Bresser Everest ED 8×42

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

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

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

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

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

On paper the two binoculars seem quite evenly matched.

Nikon Monarch 7

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

Leupold Mojave

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

Initial Impressions only…..

Ergonomics:

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

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

Optical Performance:

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

All characteristics are “apparent” in nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

nl5 nl nl2 nl3 nl4

Zen Ray 7×43 ED3


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

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

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

Optical Impressions:

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

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

Close focus is right at 6 feet for my eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clarifications:

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

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

zr7x433 zr7x43 zr7x432

“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)

Zhumell Nova ED 8×42

It has been awhile since I did any reviews. Part of the reason is because I have been busy doing a variety of family activities and the other part is simply because there haven’t been any interesting models in my current price range (note: I have had an order in through binoculars.com for a Zeiss Terra ED 8×42 since early June and they have yet to arrive at the retailer)

A few weeks ago I was surfing Cloudy Nights when I noticed that someone posted a link to these Zhumell Nova EDs. They were/are on clearance for between ($91 and $101). They attraced me for the obvious reasons….price, the use of ED glass, the wide field of view and the relatively compact body design for a 42 mm binocular.

I do remember noticing them a few years ago on the same site and I believe the regular retail price for them then was $229. So, I ordered a pair just to see how they perform/handle.

They arrived a little over a week ago and I have been using them daily in conjunction with several other models I have on hand. Those binoculars are either comparable in price or comparable in optical configuration (Sightron SII Blue Sky 8×32, Bushnell Legend 8×42 (original model) and the Leupold McKinley BX-4 8×42).

The Nova EDs come with functional accessories (carrying case, rainguard, padded neoprene neckstrap and objective covers). The last is of the internal compression variety typically found on many camera lenses.

Ergonomics and design:

The Nova ED is a relatively short 42 mm binocular approximately 1/4 of an inch shorter than the Bushnell Legend and almost identical in this area to the Sightron 8x32s. Advertised weight is 26 ounces which I find to be accurate based on feel. The focusing knob is average in size and comparable to the Sightron in diameter. Minimum close focus is a hair under 6 feet. Close focus to infinity is just under 1 full turn with about an extra 1/4 turn past infinity in travel. Focusing tension is very smooth with no backlash or gaps whatsoever. Diopter adjustment is located directly behind the focusing knob with a small raised bump to indicate specific setting.

The eyecups rotate out in the typical fashion found on most binoculars today. They have one intermittent stop between fully collapsed and fully extended. I find them average in feel and in construction. Both the ocular and objective lenses are coated in the typical purple/green coloration. Internal baffling appears present immediately in front of the prisms but not on the first inch or so behind the objective lenses. I did not note any bright, non-blackened surfaces while looking down each barrel.

Eye relief is listed as 17 mm and most of that is effective eye relief as the ocular lens surface is only recessed ever so slightly from the eyecup surface. Field of view is advertised as 426 feet (8.2 degrees) and comparing that with the McKinleys it seems accurate.

Optical Performance:

Let me start off by mentioning something that almost immediately jumped out at me when using these for the first day or two. They reminded me of some other bins in terms of the overall optical impression….speaking primarily of the level and type of distortion present coupled with the size of the sweet spot. They remind me a bit of the Zen Ray Vista and the Vortex Diamondback. Both of those models always gave me a bit of a relaxed feel simply because the sweet spot appears relatively large and the transition from the sweet spot to the edge is very gradual and not distracting. The same performance applies here except there is very good apparent sharpness inside the true sweet spot. CA is also very well controlled inside that “super sweet spot” with a very gradual transition outside to the very edge of the image.

I would estimate sweet spot size to be between 70-75% with the area outside of it being some field curvature but predominantly astigmatism as I can’t refocus it completely.

Color representation is relatively neutral with an ever so slight green/yellow bias. It is only evident when comparing them directly to the Sightrons (reddish) and the Leupold (neutral to slightly warm). Contrast is good but not very good or excellent. I would rate it slightly behind the Sightron but slightly ahead of the Legend.

Apparent sharpness is very good within the sweetspot. Again I would rate it slightly behind the Sightron but ahead of the Legend. Apparent brightness is average. The image doesn’t appear dim by any stretch of the imagination but when comparing them to the Leupold and the Sightron I get the impression of slightly less brightness. This could be the result of the slightly lower contrast and or a lower light transmission level. If I had to hazard a guess I would say that this is either the result of less effective multicoatings or possibly an aluminum, instead of silver, prism coating. Again, most of these performance characteristics are only evident in direct comparison to the other models. As a stand-alone product none of these issues are particularly evident.

Nitpicks/pet peeves:

I really only have one particularly considering the price. The diopter knob has proved troublesome at times. Once set it doesn’t move on its own but rather is easily bumped from the desired location. Since it is located so close to the focusing knob I have found myself occasionally turning it when attempting to turn the focus.

Summary:

For under $100 I don’t see how you can really go wrong with this model. I think it was competitive at its original price point with many of the other $200-$225 models out there. At the $100 price point it doesn’t really have any competition. Judging by information from over on Cloudy Nights there are approximately 70 pairs of these left so I would suggest grabbing one as a solid backup binocular, good starter binocular or even a car bin.

Pics to follow. Give me some time to upload them.

zh5 zh zh2 zh3 zh4