Maven Optics B3 8×30 Binocular

I like to add variety to my reviews so let me start off this one by saying that I really like this binocular. The Maven B3 8×30 checks off all the boxes for what I find appealing in a binocular. The optics, ergonomics and mechanics are all very good and I would have a difficult time believing that folks would find fault with them when it is considered as a “stand alone” product. Why do I say that? Well, when you ask most demanding optics users they will probably run through a checklist of items that they want in a binocular. If I had to take a stab at that list then it would probably look something like this….


– Optically bright, sharp, wide field of view, good neutral color, low levels of color fringing.

– Ergonomically easy to use and comfortable not only in the hand but also up against your face.

– Mechanically sound – focus wheel is smooth with no slop and very precise. Not too fast or too slow in rotation. Not too stiff or too loose in tension. Eyecups have to stay in place and so does the central hinge.

– Good accessories that are useful and actually fit the product.

– Reliable and thorough warranty and service from the company

Well, the Mavens check off all of those boxes. Lets break it down by section and get into more detail with each of these areas

Optical Performance

Lets cut right to the chase. I mean really who cares if the binocular fits like a glove in your hand if the optical performance doesn’t wow you? Who cares if the company will replace your binocular free of charge if you damage it unless you like putting it up to your eyes? Thankfully you don’t have to compromise when it comes to the B3 8×30.

Optically the Maven has a great deal going for it. Please keep in mind that my comments are general in nature and not specifically geared towards the fact that it is an 8×30 configuration unless otherwise noted. For one it is bright…even for an 8×30. I am referencing apparent brightness here which is often a combination of a variety of factors. It can be influenced by things such as color representation, color saturation, field of view, sweet spot size, eye relief, etc… We are talking about the apparent brightness here not just the light transmission level. If you could you contrive of some way that a person could look through the binocular without handling it then I have a hard time believing they would be able to differentiate this from several very good larger diameter binoculars in almost any light condition. Sure the smaller exit pupil would be notice in terms of eye placement but other than that one issue I think it would be a difficult call.

Second the apparent sharpness is excellent. In either viewing objects at close focus or several miles away I have never felt as if the binocular was lacking in terms of resolving ability. Everything seems very sharply defined. As with the case of apparent brightness it can be difficult to separate sharpness into its own category since it relies on other optical characteristics, such as contrast, to generate a specific impression. I have yet run into a situation with this binocular where I felt like I wanted better apparent sharpness.


Third, the color representation of this binocular seems entirely neutral to my eyes. I have compared with several other binoculars in my collection that either display warm or cold color biases. In comparison to them the B3 seems entirely neutral. If pressed, and under certain circumstances, I might say that the image comes off ever so slightly warm but that isn’t the impression I receive during regular usage.


Fourth, contrast and color saturation are very good but not what I would call excellent. It is definitely above average in this area but colors don’t necessarily pop as much as binocular that utilizes coatings to accentuate certain ranges of the color spectrum. Don’t misunderstand me, there hasn’t been a time where I didn’t see the beautiful blue associated with an Eastern Bluebird or the scarlet red associated with a Northern Cardinal. The colors look very good through this binocular but not necessarily heavily saturated.

Fifth, chromatic aberration control and sweet spot size are interrelated in my opinion. My estimation as to the apparent sweet spot size of this unit is approximately 75%. Keep in mind a couple of things as you read that. For one the field of view is very large, even for an 8×30-something binocular. At 8.2 degrees or 430 feet it is well above average. It wasn’t that long ago that all but the most expensive 8×30-somethings had average fields of view in the 7.5 degree (393 feet) range. Then the average shifted a little higher to where many of them approach the 8 degree (420 feet) mark. The Maven and only one or two other roof prism models now exceed that number. When you consider the price point that the Mavens sell at I think it is a difficult characteristic to ignore. So, 75% of an 8.2 degree field of view is very large in my opinion.


In addition, the transition from the sweet spot to the edge of the field is very gradual and appears to be entirely field curvature. I say the latter simply because with a very slight bump of the focus knob the edge of the field of view resolves itself into a sharp focus. The transition area between the sweet spot and that outside edge also gradually resolves into focus as you slowly turn the knob. The benefit to this, especially if your eyes have a good level of accommodation, is that the sweet spot can appear to be even larger than it is depending on the circumstances.

I mentioned color fringing in reference to this simply because the two are often interrelated. Such is the case with this model. Inside the sweet spot chromatic aberration is lacking. The image appears very “washed” and “cleaned” as a result. In this area it reminds me very much of the Zeiss FL and the Zen Ray ED series. Outside of the sweet spot in the transition zone all the way out to the very edge the level of lateral chromatic aberration increases. At no point do I find it objectionable though and only notice it when looking for it under extreme conditions.


I enjoy the feel of this binocular in my hands. It has the newer “open bridge” style of central hinge where there is only a single hinge but it is extremely short in nature and situated close to the ocular section of the binocular. My index finger comfortably rests on the focusing knob while my middle finger sits on the central hinge and both my ring finger and pinky wrap very comfortably around the objective barrel.

I find the texture of the rubber armor to be very enjoyable as well. It has the “grippy” tactile sensation to it. When you couple this with a focusing knob that has a metal, checkered surface to it I have a difficult time believing the binocular could slip from your hands in any way. It just feels pleasant to hold. Keep in mind the physical weight of this binocular is listed only at 16.25 ounces. That certainly can add to the comfort level not only in your hand but also when hanging from your neck.

The ocular width of this binocular is large in comparison to the diameter of the eyecup. Translated that means that the eyecup width is fairly narrow in relation to entire diameter of the eyepiece. As a result the binocular passes nicely past my high-ridged nose and comfortably inside my eye sockets. With this position I experience no blackouts with the eyecup extended out to the first notched setting. With the eyecups fully collapsed I have to be more critical of eye positioning as the eye relief appears fairly good with this model.



After using this binocular daily for almost two weeks now I haven’t really found any mechanical concerns. As mentioned above the focus knob is smooth and exceptionally precise in feel. The 8×30 goes from a close focus a little over 5.5 feet out to a mountain a mile away in exactly one clockwise rotation of the focusing knob. That may seem “fast” to many individuals but the tension on the focusing knob controls the rotation to an extent that the focus doesn’t seem fast to my eyes. There is an extra quarter rotation beyond infinity focus with this unit.

The eyecups do twist out from fully collapsed to fully extended. There are several intermediate positions that the eyecups fall into as you rotate them outwards.




I have a few but nothing drastic. For one, the central hinge tension needs to be tighter for my personal preferences. I rarely share binoculars while out birding. If I do take someone with me then they either have their own or I give them one of my “loaner pairs” to use. As a result of this I want the central hinge tension to be tighter rather than looser. The B3 that I have in my position has central hinge tension that is a bit too loose. I haven’t accidentally knocked off the IPD in regular use but in removing the binocular from around my neck the neckstrap can get caught in my hood to the point that the IPD moves and I have to reposition it before the next use. This has only been a minor annoyance and one that is easily remedied on the manufacturer’s end.

Second, though I haven’t run into an issue with the eyecups moving from there set position there is some play when they fall into any of the intermediate positions between fully collapsed and fully extended. Again, I would assume this is fairly easily remedied in future production runs of this model.

Lastly, though I have no personal objections about having the binocular case as an optional item since I rarely put any of my binoculars in a case I think this is certainly an objection for some. A case, to my knowledge, has always been a regular part of any binoculars’ accessory package and shouldn’t be something that can be purchased separately.
A couple of further thoughts…..

1. I feel as if I didn’t say enough about the fit and finish of the binocular. I find it first rate in that there aren’t any concerns with the rubber armoring or the edges of any connecting components. I could also not find any type of internal debris inside either or the barrels. In other words the quality control on this particular unit seems to be excellent. There is a great deal of attention to detail evident in the design…even down to the word “Maven” inscribed on the front of beveled edge of the focusing wheel.

2.  We have often seen similar binoculars “rebadged” under different company labels. However those binoculars can often have notably different optical performance parameters and quality control levels. The first binocular that immediately comes to mind as I type this is the Vixen Foresta/Kenko (I forget the model name)/Theron Optics Wapiti LT. They all have the same chasis and practically the same specs on paper. Having owned all three I can say that there certainly was a difference in optical performance and quality control. I thought the Vixen was the most impressive optically of the group with the Theron not too far behind. Expectedly the Vixen was the most expensive also. If they all used the same components then I would expect that the coatings utilized on each model had a great deal to do with the final level of optical performance.



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.


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