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Binos - Whats Good And What I Got

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I posted this on another thread, but wanted to make a seperate one for people interested.

I've recently completed my CPM accreditation (allowing me to join culls organised between the SSAA and Parks Vic.) and one of the mentions on important gear was Binos.

Now; I am addicted to high quality gear. I've done the "buy the cheap stuff" game and as you all know it always fails, youend up going out and buying good quality gear and wasting the money you spent the first time round. As the old saying goes, buy the best you can afford; well I further than by saying find the best you can afford then buy the ones one step above that.

I've looked through possibly a hundred different sets of binosin the past week, including the cheap end around $120,right through the range to the the high end around $2500. I made every effort to avoid being brand centric and focus on the image and use. . I've spent hours and hours reading about the different types, their pros and cons, what makes one set better than the next. Information about the ability for glass to transmit light vs reflecting it, the implications that has on any sort of optics and the way manufacturers prevent it. Man there is so much information out there, and if you think optics are as simple as quality glass=better image, you are wrong.

So my requirements were (not in any specific order):

1 Light Weight

2 Comfortable to use

3 Good range of adjustment

4 Fully multicoated

5 Good field of view

6 Close range focus of 40 yards

7 Something I can use all day without eye strain

8 Nitrogen purged

The cheaper binos in the $100-$200 range often had a bit of a haze to them. Some of them didn't have a focus, or had the automagical "auto-focus / focus-free" which, let me tell you, is basically the manufacturer just removing the focus adjustment. Most of them were fairly light, I assume because they were made internally out of pretty cheap plastic components. Most in this range are not waterproof, or nitrogen filled. Nitrogen purging elimitated internal fogging. Waterproof wasn't a requirement, but if you are in the rain out stalking or hunting, anything that isn't is just useless. The field of view in the cheaper ones that I looked at was quite small, which means knowing where you are can get a little hard after a while when switching between binos and scope. This also made it hard to get a good reference on what you were looking at, simply because you see less.

I found that most binos in the $300-$600 range met the first 3 requirements, and often were either multi-coated or fully coated. All the binos in this range were much clearer than the cheaper units. Not many suffered from what I would call a poor image, the clarity was certainly there in most units in this price range. Some were nitrogen filled (cheaper end were 50/50). Most in this range had a larger field of view, nice adjustments, and were pretty respectable on the weight front. If dollars were tight I would certainly be ok with using something in this price range. Ones that I didn't mind using were some Leupold cascades (pretty sure that was the model) and the Nikon Monarch ATB. The leupys were not fully multicoated however. Minox also were in this price range and were very nice to look through and use.

Anything between $600 and $1200 or so pretty much met all the requirements. Which means this was the price range I wanted to look at. Man I picked up everything I could in this range and had a look. On suggestions from other binos users, the LGS, and knowledge of their design, I had a very close look at a brand called Steiner. I'll get into that in a sec. Suffice to say everything in this price range that I look though, was nice and clear. The things that varied most here were comfort and lense coatings.

All Binos above around $1200 that I could get my hands on, well lets just say it got very hard to tell the difference in the image between a lost of the models. Features were certainly different but as I said before I was focusing only on the image. Of course all these units met my requirements on design, function etc, they did not however meet my dollar requirements. Bugger!

So. Steiner. These guys are a company based in Germany that only make Binos. They do have quite a range, starting around 350 from memory, and going right up above $1000. I decided to look at the Ranger Pro units, they met all my requirements and hit the dollar mark at $700 locally. They are available online for $600 US from Cabelas.

I have to say, I think they are comparable to the very expensive brands. The Leica Ultravid HD are a very good unit, and I had a hard time seeing the difference between the Steiners and the Leica. Not bad given the almost $2000 price difference. I experienced the same for the swaros and zeiss, though the swaros did have something more, probably because of the additional coatings and a little higher quality glass. That said, it certainly wasn't $2000 better. The Steiners "apparently" have coatings on them to reduce the effect of haze and greens, and increase "game" colours of browns and reds. I've tested these in the field, and I don't know that it's really a great selling point, but when comparing these to say a mid range zeiss of the same magnification/objective, the browns from the Steiners did seem a little easier to see. Ergonomic rubber grips locate your thumbs and fingers in just the right spot, and I think whoever designed them also thought about use with gloves because they are certainly "glove" sized grips. Integrated objective caps that seal quite well top it off. I could use/carry these all day without any issues at all.

The descision was a little hard between the 8x42 and 10x42. Because I'll be using them a lot in bushland, I figured the 8s are a better way to go. Also after talking to one of the guys at the LGS, he has used 10x42s for a while, and is actually going to go back to 8x42, or even 7x50 (for the reduced magnification). I use a 3-9 power scope, and as I thought a little more about it, it seemed pointless to be glassing further than I could shoot.

My only 2 complaints about these: First is that they really don't have a good occular cover. It's just a cheap and nasty neoprene style slide on cover. Second is that they have a proprietary "click-lock" system for attaching straps. The guys at the LGS enlightened me though; they sold me a crooked horn chest strap setup, then said just to cut the click-lock unit off the should strap that comes with the binos, and attach it to the chest harness. The Steiner branded harnesses are a little pricey for what they are.

Binos are one of those things that when you spend more, you just get better quality. I couldn't be happier with what I got. I, like you, didn't want to spend a few hundred and regret it, only having to spend more on another set. I am sure that the swaros, leica etc are very good, but even if I did have those dollars to spend, I just don't know that I would after using the Steiners.

For anyone looking for Binos, here is a bit of a guide as to brands I would suggest in the price ranges.

$100-$200 = Vortex make some good quality (for the price) fully multi-coated binos in this price range. Steiner and Minox have some on the upper side of the range. Here I would stay away fro the Bushnell range. They are nice and cheap, but the optics aren't all that clear, and I suffered eye strain after 20 minutes or so of use.

$300-$600 = Vortex Talons were very nice, and also the German made Minox. Leupold do have some nice units in this price range too. If you are looking at spending these dollars, make sure you do your homework. Get units that are fully multi-coated. This will mean you get the most amount of light through the glass and not reflected. Steiner have some here, Nikons are not too bad (depending on the model). Leupolds were ok to use, but the ones I looked at were not fully multi-coated.

$600-$1200 = Steiner. The Ranger Pro for the lower end of that price range, and the Nighthunter XP for the higher end. I just can't recommend anything else in this range. The Steiners came out on top of everything else I looked at. Their clarity, performance in low light, everything else just came second best in this price range. The nighthunter XP by the way, are specifically designed for use in low light situations, dawn/dusk. I don't know how they do it, but when I looked through them they did seem to have substantially more light coming through, compared to the Ranger Pro.

$1200 and up = Can't really say here. The obvious choice would be Swarovskiz though I think.

I hope this has helped. I would certainly urge everyone who hasn't got them and is looking, to spend tha bit extra to get the better quality. I know that $700 is a little pricey for some people, but a set of Binos is something you have for life, and when you work it out to say $30 bucks per year for the life of the Binos, it's just not that expensive.


Edited by Jase
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A good way to check the quality between different binoculars is to look through them on an overcast day, better still go in the evening if the store has late night trading and look through them in the fading light. Find a tree to look at and rather than just looking at the tree look into the tree; past the outer surface and see how well you can see the inner branches, leaves and trunk of the tree. This sorts out the good optics from the cheap stuff. Looking through binoculars on a clear bright day at a flat object is a good test of the magnification and focusing but is not a good test for the quality of the optics - there's plenty of info on the net on how to test a pair of binos for hunting.

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One of the best posts I've seen on this forum, thanks for taking the time to write it up.

It should be a sticky, or put in the wiki, for future reference.

Worm, I've been looking at the steiner 8x30's and all I've read their pretty for their size, might be worth a look?

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G'day Jase. That's some excellent information mate. Thank you.

But you have now made my decision very difficult!!! Was tossing up between two Bushnell models but you have expressed a clear dislike for them... They appear to meet all your requirements except for eye strain, which I guess is very important though... Have you had a look at either of these models?

1) http://www.opticsplanet.net/bushnell-binoculars-8x42-trophy-realtree-camo-wp.html

2) http://www.opticsplanet.net/bushnell-10x42-legend-ultra-hd-binoculars-rainguard.html

Trying to justify the price difference and/or if I should be looking for more expensive units.

Would appreciate your thoughts/elaboration.


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I can't recommend the Trophy. They were.. well entry level, but then they are entry level dollars too. Because I had the dollars to spend I tended to leave the mega cheapies alone.

The HD ones though were pretty good. There seems to be something about the coating that Bushnell uses that makes the colors just jump out. If I remember correctly, the order of clarity went: Steiner, Vortex, Bushnell, Minox. I have to say the top 3 were fairly close, and the reason I put Vortex at the top of the list was because of price and features.

Trying to be objective about a product in any given price range can be pretty hard.

Something I'd suggest you think about is the sort of environment that you'll be using them in. You want to compare apples with apples, so figure out which magnification is going to be best for you. Personally I think 10x is too much. I hunt in north east vic, so not too many open plane type areas. If you hunt in dense sort of bushland, the 10x might be a little too much, too narrow a field of view and hard to keep track of game. was also noticing way more shake with the 10x, and infact found them hard to keep steady. Doesn't matter how good the optics are if you are shaking all over the shop!

These here: http://www.riflescopes.webyshops.com/Products/Binoculars/VORTEX-Diamondback-8x42-Binoculars-VOR-D248 are a very nice unit for the money. Quite clear, fully multi-coated. Might be an option for you.

I am a firm believer that when it comes to optics you spend just a little more than you can actually aford, and only ever do it once. Everyones circumstances are different and we have to take that into consideration. You really need to have a look through some units. My eyes will be different to yours and you might find that the Bushnells work great for you.

I used to have a cheap pair of ebay binos that I used twice I think. They still sit in my car as an emergency pair, but haven't used them in years. When I wanted a close up of something, I used my rifle scope. Now that I have a good pair of binos that are comfortable and easy to use, and give me a good image, I don't leave home without them, even if it is just for bunnies. You buy a good pair, you will love them and never leave home without them. If you buy a crap pair, you'll regret it and not use them. Thats my experience.

Go have a look at some hunting stores, and look through everything they have. Even the stuff you know you can't afford because it'll give you a point of comparison. You may find that you decide to save up and get higher quality optics, or you may find that the cheaper ones are just as good as the exy ones and save some dollars. If your LGS doesn't have much, go hunt down a camera store. Most of them have a reasonable range to look through.

Final thoughts: Spend the dollars on good optics and they will serve you a life time. Take input from others, but only your eyes and define what works for you and what doesn't. Make sure what you buy is nitrogen purged (prevents internal fogging) and is fully multi-coated. And take the time to learn about what binos actually are, how they work, and what makes a good set of binos good. Wiki, Youtube and google are all good places to learn. Once you have an understanding of why some are better than others you'll find that you are able to notice the fine differences between each set you look through.



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Cheers Jase for the prompt reply,

Apologies, but I did attach the wrong link before. Was meant to compare the Trophy with these:


I've pretty much ruled out the 10x as I also read that they're useless if you're shaking etc... 8x seem to be more versatile.

Those Vortex look very good and are a fair price in my mind. Thanks for the recommendation.

I agree with spending $ for quality. For my current finances, however, I think my choice is narrowed to the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 8x42 ($235) vs. Vortex Diamondback 8x42 ($219). Both are multi-coated, use BaK-4 prisms and are nitrogen purged etc... Very evenly matched on paper in most ways, but Vortex appears to beat it in exit pupil... Which confuses me as they are both 8x42 and I though exit pupil is measured by comparing diameter and magnification... I believe exit pupil is important in low light conditions though so will confirm these stats.

Anyway, will try make a decision soon!

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Just checked some other websites and the exit pupil is listed differently for both models??? Argh... 4.2mm for both, then 5.25 for both???

Surely they must be the same... 5.25mm using standard equation.

Bushnell appears to have the upper hand for me. I have looked at a pair of the Legend series but have not compared it in person with the Vortex. BUT it does have Extra Low Dispersion glass, whereas this is not used in the Diamondback range, only in more premium models. I believe this enhances light transmission and, thus, will prove beneficial in low light (which is when I do most of my hunting).

I think the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 8x42 will therefore be my choice.

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Hi Jase. Great info there. I would have got great value out of what you wrote a couple of months ago when I bought my binos. I finished up with aset. Olivon 8x42. Not expensive [$250] They do the job and do a great job in low light but I haven't had the benefit of comparison to be a quoted.

They had a big influence on getting my first Sambar Stag in the last light of the day back in November but I haven't used much else so if you had the chance to have a look at them I would like to hear your thoughts.

Your next mission if you choise to accept it would be rifle scopes.

Edited by vicfox
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I hate carrying bino's around! Wish you could get a small pair with the performance of a big pair... bloody physics.

Gerber Montego 8 x 30 wide angle BAK 4 prism. Compact , light and cheap enough to loose or drop off a cliff and work real good.

$164 at Peters of Kensington . normally $257 . Buy two pair and keep one as a spare in the car .

Edited by Happy Jack
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The glass will most probably be the same in both units. The difference will be the coatings, the number of them and the type of them.

Exit pupil is important in low light. For example: Large telescopes have large exit pupils because they are used for night time viewing. A microscope in a science lab would have a small exit pupil because it's objects are nearly always illumiated. Large exit pupil is good for less light transmission impairment in low light situations.

Remember that nothing can increase light transmission. 100% of light goes it and nothing can amplify that. Look at the coatings as a way of decreasing the amount of light LOST. Basically, the more coatings, the less light is LOST in transmission, and this is why you want fully multicoated. Every optical surface that is mulit-coated will reduce the amount of light that is lost between the objective and the occular.

I didn't get a chance to look through too many of the Olivon units, but they were mid range for me. They were admittedly better than the cheap and nasty stuff. They Olivons come in a few different comfigs with regards to the coatings. Phase coated is on even the basic ones which is much better than nothing, but it doesn't seem they have a large number of other coatings to reduce light loss. I did really like the nice large focus knob (the Steiners have a pretty small one) and the diopter adjustment was nice too. All in all good value, but a few more coatings would have been nice to bring them to the level of the others in the price range.

For all those wondering, phase coatings are actually a pretty cool concept. They are normally only in roof prism binos. Basically the light is split in the prism and travels along slightly different paths. When it reaches the point where it is rejoined (last face of the prism) it is slightly out of phase. Phase coatings are on the side (if memory serves me correctly) with the shorter path so that when it exits the prism, it's in phase with the other one. There are different qualities of phase coatings, but they pretty much all result in a clearer more crisp image, and clarity of colour. They also give better contrast when looking at something with a bright light behind it (in the case of looking west on sunset at a deer).

Enough dribble. Re Scopes, I don't think so. Unless suppliers want to start sending me scopes for review :) I have bought cheap scopes, and my only advise is dont :P. Currently running a Bushnell Elite 3200 3-9x40 on my .243 and a 4200 Elite 4-14x40 on my .223.



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thank god i found a great post on this webbie.first off thanks for info jase,and i do have a question for you and you might be able to help me, my missus and myself are looking at getting bino's but not to be used for hunting they will be used for scanning lambs in big flocks of sheep and at great distances so gun range is not a factor, im wondering if you could suggest what spec and magnification bino's for what i would need, it's yass area so alot of hills a few rocky area's but alot of cleared land on +2,000 acres you seem to be up to date on this and i'd like to hear from you about this ..thanks in advance mate

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What sort of distances will you be glassing, and will it be from home, a car or while you are out walking etc?

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