When it comes to glassing the great outdoors, it’s hard to beat a small, high-quality binocular that can accompany you where ever you go.
Tune in soon for the full story……………………………
A work commenced April 16 2021
Over the last decade I have dedicated much of my free time to educating the amateur community on the great achievements of the classical achromatic refractor. My 650 page historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, documents many of the amazing achievements made by highly skilled individuals over many centuries who used these great telescopes to divine pretty much everything amateur astronomers explore today. And despite what some claim regarding the newer refracting telescopes that employ extra low dispersion(ED) glass, this modern development represents, at most, a mere footnote to the true history of these telescopes.
But it is not the classical refractor that best exemplifies the wonders of crown and flint, but the humble binocular. I have had the pleasure of looking through many of these fine instruments and have been astounded at the wonderfully sharp and clear views they serve up. And even in this era of extraordinary technological development, I’m especially delighted to see that crown & flint is alive and well in a suite of state-of-the-art binoculars that carry on that legacy into the 21st century.
This blog will describe three such instruments that fulfil all of my binocular needs; the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR, the Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 and the Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60.
The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR
This tiny optical marvel has transformed what I understand an ideal daytime binocular to be. This state-of-the-art instrument uses no ED glass, yet achieves a level of optical excellence that really needs to be experienced to be believed! The following sentiments are contrary to what you will read from almost every other binocular enthusiast, but they are solidly grounded in both optical theory and field experience. For daytime use and for much of the year, the size of your eye pupil is very small, typically between 2 and 3mm. This means that using binoculars with larger exit pupils (calculated by dividing the aperture of the binocular by its magnification) wastes a lot of the light collected by larger binoculars usually touted as being ideally suited to daytime use – I’m thinking of those with objectives sizes of 32 and 42mm in particular. But there is another, perhaps even more important reason for choosing these smaller exit pupils – image sharpness. When you are sampling the image with a smaller exit pupil you are employing the best part of your eye lens to bring that image to focus. And when you couple this optimal image sensor(itself a marvel of Divine creation) to an optically excellent binocular, you have a match made in heaven!
Thanks to the incorporation of the latest in coating technology into this small binocular, including phase corrected prisms, aspherical eyepieces, and multiple layers of the best anti-reflection coatings on all glass surfaces, this small 20mm aperture instrument serves up impressively bright and high-contrast images across the entire field of view. Leica optics are the contrast kings, being world leaders in suppressing stray light and internal reflections, including veiling glare, which is a particularly pernicious problem in many binoculars, however the size. The image just snaps to focus with none of the ambiguity you all too often get with binoculars of lesser quality. The mechanical build quality and ergonomic handling of this binocular are also superb, being designed for a busy life in the great outdoors. Only at dawn and dusk does the limitations of its small aperture become apparent, but these are times I do not normally glass, so these shortcomings are rarely encountered.
The Leica Ultravid BR 8 x 20 is very compact and lightweight(245g), fitting in any pocket. You can wear it ’round your neck all day and never experience neck strain. Try doing that with an 8 x 42 or even an 8 x 32! Employing a dual-hinge design, squaring on with the eye pupils takes a little more care to get right, but with practice this becomes easy. And because the collimation and robustness of the binocular is second to none, you don’t experience eye strain, blackouts or headaches even after prolonged daily use. But another hugely important factor for many glassers, including yours truly, is its cost to performance ratio. You get sublime Leica(alpha) quality at a fraction of the price of buying larger alpha binoculars. And because it works so well, my encounter with the little Leica Ultravid saved me a small fortune. I’d have to shell out more than a £1000 more to get a larger instrument of similar optical quality.
The Leica Ultravid BR 8 x 20 goes everywhere with me. I use it for birding with its generous 6.5 degree true field, examining objects at close distance(less than 2 metres) both indoors and out of doors, surveying the landscape, whether in a rural or urban setting, and I look forward to being able to visit theatres, museums and classical music concerts in the future with it, as the country opens up for life as normal. I have even used it productively observing the phases of the Moon at night. I would highly recommend this to readers who are wanting the best optical quality at a price that is considerably lower than going the traditional- think heavier – route. It certainly works for me!
The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42
As binoculars move from pocket to mid-size formats, they become easier to make well, owing to less stringent design tolerances. The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 is a solid, mid-tier binocular that I use for general stargazing. Its larger 42mm objective lenses collects far more light than the Leica 8 x 20, and produces impressive wide field images of the night sky. It is also often employed observing the Moon, especially when clouds pass over it in the sky, producing wonderful, colourful light shows. Ergonomically, the Series 5 is easy to handhold for considerable periods of time, and with its very well corrected 8 degree true field of view, it’s a superb tool for scanning the Milky Way and observing larger deep sky objects such as the Pleiades, Hyades, the Sword Handle of Orion, the Beehive and Coma cluster, the Double Cluster in Perseus and the Great Andromeda Galaxy, to name but a few.
The Series 5 has a light-weight magnesium chassis, a silky smooth focuser – one of the best I’ve encountered, in fact, in a binocular in this price class – and very decent optics. Its very large field is very well corrected – a lot better than many other models I’ve sampled in this price range – with stars remaining satisfyingly sharp even near the field stop. The metallic twist-up eyecups overlaid with soft rubber are of high quality and maintain their positions well, affording an exceptionally comfortable viewing experience. And though I don’t use it much during the day, the Barr & Stroud Series 5 has excellent contrast with very aggressive control of veiling glare. Indeed, internal reflections are also exceptionally well controlled so that it can be used to observe well lit scenes at night without showing up annoying internal reflections and diffraction spikes.
When I want the steadiest views I can place it on a lightweight monopod or tripod to coax out the maximum amount of detail from a celestial scene. Indeed my own experiments show that when tripod mounted it can detect stars as much as a magnitude fainter than when hand held. Overall, it fits the niche I have made for it very well indeed, and without breaking the bank.
The Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60
The Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60 is my very economically priced, high power binocular that functions in much the same way as a spotting ‘scope during daylight applications when I need greater magnifications to see stationary objects better at an extended distance, such as a small bird or a distant landmark. Though conventional spotting ‘scopes do employ a greater range of magnifications(typically 15x to 50x), the 20 x 60 allows me to use both eyes, which is a big advantage over a regular monocular ‘scope and somewhat makes up for the lack of power at the higher end of the magnification scale. Unlike a dedicated spotter, it can be stably mounted on a monopod( that can be collapsed telescopically), which is easier to carry about than a regular spotting ‘scope mount
This large Pentax Porro prism binocular is fairly lightweight for its specifications – just 1.2 kilos in all – so it’s rather easy to mount on a tripod or even a monopod for steadier views. The optical quality of this large achromatic binocular is very good, thanks to its fully multicoated specification and excellent baffling, which ensures very good light transmission in high contrast. Just like the Leica Ultravid, this Pentax also sports aspherical ocular lenses, which serves up a very well corrected vista, right to the edge of its 2.2 degree field of view. As one might expect from a binocular of this specification, it does show a little more chromatic aberration on high contrast targets but it’s never enough to be intrusive. As with the Leica Ultravid, this binocular has a small exit pupil of just 3mm so it’s widely lauded sharpness among its many enthusiasts may well be attributed to this design feature as well. Indeed, as I’ve noted before, this may well have been the aim of the designers of the legendaryTakahashi Astronomer(limited edition) 22 x 60, which has an even smaller exit pupil and field of view(2.1 angular degrees).
The 20 x 60 presents the Moon in stunning detail, with wonderful contrast and sharpness and only a sliver of secondary spectrum seen at the edge of the orb.. Indeed it is one of my favourite instruments to study its changing phases, from slender crescent right through to full phase. Selected deep sky objects such as the Pleiades, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Beehive Cluster, the Orion Nebula and large Messier open clusters like M36 through M38 in Auriga, as well as M35 in Gemini can be observed in glorious detail with this nifty instrument, with stars remaining sharp and undistorted right to the field stop.
Sometimes, I like to use the Pentax 20 x 60 to study colourful star fields and wider double and multiple stars. I’ve enjoyed stunning views of the Garnet Star, Mu Cephei, the lovely colour contrast pair, Albireo, as well as O1 & 2 Cygni, and the orange dwarves comprising 61 Cygni. Indeed, the sky is chock full of widely spaced binocular doubles well within the reach of this powerful binocular. It could keep you going for years!
I also employ the 20 x 60 to conduct all of my solar observations, recording sunspots using a pair of homemade white light solar filters. It produces the right combination of image scale, contrast and resolving power to get the job done. In addition, I may use it to search for and/or observe brighter comets which grace our night skies from time to time.
I have often thought about going larger in terms of light grasp, perhaps with a 70 or 80mm binocular, but this would severely limit its portability and mine too. Thus, I regard the 20 x 60 as being at or near the limit of where I’m willing to go with two eyes, before I switch to monocular vision with my astronomical telescopes.
Well, as I bring this blog to a close, I hope you will more fully appreciate the choices I have made in pairing down the binoculars I intend to use in the coming years, and hope that it inspires you to find your own path through the complex binocular maze. There is a great satisfaction in finding the minimal set of instruments that fulfil all the requirements of a busy life in the great out of doors, a set of instruments that don’t cost the earth and yet satiate every desire I could wish for them. I used to enjoy perusing the colourful adverts of all kinds of binoculars in the glossy birding magazines, but these days I tend to ignore them; they just don’t offer any temptations that I would want to pursue, and that’s a good thing in my opinion!
Thanks for reading!
A work commenced March 19 2021
Product Name: Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR
Country of Origin: Portugal
Field of View: 110m @1000m(6.3 angular degrees) advertised, 113m@1000m(6.5 angular degrees measured)
Eye Relief: 15mm
IPD Range: 34-74mm
Close Focus: 1.8m (advertised and measured)
Exit Pupil: 2.5mm
Chassis Material: Rubber armoured aluminium/titanium
Coatings: Fully multi-coated, High Durable Coating(HDC), phase correcting coating P40 , HighLux-System (HLS), AquaDura coatings applied to outer lenses.
Dioptre Range: +/- 3.5 dioptres(lockable)
Nitrogen Purged: Yes
Waterproof: Yes to 5m
ED Glass: No
Weight: 245g(8.6 oz)
Dimensions: Folded W/H 6.0/9.3cm
Warranty: 10 Years
Accessories: Logoed Cordura case, eye caps, woven neck strap, test certificate, warranty card, instruction manual
Retail Price: £495-570 (UK), $749 (US)
Every now and then, something crosses your path that is truly remarkable and worthy of discussion, something that radically changes your perceived priorities when it comes to choosing the right equipment for your intended needs and purposes. Having thoroughly test-driven the smallest instrument in Leica’s Ultravid line of binoculars, I would have to concede that the 8 x 20 BR is one such instrument, as I hope to elaborate on at some length in this review blog.
When I began my exploration of the world of modern binoculars less than three short years ago, I was amazed what a relatively small financial outlay could buy you in terms of optical quality. As with telescopes, gone forever were the days when you couldn’t acquire decent optical performance without breaking the bank. As my curiosity for all things binocular grew however, so did my appetite for buying up and hoarding lots of different models – some very expensive in the scheme of things – to the extent that I soon recognised that my collection was getting far too large, and indeed was becoming a bit of an obsession.
The catalyst for this personal reflection started when I tested a Leica Triinovid HD 8 x 32 against a far less expensive Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 binocular. The latter proved to be very good indeed, with a very wide and well-corrected field of view (of the order of 8 angular degrees). Optically, the Series 5 was only marginally less sharp and contrasty compared with the Leica and much easier to use owing to its larger and more forgiving exit pupil and comparable mass(less than 100g heavier than the Leica HD). Ergonomically, it was no slouch either, with a magnesium alloy body, excellent focuser, high-quality twist up eye cups, and a nicely finished rubber armoured exterior. I rapidly grew very fond of this binocular after using it extensively on my walks, and wondered if I had made the right choice in going for the 8 x 32 Leica. After some reflection, I decided that I would part with the Leica glass and embrace the Series 5 as my mid-size binocular. of choice Since then, I’ve had no regrets. Indeed, I’ve completely ruled out buying a more expensive mid-size instrument, as the Series 5 8 x 42 fulfils all my needs from that binocular aperture class.
Incredulous? Why don’t you test drive it?
Thus began a selling off spree that radically reduced my binocular collection. But it also freed up funds to acquire a state-of-the-art pocket binocular that utterly amazed me from the moment I acquired it; enter the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR.
Leica make some seriously nice kit. I had experienced the optical wonders of no less than three Trinovid binoculars; two pocket glasses – the BCA 8 x 20 and 10 x 25 – and the larger HD 8 x 32. Built to last, with optics to write home every day about, it soon became clear to me that Leica were a world-class binocular maker, holding their own or even exceeding the best other optical giants in the field could offer, including Zeiss and Swarovski. I had sworn to myself that the optical performance of these two pocket binoculars was as good as I could possibly perceive with my average eyes, and that acquiring their Ultravid pocket glass would not be justified. But I was wrong about that!
The 8 x 20 BR was purchased from a reputable dealer – Cley Spy of Norwich, England. I got it for a good price – at least as this model retails for – £495 delivered. It arrived the next day in a very large box filled with paper and foam, surrounding a much tinier box containing the binocular and its accessories. As is typical of Leica products, everything was immaculately packed inside; the instrument snugly placed inside the Cordura pouch, with the neck strap, user manual, warranty card, and test certificate.
As I discovered in testing lots of different binoculars of different sizes, I deduced that as the instrument gets larger, they are easier to make well owing to their less stringent design tolerances. This is especially true of 42mm class instruments and above, and it was self evidently the case when I tested the excellent Series 5 binocular marketed by Barr & Stroud. But the opposite is also true, the smaller the binocular, the harder it is to make well – and the tiniest ones of all are the most difficult of all to build. And that’s why they are quite expensive as binoculars go. That said, what Leica achieved in miniaturising almost all of the technologies that went into their large Ultravid models is nothing short of phenomenal! To see why, read on!
The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR is beautifully made instrument, with a very solid feel in the hand. Weighing in at 243 grams, its frame is constructed from aircraft-grade aluminium overlaid by a thick layer of easy-grip black rubber(whence its BR labelling). It has a dual hinge design, just like the Trinovid BCA models but has fixed stops that prevent it from unfolding too far unlike the latter. That said, it can be used by anyone; from kids to adults, with a wide range of inter-pupillary distances to suit most everyone’s face.
The eye cups twist up and click firmly into place with a very reassuring ‘thwack’ sound. There are no detents just like the Trinovid pocket glasses. You simply leave the eyecups down if you wear glasses or pull them out if you don’t. I personally love this arrangement, as I don’t like having multiple stops as you usually find on most larger binoculars. They are held rigidly in place and only retract after applying a firm downward force to the edges of the soft-rubber-clad padding on the top of the eye cups.
One slight gripe I have is that the left eye cup is harder to deploy than the one on the right. Indeed I have to twist them round as I pull them up to get them to deploy quickly( I don’t observe using eye glasses), but I suspect this will become slightly easier to do with more use. The eye relief is a decent 15mm, a full millimetre more than the 8 x 20 BCA Trinovid. This makes for very comfortable viewing and easier squaring on of one’s eyes with the small exit pupils. Eye glass wearers will also have no problem seeing the entire field with this instrument. I checked this with my varifocals on.
The Ultravid pocket glass has a lockable dioptre mechanism. You adjust it by pressing a small button under the bridge of the binocular just ahead of the focus wheel. When the button is pressed in, you rotate the focus wheel which is indicated by a dial on the focuser. But this must be carried out while looking through the right barrel of the binocular, which can be quite a tricky task, especially if you have large hands. Once the button is released the dioptre setting is locked in place and need not be adjusted again – at least in theory.
Although I do acknowledge that this is a clever engineering solution, I believe it’s a bit overkill, and a bit fiddly to boot, as I found the dioptre adjustment on the Trinovid BCAs to be perfectly adequate in comparison, located as it is on the right objective barrel of the latter instruments. Furthermore, I find I need to tweak the adjustment of the dioptre from time to time, and the Trinovid solution is much more amenable to this kind of micro-adjustment on the fly compared with the Ultravid. The other minor gripe I have with the lockable dioptre on the Ultravid pocket binocular pertains to the lack of a numeric index on the scale. If you already know how much to offset the dioptre from its zero position, and in which direction to rotate it – either plus or minus – you can just go ahead and move it to that position. But that’s not the case with the Ultravid dioptre. You’re simply left guessing which way to turn the dial when first adjusting it. Ho hum.
The large, centrally placed focus wheel on the Ultravid is a significant ergonomic advance over the Trinovid BCAs, which has a much smaller focuser in comparison, and which is especially noticeable when wearing gloves. It is very smooth but rather stiff, especially using one finger. Indeed, I find I like to use two fingers while rotating the focus wheel to get optimum momentum. Close focus was precisely measured at 1.8 metres, exactly as advertised, taking just 1.5 revolutions to go from one end of focus travel to the other. It also can focus just a little beyond infinity.
The objectives of the Ultravid are recessed just a tiny bit more – perhaps 3.5mm – than I remember on the 8 x 20 Trinovid BCA. And while still rather shallow, I’m grateful to have that small improvement, as it affords the objectives with a little bit more protection from rain, dust and peripheral light. You also don’t have to worry quite as much about standing them upright on a level surface in case the lenses get scratched.
The thick rubber armouring covering the aluminium chassis is applied via a novel vulcanisation process which ensures that it will not come loose from the metal even under the harshest conditions of cold or heat.
First class ergonomics counts for nothing of course, unless the optical quality is up to scratch. Beginning with my iPhone torch light test to look for internal reflections, diffused light and diffraction spikes, I was relieved but not really surprised to see that it was every bit as good as the Trinovid binoculars, but did fall a little short of my Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 control. Specifically, when the torch was set to its brightest setting about 2.5 metres away, the Ultravid served up very clean images of the light beam with only the merest trace of faint internal reflections, and no diffused light that causes a haziness to develop around bright light sources. There was however, a more pronounced diffraction spike in comparison to my superlative Series 5 control binocular. When pointed at a bright sodium street lamp, the little Ultravid served up a lovely clean image, with no diffused light, and only the merest trace of faint internal reflections. I could not make out any diffraction spiking however. Here again, I thought the Series 5 images of the street lamp were that little bit cleaner but the results for the Ultravid pocket glass was more than satisfactory.
The torch test never tells the full story however, as it doesn’t test for veiling glare, one of my pet peeves concerning binocular optics. Veiling glare comes mostly from on high lol, and is seen most easily in daylight in an open area away from the shading canopy of trees and observation hides. It occurs when light from above strikes the edges of the lenses in the objective causing a contrast-robbing veil of glare to manifest in the image. In addition, I discovered yet another source of veiling glare, not reported before in the literature to my knowledge, while testing binoculars during bright sunny winter days, with fresh snowfall underfoot. Under such conditions, the highly reflective snow adds to the veiling glare by causing the upper edges of the binocular objectives to add a significant additional source of this annoying stray light. It is easily detected by pointing a binocular high up in a tree canopy against a bright overcast sky. It also shows up in strongly backlit scenes, such as near a low-lying Sun.
Well, I was absolutely amazed when I tested the Ultravid 8x 20 BR for this phenomenon! It proved excellent in supressing veiling glare; certainly in a different league altogether to the Trinovid BCAs and quite comparable to my Series 5 8 x 42 control binocular! Leica have really done their homework on this model and it is one of the major contributing factors to its optical excellence. Of course, while no binocular yet made can completely eliminate veiling glare, with pocket binoculars being particularly sensitive to it, the little Leica Ultravid is certainly the best pocket glass I’ve yet tested for this by some considerable margin. Leica binoculars are well known in the industry for their very aggressive control of stray light, being ahead of some other premium manufacturers such as Zeiss and Swarovski in this department. Well done Leica!
The field of view of the 8 x 20 Ultravid is advertised(as in the user manual) as 110m@1000m or about 6.3 angular degrees. I discovered however, that the true value is nearer 6.5 angular degrees or 113m@1000m. This I ascertained by imaging a star field at night. The Plough asterism provides a convenient test; specifically the distance between Mizar and Alkaid is a precisely known 6.66 angular degrees, and I was able to see that the Ultravid almost captures both stars in the same field; not quite but very nearly! The result is not surprising, as I’ve found that many manufacturers misquote their fields of view, but mostly to over-estimate field size.
From the moment I picked up the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR, I was deeply impressed with the images it served up. Even before tweaking the dioptre adjustment on the instrument it was showing an intensely sharp, bright and well corrected field. The lack of any glare has the effect of peeling away another layer that brings out the finest details in the image. I would describe the effect as being rather like going from a mediocre 7 element eyepiece to one of the highest optical quality with just 3 or 4 elements. You can really see the contrast and sharpness gain immediately!
The Ultravid serves up a slightly brighter image than the Trinovid BCAs owing to its superior light transmission. Some independent testing by others have estimated its transmittivity to be of the order of 90+ per cent across much or all of the visible spectrum, even exceeding 94 per cent at green visual wavelengths (~550nm). In another test carried out on a larger first generation 10 x 42 Ultravid, a transmission value of 88 +/-3 per cent was measured.
Colour correction is excellent. Indeed, I have yet to see any secondary spectrum from this binocular, even after testing in very challenging light conditions. In good light, the colour rendition of the image is very rich and vivid but also stays natural. Greens and yellows are particularly vivid in this instrument – an observation I’ve made before with the Trinovid binoculars. Depth of focus is also very impressive in this 8 x 20, with objects beyond about 50 yards being in sharp focus and only requiring the tiniest tweak of the focus wheel for optimum results.
The other thing that was immediately noticeable to me was the flatness of the image across the field, with off-axis performance being particularly impressive. There is noticeably less edge distortion in the Ultravid pocket glass in comparison to the Trinovid BCA glasses(which are already very good). Furthermore, this was not only true horizontally but also vertically(hardly ever tested by users). What is especially remarkable is that all of this is achieved without employing extra low dispersion (ED) glass elements!
This is not just hearsay. In an optical matter like this it’s always best to consult with the manufacturer. I contacted Leica Sports Optics UK, asking for information on this matter, and I got this reply:
Nice to hear from you!
We are glad to hear that you are impressed with the Ultravid. As you correctly guessed, the Ultravid 8×20 BR doesn’t have an extra-low dispersion element like the bigger “HD” Ultravid. Despite this, the compact Ultravid features aspherical elements that greatly reduce colour fringing and increase sharpness.
Please let us know if you have any more questions.
E-Commerce Manager| Leica Camera UK
So, there you have it! That extraordinary sharpness and excellent colour fidelity of the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR is achieved using specialised aspherical elements built into the eyepieces most likely, but maybe elsewhere in the optical train. But it also serves as a reminder to those who think the addition of ED glass somehow makes a binocular magically better or brighter.
The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 is arguably the world’s best achromatic binocular!
But I believe there is yet another ingredient that contributes to the extraordinary image quality of the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20, and it pertains to the small exit pupil. The aberrations in the human eye increase as the exit pupil increases. This enables you to take in more light of course, but with the added disadvantage of introducing more aberrations. For normal daylight observations for much of the year, the exit pupil reduces to between 2 and 3mm, so there is no big optical advantage in using a binocular that serves up a larger exit pupil. Furthermore, because you are sampling the image with the best corrected part of the eye, the image does present as unusually sharp and well defined. Again, this is not mere opinion. Studies have shown the same thing! Thus, when you are using the Ultravid 8 x 20, you are delivering a very well corrected image to the best part of your eye.
Note added in proof: It’s amazing how some so-called ‘experienced’ folk discover the virtues of a small exit pupil after the fact!
Of course, all of this comes with some trade-offs; small exit pupils make it harder to align your eyes with the small light shaft emerging from the binocular making them more fastidious in regard to precise eye placement, with the result that some glassers report blackouts as the eye becomes misaligned with the exit pupil. This makes them unsatisfactory to some users, but I find this is a skill that most glassers can easily learn. You get better with practice! And because there are no collimation issues with these mechanically robust instruments, eye fatigue even after prolonged use is minimised.
Trust but Verify
Unlike the Trinovid BCA pocket glasses, which are splash proof, meaning that they can handle light rain, they are not water proof in the same way that the Leica Ultravid pocket glass is. Indeed, the latter is advertised in the user manual as being watertight to a depth of 5 metres(16.4 feet). Judging by its excellent build quality, I had no real reason to doubt this but decided to conduct a simple submersion test with the Ultravid, by placing it in a bowl of tap water and leaving it there for 10 minutes before retrieving it and letting it dry naturally. To my relief, it presented no problems whatsoever. The binocular remained bone dry inside with nary a sign of any trapped moisture.
I can also confirm that the AquaDura coatings applied to the outer lenses work very well indeed, by testing against another pocket glass with no such coating. Remarkably, even though the ocular lenses were of the same diameter, it took about six times longer to disperse a fog breathed on the surfaces of the control binocular in comparison with the Ultravid. I found a short youtube clip showing AquaDura strutting its stuff. You can see that clip right here.
In yet another test, I placed the little Ultravid inside a small tupperware container and left it inside a freezer at -20C for an hour. Despite being covered in ice crystals, the focus wheel remained smooth and functional, and the optical glass showed no signs of stress, so the instrument should be reliable in these extremely cold conditions.
These features really add to the robustness of the binocular. You needn’t worry about rain or rivers, or even whether the binocular will fog or freeze-up on even the coldest winter days
What does all of this give the owner? In a phrase, peace of mind!
Notes from the Field
The very first thing I did after giving the Leica Ultravid BR 8 x 20 a quick once-over was to affix the strap. Unlike the neoprene neckstrap that attends the Trinovid BCA binoculars, the Ultravid carry strap is fashioned from fine woven cotton. It’s quite comfortable but there is no provision to quickly remove it by unclipping it from the binocular like you can do with the Trinovids. With such a small and expensive instrument as this, one doesn’t want to tempt fate and drop it while you’re using it. Getting that strap on gives you that little bit of extra security.
Though there has been a tendency for sports optics manufacturers to provide ever wider and wider fields of view, I feel very fortunate indeed not to have been caught up with that rat race. The 113m@1000m field of view is plenty wide enough for most any outdoor activity. Leica binoculars have wonderfully delineated field stops that give the distinct impression that you’re looking into a finely textured landscape painting. I have referred to these picture paintings as vignettes and derive great joy framing objects in the landscape that present the finest blend of colour, light and contrast. It might be a tree trunk covered with moss or lichens, a rocky river bank, a cascading waterfall, a craggy outcrop on the summit of a hill catching the last golden rays of a setting Sun, the delicate stone masonry of old, abandoned farm houses and water mills. The Scottish rural landscape is studded with such visual marvels.
The Ultravid 8 x 20 a fine binocular for birding. The very next morning after receiving the instrument, I took myself off for a quick walk down by the river. Frequent rain had replenished the streams that fed into the Endrick and many of its drier spots were now covered in fast flowing water. It was on this occasion that I came across a brand new species I had never laid eyes on before; a plump little Dipper. Presenting with a snow white breast and throat, a truncated tail and short wings, a jet black nape and mantle, and a ring of chocolate brown plumage on its lower belly, it sat on a rock in the middle of the rapids, bobbing its head up and down as if contemplating its next dive into the water. I got quite close to it- within about 15 yards or so- but the little Ultravid presented the creature in exquisite detail. I watched in amazement as it submerged itself in the water, disappearing for a few tens of seconds before coming back to the surface.
Of course, at the time, I had no idea it was a Dipper. It was only afterwards when I rummaged through my RSPB handbook, that I finally knew what I was observing. Apparently they are fairly common in rural waterways, but are quite elusive owing to their small size and tendency to remain submerged for long periods. They are supremely adapted to life underwater, another book informed me, having denser bones than normal which decreases their buoyancy. They actually walk along the bottom of the river seeking their next meal. How ingenious!
The next sighting I had of the Dipper was on the early evening of St. Patrick’s Day, nearly two weeks after my maiden sighting, but after that a longish dry spell put paid to any more visits. But after a day of rain on March 24, a short dry spell in the evening coaxed me back outside and down to the river to see if the Dipper would return; and sure enough it had! But it wasn’t just one – there were two Dippers enjoying the fresh rainwater. I had learned that pairs begin nesting at this time of year and usually set up home within a metre of water. As one bobbed frantically on a rock in the middle of the river, the other took to flight, hovering just a few inches out from the rock, calling its mate with a high pitched ‘zit zit zit’ sound. And then I watched as they took their turns scuba diving. What a wonderful treat to see such marvellous creatures just a short stroll from my home.
But the rain changes the behaviour of other birds too. I had learned quite some time ago that crows and ravens, wood pigeons, common and black-headed gulls, and even the odd Buzzard descend on the rugby fields annexed to the village sports centre in search of juicy earthworms that tend to come near the surface after prolonged rainy spells. The Ultravid has provided some sterling views of these avian species and their great inventiveness for finding grub.
The natural world pays little or no attention to what humans do. Thank God for that!
Can you imagine if nature turned as wicked and destructive as human souls have become?
Will animals and plants accompany redeemed humanity in the New Creation?
I would like to think so!
Another memorable birding event occurred on the afternoon of March 22, when a walk to my local pond in the grounds of Culcreuch Castle revealed a young Cormorant perched on a branch of a fallen conifer tree at the water’s edge. When I first caught sight of it, it was about 120 yards distant at the northwestern corner of the pond. Its relative youth was all too easy to discern owing to its light coloured underparts. When I tried to get a closer look, I frightened off some Mallard ducks that immediately took to flight, and the somewhat anxious Cormorant headed for the water, and began to swim away from me. This is not the first time I had chanced upon seeing a Cormorant at Culcreuch Pond. More than a year had passed since seeing one(an adult), where it remained for several weeks before moving on. Alas, a long staycation was not on this bird’s mind, as several visits to the pond over the next couple of days showed up nothing.
The reader may recall that I subjected the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR to a water submersion test on March 23 2021. Specifically, I placed the binocular in a bowl of tap water for 10 minutes, after which I left it dry naturally. I reported that I encountered no problems after it had dried. The binocular seemed to pass the test flawlessly. In the coming days, I used the instrument on a daily basis and still encountered no problems. But things changed on the afternoon of March 29, when I noticed a marked drop in contrast while glassing some Dippers in the local river. Puzzled, I examined the objective lenses and discovered, to my horror, that one of them had completely fogged up! Worst still, when I got home and inspected the optic more thoroughly, I noticed that the prisms had also fogged up!
Deeply concerned, I took a couple of photos to document what I understood to be clear evidence of a water leak, which took several days to manifest itself!
The next morning I contacted the seller, informing them of my findings and also including the two photographs of the instrument featured above. They asked me to box up the instrument and send it back to them via a courier pickup they had arranged for it. They agreed to dispatch a replacement for the clearly defective instrument upon receipt of the defective binocular. The replacement binocular was received on the evening of April 7 2021. Thank you Cley Spy! To be honest, the whole experience was a bit of a shock for me. I mean, the instrument was meant to be water tight to a depth of 5 metres. In reality, it couldn’t withstand a simple submersion in just a few centimetres of water for 10 minutes!
Will I be checking the water tightness of the replacement binocular?
Are you nuts?
But it does raise all sorts of questions in my head. Maybe this was just a fluke; an unfortunate one-off? But what if it wasn’t? If a leading binocular manufacturer such as Leica can have slip ups like this one, what chance do lesser manufacturers have in this regard? How many other brands claim to be water proof and are not? Are you willing to test your investment? Is it really correct to designate the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR as water tight to 5 metres? If so, for how long exactly? 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute? And if it’s not water tight, it can’t be air tight either. How long will the dry nitrogen pumped into it realistically remain?
At this stage in the game, I am only confident to assign the term ‘splash proof’ to this binocular and thus must tread more carefully with it than I had initially intended!
Having said all of this, I’m very grateful for the replacement binocular and remain suitably impressed with the instrument’s mechanical and optical quality.
The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR is to become my most used binocular for daytime use. Its superb optics in a small, ultra-portable package makes it the ideal companion for walks, treks through the forest, hill walking and birdwatching. It has replaced my two Trinovid binoculars – the 8 x 32 HD and 10 x 25 – and thus represents a significant cost-saving measure. My larger binoculars will be used exclusively for low-light and night time use, where greater light gathering power is an obvious advantage. I will store the instrument in my small clamshell hard case, with a fresh sachet of desiccant enclosed; the.same shell I used to store my long-gone, but missed; 8 x 20 Trinovid. Unlike the supplied Leica soft storing pouch, this smaller, tougher and less expensive caddy can be zipped closed, keeping the instrument away from dust and moisture while not in use. I hope to write considerably more about my adventures with this small binocular in the months ahead, Lord willing.
Thanks for reading.
Neil English is the author of seven books on amateur and professional astronomy.
A work commenced March 2 2021
Product Name: Barr & Stroud Series 5, 8 x 42
Country of Manufacture: China
Field of View: 142m@ 1000m (8.14 angular degrees)
Eye Relief: 17.2mm
Close focus: 2m advertised(1.78m measured)
Exit Pupil: 5.25mm
Chassis: rubber armoured magnesium
Coatings: fully multi-coated, BaK 4 phase corrected roof prisms, water repelling coatings on outer lenses.
Dioptre range: +/- 4
Waterproof: Yes (1.5m for 3 minutes)
ED Glass: No
Nitrogen Purged: Yes
Dimensions H/W: 15.4/12.6cm
Warranty: 10 years
Accessories: Hard clamshell case, lens cleaning cloth, rain guard and objective lens covers, quality padded neck strap, generic instruction sheet, warranty card.
Retail Price: £160-£200 UK
Ever since I was first introduced to Barr & Stroud by a village acquaintance, I’ve been singularly impressed with their line of roof prism binoculars. The Sahara range is one of the best options you can buy for under £80 and even these give you perhaps 60 per cent of what any premium binocular of similar specifications can offer up. Why can I assert that with confidence? Because technology has advanced so much now that even budget binoculars today vastly outperform premium instruments produced just a few decades ago. Advances in mechanical and optical engineering are now providing the budget consumer with instruments that are fully multi-coated, with phase corrected roof prisms, full waterproofing and purged with dry nitrogen to prevent internal fogging. Coupled to all of that are advances in material science, which enable the binocular manufacturer to create solidly constructed chassis fashioned from light weight metallic alloys like magnesium, titanium and aluminium, as well as synthetic polymers. Taken together, these advances mean that there has never been a better time to purchase a quality binocular at a price that won’t break the bank.
Having sampled various binoculars from Barr & Stroud, including the Sahara, Sierra and the Savannah range, I am more convinced than ever that this company employ staff that have advanced or even specialised knowledge in optical design. As I’ve explained in a few previous blogs, Barr & Stroud once enjoyed an illustrious reputation for delivering fine optical products to the British Navy during two world wars. With the advent of increased globalism in the post-war era, the company ceased trading independently in the late 1970s, but in 2008 the company was re-registered Barr & Stroud under its new parent company, Optical Vision Limited.
I surmised that any firm that created state-of-the-art optics for the British Navy would also know a thing or two about making rugged and long-lasting instruments that worked in the harshest environments and under very severe lighting conditions. They would therefore know how to suppress glare and internal reflections, how to hermetically seal off optics from the elements and how to build instruments that would stand the test of time, even if they are manufactured and assembled in China. All of these considerations came flooding back to me as I began testing one of their most advanced models; the Series 5, 8 x 42.
I purchased the binocular from a reputable dealer, the Birder’s Store in Worcester, England. I paid £159.95, which included a free two-day delivery to my home. That was a very good price, as other outlets were selling the same binocular for £200 +. I have learned the hard way about buying more pricey binoculars from mass market outlets like Amazon, which seem to have inventories that often have mechanical and/or optical deficiencies which ultimately leave you cold. Reputable dealers, in contrast, get stocked with the best gear from any given range so you can be much more confident of obtaining a properly functioning instrument if purchased via these routes.
The instrument arrived double boxed, with everything packed away safe and securely. Unzipping the hard clamshell case revealed the binocular packaged inside a plastic bag. From the moment I held it in my hand, I could see it was a well-designed instrument, quite conventionally styled, and at 715g, weighing in more than 100g lighter than the Savannah 8 x 42 binocular I showcased very favourably in another review. The chassis is constructed from a magnesium alloy overlaid with a thick rubber substrate for extra grip.
Though it sports much of the same optical specifications as the Savannah 8 x 42, the ergonomics of the Series 5 are a good step up from the Savannah. For one thing, the dioptre ring is situated back under the right eyepiece, which is more sensibly placed than that of the Savannah series, which placed the dioptre setting just ahead of the central focusing knob. The dioptre ring is quite rigid and difficult to turn and so is not likely to get out of place easily.
The focuser on the Series 5 is remarkable, easily the best I’ve encountered in models costing as much as three times its modest retail price. It is buttery smooth, completely backlash free and very easy to grip owing to the textured rubber covering its all-metal construction. Unlike a few other models I’ve tested which possessed an outwardly similar appearing focus wheel, you don’t hear the sound of cheap glue unhinging from the internal focusing mechanism as you hone in on your object of study. I’ve noted several times before that Barr & Stroud (B & S) produce binoculars with excellent focusing knobs and this one is no exception. Indeed, I would rate it of higher quality than its counterpart on the Savannah series and just a notch below my state-of-the-art Leica Trinovid 8 x 32 HD. In addition, I would describe the focuser speed as slow to progressive, moving through just over two full rotations going from one end of its focus travel to the other. It also focuses beyond infinity- a useful attribute that helps tweak edge-of-field images as and when required.
The eyecups are made from metal overlaid with soft rubber and twist up in three stages. The eye relief on this instrument is a very generous 17.2mm, ample enough for eye-glass wearers to engage with the vast majority of the field. They are quite firm once locked in place, though I have noticed that the left eye cup is not quite as rigid as its right eye counterpart. They are less rigid, for example, than those found on the Celestron Trailseeker and Nikon Prostaff 7s series. As a reasonably experienced binocular user, I felt a bit of anxiety over this issue, as I like my eyecups to be absolutely rigid and don’t want to wake up one day soon to find it fails to lock at all. I would have liked if B & S took some time in designing the eyecups so that they would hold their positions as rigidly as possible.
The fully multi-coated objective lenses are deeply recessed, conferring extra protection from rain, dust and stray light.
The accessories that attend this Series 5 binocular are also of good quality. You get a nicely padded neck strap adorned with the B & S logo, snugly fitting rubber rain guards and tethered objective covers that protect the instrument from the elements as well as from accidental scratching.
The B & S Series 5 also boasts a hydrophobic coating applied to the outer lenses which causes any accumulated moisture to pool and run off / evaporate quickly. I tested to see if this was the case by performing a simple breath test on the ocular lens and comparing it to an untreated lens surface. In the picture shown below, I can reveal that the ocular lens on the Series 5 binocular dispersed the fog about twice as quickly as my control binocular, a Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32. Even though the latter has a smaller ocular lens surface area, the fog dispersed faster on the Series 5. Impressive stuff!
In order to be objective as possible, I decided to carry out tests of the Series 5 binocular alongside my control instrument; a Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32. My first impression of the Series 5 8 x 42 showed a lovely bright, sharp, high-contrast image with a huge field of view and a very large sweet spot. Depth of focus is excellent, with anything beyond about 60 yards remaining in sharp focus and only requiring the merest tweak to obtain optimal results. Handling is superb. The focus wheel is beautifully responsive and focuses down to about 1.78m – that’s significantly closer than advertised (2m), but not as good as the class-leading 0.95m the Leica Trinovid is capable of. Contrast and colour saturation in both binoculars was excellent with the nod going to the Leica, which has a more neutral colour tone compared to the slightly warmer tone of the Series 5. The Leica had better off-axis performance than the Series 5 however, with less pronounced pincushion distortion, lateral colour and field curvature. That said, it must be noted that the Leica has a considerably smaller field of view than the Series 5 – 7.12 vs 8.14 angular degrees, respectively.
Performing my iPhone bright light torch test revealed superb results for both instruments. The image was clean, with no significant internal reflections in either instrument, no diffused light and the merest trace of a weak diffraction spike. The same was true when I pointed both binoculars at a bright sodium light after dark. The image was crystal clear with no diffused light, internal reflections and diffraction spikes. To be honest, I was actually expecting such a result for the Series 5, as several other tests I carried out on their less expensive Savannah series also yielded excellent results. These tests affirmed what I observed in my preliminary comparison of the two binoculars during a quick daylight evaluation.
But there was still more excellent results when I tested the Series 5 alongside the Leica glass for veiling glare. This is easily evaluated by pointing the instrument upwards at some tree tops against a bright, overcast sky. I am delighted to report that the Series 5 was every bit as good as the superlative Leica Trinovid in this regard. Taken together, these are excellent result that set the Series 5 well ahead of other binoculars costing significantly more, including the Viking ED Kestrel and Merlin, the Zeiss Terra 8 x 25 pocket, and way ahead of the otherwise beautifully designed Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25. Barr & Stroud have really delivered wonderful performance in the suppression of internal reflections, glare and lens flare; an amazing result when you also factor in its modest retail pricing!
The Camera Never Lies
After acquiring a neat new binocular mounting platform and digi-binning gadget I was able to capture images through the Series 5 and Leica Trinovid, enabling me to more objectively assess the optics of both instruments. And here again, the Series 5 stepped up to the mark!
Below is an image taken of the wood carving in a tree located some 60 yards away as seen through the Series 5 8 x 42. The images are completely unprocessed; just the raw images as they were shot through my iPhone mated to the digi-binning adapter.
The next image is shot though the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 under the same conditions.
You can see that the Leica has the edge in terms of image sharpness, colour saturation and edge of field correction, but what’s remarkable to me is how good the Series 5 binocular has turned out!
I took another set of images of some wooden steps located about 20 yards away. The first image was taken through the Series 5 8 x 42.
And here is the same target at the same scale taken at the same time with the Leica Trinovid HD 8x 32.
The Series 5 image has a warmer tone than the Leica, but I think that there is little to differentiate them in terms of sharpness. The Series 5 shows a little more chromatic aberration in high contrast areas than the Leica but if you look carefully at the images, you’ll find some secondary spectrum in both glasses. All that having been said, the view through the binoculars using your eyes is far better than what the camera picks up. Bear in mind that your eyes were created to accommodate things like field curvature, chromatic aberration, and other optical defects far more effectively than an Iphone camera.
Now let’s compare prices: the Leica costs nearly 5 times the retail price of the Series 5 Barr & Stroud!
The exit pupils in both barrels of the Series 5 Barr & Stroud are nice bright circles, indicative that the optics have not been truncated. Also check out the nice dark areas immediately around them! Very nice indeed!
Further Notes from the Field
The Series 5 feels really good and sturdy in my middle-sized hands. It is supremely comfortable and immersive to look through, a consequence of the large exit pupil of the instrument. I’m also quite fond of the colour tone the Series 5 throws up. Once again I was reminded of why this particular configuration of binocular is close to being the ideal all-round instrument used by the naturalist. Even though it has a very large field of view, the level of correction it achieves is very impressive. While a lot of binoculars presenting this size of field have very blurry edges, the Series 5 field is pretty much useable from centre to edge. The focus wheel rotates at a speed roughly mid-way between a good hunting bino(slow) and a birding bino(fast), making it ideal for both activities. I measured the size of the true field under the stars. I was just able to fit the two stars in the Big Dipper – Phecda and Merak – into the same field. These are separated by 7 degrees 54 arc minutes(7.9 degrees), thus a little under the advertised field size of 8.1 angular degrees.
The reduced mass compared to the Savannah series is also very noticeable, enabling it to be worn for longer in the field before neck strain sets in. The padded neck strap also increases the level of comfort afforded to this binocular.
The instrument begins to pull ahead of my 8 x 32 Leica Trinovid shortly before sunset, where its larger aperture and greater exit pupil size transmit more light to the eye as dusk progresses. It’s also considerably better as an astronomical instrument than the 8 x 32, pulling in more starlight across a noticeably wider field of view. I enjoyed some spellbinding views of the Beehive cluster, the Belt stars and Sword Handle of Orion, the magnificent Pleaides and Hyades and many other celestial sights. It’s also an excellent moon-gazing binocular, throwing up the most gorgeous pastels as clouds approach and recede from it on a windy night.
Conclusions & Recommendations
The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 is a remarkable instrument in a number of respects. The images it serves up are very sharp, bright and show very high contrast with impressive depth of field. The field of view is very large and well corrected, with only a little peripheral softness. The binocular also shows exceptional control of glare and internal reflections. Ergonomically, the Series 5 is a joy to use, with an exceptionally smooth and precise focus wheel and a very tight right eye dioptre which rigidly stays in place. The instrument feels solidly made, with high quality twist-up eye cups and with its large exit pupil, easy to align with one’s eyes. And on the night sky, the 8 x 42 is vastly superior to any 8 x 32.
My experience with this Series 5 has led me to re-evaluate my current inventory of mid-size binoculars. Indeed, with a heavy heart, I must concede that it is a better general-purpose instrument than the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32. Indeed, the only real advantages the Trinovid has going for it pertain to its lower mass and slightly smaller frame, but if I’m being honest, these differences are not enough to justify staying with the 8 x 32 format.
I would highly recommend this binocular to birders, hunters and other nature enthusiasts who want maximum bang for the buck. If you’re thinking of getting a more expensive brand, I would encourage others to test-drive the Series 5 first before parting with their hard-earned cash. Incidentally, Barr & Stroud also market an ED version of the same instrument; that is, you get the same ergonomics with an extra-low dispersion objective element for about £70-100 more. Would I be interested in the ED version? No, for reasons that I have explained in a number of previous blogs. My eyes are perfectly sated with the achromatic version of this binocular, but your mileage may vary!
Thanks for reading!
Dr. Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy, who currently is enjoying a new lease of life exploring the fascinating world of binoculars. If you like his work, why not consider buying one of his books or by making a small donation to the upkeep of his website so that he can keep bringing you more of what you like.
A work begun January 2 2021
It’s taken no less than two and a half years for me to settle on the binoculars that I wish to use in the long term. In this time, I have bought in, tested and rejected the vast majority of instruments, finding fault with their optics, mechanics or both. Some of those instruments were mechanically quite sound but proved deficient in critical optical tests; others displayed the very opposite. These experiences have collectively shaped my philosophy about binoculars for personal use, and it is admittedly quite different from the conclusions I have garnered regarding astronomical telescopes. Because telescopes are relatively simple devices, the best bangs for buck are clearly Newtonian reflectors, where one does not need to invest a great deal of money to acquire very good optics. My three regularly used telescopes – all Newtonians – deliver brilliant, high-resolution images of the heavens when properly collimated and acclimated to the environment I set them up in.
Yet, in comparison to my binoculars, my telescopes are now used far less frequently. Where typically I would employ a telescope for a couple of hours every week, my binoculars are employed for timescales at least five times longer- at home by the window watching the birdfeeders, or during long walks out of doors and also at night. And because these small, portable instruments are used so frequently I quickly concluded that it pays to invest in the best instruments that deliver everything I could possibly wish for in a binocular. These instruments are both made by the world-leading optical firm, Leica; a little Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 and a larger Trinovid 8 x 32 HD, featured below:
They are both light weight and easy to transport, they have excellent build quality and are designed for prolonged use, even under the harshest of outdoor conditions. Built to last, they will likely outlive this author if properly cared for. They also deliver excellent images, rich in contrast and accurate colour fidelity, with great control of glare and internal reflections. And while both fall a bit short of Leica’s flagship models, the Ultravids, these Trinovids provide 95 per cent of the performance of the former, so here, yet again, is a classic case of diminishing returns; you have to fork out considerably more to gain that last five per cent in optics and ergonomics, which, with my average eyes, I can well do without. The Trinovids have a pedigree that goes all the way back to the 1950s, unlike the Ultravids, which are relatively recent additions to their product line. In this capacity, the ‘Trinnies’ are more thoroughly tried and tested by binocular enthusiasts, not just from my own generation but also from a generation once removed from me. Of course, you don’t need to take my word for that. You will hear this from enthusiasts who own instruments from both of these lines. Check out this link as an example in point.
The 8 x 32 is a brilliant general-purpose binocular with a superb close focus of under 1 metre and a field of view of 124 metres @1000m, while the smaller, pocket-sized 10 x 25(with a field of 90m@1000m) provides an extra magnification boost when the need arises. Because both instruments do not make much demands in terms of size or weight, I can and often do take both of them along with me on general walks. This blog will describe some of the wonderful things I enjoy glassing with these instruments during the short days of Winter.
Enjoying the Magical Light of a low Winter Sun
Sunlight is a precious commodity in the bleak mid-Winter. God gave us sunlight to sustain living things by providing electromagnetic radiation that fully penetrates our atmosphere, providing both light and heat. But while we take such things as sunlight for granted, it is really a miraculous event, as the laws of physics and chemistry could well have prevented that light from penetrating all the way down to the surface. Sunlight lifts the spirit, strengthens the immune system and allows to us to see amazing details. The low altitude of the Sun at this far northerly latitude(56 degrees) creates wondrous light shows, bathing trees, hills, streams and snow covered open fields in magical light. The 8 x 32 Trinnie serves me best during these short days, its larger objective lenses drawing in a good amount of light to the eyes.
Winter is also a great time to start birdwatching, as the trees where many birds take refuge in are much easier to pick up in the binocular, as they are devoid of leaves. Red breasted Robins, blackbirds and Blue tits are very commonly observed on my walks, and they also seem to be quite undaunted by human passers by. But the cruel frosts of Winter can make life difficult for bathing birds such as mute swans, ducks and geese, which sometimes get into a spot of trouble when the pond freezes over. Culcreuch Pond, a mere half mile walk from my home, is one of my ‘local patches,’ a place where a variety of habitats are provided for our feathered friends. During the cold snap of early January, I was anxious about the swans in particular, as they have been known to get trapped by ice on the water’s surface. Luckily, they were sensible enough to move elsewhere before the ice got the better of them. When milder conditions return, so hopefully will this monogamous couple, which together successfully raised 6 strapping cygnets this past season.
The low Winter Sun also illumines the walls of Culcreuch Castle beautifully. The castle holds a special place for my family, as we had our wedding reception here some 22 years ago come the end of April next. I often spend many idle minutes glassing the stone masonry of the castle on sunny afternoons, with its many nooks and crannies, and enjoying the glint of reflected sunlight from the hardy moss and lichens that eke out a living from the bare stone. There is history here too; the oldest parts of the castle dating back to Norman times (12th century). In the months ahead, God willing, Swallows and Swifts form Africa and southern Europe will roost and rear a new generation of these avian super-migrators.
Pure as the Driven Snow
The second week of January 2021 brought very cold temperatures to our shores, when temperatures struggled to get above -6C during the day and plummeted to -12C at night, making it the coldest spell we have endured in about a decade. But we were also graced by a decent fall of snow which transformed the landscape into a winter wonderland, albeit for a brief few days.
While my sons enjoyed a few hours of sledging, my wife and I took ourselves off out to enjoy the frigid air in brilliant winter sunshine. There is something magical about enjoying the great outdoors during these conditions, when just a few inches of snow changes the valley into a bonnie, white desert under a cobalt blue sky. It’s during these conditions that one appreciates the larger focus wheel of a mid-sized binocular, which is easier to negotiate with thick-padded gloves on, though I was quite surprised to discover that even the small focus wheel of the 10 x 25 Trinovid can also be used reasonably productively under such conditions, and thus shouldn’t be a deterrent for those who use such a diminutive instrument.
In such an environment, even dull greys become quite intense and snow covered trees become especially colourful. One may not imagine that targets that are normally perceived as ‘white’ take on entirely different hues with snow on the ground. Take, for example, sheep foraging on the meagre vegetation available on the hilly crags. I was very surprised to discover that their thick woollen coats would render them almost invisible under such conditions. But quite the opposite is true; those woollen white coats show up as decidedly yellow under such conditions, making them quite easy to find and follow.
Even at the end of the first week in January, the increase in day length is quite perceptible and very much appreciated. It’s especially important to get out during these short but very cold days as even the feeble sunshine does wonders to keep one’s spirits high, now that the entire country is once again under these economically crippling, pseudoscientific lockdowns. Thankfully, the vast majority of the locals venture out without wearing masks, although it is occasionally distressful to see the odd mask-clad soul struggling to get about and visibly frightened out of his/her skin. The Scots are canny people though- they’re not easily swayed by the cock ‘n’ bull propaganda constantly being beamed into our houses by the government. Even a short walk stimulates vitamin D production which has been shown in several studies to help protect against the Rona virus. During winter, I also take a few antioxidant supplements such as N-Acetyl Cysteine, a modified, sulphur-rich amino acid that has been shown to keep the lungs from clogging up and acts as a powerful protector against respiratory viruses. Indeed, ever since I started taking such a supplement during winter, I have not suffered a bad cold in nearly two decades! I also take extra vitamin D and astaxanthin(another powerful antioxidant) during the winter months, which helps keep one’s joints moving well. All of these supplements are available cheaply and without prescription. And true knowledge is power!
The bird feeders in my back garden are especially lively during these cold, snowy days, which I can enjoy from the comfort of the warm indoors, using the 10x glass to get up-close and personal with each subject. Starlings, which are rarely seen ’round these parts, make the most of the fat ball crumbs dropped by the hyperactive tits that swarm the feeders at this time of year. Such harsh conditions often invites larger animals too, such as grey squirrels, which venture down from the conifer trees in the copse to the west of our home.
And up at the pond, the snow and ice provide some advantages over the usual grass and mud-covered tracks that make identifying some of its inhabitants, such as these laid down by a resident moorhen.
The effects of a snow covered valley on the night sky are especially pronounced. The reflected light, even with the Moon out of the sky, greatly diminishes the glory of the winter stars. I was astounded by the darkness of the sky once the snow cleared from the valley, as if I were peering into another heavens altogether! Such is the power of the gentle snowflake!
One of the great tragedies of the modern world is that the vast majority of human souls, working in great cities strewn across the globe, never get to see the true splendour of the sky after dark.
God made the stars not only for signs and seasons but also to display His supreme power;
The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.
It is my firm belief that the emergence of towns and cities is one of the principal reasons why so many of their inhabitants have lost much of their sense of the divine. Furthermore, I feel very fortunate to live in a place where much of the majesty of the heaven is still manifested, and my binoculars are the ideal tools to explore its manifold wonders.
God made the Sun to rule by day and the Moon to rule by night, with both serving as masterful timepieces to orchestrate the fantastical rhythms of life in the Earth’s biosphere. But with the advent of human global civilization, science is yielding some alarming facts about the effects of artificial light on its various biomes. For example, recent studies suggest that the alarming decline in insect populations might well be attributed to the encroach of street lighting, and an even more extensive study has provided very compelling evidence that LED lighting is responsible for the decimation of coral reefs. These findings are completely at odds with the usual mantra of “climate change” parroted by environmentalists – for the most part, pagan to the core – as well as those who worship at the altar of the new green religion.
Though valiant efforts have been made to raise awareness, both of light pollution in general, and to reversing its effects in some restricted cases, I’m not entirely sure whether much, if anything, can be done to reverse these worrying trends.
As a novice and only half serious twitcher, I have made some good progress finding new birds to add to my list of ‘conquests.’ On my river walk, for example, I discovered a patch of rather over grown bramble bushes where one member of the smallest species in the British Isles – the Goldcrest – hangs out. This tiny creature, barely 9cm long, betrayed its presence by virtue of a conspicuous yellow crest on the crown of its head, bordered by a prominent black stripe on either side. The fact that it was a yellow crest and not orange revealed to me that this was a female. Since first sighting it back in November, I have visited the same patch several times and have been lucky enough to glass this rather rotund bodied marvel a few times since with my trusty 8 x 32. And on one occasion, I was fortunate enough to observe her hovering over the same brambles, stalking its lunch or some such.
The aeronautical displays of the tiny female Goldcrest astounded me. Human aeronautical engineers have only recently been able to to design drones that only very clumsily approach the gracefulness of hovering birds and other flying creatures. And the same is true of the ubiquitous blue tits that frequent the birdfeeders in my own back yard. Birds are marvellously designed animals that abundantly display the power of their Creator who spoke them into existence. Of course, evolutionists will conjure up some just-so, cock n’ bull story that they evolved from therapod dinosaurs or some such, but there is no compelling evidence that even a single species emerged in this way, just like aeroplanes and drones must likewise have intelligent designers, and all are merely examples of reverse-engineering from our ongoing study of bird and insect flight.
On the dull, overcast afternoon of January 13 2021, I bagged yet another raptor. Glancing out of my front window across to the trees in the swing park, my eye caught the outline of a bird perched on one of the higher branches of a leafless Sycamore tree. Reaching for my 10 x 25, I could see that it was rather a large bird, about the size of a fully grown Woodpigeon, but with long, square-ended tail feathers. I called my wife, a far more experienced birder than myself, while scrambling to deploy my big gun, a Pentax 20 x 60. With its back to us, the 10x magnification wasn’t quite enough for us to identify the creature given the misty air we were peering through, but our luck changed as I was taking the caps off the objective and ocular lenses of the big bin, and it turned round facing us some 35 yards away in the distance. The 20 x 60 gave us an amazing view, its off-white belly adorned with dusky horizontal striping. But it was its ferocious stare, golden coloured talons and hooked yellow beak that finally convinced us that we were watching a female Sparrowhawk! After a few minutes, she took to flight, displaying her broad, rounded wings, which the RSPB handbook had alerted us to look out for.
What a wonderful distraction from an otherwise ordinary Winter day! And who says a 20 x 60 is too large to use as a birding binocular? On this drab afternoon, it made all the difference between vaguely suspecting and actually confirming a new bird of prey had paid us a visit.
Cool or what?
The Great British Garden Birdwatch
The last weekend in January will be a weekend of birdwatching. The RSPB is organising a nationwide backyard birdwatch. No cancel culture here folks: everyone is welcome to take part. Well, I’ve done my little bit to advance the cause of birdwatching by gifting binoculars to a few of my next door neighbours, so they will hopefully be participating too.
The idea is fairly simple; you just make a note of all the different kinds of birds that visit your garden. Of course, I expect Blue tits to dominate the scene, as they always do, but I also expect lots of curious Robins, blackbirds, Great tits, Long-tailed tits and even the odd Wren and House Sparrows, but no matter how many times you look, nature throws up a surprise, so it will make for an interesting weekend. Once completed, the data can be posted to a central data base where it can be analysed to reveal trends over time. This is my second year participating and so it should be fun!
Recently, I’ve started collecting some books by avid birdwatching celebrities. Two of them are by comedians; Bill Oddie and Bill Bailey; they’re good reads and very funny as you might expect, but sadly, they’ve succumbed to the propaganda of the evolution lunes. “These birds evolved this trait and these other birds evolved this way,” yada yada yada, and so on and so forth. My eyes glaze over when I read such bunk, but such is the level of deception among non-scientists, not only in the British Isles, but right across the world. Never mind, maybe some day I’ll write a book that correctly attributes the properties of birds to their rightful Creator. But will anyone buy it? I mean, facts don’t really matter anymore do they?
In our post-truth world, facts will never change the brainwashed. They just don’t want to know!
After a weekend of family birding, we finally got to submit our tally to the RSPB website. As well as the usual suspects; Blue tits, Long tailed tits, Blackbirds, Song thrushes, as well as the odd House Sparrow, Starling, Coal tit and Treecreeper, I finally got to see a new(for me) bird; a colourful Nuthatch, gorging its way through the newly filled monkey nut feeder. Though my wife is well accustomed to seeing Nuthatches at her work at the nearby University of Stirling campus, where she would often send me close up pictures of one feeding just outside her office window, there is nothing quite like seeing a real life bird in the flesh, as it were. Mind you, it never stayed for long; just a few minutes feeding and then off it flew on the wings of a cold January wind. Perhaps it will visit the garden again soon? Time will tell.
A local boy, who hangs about with my two sons, was astonished at the number of birds he saw at our feeders and wondered why his own bird feeders were not as busy as our own. Then it dawned on me that it could well be due to the small wooded area of common ground just beyond the confines of our back garden, where many birds hang out and eventually make their way over in search of a free meal. In contrast, his bird feeder lies in the wide open, well away from the protection of trees. We suggested that he might have better luck moving the feeder closer to the hedgerows at the edge of his family property. He said he’d give it a try!
A Cold Winter
Compared with the last few years, this winter has been on the cold side. Many nights in December and January have been at or below freezing and sometimes the temperatures have fallen into negative double figures. Nor have we seen the last of the snow, as we enter the short month of February. Furthermore, it’s been very cold in many nations during this 2020-21 winter, a fact that may at least in part be attributed to a very inactive Sun that has only recently come alive again. Many of my students and new acquaintances I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with over the years have asked me what I think about ‘climate change.’ They are often surprised to learn that while I do accept that the Earth is warming, I would never go so far as to become alarmist about it. I’m suspicious of so-called scientific ‘consensus.’ Why? Because the word consensus is a political concept not a scientific one.
Climate alarmism is a cult and I put those folk in the same box as I place evolutionists and militant vegans; annoying, generally uninformed and weaponised only with selective knowledge. And while I readily point them to some relevant literature that challenges their world views, they generally never follow up on any of it
As a Bible believing Christian, I understand that we have been given a clear mandate from God to properly steward the planet, but ultimately our Creator has resoundingly stated that humans will never be granted the opportunity to bring this world to an end:
“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease.”
Yep, God and God alone, will decide that time for us.
He will end humanity’s tenure when He’s good and ready, so why all the alarmism?
Take a chill pill man!
And climate has always changed. Sometimes it was hot- very hot – such as when the magnificent dinosaurs roamed the planet – and we have had several ice ages. And in the days of the Romans, the climate was warmer than it is today, and humans certainly didn’t cause that. Indeed, I recall some of the Augustan poets eulogising the fecundity of the Italian countryside and how it delivered two or more harvests in a single year!
Nor do I believe that we must take drastic measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, certainly not in the way presented by those creeps at the World Economic Forum, who outline a truly dystopian outlook for humanity. Let’s get one thing crystal clear; those folk hate humanity. Why else promote measures to aggressively reduce global populations?
No, God clearly intends to have a very large family of redeemed humans in the New Creation. People chosen from all the nations of the Earth:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands,
Yes sir, God’s got an awesome plan, watching over His word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12)
Let’s trust His good judgement!
With the inclemency in the weather continuing into February, with constant sleet, snow and rain, glassing out of doors is challenging to say the least but there are always new things to do and learn. Recently, I have developed an interest in so-called digibinning, that is, taking images through my binoculars with my iPhone.
I bought a new adapter for my tripod – the SnapZoom -that allows me to stably mount an assortment of binoculars on;
It’s simplicity itself; a horizontal platform that one places the binocular on and a simple strap that clasps it in place. I needed it because the 8 x 32 Trinny doesn’t have a stalk to allow me to mate it with a regular binocular tripod adapter. But I also like the simplicity of the SnapZoom because it is so quick and easy to use, and it accommodates all of my binoculars, from the largest to the smallest.
I also purchased a neat little iPhone adapter mount that can be attached to the eye cup of a wide range of binoculars enabling me to take images through them. It’s a a bit fidgety but very easy to use once you get the hang of it.
My first results were very encouraging. Shown below is an unmodified image of a tree carving located some 100 yards from my front door as captured by the 8 x 32;
This gives you some idea of the bright and sharp images served up by this binocular. But it can also be used to provide an objective way of comparing the images generated by different binoculars.
Here’s an image taken through an inexpensive 8 x 42 binocular costing about £70.
Now compare the above to an image taken through the Leica Trinovid 8x 32 below costing ten times more:
As you can see, the Trinny serves up a brighter, sharper and more contrasted image for sure, but is it ten times better?
The second week of February 2021 has continued to see 10-year record low temperatures in Scotland. The night of February 10 is believed to see the mercury fall to -20C further north, but down here, just north of the central belt, it will fall to a relatively balmy -13C. Much of central Europe and North America is also in deep freeze. The snow fall in Germany, as well as having no wind nearly caused widespread electricity blackouts – surely a dangerous thing in these cold days. The cause? Germany’s over-reliance on renewables; solar and wind power in particular. Only the coal burning power stations saved the day – a stark reminder that these green technologies can let a nation down. France, in comparison, with its many nuclear power plants – suffered no such outages. All of this goes to show what the best available science tells us. A truly green economy will continue to rely on fossil fuels, hydroelectric and nuclear power if it is to be maintained in the long-term. And the best way to turn developing countries green is to lift their citizens out of poverty, by generating cheap sustainable electricity supplies so that they don’t have to resort to raiding forests and grasslands for many hours a day, gathering enough fuel to make their next family meal.
The Trinnies perform brilliantly in the cold. I have now had them operating for several hours, well below zero, and over several days. The mechanics work flawlessly. Their ergonomics increases in value, after trusting then verifying. Moreover, the quality of the images they serve up are nothing short of breath taking! On the afternoon of February 9, my wife and I went for a walk round the castle grounds. Just as we reached the castle itself, she alerted me to the sight of a hovering Buzzard passing right overhead. Luckily I had the little 10 x 25 with me for extra reach. Soaring less than 80 yards above my head, I enjoyed a magical few seconds imaging this magnificent creature with its dark banded wings outstretched, passing right over my head! For a split second, I saw its extraordinarily dark and acute eyes looking right back at me, its hooked beak standing out starkly against a bright blue sky. What a way to see the world!
So, even on the coldest days, there are miracles worth witnessing with a small, quality glass.
The Gemini Hour
The evening sky in mid-February is one of my favourite times of year to enjoy the binocular heavens. With the snows now gone(and creating a new, ten-year low of -21.5C) from our shores, the true majesty of the winter night sky has returned. A beautiful, waxing crescent Moon graced the early evening sky, displaying wonderful earthshine through the 8 x 32 Trinovid. By 9pm local time, Gemini lies on the meridian, with mighty Orion still prominent but sinking lower into the southwestern sky. The intensely bright belt stars of the celestial Hunter are painfully beautiful in the 8 x 32, surrounded by a blizzard of fainter suns comprising Collinder 70.
Auriga, Taurus, Perseus and Cassiopeia form a grand procession of starlight, from southwest to northwest, and are considerably easier to enjoy, owing to their lower altitudes, which entails less neck strain while glassing. The placing of Perseus in particular in the north-western sky makes observing the beautiful Double Cluster and the Alpha Perseii Association particularly enjoyable to glass with my 32mm Leica.
Just a little off the southeast of Castor & Pollux lies the comely Beehive cluster(M44), jewel of Praesepe in Cancer. Though the objectives of the Leica glass are small as stargazing binoculars come, its impressively high light transmission gathers enough celestial photons to really make observing its numerous stellar components very worthwhile. The endearing Pleiads & Hyades are still well placed for exploration, as are numerous Messier open clusters that stand out well against a dark and transparent sky – M35 in Gemini is very prominent, M36, 37 & 38 can be enjoyed in a single field coursing through the heart of Auriga. M34 in Perseus stands out well also, as does M52 which shows up as a roughly kidney shaped misty patch over in Cassiopeia. And to top it all off, looking over in the east, the sprawling Coma Cluster (Melotte 111) begins to take up a commanding position, a sure sign that Spring is on its way.
A walk by the river bank reveals myriad tender Snowdrops, now in full bloom, and even the Daffodils are beginning to poke through the frigid soil, though it will be many weeks yet before their radiant yellow flowers grace our eyes.
Rambling in Balmaha
Every once and a while, we get incredibly mild and clement days during the Scottish Winter, and Sunday February 21 proved to be one such day. Gentle southerly winds brought warm air over the British Isles and temperatures responded by rising into double figures(11C). But while we normally associate such mild spells in Winter with rain and cloud, today was bright and sunny; the perfect day to go for a short family drive within our region and visit the picturesque Balmaha, on the shores of Loch Lomond.
This is a favourite tourist spot irrespective of the time of the year, but owing to the Pandemic, we were greeted by far less overseas visitors. The Conic, which rises some 361 metres above the eastern side of the Loch, is perennially popular with hill walkers and provides fabulous views of the surrounding countryside for miles around. Though we’ve climbed this hill many times over the years, we decided we would do something a little less strenuous this time round, and simply enjoy the beautiful ancient woodland surrounding it.
The 8 x 32 Trinnie is the ideal instrument for exploring forest terrain, serving up stunningly beautiful images of trees, burns, leaflitter and all manner of fungi, lichen and moss that set the scene ablaze in a verdant riot. Forests have always been associated with sacred spaces, even in pre-Christian times, and to me, they are places of deep contemplation. I can’t help but think that God created these places to calm the human spirit, packing them full of life so that we might wonder after Him. For thus says the Lord God;
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.
Alas, there were few birds to see this afternoon, save for the odd Robin, Pied wagtail and Wood Pigeon. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday, which brings more people to these places.
After enjoying a lengthy ramble along well trodden pathways, we ended up taking a look around the village of Balmaha. Arguably one of the most visited sites is the statue of Tom Weir(1914-2006), one of Scotland’s best loved ramblers. But he was much more than a rambler. Weir was also an accomplished writer(as was his sister, Molly), broadcaster and evangelist for the great Scottish outdoors and its conservation; much like a 20th century John Muir. I fondly remember watching many of his TV shows, which ran for years and years on TV. There probably wasn’t an inch of Scotland he didn’t walk over or comment on! To say he’s sorely missed would be a gross understatement!
Balmaha is a glasser’s paradise, that’s for sure.
I’m very glad I had my 8 x 32 with me to enjoy the scenery!
Investing in Quality
The Trinnies have served me well this winter, performing flawlessly under often harsh conditions, whether in rain or snow or ice. Their brilliant, bright images are the result of constant upgrading of their coatings which transmit a very high percentage of the light they collect, rendering them extraordinarily efficient instruments. I already mentioned, the 8 x 32 achieves 90% efficiency with the little 10 x 25 being not far behind. Indeed, I recently stumbled across a most interesting article by a German optics enthusiast who has documented the steady increase in light transmission of Leica binoculars over several decades. .According to his measurements, a 1978 pocket 8 x 20 had a transmittivity of only 55%, but by 1998 these same beauties were delivering light transmission values of 85 or 86%. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if my recently acquired 10 x 25 is a few percentiles higher still!
My visit to the pond on St. David’s Day revealed some more curious visitors; a few Common Gulls enjoying a dip in the water, and a pair of Greylag Geese with their prominent orange beaks. It will be interesting to see how long they stay, as my birding handbook informs me that these are migratory species that winter here in the UK before moving back to Iceland and northern Scandinavia in April and May. The Corbies have now become much more vocal, as they begin to build their nests in the conifer trees to the west of the house.
We have now reached March 2021, the end of a long and cold winter here in Scotland. It’s been a tough season, what with the lockdowns, the very long nights and the bitter cold, but the Sun grows stronger every day, rising higher in the sky on its sojourn northwards. The vernal equinox is just weeks away and by month’s end we’ll be back in good ole British Summer Time (BST). What will the Spring and Summer bring? Only time will tell! One thing’s for sure though, the little Trinnies will continue to accompany me on my outdoor adventures!
Thanks for reading!
A work commenced February 12 2021
Product: Ricoh Pentax UD 9 x 21
Country of Origin: China
Eye Relief: 9.9mm
Exit Pupil: 2.3mm
Field of View: 104m@1000m(6.0 angular degrees)
Close Focus: 3m advertised, 2.5m measured
ED Glass: No
Chassis construction: Plastic
Nitrogen Purging: No
Coatings: Fully broadband multicoated, no phase coating on prisms
Dimensions: H/W 8.7/10.8cm
Cost: £70.00 UK
Accessories: Case, carry strap, ocular lens caps, instruction sheet and warranty card
Over the last few years, I’ve come to really love and appreciate binoculars of all types – big ones, medium sized and tiny pocket glasses. In that time I’ve used several Pentax models, a little 9 x 28, a huge 20 x 60 and discovered the joys of the almost universally lauded Papilio II 6.5 x 21, noted for its exceptional close focus of about 0.5m. Pentax make good products, delivering quality optics and ergonomics at decent retail prices.
In August 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, Pentax launched their very economically priced UD series of pocket binoculars. Tiny and funky, their chassis come in a variety of colours; black, orange & grey, lime green and even pink. In addition, the UD series came with two magnification options 9 x 21 or 10 x 21. Intrigued by their appearance, I decided to order one up to see what was what. I went for the 9x model, as lower magnifications tend to have the least compromised optics. I chose the black chassis as I do not enjoy garish colours.
The product arrived double boxed. The binocular was accompanied by a nylon pouch together with a neck strap, ocular lens caps, a generic instruction manual and warranty card.
The 9 x 21 Pentax UD is arguably the lightest binocular I have ever experienced. Weighing in at less than 200g, it made my 8 x 25 Opticron Aspheric LE and Leica Trinovid 10 x 25 seem heavy in comparison. The binocular chassis is constructed from ABS plastic and has no rubber armouring. Instead, it has a glossy finish that makes it a little bit of a challenge to grip properly, but once you get used to it, it doesn’t really present a problem.
Fully deployed to my IPD, and with the eyecups extended upwards the binocular is as wide as it is tall. Here it is pictured side by side with the diminutive Leica 10 x 25 as a size comparison;
Despite its smaller physical size and mass compared to my other pocket glasses, the Pentax UD’s single hinge design means it can’t fold up as well as my Leica, with its dual hinge design, so storing it will require a little extra space.
The underside of the binocular has two small thumb rests that help you grip the instrument for a steady view:
The eyecups are made of a soft plastic that can be twisted up for non-eyeglass wearers or left down for those who use glasses. However, the small eye relief of 9.9mm means that you won’t be able to see the entire field if using glasses. That wasn’t an issue for me though, but it’s definitely worth bearing in mind if you must wear eye glasses. However, the good news is that these eye cups click into place and hold their positions reasonably well.
The Pentax UD has fully multi-coated optics, which Pentax define as “a multi-layer coating applied to all reflective lens surfaces.” However, those interested in looking at the 10x model might be somewhat disappointed as the above webpage states that it only has single layer coatings, which will definitely cut down on light transmission and contrast.
The ocular lenses are smaller than on more expensive pocket glasses I’ve showcased elsewhere on my website, and are more in keeping with those I encountered with the Kowa SV and Olympus WP II 8 x 25 models.
The 21mm objectives are quite deeply recessed for a binocular of this size; certainly better than the Leica and Opticron 25 models I’ve used. The interior appears to be clean and dust-free and has decent baffling as well.
The focus wheel on the Pentax UD 9 x 21 is quite remarkable. On such a budget-priced model, I just wasn’t expecting such good quality. It is covered by a very grippy rubber substrate and moves smoothly with no backlash, either when rotating clockwise or anti-clockwise. It’s very intuitive and easy to use, owing to its large frame – a big plus on such a small binocular as this. Close focus was a very decent 2.5 metres and takes just over two full rotations to go from one end of its focus travel to the other. It also focuses a little beyond infinity, which is good for helping to clean up the edge of field performance of the glass.
The dioptre setting is very conventional and lies just under the right ocular lens. It is reasonably stiff but easy to use, and holds its position adequately in the field. As you can imagine, handling this binocular takes a bit of getting used to, as it is so small, but if your hands are not overly large, or if it’s being used by children and smaller adults, this shouldn’t present a problem. Remarkably, this tiny binocular can be mated to a tripod or monopod by unscrewing the cone shaped stalk at the head of the central bridge.
The UD series are not water or fog proof, so I would avoid using this model if you intend to explore the wet and the wild. That said, after I evaluated its optics, I can definitely see a niche for it. For more details, read on.
On paper, the Pentax UD 9 x 21 doesn’t have much to write home about. The prisms are not phase coated(fully expected for a roof prism binocular in this price class), so light transmission and edge sharpness might have suffered somewhat as a consequence. After adjusting the right eye dioptre ring for my eye, my first impression was actually quite good! The image was brighter, sharper and more contrast-rich than I fully expected, but then again, Pentax know how to construct a decent binocular, and they sure as hell surprised me in the past!
Performing my iPhone bright light torch test, I was amazed to see that there was little in the way of internal reflections – excellent by almost anyone’s standards. It was clean and with little sign of diffused light like I had seen in other budget-priced instruments in this price class. It wasn’t perfect though. The intense torch beam showed up as a very strong diffraction spike; indeed the strongest spiking I’ve thus far encountered in my binocular education! But I had learned from many past experiences that this particular artefact would not be a fatal blow. Yes it did show up on bright outside lighting and while slightly annoying to see, you can quickly get used to it, especially if you avoid very intense night light sources or intend using the instrument only during daylight hours. In addition and for the record, no roof prism binocular is entirely free of this diffractive phenomenon; although more expensive models do manage to suppress it better.
Daylight observations of some tree trunks during bright winter sunshine served up an impressive image. The image was brighter than expected (remembering it has an exit pupil of just 2.3mm), contrast was good, colour tone seemed very natural, and the image has a nice big sweet spot, with only a little peripheral softness creeping in. How can this be achieved in such a low-priced binocular? The answer is by keeping the field of view on the narrow side. At 6.0 angular degrees (~ 5.9 measured), the image shows less field distortion at the edge of the field, allowing the sweet spot to seem impressively large. My notes on the Olympus 10 x 25 model showed that it served up a field of about 6.5 degrees in comparison, but the image had a noticeably smaller sweet spot and was quite badly distorted as one left the central part of the field, moving towards the field stops.
The Pentax UD 9 x 21 does show more veiling glare than I would have liked though. The glasser does have some control over this however, by observing under a roof or a forest canopy, or simply by stretching out one’s hand to shade the objectives better. That said, while it was no where near as good as the Opticron 8x 25 or superlative Leica 10 x 25, I have seen worse veiling glare in binoculars costing many times more than this little Pentax.
Colour correction is quite well controlled in the centre of the image, but does show some lateral fringing as a high contrast target(a telephone pole in this case) is moved off centre. In addition, there is some field curvature and pincushion distortion near the field stops.
Overall though, I was quite impressed with the optical performance of the Pentax UD 9 x 21, especially when you factor in its very modest price tag.
Brief Night Sky Assessment
Turning the Pentax UD 9 x 21 on the Hyades in Taurus, I was able to image the main stars in the bull’s horn. The stars were nice and tightly focused with most of the field being useful. There was definitely some softness and a bloating of the seeing discs right at the edge though. The Pleaides looked good but a wee bit dim even for a pocket glass. Waiting up into the wee small hours of early February, with a break in the clouds, I finally had a chance to image the last quarter Moon fairly low in the sky. The Pentax delivered quite a decent image but you could clearly see the weak diffraction spike smeared across the field. This would definitely appear worse had I glassed a full or gibbous Moon.
Conclusions & Recommendations
The Pentax UD 9 x 21 is a fun little binocular. It offers very decent optical performance for a modest price. While it will never pique the attention of serious glassers who want to experience the very best views, there are many more people who just want something small, convenient and inexpensive, which will allow them to get close up to the action. It will therefore suit those who enjoy spectator sports, theatre goers, watching garden birds, trekking in the mountains, or campers who like checking out the local scenery. It’s small size, weight and inexpensive price tag, makes it ideal for kids and will provide a decent enough optical experience to sustain their curiosity until they cultivate the desire to buy a more serious instrument. Its lack of waterproofing means you should take extra care and not use it in damp and rainy conditions but as long as you’re aware of these shortcomings you should be Ok to go!
Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. If you like his work why not consider supporting him by making a donation or buying one of his books? Thanks for reading!
A work commenced January 24 2021
Product: Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42
Country of Origin: China
Eye Relief: 15.5mm
Exit Pupil: 4.2mm
Field of View: 114m@1000m/6.5 angular degrees
Close Focus: 2m (advertised), 1.75m measured
ED Glass: No
Chassis Construction: polycarbonate, rubber armoured
Weatherproofing: water proof(1.5m for 3 minutes)
Nitrogen Purging: Yes
Dioptre Compensation Range: +/- 4 dioptres
Coatings: Fully Multicoated, phase corrected BAK4 Schmidt-Pechan prisms
Warranty: 10 Years
Dimensions W/H/D: 13/15/5.7cm
Supplied Accessories: Clamshell hard case, logoed neck strap, warranty card, generic instruction sheet, lens cleaning cloth.
Retail Price: £120-140 UK
There is an old adage; you get what you pay for. Though there is more than a grain of truth to this, as I enter my third year exploring and enjoying the binocular market, I have found genuine exceptions to that time honoured maxim. There is such a thing as a great bargain binocular; that is, a solidly made instrument that offers a level of optical performance and ergonomics well above what you’d expect given its modest price tag. I have spoken in the past of the remarkable Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42, which punched well above its weight and left a lasting impression on this author. Here, I am delighted to present to you my evaluation of its higher power sibling; the Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42.
Just a couple of years ago, I was a total binocular virgin, having little or no experience with these optical wonders, save for an honourable mention to an old 7 x 50 Porro prism instrument I acquired in my youth. Little did I know that, like telescopes, the binocular market has undergone a veritable revolution, thanks to astounding advances in technology and a great capitalist, competitive spirit among manufacturers, which collectively have both improved the quality of bargain instruments and driven prices down. As a case in point, take a look at this review, dating back to 2011, of the same 10 x 42 I’m about to assess here. The reader will note its retail price was about £200. Now you can get the same instrument at a significantly reduced outlay; typically just 60 per cent of the 2011 retail price!
The Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 was purchased from a reputable dealer, the Birder’s Store, in Worcester, England. I paid £124.99 for the instrument and it arrived a couple of days after making the purchase. In the past, I have bought many economically priced instruments from Amazon, but discovered that quite a few are what I would describe as greyware; that is, while the price looks good, the products quite often have some optical or mechanical fault that necessitates sending them back and getting a refund. It pays to go to a specialised dealer when purchasing binoculars, especially if you don’t have a chance to test them out in person.
The instrument arrived in perfect nick: I received the binocular, a lens cleaning cloth, a warranty card, a high quality logoed padded neck strap, a generic instruction sheet and a clamshell case.
Being an identical build to the 8 x 42, the 10 x 42 Savannah is solidly constructed. The polycarbonate body is overlaid by textured green rubberised material that is easy to grip. While other enthusiasts have a tendency to look down on using polymers as the main housing, I personally don’t subscribe to that philosophy, being lucky enough to also own and use instruments that are constructed around aluminium and magnesium alloys. Indeed, I have encountered no hard evidence that instruments with a polycarbonate chassis are in any way inferior to those built around metallic alloys, despite the extensive hyperbole I’ve seen in online advertising and from other reviewers.
The central hinge is reassuringly stiff and maintains the correct inter-pupillary distance once adjusted. Though many of the more sophisticated models on the market have an open bridge design that enables the user to use it single-handedly, I fail to see why this would be important in a 10 x 42, as you’ll most definitely need both hands on deck to get a decently stable image at 10x.
One of the great features of this binocular, and Barr & Stroud instruments in general, are their wonderful focusers. This instrument is no exception; the focus wheel of which is covered in a textured rubber which is silky smooth to operate, with zero backlash, going through just over two full revolutions from one end of its focus travel to the other. Having sampled several binoculars from Barr & Stroud, I know that this is no accident; this company once enjoyed an illustrious history serving the British navy in two world wars, with all manner of optical accoutrement. And even though they have long since ceased to be an independent trader, the company having outsourced all their manufacturing to China, it is clear to me that some of the skills they acquired in putting together highly functional binoculars in the past are still in evidence! What’s more, I would rate this focuser higher than many binoculars I have purchased for a few hundred pounds more!
As you can see from the photo above, the dioptre ring is not located under the right ocular lens, as is the case in the vast majority of roof prism binoculars, but just ahead of the focus wheel. This does make adjusting the right barrel optics considerably easier than its more conventional counterpart, but, for the record, it would be remiss of me not to mention a malfunctioning dioptre ring on a Savannah 8 x 42 I once purchased second-hand.
Another very nice feature of these economical binoculars is their eye cups. They are made from metal overlaid with soft rubber. They can be extended upwards with two click stops and hold their positions very firmly. Again, I would rate them as well above average, and more in keeping with eye cups I’ve seen on binoculars in the £200 to £250 range.
The objective lenses on the Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 are very deeply recessed. I measured them at about 8mm, which is good news, as this will afford greater protection of the objective in rainy and dusty environs, as well as acting as an effective shielding of stray light.
Attaching the instrument to a sturdy tripod, I was able to show that it arrived with very good collimation, with only a tiny vertical asymmetry between the left and the right barrels, which the eyes can easily accommodate for. Examining the exit pupil in a bright shaft of light showed that there was no truncation and no stray light leakage inside the field stop.
The good news continued when I performed my iPhone torch light test. Directing an intensely bright beam inside the binocular, and examining the image arriving at my eyes, I was delighted to see what I had reported before about these Savannah binoculars. The image was very clean, with no diffused light, a very subdued diffraction spike and a couple of very weak internal reflections. I deemed the result excellent and only a notch down from the same result I got from my Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 binocular, but a tad better than my smaller 10 x 25 Trinovid which cost three times more! Yet again, this excellent control of light leaks is more in keeping with a binocular in the £250-£400 range. Kudos to Barr & Stroud for their exceptional attention to detail in this regard. Examining a bright sodium street light showed no reflections or diffused light either, and the same was true when I turned the binocular on a bright waxing gibbous Moon in a freezing January sky. This binocular will provide lovely views of illuminated cityscapes, with no annoying reflections to contend with.
After the appropriate adjusting of the right eye dioptre, I began my daylight tests of the Savannah 10 x 42, comparing it carefully to the images served up by my Leica Trinovid 8 x 32. The Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 offers up a very sharp and contrast-rich image across the vast majority of the field of view, with only a little distortion/softness at the edge of the field. Indeed, the field is noticeably better corrected in this binocular compared with other models I’ve tested in the £200-£250 price range. The distortion is more pronounced when panning the glass vertically than horizontally, however, just like all other roof prism binoculars I’ve used in the past. The Leica proved slightly sharper but the differences were subtle at best. The image in the 10 x 42 has a very slightly yellowed appearance in comparison to the Leica, as if a very mild photographic warm up filter had been placed in the optical train, which I did not personally find off-putting. Indeed, it helps accentuate browns and tan colours that little bit better, which imparts a nice aesthetic effect to my eyes.
Looking closely at the contoured bark on a tree trunk a few tens of yards away, I got the distinct impression that the 10 x 42 was delivering slightly more detail than the 8 x 32, a consequence of the higher magnification and larger aperture of its ocular lenses, though this was somewhat negated by virtue of the 10 x 42’s significantly greater weight, which makes keeping the instrument steady considerably more challenging than in the smaller and lower power Leica. Under a bright blue winter sky, I judged the image in the Leica to be slightly brighter than the 10 x 42, a fact that I explained away as being due to my eyes not being able to exploit the slightly larger exit pupil of the 10 x 42 glass under these conditions, as well as its lower efficiency of light transmission.
I observed no chromatic aberration in the centre of the field of the 10 x 42, but did begin to show some lateral colour as a high contrast target was moved off centre to the periphery of the field. The Leica also exhibited the same behaviour even though it does have extra low dispersion glass in one of its objective elements.
During prolonged field use, the position of the dioptre ring on the Savannah 10 x 42 had a tendency to get displaced ever so slightly, as it is all too easy to touch while moving the focus wheel, especially while wearing gloves. Having the dioptre adjustment under the right ocular lens is a better solution in this regard.
Focusing was easier and more responsive with the Leica glass, owing to its state-of-the art central focusing wheel, which is less stiff than the 10 x 42. I suspect though, that with more field use, the stiffness in the latter will subside and become more responsive. Close focus on the 10 x 42 is very impressive. Although the official stats claim 2 metres, I found I could focus down to about 1.75m – a very good result for a 10 x 42 by most anyone’s standards – but nowhere near as close as the Leica Trinovid, which can bring objects just under a metre into sharp focus, a result no other roof prism binocular on the market can achieve!
Depth of focus in the 10x 42 is very good, but not in the same league as the Leica 8 x 32, which was expected given the fact that lower power units tend to have greater focus depth in most real-world situations.
Examining some tree top branches against a bright sky, revealed that veiling glare was very well controlled in the Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 Savannah but maybe just falling a little short of the Leica Trinovid. This is an especially pleasing result in my opinion, as veiling glare can rather easily wash out an otherwise sharp and contrast-rich image. Indeed, the suppression of veiling glare in this economically priced binocular was far better than a few instruments I’ve tested that cost twice or three times more. For example, it is in a different league to that served up by my 10 x 25 Leica Trinovid, which tends to show rather a lot of this under certain viewing conditions.
Observing at dusk allowed me to test out the low light performance of both the Leica Trinovid 8 x 32 and the Barr & Stroud Savannah. This is where I saw the greatest weakness in the latter instrument. Though it did give a brighter image, I was amazed how well the Leica performed in comparison; to my average eyes at least, both instruments were delivering equally bright images well into twilight, with the 10 x 42 only pulling ahead in the last five minutes or so, as dusk transformed into true darkness. This result is attributed to the significantly greater efficiency of the Leica optical components, which transmits 90 per cent of all the light it collects to the eye.
However, under the cloak of darkness, the greater exit pupil and higher magnification of the 10 x 42, as well as its larger objective lenses, made it the easy winner observing a few of the showpieces of the winter sky. The Pleiades was more magnificent in the 10x 42, as was the Hyades, Double Cluster and Alpha Perseii Association. Stars remain sharp and tightly focused across most of the field, with only the extreme edges showing some visible distortion. In contrast to the Leica, the 10 x 42 had slightly more field curvature; something I had also noted during my daylight tests when examining a telephone pole and moving it to the edge of the field in both binoculars.
This is a great Moon gazing binocular too. Its lack of internal reflections and sharp optics deliver a very decent and clean image that will show many craters, mountains valleys and maria on the lunar surface. And don’t forget also, the Savannah can be mounted on a tripod or monopod for added stability, which enables you to see even more details!
Not only does one acquire a good binocular in the Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42, but you also get above average quality accessories. The hard-covered clamshell case is a great way to store the instrument while not in use. The soft rubber ocular and objective covers are also a nice touch, as is the quality padded neck strap that comes as standard with the binocular. And if anything malfunctions, the parent company under which Barr & Stroud trades – Optical Vision Limited(OVL) – will repair or replace your binoculars if they fail during normal use. I have personally dealt with OVL in the past and they have always responded rapidly and effectively to any queries I had.
The Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42 delivers very satisfying images that will impress the vast majority of users who look through it. It feels solid in the hands and has a Spartan, no-frills quality about it. For not much more than £100, the instrument delivers optics and ergonomics that punch well above what its modest price tag suggests, with a large sweet spot and good edge-of-field correction. Even the accessories are of very high quality, making this an especially sweet package for the budget conscious, or the frugal naturalist who doesn’t want to spend a small fortune on a state-of-the-art instrument. Finally, as a well-made achromatic binocular, it proves, once again, that good optics don’t need fancy low dispersion glass to deliver an engaging image.
All in all, this gets my highest recommendation as unbeatable value for money!
Thanks for reading!
Dr. Neil English has been using optical instruments for more than 40 years. He is the author of seven books including his magnum opus(650 + pages), Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy (2018), celebrating four centuries of visual astronomy, as well as the personalities who shaped the hobby and profession of astronomy as we know it today.
A work begun December 18 2020
Instrument: Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25
Country of Origin: Portugal
Eye Relief: 15 mm
Exit Pupil: 2.5mm
Field of View: 90mm @ 1000m/ 5.2 angular degrees
Close Focus: 4.5m
ED glass: No
Weather proofing: Splash proof
Nitrogen Purging: Yes
Operating Temperature Range: -25C to +55C
Dioptre Compensation Range: +/- 3.5 dioptres
Coatings: Fully multicoated, P40 phase coating, HDC coatings, HighLux System((HLS), water and dirt-repellent coatings applied to outer lenses
Warranty: 10 years
Dimensions W/H/D: 6/11/3.6cm
Supplied Accessories: Neck strap, field bag, test certificate, warranty card, multi-language instruction manual
Retail Price: £370-400 UK, $499-525 USD
If you know anything about my recent adventures into the world of binoculars, you’ll already be aware that I have a particular fondness for pocket-sized instruments. I just think the idea of being able to carry one anywhere and deploy a small pocket-sized glass at a moment’s notice is an irresistible prospect. Having tested and enjoyed a variety of models in the 8x category over the last two years or so, I settled on something larger and more versatile – a Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 – as my general purpose instrument. But I also hankered after a smaller instrument of comparable quality to the 8 x 32, but in a 10x format, and that led me to investigate a number of models in the 10 x 25 class. Fine optical and mechanical quality were important to me, having learned that both are necessary if one intends to use it for long periods of time, and over many years. Those considerations led me to explore a few options, but in the end I decided to go with what I already knew about Leica – that they manufacture excellent, high-performance binoculars which not only deliver optically but also ergonomically, and have exceptional durability. Many users of these instruments have reported decades of flawless operation in the field.
This was especially the case since I have previously enjoyed Leica’s tiniest glass – a Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 – for the best part of a year, but its very small size rendered it quite awkward to use, not to mention it throwing up a substantial amount of veiling glare, which also got on my nerves. Its bigger brother though – the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25- should be easier to hold in my hands, I reasoned, without adding much more weight, and so I pulled the trigger and purchased it from a reputable dealer – the Birder’s Store, Worcester, England – who had one of the 10 x 25s in stock. I paid £369.00 for the binocular, which included free, expedited, next-day delivery of the instrument to my home here in Scotland. Shown above is what I received in the package.
Would I be happy with my purchase? Thankfully, the answer is Yes!
Fit & Finish
The first thing I noticed about this little Leica is just how light weight it is; at just 255g it comes in at just 20g heavier than its smaller 8 x 20 counterpart! That’s quite amazing when you consider the mass of the Zeiss Terra 10 x 25 (310g), the Zeiss Victory pocket( 290g) and the even heavier Swarovski CL pocket, which tips the scales at 350g. This means that it will never be an issue carrying this instrument on even the most exhausting of excursions, including hill walking and mountain climbing – where weight is always a very serious consideration. Indeed, such weighty matters can sometimes be a deal breaker, as this reviewer concluded.
Weight considered, the other good news about this instrument is that it unfolds to become an instrument that fits my hands much better than the ‘uber-klein’ 8 x 20. Its narrow bridge and long, slender barrels mean that you can get a much better grip of the instrument; and that translates into much less anxiety while handling, and much greater viewing comfort – an important consideration for a 10x glass.
Small details count for a lot when you purchase a luxury item like this little Trinovid binocular. As a case in point, consider the neck strap that accompanies the instrument. Composed of neoprene, you simply slide it through the eyes on the side of the binocular barrels and then clip it into place. This also enables the user to disconnect the strap if need be.
One of the great joys of using these little Trinovids is their wonderful ergonomics. The pull-up eyecups are rigidly held in place and will not retract unless a sizeable down-ward acting force is exerted on them. I love the simplicity these offer, with only two options – leave down if you wish to use glasses and pull-up if you don’t. I actually prefer these eyecups to those on my larger 8 x 32 Trinovid, which offers up to six different positions in comparison.
The focusing knob on the 10 x 25 BCA is centrally placed and though on the small side, is exceedingly smooth to operate. You can feel the friction it generates while it’s being rotated, rather like moving over gritty sandpaper. An unusual feature of these pocket-sized Trinovids pertains to their dioptre setting, which unlike the vast majority of other binoculars, is housed on the right objective barrel. It works brilliantly though, just like the smaller 8 x 20, and stays rigidly in place even after many hours of use in the field.
Leica is famous for its meticulous anti-reflection coatings which are applied to all of the lenses and prisms. Looking straight through the instrument from the objective end, you’ll have a hard time seeing any reflections, almost as if the lenses have disappeared. From the side, they reflect a very subdued purplish hue. No doubt these are some of the best optical coatings available in the entire industry.
Like the smaller 8 x 20 incarnation, the 10 x 25 BCA has objectives that are not as deeply recessed (which I’ve estimated at about 2.5mm) as full size binoculars, which doesn’t bode well for suppressing veiling glare. Yet despite this concern, I was relieved to discover that these did not have quite the same problems as the 8 x 20 glass in this regard, as I shall elaborate on more fully later in the review.
The carrying pouch that comes with the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 is identical to that which was supplied with the smaller 8 x 20 unit. I reported that this pouch was just too big for the 8 x 20 and that led me to seek out a better fitting case for this pocket binocular, when I eventually stumbled on a small clamshell case which could be zipped closed.
While the supplied carrying pouch fits the 10 x 25 that little bit better, it still cannot be sealed off, so I investigated whether the clamshell would fit the 10 x 25. As you can see for yourself below, the answer is affirmative. This will prove to be the ideal storing vessel for this binocular, as it can be zipped closed and still fit inside an ordinary trouser or jacket pocket.
My first test always involves examining how well the binocular handles a beam of intensely bright light, which can show up problems with internal reflections, diffused light owing to departures from homogeneity in the glass used etc. So out came my iphone torch set to its brightest setting. The results were very good but not quite as good as I had found in the smaller 8 x 20! The image was clean, with very little diffused light, a very subdued diffraction spike, but there was some moderate internal reflections of about the same quality as I had experienced with the Zeiss Terra 8 x 25. Don’t get me wrong, the Zeiss rated very highly in these tests but it was not quite as good as my notes showed the 8 x 20 to be.
Examining a bright sodium lamp showed that all was well though; very weak internal reflections and a clean image with little or no diffused light. Examining a bright waxing gibbous Moon showed a crisp, clean image, with plenty of lunar surface detail and no visible reflections around the bright orb. Collectively, these tests showed that the various coatings and glass quality in the 10 x 25 BCA is of a very high standard.
As I’ve described in previous blogs I have absolutely no problem accommodating a small, 2.5mm exit pupil such as is found on this 10 x 25 binocular. Indeed I strongly believe that the images are especially fine when using such a small exit pupil. This is because the most optically perfect part of the eye lens occurs near its centre and Leica knows this. During bright daylight use, the eye pupil shrinks to about this size making larger exit pupils unnecessary. Sure, there are trade offs in regard to eye placement but once you get used to it, it doesn’t present as a problem. The collimation on this binocular is so precise that you will not develop eye strain even after using the instrument for many hours.
From the first time I put this binocular to my eyes, I was very impressed with the quality of the image. Targets remain wonderfully sharp across the entire field and contrast is excellent, though not quite at the same level as my larger 8 x 32. I was delighted to discover that the amount of veiling glare was not as hindering as it was on the smaller 8 x 20 model, as evidenced by glassing a column of trees under a bright, overcast sky. Even in the most demanding light conditions, the veiling glare is usually weak enough to remove simply by shading the objectives with an outstretched hand.
Colours really pop in this little binocular, with green and brown hues being particularly vivid. There is some pincushion distortion at the edge of the field but to my great surprise, chromatic aberration is nearly impossible to detect! Indeed, the level of secondary spectrum is actually less on this binocular than it is on my larger, 8 x 32 Trinovid! This is all the more remarkable since the Trinovid BCA 10x 25 does not have ED lens elements, while the 8 x 32 model does!
What’s going on here? Can an achromat outdo an ED instrument in the colour correction department? No, if all else is equal. This pleasant fiction is probably attributed to both the lower light gathering power of the 10 x 25 over the 8 x 32 format and the greater need to get one’s eye perfectly square on with the small exit pupils on the former. With the larger exit pupil of the 8 x 32, you have more wiggle room and any misplacement results in seeing some chromatic aberration in difficult lighting conditions. The small instrument gathers less light under normal conditions than an 8 x 32 of comparable quality, so I think the results I have found also reflects the relative insensitivity of my average eyes to detect secondary spectrum under standard testing conditions.
Moving from 8x to 10x in a pocket glass has been a very pleasant and rewarding experience. On paper, one might assume that a small field of view of 90m@1000m would render a tunnel vision effect, but I must admit to not experiencing anything like that. Indeed, comparing my Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25 with its slightly larger field of 91m @1000m, this tunnel vision is significantly more pronounced than it is in the 10 x 25 BCA. The higher magnification of the latter appears to do away with this effect. And the enlargement in detail is very impressive. Bird targets that are a strain to see in my 8x glass are much more easily picked off at 10x, though of course, the trade off here is smaller field of view.
Nor have I experienced much in the way of decreased stability of the image, oft reported by users of 10x systems over 8x. Because I can hold the 10 x 25 BCA very securely with my hands, I can get nice, stable views with little shake. That said, it does take some practice to minimise this effect, but that’s been a fun experience for me.
The Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 has given me all of the joy the smaller 8 x 20 glass I had and more besides. Because it is so light, I can bring it along with my 8 x 32 to use on the spur of the moment to get a magnification boost if and when required. I use it routinely each day at home, watching the riot of activity at my bird feeders. I have fallen in love with the adorable platoons of long tailed tits that frequent the feeders in these dying days of 2020 – the way they ruffle their feathers in the Rowan tree, before swooping down to gorge on the nuts, seeds and fat balls set out for them; the way they habitually mingle with groups of blue tits before flying off somewhere else.
The close focus of the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 is about 4.5 metres, so is not great for looking at insects, rocks and flowers at close range. I knew this going forward though and was quite deliberate on my part, as I did not want the little pocket glass to compete with my 8 x 32 Trinovid which has an exceptional close focusing distance of about 0.95m. Thus, in this capacity, these instruments complement each other more than anything else.
Because a 10x glass is ideal for studying open fields, valleys and rivers from an elevated vantage, I also plan, God willing, to bring the glass along with me on hill walking excursions and mountain climbing in the coming year.
I have also discovered that the 10 x 25 is a much better tool to study the heavenly creation than the smaller 8 x 20. The larger aperture and greater magnification boost afforded by the former has allowed me to enjoy the splendours of the silvery Moon in its phases, from slender crescent to fullness, with more resolving power than the 8 x 20 could ever achieve. Stars are tiny pinpoints of perfectly focused light. Views of the more spectacular deep sky objects, such as the Sword Handle in Orion, the Alpha Perseii Association, the Beehive and Double Clusters and the comely Pleaides and magnificent Hyades, are very satisfying. Indeed, comparing it to my 8 x 25, I especially enjoy the wonderful aesthetic effect of its imparting a darker sky background in the 10 x 25. So, while not being able to pull in as much starlight as its larger sibling(my 8x 32), the view of bright stars against a sable winter sky never fails to pack a powerful punch on my retinal masses.
At the end of a very challenging year, it gives me great joy to use this tiny but optically perfect glass. And while I certainly don’t hold out much for 2021, I look forward with great anticipation to the lengthening of the days once more, so that I can more fully enjoy this beautifully crafted pocket glass.
Surely that’s not too much to ask for, is it?
Dr Neil English was a regular contributor to Astronomy Now, Britain’s best-selling astro magazine for 25 years, but grew weary of the one-sidedness of the editorial’s stance on life in the Universe and their unwillingness to entertain any other ideas which threatened their increasingly unassailable scientific views. He now writes feature articles for Salvo Magazine, whose editorial team has welcomed his content with open arms.
Thank you all for reading, and have a blessed Christmas!
Post Scriptum: On the early evening of December 23, our family finally got to see the “Christmas Star,” the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Alas we were unable to observe them at their closest on December 21 and 22nd owing to cloud cover. We took a short car trip to the top of the Crow Road to see the apparition low in the southwest sky after sunset at 16:45 UT. We brought along both the 8 x 32 and 10 x 25 to observe them quite close together. Below is a quick sketch I made with the 10 x 25.
A work begun November 5 2020
The Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 has been my constant companion over the last few months, having gone on long days out, both at home, and on vacation to the Scottish borders. It has also been a marvellous instrument in my ongoing exploration of the binocular night sky. It’s one of those pieces of kit that keeps on delivering, time and time again, and while it is expensive as binoculars come, I think it was worth every penny, for reasons that I wish to elaborate on in this blog.
A Blaze of Autumn Glory
The vibrant colours of autumn are a visual gift from the Lord, a pick-me-up before the dull, cold days of winter. They’re meant to be enjoyed and there is no finer glass I’d rather use to explore them. Many Leica aficionados have described the extraordinary vibrancy of reds, oranges and greens they get from their binoculars. For a while, I dismissed that claim as subjective prattle, but having enjoyed the 8 x 32 Trinovid for several months now, I can more fully understand what they meant. And there may be some science to back that up. For example, the opticians at Leica can optimise the colour correction to peak in the green-red part of the visible spectrum, while leaving the blue end less corrected. I see evidence for this using the 8 x 32, since it does show some blue-violet fringing on highly contrasted targets. The fringing is only very slight mind you, and very lovely; in an innocent way; so I think it’s an acceptable compromise.
While the human world is increasingly dark, psychotic and distressing, I make a special effort to get outside and make the most of my free time, enjoying the wonders of creation. Unlike humans, mother nature still behaves as God intended it. The low autumn Sun creates extraordinary light shows, illumining the hills round my home. The contrast in this little Leica binocular really has to be seen to be believed. Its exceptional control of veiling glare produces images that are truly sumptuous to my average eyes. Details just pop. The intricate graining of tree trunks, the contours of exposed rock formations, the stark beauty of ruined farmhouses, castles and water mills – things and places hardly anyone notices have suddenly become worthwhile glassing targets, though I still get the odd funny look from passers by lol.
The exceptional close focus on the Leica Trinovid brings objects a smidgen less than 1 metre away into sharp focus. That’s unmatched by any binocular on the market, with the exception of the Pentax Papilio (with its 0.5m close focus). I have been able to get up-close and personal with rocks by the riverside and succulent autumn berries, and golden leaves glistening in weak sunshine after a shower of rain. The Scots are always moaning about the rain, but it is the key ingredient that creates and maintains the surreal beauty of the Scottish landscape. Long live the wet and the wild!
A Great Birding Binocular
I’ve found the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 to be the ideal birding binocular. With its 32mm objective lenses, it provides significantly brighter images than the best 25mm pocket glasses, particularly on dull, overcast conditions in the open air and in lower light conditions, such as under a forest canopy. And when the light is feeble, such as at dawn and dusk, the highly efficient light transmission(90 per cent) of the Leica glass really comes into its own, picking off details that elude lesser glasses. The silky smooth and fast central focusing wheel on the Trinovid is particularly well suited to birding, since it’s easy to adjust the focus as birds vary their distance from me. Added to this, is the instrument’s impressive depth of focus, allowing one’s subject to remain in sharp focus over a large range of middle-to-long distances.
My interest in birdwatching really took off during the cruel,in-human lockdowns starting in March earlier this year, and since then, I have continued to learn from books, as well as gaining some solid practical experience in the field. I have fitted new bird feeders in my garden and seed-laden fat balls that have served to lure many an avian species within striking distance. When I joined the RSPB, I was gifted a small bird box which our family has since erected about 2.5 metres above ground level on a conifer tree in the copse to the west of our large back garden. I have high hopes that it will become a cosy nesting place for some small bird come the spring.
The exceptional optical quality of the Leica has allowed me to observe all manner of bird; robins, finches, tits, wrens, tree-creepers, carrion crows, jackdaws, chaffinches, wood pigeons, collar doves and blackbirds, to name but a few, in glorious detail. I have also learned to recognise their distinctive voices, which helps me to pin down more elusive visitors that hide away in the bushes and hedgerows near my home. To date, my most thrilling sighting is a greater spotted woodpecker that keeps a keen eye on the fat ball feeder outside of my office. Having enjoyed all manner of small birds flitting to and fro for most of the time, I was overjoyed to observe one helping itself to a nutritious snack one afternoon in early October. Compared with all the other birds that usually come to visit, this handsome woodpecker, with its black and speckled white plumage and crimson red flank, seemed positively enormous in comparison. Indeed, I thought at one stage that it was going to tear down the fat ball feeder owing to its relatively large size, but all was well. In addition, my Leica was able to make out a small red nape on the bird which revealed to me its male sex. Isn’t that funny; unlike the fairer human sex, male birds are created to be more colourful in general than their female counterparts. Then again, I know some blokes who love nothing more than to dress up in garish, migraine-inducing colours, so maybe the distinction is not as well founded as I had thought lol.
Since then, I have identified another great spotted woodpecker in the large trees on Kippen Road, adjacent to the sports field in the village. They’re such timid creatures though, standing motionless for many minutes high in the canopy, and if it senses a threat, will quickly move to the opposite side of a tree trunk in order to hide. Beautiful birds!
Last year, I reported that a small squadron of magpies had taken up overnight residence in the rowan tree in my back garden. After a couple of months, they moved on., But this year, a couple of magpies have once again come to sleep in the same tree. Lots of folk have taken a disliking to these birds but I have found them to be charming and intelligent. Like Roman legionaries preparing for an overnight camp, I have observed them arriving at dusk, and carefully making their way to the centre of the tree, so protecting themselves from predators. And they’re up and away before dawn!
Culcreuch Pond, about half a mile walk from my home, and featured in the image above, remains a favourite haunt of mine to observe ducks and mute swans that thrive in the small artificial waters immediately in front of the 12th century castle, that up to recently served as a popular hotel and retreat before it was shut down in January of this year, just before the China virus arrived. The beautiful, variegated hues of autumn trees flanking the shores of the pond makes for wonderful glassing opportunities and I’m always on the lookout for the odd grey heron hiding in the reedy shallows, and even a cormorant that took up residence there during the winter months of 2019. Hopefully, I will see one again this year, but so far with no luck.
On a recent October family vacation to a favourite farmhouse holiday cottage on the outskirts of Wigtown, on the Solway Firth, in Southwest Scotland, I was amazed to discover that the town had a little ‘harbour,’ which we had not visited before simply because we always took a different route down to the salt march. Though we’ve been no less than five times over the years, we had no idea that a tower hide had been constructed, dedicated to twitchers and other wildlife enthusiasts, which overlooks a pretty stretch of salt marsh, and which serves as a home to all manner of gull and wading bird. Alas, we only ‘discovered’ the hide on the final morning of our vacation. Thankfully, it was a bright and sunny spell and we were able to share some wonderful views of these creatures before making our way home. It’s amazing what lies right under your nose if you’re not looking for it! Needless to say, this will become a favourite spot for birdwatching on our next trip.
At weekends and during our family vacations, I like to take off on longer 4-5 mile walks, exploring forests and hills. There are extensive forested regions near Newton Stewart, Wigtonshire, which provides great days out for families and groups of ramblers, with extensive forest trails to explore, either on foot or on mountain bikes. The feather weight of the Leica Trinovid 8 x 32 binocular allows me to carry it effortlessly through miles of difficult terrain. I am attracted to the riot of life that abide in forests. Fallen trees are a favourite glassing target in good light, where I can explore the vibrant colours of lichens, mosses and fungi that thrive on their rain-soaked surfaces. I have no compelling reason to glass in these places other than the aesthetic appeal of seeing the wondrous complexities of the creation, to activate the visual, auditory and olfactory senses as you wade through mud and decaying autumn leaves underfoot. The exceptionally robust build of the Trinovid lowers my anxiety levels, as I negotiate through bramble bushes and especially dense thickets of vegetation. This is an instrument that will easily negotiate knocks and bumps and still come up smelling of roses.
On our journey home from Wigtown, we hooked up some old friends who live in a charming bungalow overlooking Tinto Hill near the village of Thankerton, Lanarkshire. Tinto soars just over 700m above the surrounding valley and makes for a good hill walk in the Spring and Summer months. But on this occasion, we decided to visit an old Roman fort dating to the Antonine Period in the mid-second century AD. Not much of the fort remains, save an old ditch that one can still walk around. There is also a bath house somewhere near the fort but we never got to see it that afternoon The fort overlooks the valley below, with Tinto imposingly rising to meet the sky on the far side.
A striking colonnade of trees leads the way up from the valley floor to the fort and is especially beautiful on a sunny afternoon, when the rich colours of autumn leaves dazzle the eye. One would be forgiven for thinking that the Romans created this too but such trees don’t live that long!
The Romans had an active presence in Scotland during the High Empire but never attempted a full-scale invasion. The Scots love to pride themselves in claiming that the ancient Celts inhabiting these lands were too fearsome or intimidating for the Roman legions, but having studied Roman history at degree level, I understand that the likely truth is that they decided that it was just not economically viable to completely Romanise the northern part of Britannia. But try telling that to the Scots!
There is something really appealing about glassing a valley from a raised vantage. In my mind’s eye, I imagined the lonely vigils of a Roman auxiliary patrolling the turf ramparts of this ancient fort, looking down on the fields below and wondering if some raiding party would attack. What thoughts would have coursed through his mind?
Glassing in wide open terrain like this confers advantages to higher power binoculars. In this capacity, I hope to acquire another smaller Trinovid, the BCA 10 x 25, or a Zeiss Terra ED 10 x 25 in the near future, to enable me to explore this kind of terrain in greater detail.
Things Done Well
The 8 x 32 Trinovid was made for the great outdoors. I have used it in sub-zero temperatures, during the wee small hours of the morning observing the night sky. Even after an hour or so in such conditions, focusing remains silky smooth and precise, and the outer lenses remain fog free. When the instrument is taken in from the cold, some condensation does form on the ocular and objective lenses but disperses very quickly owing to the effective hydrophobic coatings applied to the exterior lens surfaces.
I have also tested the binocular in regard to its water proofing. Sound crazy? Perhaps! I filled a basin full of freshwater to a depth of about 8 inches and submerged the instrument in it, leaving it there for 15 minutes. I observed no air bubbles throughout the duration of that 15 minute episode, and after taking it out of the water and drying it at room temperature, I was delighted to see that it performed as good as it ever has. This little Trinovid is actually water proof to a depth of 4 metres, so my testing in this regard was rather modest. I suspect that many binoculars of lesser quality than this Trinovid are not really waterproof since they are not hermetically sealed. That’s just a hunch but I know of no one who is willing to sacrifice their binocular to the water gods, for fear that they might receive a nasty surprise!
The firmness of the eye cups on the Trinovid are marvellously engineered; certainly among the best in the industry. They offer several settings to accommodate virtually anyone’s taste, and once set in place, they remain firmly in place with absolutely no wiggle room. With lesser quality binoculars, you’re always wondering when and if the eyecups will fail, but with these, you can be 100 per cent confident that they will work flawlessly again and again and again.
Most economically priced binoculars possess eye cups that can’t be removed. In contrast, the Leica Trinovid eye cups can be pulled off to get at trapped grit, sand and other air-borne debris that accumulates under the cups with repeated use. This enables you to thoroughly clean both the ocular lenses and their supporting structures before popping the cups back on again. And when the day comes when the cups finally give up owing to wear and tear, I can call the folks at Leica who will send out replacement caps! Now that’s what I call service!
Exploring the Heavens
The Leica Trinovid 8 x 32 has become my constant companion under the stars. In the last few months, I’ve greatly reduced my telescopic observations in favour of binocular surveys. Indeed, I have elected to learn the night sky completely anew using this binocular, choosing a patch of sky within a constellation, and carefully studying each binocular field that I chance upon. I have ‘discovered’ many new asterisms, star clusters and nebulae in this way using the 7.1 degree field of this binocular. The project will likely preoccupy me for years to come, but I derive great joy from it. After spending many decades peering through all manner of telescopes, it is so refreshing to re-learn the constellations using this fantastic binocular. Call it a new lease of life!
I’m very much looking forward to observing the great planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which reaches its climax just a few days before Christmas 2020. The Lord created the heavens to reveal His great power and glory. But He also gave us the starry heaven for signs & seasons. I understand this up-and-coming conjunction to be a possible sign that Yeshua foretold his disciples about the times concerning the closing of human history. Indeed, many of the other signs He prophesied have manifested before our very eyes; apostasy & the purging of the Church, a marked escalation in human wickedness which leads to lawlessness, false prophets, pestilences, wars and rumours of wars etc. What is more, the heavens similarly proclaimed the first coming of our Lord two thousand years ago with the Star of Bethlehem, that could well have been another planetary conjunction, a few of which occurred in the year spanning 2 to 3 BC. Like the fading of Betelgeuse last year, I believe the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction could well represent an unmistakable message from our Creator – that He will be returning soon for His Bride.
Even so, come Lord Yeshua!
Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy, as well as several hundred magazine articles over the past 25 years. If you like his work, why not consider making a small personal donation, or purchasing one of his books. Thanks for reading!
October 1 2019
Although I read glowing reports for these pocket Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 light carry binoculars, my previous 4 month ownership of the Swaro CL 8X25 pockets had tempered my expectations. However, I found these small glassing gems to perform optically and ergonomically within 95% of the venerable and well built CL’s (at 1\3 the price)! They, just as the CL, have handling and comfort limitations compared to compact or full size binoculars. But for quick trip non-intrusive viewing, ease of portability and very accurate powered views, these little pockets are hard to beat. Overall, they possess very nice ergonomics, have natural color presentation, crystalline resolution that is real sharp and bright, with very good contrast views. Their FOV (field of view), whose sweet spot extends to within 10% of their wide 357ft limit, has a comfortable and stereoptic DOF (depth of field) . Hinge tensions are perfect, and the focuser is fast, going from close focus (mine’s about 5ft) CW to infinity in just 1.25 turns. Eye cup adjustments lock fully in (for eye glass wearers) and fully out (non-eye glass wearers). My vision is 20\15 and with the very comfortable eye cups fully extended and resting on my brow, I can align the small EP (exit pupil=3.1) with my pupils, gaining a full unobstructed sigh picture! With its ED glass, CA (chromatic aberrations) is well controlled and I find day light\low light viewing to be bright, natural and enjoyable! Diopter is set on the front dial (for the right barrel) and has enough resistance to stay put. Made in Japan for Zeiss, they offer a lot of features and performance at a great value point. These will make great travel companions and will be back-ups for my full sized field excursion instruments!
What you get:
The Zeiss Terra pocket arrived double-boxed. After opening the outer packaging, the binocular kit was housed inside a very nicely presented box with a very fetching design which folds open to reveal the contents. Unlike other products I’ve received in the past, the Zeiss box has depicted on the inside, a colourful alpine scene with majestic mountain peaks soaring high above a beautiful river valley. Perhaps the team at Zeiss intended the user to explore such landscapes? Whatever the reasoning behind it, it was certainly a pleasant touch.
Unlike customers who bought the Zeiss pocket binocular when it was first launched just a few years ago, I was relieved to see that the instrument was housed inside a small clamshell case with a magnetic latch carrying the blue & white Zeiss logo.The box also contained a lanyard, operating instructions and a lens cleaning cloth. I was surprised that the binocular itself came neither with eyepiece or objective lens caps, but I suppose they are not really necessary, as the case very effectively protects the instrument from dust and moisture.
The box has the serial number on the side, which is needed to register the product on the Zeiss sports optics website. On another side of the box, the detailed specifications of both the 8 x 25 and 10 x 25 models are presented; another nice touch.
The binocular was housed inside the clamshell and was pristine, with no dust on the lenses, or gunk on the interior of the barrels. From the moment I prized the neatly folded instrument from its case, I was impressed. The frame is composed of a fibre-glass like polymer, with a fetching black, grey and blue livery. The sides of the binocular have a rubberised exterior making it easy to grip well while in use. The double-hinges were rigid and hold their positions solidly once the correct inter-pupillary distance is chosen for your eyes. The optics are hermetically sealed, nitrogen purged and had immaculately finished anti-reflection coatings on both the ocular and objective lenses. They are also treated with a Zeiss’ proprietary hydrophobic coating that encourages any moisture and grime that gathers on the lenses to fall off, rather than accumulating on the surfaces. The instrument is guaranteed to operate flawlessly over a very impressive temperature range: -20C to +63C, so covering almost any environment it is likely to find itself in.
The binocular is water resistant, but to what degree remained a bit of a mystery owing to the rather odd way in which Zeiss chose to present it: 100mbar.
You what mate?
Thankfully, some physics knowledge helps to clarify the reference to water pressure.
P = Rho x g x h, where P is the water pressure, Rho is the density of water, g is the acceleration due to gravity and h is the depth in metres. Rearranging to find h gives;
h = P/ (g x Rho) = 10^4/ (10 x 10^3) = 1m
Knowledge is power lol!
So, not as waterproof as a Swarovski pocket binocular(I think it’s 4m) but adequate for most purposes.
Fully folded down, the Zeiss Terra pocket is about 70mm wide and 110mm long. The oversized barrels make the Zeiss a wee bit taller when placed on its side in comparison to a classic pocket instrument, like my lovely little Opticron Aspheric LE;
The Terra weighs in at 310g, so about 40 grams lighter than the Swarovski-made counterpart. Lighter isn’t necessarily better however, as some individuals find holding such light glasses problematical. But once unfolded, the significantly wider barrels more than make up for its low mass, as I shall explain more fully a little later in the review.
The eyecups look a bit suspect, but once you begin rotating them, they work really well. They have no indents but do have ample friction. There are only two positions; fully retracted or fully extended. You know you’ve reached either situation by hearing their clicking into place. They are very solid and hold their positions superbly. Eye relief is 16mm and I was able to enjoy the full field with eye glasses on or without. Placing your eye on the eyecups is very comfortable, with their soft, rubberised overcoat and the large field lenses makes for very easy centring of your eye sockets along the line of sight of the optical train.
The dioptre(+/- 3) setting lies at the other end of the bridge(near the objectives), which initially presented some problems for me, as it is rather stiff and difficult to get going, but once you’re done you’re done! The focusing wheel is centrally located and is reassuringly large and easy to grip, even with gloves on. It moves very well, with the perfect amount of tension. Motions run smoothly, with little in the way of play or backlash when rotated either clockwise or anti-clockwise. The focuser requires one and a half full rotations to go from one end of its focus travel to another.
The objective lenses are very deeply recessed, more so than on many other pocket binoculars I’ve used. This affords the 25mm objective lenses greater protection against aeolian-borne dust and also serves as a first-line defence against glare. Cool!
As the other reviewers showcased earlier, the Zeiss Terra pocket binoculars are manufactured in Japan, with the larger models originating in China under Zeiss supervision. You can see that quite clearly by examining the under belly of the instrument:
That said, and contrary to what the other reviewers have asserted, I don’t fully subscribe to the notion that all Chinese-made binoculars are inferior to those produced in Europe or Japan, as I shall elaborate on later.
All in all, it’s pretty obvious that a great deal of sound engineering was put into these pint-sized field glasses.
Handling: The Zeiss pocket is supremely comfortable to use, the slightly larger frame fitting comfortably in my hands. Indeed, with its wide field of view and thicker barrels, it feels like you’re peering through a larger instrument. The big eye lenses make it easy to get the right eye placement with none of the blackouts I’ve experienced on a number of other pocket binoculars. Its light weight means that you can carry it round your neck for hours on end with no neck strain. Its easy to get both hands resting on the central bridge, using my little finger to engage with the focus wheel.
Straight out of its case, the Zeiss Terra impressed. Looking at some tree trunks just beyond my back garden fence reaveled a wealth of high contrast detail. I was immediately taken aback with the expansive field of view; not only was it wide, but the image remained tack sharp across nearly all of the field. Images snapped to a very sharp focus and I experienced no trouble focusing from just a few yards away all the way out to some trees located hundreds of yards away. Glare suppression looked excellent, even when pointed at some backlit scenes strongly bathed in sunlight. It was immediately clear to me that I was looking through a very high quality optical instrument.
As I stated in earlier blogs, I don’t really consider the inclusion of low dispersion (ED) glass as necessary in a small binocular like this, but it’s a nice feature when presented as part of a larger, properly designed system. After all, and as several other reviewers pointed out, the Zeiss seemed quite comparable to arguably the most sought-after pocket binocular on the market; the venerable Swarovski CL pocket binocular. But what is not widely communicated is that the latter achieves all its optical excellence without using ED glass. That should send a powerful message to the gayponaut propagandists. No, its all about using great glass, great coatings and solid mechanical engineering. Alas, I was not able to compare this pocket binocular with the Swarovski, but the fact that the little Zeiss was often mentioned in the same company as it speaks volumes about its optical quality.
Further daylight tests showed that off-axis aberrations were very well controlled. Even at the edge of the field pin cushion distortion and field curvature were minimal. Looking straight up at a denuded tree branch against an overcast sky showed no colour fringing on axis but as the image was moved off axis, some slight secondary spectrum was noted. Overall, I was very impressed at the Zeiss’ optical quality; it really does exactly what it says on the tin!
A niggly moment: While the little Zeiss pocket binocular fits perfectly inside its small, clamshell case without the supplied neck strap attached, I found that the addition of the strap made it very difficult to get a snug fit. Wrapping the neck strap around the central bridge simply didn’t allow the case to close properly(the magnetic latch never stuck), but after several attempts experimenting with different approaches, I finally hit on a way to get the binocular with its strap on to fit the case. The trick involves wrapping the strap tightly around the ocular lenses.The latch sticks. Problem solved!
More discriminating optical tests:
Flare & Glare assessment:
Even if the glass used in binoculars were mined from the asteroid belt, it counts for nothing if it can’t control light leaks. My initial daylight tests showed that glare and internal reflections were very well controlled in the little Zeiss binocular, but they can’t tell the whole story. So, I set up my iphone torch at its brightest setting in my living room and examined the focused images through the Zeiss Terra, comparing its results with my Opticron Aspheric(a nice little performer) as well as my control binocular; the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah, which has excellent control of stray light.
The results were very interesting. The Zeiss faired better than the Opticron, but not by much. However, it was not as good as the Savannah, which exhibits exceptional control of internal reflections even though it collects far more light than any pocket binocular.
Further testing of the binoculars on a bright street light revealed some additional information. Internal reflections were well suppressed in both the Zeiss and Opticron binoculars, but the Zeiss showed more prominent diffraction spikes. The Savannah control binocular, in comparison, proved superior to both pocket binoculars. It shows very little flaring and internal reflections and much better control of diffraction spikes.
And therein lies an instructive lesson. The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 is fabricated in China yet shows exceptional control of glare and internal reflections. So, it’s not so much where a binocular is built that counts so much as how it is constructed.
It is all the more remarkable, since the Savannah can be purchased for half the price of the diminutive Zeiss!
All in all, these tests showed that the Zeiss binocular is very well protected against stray light, glare and internal reflections and this goes a long way to explaining why the views through it are so compelling.
Collimation and Field of View Tests:
I checked the collimation of the barrels on the Zeiss by placing the instrument on a tall fence and aiming at a rooftop, checking that both the horizontal and vertical fields correlated with each other. They matched up very well.
Field of view is best assessed by turning the binocular on the stars. Accordingly, I aimed the Zeiss Terra at the two stars at the end of the handle of the Ploughshare, now low in the northern sky. The Zeiss was able to image both Mizar and Alkaid in the same field with a little bit to spare. These stars are separated by an angular distance of 6 degrees 40′ (or 6.66 degrees). This result was consistent with the specifications on the inside of the box; 6.8 angular degrees.
Comparing the Opticron Aspheric to the Zeiss Terra in daylight, showed that both instruments were about equally matched in terms of sharpness( the aspherical oculars on the Opticron certainly help in this regard), but I could discern that the image was that little bit brighter in the Zeiss. Better coatings in the Zeiss binocular throughout the optical train give it the edge in this regard. Field of view was also much more expansive in the Zeiss( the Opticron has a true field of 5.2 degrees in comparison). Colours were also that little bit more vivid in the Zeiss pocket binocular, caused perhaps by its better contrast and superior control of chromatic aberration.
Close focus is very good. I measured the Zeiss Terra to have a minimum close focus distance of 1.4 metres, so this should be a great little instrument for use as a long distance microscope, to spy out insects, fungi, flowers, rocks and the endlessly fascinating complexities of tree trunks.
But while the field of view is quite immersive in the Zeiss Terra, it lacks the majesty factor of a larger binocular, such as my Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah, with its whopping 8.2 degree true field and better eye relief. Larger binoculars are simply easier to engage with your eye sockets and are thus more comfortable to use than any pocket binocular on the market.
Performance under low light conditions easily show the limitations of the small objectives on the Zeiss Terra. At dusk, the 8 x 42 was vastly superior to the Zeiss, showing much brighter images, as expected. So, as good as the Zeiss pocket binocular is, it can’t defy the laws of physics.
A Walk by the River Bank
One of the best reasons to own and use a pocket binocular, is that it encourages you to go outside and explore the landscape. They’re so light weight and handy that anyone can carry one. Sometimes I use the Opticron and at other times I like using the Zeiss. Their sharp, high-contrast optics deliver wonderful images of the Creation. For me, nature is life affirming; a profound source of revelation and illumination. Like a great Cathedral, it fills me with awe and wonder. The sound of the wind whistling through the trees, the babbling brook and the noisy chirps of small tree birds form part of a symphony paying homage to the One who fashioned it all. For some, the Darwinian, materialist lie has dulled or even extinguished the sense of wonder that is innately endowed to every child. Dead to the world, believing themselves to be highly evolved animals, they pose no meaningful questions and can give no meaningful answers to life’s biggest conundrums. As you think, so you are.
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
For me, being able to explore the wet and wild places with tiny optical aids is a source of unending joy. On sunny afternoons or early in the morning, I sometimes take myself off for a walk along the banks of the River Endrick which meanders its way through the beautiful valley in which I live. Stretches of shallow, fast-flowing water predominate but are also complemented by deeper pool and riffle sequences; favourite haunts of Brown Trout, Perch and other course fish. Lanky Herons frequent these waters in search of fresh prey. Bracken flourishes all along the river, and my pocket binocular allows me to study their shape and form in great detail. As summer gives way to autumn, their bright lorne hues transform into various shades of brown and tan. Spiders weave elaborate but deadly webs of silk with their spinnerets that sparkle and glisten in the morning sunlight, creating a wondrous decoration that I can experience up-close and personal with my long range microscope.
Many species of tree grace the banks of the river; Ash, Silver Birch, Sycamore, Horse Chestnut and even the odd Oak. Thriving from frequent rain showers, their trunks are covered in lichens, moss and algae that reveal a wealth of intricate structure and a riot of colour that changes in accordance with the varying altitude of the Sun as it wheels across the sky. I especially delight in observing the colour of autumn leaves in bright sunlight, the ruby reds of anthocyanins and the yellow-orange hues of carotenoids. Every now and then, I watch as the fast-flowing water, dappling in weak autumn sunshine, ferries off fallen leaves, their destinies unknown. My pocket binocular shows me that every tree trunk is unique. Each tells its own story, visual scars of its past life.
On some stretches of the river bank, I can still find some late-flowering wild plants that delight the eyes with colour in unexpected ways. And as autumn continues its march towards winter, the thick brambles begin to yield their succulent fruit. What could me more pleasing and more natural than to feast on their nutritious berries?
At some places along the river bank, there are expansive rocky stretches. And yet every stone you un-turn reveals even more of God’s Creation. A scurrying earwig, a wondrously armoured wood louse or a frolicking spider.The pocket binocular brings everything into stunning clarity. And though at first glance, each stone looks more or less the same, my little pocket spyglass shows that they too are all unique. Every crevice, every colourful grain is one of a kind.
This tiny corner of the world is ripe for exploration, with every day that passes presenting new adventures, new wonders to delight the eye. But so is yours!
Bird Watching with the Zeiss Terra Pocket Binocular:
Lots of birding websites don’t recommend using pocket binoculars for bird watching, citing their small fields of view and reduced comfort compared with larger binoculars as the most common reasons. Having used these small binoculars for a while now, I must say that I respectfully disagree. The Opticron Aspheric has served as a good birding binocular for me, especially for quick looks at birds that visit our back garden table and the crows that nest in the conifer trees in the common ground beyond our back yard fence. Recently, a group of five magpies have taken up residence in the Rowan tree in our back yard. Each evening as darkness falls, they hunker down in the tree and don’t seem to be fazed by us turning on an outside light or noisy disturbances when it’s time to put the garbage out. During the day though, they are often seen chackering away at each other loudly(magpies don’t actually sing) as if to resolve some dispute among themselves. Further afield, there is a small pond just a few hundred yards away in the grounds of Culcreuch Castle, which attract quite a few varieties of water bird; swans, duck, water hens, heron and even the odd cormorant. Once I learned to use them properly, small binoculars like these have never presented much in the way of a problem for me. And since the Zeiss Terra pockets have a nice wide field of 6.8 degrees, they have proven to be better suited than the Opticron in this regard because you can better track the motions of birds with a wider true field.
On the Zeiss Sports Optics website, under ‘usage’, they seem to be saying that the Terra pockets are less suitable for birding, but I wonder if this is merely a clever ploy to get folk to buy into their larger(and more expensive) models. If so, they’re lost on me. With their excellent optics and generous field of view right to the edge, they can and do serve as good birding glasses. Of course, you can only form your own opinions by actual field experience but you may discover that the little Terra is all you really need! Seen in this light, acquiring a Zeiss Terra pocket binocular can actually serve as a cost-saving measure that stops you haemorrhaging your hard-earned cash on ever bigger and more expensive models.
How About Astronomy?
A small binocular like this is not the best for exploring the night sky since its small objective lenses cannot gather enough light to really wow the observer. However, the Terra’s excellent performance both at the centre of the field and extending nearly all the way to the edges, as well as its wonderful contrast make star gazing a pleasant experience. Out here in the sticks, the sky is quite dark and rewarding, even when observed with such a small instrument. Its field of view is large enough to enjoy some of the showpieces of the sky like the Pleiades, the Hyades, and larger asterisms such as Melotte 20 in Perseus, which can be taken in with its generous field of view. Stars remain very tightly focused and pin sharp across the field. Later in the season, I look forward to exploring the winter constellation of Orion the Hunter, to seek out its magnificent nebula in his Sword Handle, as well as the many delightful clusters of stars that are framed within its borders.
On another autumnal evening, I was able to pick up the three Messier open clusters in Auriga, M34, the Messier galaxies, M81 and M82, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Double Cluster in Perseus, wide double stars like Mizar & Alcor and the Coathanger asterism in Vulpecula. Running the binocular through Cygnus and Cassiopeia will also reward dark-adapted eyes with innumerable faint stars, like fairy dust on black velvet. One delightful little project involves exploring the lovely colours of bright stars such as blue-white Vega and Sirius, creamy white Capella, brilliant white Rigel, orange Arcturus and fiery red Betelgeuse and Aldebaran.
Following the phases of the Moon can also be a rewarding and worthwhile pursuit, as the Terra’s above average glare and internal reflection control will ensure that you get nice crisp, contrasty images. Lunar eclipses can also be enjoyed. You might also like to try your hand at observing the beautiful light shows presented by clouds passing near the Moon on blustery evenings. The excellent contrast of the Terra will also allow you to see stars around the Moon which can be very arresting to observe. Capturing the bright Moon as it rises over man-made buildings will also delight the eye. Above all else, don’t let its small aperture deter you from exploring God’s wonderful creation, which fills the Universe with hope and light.
The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 pocket binocular is a fine, high-quality optical instrument that is easy to use and transport. If taken care of, it will give you years of enjoyment where ever you wish to take it. As I said from the outset of this blog, I believe Zeiss did something very noble in bringing this little binocular to market at the price point they set. To be honest, and as others have quipped, they could well have stuck a ‘Victory’ label on it and no one would be any the wiser. Optically, Zeiss engineers have cut no corners to deliver an ergonomic, durable and optically sound instrument that will delight anyone who looks through it. I suspect that the Zeiss Terra pocket might be one of their best-selling products. It is even available on finance and buy-now-pay later schemes here in the UK, although I would strongly advise would-be buyers to save up and pay the price in full rather than incurring more debt, where you ultimately pay more. The Zeiss is expensive as small binoculars go, but I feel that it’s worth every penny, as for me at least, it has already given me countless hours of wonderful experiences. In the world of high-quality pocket binoculars, the Terra certainly stands out in a crowd. Highly recommended!
Thanks for reading.
Neil English is the author of a large medley of essays(650pages), Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, which showcases the extraordinary lives of amateur and professional astronomers over four centuries of time.
1. The Zeiss Terra has a two year warranty, which is enacted once you register the product on the Zeiss website. Cross-checking is thorough, requiring the serial number, and the name & address of the place of purchase. After checking these details, you receive a confirmatory email from the Zeiss Sports Optics team, welcoming you to the world of Zeiss.
2. The little foldable Zeiss Terra is very suitable for those adults with unusually small inter pupillary distances (closely spaced eyes) and children.
3. The overall light transmission of the Zeiss Terra ED is 88 per cent. Source here. This is exactly the same as the Swarovski CL Pocket(non-ED just in case Pepperidge farm forgets, ken ) binocular. Source here. Zeiss Victory Pocket binocular light transmission is 91%. Source here.
4. The family of magpies came back to the Rowan tree in my garden, as they always do, just before sunset. Here is a picture of four ( I think!) individuals settled in the tree branches at 20.09pm local time on the evening of October 6 2019.
5. After a week of abysmal weather, with endless cloud and rain, I finally managed to test the little Zeiss Terra pocket binocular on a very bright gibbous Moon at 10:25 pm local time on the evening of October 10 2019, when it was within an hour of meridian passage. At the centre of the field, it delivered a beautiful, clean and razor sharp image with no false colour. The background sky was good and dark with little in the way of diffused light. Internal reflections were pretty much non-existent with the Moon in the centre of the field. Only when it was placed just outside the field did I detect some minor flaring. Moving the Moon to the edge of the field threw up some slight lateral colour, bluish at its southern edge, and green-yellow at its northern edge. These results were entirely consistent with my flashlight testing. This will be a useful Moon-gazing glass!
6. May 11 2020: This afternoon I received a phone call from the Zeiss team clarifying that the Terra pocket binoculars have indeed moved production to China, but they also reassured me that the quality of the product is identical to the original Japanese-made instrument, as is the packaging, accessories and two-year warranty. Not all employees were aware of this until recently and this was the root source of the recent confusion.
7. October 25 2020: Optics Trade has done a new video review of the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 pocket glass. The reader will note that the model featured in the video is also manufactured in Japan. Link here.