As I am sure most of you have noticed I have spent most of my binocular explorations with a variety of the roof prism models currently on the market. To clarify, this was inadvertently done simply because there are so many more roof prism models to choose from at any given price point. That should come as no surprise to any of you that enjoy binoculars as much as I do. I have, in the past, owned several porro prism models and currently own the Nikon 7×35 E and Leupold Yosemite 6×30 and 8×30. Each one of these models has its particular place and I enjoy using them for some very specific activities.
Like most of you I receive various outdoors and optics catalogs that feature new binocular models each season. A year or so ago I received a catalog from a company I had never heard of before. In it was a wide range of binoculars. Some of them I had no hands-on experience with. One of these models was the then “new” Celestron Ultima DX porro prism series….the 8×32 model in particular. What struck me about this particular configuration of this model was its impressive array of specs and features (plus the price). Interesting features included a very respectable 429 foot field of view coupled with a listed eye relief of at least 16 mm. Fully multicoated optics and waterproofing all wrapped up into what looked like a fairly compact package. The only “negative” I noticed was the weight which was listed at 30 oz. Thirty ounces is heavy for any binocular in the current market and especially one of this particular configuration. With the price hovering around the $150 mark though I was definitely interested. Still it was not until I recently saw them discounted even further that I decided it was time to give one a go.
So, a little over a week ago the big brown truck rolled up to my front door and dropped off my Celestron 8x32s. I eagerly ripped open the box and unwrapped the binoculars from their plastic wrapping. The first thing I noticed was the weight and the subsequent “solid feel” that the binoculars exhibited. The second thing was the size. After using the little Nikon 7×35 Es, 8×30 EIIs and the Leupold Yosemites these porros seemed noticeably “fatter”. Still, I try not to be too judgmental without giving a pair of binoculars a fair shake. So, out they went into the backyard to see how well the optics performed.
This is where the Ultima DXs began to impress me. After placing them up to my eyes and adjusting the IPD and diopter I was significantly impressed by the optical performance of these binoculars. The image is wiiiiiiddddeee (apparent field of view over 65 degrees) and the centerfield sharpness and brightness are excellent! Very few roof prism glasses provide the tack-on sharpness that a good porro delivers and these porros deliver in that regard. Brightness levels in full daylight and even in twilight are excellent for a 32 mm glass. Even with the smaller objectives the Ultima DXs are brighter than several of my 42 mm roofs. The only other 32 mm binocular I can remember being able to say that about was the Nikon Superior E.
Now, before I go getting anyone too excited about these binoculars let me relate the “downside” to these bins’ optical performance. The center half of the field of view is wonderful in just about every aspect (perceived resolution, brightness, color, flare control, etc….) The outer ½ of the image suffers from significant field curvature. Scanning across a canopy of trees I get that rolling ball-type effect. It can be moderately distracting in some situations. However, I have not found it to be an issue when scanning large areas of the horizon or across the sky during the daytime or at night (the latter was something that really impressed me about these bins. I wonder if any of the guys over on the Astro-optics forums have anything to say about this Celestron series of binoculars).
The only other “downside” of these binoculars, at least for me, is the eye relief/eyecup size. The eyecups (slide-rotate up/slide-rotate down style) are large. Couple that with the listed 16 mm of eye relief and the specific shape of my nose/inset of my eyes and I just barely get the optimal position for a full field of view and an overlapping image. On occasion I have to readjust the IPD depending on the distance to the object being viewed. If the object is moderately close (12-15 feet) then I have to tighten the IPD in order to get a single full image. I lose just a little field of view but considering how close the object being viewed is I do not really mind. This may or may not be an issue for spectacle wearers. At distances from 30 feet on out to infinity I do not have to readjust the IPD.
To summarize, the binocular’s strengths are:
– Centerfield perceived sharpness/resolution
– Color accuracy
– Field of view
– Overall ergonomics
– Very low level of color fringing across a majority of the image
Its weaknesses include:
– Noticeable edge distortion
– Size of eyecups
– Physical weight (around your neck but not in your hand in which case the weight helps to really provide a stable image)
For those familiar with many of the porro prisms currently on the market, if you were to take a Nikon SE 8×32 and somehow cross it with a Nikon Action Extreme 7×35 then you would have a fair representation of this binocular optically and physically. The question then is whether or not this binocular is a “keeper” for me. My answer would be an unequivocal “yes” especially at the $100 price point. I would probably even pay $200 for this fine instrument because it has given me a valuable reminder. When all is said and done I find that I strongly prefer perceived sharpness/resolution to just about any other binocular attribute out there. Sure, I love a really wide true and apparent field of view and I do appreciate an ergonomic design. However, I can work with a binocular that doesn’t necessarily have either of those characteristics. What I cannot live without though is a sharp, crisp image. These binoculars most certainly provide it.
Other issues of note…
The focusing speed is moderate compared to other binoculars I have experience with. It takes very close to two full turns to go from close focus out to infinity. The feel of the focusing mechanism is exceptionally smooth and the placement of the focus knob itself is perfect for my hands.
Speaking of close focus. These binoculars have a listed close focusing distance of about 10 feet. Personal experience with this pair yielded an actual close focusing distance closer to 8 feet (for my 35 year old eyes) but that is somewhat negated by the inability of the porro prism design to integrate the images fully at that distance.
This model does have a tripod adapter mount in the usual position at the end of the central hinge. I utilized it, along with a tripod adaptor to take some of the pictures featured below.
Now, keep in mind that quality control at this price point can be very hit and miss. I do not have very much experience with Celestron products so I cannot predict consistency of performance or durability at this point. I will say this though. If other Celestron models offer this type of performance for the price then I certainly hope to explore more of their products. (Side note – the Ultima DX is no longer listed on the Celestron website)
Below is a picture of the Ultima DX between a Pentax 8×43 SP and a Leupold Yosemite 6×30.