Product Review: Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 25 Pocket Binocular.

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 25 package.

A Work Commenced September 24 2021

 

 

Product: Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 25

Country of Manufacture: China

Field of View: 119m @1000m(6.8 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 13mm

Exit Pupil: 3.13mm

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 3 dioptres

Close Focus: 2m (advertised) 3.02 m measured

Chassis: Rubber armoured Magnesium Alloy

Coatings: Fully broadband Multicoated, phase corrected BaK-4 Schmidt Pechan Roof Prisms, Hydroguard coatings on outer lenses.

ED Glass: No

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (1.5m for 3 mins)

Inter-pupillary Distance: 38-72mm

Dimensions: 10.8×10.6×4.3cm

Weight: 296g advertised(310g measured).

Warranty: 10 years

Supplied Accessories: Tethered objective lens caps, rain guard,  carry strap and protective carrying case, instruction sheet, warranty card.

Price: £99.00(UK)

 

Binoculars are life enriching tools. They bring the world a whole lot closer, revealing details of the natural world that fascinate a curious mind. In my three year walk through the fascinating world of binocular optics, I have identified binocular categories that interest me more than others, and one of these is the so-called pocket binocular:- small (less than 30mm) aperture, ultraportable units that can be be folded up and stored in an ordinary pocket, where they can go with you where ever your curiosity carries you.

Of all the categories of binoculars I’ve explored, it is arguably pocket binoculars that I have bought in and tested the most. The pocket binocular market is growing rapidly, especially since the onset of the pandemic, where people began pursuing new hobbies and new pursuits to entertain them. Top companies like Leica, Zeiss and Swarovski have been constantly updating and improving their pocket binocular range. For example, Swarovski Optik has recently introduced an even smaller pocket binocular than their well-thought-of CL Pocket range. Called the CL Curio, it’s a 7 x 21mm model, with an impressive 7.7 angular degree field of view. Curiously, the 7 x 21 Curio is now about £100 more expensive than the larger CL pockets!

Not so long ago, it wasn’t really possible to acquire excellent optical quality from a pocket binocular without paying a heavy financial outlay. But astounding advances in optical technology has changed that forever. More and more cost-effective models are now being launched to cater for the public’s growing appetite for portable optical excellence. As a case in point, I wish to discuss the ergonomic and optical properties of a new line of pocket binoculars launched by Barr & Stroud, and in particular, the Series 5 8 x 25 model I bought in for field testing.

The all new Barr & Stroud Series 5 8x 25 pocket binocular.

First Impressions

The package arrived double boxed, well protected from knocks and bumps. Inside I was excited to see a scaled down box used by Barr & Stroud in the packaging of their larger Series 5 binoculars. When I removed the 8 x 25 from its black soft padded case, I was delighted to see that this little instrument was very well made. The tough, Magnesium alloy chassis is overlaid by a British racing car green rubber armouring, with wonderful side texturing for more secure gripping.

The textured rubber side armouring of 8x 25 Series 5 is very easy to grip.

Although the supplied carry strap was not of the highest quality, I decided instead to borrow the lanyard from my Leica Ultravid when carrying out field tests of the Series 5 8 x 25.That said, getting the lanyard through the strap lugs was a little frustrating, as they are very narrow.

What I found most endearing however, was the petite tetherable rubber rain guards and objective lens covers that attended the instrument.

How sweet is that! The little Series 5 8 x 25 comes with high quality tethered rubber rain guard and objective covers.

Ergonomics

Tipping the scales at just over 300g, this is a light weight binocular by most anyone’s standards. It has a dual hinge design, which means that it can be folded down into a pocket sized package for easy transport. Because the hinges have firm stops on them, they are best aligned with your eyes simply by swinging the left barrel all the way out to the stop and then swinging the right barrel into position until the images merge. I’ve found that this is the easiest and most consistent way to get perfect alignment with your eyes without having to fiddle too much with the binocular.

The dioptre ring is located under the right ocular. It moves smoothly and has a satisfying amount of friction to keep it firmly in place. The dioptre ring is also clearly marked with plus and minus symbols that help you quickly find and make a mental note of your preferred setting.

The dioptre ring is easy to grip and moves smoothly, with just the right amount of tension. The twist up eyecups are made from machined metal overlaid with soft rubber.

The twist-up eyecups are nicely made and comfortable to use. Like most pocket binoculars, there are no intermediate positions. They are either pushed up or down, and they stay in place.

The objectives are quite deeply recessed for a pocket binocular – a very good move in my opinion – as this protects the lenses from rain, dust and stray light.

The objective lenses on the Series 5 8x 25 are nicely recessed for added protection against the elements and stray light.

The ocular field lenses are a little smaller than those found on say the Zeiss Terra, for example, and more reminiscent of those found on less expensive models, such as the Olympus WP II or Kowa SV DCF, which initially concerned me, as I remember not having much fun with either of those. But as it turned out, my concerns were completely put to rest when I started to look through the little Barr & Stroud glass, as we shall see a little later.

The ocular field lens on the Series 5 8 x 25 are smaller than those found on other 8 x 25 units, such as the Zeiss Terra pocket glasses.

The focus wheel is nice and large and easily accessible in the middle of the bridge. It can be operated perfectly using a single finger and moves very smoothly, with no backlash or stiction, turning through about one and half revolutions from one end of its focus travel to the other.

The central focus wheel is located on the bridge and is beautifully designed. It moves very smoothly using just one finger.

In the hands, the binocular is easy to hold steady. To my mind, it has very similar ergonomics to the Swarovski CL pocket models but with the focus wheel pushed further forward on the bridge. Compared with say the Zeiss Terra pockets, for example, the Barr & Stroud Series 5 mini glasses have a better and more robust build quality. All in all, the Series 5 8 x 25 gets high marks for fit, finish as well as handling, but what about the optics?

Optical Evaluation

The Series 5 8 x 25 arrived perfectly collimated. Examining the exit pupils in both barrels shows good circularity, with a nice annulus of dark surrounding them.

Left eye pupil.

.…and right eye pupil.

As I said on previous occasions, pocket binoculars are harder to make well in comparison to larger ones, owing to their much less forgiving design tolerances. That’s why so many pocket binos don’t pass muster, especially if you keep your budget low. That also explains why good pocket glasses are relatively expensive; good designs require real skill to execute and those skills need to be rewarded!

So, it was with some trepidation that I began to test this new Series 5 8 x 25, as I was hoping that at least some of the same magic that went into the larger models would also be inherited by these pocket glasses. Well, as soon as I brought the instrument to my eyes, I was amazed to see a brilliant, sharp and high contrast image, full of rich details and vibrant colours, with a large and generous sweet spot! I immediately got the impression that I was looking through a larger instrument because the view was so comfortable and immersive. A field of view of 119m at 1000m is big as pocket binoculars go, and while certainly not class leading in this regard, is up their amongst the widest in this pocket class.

Like its bigger siblings, control of glare is exceptional in this little 8 x 25. How shall I put it; in side by side testing, it performed just as good, if not even a little bit better, than a world class optic now costing close to six times the retail price of this Series 5. One of the main reasons I have enjoyed Barr & Stroud binoculars is their consistently excellent suppression of glare and this little 8 x 25 was strutting its stuff with grace! Exceptional too is the binocular’s control of veiling glare. By looking at some bushes on a bright and hazy afternoon just below the Sun, the Series 5 8 x 25 was in a completely different league to two other pocket binos with much heftier price tags, which I tested at the same time. Make no mistake about it: this Barr & Stroud 8 x 25 has world class suppression of veiling glare!  Having tested a multitude of pocket binoculars over the last three years, there’s simply nothing to touch them in this regard without moving to a larger, premium instrument.

Colour correction is excellent. Indeed pointing the binocular up through several layers of early autumn leaves against a bright overcast sky only revealed the merest traces of secondary spectrum. The reader should not be surprised by this finding. As I related in other reviews, a well made binocular can achieve excellent control of chromatic aberration without the need for ED glass. You just have to look through a Leica Trinovid or Ultravid pocket glass, or test drive a Swarovski CL pocket bino to see what I mean. In my experience, the addition of ED glass lens elements are much more important in the design of larger binoculars, such as the 32mm, 42mm and 50mm aperture classes.

The image remains pin point sharp within a large sweet spot, and only becomes progressively softer in the outermost 20 per cent of the field. I tested how good the field was by conducting some observations at night on the stars under a clear sky. The results were very encouraging; stars remained acceptably tight and sharp over most of the field, only bloating modestly near the field stop. Most of this off-axis aberration could be focused out, showing that the main culprit is field curvature. And comparing it to a world class pocket bino with exceptional off-axis performance, the B&S Series 5 8 x 25 fared very well indeed. Good job Barr & Stroud!

Further Notes from the Field

Champion pocket glass!

The central focus knob is buttery smooth to operate, allowing one to quickly change focus on moving targets. Just a fifth of a turn of the wheel takes you from several metres to infinity. Close focus on this unit was considerably larger than that advertised. Instead of the quoted 2 metres, I measured it to be 3.02 metres. That’s a little bit of a set back if you like using your binocular as a long range microscope, but it’s no where near as long as some other pocket binos I’ve encountered in the past, such as the Leica Trinovid BCA 10x 25, which had a whopping 5 metres close focus!

The supplied soft storage case fits the binocular with quite a bit of room to spare. And while it will certainly do the job, I elected instead to store the instrument inside a smaller, zip-closable, leather pouch with a sachet of silica gel desiccant to keep the interior as moisture free as possible.

Eye relief is a little tight for spectacle wearers- just 13mm. That didn’t present a problem for yours truly as I don’t wear spectacles while glassing. I did check to see how I got on with glasses however. I was able to see a substantial amount of the field but not the entirety of it.

Whilst glassing very close to the Sun one afternoon, I did pick up a couple of internal reflections. Depth of focus is good but not enormous; it fell a bit short of a top rated 8 x 20 pocket glass. I experienced little in the way of blackouts with the Series 5 8 x 25, despite its small exit pupil size and greater sensitivity to eye placement. This is something I have experienced more with small binoculars possessing advanced ultra-wide eyepiece designs.

The dioptre setting stayed in place solidly even after removing the instrument from its case about a dozen times. I’m confident that it will only need very occasional tweaking going forward.

The binocular does not have a means of mounting to a tripod which employs a bracket, but such a small instrument rarely if ever requires a tripod. That said, it can be affixed to a simple mounting block using Velcro. Indeed, I used this mounting technique to ascertain the accuracy of collimation, and to adjust the dioptre setting for my own personal use.

The instrument has a hydrophobic coating – called Hydro guard by B & S –   applied to the outer lenses, which makes water bead together and run off the lenses. It also accelerates the dissipation of fog on the lenses. I tested this against a model having no such coating and it seemed to speed up dissipation by a factor of two or so.

Out and About with the Series 5 8 x 25 Pocket Glass

Ideal for a forest walk.

 

To be continued …………………………….

 

 

 

 

De Fideli.

Further Thoughts on the Svbony SV 202 10 x 42 ED.

The Svbony 10 x 42 ED on a forest walk.

A Work Commenced September 19 2021

 

In a recent review blog I put the Svbony SV 202 10 x 42 ED binocular through its paces. In that blog I explained why I thought it offered exceptional ergonomic and optical performance for the very modest price I paid for it. Here I wish to offer further evidence concerning its optical quality and notes concerning my continued use of this instrument in the field.

I set up my iphone 7 to take some images I shot through the SVbony 10 x 42 ED while tripod mounted. The iphone 7 was set on a three second timer to avoid vibrations being introduced into the images and all images are a composite of 10 photo bursts. The reader will note that none of the images presented have been modified in any way; they’re all raw images taken straight from the phone. All distances were measured using a laser range finder shown below:

The laser range finder used to measure the distances quoted in the pictures.

In the image below, a tree trunk at a distance of 23.1 yards is imaged through the binocular:

Unprocessed image of a tree trunk located some 23.1 yards distant from the binocular.

Note the sharpness of the tree trunk from the top of the field to near the bottom. Closer inspection shows some distortion at the field edges, but I hope you can see just how much of the field is tack sharp, with very nice contrast and natural colour fidelity.

The venerable Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR(left) pictured next to the Svbony 10 x 42 ED.

In the next set of images, I compared the depth of focus of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED with my Leica Ultravid 8 x 20. In both images, the tip of the post in the foreground of the image (seen at the bottom) is located at a distance of 32.3 yards.  In addition, for both images, the iphone 7 camera was focused on the middle fence located at a distance of 43.8 yards, while the park bench seen in the background is located at a distance of 97.7 yards.

First up, the Svbony 10 x 42 ED image:

Image shot through the Svbony 10 x 42 ED. True field 6.16 angular degrees.

Now here is the same scene as shot through the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20(also tripod mounted):

Image captured through the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20. True field 6.5 angular degrees

The reader will note the greater depth of focus and edge-of-field sharpness of the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20. The Svbony 10 x 42 ED shows some distortion at the edges of the field in the background, but not in the foreground.

Now, if one compares the sharpness of the first image featuring the tree trunk at 23.1 yards with the sharpness of the tip of the post seen in the foreground(32.1 yards) of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED park scene image, one can see that the foreground post is sharper than that of the background. This suggests that over closer ranges of focus, the Svbony has a better corrected field. Only when the focus is shifted to longer distances and extended out to infinity, can one see the greater edge-of-field distortion of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED image.

This is good news for birders or those wanting to image sources within a few tens of yards, as the evidence seems to suggest that the sweet spot will be greater than at larger distances.

Note the richer colours in the Svbony 10 x 42 ED compared with the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20. This may be attributed to the greater light grasp, as well as the ED glass element in the Svbony as compared with the Leica Ultravid, which has a smaller aperture and does not feature ED glass.

These results demonstrate the very nice optical quality of the Svbony 10x 42 ED, which features a large sweet spot and excellent centre of field sharpness that is so important to any binocular image.

It must also be noted that the actual views garnered through both binoculars with one’s eyes are far more compelling than the above iphone 7 images suggest.

Further Notes from the Field

At 10.15pm local time on the night of September 19 2021, I examined the face of a near full Harvest Moon, located low in the south southeast. The image was razor sharp, with beautiful details of the lunar maria and ray craters. Contrast was excellent, with no internal reflections, ghost images or diffused light round about it. A thin sliver of blue and yellow fringes was seen at the south and north lunar edges, respectively, a consequence mainly of atmospheric refraction. No signs of diffraction spikes were seen emanating outward from the lunar orb.

Moving the Moon to the edge of the field revealed some darkening of the maria. This reveals some illumination drop off near the field edge, as mentioned earlier in connection to the Pleiades.

Just after local midnight on September 20, I once again examined the near full Moon as it crossed the meridian, and so at its highest altitude in the sky. Nearly all of the atmospheric refraction had disappeared and the lunar south and north edges were, to all intents and purposes, completely colour free. The view was simply magnificent! This is what I would expect in a high-quality 10x ED model.

The focuser on the Svbony 10 x 42 ED is a real class act.

I’m really enjoying the focus wheel on the Svbony 10 x 42 ED. Although I would class it as slow, it is extremely smooth and backlash free. It’s ideal for looking at slowly moving or stationary targets, which is more suited to 10x than to 8x. Images snap to extremely fine focus with none of the ambiguity I often encounter with binoculars having larger exit pupils.

More Moonwatching!

Right on schedule, as if heralding the onset of the fall, the evening of the autumnal equinox brought with it the first gales of the new season. In the wee small hours of September 22 I enjoyed watching the bright harvest Moon as clouds swept by it at breakneck speed, on the wings of a strong westerly wind off the Atlantic. I’ve never enjoyed looking at the full Moon as much as I do with binoculars, and especially when clouds roll across its surface. The light shows I enjoyed with the Svbony 10 x 42 ED were simply spell binding. The field of view was filled with some of the most amazing colours nature displays, as water droplets interact in various ways with Moonshine. The structure of those cloud formations, as seen in moonlight, is always fascinating and rewarding to watch. More on this here.

What Pictures Reveal

I’ve been thinking some more about what the camera reveals about some of the photos I’ve been capturing with my binoculars. It seems to me that if all the variables are normalised apart from aperture and magnification, one can use those images to determine answers to questions I’ve asked myself in the past. How does aperture and magnification affect resolution, colour saturation and other parameters in daytime glassing? If any one has access to the one or more of the Svbony SV 202 series of ED binoculars, they could objectively answer some of these these questions by comparing the 10 x 42 ED to the 10 x 50 ED, for example, on carefully selected daytime targets.

From some of my preliminary experiments, it seems aperture definitely affects colour saturation and resolution positively. But the unblinking eye of the camera may not accurately reflect perceived image brightness, as I seem to perceive the images through the little Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 and the 10 x 42 Svbony as much more alike in good light. I have noticed however, that colours ‘pop’ that little bit more in the larger glass. Certainly more investigation in this area is warranted.

Identifying the Nature of the Outer Field Aberrations

By examining some of the brighter stars in Aquila at about 12.30 am on September 24, I was able to establish that the off axis aberration is mostly attributed to field curvature. This was ascertained by bringing the stars to the edge of the field and attempting to focus out those aberrations. The result was fairly clear; much of those off axis aberrations could indeed be focused out, making the stars much smaller and almost pinpoint; a clear sign of field curvature.

A Great Astronomical Tool

At about 1:00 am on the morning of September 26, I enjoyed a partially clear sky and a waning gibbous Moon now approaching third quarter. It was well up in the east and I enjoyed razor sharp images of the vast southern crater fields with the 10 x 42, the magnificent ray craters, Tycho and Copernicus, the Apennine Mountains and Mare Imbrium, Nubium and Humorum. The crater fields were marble white against the steely grey of the lunar seas. Moonlight illuminated some of the clouds surrounding it and I watched the stars winking in and out of view as they raced past on a still gusty westerly wind. Imaging clouds moving through the field with the fixed stars so far away behind them gave a haunting sense of perspective. The Svbony is turning out to be a magnificent star gazing binocular, bringing Heaven and Earth together in wonderful harmony.

To be continued……………………………..

 

 

 

 

De Fideli.

Adventures with a “Go Anywhere” Binocular.

nos mari navigaret

 

Preamble 1

Preamble 2

Preamble 3

A Work Commenced June 17 2021

 

The old Scottish adage, “what’s for you will not go by you,” is especially appropriate in consideration of the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 binocular. After three years of buying-in, testing, and either selling-on or gifting to friends & family,  all manner of binoculars from the pocket, compact and mid-size classes, I hope to provide a comprehensive overview of why I’ve settled on this remarkable instrument, and the many adventures I have thus far enjoyed with it after just a few months of use.

Make no mistake about it: the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 is arguably the finest binocular I have had the pleasure of looking through. Featuring state-of-the-art European optics from one of the premium binocular manufacturers, this little pocket binocular has been my constant companion on my daily walks through green fields, forests, hills and river paths, and has shown me extraordinary sights. It even served as the inspiration behind my first published feature article in a leading birding magazine that hits the shelves next Spring.

My choosing of this small, yet ruggedly built instrument was based on two principal requirements; uncompromising optics and ultra-low weight. I discovered that as I increased my daily walking excursions from a a few miles to several miles, and often across difficult terrain, weight became a supremely important consideration. Even slightly larger instruments, such as the versatile 8 x 32 models couldn’t quite cut it when having to carry such an instrument ’round my neck for a couple of hours or longer each day. The Leica Ultravid BR 8 x 20 tips the scales at only 243g and so represents one of the lightest premium binoculars currently available. When scaling down from the 8 x 32 Trinovid HD I had the pleasure of owning, I was able to reduce the carrying weight by a factor of about 2.7 – an instantly noticeable change. The dual-hinge design of this binocular also means that I can take it anywhere – literally! Folding down to 9 x 6.5cm at its smallest, it’s a true pocket-sized instrument that never gets in the way, whether in active service or not.

Though they are physically small when fully deployed with the eyecups extended, they are, ergonomically speaking, very easy and intuitive to use. Although I had some reservations about how they would fit in my hands, my apprehensions proved largely baseless. The instrument feels very comfortable in my medium-sized hands and the large, central focus wheel means they are very easy to operate in field use.

The small, 20mm triplet objectives and the aspherical elements built into the eyepieces of this binocular deliver stunning optical performance with particularly wonderful correction of spherical aberration. Images snap to focus with absolutely none of the ambiguity you get with lesser instruments The state-of-the-art phase and broad-band anti-reflection coatings applied to the complex assembly of lenses and prisms in the Leica Ultravid render images of the highest contrast with exceptional control of glare. Chromatic aberration is, to all intents and purposes, non-existent. This is especially remarkable since the instrument does not employ extra-low dispersion(ED) glass elements in the optical train. Only in the most challenging observing conditions, can one detect a trace of secondary spectrum – and only at the extreme edge of the field when observing very high contrast targets. Indeed, it has less false colour than the optically excellent Trinovid HD, which does feature ED glass. The instrument therefore provides a powerful reminder that superlative optical performance can be achieved without using fancy modern glass types. But you really have to experience the images first-hand to become a believer!

The field is reassuringly flat, with only very mild field curvature and pincushion distortion seen at the field stops. The images are very bright for such a small instrument. Indeed the highly regarded optics evaluator active on Bird Forum, Gijs van Ginkel, has measured the light transmission of the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 as exceeding 90 per cent  and reaching 95 per cent over red visible wavelengths. This is achieved via the advanced coating technology employed in these instruments but it’s exceptional transmission figures may also be augmented via the prisms used; Uppendahl rather than the more ubiquitous, Schmidt-Pechan variety. The Uppendahl is a cemented triplet prism structure, which eliminates two of the four reflections used in the Schmidt-Pechan configuration, helping to increase light transmission by a few per cent. Uppendahls were more widely used in the early days of roof prism optics, when anti-reflection coatings were considerably inferior to today’s treatments, but still confer a small advantage in the case of this small, ultra-portable binocular.

I contacted Gijs directly, enquiring about his recollections concerning this small Ultravid binocular. He kindly responded as follows:

Dear Neil,

I tested this binocular about 15 years ago, the test is published on the WEB-site of House of Outdoor. Apart from the excellent housing design and ideal handling comfort for such a tiny binocular, it is also an optical jewel. Light transmission is exceptionally high for this type of binocular and that is an important factor that contributes to its bright image. Furthermore, the optical system is very well designed as a basis for the beautiful image quality. The exit pupil of 2.5 mm “fills” in many circumstances the size of your eye pupil, so no light is “wasted” and your visual system is optimally “fed” so to speak.

 

Gijs

 

Gijs’ response set my mind racing, as I’d been thinking about why so many of the better quality small exit pupil binoculars(and boy have I tested more of these than you could shake a proverbial stick at lol!) serve up such delightful images. The answer came to me serendipitously a while back while searching for my eye glasses across a large living room. I realised that I was squinting my eyes to see the glasses more clearly. Specifically, squinting is a very natural way near-sighted individuals, such as yours truly, resort to in order to see objects in the distance better. Indeed, as I subsequently discovered, opticians have long-since described this optical trick as the pinhole effect. By restricting the aperture of the exit pupil(see the diagram below), image sharpness, contrast and astigmatism are all reduced.

Schematic showing the phenomenon called the pinhole effect.

The phenomenon even gave rise to specialised (pinhole)eyeglasses still in use today. You can try this at home by cutting out some holes in a cardboard substrate and peering at some object placed in the distance. By blocking off the peripheral rays that contribute most to the aberrations inherent to the human eye, the blur circle is greatly reduced, glare is minimised and image sharpness as well as contrast improves. Thus, in coupling a state-of-the-art-binocular with the best part of your cornea-lens, you are, in effect, achieving the best possible images a binocular can deliver!

The joy of knowing things!

And yet, there is still more to know!

Restricting the size of the exit pupil pays other dividends. For one thing, the depth of focus of the human eye is increased by stopping down the pupil diameter. I have noticed this in a few of the better pocket glasses I have tested in the past. But the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 has very impressive focus depth. Indeed, it easily exceeds my Series 5 8 x 42 Barr & Stroud, and is better than my wife’s 8 x 25 Opticron pocket glass. Indeed, the 8 x 20 Ultravid has slightly better focus depth than the Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21! The latter result was very surprising, since its reverse Porro prism design and lower magnification(6.5x) both ensure that its focus depth would be large. That it was exceeded by the 8 x 20 Ultravid was a revelation!

A large depth of focus is a very desirable attribute, as it reduces the amount of focusing one needs to perform while observing wildlife on the move, or just enjoying a rural vista, thereby increasing the instrument’s versatility.

The field of view of the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 is 6.5 angular degrees or 113m@1000m. While this is an impressively large field as pocket binoculars go, it is significantly smaller than the 7-8 angular degree fields usually seen in mid- or full size instruments. But as an observer who enjoys studying objects in detail, I find having smaller, better-corrected fields to be more desirable than one that offers super-wide vistas. Sure, a large field of view is beneficial for scanning and birding, but it can also be a distraction if one wants to concentrate on an interesting feature.

The small exit pupil (or eye box) of the Leica Ultravid is often cited as being difficult to square on with one’s eyes. I would agree that it does present more of a challenge than say an 8 x 32 or 8 x 42, but with just a little practice that challenge is all but eliminated. Truth be told, these small binoculars are actually very easy to use and very comfortable to look through. Practice is the key. There are no blackouts and no eye fatigue, even after many hours of continued use in the field, thanks to the instrument’s very precise factory collimation.

The instrument was designed to be used and not treated as an ornament. It is ruggedly built, with excellent handling. I carry it high on my chest to keep the amplitude of its oscillations small, thereby minimising the effects of accidental bumping off tree branches, sandbanks or rocks while on the move. Although it is advertised to be water resistant to a depth of 5 metres, I have my doubts that this is really true. It’s tiny size means it can go everywhere with me. I store it inside a small clamshell case, which zips closed, with the eyecups extended(see the image above), together with a small sachet of silica gel desiccant. Unlike the padded pouch that accompanies the instrument, the clamshell case is smaller and affords greater protection from the elements when not in use. There is no dithering about whether one should take it on vacation or not either. I’ve seen countless reports from nature enthusiasts who are reluctant to take their expensive binocular on a holiday for fear that it might be stolen or broken, and instead buy up a less expensive instrument for such trips. Personally, I don’t understand that mentality; you buy a premium instrument for the views as well as the ergonomics, right?. Why compromise?

I suspect the real reason is another justification to hoard equipment; something I’m just not into. Choose your poison, and live with that poison!

So, there you have it! These are just some of the reasons I have settled on the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 as my only daytime binocular. I’ve even used it for some limited astronomical excursions too, as I’ll explore later.

The Buzzard Field

The Buzzard Field.

It’s been a very cold Spring, not just in the UK, but in much of the Northern Hemisphere. Even today, on the Summer Solstice, temperatures in parts of Britain(13.2C) were actually lower than on the last Winter Solstice(13.5C). Of course, that’s not been discussed much on the main stream media because it doesn’t fit their climate alarmism narrative, but it’s certainly true.

Over the last few months I’ve been expanding my range of local patches to observe many species of bird. One of those patches is a field about half a mile away from my home as the Crow flies, where I have been watching a mating pair of Buzzards which patrol the skies round about. The Buzzard field, as I have come to call it, is a magical place, and as the days slowly brightened throughout the Spring and the air warmed, an abundance of fresh grass has grown up, fed by regular rain and grazed upon by dairy cows. The edges of the field has long grass that is a joy to wade through, maskless and happy,  though one must be careful to cover up well as it’s all too easy to get bitten by ticks and horseflies( locally known as clegs). Wild flowers – butter cups, several varieties of daisy, red and pink campion  -explode in a riot of colour, bringing back memories from my youth when I loved to explore the fields of standing grain on my uncle’s farm in South Tipperary, Ireland.

A pair of Buzzards noisily watching the goings on as I walk through their territory.

The Buzzard nest is located on some tall pine trees that border the field, but I often observe them perched in the branches of old oaks that follow the course of the Endrick river, on the lookout for prey. They are quite territorial raptors. Once they lay eyes on me as I walk through the field,  they often take to flight, soaring high overhead and becoming quite vocal. Their haunting shrieks fill the air and I get the distinct sense that I am unwelcome, but they are far too majestic to just ignore. To get the best views, I often lie still on my back on the grass and use my 8 x 20 to get as close as I can to them as they soar on the updrafts on sunny afternoons. I have enjoyed amazing views of these birds of prey, their wonderful, variegated plumage sharply focused in the binocular. But it also pays to remember that since a Buzzard’s eye sight is 8-10 times better than a typical human, they can probably see me as good or better than I can see them! Sometimes they come close enough for me to make out their amazing eyes, talons and strong, hooked beaks. The sexes are easy to distinguish, with the female being larger than the male.

The view from the tree trunk rest.

My ultimate destination takes me a few hundred yards southward from their nesting site, to a trunk of a fallen tree by the water. Here, I can sit for many minutes on end, catching some Sun and scanning the river for Sand Martins. But more often than not the 8 x 20s pick up a few noisy Oyster Catchers that patrol the stony terrain in and along the river. They are comical birds, avian Pinnochios lol, with their long, orange beaks, darting about in search of fresh river tukka.  And when they take to flight with their amusingly short wings, they never cease to put a smile on my face. How can something so ridiculous looking ever take to the air lol? But boy can they fly!

Culcreuch Pond

Culcreuch Pond, looking East.

My next local patch – Culcreuch Pond – is located about half a mile’s walk from my home. The walk itself is very pleasant, passing through a wooded area, some open fields full of young lambs and the majestic Fintry Hills off to the east beyond Culcreuch Castle. From mid-May to mid-June the air is laced with pollen and airborne seeds. Everywhere I turn my 8 x 20 I can see myriad particles suspended on sunbeams – countless terra-bytes of genetic information stored inside exquisitely designed structures far in advance of any human technology. If they find their way to the right plants, shrubs and trees, they’ll fertilise the next generation of green & bloom.

The photo above is the view from my favourite spot, but is much more challenging to get to during high Summer, when lush vegetation makes the already narrow path more difficult to negotiate. Having a small binocular is a great advantage here, as I’ve lost count of the number of knocks, scratches and dents my larger binoculars have had to endure moving through the brush. On calm days, the pond is very still and large parts of the surface water are covered in a scum of pollen, which serves as an important food source for many other forms of life. For much of the year, my staple glassing targets here include Mallard, Mute Swans, Waterhen, Grey Heron and even the odd Cormorant, but during the warm and bright days of Summer, magnificent Swallows frequent the place. I like to sit quietly at the water’s edge, studying the extraordinary aerobatic displays of these seasonal visitors to our shores, moving with breath-taking agility and screeching as they course through the air in search of flying insects.

On rainy days, I move to the shelter of a tree which keeps the binocular lenses dry and clear. But it’s often during these inclement hours that I’ve witnessed the most awe-inspiring stunts from the Swallows, which very often confine their flights much closer to the surface. The razor sharp optics of the 8 x 20 is ideal for studying this behaviour and on many occasions I have seen the Swallows come all the way down to the surface of the pond, moving with breakneck speed to tuck into the swarms of insects that hatch there. My guess is that low pressure systems prevent the insects from soaring very high on such days, and the Swallows respond by flying near the surface where they are more likely to catch their next meal.

The hills which soar above the valley beyond the pond also present marvellous glassing opportunities. Throughout April and May, Gorse bushes paint the hills in a vibrant yellow colour, and in other parts, large swathes of bluebells can be seen glinting in weak Spring sunshine, but by the time June arrives, Hawthorn trees that dot the landscape are adorned with beautiful white flowers that greatly brighten the hills for weeks on end. After that, dark browns and tan once again become the normative hues. And every now and then, I’ve captured great views of paragliders taking advantage of fair weather days,  as they launch themselves off the summit and slowly glide their way down to the open fields below. Very cool!  Brave souls!

A Walk through the Woods

The Mill Lade.

Forests and wooded areas are a godsend on hot Summer days, providing welcome shade from the ferocity of the Sun. For much of the year, the woods of the Mill Lade – yet another local patch of mine – provide excellent spots for birding, particularly from late Autumn to mid-Spring, as the deciduous trees have not yet put forth their leaves, so providing much better opportunities to spot your feathered friends across greater distances. But it also provides much more light to glass your targets. The walk through the woods of the Mill Lade extends for over a mile and carries the rambler up over the Denny Road on the south side of the village of Fintry, to a lovely arched bridge  over the River Endrick. Follow the road upwards towards the Carron Dam and you gain magnificent views of the valley below, but if you decide to re-join the main road, you can also enjoy a pleasant walk back into the village, past the old Kirk and the open fields of Bogside Farm, where you’re free to enjoy magnificent views of the Fintry Hills beyond.

The woods are fed by a number of small streams that lie below the main forest pathway, and I often stop and watch to see if wild birds will come there and water up. Little Wrens are the most common visitors to these watering holes, but every now and then, I get a real surprise like a Greater Spotted Woodpecker which descends from the trees for a cool drink. Your eyes are as important a tool as binoculars in this terrain, as you’re constantly on the look out for sudden movement, either across your line of sight or in your peripheral vision. Blackbird, Chaffinch, Robin, Tree Creepers and Nuthatches are most commonly glassed here, but I’ve also enjoyed magnificent views of  Song Thrush singing their little lungs out in the late evening.

While the forest floor is much more in shade during high Summer, where one might naturally choose a larger instrument which gathers more light, I have conducted a series of tests comparing the views through a number of high-quality mid-sized binoculars with my Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR. And what I discovered genuinely surprised me. Despite the larger instruments delivering noticeably brighter images in these shady environments, the little Ultravid still produces sharper views with more detail than the larger glasses. You see, I have become very accustomed to using the little Leica glass with its 2.5mm exit pupil, so much so that when I bring even a good quality 42mm instrument to my eyes under such conditions, I immediately notice quite a bit of ambiguity creeping in as I try to obtain the sharpest image with a larger exit pupil. Try as I may, they never quite serve up images in the same league as the 8 x 20. In particular, I’ve noticed myself chasing micro-focus constantly to coax the best views out of larger glasses, but with the 8 x 20 there is no such searching necessary. It just snaps to focus on whatever object I train it on.  And the more I confine myself to the small Leica glass, the more pronounced those differences become.

Bigger is not always better you know!

But here again, there is a rational basis for these findings, as I explored in the beginning of this blog. The human eye resolves the best details in the 2-3mm exit pupil aperture class, so it ‘s hardly surprising I find the images through the optically excellent 8 x 20 so much more compelling than with larger glasses. And here’s another report exploring exit pupil size and resolving power which also comports with these findings. Only when the light fades in the very late evening do I see the obvious advantages of larger binoculars with their greater light gathering power. After all, you do need enough light to see details. Of course, just as I discovered in my explorations with the astronomical telescope, I have come to notice and appreciate things that few if any other folk have bothered to notice. Just like the world of telescopes, some folk never really progress in the hobby, even after decades of ‘looking’ or just ‘looking the part’.

‘Experience’ and ‘insight’ can mean entirely different things!

The View from on High

Panoramic view from just below the summit of Dunmore. The village of Fintry is seen in the centre, while the Fintry Hills beyond rise up 1,000 feet or so above the valley floor.

Dunmore, the hill which rises some 900 feet above the village of Fintry, is yet another of my ‘local patches.’ The route involves following a meandering dust road beyond the old ochre quarry, following a burn upwards toward an open field which gets you to the path to the summit. The climb is not especially challenging, but there are some steep parts that can be a bit tricky to negotiate, especially in winter and on wet days. It’s during these ascents that a small, lightweight binocular really comes into its own. I’ve climbed  Dunmore with all sorts of equipment in the past, mostly cameras, rucksacks and even the occasional spyglass, but more recently, with binoculars. Specifically, I’ve had 42mm, 32mm, as well as a number of 25-30mm class instruments accompany me on the climb over the last few years, but nothing comes close to the comfort level and the optical rewards I have reaped by taking the little 8 x 20 along with me. It’s just so small and light that it never gets in the way. Even with instruments in the 350 to 500g weight class, I feel their heft round my neck far more acutely than with the 240g Leica wonder glass. During any such ascent, the strap can chafe the skin on your neck causing rash or even blistering to occur, but the low weight of the 8 x 20 as well its high quality, woven fabric carrying strap, eliminates all such discomfort.

During the Summer months, the path upwards towards the summit is graced by rich swathes of bracken, and while the climb itself gets the heart racing and raises a sweat, you’re rewarded by magnificent views of the valley below, as well as a cool, refreshing breeze even on the hottest days. The 8 x 20 provides the icing on the cake by serving up crystal clear views of the village below and the Fintry Hills right across the valley to the east. But in the last few years, Dunmore has also become the home to a mating pair of Peregrine Falcons that nest in some of its most inaccessible crags. These wonderful raptors hover in mid-flight, intently scanning the fields below in search of prey, and at this time of year, there is no shortage of fresh game – field mice, moles, rabbit, adders and bats, to name but a few.

Stone dykes erected in previous generations provide excellent areas to scan for interesting avian species.

Old stone dykes crisscross the hill-scape. These provide great places to scan with the 8 x 20, as sometimes they turn up interesting birds; Turtledoves and the odd, glorious Yellowhammer. But Dunmore is also a place where one can just escape from the human world,  at least for a while, to offer up a prayer to the Living God in gratitude for such small mercies; to pay homage to His illustrious, verdant creation………………. while I still can.

The River Walk

River Endrick

It’s always best to spend a penny before taking leave of the house for a walk by the river – yet another one of my local patches. The sound of running water, or even the sight of it flowing over rocks is enough to strongly stimulate the urge to urinate. I believe psychologists call this the power of suggestion lol.

The Endrick River itself meanders some 20 miles through the valley from its source in the Fintry Hills all the way to Loch Lomond. After prolonged bouts of heavy rain, the river swells in size and depth, fed by cascades of water that drain from higher altitudes. During warm July days, the air above the river teems with swarming insects that live out their entire lives in just a few days. Brown trout sprats gorge on them in the evening and the feasting continues well into the wee small hours of the morning, as any fly fisherman will tell you. These young fish are in turn preyed upon by river Lampreys that do not migrate to the sea, as other eels do, but spend their entire adult life in the fresh waters of the Endrick and Loch Lomond. And where there are eels, you’ll also find Otter, though I’ve yet to see one here. Some local naturalists inform me that they are best observed at dawn and dusk, times I do not generally glass, so no real surprises there.

Many kinds of birds frequent the river. There’s always a few Mallard around and sometimes you get a glimpse of mating pairs of Gooseander moving up and down stream. The females always look anxious to me. The ruddy feathers in the back of their neck stick out comically as they move past you. Mind you, one can never get too close to these birds. Come within 20 yards of them and they take to flight. The same is true of Grey Herron which fish these waters.

It was earlier this year that I first caught sight of Dippers feeding in the river. Indeed they are the subject of my first birding feature article, so I’m sworn to secrecy about those just now.  Arguably the most common birds on the Endrick are the Pied and Yellow Wagtail that flit among the shallower, rocky parts of the river in search of insects. Sand Martins make their nests in the raised clay-rich bank,  away from the main village, but I’ve also noticed many Wrens which seem to like living near the water. I’ve seen countless examples over the weeks and months, skulking about in the holes and shaded crevices along the river bank. I’m pretty sure some have even nested there.

The glorious light of July makes glassing the surface of the river a supreme joy; the cadence of the water as it flows over and around the rocks fascinates me. If you look closely at it with the 8 x 20, you’ll soon realise that every moment is different, a new swirl, new bubbles and foamy organic froths, one moment coalescing and breaking up in the next. Fixing my gaze on one spot on the river, flower blossoms, leaves, twigs and the odd deceased insect flow by on the water, making every field of view new and exciting. Nature is in constant flux, never ceasing or stopping to take its breath.

Visiting Local Lochs

Loch Venachar, Stirlingshire, with Ben Venue in the background.

Here in rural Central Scotland, we’re blessed with many freshwater lochs that dot the landscape, providing excellent places to take a cool dip or to engage in a number of water sports. My boys have taken up paddle boarding and enjoy nothing better than  taking off across the smaller lochs in search of adventure. Even though Loch Lomond is one of the most popular destinations for many outdoor enthusiasts across the Central Belt, it tends to get a bit too crowded during the hotter days of July, and so we tend to visit less populated lochs a little further away. One destination we have tried out a few times is the Lake of Menteith (yes it’s a lake, the only lake in Scotland), which is actually closer to us as the crow flies, but it’s not ideal (the Lake is about 700 acres in area) as smaller waterways are more prone to algal blooms, which can irritate the skin.

Port of Mentieth Kirk and fishery centre where you can hire a boat to do a spot of fly fishing.

But no matter where we go, there’s never a shortage of interesting people. On one afternoon, we were joined by a young lassie who launched a rather sophisticated drone over the lake. My eldest boy, Oscar, happened to be out in the middle of the lake when she captured this aerial shot of him on his paddle board. Cool or what?

My boy paddle boarding on the Lake of Menteith. Aerial drone shot.

Larger lochs, on the other hand, such as Loch Venachar, are far better suited to such activities and the boys have thoroughly enjoyed their many trips there. Venachar is only a mile wide at its widest extent and so the boys can never get too far out of sight, especially when their dad is glassing them with his little 8 x 20!

My younger son, Douglas, taking off across Loch Venachar.

My wife and I usually enjoy walks along the shore or even the odd paddle in our bare feet. There are many glassing opportunities at these places. Sometimes, you get sight of some geese flying low over the loch. Black headed and Common Gull are regular attendants, as well as Pied Wagtails which fly low along the stony shoreline in search of insects. And if there’s no avian subjects about, I just enjoy glassing the hills around the Loch, especially if the long distance visibility is good. The little Leica is just dandy for moving along the shores, especially on the hottest afternoons, when carrying anything larger becomes a real pain.

The little Leica Ultravid 8 x 20; a fine companion on bright sunny days.

We’re making the very most of these warm and bright Summer days of freedom, especially for our sons, who need space to grow up happy, confident and healthy. But sadly these happy days will not last forever. The autocratic powers that be will find more reasons to lock us up again, if not for Covid 19 ‘scariants’ the masktards salivate over, then for climate ’emergency’ lockdowns the global Marxist scumbags are now rumoured to be plotting. I don’t trust the government or the lies peddled by the main stream media, and I’ve accepted that life will never be the same again. But all the while, the signs are off the charts that God is starting to wrap things up anyway. Given the escalation of human wickedness now in the world, I can’t say I blame Him. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

A Visit to the Welsh Seaside

Overlooking Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, South Wales, August 1 2021.

At the end of July, we hooked up with my brother’s family, who have settled in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Their home is a renovated late-18th century building only 6 miles as the crow flies from the Irish Sea. As you can imagine, there are many wonderful birding opportunities running all along the coastline, loved and often visited by keen twitchers and other wild life enthusiasts. Usually I take a telescope with me to take advantage of the clear, dark skies available here, but this year I decided to bring three binoculars along; my trusty 8 x 20 for extensive daytime glassing, a 10 x 42 for stargazing, and a curious little 8 x 32 ED binocular for further testing.

There’s a lovely cliff walk connecting the seaside villages of Goodwick and Fishguard, where we enjoyed magnificent views of the calm sea below, with many people engaging in all sorts of water sports – old fashioned sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding and jet skiing, to name but a few. The rocky shoreline is home to many delightful sea birds and on Sunday, August 1, I used my 8 x 20 to glean some exquisite views of several species of Sea Gull of all ages, Oyster Catchers and other waders, and even the odd Cormorant. In addition, some of the wooded areas around the villages are home to magnificent but decidedly raucous Raven that eke out a living here.

The Carp Pond.

There is a small pond on my brother’s residence that is stocked with Carp and a few other coarse fish species. This time of year, beautiful Lilies decorate the water’s edge with their large colourful flowers. Here, as in Scotland, I’ve managed to observe Swallows picking off insects by swooping right down to the surface of the pond. What amazing creatures they are! Of course, there is no shortage of wonderful insects like Dragon flies, Pond Skaters, Water Striders and Boatmen that attract fish and bird alike, which I can enjoy with the wonderful close focussing distance of the 8 x 20, which enables me to get as close as 1.8 metres. The 8 x 20 is particularly comfortable for glassing insects  and flowers in close proximity because its dual hinge design allows me to decrease the inter-pupillary distance more than most mid-sized binoculars which affords very comfortable close-up viewing. It’s only competitor in this capacity is the venerable Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21, with its amazing close focus of just 0.5 metres. In the coming days, I wish to increase my tally of wading bird species logged up on visits to more open beaches along the south Wales coastline.

New Sightings

Monday, August 1 proved to be a warm and sunny day across much of Wales, and our family made the most of the clement Summer weather. A short trip to Freshwater West, near the seaside town of Tenby, allowed the boys to do some paddle boarding, and while my wife soaked up some rays, I took off along the beach to glass for seabirds. Well, it wasn’t long before I caught sight of the largest flock of Oyster Catchers I have ever seen – at least knowingly- and watched as they took to the air, noisily flying off across the bay at breakneck speed. Looking out beyond the shore to some rocky outcrops not too far removed from a group of people enjoying the sun, sea and sand, I discerned the outline of a Cormorant with my 8 x 20. But I wanted to get a closer look, so I inched my way across rocks and piles of seaweed, getting to within about 70 yards of the bird. Its wings outstretched, it was drying them off before heading back into the water. Sensing that it might not be there for much longer, I put my iPhone up to the eyepiece of the 8 x 20, focused as best I could, and took some images of the bird. Later, I was able to identify it as a young Cormorant owing to its dusky(rather than dark) plumage.

A young Cormorant imaged through the 8 x 20 simply by holding my phone camera lens to the ocular.

Within about ten minutes of my capturing images of the juvenile Cormorant did my eye catch hold of a large, white bird flying across the shore, not far out to sea. Unlike regular gulls, this bird possessed very distinctive, black-tipped wings and, as I brought the 8 x 20 to my eyes,  I could clearly make out its yellow cap and long, razor-like bill. It was an adult Gannet; a bird I had never before seen in the flesh. But things were about to get a whole lot more exciting when I saw it make a vertical ascent before turning and diving towards the water with incredible agility. Wow! Luckily I had re-united with my wife at that time, and so we both witnessed the same event! It was only later, when I consulted my RSPB handbook that I learned that Gannets are not usually seen so close to the shore and tend to spend most of their lives far out at sea. To observe one so close to shore was entirely unexpected but what a sight to behold!

The estuary at low tide; Newtown, Pembrokeshire.

Tuesday, August 2 proved to be almost a carbon copy of the day before.  This time, we stayed closer to home by visiting a lovely beach at Newtown,  a few miles along the coast from Fishguard. While my boys and my nephew took to the water, I took off across a golf course, following a Bracken path that led me along the estuary. In the hills overlooking the bay, I glassed yet another Buzzard gliding on the warm afternoon thermals in search of prey. Sea Gulls were seen to be attacking the raptor, or at least trying to scare it away.

With the tide out in the mid-afternoon, I enjoyed magnificent views of Gulls of all ages and varieties; some foraging on the mudflats, some bickering among themselves but many just lying still, soaking up the warm sunshine bathing them. But I was on the lookout for other types of birds – waders to be precise – and a careful scan with the little Ultravid soon showed up new finds. Specifically, I was able to identify three Greenshank, with their long slender legs, slightly upturned bills, sweeping from side to side as they gingerly inched their way through shallow brine pools. Admittedly, they may not have been as exciting as a diving Gannet, but it’s always a thrill to ‘bag’ a new species, as it were; one more variety of God’s flying feathered creatures.

Returning Home to Rain, Lots of Rain

The hot and dry July gave way to a very rainy August, especially here in Scotland. But I see rain as a godsend, making the grass grow for the farm animals and keeping our hills verdant and beautiful. It has also cooled down considerably, which makes walking long distances more pleasant and sleeping more comfortable at night, especially when I see the rest of Europe and North America sweltering in heat waves and fires igniting all across the Northern Hemisphere, and as far north as Siberia. You can keep your 40C + summer temperatures further south. We’re very happy with 20C!

The little Leica travelled well and fulfilled all of my daytime needs. My brother and sister in law were quite taken with its elegant design and exceptional optics. I might even have convinced them to acquire an 8 x 20 for their own use! I also learned a new technique to align the optics perfectly with my eyes. I was reading an account of a chap called Alexis Powell on Birdforum, who described using the little Ultravid much more like you one would use the Zeiss Victory Pocket, with its asymmetrical hinge. Because the Ultravid has well defined hinge stops, I simply extend the left barrel to the end of its travel, hold it up to my left eye, and then swing the right barrel down into position on my right eye, perfectly merging both images together. It is wonderfully accurate and faster than my original method, which involved moving both barrels at the same time. Give it a try!  Works a treat!

Speaking of other top drawer pocket binoculars, I did consider both the Zeiss Victory Pocket and the Swarovski CL Pocket models briefly, since they retail for about the same price as the Leica Ultravids. I decided against the Swarovski based on its considerably greater weight than the Leica, and while the Zeiss enjoys quite a loyal fan base, and undoubtedly has excellent optics with an impressively wide field of view (7.5 degrees for the 8x 25 model at least), I have always felt it looks rather cheap compared with the Leica and have heard more than a few stories of the dioptre ring (located at the end of the bridge) falling off. That will never happen with the Leica, with its locked-in dioptre system – just like the larger Ultravids. In my experience, Leica make the most elegant binoculars money can buy. They have a timeless and understated look to them which I find especially pleasing to look at as well as through. In the end, there’s no accounting for taste!

Classical Elegance.

Stargazing & An Unexpected Sighting of a Red Kite

As August gives way to September, the weather has settled down again and we’re currently enjoying a bit of an Indian Summer, with warm sunny days, although temperatures can fall off a bit at night, especially if it’s clear. I’ve been using the little Leica to test all manner of larger binoculars, especially in regard to ascertaining how well corrected their fields are.  On the last night of August and on into the wee small hours of September 1, I got to see just how beautifully corrected the field of the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 really is. Compared with some really sophisticated binoculars, such as the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30, which has a built-in field flattener, I discovered that the Leica  kept star images much more in check even at the edge of the field than the HG. Actually, it was in a completely different league in this regard to everything else I tested it against that night!

The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 has a better corrected field than high end binoculars with built-in field flatteners, such as the excellent Nikon Monarch HG 8x 30(right).

On my walk in the mid-afternoon of September 2, I came by a patch of land on the eastern side of Culcreuch Castle Estate. I cast my gaze out over a hay field, the grass from which had been freshly cut, and noticed some commotion going on in the air above it. Several gulls were flying about, but as I brought the 8 x 20 to my eyes, the corner of my eye detected a flash of colour. Lo and behold, as I re-directed my sight, an adult Red Kite (as I later learned on consulting my RSPB handbook) entered the field of view. It was enormous; larger than a Buzzard, adorned with a reddish brown and white body, somewhat angled wings and a deeply curved, salmon coloured tail. For five swiftly passing minutes, I watched the Red Kite intimidate the Seagulls that had probably gathered there in search of tasty earth worms. After flying in a circle above the field, the Red Kite homed in on a target on the grass below, swooping with extraordinary celerity toward terra firma in order to ambush its prey. Unfortunately, I was unable to ascertain just what exactly it had caught as there was a pronounced bevel in the field, but what a thrill to see this beautiful raptor thriving less than a mile as the crow flies from my front door!

Note to self: three raptor species now logged on my local patches!

Second note to self: Consultation of my notes revealed that this was, in fact,  my fourth raptor logged-  Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Sparrowhawk and Red Kite.

 

The road to Culcreuch Castle, September 18 2021.

The Robins Return

Autumn comes early in Scotland. In the far north, changes are afoot as early as the end of July. Here, just north of the Central Belt, the same signs that Summer is coming to and end are well in flux by the end of August. But as Summers go, this year hasn’t been too bad. We’ve had plenty of warm sunny days and plenty of good light to go glassing. One thing has become clear to me though; Summer is probably the worst time to watch birds. It’s not that that there are none around; far from it! The Swallows and the Swifts have stolen the show, but finding smaller, less mobile birds becomes much more challenging owing to the profusion of leaves that decorate the trees. Soon enough, they’ll be much easier to see!

I’ve missed the Robins. They’ve been conspicuously absent from many of my local patches over the last couple of months, but all of a sudden, they’ve re-emerged! I began hearing their tic-tic-tic calls on the airwaves during my strolls through the forest. At first, it was just the odd call here and there, but in the last couple of weeks, not only have their calls become more common, they have reappeared…..everywhere!

Just a few short months ago, Robins were more like fattened, flying cherubs, but now they look completely dishevelled, haggard and worn out, presumably from a busy season rearing chicks.  But they’re a joy to see again. I needn’t venture out of my house to see them either. I leave my little Leica glass by the window, either overlooking my front or back garden, and plenty of them come and oblige me with their charming antics. The youngsters can be a little bit more difficult to spot though, as they’ve not developed their lovely red breasts. Indeed, they look for all the world like miniature Song Thrush, only more brazen and adventurous. And as the days grow colder and shorter, their delightful company will certainly be appreciated.

 

 

 

 

To be continued…………………..

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: The Remarkable Svbony SV202 10 x 42 ED Binocular.

The Svbony SV202 10 x 42 ED package.

A Work Commenced September 14 2021

Dedicated to Hans Zimmer

 

Preamble 1

Preamble 2

 

Product: Svbony SV202 10 x 42 ED

Place of Manufacture: Hong Kong

Field of View: 108m@1000m(6.16 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 15.1mm

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 3

Close Focus: 2.5m(advertised) 2.8m measured

Exit Pupil: 4.2mm

Chassis: Textured rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Coatings: Fully broadband multi-coated, dielectric and phase correction coatings applied to BAK-4 prisms

ED Glass: Yes

Nitrogen purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes IPX7

Weight: 693g(advertised) 698g measured

Dimensions: H/W: 14.9/12.5cm

Accessories: Soft padded carry bag, padded neck strap, lens cleaning cloth, rubber ocular and objective lens covers (tethered), multi-language user manual

Retail Price: £125.99(Amazon UK)

Warranty: 1 Year Limited

 

A couple of months back, I reviewed an extraordinary compact binocular, the Svbony SV 202 8 x 32 ED, showcased in Preamble 2 above. Retailing for just under £100(but now being offered for just £90), I was deeply sceptical regarding the claims made by the company, since it was offering an instrument with a raft of sophisticated features, including a magnesium alloy chassis, phase and dielectrically coated Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms and an ED element in the objective. Determined to debunk those claims, I happened to have in my possession another compact 8 x 32 – the Celestron Trailseeker – which also had many of those same features but with the exception of the ED element to compare it to. To my absolute astonishment, the claims made by the Hong Kong based Svbony turned out to be true! What’s more, the addition of the ED objective element pulled the Svbony ahead of the Trailseeker in careful optical testing. Even its ergonomic features proved superior to the very decent Celestron binocular.

Yet, it transpired that Svbony was also offering a larger glass, the SV 202 10 x 42 ED, with the same quality features found in the 8 x 32 model, and for a truly amazing price of £125.99 inclusive of delivery!  After a purchaser of both binoculars kindly posted some video footage(see Preamble 1 above) of these instruments on YouTube, I became convinced that the larger model was worth investigating also, and sure enough, its bigger sibling turned out to be even more exciting to test drive!

So, in this review blog, I’ll be taking the reader through the ergonomic and optical features of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED model, and hope to demonstrate why I think it represents exceptional value for money in today’s market. Indeed, it has given this author serious pause concerning the purchase of a more expensive, ‘top-tier’ 10 x 42 for future field use.

First Impressions:

The beautifully finished Svbony 10 x 42 ED.

The Svbony SV202 10 x 42 ED arrived in a similar package to the smaller 8 x 32 ED model. The binocular ( with objective and ocular tethers attached) was carefully packed away inside a nicely fitting soft case, with a soft lens cleaning cloth, a well written instruction manual, a nice quality padded logoed neck strap. The box itself was nicely made, simple and attractive to look at.

Stop Press: The supplied carry case actually closes properly lol, with the binocular and its carry strap attached. You’ve no idea how few binoculars come with cases that can do just that!

Once I removed the binocular from the case, I was immediately impressed with the build quality of the binocular. Just like its smaller sibling, the 10 x 42 felt very solid in the hand and was covered in a tough, textured rubber armouring that once again reminded me very much of the Zeiss Terra ED binoculars I had seen. Inspecting the objective and ocular lenses, I could see that the magenta coloured anti-reflection coatings were smoothly applied with no sleeks or pits. Passing a torch inside the binocular showed a nicely machined and blackened interior with no sign of dust, fingerprints or other debris. The exit pupils were round with no signs of truncation and the area around the pupils was nice and black. Nothing to concern me here!

Left eye box.

And right eye box.

Ergonomics: 

The Svbony 10 x 42 ED  feels very sturdy in the hand but is surprisingly light weight. Usually, the lighter models in the 10 x 42 class tip the scales at over 700g but this model weighed in at just 698g, which is good news for folk who want to travel light.

The eye cups are wonderfully made, properly machined and twist upwards for non-eye glass wearers. There are three positions in all, with each detent locking rigidly into place. These are top notch eye cups, as good as I’ve seen on models costing several times the retail cost of this binocular.

The very well designed twist up eyecups are nicely machined and covered with a soft rubber substrate.

The centrally located focus wheel is constructed from metal and covered with a finely textured rubber substrate for easy gripping. Focusing is smooth and precise with zero play. It’s a little on the stiff side but very easy to negotiate, and I’m sure this will relax a little further with more frequent use. The focuser goes through 1.75 revolutions from one end of its focus travel to the other. The rubber tethered objective and ocular covers fit snugly over the lenses. I generally don’t use these in the field, but I’m reassured that should I employ them, they won’t fall off easily.

The underside of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED has no thumb rests but neither are they really needed. Note the similarity to the Zeiss Terra armouring.

The metal right eye dioptre ring is also nicely machined and rotates smoothly but has just the right amount of tension to stay rigidly in place. Having taken it in and out of its soft case dozens of times over a few days of testing, it never budged a millimetre. Good job Svbony!

As stated above, the anti-reflection coatings applied to the ocular and objective lenses has a strong magenta hue in broad daylight. They reminded very much of those found on the new Zeiss Victory SF binoculars.

Ocular end of the binocular.

Objective lenses.

Like all good anti-reflection coatings, they ought to nearly disappear when viewed nearly straight on. Can you see the glass in the photo below?

Fur mein freund Hans: Good anti-reflection coatings should show little glare when viewed nearly head on in soft artificial light.

In summary, the ergonomics of this binocular are second to none. Really well made, with a quality fit and feel from the get go!

Optical Assessment

Beginning, as always, with my flashlight test, I directed an intensely bright beam of white light into the binocular and examined the image visually from a distance of about 3 metres away. Like the smaller 8 x 32 model, the result was excellent! There were no annoying internal reflections floating about, no diffraction spikes and no diffused light around the beam. It was clean as a whistle. As usual, I compared the results to my control binocular; a Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED, which displays exceptional control of internal reflections and diffraction spikes. I’m happy to report that the Svbony was fully the equal of it!

Later, after dark, I aimed the Svbony at a bright sodium street lamp and was delighted  (but not surprised) to see that it was clean, crisp with no internal reflections, diffused light and nary a sign of any diffraction spikes. These were great results, especially for such an inexpensive binocular. Indeed, I’ve seen much more expensive instruments fare a whole lot worse in this simple test. Good job Svbony!

These results present a problem for Hans.

Even before I tweaked the dioptre ring for my right eye, I was very impressed with the daylight images I was getting from this binocular. The instrument arrived on a very overcast, dull day, with the worst possible lighting. Despite this set back, I was immediately taken by the sharpness of the image and its very large sweet spot. Colour rendition was very neutral and accurate. Eye placement was easy to optimise and I encountered no blackouts. The image was bright and crisp with excellent contrast. I did encounter some veiling glare under these harsh lighting conditions but I remember thinking to myself; “If this is the worse it could be, it’s really not too bad at all!”

The next day afforded much better, sunnier seeing conditions and I was further able to test the mettle of this Svbony binocular. Early autumn leaves radiated with colour and the image remained pin sharp across most of the field. The images snapped to focus with absolutely no ambiguity – a property I had noted in other high quality binoculars. On a walk by the river, I was mesmerized by the clarity of water flowing around rocks  with beautiful sharpness and very little glare. Later the same afternoon, when some cloud rolled in, I examined the hills located a kilometre or so away, and I did detect some chromatic aberration on the edge of some cliffs against a uniformly bright sky. The result was very interesting because I also had my Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED with me to compare the views. After a few minutes going back and forward between the images, I could see that the Barr & Stroud – a lovely binocular in its own right and my personal favourite 8 x 42 – had better colour correction in the same image, but the Svbony was significantly sharper!

I had seen this effect before in the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32. Boy was that binocular sharp but it also showed some chromatic aberration on high contrast targets! More on this later.

Comparing the low light performance of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED with a Carson VP 10 x 42 (right) without dielectric coatings showed the former to have the brighter images.

I wanted to test the brightness of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED in comparison to a binocular with the same specifications but without dielectric coatings and ED glass. So out came my Carson VP 10 x 42. Starting around dusk and continuing into early September twilight, I wanted to ascertain whether or not I could detect a brightness difference between these binoculars, fully expecting the Svbony to deliver the brighter image. Sure enough, I could see a difference!  Looking into some brush under bushes as the light rapidly faded, the Svbony delivered a significantly brighter image under these conditions, affirming that the superior coatings on the Svbony resulted in a higher light transmission than the Carson.  Neat!

In another test, I canvassed the opinion of my maths student, Alexander, who was keen to help in the testing. I set up three 42mm binoculars; a Carson VP 10 x 42, a Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED and the Svbony 10 x 42 ED, as shown below:

Three 42mm roofs compared in broad daylight on the same target; form right to left: the Carson VP 10 x 42,the Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED and the Svbony 10 x 42 ED.

Looking at the trunk of a tree under good mid-afternoon illumination, exactly 20 metres away, I asked Alexander to carefully focus each binocular and judge the sharpness of the images, from worst to best. To make it as fair as possible, I asked him to examine the same trunk at a distance of exactly 15 metres away using the 8 x 42 ED to compensate for its reduced magnification. After a couple of minutes of testing, Alexander delivered his verdict; the Carson was the least sharp, the Barr & Stroud was sharper still, but he declared the Svbony to be the sharpest of all!

Alexander looking through the Svbony 10 x 42 ED.

Then I asked him to guess which one was the most expensive. Naturally enough, Alexander figured that the Svbony must be the priciest. He was quite surprised to learn that his choice was actually the least expensive of the three!

After a few days of using the Svbony 10 x 42 ED on long walks through the woods, along the river bank and through open fields, I began to appreciate the silky smoothness of the focuser. The focus wheel’s slow progression makes precise focusing a breeze, and while it’s more suited to hunting than birding, I was still able to enjoy some amazing glassing moments watching a Buzzard taking to flight from a tall conifer tree on one of my local patches. As I related earlier, the Svbony does show a very small amount of chromatic aberration on high contrast objects, yet it delivers sharper images than a more colour free binocular tested against it. This shows that absolute image quality need not be conflated with the degree of chromatic correction found in the binocular. As a case in point, the reader is invited to study reports made by reviewers of Leica’s flag ship binocular, the Noctivid.

Notes from the field: The Svbony has very decent focus depth for a 10 x 42 roof prism binocular. I measured close focus to be 2.8 metres – longer than the advertised 2.5 metres, but something I wasn’t too bothered with, as I usually do close up glassing using 8x models anyway. The comparatively light weight of this binocular makes it very easy to hand hold in my medium sized hands. The binocular does show some glare in the most demanding lighting conditions, but I learned to control it better by firmly holding my eye sockets to the eyecups to minimise the entry of peripheral light into the optical train. Greens and yellows are especially well accentuated in the Svbony, with the binocular delivering excellent brightness to the eyes, even during fading evening light.

Astronomical Testing

No matter how enthusiastic one feels about a binocular during daylight testing, observing the night sky produces still further insights into the relative quality of the glass. Luckily I enjoyed a couple of good vigils with the Moon out of the sky. Here’s what I found. Although it’s obvious that the Svbony 10 x 42 ED had a large, well-corrected sweet spot as seen in daylight glassing, it becomes much clearer by seeing how bright stars morph as they are moved from the centre of the field all the way to field stop. My first opportunity came on the evening of Saturday, September 11. Examining the bright yellow star, Capella, low down in the northeast at 21:45 local time, I was able to see that it remained pin sharp out to within~15 per cent of the distance to the field stop, beyond which point it started to bloat. But even at the field stop the bloating wasn’t too bad and indeed, I was able to focus most of it out. I consider this to be a very good result, especially for the very reasonable cost of the instrument.  I believe this is attributed to the modest choice of field size employed in the Svbony. Many inexpensive models make the mistake of opening up the field too much, with the result that the outer part of the field becomes noticeably more blurred than the centre of the field. And while the field of view of the Sybnony 10 x 42 ED is not overly restrictive at 6.16 angular degrees, the designers did not fall into the trap of making it too wide. This greatly aids in the aesthetic appeal of the night time binocular field.

Bright stars like Vega, Deneb, Altair and Arcturus, low in the west, showed their colours very faithfully. No secondary spectrum was detected within the large sweet spot. The large and sprawling Alpha Persei Association (Melotte 20) looked magnificent in this 10 x 42, as did the Double Cluster a little higher up in the sky. I enjoyed lovely views of the Great Andromeda Galaxy, the Coathanger asterism and the Engagement Ring, Finally, observing mighty Jupiter low in the south southeast shortly before 10pm local time, I could easily resolve, by just handholding the binocular, all four Medicean Stars to the east of the Giant Planet.

While I had intended to view the Pleaides and Hyades some time later that evening, it clouded over. Luckily though, the next night, Sunday September 12, also turned out to be clear and indeed it remained so for much of the night, well into the wee small hours of Monday morning. Beginning about 23:00 h local time and ending about half past local midnight, I enjoyed a fantastic night observing with the Svbony 10 x 42. Though most of my observations were handheld, lying back in a recliner, I did perform one high resolution test centring Albireo in Cygnus in the field of view with the binocular mounted on my tripod. I was delighted to get a beautiful split of this wonderful colour contrast double, the emerald and golden components showing up faithfully. Indeed, I took the opportunity to micro-tweak the dioptre setting just a little while observing this celebrated binocular double.

I enjoyed splendid binocular views of the globular clusters, M13 and M92 sinking lower in the west in Hercules. High in the east, magnificent Perseus was very prominent and I  once again soaked up the views of Melotte 20, and the Double Cluster. The lovely open cluster M34 stood out beautifully with a good sprinkling of faint stars being easily resolved within its confines. After that I just relaxed and went cruising along the river of Milky Way starlight meandering its way from Cassiopeia in the northeast, continuing through Cepheus, Cygnus, Vulpecula, Sagitta and Aquila now sinking into the southwestern sky.

Before ending the vigil, I moved from by back garden to the front garden, which faces east. The Pleiades was painfully beautiful in this binocular, the stars remaining pin point sharp and pure white as the driven snow. Moving the little asterism from the centre of the field to the edge showed a drop off in illumination of its constituent stars. I found it easier to see this fall off under these conditions than during the day. Nothing bad to report here either, as this is a common feature in even top rated binoculars I’ve tested in the past. Finally, with the Hyades rising over the Fintry Hills to the east of my home I was able to enjoy the horns of the Celestial Bull in their full glory. The field sparkled with stellar jewels of various hues and glories; red, orange, white and yellow. Just lovely!

Conclusions

The Heavens declare the glory of God…. you’ll see it well with this binocular.

I’m so very glad I followed up on reviewing this larger sibling from the Svbony ED binocular duo. The little 8 x 32 ED impressed me, but this instrument is just plain extraordinary! It feels and behaves like a much more expensive binocular. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it will compete favourably with the best mid-tier binoculars out there… no strings. Optically it reminded me very much of the lovely Leica Trinovid HD I owned and enjoyed some time ago. I don’t  know why it is priced so low, but I do know quality when I see it and this wonderfully designed binocular exudes quality, both ergonomically and optically. Please don’t listen to trolls and optics snobs who do nothing to help their fellow amateurs get as much as a foot up on the ladder, and who spout lies about this binocular, as Hans did in the video linked to in Preamble 1 above. I would encourage others to test out this binocular and spread the word to the wider community. You can purchase this in the USA for as little as $150.00 from Amazon. And if not satisfied, it can be returned and a full refund issued to you.

I’m not interested in buying another 10 x 42. This ticks all the boxes for my purposes.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Neil English is the author of the 650 page history of visual telescopic astronomy, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

Post Scriptum: Further ongoing tests on this binocular can be found here

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30.

The Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 package.

A Work Commenced September 8 2021

 

Preamble 1

Preamble 2

Preamble 3

Preamble 4

 

 

Product: Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30

Country of Manufacture: Japan

Field of View: 145m@1000m (8.3 angular degrees)

Eye Relief:16.2mm

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.81m measured

Exit Pupil: 3.75mm

Chassis: Textured rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Field Flattening Optics: Yes

ED Glass: Yes

Light Transmission: 92%

Coatings: Fully broadband multi-coated, dielectrically coated  and phase corrected Schmidt Pechan  prisms, hydrophobic and scratch resistant coatings on outer lenses.

Dioptre: Lockable +/- 4 dioptres

Waterproof: Yes 10 mins at 5m depth

Dry Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 450g

Tripod Attachable: Yes

Dimensions(L/W): 11.9/ 12.6cm

Warranty: 10 years

Accessories: high quality clamshell case (zip closed), high quality logoed padded neck strap, rubber ocular and objective lens caps(2 types supplied), warranty card, instruction manual.

Price: £780- £825(UK)/ $950(US)

 

 

The Japanese camera giant, Nikon, also manufacture an extensive range of binoculars and spotting ‘scopes for the growing sports optics market. Much of their less expensive models have now been transferred to China but they still manufacture their best gear in Japan. In this blog, I’ll be providing a comprehensive review of one of Nikon’s top tier binoculars – the Monarch HG – and in particular the 8 x 30 compact model. The binocular was purchased(£840) with my own cash and I have no association with any optics company, so what you’ll get here is a completely impartial opinion on its properties.

Packaging & Ergonomics

The Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 arrived in a rather plain looking brown box. Inside, the binocular was nicely housed inside a really high quality zipper-closed clamshell case. Everything was packed away nicely and I was surprised to see that Nikon included two different kinds of objective covers. The first has caps that can be firmly pressed into the objective. The other option is to go without them. In this case, Nikon provide the user with simple rubber covers that protect the ends of the barrels but do not include the tethered ends. Since I’m no fan of tethered caps, I elected to replace them with the sleek rubber covers.

The great quality clamshell case that accompanies the Monarch HG 8 x 30 as well as the ocular and objective covers.

The binocular itself is very nicely finished in a leather-like textured rubber that is quite reminiscent of the BL offerings from Leica. The strong Magnesium alloy body provides light weight(just 450g) but enough mechanical strength to meet the tough demands of outdoor work, yet I was left feeling that the armouring was a bit too meagre compared with the thicker rubber offerings found on the very popular Monarch 7 line. I began to wonder just how durable this covering would be going forward, especially while negotiating thick brush and brambles. Personally I would have sacrificed some of the obvious aesthetic appeal of this armouring in favour of something a little bit more practical and bulky.

 

The Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 has a very attractive textured rubber armouring but is a bit too thin for my liking. Note the made in Japan stamping under the left ocular.

The right eye dioptre is very nicely engineered. To adjust it, simply push it up, rotate to the desired position and push it back down to lock it. Unlike less expensive models which possess a similar kind of lockable dioptre, Nikon’s solution is very firm. And unlike what some of the reviewers above have mentioned, I never experienced a situation where it popped up by accident.

The focus wheel is a work of art. Taking just over one revolution to go from one end of its travel to the other, it is silky smooth and completely backlash free, enabling one to easily use just a single finger to execute precise focus. Neat!

The Monarch HG is fitted with a very high quality focus wheel that moves with perfect smoothness. Just one finger is enough to get precise focus time and time again.

While there are no thumb indents on the underside of the binocular, I found I never really desired them. The longish barrels are easy to get my medium sized hands around and the instrument feels solid and stable to man handle. The stiff, single bridge design works perfectly well with a binocular of this size too, and I was able to engage with it using one hand without any difficulty, thanks to the fairly long barrels. Having said that, I’m not a fan of glassing this way, as two hands are always more stable than one!

The eye cups are properly machined metal, with a soft rubber overcoat. They have three positions and lock firmly in place. That said, I have seen similar quality eyecups on much more economically priced binoculars, such that I didn’t consider those of the Monarch HG to be exceptional in any particular way. For example, I felt they were similar in quality to the Celestron Trailseeker  8 x 32 I reviewed some time ago. With an eye relief of 16.2mm, I could image the entire field without glasses, but couldn’t see all the way to the field stops with my eye glasses on, and with the cups fully retracted.

Optical Evaluation: 

Collimation was spot on, as judged by examining the images of a far distant vista in both barrels. Inspecting the exit pupils, I was less than impressed with the amount of light around the eye box of each ocular, as seen in the images shown below.  I expected a little better attention to these details in a binocular marketed as ‘premium.’ For further commentary on this, see the remarks made by the reviewer in Preamble 3 above.

Left ocular

Right Ocular

Performing my simple iphone torch test, I directed an intense beam of white light into the binocular and examined the image. I was disappointed to see a fairly pronounced diffraction spike although internal reflections were very well controlled, with no sign of diffused light around the light source. The same spike was present when I turned the binocular on a bright sodium street light after dark. My control binocular – the Barr & Stroud Series 5 ED 8 x 42 – in comparison, showed no diffraction spikes and even better control of internal reflections.

Right from the get go, I was extremely impressed with the brightness and sharpness of the image of the Monarch HG 8 x 30 in bright sunlight and its enormous field of view ( 8.3 degrees checked on the stars). The image sparkled with high resolution details on everything from flowers, tree trunks and distant hills. The image was unusually immersive. Indeed, comparing it to my Series 5 8 x 42 ED, which exhibits a similar true field size(8.1 degrees), I came away with the distinct impression that the HG was delivering a slightly higher magnification than it really was. I have no explanation for this rather wonderful optical illusion but I witnessed it on too many occasions to discount it as not entirely illusory! The image remained impressively sharp across the vast majority of the field thanks to the built-in field flattening technology, with only a minor amount of distortion seen at the field edge. Looking through many layers of fresh mature Sycamore leaves under a forest canopy against a bright overcast sky, revealed virtually no chromatic aberration. Only at the extreme edges of the huge field of the HG did I detect a trace. Depth of focus was very good in the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 but not quite as good as my Leica Ultravid 8 x 20.

Glare was exceptionally well controlled on this unit – better than my control Series 5 binocular in this regard – and that was also the case for veiling glare. This is best tested by looking at some under growth with the Sun immediately above it. Here too, the Monarch HG 8 x 30 bested my Series 5 control – but it wasn’t like a night and day difference.

But despite scoring very high marks optically in many departments, the little Monarch HG 8 x 30 was not without its issues. The most immediate problem I encountered was blackouts, that is, spherical aberration of the exit pupils. I found it very annoying. Indeed, it was not only present while panning with the binocular but it also showed up quite often as I moved my eye around the enormous field while glassing a fixed target. And while one can learn to minimise these blackouts by paying more attention to proper eye placement, I could never really ‘make it go away,’ as it were. Furthermore, the effect was noted by my wife, as well as by several of my students. Looking through my notes on the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32, I also recorded some blackouts but they were few and far between in comparison to this Nikon binocular. Nor was this entirely caused by the small exit pupil (3.75mm), as my little Leica Ultravid 8 x 20, with its smaller exit pupil of 2.5mm, is virtually devoid of this problem. I concluded that these pronounced blackouts must have something to do with the special, wide-angle eyepiece design of the Monarch HG. Indeed, the same blackouts were also mentioned by the reviewer in Preamble 4 above using a 10 x 42 Nikon Monarch HG. In addition, I never encountered these blackouts through a Nikon Prostaff 7s 8 x 30, which, despite its identical  magnification, objective diameter and exit pupil size to the HG, has a simpler eyepiece design and smaller field of view.

Less serious was the observed rolling ball effect I noted for the first time in my binocular testing career, a consequence of artificially flattening the field. It was quite apparent while panning the edge of a forest at a distance, and gave me somewhat of a queasy feeling. That said, I’m confident I could unlearn this effect with more sustained use.

Further Notes from the Field

A stylish companion in the great outdoors.

Close focus of the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 is very good. While advertised at 2m, I measured a significantly closer focus of 1.81m. The vast majority of targets from 20 feet away all the way out to infinity snap to focus merely by moving the focus wheel through about one quarter of a turn of the wheel. Because the focuser is so soft and smooth, I found this activity to be particularly enjoyable. It really is quite impressive!

The image through the HG is impressively bright, with good enough transmission to allow one to continue to glass well into twilight, but ultimately proving inferior to a decent 8 x 42 in similar low light conditions. Nikon claims a light transmission of 92 per cent, but two spectrophotometric measures on the 8 x 30 and 10 x 42  show slightly lower values of 90.1% and 88.3%, respectively. That said, the light curves look almost identical and show a nice, flat profile over the most important visual wavelengths, peaking in the red.

Astronomical Tests

The 8 x 30 format is about the minimum aperture required to really enjoy the night sky. Smaller binos are all well and good for the Moon and some of the brightest deep sky objects, but you go a whole lot deeper moving from 20-25mm up to 30mm. The Moon looks very sharp, bright and colour free through the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30, but I did notice a trace of the 4 diffraction spikes emanating from the Moon during waning gibbous under good, transparent conditions.

Testing on a rich star field like the Alpha Persei Association afforded a good opportunity to test for field flatness/curvature. Canvassing the help of a former student of mine and keen amateur astronomer, we noted that the field is not perfectly flat to the field stops in the Nikon Monarch HG. Stars remained very tight out to about 75 per cent of the field, with distortion increasing rapidly in the last 25 per cent of the field. That said, in most situations, the stars remained acceptably sharp over the entire field, so should be an enjoyable companion under the starry heaven.

Moving a last quarter Moon from the centre to the edge of the field of the HG did reveal a small but significant darkening of the maria which provides strong visual evidence for a drop off in illumination in the outer 20 per cent of the field. I found it very difficult to discern these changes during tests conducted in broad daylight.

Conclusions

A birder’s dream bino?

For some folk, the Nikon Monarch HG might well be a birder’s dream binocular, with its very sharp, contrast-rich and extremely wide and flat field of view. For me though, I feel the blackouts are a major issue which would make me somewhat leery of paying the relatively steep retail price for these binoculars. This concern isn’t just confined to the Nikon Monarch HG though, as another reviewer mentioned how the same phenomenon completely put off his daughter while testing the Zeiss Victory SF 10 x 32, so any potential buyers will be strongly advised to try them out before buying. I find it a little alarming that some of the reviewers presented at the beginning of this blog never even mentioned this effect! What’s more, the small size of the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 may not suit those who have large hands. In addition, the rolling ball effect, while mild in this binocular, may deter others in favour of models that do not have field flattening technology. In the end, the decision lies with you!

Thanks for Reading!

 

Dr Neil English is the author of Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, celebrating four centuries of visual telescopic astronomy.

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED Binocular.

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED.

A Work Commenced August 27 2021

 

Product Name: Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED

Country of Manufacture: China

Field of View: 142m@ 1000m (8.14 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 17.2mm

Close focus: 2m advertised[1.79m 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: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 710g

Tripod Attachable: 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: £220-£250UK

 

Just to warn you: this will be a long review.

There’s something in a name!

 

Just three years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about modern binoculars, having no experience with all the technological developments that had occurred in the last few decades. But that changed when a fellow villager recommended a relatively inexpensive instrument, the Barr & Stroud Sahara 8 x 42. My first look through that binocular blew me away, as I was completely astonished at how good the image was through a binocular that cost substantially less than £100. It was bright and sharp and contrasty, with a wide, well-corrected field of view. Since then, I’ve sampled many more Barr & Stroud binoculars and can vouch for their excellent quality and value for money. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that I’m now a dyed-in-the-wool fanboy of Barr & Stroud(B & S) binos, because I believe they produce a variety of quality products and clearly know something about how a good binocular ought to perform.

Three years later, I finally got around to test driving their most sophisticated binocular range, the Series 5 ED, which comes in two models, a 10 x 42 and 8 x 42. These models are not to be confused with the other Series 5 binos from B & S, which offer the same two instruments as non-ED versions. In a previous blog I test drove the Series 5 8 x 42 non-ED version, where I reported that it offered excellent bang for buck. But I became very curious about the ED version of the same series, so decided to order the instrument up for review and to compare it critically with its non-ED counterpart. The reader will note that the instrument was purchased with my own money; I have no affiliations with any binocular company, and that the results I show here are entirely my own.

First Impressions

I purchased the B & S Series 5 8x 42 ED from the very reputable Rother Valley Optics, Sheffield, who were offering the instrument at a great price. I secured it for £209 plus another £15 to get expedited delivery of the instrument to me within 24 hours of purchase. So £224 all in. I left a message with the sales assistant to check the eyecups on the binocular prior to dispatching, as I have developed quite a disliking for eye cups that are too loose or collapse downward after being fully extended, with just a little pressure. They honoured that request!

The binocular was well packaged inside its fetching white box. The first thing I noted was that it was precisely the same box as the non-ED Series 5, only that the company put an additional ED sticker on it. While that may alarm some customers I thought it to be an ingenious cost-cutting move. Indeed, if I were marketing these binoculars, I would have done exactly the same thing lol! Everything was packed away securely, including the padded logoed neck strap, a lens cleaning cloth, rubber ocular and objective covers, generic instruction sheet, an excellent zip-lockable hard clamshell case, and warranty card. If you want to see those accessories and the box they came in, have a look at the link above to the non-ED version.

Removing the binocular from the inside the case, the first thing I checked was the eye cups, and to my great relief they were firm and locked rigidly in place when fully extended. Why fret over eye cups? Well, the non-ED Series 5 had a slightly loose left eye cup, which did niggle me a little, so seeing that both were more or less equally tensioned put a smile on my face. Good job!

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED astride its hard clamshell case.

Ergonomics

Just like the non-ED Series 5 8 x42, the instrument felt very solid in my medium sized hands. The magnesium alloy chassis and not overly thick green rubber overcoat helps keep the weight down. Indeed, I measured its weight at 710g, as opposed to just 690g for its non-ED  counterpart. That made sense to me as ED glass elements tend to be a little heavier than regular crown and flint glass.

The machined metal twist up eye cups are easy to adjust and click rigidly into place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As mentioned above, the rubber-clad metal eye cups twist up with two intermediary positions. They were easy to extend and held their positions securely, with very little wiggle room. Eye relief is a very generous 17.2mm, large enough to see nearly the entire field with my eye glasses on.

The centrally placed focus wheel is large, very nicely tensioned and very smooth to operate, both clockwise and anti-clockwise. If anything, I thought it was a shade over tight compared to its non-ED counterpart but to be fair, all focusers need a bit of breaking in time to get them moving as smoothly as possible. That said, I have spoken before about the care B & S put into their focusers. They are much better tuned than the majority of other binoculars I’ve tested in this price range. Taking just over two full revolutions to go from one extreme of travel to the other, I would describe it as being intermediate between the super fast focusers birders seek after, and the slower focusers hunters prefer.

The metal dioptre ring is located under the right ocular, and while not lockable, is quite stiff and easy to adjust. Moreover, it stays in position very well.

The Series 5 ED has a really smooth and easy to use focus wheel that is head and shoulders above those found on many other models in the same price range.

The Series 5 ED has a really smooth and easy to use focus wheel that is head and shoulders above those found on many other models in the same price range. The objective lenses are very deeply recessed, just like the non-ED incarnation, protecting the glass from stray light, dust and rain.

The B & S Series 5 ED has nicely recessed objective lenses.

Handling this binocular is a joy. While not the grippiest substrate I’ve encountered, the green rubber armouring provides a very adequate level of friction with your hands. There are no thumb indentations on the belly of this binocular but I’ve never really found them to be that advantageous to the overall ergonomics compared with several other binoculars that did have them. The rubber armouring is a little thinner than other models, such as the Nikon Prostaff and Monarch  5 & 7 lines, but this does cut down the weight of the binocular, which makes transporting it that little bit easier.

The Series 5 ED binocular I received did not have the ED labelling under the left ocular, as I was expecting from the images I’d seen on a few retailers’ websites. Instead, this model presents the ED moniker on the focus wheel, which might possibly indicate that this instrument was manufactured more recently.

I’ve always been more than satisfied with the padded neck strap accompanying the more expensive B & S binoculars. It’s very comfortable to wear ’round your neck without much in the way of chafing after a long walk on level ground on a hot summer day. The hard clam shell case is another great accessory. It zips closed and there is a little storage area inside to carry a lens cloth or a sachet of silica gel desiccant to keep the interior as dry as possible when not in active use.

Examining the exit pupils on the binocular showed nice circular openings, with a nice rim of dark around them.

Left eye exit pupil.

Right eye exit pupil.

All in all, I was very pleased with the overall fit and feel of the Series 5 ED 8 x 42. Elegant and understated, it has very nice mechanics that should hold up in field use for a long time to come.

Optical Assessment

One of the control binoculars I used to assess the optical quality of the Barr& Stroud Series 5 8x 42 ED. Seen at right is the Leica Ultravid BR 8x 20.

The first thing I checked was how well a bright beam of light behaved as it was directed into the binocular from across a room. I simply set my phone torch on to its brightest setting, focused the binocular, and examined the image. To be honest, I was expecting excellent results based on what I had previously experienced with both the non-ED Series 5  and their Savannah range of instruments. As a control, I was using my Leica Ultravid. The results were very much in keeping with my previous tests on the better Barr & Stroud binoculars, that is, the instrument was exceptionally clean and sharp, with only the faintest hint of internal reflections, no diffraction spikes and no diffused light, indicative of the use of very high quality optical components. Indeed, it was that little bit better than the Leica Ultravid in this regard. Leica are well known for their excellent suppression of internal reflections so obtaining an even better result from the Series 5 ED 8 x 42 was music to my ears.

Taking the binocular outside in the open air on a warm and bright August afternoon, I was immediately impressed with the image from the Series 5 ED. The binocular served up a beautiful, sharp and high contrast image. Reds and oranges really pop in this glass and overall I would describe the colour tone as slightly warm. The focusing was smooth and responsive, with the 8x providing a very stable image. The sweet spot is very large but begins to gradually deteriorate as one moves the target to the edge of the field. I also noted a small drop in image brightness at the edge of the field. Nothing dramatic here but certainly noticeable if you look for it. There is some field curvature as one moves off axis – considerably stronger than in the Leica Ultravid – as evidenced by looking at a telephone pole about 30 yards distant, but I don’t find this aberration to be especially annoying in field use.  I measured the close focus to be an impressive 1.79m, making it a very good choice for those who enjoy using their binoculars as long-range microscopes.

Comparing the Series 5 ED with the Leica Ultravid, I judged the former to be clearly superior to the latter in suppressing glare, as evidenced by examining a brightly backlit scene near sunset. Furthermore, the Series 5 exhibited far superior control of veiling glare than the Leica pocket glass. This was easy to ascertain by homing in on the leaves of a tree lying immediately below a mid-afternoon Sun( local time 3.30pm in late August). The entire bottom half of the Leica image was washed out to a much greater degree than the Leica. I attribute this result to the very shallow recession of Ultravid’s objective lenses making it more prone to picking up stray light. This test wasn’t even close, the Series 5 ED was far superior.

Comparing the Series 5 ED to the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30(left).

In another test, I compared the glare suppressing capabilities of the B & S Series 5 8 x 42 ED to a top-tier 8 x 30 binocular, the Nikon Monarch HG, costing four times the price. My target was a hill top about 800 yards distant with the Sun immediately above it.  The Monarch HG binocular handles glare exceptionally well, better than the Series 5 ED in fact. But it was only marginally inferior. I consider that an excellent result for a binocular that evidently has no portfolio.

I also conducted some night time viewing with both the B & S Series 5 8 x 42 ED and the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20, testing to see how they would perform on a bright yellow sodium street light placed in the centre of the field at a distance of 50 yards. Both binoculars, as expected, delivered excellent results here. The images in both binoculars were clean and crisp, with no annoying internal reflections, no diffused light around the lamp, and zero evidence of diffraction spikes.

On another afternoon, I enlisted the help of my math student, Alexander, to compare and contrast the image in both the Leica Ultravid and Series 5 ED. After a few minutes of going back and forth between the two instruments, he said that they were equally sharp with better colours coming through in the Series 5. I thought the Leica was that bit sharper overall though. I asked him to see if the sharpness fell off as he moved his target(a tree trunk in this case) to the edge of the field in both binoculars. He noted, as I did, that the Leica served up a tack sharp image all across the field but that the extreme edges of the Series 5 field was less sharp. He also noted that the 8 x 42 ED was easier to handle than the 8 x 20. Finally, he  mentioned that the background was in sharper focus in the Leica than the Series 5. He was, of course, referring to depth of focus here; the little Leica has exceptional focus depth, but the Series 5 is still very decent in this regard.

Alexander, enjoying the views through the B & S Series 5  8  x 42 ED .

 

Tests for Chromatic Aberration; Comparing the ED to the non-ED Series 5

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42(left) and the 8 x 42 ED(right).

On one overcast August afternoon, I hooked up with a former student of mine, Joe, who was keen to do a blind A/B test comparing the B & S Series 5 8 x 42 ED and the otherwise identical non-ED version. Before we carried out the tests I contacted OVL asking them a simple question: would I see a difference between the ED and non-ED Series 5?  They got back to me within minutes with this response:

“Most people wouldn’t notice much difference between the ED and non-ED versions unless they know what to look for. Standard optical performance is similar, you just don’t get the pronounced colour fringing with the ED glass, when viewing an object with a high contrasting background.”

That was a good answer, and that’s precisely what we found.

Superficially, both images were good and sharp with excellent contrast, but when we viewed a telephone pole against a bright overcast sky, the fringing was more apparent at the edges of our target in the non-ED binocular compared with its ED counterpart. Testing on another target – some leaves at the top of a Horse Chestnut tree some 40 yards in the distance, I was only able to detect chromatic aberration off axis in the non-ED, in the outer half of the field, but Joe claimed to see that little bit more towards the centre of the image. After looking through both binoculars for several minutes, we conducted a blind test – Joe handed me one binocular while closing my eyes, being only allowed to open them again once the instrument was deployed in front of my face. Then we switched roles, with Joe conducting the optical tests. The results were unanimous; we could see a small but perceptible improvement in the image using the ED binocular. In another test, Joe felt the intricate details of flowers were slightly crisper and had richer colours than the non-ED version, but I found it harder to verify this.

What about light transmission?

The previous evening, I emerged with both binoculars – the ED and non-ED Series 5 – at sunset and conducted a low light test, looking into the shadows of a bush located some 100 yards away as the light continued to fail. Try as I could to see a difference, it simply was too small to notice. Again, I would maybe give the nod to the ED binocular, but only just!

The Virtues of Testing Binoculars Under the Stars 

I’ve noticed that many binocular reviews published in birding magazines seem a tad over generic. Indeed, in many cases one could simply remove the name of one binocular and replace it with another, and hardly anyone would be the wiser. And in some reviews I’ve come across, the sense I get is that the writing is so contrived as to be almost fictional. Quite often, reviewers report of  ‘peripheral softness’ in the outer part of the field or some such. Others report that the field is either too restrictive or is wide and expansive. And still others report some drop off in illumination towards the edge of the field.

The trouble with this kind of reporting is that it is rather too subjective. Many birders might be interested to learn that one can get a much better handle on the extent of those properties simply by looking at the Moon in the sky or a bright star field. For example, one can use a pair of stars of known angular separation to accurately measure the field of view of any binocular. Off axis aberrations can also be more accurately ascertained by moving a bright star from the centre to the edge of the field  and noting how and where the stellar images begin to morph significantly. Furthermore, moving the Moon to the outer edge of the field will easily show reduced brightness if indeed, it exists at all. What’s more, the Moon can also be used to more easily differentiate non-ED from ED binoculars at the same power by looking at the extent of fringing observed on the lunar limb.

So how did the Series 5 8 x 42 ED  fare under the starry heaven? How did it look on the Moon?

Ad Astra

After a very overcast day on August 31, the clouds dispersed very late in the evening, leaving a clear and tranquil sky to verify the many properties of a binocular that can be ascertained simply by examining the images of bright stars in a binocular field. Assisting me this evening was Joe, who kindly gave me about 90 minutes of his time testing out a number of binoculars in comparison to the Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED. Starting shortly after midnight, we continued our tests on various objects until about 1:30 am, September 1.

The first thing we verified was the size of the field. As stated before, if you happen to know the angular separation of two bright stars in the sky, you can use that information to measure field size. As usual, I chose the two stars in the Ploughshare asterism in Ursa Major. We were just about able to fit Phecda and Merak into the field of view of the binocular. These are separated by 754′ or 7.9 angular degrees, so I’m confident that the stated field size(8.1 angular degrees) for this binocular is fairly accurate. As an additional control, we employed the Nikon Monarch  HG 8 x 30, with an advertised field of view of 8.3 angular degrees, to show that it too was able to frame these two stars but with a little more room to spare.

Next we tested how well corrected the field was in both the Barr & Stroud Series 5  ED and the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30. Focusing on bright yellow Capella, now fairly low down in the northeast, we took our turns moving the star from the centre to the edge of the fields in both binoculars, making mental notes of the experience and later committing those notes to pen and paper. Here’s what we found: first off, the Nikon Monarch HG, despite having a field flattener built-in, did not have an entirely flat field. Furthermore, its lateral flatness was noticeably superior to its vertical flatness. To make that even clearer, side-to-side flatness was much better than up-and-down flatness. Furthermore, we observed the same phenomenon in several other binoculars including the Barr & Stroud Series 5 non-ED, the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32, a Carson VP 10 x 42 and a Leica Ultravid 8 x 20.

This asymmetry is a very real phenomenon that is unreported in the binocular literature

The little Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 exhibited by far the flattest, best corrected field of all the instruments tested.

The next best corrected field was the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30, where stars began to morph in shape at about 75 per cent out from the centre, getting gradually worse as it reached the field stop. The Barr & Stroud Series 5s were pretty much identical, with distortions occurring from about 70 per cent out from the centre. What is more, apart from the extreme top and bottom of the binocular field, both Barr & Stroud Series 5s offered up acceptably small stellar images over pretty much the rest of the field, making them excellent star gazing binoculars.

We were both quite shocked to see the Nikon Monarch HG behave in this way, as our daylight tests didn’t show this field curvature nearly as acutely as the star tests did. All we could say is that the Monarch HG had a flatter field than the Barr & Stroud  Series 5s.

By 1.00 am local time, a last quarter Moon was rising over the hills to the northeast  and we were able to test for chromatic aberration in both the Series 5 ED and non-ED binoculars. We both detected a small amount of secondary spectrum on the lunar limb in the non-ED which was all but absent in the ED, in full accordance with our expectations.

Finally, by moving the Moon laterally off axis, from the centre to the edges of the field, we noted how the lunar maria darkened a little near the field stop showing clear evidence of edge of field illumination drop off. That said, the same phenomenon was noted with the Monarch HG and the Leica Ultravid, although to a lesser extent.

Overall Conclusions

A binocular that will get the job done!

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED proved to be an improvement over the Series 5 non-ED. It does have better colour correction, slightly better contrast and slightly crisper images. Having tested many binoculars in the same price range as the Series 5 ED, I believe it has noticeably superior glare control, which keeps contrast levels high, even in fairly harsh lighting conditions. While certainly not in the same league as an alpha binocular, it does offer up very satisfying optics and ergonomics punching well above its modest price tag. I would unhesitatingly recommend this binocular as a very capable general use binocular that will sate the demands of the majority of birders, nature watchers and stargazers alike. It just does many things well and has a very wide and well corrected field.

I gifted the Series 5 8 x 42 non-ED to Joe for his enthusiastic services and will be keeping the ED version for my own personal use. He is delighted with it and I’m confident that Joe, who returns to the United States on September 3, will make maximal use of it.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Dr. Neil English is the author of several hundred magazine articles on visual astronomy, astrophotography, telescope testing, origin science and birdwatching, which have appeared on both sides of the Atlantic. He is also  the author of seven books including his lauded, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, detailing the lives and work of several dozen astronomers over four centuries of telescopic history. 

 

 

De Fideli.

Two Compact Reverse-Porro Binoculars Compared.

The Nikon Travelite EX 10 x 25(top) and the Vortex Vanquish 10 x 26 (bottom).

 

A work commenced August 19 2021

Preamble

This is going to be a very short review. In my opinion, the reverse Porro-prism binocular reached its zenith in the body of the wonderful Pentax Papilio II 6.5/8.5 x 21, which offers excellent optics in a very cost-effective package. I was mightily impressed with their excellent sharpness, contrast and edge-to-edge clarity, not to mention their exceptional close focus of just 0.5 metres. The Papilio II should be part of the collection of any keen binocular enthusiast!

So I was expecting these very economically priced instruments – the Vortex Vanquish 10 x 26 and the Nikon Travelite Ex 10 x 25 – to yield some good results when I put them through their paces. Alas, this wasn’t to be, as I shall now explain.

To begin with, I borrowed the Nikon Travelite EX 10 x 25 from an ex-student of mine(and graduate in astrophysics from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland), Joe, I recently hooked up with. The instrument is several years old and was actually owned by his mother. The Vortex Vanquish was bought in by yours truly for a comparative test under bright daylight conditions, and later under the stars. Joe accompanied me with the testing and we quickly came to a consensus. As a control, I brought out my Leica Ultravid 8 x 20, with a similar size exit pupil, as a suitable control, with only the magnifications being different (8x versus 10x).

Ergonomically, we both preferred the Nikon Travelite EX, which had a smoother focuser than the Vortex Vanquish. We also felt that the build quality on the Nikon was a wee bit ahead of the Vortex.The pull-up eyecups were pretty solid and easy to extend on the Nikon but we both felt their counterparts on the Vortex were rather stiff and hard to execute.

Our tests showed that both reverse Porro prism binoculars exhibited quite a bit of tunnel vision. With fields of view of 5.0 and 5.6 degrees for the Nikon and Vortex, respectively, both binoculars felt rather uncomfortable with very narrow feeling fields in comparison to the sumptuous comfort of the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20, with its 6.5 degree field. This was despite the adequate eye relief (around 15mm for all instruments) available on all three binoculars. Of the two reverse Porros tested, the Nikon Travelite EX was the superior performer, having significantly better contrast than the Vortex Vanquish and better edge-to-edge sharpness, owing to its smaller field and the utilisation of an aspherical ocular design.

Both instruments showed an annoying reflection off one or more optical surfaces, which reduced contrast, but while the Nikon Travelite Ex was OK, the Vortex Vanquish showed an alarming amount of the same reflection, which was very off putting for both Joe and I. The Leica in comparison was in a completely different league, as one might expect; beautifully sharp and contrast rich, with effectively no internal reflections to be seen. The same was true when we tested for veiling glare by looking up into the canopy of some conifer trees against a bright overcast sky. Both reverse Porros showed very high levels of veiling glare but the Vortex was particularly poor in this regard. In effect, most of the field was almost completely washed out and rendered effectively useless!

Star testing close to local midnight showed the clear superiority of the Nikon Travelite Ex, which served up nice pinpoint stars effectively all the way from edge to edge. The aspherical optics were definitely working here. In comparison, the Vortex was OK in this regard but did show significant distortions at the edge of its larger field.

These results are completely at odds with the review conducted by the gentlemen in the link provided in the preamble above. We would not describe either of these binoculars as providing quality views, at least in the way conveyed by that reviewer. And while both instruments retail for about £100 or so, there are far better options available to the discerning consumer.  For example, the Opticron Aspheric 8 and 10 x 25  provide views that are much more enjoyable than either of these incarnations, and, of course, there is the veritable Papilio II instruments to consider in the same price range, though not quite as pocketable as the former.

Hope you found that informative!

 

Thanks for reading!

Neil.

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: PRAKTICA Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED.

Praktica Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED binocular package.

 

Preamble

 

Product: Praktica Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED

Country of Manufacture: China

Filed of View: 136m@1000m(7.8 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 17.2mm

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Close Focus: 2.5m(advertised), 2.45m measured.

Coatings: Fully Broadband multicoated, phase corrected and dielectrically coated Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms, water repellent coatings on outer lenses

Chassis: Rubber over Magnesium Alloy

Eyecups: Twist up, 2-step, machined metal with rubberised overcoat, detachable

Dioptre range: +/- 5 dioptres

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (5 minutes at 1m depth)

ED Glass; Yes

Weight: 698g

Dimensions H/W; 14.5/12.6cm

Warranty: 25 years

Accessories: deluxe zip-closed hard case, logoed padded neck-strap, lens caps, lens cleaning cloth

Retail Price: £217-£290(UK), purchased for £216.60(UK)

Praktica is a company that is no stranger to sports optics or photography. Back in the days I dabbled in landscape photography, I used a few well made yet economically priced Praktica camera lenses. Founded in Dresden in 1887, the company has greatly expanded, where today it commands a decent slice of the photographic market and enjoys a loyal, world wide fan base.

The 8 x 42 format is considered by many binocular enthusiasts to be the ideal configuration for all-round use. Popular with birders, hunters and hikers alike, their decent aperture in a relatively light package can also be quite productive for astronomical pursuits. In addition, their relatively large eye box makes them especially comfortable to use by young and old alike. In this review, I test drove one of the higher-end models from the Praktica line of roof prism binoculars – the Marquis FX 8x 42 ED.

First Impressions: The Praktica Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED binocular was purchased with my own money from Amazon, for a competitive price of £216.60. When the package arrived the next day, I was very pleasantly surprised by what I found. The binocular and its accessories were carefully packaged inside an eye-fetching box. The hard carry case storing the binocular is one of the nicest I’ve personally encountered, featuring the Praktica logo which could be zip closed. It even came with a small sachet of silica gel desiccant, something that is not encountered too often with binocular purchases. The instrument was carefully stored inside a plastic bag and once I removed the packaging, I was immediately struck by its attractive appearance and feel in the hand.

The Praktica Marquis FX 8x 42 ED binocular is very stylishly finished with a British racing car green rubber armouring over a Magnesium allow chassis.

The package also contained a nice padded neck strap, lens cleaning cloth, a detachable case strap, as well as rubber eyepiece and objective lens covers. The tethered objective lens covers were particularly noteworthy in that they came with a well designed oval shaped cut-out allowing one to see the red ED labelling on the side of the binocular; a cool touch! The single bridge is quite short which enables one to grip the binocular with one hand. It’s nice and stiff, so once you’ve adjusted it for your preferred IPD, it stays in place; another good touch.

The objective rubber covers have a small oval cut-out to enable the attractive red ED labelling to be seen at the side of the instrument.

The Magnesium alloy chassis is covered with a snazzy looking British racing car green rubber armouring, pebbled textured on the sides of the barrels for extra grip. The under side of the instrument has two small thumb indents which aids in stabilising the binocular in your hands. You can also see that the lugs that attach the neck strap are larger than normal, which I found slightly strange, but had no detrimental effects in field use.

The underside of the binocular showing two prominent thumb indents for better handling.

Ergonomics

The large central focus wheel is easy to grip and very smooth to turn. It’s exceptionally fast though, going from one end of its focus travel to the other in just three quarters of a revolution. Turning it clockwise and anti-clockwise revealed no significant bumps or backlash. This kind of focuser is ideally suited to birding where your target can change its distance greatly in a short time. It does however have a bit of a plasticky feel to it, which is fine by me, as even higher-end binoculars I’ve used have similarly finished coverings.

The eyecups are really well designed. They are made from nicely machined metal and covered in soft rubber. They twist up with two intermediate steps, and very rigidly stay in place. I really liked them! That being said, I was expecting them to be detachable either by unscrewing them or pulling them off, but despite a few minute’s investigation, I wasn’t able to confirm that they detach from the binocular, nor did the instructions leave me any the wiser. Indeed there was no mention of it!

Another nice touch is the very deeply recessed objective lenses – probably the deepest I’ve seen, yet the binocular is not overly long. Indeed, it is significantly shorter than  many other 42mm class binoculars I’ve test driven in the past. They feel very solid in the hand and are very easy to hold steady. The right eye dioptre ring has just the right amount of tension and so won’t easily budge after you’ve adjusted it. Overall, I would rate the ergonomics of the Marquis FX as well above average. Top marks in this department.

Optical Assessment

The Praktica Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED has a lot of nice optical features – at least on paper. Fully multi-coated optics, phase and dielectric coatings on the BAK4 Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms and an ED glass objective element to boot. So I was expecting good results in my flashlight test – carried out by directing an intense beam of light through the binocular and examining the image obtained. As a control, I employed my trusty Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42, which exhibits exceptional control of internal reflections and stray light. How did it fare? Good but not as good as I anticipated. Compared with the Barr & Stroud, I saw a few fairly prominent reflections. Later, when I aimed it at a bright sodium lamp, I saw those same reflections, although there was no evidence of diffused light. Overall, I would rate this result as good but not great.

Next I conducted a series of broad daylight optical tests on the Marquis FX. Examining a flowering bush about 50 yards distant, the field of view is nice and wide( 7.8 degrees). Within the central 40 per cent of the field – the sweet spot – the image was excellent; very sharp, contrasty with vivid colours – but outside this sweet spot the image became progressively more blurred as it reached the field stops. Field curvature and pincushion distortion were quite pronounced off axis – more than I’ve seen on a few other 8 x 42s I’ve tested in the same price class. Close focus was a bit disappointing too. Advertised at 2.5 metres, I measured it at 2.45 metres, so significantly longer than the more common value of about 2 metres in many 8 x 42 models on the market today, and considerably worse than the excellent 1.78m close focus on the Series 5.

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 (right) used as a control against the Praktica Marquis FX ED ( left). Note the significantly smaller size of the latter.

Comparing the images of the Marquis FX with those served up by my Barr & Stroud Series 5, I noted that, within its sweet spot of the former, it was ever so slightly sharper and the colours more vivid and contrasted. Yet despite having a larger field of view (8.1 angular degrees), the Barr & Stroud delivered much better off axis performance. It was simply better corrected over a larger field size. What is more, despite having the same eye relief (17.2mm), I encountered a slight tunnel effect with the Marquis FX that I did not encounter with the Series 5.

The Barr & Stroud is an exceptional binocular in other ways too. For example, it displays excellent control of glare – particularly veiling glare – often encountered in the open air with a bright sky above or while looking up at treetops against a bright overcast sky. The Marquis FX handled glare quite well, as evidenced by examining a brightly backlit  scene near a setting Sun but get too near that great ball of incandescent plasma and the annoying reflections were all too easy to see. Veiling glare was OK though – good but certainly not the best I’ve seen and it was not as good as the Barr & Stroud Series 5.

Later I conducted some low light testing after the Sun had set and duskier conditions set in. My eldest son, Oscar, assisted me with this test, again comparing the image brightness of various targets in both the Barr & Stroud and Marquis FX. Now here, I was expecting a significant difference between the two instruments since the Marquis FX had dielectric coatings and ED glass which focuses the light that little bit better, while the Barr & Stroud (so far as I know), does not. Well, try as we could to see a difference, starting at sunset and continuing well into twilight, Oscar and I could not see a significant difference in brightness between the two instruments.  The result was very revealing for me, as I’ve always considered the Barr & Stroud to be a fine instrument and well worth its modest( (£159) price tag.

Ad Astra

Testing binoculars on the stars is very good for seeing off-axis aberrations – how fast they set in when moving away from the centre and to what extent the images deform near the field stops. Yet again, the Marquis FX came up short in comparison to my control binocular. Star images in Cygnus were nice and tight and crisp within the central 40 per cent of the field but as one moved outside that sweet spot, I could easily see the effects of field curvature and astigmatism. And while about 60 per cent of the field gave acceptable results, the remaining 40 per cent showed annoying deformations, especially evident on bright stars like Deneb. And while I could ‘focus out’ some of that distortion(from field curvature), some aberrations – mostly astigmatism – remained. In comparison, the Barr & Stroud Series 5 was far better. This very underestimated binocular produced much more impressive results right up to edge of the field! Indeed, the star images only showed slight bloating at the edge, which I’ve always considered remarkable given how much it set me back!

Conclusions

When I first read the specs for the Praktica Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED, as well as reading the rather glowing report on the fatbirder website linked to in the preamble above, I got mildly excited about the prospect of testing this instrument, but my tests are certainly at odds with hers. Yes, the ergonomics of this binocular are in keeping with that review, but the optics certainly don’t match. It’s a great pity as more attention to the eyepiece design in this binocular might have turned out a great binocular – but it just wasn’t to be. So, I was left a bit underwhelmed by the experience. But on the positive side, my admiration for the no-frills Barr & Stroud Series 5 has only grown as a result. Despite the Marquis FX having slightly better optics on axis, overall, the Series 5 was the superior binocular!

Thanks for reading!

 

Dr. Neil English’s magnum opus – Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy – charts the progress of dozens of astronomers over four centuries of telescopic observing. 

 

Post Scriptum: Although the binocular was advertised as having removable eye cups, I could not, in fact, remove them. I rang Praktica UK to ask for further information. The gentlemen I spoke to didn’t seem to know what I was talking about and I had to direct him to their own website to show them the place where they stated this. Then he hung up.

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Carson VP 10 x 42.

 

The Carson VP 10 x 42 package.

A Work Commenced July 12 2021

 

                                                             

Product: Carson VP 10 x 42

Country of Origin: China

Field of View: 110m@1000m(6.3 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 15mm

Exit Pupil: 4.2mm

Close Focus: 1.92m(measured)

Chassis Material: Rubber over Polycarbonate 

Coatings: Fully Broadband multi-coated, phase correction applied to Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms

Dioptre Range: +/- 5 dioptres in click stops

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes(no depth or time specified)

ED Glass; No

Weight: 692g (measured)

Warranty: Standard No fault 

H/W: 14.6/14.0cm

Accessories: Carry case, padded logoed neck strap, lens cleaning strap, tethered ocular and objective covers, instruction manual.

Retail Price: £121.19

 

A few weeks back, I received a curious email from a UK-based gentleman(who prefers to remain anonymous) who came across my website and my many binocular reviews. He alerted me to a Carson branded binocular, the VP 10 x 42, which was on sale at a very low price on amazon. He informed me that he was very impressed with both the optics and mechanical features of this binocular and wondered if I would test it.

At the price offered, I could hardly refuse. Indeed, it seemed anomalously low priced compared with the other models in the series, as the link above shows. Anyway, I took a punt on the 10 x 42 and ordered it up from amazon. In less than 24 hours, the instrument was delivered by courier and so I began to sort through the package to see what was what.

Ergonomics

Boy was I surprised by what I uncovered! The instrument was double boxed and came well packed inside a soft padded case with all of the usual accessories.  When I removed the binocular from its plastic packaging, I was immediately struck by the simple, elegant design of the instrument. Finished in a matt black housing, the Carson VP had a very nicely finished black rubber armouring.

The Carson VP 10 x 42 has many excellent mechanical features that I have never seen on such a low cost binocular.

As I moved my way around the binocular I came across pleasant surprise after pleasant surprise. For one thing, I have a real hang up about eyecups. If they rotate too loosely or slip from their extended positions, it’s enough to break a deal for me. What I discovered were very high quality rubber-over-metal cups that click firmly in place. These were quality eyecups that usually are only offered on models costing at least twice the price of this unit.

Next I examined the dioptre ring located under the right eye cup and here again, I was shocked by what I discovered. This was not your usual rotating dioptre ring. As I began to rotate it, I could hear it click into regularly spaced grooves. And though not lockable, the dioptre remained rigidly in place, so very little chance of it accidently moving out of place. This click stop dioptre is an ingeniously simple engineering solution that has eluded many binocular manufacturers. I was a bit anxious at first that the discrete click stops may not settle in a position that suited my right eye but those fears were quickly put to bed as I made the fine adjustment by observing a target in the distance.

The ingeniously designed click stop dioptre setting located under the right ocular.

The focus wheel also impressed me. It’s covered in a textured rubber and moves very smoothly in either direction, taking about one and half revolutions to go from one extreme of its travel to the other. I would describe it as on the slow side, so better suited to hunters than birders.

The interior looked immaculately clean and dust free. The objective lenses have very nice anti-reflection coatings and are deeply recessed to minimise interference from dust, rain and peripheral stray light.

The Carson VP 10 x 42 has nice antireflection coatings applied to the deeply recessed objectives.

The instrument feels very solid in the hand and is not overly heavy; I measured its weight to be just under 700g(692g actually) making it one of the lighter weight models with this specification. The single hinge design proved to be reassuringly rigid, holding its position well even when taken out of its case several times. It can also be tripod mounted by unscrewing the VP logoed stalk at the end of the bridge. Some folk claim that having a metal chassis is superior to a polycarbonate substrate but I still have no evidence to substantiate that claim either way. A well looked after polycarbonate chassis will last just as long as any metal alloy in my opinion.

The ocular end of the VP 10 x 42 showing some details on the focus wheel.

All in all, I was literally amazed at the solid build quality of the instrument but then again, I remembered that in this price range, something usually gives. So how would the optics fare? To my continued astonishment, the binocular delivered the readies and more!

Optical Assessment

As usual, I began with my flashlight test. Simply put, I direct a very bright beam of white light through the binocular from across a room and examine the image visually. The test showed a few minor internal reflections and no diffraction spikes, but it did show up evidence of some diffused light probably indicative of one or more lesser quality components used in the fabrication of the instrument. I got the same result when I turned the binocular on a bright sodium lamp at night: very little internal reflections, no diffraction spikes but some evidence of an ‘aura’ of scattered light round about the lamp. Certainly not the best I’ve seen but not too shabby nonetheless.

Daylight tests really surprised me. The 15mm eye relief is tight but it has the effect of immersing you in the image more than with instruments possessing longer eye relief. What I saw was a bright, sharp image with excellent contrast. Colour rendition was accurate and natural to the eye. There is some veiling glare when pointed at a strongly backlit target but I had seen this kind of performance on binoculars costing up to £300 or more. Depth of focus was also very good, especially when you factor in the 10x magnification. As I’ve reported many times before, ED glass has very little impact on low power binoculars, despite what manufacturers claim or the shills who help sell them. Indeed, as I have communicated in other blogs, some of the best optics I have ever garnered came from binoculars using tried and trusted crown & flint glass, and this Carson VP 10 x 42 was showing that in spades. When examining high contrast objects, chromatic aberration was not seen in the centre of the image but did show some off axis; all normal behaviour even in instruments costing many times more.

Most of the generous 6.3 degree field was sharp with a little peripheral softness. And just as I’ve reported on many other binocular reviews using Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms, distortion is more noticeable vertically than longitudinally. Close focus on this binocular greatly surprised me; I measured it at just 1.92 metres; an excellent result for a binocular of this specification and therefore eminently useable for watching insects  and flowers etc up close.

All things considered, and acknowledging that I’ve no dog in this race as I consider carrying a binocular of this size for hours on end to being akin to wearing a big brick round my neck all day,  I’m confident that the optical quality of this Carson VP 10 x 42 unit is going to be very similar to a Diamondback HD, Nikon Monarch 5 or Viking Kestrel ED 10 x 42, all of which cost about twice as much as the Carson. I would encourage those interested in acquiring a good 10 x 42 roof prism binocular to consider the Carson initially, as it may save you a lot of money in the long run. Amazon has a good 30-day returns policy, so if you’re not fully satisfied by its low price, you can always get a full refund and move on!

Can’t say better than that can I?

 

Ad Astra

Great for low resolution, white light solar work, or casual deep sky observing.

The 10 x 42 is an excellent format for pursuing many astronomical projects. Let’s start with our nearest and dearest star, the Sun. By attaching homemade white light solar filters to the front objectives, the 10 x 42 makes a neat way to monitor the Sun for sunspots. In my own experiences 8x doesn’t quite cut it but 10x does…..just! The Carson delivers an extremely crisp and sharp image of the solar photosphere allowing one to clearly see larger sunspots. For example, on the afternoon of July 14 2021, I was able to detect a single, small spot on the eastern hemisphere of the Sun, which I was able to confirm with my regular solar instrument, the Pentax PCF 20 x 60. That said, you’ll have to tripod mount it to get a good, steady view!

Further afield, on a number of twilit July nights, I enjoyed taking the Carson 10 x 42 for a spin under the stars, mounted on a monopod. Centring bright stars like Vega, Deneb and Altair, I was able to show that this binocular produces crisp, sharp and colour-accurate renditions of these luminaries which compromise the Summer Triangle in the Northern hemisphere. Furthermore, the distortion at the edge of the field was minimal when I moved those stars to a location near the field stop. 10x was also enough to see Albireo as duplicitous with a steady hand and I also enjoyed the lovely colour contrast binocular double O1 & 2 Cygni  for a few brief minutes. This will make a cracking instrument for studying the dark skies of Autumn and Winter.

Overall Conclusions

No doubt you’ll be familiar with the saying, “a fool and his money are soon parted.”  That expression came swimming into my mind many times as I put this amazing binocular through its paces in daylight and night-time tests. When I see instruments of the same specification retailing for a few grand, I have to admit to rolling my eyes and wondering why some suckers spend so much cash on one instrument, especially when you have instruments like this wonderful Carson available. The mechanical and optical quality of the Carson VP 10 x 42 will astonish you if you’re willing to keep an open mind.

And I’ll publicly eat my sock if you’re not impressed!

Anything I didn’t like about this package? Well yes, the case. It’s too small, especially when you try to seal it with the padded neck strap attached to the binocular. And the strap itself was too long but is easily remedied by cutting off a bit. Very minor negatives I’d say!

Verdict: Amazing bang for buck! Get one while stocks last!

Ps. The author would like to extend his heartfelt thanks to the gentleman who tipped him off about this binocular! You’ve restored his faith in humanity lol!!

 

Dr Neil English has over 40 years experience studying the night sky with all sorts of telescopes, with several hundred published articles and seven books under his belt, but in the last few years has devoted himself to seeking out bargains for savvy binocular enthusiasts. His highly lauded 650+ page magnum opus, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, summarises four centuries of telescopic observing, from Thomas Harriot to Patrick Moore.

 

Post Scriptum:

The Carson VP 10 x 42 enjoying a day at the seaside.

August 8 2021

I brought the Carson VP 10 x 42 with me on a trip to coastal south Wales for a spot of stargazing and sporadic daytime viewing. I even brought it along to the beach on the penultimate day of our vacation, where it served up excellent views in the warm and bright sunshine. I enjoyed a few consecutive nights of crystal clear summer skies with no Moon, during which time I had the pleasure of using this very well made binocular. I got an early-in-season sighting of the Alpha Perseii Association and the the Double Cluster low in the north, and made my way along the rich summer Milky Way. Cygnus was outstanding; myriad stars resolved and many more that were not, the latter appearing like spilled milk against an ink black sky. I enjoyed sumptuous views of the Coathanger asterism in Vulpecula, M13 nearly at the zenith in Hercules and M31 in Andromeda. But the real thrill for me was the view of the fine globular cluster M22, as well as the Lagoon Nebula M8 in northern Sagittarius, which were much better positioned here than at home in central Scotland, owing to their greater altitude and my having better access to the southern horizon.. The colours of bright stars were faithfully reproduced by the 10 x 42 – steely blue-white Vega, lovely orange Arcturus and even a glimpse of yellow Capella becoming more prominent low in the north after midnight. The gorgeous colour contrast double, Albireo was breathtakingly beautiful, as was the easy binocular double O^1 Cygni. The light weight of the Carson proved to be a real pleasure. Its low mass made it easy to hand-hold for extended periods of time, which was a blessing, as I did not bring along a monopod or tripod for this trip. The fine optics and ergonomics of the Carson VP 10 x 42 has made an impression on me and it will therefore remain in my stable as an excellent astronomy binocular.

August 16 2021

I came across another likely clone of the Carson VP 10 x 42 binocular. Check out the Meade Rainforest Pro 10 x 42: same optical specs, same build and same retail price, so likely originating from the same source prior to re-branding;

Meade rainforest Pro 10 x 42.

De Fideli.

Product Review: SvBony SV202 8 x 32 ED Binocular.

The Svbony 8 x 32 ED binocular.

A Work Commenced July 20 2021

 

 

Product: SvBony SV202 8 x 32 ED

Place of Manufacture: Hong Kong

Field of View: 136m@1000m (7.87 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 15.6mm

Exit Pupil: 4mm

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.98m measured.

Chassis Material: Rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Coatings: Fully broadband multi-coated, dielectric coated Bak-4 prisms, phase correction coating.

Dioptre Range: +/- 3 Dioptres

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (1.5m for 3 minutes)

ED Glass: Yes

Weight: 510g(measured)

Warranty: 1 year International Manufacturer Warranty

H/W:14.8/12.3cm

Accessories: Soft padded carry bag, padded neck strap, lens cleaning cloth, rubber ocular and objective lens covers (tethered), multi-language user manual

Retail Price: £99.99(Amazon UK)

 

Make no mistake about it; we live in a golden age for buying binoculars. Never before has the consumer had so much choice available, thanks to incredible advances in optical technology which has given many other individuals access to very decent optics for a small financial outlay. In recent years, new coating technologies have greatly increased light transmission and image sharpness, to such an extent that even the budget models now available can and do outperform premium models offered only a few decades ago. In addition, the incorporation of extra low dispersion(ED) glass is now common even in inexpensive models, which, if executed properly, promises to cut chromatic aberration and increase image contrast still more.

As I’ve commented elsewhere, the 8 x 32 format is the new 8 x 42, as evidenced by the offering of the former by both mass market and premium binocular manufacturers alike. This is in no doubt attributed to their lower mass, improved ergonomics and very efficient light transmission, as well as their perfect suitability during bright daylight but also well into low light situations encountered at the earlier stages of dusk and dawn.  Apart from the use of premium pocket glasses – my personal favourite format – the 8 x 32 format has always interested me, owing to its compactness and smaller exit pupil (4mm), which uses the best part of your eye to analyse the binocular image.

While many entry-level ED models are priced in the £250 to £300 range, I became very intrigued by a less well known manufacturer, SvBony, a Hong Kong-based optics firm that has recently marketed a compact and mid-size model – an 8 x 32 and 10 x 42 –  chock full of advanced features. But what really piqued my interest was that Amazon UK were offering the 8 x 32 ED model for just £99.99, inclusive of delivery! As you can see from the specifications above, the SvBony 8 x 32 ED has a number of advanced optical features that I simply wouldn’t expect in a model at this price point, but having another binocular available – the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32(retail price £146 UK) – that also possesses many of the same features – I was able to conduct an in-depth study of how the SvBony ED binocular compared with it.

Ergonomics Comparison

The SvBony 8 x 32 ED(right) and the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32(left).

No doubt you’ve heard that possessing a magnesium alloy frame is a feature only common to upper-tier binocular models, I would like to take this opportunity to put this urban myth to bed, once and for all. Since both the SvBony and the Celestron Trailseeker models feature a magnesium body in this low price category, having this design feature is no longer the preserve of the best models but is now commonly available even in much more economically priced products.

The Celestron Trailseeker has a large plastic focuser that becomes very hard to move in Winter owing to the solidification of the grease used in its gearing. But in warm weather, it becomes much easier to turn. In contrast, the lower priced SvBony 8 x 32 ED has a much higher quality metal focus wheel, which is much smoother and easier to turn. Taking just one and a half revolutions to go from one extreme of its focus travel to the other, I would describe it as slow to progressive in speed, so not especially suited to either birding or hunting – more of a general purpose instrument than anything else.

Turning now to the dioptre ring located under the right ocular in both models, the SvBony’s metal dioptre ring is better designed than the plastic one found on the Trailseeker. Looking at a close up of the SvBony dioptre, you can see that the markings are easier to make out, helping the user achieve his or her optimum position better. And just like the Trailseeker, the SvBony dioptre ring is stiff and thus will not get nudged out of position so easily during field use.

The lower-priced SvBony model has a higher quality dioptre ring compared with the Celestron Trailseeker.

Looking next at the quality of the eyecups, I was delighted to see that the SvBony had good, high qualit,y rubber-over-metal twist up cups, pretty much identical in quality to those found on the more expensive Trailseeker. What is more, they stay rigidly locked in place when fully extended. Yet again, that the SvBony possessed such high quality eye cups was a pleasant surprise to me, as I was not expecting anything as good as that on a compact binocular costing less than £100.

The matt black armouring on the Svbony is a little bit more grippy than the Trailseeker and the ribbing at the side of the former reminds me very much of the armouring found on the Zeiss Terra ED models I’ve sampled.

The ribbed side armouring on the SvBony 8 x 32 ED is very reminiscent of that found on Terra ED models.

The objectives on both the SvBony and the Trailseeker are equally well recessed to protect the glass from dust, rain and peripheral light. The anti-reflective coatings look to be completely different though, with the Trailseeker having a standard greenish reflection in bright daylight, as opposed to the more subdued purple hues seen on the SvBony.

The objective lenses on both models are nicely recessed but appear to have entirely different anti-reflection coatings applied. The SvBony model is at the top.

Overall, the SvBony 8 x 32 ED feels slightly lighter and more comfortable to use than the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32, which is a bit more ‘clunky’ in comparison, at least in my medium sized hands. That, together with the noticeably better focus wheel and dioptre ring on the former means that, from a purely ergonomic perspective, the lower-priced SvBony is the clear winner.

Optical Comparisons

Good ergonomics, of course, count for nothing if the optics are not up to scratch, so how well would the £99.99 SvBony 8 x 32 ED fare in comparison to the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32? Having reviewed the Trailseeker some time ago, I was quite impressed with how well it handled a beam of intense white light directed into it from my iphone. That’s because the same model is fully broadband multi-coated and has super-high reflectivity dielectric coatings applied to its Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms. I’ve seen similar results on dozens of high quality binoculars and so I expected the SvBony to yield good results too, if indeed it has those same coatings.

My efforts confirmed that the SvBony also passes this test with flying colours! Specifically, the image was devoid of any significant internal reflections and with no diffused light around the beam, which often betrays the use of lower quality optical components introduced into the optical train. What is more, while the Trailseeker did show a weak diffraction spike, the SvBony had none. Indeed, I would place the SvBony slightly ahead of the Trailseeker, based solely on the flashlight test. So far so very good!

But the good news only continued when I performed a daylight comparison test of both the SvBony ED 8 x 32 and the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 . While both models have effectively the same field of view(7.87 degrees), I felt that the SvBony provided a slightly sharper image than the Celestron, with better contrast and improved control over veiling glare. Both instruments have a large sweet spot but edge of field performance was a little soft in both models, as was the degree of field curvature seen. Chromatic aberration, although quite low in the Trailseeker, was better handled in the SvBony under the same conditions. Whatever ED glass elements are present in the SvBony, it seemed to be doing its job well. Depth of focus in the SvBony 8 x 32ED  is also good; a real plus if you’re a prospective birder. Close focus is just under two metres(1.98m measured).

Another way to ascertain whether similar coating technologies were applied to both the SvBony and the Celestron Trailseeker, is to perform a low light test by comparing the brightness of the image in both instruments at dusk. On paper, I expected both to behave rather similarly, and that is exactly the result I achieved. Both 32mm models produced a more or less equally bright image, with perhaps the nod going to the SvBony! As I have shown in many other comparisons, the ED element may have conferred a slight advantage to the SvBony in these challenging conditions but as expected, it was marginal if anything.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Note Added in Proof: If you go back and listen to the optics trade review of the GPO Passion ED 8 x 32 linked to above, the presenter informs us that GPO did not use ED glass in their largest 56mm models, citing their reasons in relation to the lack of chromatic aberration seen in low light environments. If ED glass really had a significant low light advantage, don’t you think they’d mention it or go ahead and use it? And why do so many binocular reviewers(in published magazines too) I have come across still perpetuate this myth?

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Examining the 4mm diameter exit pupils on the SvBony showed nice, round pupils with no signs of truncation. There was also a nice periphery of blackness immediately around both pupils,  which contributes to the high contrast images I detected during my daylight tests.

Exit pupil of the left barrel of the SvBony 8 x 32 ED.

And the right eye.

Concluding Comments

The SvBony 8 x 32 ED  was a very eye-opening and pleasant experience. In terms of both optical and mechanical properties, it proved superior to the Celestron Trailseeker. Indeed, I would put the SvBony more on par with the new Celestron Trailseeker ED, though I’ve not actually tested this model. The very few realistic reviews I’ve seen of the SvBony  8 x 32 ED claim that it performs like models double or triple the price; a sentiment that I wholeheartedly agree with.  And at a retail price of less than £100, there is very little in this binocular that I can find fault with.

 

Very highly recommended!

 

Neil English is the author of seven books on amateur and professional astronomy and likes seeking out bargains in both the telescope and binocular market. 

Post Scriptum: I performed a measurement of the field size of the SvBony 8 x 32 ED just after local midnight, July 22. Turning to the Plough (Big Dipper) asterism high in the northwest, I was just unable to fit Phecda and Merak into the field of view of the binocular. These are separated by 754′ or 7.9 angular degrees, so I’m confident that the stated field size(7.87o) for this binocular is fairly accurate. 

 

De Fideli.