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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:

POWER  8X
OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER 34 mm
EYE RELIEF  17.4 mm
FIELD OF VIEW ANGULAR  7.1°
FIELD OF VIEW FEET @1000 Yards 407 ft
FIELD OF VIEW METERS @1000 METERS  137 m
CLOSE FOCUS  4 m /13 ft
INTERPUPILLARY DISTANCE  56 mm-76 mm
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.

phonescoped2

Ergonomics:

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.

underside2

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).

oculars6
Mechanics:

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.

objectives2

Summary:

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.

theronfront

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)

10×42

- 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.

flowers
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.

Ergonomics:

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.

Questa

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.

objtheron

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.

Nitpicks?

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….

maven1

- 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.

zoe

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.

digibin

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.

playset

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.

Ergonomics

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.

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Mechanics

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.

Accessories

overall

Nitpicks

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.

 

 

“Inexpensive” Comparative 8×32 Binocular Review

A few months ago I was reading a thread on one of the sub-forums here where SteveC mentioned doing a $250 US and under binocular comparative review. I thought it was a great idea for several reasons so I decided to chip in and do one of my own. Steve and I have a few models in common but we also bring some different models to the table.

For those that aren’t “regulars” here on the forums you might question why we would pick this particular configuration and why this price range. I can’t speak for Steve but from my perspective it captures two very common ingredients in many binocular purchases… price and performance. For most consumers that aren’t binocular aficionados $250 is a great deal of money to spend on something that sees relatively limited use. Even suggesting that they spend $100 on a pair of binoculars might create a gasp or two. So why $250? Well, I think it is fairly commonly accepted that the biggest leap in optical performance that most of us experienced was when we went from bargain basement binoculars up to something in the $200-$300 price range. For many years I believe that most folks considered the $300 price point to be the “serious step-up” in performance. In recent years I think that price point has dropped but in an effort to include as many budget models as possible I felt that the $250 price point was reasonable.

With $250 you can get many of the latest features that were once found on binoculars costing $750-$1000 only a decade or so ago. I am referring to things like dielectric coated prisms, good ergonomics, good close focus and all of it in a compact package.

The next question then is why the 8×32 configuration? A similar discussion came up a few months ago on here. The general consensus is that the 8×42 is the most versatile configuration and thus probably the best seller across the entire binocular market. The 10×42 configuration is most likely the second most popular. My experience leads me to believe that the 8×32 configuration would very likely be 3rd. So, why would I pick the third most popular configuration? Well, up until recently the number of high-performing 8x32s in this price class has been relatively scarce. Sure, there were always a few models but it seems that manufacturers have finally taken notice of the popularity of this configuration and at this price point.

An 8×32 binocular provides a wonderful compromise in terms of optical performance and portability. During regular daylight hours it can be practically indistinguishable in overall performance when compared with an 8×42 from the same product line. Sure the slightly larger exit pupil of the 8×42 does allow your eye to roam a bit more around the image but there are so many more advantages to the 8×32 overall. Most 8×32 units are about 1/3rd shorter and a 1/3rd lighter than similar 8x42s. They also typically have wider fields of view. The price is also, normally, a little less. To continue along that line of thinking, our own pupils only dilate to between 2-4 mm during daylight hours. The exit pupil on an 8×32 mm binocular is 4 mm. The exit pupil with an 8×42 mm binocular is 5.25 mm. That extra 1.25 mm gives very little benefit to the consumer unless you are using the binocular in poor lighting conditions (the first few and last few minutes of light or under very heavy tree canopy).

So why did I choose these particular models? Well, both Celestron and Zen Ray have recently introduced dielectric-coated 8x32s at this price point. Celestron also has an even less expensive phase-coated model included in this review. The Leupold is new to the market and their first 8×32, that I am aware, of at this price point. I chose Opticron’s least expensive 8×32 though they offer another, slightly more expensive model that still fits in the review’s price range. SteveC is reviewing that one so I went with the less expensive alternative. Lastly, I am utilizing the Sightron Blue Sky as my baseline unit to compare the others two. The reason for that is fairly obvious. I have owned quite a few binoculars in a variety of configurations. They come and they go. I have now owned the Sightron for 2 years+ and have zero problems with it either optically or mechanically. I consider it to be the benchmark of relatively inexpensive 8×32 binoculars. The others have a tall order to fill if they are going to compete with that model.

The format of this review is going to be slightly different than many of my previous ones. I am going to provide a synopsis of each individual model first and then a comparative piece at the end. I leave it up to you folks to decide what you put priority in to determine which of these models would suit you personally.

comp

Celestron Trailseeker 8×32:

The Celestron Trailseeker is the first model being reviewed. Advertised specs are listed below:

• Field of view: 409 ft (118m) @ 1000 yards (7.8 degrees) • Eye relief: 15.6 mm (0.69 in)
• Exit pupil: 4 mm (0.16 in) • Near focus: 6.5 ft (1.98 m)
• Interpupillary distance: 56-73 mm (2.2-2.83 in)
• Prism type: BaK-4
• Nitrogen purged: Yes
• Size: 4.8 x 4.8 x 1.9 in (123 x 122 x 48 mm)
• Weight: 16 oz (510 g)

The standard advertised features list includes:
Fully Multi-coated Lenses

Phase Correction

Dielectric Prism Coatings

BaK-4 Prisms

The attractiveness of this model for most individuals focuses around its compact size and weight coupled with the introduction of dielectric coatings on the roof prism. Prior to the introduction of this model, and the Zen Ray ZRS, there wasn’t a truly compact “budget” 8×32 model on the market that offered dielectric prism coatings. Yes, the Vixen Foresta 8×32 roof and the Theron Optics Wapiti LT 8×32 both offered these features but they are not quite as light or as compact as the Celestron and Zen Ray.

Optical performance:

As always I would like to start with the optical performance of the Celestron. When placing this binocular to my eyes the one characteristic that immediately jumps out at me is the binoculars’ centerfield performance. The image inside of the sweet spot is tack sharp. I would have a hard time imagining anyone (meaning you Typo ) having an issue with this binocular in this area. Color representation appears very neutral across the entire image and apparent contrast is excellent particularly within the sweet spot.
So, there has to be a catch, right? Not another “$200” 32 mm roof prism binocular that offers all of these features. Well, there is. I did mention “those optical performance areas within the sweet spot”. The sweet spot appears to be the one area where I would find some fault with this particular model. My estimation of the size of the sweet spot would probably hover between 50-60% of the field of view. It is what I would consider smaller than average based on my experiences with a variety of 8×32 models at different price points.

The area outside of the sweet spot is out of focus as would be expected. Most of this appears to be the result of field curvature as I can refocus the next 30% of the image to almost “perfect focus” but not quite. That area that continues to remain out of focus is most likely the result of some astigmatism. The outer 10% can be refocused just as sharp as the sweet spot. Please do keep in mind that the field of view being discussed is 409 feet. I consider that wide for an 8×32 model at this price point when you consider the average to be about 390 feet.

The sweet spot size of this model and subsequent off-axis performance may or may not be acceptable to you personally. It is going to depend entirely on your individual preferences. In practice I did not find a problem optically when using this binocular. There was some flare under difficult lighting situations but I did not find it excessive.

Ergonomics/Functionality:

As you can see in the pictures this binocular offers a traditional, single hinge design. The central hinge is located very close to the true center of the binocular (eyecups collapsed) and is very short in length. This offers two advantages. For one, with typical hand positioning my pinky comfortably rests on the front of the barrel without coming even close to hanging out in front of the objective lens. Second, the focusing knob is positioned farther forward than some other models which not only gives my rather large nose plenty of room but also makes it easier for my index finger to rest naturally and comfortably on it.

The focusing knob itself is average in size and textured with large “ribbing” found on many models. Focusing tension is very good. There isn’t any backlash in the feel. Close focus to infinity occurs in just a little over one full turn of the focusing knob. Focusing direction is counterclockwise. Depth of focus is good in my opinion with perfect sharpness achieved gradually. In other words it is difficult to overshoot it.

The rubber armoring is ever so slightly textured providing a relatively smooth feel to the binocular. Coupling this with the 16 ounce weight makes the model feel potentially lighter than it actually is.

The rotating eyecups have one intermediate position between fully collapsed and fully extended and have the feel of most binoculars at this price point…..functional but not exceptional. Diopter adjustment is located in the common location around the right eyepiece.

Conclusion:
Considering the binocular as a whole I think it is certainly worth consideration. Its light physical weight and compact size coupled with its very good center of field performance will make it an attractive package to many individuals.

Celestron Nature DX 8×32:

Advertised Specs are as follows:
• Field of view: 388 ft @ 1000 yards (7.4 degrees) • Eye relief: 17.5 mm
• Exit pupil: 4 mm • Near focus: 6.5 ft
• Interpupillary distance: 56-72 mm
• Prism type: BaK-4
• Nitrogen purged: Yes
• Size: 5 x 4.9 x 1.8 in (123 x 122 x 48 mm)
• Weight: 18 oz (510 g)

The advertised features list includes:
- Fully-multicoated glass surfaces
- Phase coated prisms
- Bak-4 prisms

The two key features that make this unit attractive on paper are the price, around $120 US and the use of phase coating on the roof prisms. Several years ago a few companies introduced phase coated 8×42 models at this price point but 8x32s with the same features are extremely few and far between. This model is slightly larger and heavier than the previously reviewed Trailseeker model. The field of view is also slightly narrower but with the benefit of slightly longer eye relief.

Optically:

This binocular is not a standout in any one area. Apparent sharpness is acceptable but not “very good” or “great”. Apparent brightness is average. CA control inside the sweet spot is acceptable with a gradual worsening as one moves closer to the edge. The size of the sweet spot hovers around the 60% mark with an exceptionally gradual transition as one moves further out into the field of view. That is actually one of the strong points of this binocular in my opinion. Though just about every other model in this review is as sharp if not sharper than the Nature DX the transition from the sweet spot to the area off axis is only bettered by the Sightron and possibly the Opticron. As a result the image appears very relaxed to my eyes. I actually enjoy using this unit at times despite that it really does not stand out in any area.

Ergonomics/Mechanics

From an ergonomic perspective I enjoy holding and using this model. I have fairly large hands but not overly so. Some of the models being reviewed here are a bit too small for me to call perfect though many other individuals might find them ideal. The size of Nature DX is bigger than all of the others except for the Sightron.

Mechanics/Quality Control:

Close focus is notably better than advertised and falls right around 3 feet. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. Focusing speed is average at just under 1.5 turns. Focusing tension is acceptable in my opinion with just a bit too much “stickiness” to make it ideal.
The eyecups have two intermediate positions between fully collapsed and fully extended. They have a more solid feel than many of the eyecup designs found at or even slightly above this price point.
The Nature DX features rubber armoring over the entire binocular giving it a very solid feel. Green reflective multicoating is evident on both the ocular and objective lenses. I did not note any quality control issues while inspecting the binocular internally or externally.


Conclusion:

Though this model is probably on the bottom of the list for overall optical performance I believe it would still be a solid choice for someone who has budget as a primary concern but who still values the benefits of the 8×32 configuration.

The Opticron Oregon 8×32

Listed specs as per the Opticron USA website:

• Field of view: 423 ft (141 m)@ 1000 yards (8.1 degrees)
• Eye relief: 15 mm
• Exit pupil: 4 mm
• Near focus: 5.9 ft
• Interpupillary distance: 58-73 mm
• Prism type: BaK-4
• Size: 4.3 x 4.6 inches
- Weight : 18.2 ounces

This model attracted me because of its shorter length and its sub-$200 price tag. It is not phase coated and in direct comparison to the more expensive Discovery model the difference in contrast and apparent brightness is fairly obvious.

Optical Performance:

Despite the lack of phase-coating on this model I find the image quality rather appealing. The field of view is notably wide at 423 feet and the transition from the sweet spot (about 65%) to off axis is gradual. Off axis performance appears to be a typical combination of field curvature and astigmatism. I do not find the severity of it to be detrimental to the overall viewing experience provided by this binocular. Some models I have tried have a wonderfully sharp and relatively generous sweet spot but your eyes are almost forced to focus on it because off-axis performance is so poor in comparison. That is not the case with the Oregon. I find the image very relaxed and natural as a result.

Apparent sharpness is good but not great or excellent. The interesting part is I don’t find it objectionable at all. In direct comparison to some other models though the apparent sharpness does not look “as good” as I would prefer. One other issue I would like to mention is color bias. Again, standing on its own, I do not note any color bias. The overall brightness appears a little dimmer than I would prefer which can lead some individuals to reference it as a color bias. On one occasion though, in bright lighting conditions, I did notice a bit of a green-yellow bias to the image. I have not noted it since.

Ergonomics/Mechanics:

As I had mentioned a bit earlier I actually find the shorter body design of the Oregon enjoyable. The width of the barrels gives me enough area to get a solid purchase. The relatively wide, though streamlined focusing knob adds to the desirability of this binoculars’ ergonomics.

The focusing tension is fairly stiff but not unmanageable on this particular unit. Close focusing distance appears to be accurately advertised at 6 feet. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. Focusing speed is fast at just under 2/3rds of a turn from close focus to infinity. With many binoculars I might find this objectionable but since the focusing tension is fairly tight I have not found an issue with overshooting perfect focus.

The eyecup design appears fairly reliable. There is only one intermediate setting between fully collapsed and fully extended but since there is considerable tension in the design I have not run into any issues with the eyecups collapsing unexpectedly. I did not note any issues with un-blackened surfaces internally though stray light may be somewhat of an issue under certain lighting conditions as the objective lenses are situated fairly close to the edge of the barrel. Ocular and objective lens reflections are a combination of purple and green.

Conclusion:

This binocular appeals to me for a variety of reasons. The shape and overall feel of this model are definitely contributing factors. The comfortably sized sweet spot and gradual transition off axis also plays a large part. For the $150 or so price that these sell for I definitely think they are worthy of consideration if budget and size are your primary concerns.

Leupold Acadia 8×32

Listed specs are as follows:

• Field of view: 394 ft @ 1000 yards (7.5 degrees) • Eye relief: 15 mm
• Exit pupil: 4 mm • Near focus: 5 ft
• Interpupillary distance: 57-71 mm
• Prism type: BaK-4
• Nitrogen purged: Yes
• Size: 5 x 4.9 x 1.8 in (123 x 122 x 48 mm)
- Weight: 18 oz

Advertised features include:

Leopold’s Multicoat-4 on all lens surfaces
Phase coated prisms
Waterproof and Nitrogen Purged

There is a specific reason I placed the Leopold’s next in the review. It will be evident shortly. Leupold has had the Acadia model in its lineup for several years. To the best of my knowledge the Acadia is/was Leupold’s least expensive phase-coated roof prism. The 8×32 is the most recent configuration introduced in this model line.

Ergonomics/Mechanics:

I decided to switch the order of evaluation with this particular model. The reason is fairly simple. After receiving it I realized that the body is almost a perfect twin of the Opticron Oregon 8×32 reviewed above. There are slight differences to the texturing and design of the rubber armor but the size, shape and mechanical qualities are all identical. So, everything I mentioned ergonomically and mechanically about the Oregon can be applied here.
Looking down the objective end of each there are some notable differences internally. For one the color of the anti-reflective coatings is different. Where the Opticron was predominantly green with some purple mixed in the Leupold is predominantly amber with a little green highlighted under certain conditions. Second, the Leupold has notably more baffling between the objective lens and prism.

You will also note that there is some difference in terms of the field of view of each model. The Opticron is listed at 8.1 degrees (423 feet) while the Leupold is listed at 7.5 degrees (394 feet). One look at the ocular lenses of each will provide some of the explanation there. The ocular lenses are slightly different. At first glance I almost concluded that one was concave and the other convex slightly. What I realized later was the shape and style of the eyecups was providing a bit of an optical illusion. What I can say is that the Leupold’s ocular lens diameter is slightly wider than that of the Opticron’s.

The close focusing distance is approximately 6 feet. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. Focusing tension is very good with just the right amount of tension to give a sense of control. The focusing speed is fairly fast at approximately ¾ of a turn from close focus to infinity.
The eyecup design is the typical rotate in and out style with one intermediate stop between completely collapsed and completely extended. They have a very solid feel to the mechanism and slide slightly past the intermediate position before sliding back and “locking” in place.

Optical Performance:

As with the ergonomic comparison these two binoculars are more alike than not optically…with some key differences. Those differences are in the areas of apparent brightness, contrast and edge performance. Since the Leupold is phase-coated the image is appreciably brighter and with more contrast. Colors seem to pop a bit more as a result. The difference in ocular lens design does not only affect the field of view, as noted above, but also the center of field and edge performance as well. While I noted a very gradual transition from the sweet spot to off axis in the Opticron the Leupold is slightly more abrupt. Abrupt enough for me to take notice in a side by side comparison. Because of the increased contrast and brightness the apparent sharpness within the sweet spot seems to be a tad better but I have not done any scientific tests with or without a booster to confirm this. It is just an impression. Off axis there seems to be slightly more field curvature and astigmatism which tends to force your eyes to focus more on the center of the image. I do not find it offensive but worth mentioning in comparison to the Oregon. I would estimate the size of the sweet spot to hover around 55-60% of the image.

Conclusion:

From an ergonomic standpoint I find this binocular appealing. The width of the barrels gives my hands enough area to grip despite the fairly short overall length of this model. Optically the binocular is a fair representation of 8×32 binoculars at this price point. I would prefer the sweet spot to be larger with slightly better edge performance but the performance within the sweet spot tends to make up for that to some extent.

Zen Ray ZRS 8×32

Dimension (HxW) 4.7″ (L)x4.4″ (W)
Weatherproofing Waterproof/Fogproof
Magnification 8x
Field of View 409ft/1000yards
Eye Relief 15.6mm
Close Focus 6 ft
Weight 15.5 oz
Interpupilary distance (IPD in mm) 56-73

Listed features include:

Fully-multicoated
Phase Coated
Dielectric Coated
Waterproof/Nitrogen purged

As was discussed on the forums previously this model is very similar to the Celestron Trailseeker mentioned above both externally and optically. The attractiveness of this model for consumers is going to focus around the dielectric prism coating, the physical size of the binocular and its low physical weight.

Optical Performance:

When first placing this binocular up to my eyes I am initially struck by a few optical performance areas. The first is the apparent sharpness. I find it to be above average in this area. I have no difficulty resolving extremely fine details on just about any object that I focus on. Apparent brightness and contrast are also very good. If an individual could look through this binocular without feeling its physical size I have difficulty believing they would note any difference between it and a larger objective model particularly in these two areas. Color bias is ever so slightly warm but not noticeable unless in direct comparison with another model.

The size of the sweet spot appears to be slightly above average compared to the other models so far in this comparison. I would estimate it at being between 70-75%. It is large enough that I don’t feel my eyes being focused on the center of the image. Edge performance appears to be almost entirely field curvature as I can very easily refocus the outer 25-30% of the image with a moderate turn of the focusing knob.

Ergonomics/Mechanics:

Everything noted above ergonomically about the Trailseeker model can be applied here as they are practically identical in every regard. This model is slightly longer than the Opticron/Leupold models but with a narrower barrel. There is plenty of room for my pinky to rest in front of the central hinge with about a half of an inch left over. Focusing knob size and positioning seems close to ideal based on the size of my hand and personal preferences.
Close focusing distance is a little longer than either the Leupold or Opticron at just a little bit under 7 feet. Focusing tension is, again, very good but a little bit “looser” than either of the two models discussed immediately above. Focusing speed is average in my opinion as it takes 1.25 turns to go from close focus to infinity.

The eyecup design is the typical rotate in/out style. There is one intermediate setting between fully collapsed and fully extended. The eyecups are designed in such a way to allow the surface of the ocular lens to sit at very close to the same level as the edge of the eyecup. The result is plenty of usable eye relief.

As mentioned in the introduction of this model one of its key selling points is its low physical weight. The listed weight of the binocular is 16 oz. With the average weight of many 8x32s being around 21-22 ounces this is a noticeable improvement in this area. There are one or two models that are lighter but they can sacrifice features or performance in other areas such as field of view or full rubber armoring.

Conclusion:
This binocular has several unique features that make it attractive to potential consumers. The light physical weight, the dielectric prism coating and the overall design are sure to appeal to many individuals looking for the next step forward in relatively inexpensive 8×32 binoculars.

Sightron Blue Sky SII 8×32

Listed specs are as follows:

Magnification: 8
Object Diameter: 32
Eye Relief: 17.5
Fov: 394 feet at 100 yards (7.5 degrees)
Length: 5 1/2
Weight: 17 ounces
Finish: Grn Rubber
Exit Pupil: 4
Minimum Focus: 7 feet

Listed features include:

Full multicoating
Phase coating
Silver prism coating
Waterproof/nitrogen purged

On paper this binocular does not really stand out particularly in comparison to some of the other more recent offerings on this list. The prisms are phase coated but only silver coated (a step below dielectric prism coating in terms of reflectivity). Their field of view is good but not great and they are physically longer, though not heavier, than the other models on the list.

So why include them?

Well, despite the lack of some of most cutting edge features they still hold their own both optically and ergonomically compared to some of the latest offerings. I have had my pair for a little over two years now and continue to be impressed with them whenever I pick them up.


Ergonomics/Mechanics:

Ergonomically I find this binocular very desirable. The 5 inch+ frame and open bridge design gives my hand plenty of room to get a secure purchase on it. The size and positioning of the focusing knob is close to ideal. Some individuals have mentioned stiffness in the focusing knob tension on some units. I have owned two of these binoculars and have extensively handled a third. Each had slightly different amounts of tension but none of them had what I would call an excessively stiff focus. Yes, the focusing tension does stiffen up noticeably in colder weather but not the point where the binocular becomes unusable. Close focusing distance is just under 7 feet. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. Focusing speed is average and requires about 1.25 turns to go from close focus to infinity.
The eyecup design is the conventional twist-up/twist down design. It has three intermediate settings between fully collapsed and fully extended. The eyecups sit firmly in place at each of these settings. I have not had any issues with the eyecups collapsing unexpectedly though, admittedly, I typically use them in the fully collapsed position.

Internal baffling behind the objective is very good. In regular use I have not run into any pronounced issues with stray light except under the most challenging conditions. Reflections on both the objective and ocular lenses are a deep green.

Optical Performance:

As I had mentioned in my original review this binocular does not stand out in any one particular area optically. What it does do is perform very well in every optical area. Since this binoculars’ introduction the design has been utilized by two other companies. One of these models has received some very favorable reviews by two internet optics review sites. The key area often mentioned in reference to this design is the high level of apparent brightness. That is certainly the case with the Sightron. I have compared it on several occasions with some 42 mm ED glass binoculars. On more than one occasion I forget that I am looking through an 8×32 because it actually appears brighter than the 42 mm models.

Apparent contrast is also well above average in my opinion. The image has a slightly warm (red) color bias which I think enhances the contrast level under certain environmental conditions and on certain objects. Apparent sharpness is also very good and possibly bordering on excellent. It is certainly excellent for the price and is only really bettered, particularly in the center of the field of view by much more expensive 8×32 models. Sweet spot size is better than average and hovers, to my eyes, between 75-80% of the field of view. Edge performance is predominantly field curvature which, for those with eyes that still have good accommodation, provides a very relaxed and natural image. Chromatic aberration is well controlled within the sweet spot and only moderate in the area out of focus off axis.

Conclusion:

The Sightron Blue Sky SII is a very well rounded binocular both optically and ergonomically. It does not excel in any one area but rates very highly in all areas. This binocular has served as my reference standard for inexpensive 8x32s and for good reason. It still needs to be on everyone’s short list when performance and price are your primary concerns.

Comparison of various models

With this many 8×32 models on hand I cannot help but want to make some comparisons in terms of optical performance and ergonomics. Each has a relatively unique feel and combination of optical features.

Ergonomics:

If physical size is your primary concern in a binocular then I don’t see how you can overlook either the Opticron Oregon or the Leupold Acadia. Both are short 32 mm models with relatively wide barrels. They can be snugly placed in a cargo pocket or in the edge of a field bag. They only take up slightly more space than your typical 25 mm compact model. The Zen Ray ZRS and Celestron Trailseeker are just slightly longer than these two with the Celestron Nature DX and Sightron Blue Sky being notably longer than either of the other four.

If weight is your primary concern then both the Zen Ray ZRS and the Celestron Trailseeker have to be high on your list. At 16 oz they are the lightest binoculars in this group and in the top 3 or 4 lightest 8×32 mm binoculars period. The Sightron Blue Sky is just slightly behind at 17 ounces. The Opticron Oregon, Leupold Acadia and Celestron Nature DX are just behind that at approximately 18 ounces.

In terms of overall handling I tend to prefer the longer binoculars as my hands are slightly larger than average. The Sightron with its open bridge design is probably my favorite as a result. The Celestron Nature DX would probably be next and then I am fairly torn between the other four models. I appreciate the fatter barrels of the Leupold Acadia and the Opticron Oregon but also like the central hinge placement of the Zen Ray ZRS and the Celestron Trailseeker.

The focusing knob and its associated characteristics are always an interesting discussion topic because there is such a wide range of preferences for different individuals. In handling all of these models I have to say that I found all of them acceptable in terms of focusing speed and tension. I did not find one notably better than the others. It is the specific combination of focusing tension and focusing speed that gives one the overall impression of the focusing mechanism. If the focusing speed is fast and the focusing tension is “loose” (for lack of a better word) then it is easy to not only overshoot perfect focus but also give one the impression of a shallow depth of field. If focusing speed is very slow and focusing tension is very stiff then it is easy to become frustrated as you can’t focus fast enough to get on a fast moving object. The key is to find the correct combination of each characteristic. I have to say that I think all of these binoculars pulled that off quite nicely.

Before moving into optical performance combinations I wanted to mention a few things. There are some issues that are of high importance for various individuals but not necessarily to me for a variety of reasons. Issues such as focusing direction, stray light control, type of edge distortion, etc… I made an effort to include each of these characteristics when describing the individual models as I know folks have an interest in them. Personally I don’t seem to notice focusing direction unless someone asks me about it. My hands and mind seem to adapt relatively easily. Much the same could be said of edge distortions. I really have to look hard to notice issues such as rolling ball or pincushion distortion. Stray light concerns also tend to fall into this area. Unless the resulting glare or ghosting is extremely obvious I tend to compensate for it intuitively. So, if my comments are lacking a bit in this areas you have an understanding as to why that may be the case.

Optical Performance:

I am guessing that some folks have been eagerly waiting for this section. I know many individuals, myself included, can easily overlook some ergonomic or mechanical concerns if the optical performance is there. So how do these models stack up against one another? I think the answer is going to depend in large part on your personal preferences. Do I think that one model stands out head and shoulders above the others? No, not really. I do feel that one model, the Celestron Nature DX was a little bit behind the others as a collective group. The apparent sharpness on that model was not quite as good as the others and it left me feeling a bit lacking at times. Apparent contrast and apparent brightness were also a little bit less than the others. It is the least expensive of the group though at roughly $120 US.

The apparent external similarity between two different sets of the binoculars in this comparison does carry over a bit into the optical performance arena. I felt that the Zen Ray ZRS and the Celestron Trailseeker were more alike than not optically though the ZRS gave a slightly more relaxed image. I cannot say that this was the result of quality control/alignment issues as I did not experience eyestrain with any of the models in this study. The Zen Ray unit has an ever so slightly larger sweet spot and/or slightly less edge distortion. I seem to gravitate towards binoculars that have less astigmatism and more field curvature in their particular combination of off axis performance. It makes for a more gradual transition from the sweet spot to the edge of the field of view. I am guessing this is partly due to the fact that my eyes still have a great deal of accommodation left in them.

As I mentioned in their individual reviews above the Leupold Acadia and the Opticron Oregon are very much alike externally but the different eyepiece designs lends to different levels of optical performance. I prefer the Opticron for ease of view because of the previously mentioned sweet spot issue and also because the field of view is a bit wider. The more subdued color representation and slightly dimmer image (in comparison to the Leupold) might also be contributing to this. The Leupold is definitely brighter and the centerfield performance offers better apparent sharpness and contrast though the sweet spot isn’t as wide as the Opticron.

So for pure viewing pleasure you might ask which I prefer? I think I could be happy with all but the Celestron Nature DX. The other five are so close overall that I don’t think I would be disappointed using any of them. If I had to go through one at a time and rank them based on my personal preferences then after the Nature DX I would probably place the Opticron Oregon. It is a great all around binocular but the lack of phase coating just places it a step below the other four optically “overall”. If it did have phase coating added to it then I would probably rate it third overall ahead of the Leupold Acadia.

Speaking of which, the Leupold Acadia would be fourth on my list as it offers the same handling benefits of the Opticron but with a slightly brighter and sharper image. Next in line would probably be the Celestron Trailseeker. Very good apparent sharpness in the center of the field. Very good apparent brightness and contrast. Its light physical weight coupled with that level of image quality makes this a difficult binocular not to consider. The Zen Ray has all of the benefits of the Trailseeker with an ever so slightly larger sweet spot and a slightly more relaxed image. Last but not least, the Sightron. I believe it offers the same level of apparent sharpness as either the Celestron or the Zen Ray. It might be just a tad behind either in apparent brightness and contrast but I am really splitting hairs here. The Sightron’s sweet spot is still the largest of the group and it offers competitive levels of optical performance in all areas. It’s only real negative is the physical length and only if you are looking for a compact 8×32 binocular.

I would like to thank the following individuals for providing the various units for this review:

Charles (Zen Ray)
Shane (Leupold)
Brad (Celestron/Optics Camp)
Chip (Opticron)

Nikon, Vixen, Zen Ray, Zeiss – a 7x shootout!

Stet and I have gotten together on a couple of occasions recently to compare a variety of high performing binoculars. On the last two occassions I had the opportunity to try his newly acquired Zeiss 7×42 FL. I do not try to hide the fact that the 7×42 FL is my favorite binoular. A combination of unique characteristics make it extremly appealing to me. I enjoyed owning all five of the 7x42s over the years. If my finances allowed it I would most certainly pick up another. It is the one Alpha model and configuration that I actually would like to own again someday.

With those thoughts in mind I have been on a quest to find other 7x binoculars that either approach or equal its performance for a fraction of the cost. Many of you know the models I am referring to: the Vixen Foresta 7×50 porro, the Zen Ray 7×43 ED3 and the out of production Nikon 7×35 WF (wide field) Action. Each of them comes close to matching the FL and actually better it in some optical areas but none of them combine all of the features that the 7×42 FL does in one package.

Late this morning Stet and I spent another two hour stint comparing these models and some spotting scopes. Here are my impressions of these models by themselves and in comparison to the FL.

The Zeiss FL 7×42

This binocular sports the widest field of view of any 7×42 model currently made at 450 feet. That is an approximate 60 degree apparent field of view in a 7x binocular. The image is exceptionally bright, tack sharp and displays literally no color fringing throughout the entire image. Apparent depth of field is very good and only bettered by the porro models. The sweet spot on this particular unit is also very generous at around 80% by my estimation. There may be a slight drop off in image quality between 70-80% but you really have to look hard to see it.

The only “downside” in reference to the other models and competing Alphas is the specific type of contrast the FL displays. The image appears “washed out” at times depending on what you are observing and what you are comparing it to.

The Zen Ray 7×43

From an overall design standpoint the Zen Ray is very close to the Zeiss. It possesses many similar characteristics to the Zeiss…a field of view within 10 feet (440 versus 450), a sweet spot surrounded by astigmatism, a tack sharp image in the center of the field with little if any notable color fringing and a very good level of apparent brightness.

In comparison to the Zeiss it is only a hair less bright but the contrast level (or style of contrast if you like) is slightly more vivid. Browns and reds in particular appear deeper in the Zen Ray.

The Vixen Foresta 7×50 porro

This is probably the one model that is the most different from the others in terms of overall design. Yes, it is a porro but it is also a 50 mm model in comparison to the 40-somethings and the 35 of the Nikon. As a result it is notably brighter under all conditions even in comparison to the Zeiss. The level of contrast is equal to that of the Zen Ray and a little better than the Zeiss. The size of the sweet spot is comparable to the other two in terms of the percentage of the field of view but since the field of view is notably narrower (376 versus 440 and 450) it doesn’t cover quite as much actual “yardage”. The edges also might be a little sharper than the other two. There is a small amount of field curvature outside of the sweet spot which does give the appearance, depending on the circumstances, of a larger sweet spot.

The two areas where this model betters the two roofs is in the apparent depth of field and the 3D effect. Both are absolutely excellent and provide a very relaxed image.

The downside to this model/configuration is its relatively large size and narrow field of view in comparison to the roofs.

The Nikon 7×35 WF (wide field) Action model

This is a binocular that I picked up off of Ebay 6 or 7 months ago. Its strong points are its very wide field of view, 488 feet and its excellent depth of field/3d effect. In terms of the 3D effect only the Vixen betters it. The two are exceptionally close on apparent depth of field and I have a hard time determining which is actually better in this regard.

The size of the sweet spot is a smaller percentage of the field of view, mayber around 65-70%. The image offers excellent apparent sharpness at the same level as the other models. The contrast level is difficult to describe. I find it certainly acceptable but since this model is only single coated it is a bit less than the other models. There is a yellowish tinge (noticeable but not objectionable) to the image because of the lower light transmission level.

The other negative is the level of eye relief. I believe it is listed at 10 mm. Because of this I completely remove the rubber eyecups in order to see the full 488 foot field of view. For eyeglass hearers this certainly could be an issue.

Stet and I agree that these four are certainly some of the highest performing 7x binoculars we have ever tried or owned.

Pics are below..and in subsequent posts. The last three pics are of my children’s playset (digibinned) through the Vixen, the Zeiss, the Zen Ray and the Nikon. Ignore the upper right hand corner of the Zen Ray pic as I couldn’t quite the phone/camera centered when I took the shot.

7xzeiss 7xNikon 7xshootout 7xshootout2 7xvixen 7xzenray