With a great deal of excitement I finally have had the opportunity to get my hands around the new Meopta Meostar 8×32 mm binocular. I have owned almost all of the larger models (7×42, 8×42, 10×42 (Euro) and 10×50) at one time or another. My favorites have been the 8×42 and the 10×50. Now I get to add a new favorite, the 8×32.
Let me offer a bit of an explanation of my preferences before going into a full-blown review. After several years of trying dozens of bins currently on the market in a variety of different configurations I have come to the conclusion that I really prefer full size 7×42 and 8×42 bins to just about anything else out there. These two sizes provide me with what I consider the perfect blend of physical size and weight with a level of optical performance sure to please anyone for just about every application.
I have tried most, if not all, of the mostly highly regarded 32 mm glasses on the market and though they are superb optical instruments I just cannot get the same comfort level with them that I can with a 42 mm glass. My guess is that this is because of two reasons. One, the size of the exit pupil generated by the larger glasses and, two, the fact that the physical size of the larger glasses not only fits my hands better but also provides a more stable viewing platform because of the increased weight. I am making these comments in reference to a “full-time” glass not necessarily something to be used as a “backup” or to be used in situations where size and weight are paramount. If either of the latter issues is a concern then the 32 mm models most certainly win out as they do offer almost identical optical performance in a lighter, more compact package.
So, I guess you would then ask why I would be looking at the smaller 32 mm Meopta. Well, I have a fairly large selection of full-sized 42 mm glass right now. Enough that I don’t really have the desire to delve further into that section of the market. So, what is the logical next step to consider? A 50 mm model? A 10x model? Either would be something I would like to eventually explore but for the time being I believe a 32 mm, and an 8×32 mm at that, is a niche that needs to be filled. I did have the wonderful little Zeiss 8×32 FL that could, realistically, serve most of the roles that I would put it into. But it, and some of its brethren in the price stratosphere, leave me with a bit of mixed feelings. They are all beautiful glass that provide views unequaled by any but their larger counterparts. The ergonomics of the 8×32 EL, the color representation in the Ultravid, the total lack of color fringing in the FL…all provide experiences that truly have to be …. well … experienced to be appreciated. Even the highly regarded 8×32 SE provides such a superbly realistic representation in its view that they, as a collective group, are difficult to ignore. So, you may ask why anyone would consider getting rid of such wonderful little instruments?
Well, my decision to sell these little gems was not easy. However, with two kids, a mortgage and a lot of other bills to pay I just could not justify owning them. Their performance was superb but their value was not. So, what of the little SE you might ask? It does provide a view that few, if any, bins equal and the price nowadays is well within most folks’ budget. All true but what it doesn’t have is the truly modern physical design that it deserves. The simple addition of waterproofing, in the form of an O-ring seal or true internal focusing, and the addition of modern eyecups would make this a binocular to be feared but without either it does not entirely meet my personal needs. And so, the search continues for that rare 32 mm binocular that provides superb optical performance and retails within a less cost prohibitive price range.
It should come as no surprise then that I was very excited to hear of the introduction of the 32 mm series from Meopta. I have always been a Meopta fan. Their binoculars are true competitors to the “Alpha” glass but at a price that is now less than half of their competition. There have been many times when I held the 42 mm Meostar up next to both the Swarovski SLC and the Leica Trinovid and wondered what justified the price difference. Granted, each has its own set of optical “uniqueness” but, in my opinion, the optical performance of the Meopta was certainly in the same league as these two other “classics”. So, after a great deal of patient waiting I finally have my hands wrapped around the wonderful 8×32 Meopta Meostar.
…and on to the review….
Physical size and ergonomics
The Meostar is a fairly diminuitive binocular roughly about 2/3rds the physical size of its larger 42 mm counterpart. It is also about 2/3rds the weight (21 oz and 30 oz respectively). The rubber armor that covers the binocular is practically identical to that of its larger brethren with the exception of a slightly more pleasing tactile sensation. I dare not call it “slick” in texture in fear of alienating someone that will instantly find objection with it. But it is “slicker” than that of the 42 mm model. This seems to be the result of both the texture of the material and also the amount of cushion it provides.
The binoculars’ ergonomics are excellent in my opinion. There are two small thumb indents on the underside of the barrels. They seem to be placed in just the right spot for my thumbs to slide smoothly into them. The physical length of the binocular also suits my hands quite well. Many 32 mm models are just too short for me to get a decent grip on them resulting in more image shake and a less overall appealing experience. At 4.9 inches the 32 mm Meostar does not suffer from this issue.
The focusing knob is practically identical to that of the 42 mm model in terms of both size and overall design. The issue of focusing tension and speed is a very individual one but I, personally, find the Meopta’s to be as close to perfect as I have yet to find. Only the original Nikon Venturer might be more precise and responsive. It takes just a bit over one and a half turns to go from close focus (of about 6 feet) to infinity. The diopter mechanism of the Meostar series is integrated into the focus knob. Individual click stop adjustments make aligning it fairly simple.
The 32 mm also shares the eyecup adjustment design of the 42 mm model though there appears to be one small intermediate setting between fully collapsed and fully extended. Both configurations utilize a tripod-mounting hole at the end of the central hinge for more stable viewing.
Many times it is difficult for me to put my optical impressions into words. The 32 Meostar presents just such a challenge. With that thought in mind I will start with the basics.
The first thing that jumps out at me when I look through these binoculars is the strikingly wide field of view (both apparent [64 degrees] and true [420 feet]). The second thing is how flat the image is. From technical drawings presented on the Meopta website I am aware of the use of a field flattener element in the 42 mm design. In practical use it is equally apparent that the 32 mm model uses the same design. In addition, there is also very little noticeable distortion around the outer edge of the image. In other words the size of the sweet spot of image in focus with the center of the field of view is huge. It is easily the equivalent of the 42 mm and certainly competitive with the likes of the Swarovski EL and possibly even the Nikon LXL. I did not do any scientific tests to verify my next comment but general impressions would put the sweet spot at well over 90% of the field of view. In addition, the transition is so gradual that you barely notice that there is any distortion in the image at all. Further examination revealed that this distortion is most likely field curvature as I am able to refocus the outer edge of the image with just a very slight tap on the focus wheel.
Both apparent brightness and apparent sharpness are also excellent. Comparing the 32 mm to the 42 mm reveals the expected slightly dimmer image but in regular daytime use I do not notice much, if any, of a difference. The contrast level is first rate and easily equal to anything else I have had the privelege to own. It most certainly equals the 42 mm and might actually be better because of something I am about to comment on.
The 42 mm suffers from two optical “weaknesses” in my opinion. One is its level of chromatic aberration (color fringing) in the distorted part of the image. Even more towards the center of the field of view it displays slightly more than one might find in the likes of either the equivalent Swarovski or Leica models. The other issue is its color representation. The 42 mm model displays a slightly warm color bias. The effect is very subtle but when viewing a brightly lit image, such as that of an object against a great deal of snow, then the color bias is more apparent. I have seen some binoculars display a great deal of color bias and it can be distracting. This does not appear to be the case with the 42 mm model as I tend to find the slightly warm bias as comforting under some challenging conditions.
So, you may then ask how the 32 mm model fairs in both of these areas. Well, for starters it offers a much more neutral color representation. My guess would be that they changed the composition of the optical coatings. I do not feel it is quite as neutral as the Nikon SE or Zeiss FL but it is noticeably more neutral than that of the 42 mm model. A quick glance from one to the other at the snow bank in my backyard verifies it.
The level of color fringing in the 32 mm model also seems to be reasonably well controlled. It is slightly better than that of the 42 mm model. What I have often found is that, all else being equal, a smaller aperture configuration can often lead to less color fringing. This appears to be the case with the Meostar line. Either that or they tweaked the optical design slightly to help correct this issue.
Hmm, how can I easily sum up this binocular? I like it. I really do. What it provides, for me, is the same optical performance of that of the Swarovski EL 8×32 in that the image is flat, with a large sweet spot, excellent contrast and excellent color representation. It is also similar in that it displays wonderful ergonomics. However, it is priced at less than half the going rate of the 8×32 EL.
There is something else to the image that I cannot put my finger on. The combination of the flat field with the large sweet spot makes the image seem very natural. It almost seems as if you took a scissors and cut out a portion of my normal field of view and magnified it. The lack of edge distortion and the wide field of view make the image extremely natural. Eye placement is also not very critical so it is a pleasure to put up to your eyes.
All in all I think Meopta took a big step forward with the 32 mm Meostar. They took everything that was optically and physically attractive about the 42 mm model and put it into the 32 mm while also rectifying several of the issues that faced the larger model.