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.
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
Dielectric Prism Coatings
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Silver prism coating
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Brad (Celestron/Optics Camp)