Product Review: Nikon Aculon A211 8 x 42.

Nikon Aculon A211 8 x 42 package.

Product: Nikon Aculon A211 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Eye relief: 12mm

Field of View: 141m@1000m(8.0 angular degrees)

Coatings: Multilayer coated

Close Focus: 5m advertised, 3.66m measured

ED Glass: No

Waterproof: No

Nitrogen Purged: No

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Accessories: logoed padded neck strap, plastic rain guard and objective covers, soft padded carry case, instruction manual, warranty card

Dimensions: 18.5 x  14.5cm

Weight: 760g advertised, 767g measured

Warranty: 10 years

Price UK: £79.00

 

 

 

In this review blog, I’ll be test driving the Nikon Aculon A211 8 x 42 Porro Prism Binocular.

 

Tune in soon for details…….

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Nikon Action EX 7 x 35 CF.

The Nikon Action EX 7 x 35 CF package.

A Work Commenced November 25 2022

 

 

Product: Nikon Action Extreme 7 x 35

Country of Manufacture: China

Field of View: 164m@1000m(9.3 angular degrees)

Exit Pupil: 5mm

Eye Relief: 17.3mm

Close focus: 5m advertised, 2.46m measured

Coatings: Multicoated 

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Weight: 800g advertised 798g measured

Dimensions: 18.2 x 11.9 cm

Accessories: padded soft case, rain guard and objective lens caps, padded logoed neck strap, instruction manual, warranty card

Warranty: 10 years

Price(UK): £149

 

The Japanese optics giant Nikon has produced some incredible binoculars over their century + years of being in business. What I think they really excel at is designing and marketing really sweet binoculars at very competitive prices. That’s exactly the sentiments I felt towards their very economically priced Action EX 7 x 35 after spending a couple of weeks with it in the field.

You might think a 7 x 35 format would be lightweight and streamlined: not so with this binocular! Weighing 800g, this is one chunky binocular, overlaid as it is with a very thick rubber armouring, which contributes to its wet weather resistance. This instrument is o-ring sealed and purged with dry nitrogen gas making it fully water- and fog proof.

Nikon states that the Action EX series have multi-layer coatings on the lenses and prisms ensuring high light transmission. One good way to test the effectiveness of these coatings is to aim the binocular at a bright artificial light source after dark and examine the images produced. I was glad to see that there was very minimal internal reflections. Having said that, it was virtually identical to the result I obtained with the lower priced Aculon 8 x 42 marketed by Nikon. Still, those coatings weren’t nearly as good as the Japanese-made Nikon E II series which cost considerably more but shows virtually none in comparison.

The Nikon Action EX 7x 35 is exceptionally well armoured for use in all weathers.

The large centrally located focus wheel moves very nicely with no free play or backlash. It’s been reported that waterproof Porro prism binocular often have overly stiff focus wheels – a necessary compromise for making it weatherproof – but I must report that this was not my experience with the Action EX 7 x 35. The gearing in the focus wheel was perfectly fine, even when rapidly adjusting focus from close up to far away.  One and a quarter turns clockwise brings you from closest focus to beyond infinity. Unlike classic Porros of the past, which usually come with fold-down rubber eyecups, the Nikon Action EX has modern twist up cups with three detents. Eye relief is a very decent 17mm. I tested them while using my eyeglasses and was comfortably able to access the entire field. The ocular lenses are very large and easy to centre your eyes in. The objective lenses are also very deeply recessed, further protecting them from stray light, dust and rain. The right eye dioptre ring is located under the eyepiece. It’s well designed and holds its position well.

Some may think the Action EX 7x 35 is overbuilt. I really don’t think so. Yes, it’s quite heavy for its relatively small aperture but it feels exceptionally sturdy in the hands and its 7x gives very stable views which partially negates its bulk mass. Comparing it to the lower cost Aculon 8 x 42, I felt the grip was noticeably better in the Action EX. The rubber armouring is simply more grippy in the latter.

Optically, the Nikon Action EX 7 x 35 is quite impressive: bright, sharp across a good chunk of the field with very good contrast. How bright? Allbinos measured one Action EX model to have a transmission of the order of 80 per cent – not bad but noticeably dimmer than models nearer 90 per cent transmission. Intriguingly, the lower priced Aculon models apparently have similar light transmission values.

The Nikon Action EX 7x 35 binocular also controls glare very well. That said, it was not significantly better than the less expensive Aculon 8 x 42 I tested alongside it. The outer field does display field curvature, but I think this is quite acceptable given the fact that the field of view is a whopping 9.3 degrees. I felt the edge of field performance was a little better than the 6.5 x 32 Opticron Adventurer T WP I tested a few months back.  Depth of field is impressive too. I quickly became consciously aware of how little I had to refocus the instrument as I scanned the hills around my home. Anything beyond about 50 yards is sharply in focus.

On the afternoon the binocular arrived, it was a dull, overcast and drizzly late October day, but the Nikon Action EX 7 x 35 seemed to take it all in its stride.  I scanned the leaden skies in the open fields near my home and quickly picked up the silhouette of a hovering raptor, which I was later able to identify as a Peregrine Falcon from its fanned-out tail feather. The enormous field of view allowed me to track the bird as it moved off toward the hills. At one stage the Peregrine entered the same field as a Buzzard which looked enormous in comparison. What a sight on a gloomy autumnal day! Nikon quote the close focus on the Action EX 7x 35 to be 5 metres, but I found that it is well under 2 meters!

I also found the Nikon Action EX 7 x 35 very useful during a few forest walks. This is where the field curvature and enhanced 3D effects combine to create incredibly vivid images of treescapes with even closeup tree trunks being sharply focused. Absolutely exhilarating! As good as this binocular is for daylight glassing, I found it most excellent for stargazing. With a decent magnifying power of 7x and 35mm objectives providing a 5mm exit pupil, not to mention its enormous 9.3 degree true field, the Nikon Action EX 7 x 35 throws up wonderful views of the night sky. On a dark, moonless night, I enjoyed sweeping the Milky Way through Cygnus, Perseus and Cassiopeia. The dazzling Pleaides star cluster looked rather small in the enormous field of this binocular. Ditto for the Hyades beneath it. The effects of field curvature are quite pronounced near the field stops but that’s a small compromise when you consider the modest cost of the instrument and the more than generous field of view. Quite simply, there is plenty to see in each new field of night sky.

A good all-round performer.

Conclusions

I was pleasantly surprised by the Nikon Action EX 7x 35. It’s a very nice binocular to use in the field and I can readily understand why it’s such a popular choice. Its build quality goes well beyond the call of duty and although it’s rather heavy for such a small aperture binocular, you’ll quickly forget about it. This will make a good binocular for short-range birding, exploring landscapes and casual star gazing. It does many things well.

Recommended.

 

Dr Neil English is the author of a highly lauded 650+ page historical work: Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

 

De Fideli.

A Couple of Binocular Favourites.

Optical & ergonomic marvels: the Nikon E II 8 x 30(left) and the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED(right).

Preamble 1

Preamble 2

After testing hundreds of binoculars over the last several years, I can now reveal my two personal favourite instruments for daylight use: the Nikon E II 8 x 30 and the new Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED. Optically, the latter is better but the former inspires with its magnificently wide and stereoscopic field of view.

Tune in soon to hear the full revelation………………..

 

De Fideli. 

Product Review: Swarovski Optik EL 8.5 x 42.

The Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42.

Product: Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42(first generation)

Country of Manufacture: Austria

Field of View: 130m@1000m(7.4 angular degrees)

Exit Pupil: 4.94mm

Eye Relief: 18mm

Close Focus: 2.5m advertised, 2.07m measured

Coatings: Proprietary Swarodur, Swarotop, Swaroclean, Swarobright

Dioptre Compensation: +/-3

ED Glass: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 820g advertised, 822g measured

Dimensions: 16.5 x 12.3cm

Accessories: Padded logoed neoprene neck strap, rubber rain guard and tethered objective lens covers, stylish clamshell carry case, Instruction manual, warranty card

Warranty: 10 years

Current Retail Price: £1675(UK)

 

 

 

In this review blog, I’ll be test driving a first generation Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42 and comparing it to a few newer, mid-priced models available today, with some surprising results!

 

Tune in soon for full details……………………

 

De Fideli.

The Extraordinary Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED.

 

The Extraordinary Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED.

A Work Commenced November 12 2022

 

Preamble 1

Preamble 2

Preamble 3

 

Product: Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED

Country of Manufacture: Hong Kong

Chassis: Textured rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Field of View: 131m@1000m(7.5 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 17.5mm

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 3

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 2.27m measured

Coatings: Fully broadband multicoated, dielectric and phase coatings on BAK4 roof prisms

ED Glass: Yes

Waterproof: Yes IPX7 rating

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 720g advertised, 720g measured

Dimensions: 15 x 11.5 cm

Accessories: Padded soft case, logoed neoprene neck strap, ocular and objective covers, microfibre lens cleaning cloth, instruction manual

Warranty: 1 year

Price(US): $179.99

 

The old Latin proverb, Omne trium perfectum, came to mind as I finally got a chance to look though the new Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED. After discovering the many virtues of both the compact 8 x 32 and full-size 10 x 42 from the same series, and communicating my findings with the general community, a great many people have benefited from using these binoculars and reported on their amazing optics and ergonomics. Despite receiving attacks from online trolls and a few individuals who hate me and my work for no cause, they got egg on their wicked chins as interest in these binoculars went viral(preamble 3 is only one of several threads available to peruse online). More and more favourable reports kept coming out, making these instruments go from strength to strength across the world, where they have shattered once and for all the myth that excellent binoculars can only be had by shelling out large sums of money.

I’m delighted to say that those days are well and truly behind us now!

As soon as the new 8 x 42 had been launched, I immediately received a barrage of emails requesting a review. After thinking about it a little while, I decided to act on these requests – it just seemed to be the right thing to do. The instrument was not yet available on Amazon, the online retailer that I had bought the SV 202 8 x 32 and 10 x 42 ED models from, so I went to Svbony’s Website and ordered it directly from them. My order was placed on October 20 and the instrument arrived safely on the afternoon of November 1. I paid $179.99 US to secure my order but had to pay an additional 20 per cent import tariff in order for the binocular to clear customs, so about £200 all in.

First Impressions & Ergonomics

Just like the previous two models, the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED arrived in the same neat little box. Inside, the same black soft padded case housed the instrument, with the rain guard and tethered objective lens covers attached. The box also contained a padded neoprene logoed neck strap, a lens cleaning microfibre cloth and multi-language instruction manual and warranty information.

The instrument was immaculately presented with its durable magnesium alloy chassis overlaid with a tough non-oxidising rubber armouring, and presenting the same ridges at the side of the barrels as the other models for excellent gripping in all weathers. Inspecting the innards of the binocular from the objective end, I was relieved to find that everything looked immaculate, with no signs of streaks on the optics, dust or other debris inside. The knife-edge baffles looked nicely machined and the inside painted a dull matt black to optimise contrast.

Examining the focus wheel, I was delighted to see that it was silky smooth and backlash free, taking 1.5 turns anticlockwise to go from one extreme of its focus travel to infinity and a little bit beyond. Tension is excellent – just as good as on the 10 x 42 ED and not quite as tight as on the 8 x 32 ED model(which niggled me a little).

A great focuser maketh the binocular.

The twist-up eyecups are also excellent. Fashioned from machined metal overlaid with soft rubber, they have three positions to accommodate the vast majority of users, including those who wear eyeglasses. They lock into each position with a reassuring ‘click’ and remain very rigidly in place. Indeed, from memory, they appear to be very similar to those found on the excellent Nikon Monarch HG binocular series. The eye relief is more than sufficient to view the entire field with glasses on, as my tests showed.

The right-eye dioptre adjustment ring is located under the eyepiece. It has excellent texture and tension to enable the user to quickly and accurately find his/her desired setting. Unlike the majority of binoculars in this price range, the plus and minus settings are easy to see and a white dot makes it easy for you to remember your preferred setting. Once adjusted, it remains rigidly in place for hassle free observing.

The single bridge is fairly short, allowing the user to wrap his/her fingers around the front of the barrels securely to ensure supremely comfortable handling.

The broadband anti-reflection coatings have a beautiful purple hue in broad daylight. They appear very evenly applied and appear to almost disappear when viewed from oblique angles. The 42mm objective lenses are nicely recessed, affording good protection from stray light, dust and rain. The ocular lenses are large and easy to centre one’s eyes in.

The beautifully applied anti-reflection coatings on the large ocular lenses.

The deeply recessed objective lenses on the Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED.

Overall, and in keeping with my comments on the 8 x 32 and 10 x 42 models, the fit and finish on the Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED is excellent. And just like its siblings, it looks and feels like a real class act, being quite lightweight(720g) and a particular joy to handle. These binoculars were clearly built with longevity in mind, and all I can say is that there is nothing in the design of these instruments that gives me any grounds for doubt.

Optical Assessment

In my experiences testing dozens of models in this aperture class over the years, I’ve encountered many that look the part only to discover that their optics were, let’s just say, underwhelming. I’m delighted to report that the optics of the SV 202 8 x 42 ED did not disappoint! To give the reader an honest and thorough idea of how good this binocular is, I took the liberty to test it alongside two other instruments in the same aperture class: the Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 retailing at just over £200 and the more expensive GPO Passion ED 8 x 42 costing £404.

GPO Passion ED 8 x 42(top) and Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED(bottom).

Hawke Endurance ED 8x 42(top) and the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED(bottom).

 

First examining the image of an intensely bright beam of white light directed into the instruments from across a darkened indoor setting, the results from the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED were really excellent! It stubbornly refused to show up any internal reflections, unlike the Hawke Endurance ED, which showed up some prominent ones in comparison. Nor was there any diffused light around the light source in the Svbony unlike the Hawke which was easy to see in comparison. Clearly, the Svbony has noticeably superior coatings and baffles to stubbornly block off these annoying optical artefacts. Now, when I compared the Svbony to the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42, the results were a lot closer but I must report that the Svbony also showed slightly better resistance to internal reflections than the GPO. Indeed, predictably enough, I obtained the same results when I turned the instruments on a bright full Moon and a sodium streetlamp after dark. Internal reflections and diffused light were quite obvious in the Hawke and much better in the GPO but I was still able to make out some weak internal reflections in the GPO binocular in comparison to the Svbony, which showed none in comparison. These are excellent results, and quite in keeping with the two other SV202 models I purchased and tested in my past evaluations(see Preamble 1 & 2 above).

Next, taking a look at the exit pupils aimed at a bright, artificial light source, I was delighted to see that the large exit pupils on the Svbony SV 202  8 x 42 ED were perfectly round, with little in the way of light bleeds in their vicinity as the photos below show;

Left exit pupil.

 

Right exit pupil.

 

So how are the views through the Svbony SV202 8 x 42ED? In a word: excellent! The image is very bright and razor sharp across the vast majority of the field. The binocular shows lovely micro-contrast details. Images snap to focus with absolutely no ambiguity. You’re either in focus or out of focus. No fiddling required! Contrast and colour rendering are also excellent. Glare is very well supressed but not quite as good as the best binoculars I’ve sampled in the £800 + range. On a CN thread I initiated on the SV202 8 x 32 ED I made the comment that Svbony were better off making the field of view a little smaller to reduce the severity of the field curvature seen near the field stops. I believe Svbony has listened and actively addressed the problem. The view is wide(7.5 angular degrees) but not overly so. This makes the sweetspot proportionately larger in the 8 x 42 than either the 8 x 32 or the 10 x 42 models previously assessed.  How big? I’d estimate that its razor sharp over at least 70 per cent of the field, with mild field curvature and some pincushion distortion creeping in as one approaches the field stops. But make no mistake about it, even at the field stops, the images of stars I assessed(discussed below) were tighter than I remember on the two earlier models I field tested.

Comparing the views through the similarly-priced Hawke Endurance ED, the difference was obvious; the Svbony was noticeably sharper, had better contrast and with better control of both general field glare and veiling glare. Colour correction was maybe a shade better in the Hawke though, but I’ve noted that some of the sharpest binoculars I’ve tested over the last four years have had some secondary spectrum bleed. Having said that, there is only the merest trace of it within the sweet spot but as one moves to the outer field, lateral colour can often be picked up when viewing tree branches against a uniformly lit grey background sky; a harsh test for any binocular, however well made.

I got even more excited when I tested the Svbony SV 202  8 x 42 ED against the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42. This time, I canvassed the opinions of a few students to compare and contrast the views in both good and poor ambient light conditions, having already made my mind up on the matter. The results were again unanimous: they all agreed with me that the Svbony served up sharper images though they noted that the field of view of the GPO was noticeably wider( 8.1 angular degrees). But they could see, as I did, that the edge of field performance was noticeably better in the Sybony – a consequence of its more conservative sized field of view. These are truly excellent results and fully in keeping with the title of this review: the Extraordinary Svbony!

Notes from the Field

The majority of my most rigorous testing of the Svbony SV 202 ED 8 x 42 took place under a starry sky, where optical issues are easier to assess. Defocusing the bright, first-magnitude star, Capella, by rotating the dioptre ring to the end of its travel, I could see that collimation was fine. The focused star image from the left barrel was well inside the defocused anulus appearing in the right barrel. Stars remained tiny pinpoints of light across about 70-75 per cent of the field, with the last 25 per cent or so revealing some field curvature and a minor amount of astigmatism right at the field stops.

I was easily able to measure the size of the field of view in the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED. Noting that the stars Betelgeuse and Bellatrix in northern Orion are precisely 7 degrees 33’ apart, I was just unable to fit both into the same field. That’s very much in keeping with the 7 degree 30’ stated in the specifications. Good job Sybony!

Examining a bright waxing gibbous Moon in late October skies threw up a marble-white orb, peppered by grey lava seas and excellent crater detail across the southern highlands. Chromatic aberration was completely absent from the lunar limb within the large sweet spot, but did throw up some as the Moon was moved out towards the field stops. I noted some moderate drop off in illumination of the Moon at the field edges but nothing to take issue with, where only very slight refocusing was needed to bring it sharply into focus.

Back to daylight testing again now. Close focus was measured to be 2.27 metres, a little longer than advertised. On the many very dull, overcast days we experienced throughout October, the Svbony SV 202  8 x 42 ED threw up superlative images. Colours in autumn leaves really popped, with no contrast-robbing glare to reduce the intensity of the views. Greens, browns and red colours seem to be enhanced under these conditions. Near dusk, these colours really become enhanced!  Imaging fallen leaves at close quarters(within a few metres) really shows off the exceptional sharpness of this binocular. I attribute this to unusually good correction of spherical aberration. Indeed, to my eye, better spherical aberration correction is more desirable than a slightly softer but better colour corrected image, as was manifested in the Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 tested alongside it. I detected no blackouts while panning large swathes of hillside with the Svbony 8 x 42 ED, unlike I encountered with the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42. I attribute this to simpler eyepiece design in the former. I’ve found blackouts to be a significant issue in many wide-angle 8 x 42s, with more aggressive field flattening strongly correlating with the frequency of blackouts encountered.

Under bright sunny conditions, the Svbony does throw up more in the way of glare, especially in the direction of the Sun, but although I’m especially partial to this kind of defect, it was never bothersome. Indeed, comparing my notes of observations conducted using a well-heeled Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42, I observed similar levels of glare under the same conditions. In another low light test, I compared and contrasted the images garnered by the GPO Passion ED and the Svbony. Observing at dusk and far into deep twilight, looking into the deeply shaded undergrowth of shrubs some 20 metres in the distance,  I was unable to see any significant brightness differences between the instruments. That’s good news considering the former has a light transmission of the order of 90 per cent. Whatever the precise light transmission of the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED, it’s likely to be impressively high.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Even the soft padded carry case fits the binocular with its strap attached. Cool!

They say good things come in threes. That’s certainly turned out to be a true adage in my experience with these SV 202 compact and mid-sized ED binoculars from Svbony. Furthermore,  of the three I’ve tested and reported on, this new SV 202 8 x 42 ED has got to be my favourite. It’s an awesome binocular, especially considering its very modest pricing. It will make an excellent birding binocular, for example, where the finest optics are required to pick off the minutest details in your avian targets. It’s also a fine star gazing binocular with its great near edge-to-edge sharpness. It will do well in any situation; bright sunlight, or at dusk and dawn, so will also be useful as a hunting glass. I’m confident that the performance of this instrument will match or exceed pretty much any instrument currently on the market under £500, and will give £1K instruments a frightening run for their money. Any room for improvement? Yes. A few extra layers of antireflection coatings applied to the elements in the optical train will cut down the already minimal levels of glare to levels seen on binoculars in the £800 price range. Adding a hydrophobic coating on the outer lenses wouldn’t go amiss either, especially if you intend to use it in cold and wet environments. Other than that, I’d say leave well alone!

Very highly favoured!

 

Dr Neil English will publish a new book dedicated to binoculars: Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, due out in late 2023.

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: The GPO Passion ED 8 x 42.

The GPO Passion ED 8 x 42 in sand coloured chassis.

A Work Commenced October 30 2022

 

Product: GPO Passion ED 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Field of View: 143m@1000m(8.1 angular degrees)

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Eye Relief: 17mm

Close focus: 2m advertised, 1.95m measured

Coatings: GPO Proprietary broadband multi-coatings, dielectric coatings on Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms, Hydrophobic coatings on objective lenses

Light Transmission: 90%

ED Glass: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purging: Yes

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Weight: 740g advertised, 743g measured

Accessories: Custom GPO hard clamshell case with strap, wide neoprene logoed neck strap, microfibre cloth, ocular and objective covers,  instruction manual, warranty card

Warranty(European): 10 Years

Price(UK): £404.00

 

I’ve already covered two compact binoculars from German Precision Optics(GPO) in previous reviews, but readers may be interested to know that they also manufacture a number of full-size binoculars in the 8x and 10 x 42 format. GPO say their Passion ED binoculars are their ‘entry-level premium’ line of high-performance instruments Just like the smaller 32mm models, these full-size binoculars come in a choice of colours: sand, brown, black and green. I ordered up the 8 x 42 Passion ED – in an eye-catching sand coloured chassis – on loan from First Light Optics for testing and evaluation.

GPO really go to great lengths to make the initial unboxing experience as pleasurable as possible. And sure enough, I received the attractive black presentation box containing the instrument and its accessories. The binocular was presented on one side of the box, snugly positioned in the cut-out foam. The grey clam shell hard case was sat next to it, containing all the usual high-quality accessories including a wide neoprene neck strap with the GPO logo sewn in, ocular and objective covers, a micro-fibre lens cleaning cloth, a strong carrying strap for the case, a small instruction manual and a 10-year warranty card. As a point of interest, GPO USA offer their models with a lifetime warranty; good to know if you’re planning to purchase one in the States.

The GPO Passion ED 8 x 42 is one gorgeous binocular.

As I’ve come to expect, the instrument exudes quality from top to toe, with its sturdy magnesium alloy chassis covered by a thin covering of textured rubber. Like the 32mm models, the bridge is quite narrow, providing additional space to wrap your hands around. The instrument is very small and compact for a full-size binocular. Tipping the scales at 743g without the strap, the instrument features fully multicoated optics using GPO’s proprietary coatings, an ED glass element to reduce colour fringing and a fast focus wheel to quickly engage with your targets. The instrument feels fantastic in the hands. The GPO objectives are very deeply recessed, affording extra protection from stray light and the vagaries of the elements. I detected little or no internal reflections or significant diffraction spikes in my torch test. Just like all their product range, the GPO Passion ED eyecups are excellent and amongst the best in the industry. There’s no plastic anywhere to be seen on these cups. They are made of machined aluminium, overlaid with a soft rubber substrate affording very comfortable views, even after prolonged use in the field. Four positions in all are offered, from fully extended to fully retracted. The focus wheel takes about 1.5 revolutions anti-clockwise from closest focus to infinity and a little beyond.

Optically, the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42 offers an excellent image; wide(8.1 degrees), bright and full of rich contrast. Colours really pop in this instrument and glare is very well controlled as my field tests showed, both in bright sunny conditions and on dull, overcast afternoons. GPO claim a light transmission of 90 per cent across most of the visual spectrum, and this is quite believable from the images it serves up. But you don’t have to take my word for it! The Dutch optical physicist, Dr Gijs van Ginkel actually performed independent spectrophotometric measurements on the smaller 32mm Passion ED models, where he was able to verify light transmissions of just over 90 per cent in the middle of the spectral range of the human eye.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

A Curious Aside

Before moving on from the subject of colour correction and ED glass, I would briefly like to take a moment to clarify something I’ve heard again and again from reading binocular reviews carried out by magazine authors. For example, in the November 2022 issue of a popular UK birding magazine I read the following statement:

“The ED glass ought to give great light gathering and transmission among other things….”

This is a misleading statement. Extra low Dispersion(ED) glass does not increase light transmission. Its main job is to increase contrast and image sharpness when mated properly with additional elements. In a complex optical system such as a modern roof prism binocular, the brightness of the image is attributed to the number of optical elements employed, the homogeneity of the glass(fluorite crystal, for example, has very high homogeneity and thus has impressive light transmission) and the quality of the coatings used throughout the optical train. Here is a good example of what I’m talking about. In these examples, the non-ED binocular has a measured light transmission that is greater than another binocular with ED glass.

iustitia

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The large 5.25mm exit pupil makes eye placement easy, though I did encounter a few blackouts from time to time. Careful eye placement is needed to ameliorate the worst of this. The 17mm eye relief is more than adequate for most users, though some will undoubtedly find this a bit tight. The sweet spot is very large – ~70 per cent of the field -after which mainly field curvature and a small amount of astigmatism softens the image. Overall, the views are delightful, immersive and engaging; exactly what you’d expect from a high-performance binocular like this.

The exit pupils are perfectly circular and well blackened in their immediate vicinity, as the photos below reveal:

Right exit pupil.

Left exit pupil.

 

Notes from the Field

I enjoyed a spot of Jay watching in bright autumnal sunlight, where I was impressed by the sharpness of this binocular. The excellent contrast and colour correction, as well as the wide angle of view of the 8 x 42 Passion ED made it very easy to pick off their colourful plumage, as they flitted from oak tree to oak tree in search of acorns, their staple. Even when caught gliding against a bright sky, I could make out very little, if any, chromatic aberration. A splash or two does show up as targets are moved off axis though, but that’s all par for the course in most binoculars costing up to and well beyond £1000. Indeed, I’ve never looked through a binocular that doesn’t show some trace of colour fringing. Such is the nature of refractive optics!

The GPO Passion ED 8 x 42 has immaculately applied anti-reflection coatings.

In a previous review of the smaller 32mm ED model, I suggested that one improvement GPO could make to their Passion ED line was to add a hydrophobic coating to the outer lenses which would enhance their performance in adverse weather conditions. I was delighted to read on the First Light Optics website that they had apparently responded to this. “Trust but verify” is a maxim I have subscribed to all my life, so I tested GPO’s claim. Breathing on the objective lenses on a cool afternoon outside, I was impressed by how fast the condensation vanished in comparison to an untreated ‘control’ objective lens of the same size. This will make the GPO Passion ED binoculars even more versatile when using them in cold weather. Afterall, there is nothing more frustrating than having your view ruined by accidental fogging, especially when engaging something interesting in the field of view. Good job GPO!

I also enjoyed some stargazing adventures with this binocular. It’s very wide and well corrected field of view makes sweeping the heavens a real pleasure in this full-size binocular. Stars are presented in their true colours and many of the show piece objects of the sky are within reach of this quality 42mm aperture glass. In general, I prefer 10x for stargazing, but the excellent light grasp and lower power of 8x makes the views more steady and easier to enjoy during prolonged vigils. You needn’t worry about internal fogging either; these binoculars are waterproof to 1m depth and are dry nitrogen purged. Close focus is a very respectable 1.95m, so fine for close up work too.

If I’m being honest, I was a little anxious about whether I’d receive a unit with some play in the focus wheel. This is something I’ve heard from a number of users of GPO binoculars, at least in the early days. To my great relief, the focus wheel was really fine; buttery smooth and totally backlash free. Clearly GPO has addressed this issue in house, which is great news, as I’m not alone in absolutely detesting any play in my binocular focusers.

Kudos!

The 8 x 42 Passion ED is an excellent birding binocular, with its very wide and well corrected field. Colours are vivid and true to life. Seeing the extremely fine vermiculations on a Greylag goose that had happened to rest for a few hours on my local pond one bright September afternoon was a particularly delightful experience. You’ll never mix up a Magpie and Greater Spotted Woodpecker half a mile away with these binoculars!

A great general purpose binocular.

In summary, this is an excellent general-purpose binocular, exemplifying many of the virtues of mid-sized field glasses. It really does everything very well indeed, and in many circumstances greatly exceeds one’s expectations.

Highly Recommended!

 

I would like to thank Steve at First Light Optics for kindly providing the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42 for review.

 

Dr Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. His 8th title, Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Nature enthusiasts will be published by Springer Nature in late 2023.

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42.

The amazing Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42.

A Work Commenced October 20 2022

 

 

Product: Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Chassis: Rubber Armoured Polycarbonate

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Field of View: 143m@1000m(8.14 angular degrees)

Eye relief: 18mm

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.8m measured

Coatings: Fully Multicoated optics, silver coated and phase corrected Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms 

ED Glass: No

Waterproof: Yes- 3 minutes at 1.5m depth (IPX7)

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 4

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Weight: 819g advertised, 796g measured

Accessories: Clamshell case, logoed neck strap, microfibre lens cloth, rubber rain guard and objective lens covers, instruction sheet, warranty card

Warranty: 10 Years

Price (UK): £129.00

 

Before I moved from reviewing telescope optics to the world of binoculars, I sought advice from an experienced birder living nearby my home, who could recommend a decent entry-level instrument to get me started. He suggested I try a model from Barr and Stroud. My first roof prism binocular purchase was the Barr and Stroud Sahara 8 x 42, which really impressed me and whetted my appetite for more sophisticated models marketed by the same company. That led me first to the Sierra 8 x 42 with its phase coated optics, which I could immediately discern when I compared it to the non-phase coated Sahara, showing superior brightness and contrast. From there, I took a chance on the slightly more expensive Savannah 8 x 42, which literally blew me away with its enormous field of view and razor-sharp optics. This was my first encounter with high-quality optics and led me inevitably to begin testing a large range of binoculars in different price categories and sizes in order to build a decent portfolio for the writing of my up-and-coming book. After four years of testing, I remembered that Savannah binocular that had stoked my interest on binocular optics and decided to order another unit up to see how that binocular would hold up in light of my experiences with other models. Would I still be as enamoured about the Barr and Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 after all these years?

Reuniting with an Old Friend

When the package arrived, I was filled with a sense of child-like excitement, as I opened the colourful box containing the hard clamshell case housing the instrument. All the goodies I remember finding in my first Savannah binocular were inside; an instruction sheet, warranty card, neck and carry case strap. The instrument was stored inside a small plastic bag with the rubber rain guard and ocular covers already attached. The instrument was just as I remembered it; a rather Spartan polycarbonate chassis covered in a thick rubber armouring. This is one sturdy binocular built for the great outdoors!

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 comes in a nifty clamshell case

The eyecups were just as I remembered them too: they twist up and rigidly lock into place with a reassuring click. With my new found knowledge, I can say that there’s a tiny bit of wobble in them once fixed, but no more than what I’ve seen on models costing £800 or more. Eye relief is a very comfortable 18mm. That means you can easily access the entire field of view using eyeglasses, as I was able to do. The central focus wheel is really great; large, smooth, accurate turning, with no free play encountered while racking it back and forth through its travel. Two full anticlockwise rotations brings you from nearest focus to infinity and a wee bit beyond. I’ve always been impressed with the focus wheels on all of the Barr and Stroud models I’ve test driven over the years, and this one is no exception. They are well engineered and easy to negotiate with just a single finger. Someone with a brain thought about them.

The Savannah has a very smooth focus wheel and comfortable twist-up eyecups that hold their positions rigidly.

The dioptre setting is unusual: located just ahead of the focus wheel, the ring is marked with + and – to get you started and has a generous compensation range of +/- 4. I note that the Swarovski’s new flagship NL Pure models have a similar mechanism. If I’m being critical, it can be easy to accidentally rotate it out of position owing to its proximity to the focus wheel, but a little practice will remedy that. Memorising your ideal setting is a good idea.

The objectives are very decently recessed to protect the lenses from rain, aeolian- borne dust and peripheral light. The ocular lenses are nice and large, making centring of your eyes child’s play. The single bridge is big and bulky making holding the instrument a little bit more challenging than open bridge designs, but again your hands will quickly find their happy place. They adapt.

The fully multicoated objectives lenses are very deeply set.

 

 

The large ocular lenses on the Savannah 8 x 42 are very easy to engage with.

A Reacquaintance with the Optics

As I went back and read through my journal notes about this instrument, I was struck by how many times I wrote words such as “brilliant,” “excellent,” “immersive” and “compelling.” But these were written as a complete tyro; what did I know about binocular optics in those early days? Well, I had a chance to compare and contrast it with an excellent 8 x 42 from GPO – specifically the Passion ED – an instrument costing more than three times the retail price of the Savannah(£129). What I uncovered was, quite frankly, shocking – but in a good way. Let me explain.

The GPO Passion ED 8x 42(left) versus the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42(right).

I began, as ever, by directing a bright beam of light through the binocular to see how well it behaved. Just as I reported in my first encounter with the instrument four years ago, the results were excellent. It was just as good as the GPO binocular(£404); there was very little in the way of internal reflections, no diffused light around the beam and only the tiniest hint of a diffraction spike. Testing both instruments out on a bright sodium streetlamp showed no significant reflections and no contrast-robbing diffused light around the lamp.

Next, I looked at the exit pupils of the Savannah and the results were also very good: round and with very little encroaching of peripheral light. I’ve included the result from the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42 for comparison.

Left exit pupil of the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42.

 

Left exit pupil of the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42.

The big surprise for me was the view through the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42. It has a great big sweet spot that I’d estimate to be about 70 per cent of its very large (8.1 degree field) field, after which mild field curvature begins to show. But even the edges are acceptably sharp. Contrast is excellent and glare suppression exemplary. Indeed, when I compared the views through this economy binocular with the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42, I came to the conclusion that I was looking through substantially the same optics. It too has the same sized sweet spot, and displays mild field curvature in the outer field of view. The Savannah was also just as good, if not a tad better at suppressing all kinds of glare, both in bright sunny conditions and on dull overcast days. It is, for example, in a completely different league to the considerably more expensive Vortex Diamondback HDs in this regard. If anything, the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42 displayed a shade more contrast, slightly warmer colours and slightly better colour correction on high contrast targets. But if I’m being honest, there was very little in it.

In a test conducted at sunset, I was really impressed how well the Barr & Stroud Savannah held up against the GPO Passion ED. Though the latter has a reported light transmission of 90 per cent, both instruments were very comparable and I wasn’t able to detect a runaway winner. The GPO might have the edge with its dielectric mirror coatings, but the silvered roof prisms of the Savannah did a really impressive job during these low light conditions.

I conducted more tests under the stars, where I was able to verify that the collimation of the Barr & Stroud Savannah was spot on. But when I compared the GPO binocular to it, I got pretty much the same results; stars remain respectfully tight within the central 70 per cent and begin to morph slowly owing to field curvature and mild astigmatism as the field stops are approached. Only the last 10 per cent showed noticeable morphing but I deemed these results very positively indeed.

In another test carried out during daylight hours, I canvassed the opinion of two of my students, who compared and contrasted the GPO binocular to the Barr & Stroud. Their results were unanimous too; they both concluded that these instruments produced really fine images, with excellent contrast and sharpness but ultimately came out in favour of the GPO binocular. They also preferred the ergonomics of the GPO Passion ED, which is not surprising, as it’s beautifully made.

I decided to take a couple of shots through the right barrel of each binocular to show you what my IPhone camera picked up. Both images were captured within minutes of each other under the same lighting conditions. The results are shown below.

Image captured by the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42

Image captured through the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42.

The Barr & Stroud has excellent close focus: I measured it at just 1.8m, so great for exploring the nearby world like a long-range microscope. Indeed, this kind of activity is much better suited to roof prism models compared with their Porro prism counterparts.

Uses

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 makes for an excellent birding binocular, with its smooth, responsive focuser and brilliant optics. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed watching a group of Jays gathering acorns just a few hundred yards from my home. I’ve also enjoyed glassing the somewhat elusive Kingfisher up at my local pond, with the excellent sharpness making light work of picking up its beautiful blue and orange raiment. It’s also great for scanning the hills around my home. It’s decent aperture and large exit pupil make it a very capable astronomy binocular too. I spent an hour outside with it, enjoying the glories of a last quarter Moon in the early hours of October 18. Showpieces of the sky presented excellently in this instrument, such as the Pleiades and Hyades and, owing to its very well corrected field of view, I was able to admire the preternatural beauty of the Sword handle and Belt stars of Orion in a single field.

An exceptional bargain.

In conclusion, I can’t recommend this instrument highly enough! Of course, there will  always be sceptics who won’t lift a finger to buy a unit up and do some tests, but that’s their loss. Personally, I’d be more than happy using the Savannah as a go-to 8 x 42. With an age of austerity now upon us, the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 will help a great many individuals enjoy the natural world at a price they can afford. Buy from a reputable dealer. You have it within your power to ask them to inspect the binocular to ensure that the eye cups, focuser and dioptre compensation ring are all working properly before they ship it out.

I guarantee it’ll put a smile on your face!

 

 

 

Neil English’s up-and-coming book, Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Nature Enthusiasts, will cater for all budgets.

 

 

De Fideli.

A Fresh Look at the Celestron SkyMaster 15 x 70.

The Celestron SkyMaster 15 x 70.

A Work Commenced October 14 2022

Though the Celestron SkyMaster 15 x 70 was introduced a few decades ago, several clones of this highly successful product have come and gone over the years. Indeed, back in my days when I was a professional astronomy writer and telescope reviewer, I briefly got caught up in the new fad of using cheap clones of the Celestron offered by Revelation Astro, for example, which I bought in and briefly played around with. I do remember one unit arriving out of collimation, while the other delivered only so-so images that simply didn’t engage me. You see, I just had no enduring interest in binoculars for much of my early career. But how times have changed!

In preparing for the writing of my book, I decided to buy in the latest rendition of this binocular for a fresh look. I was quite impressed by the package and the build quality of the instrument, especially when you factor in the very modest cost of this big binocular – of the order of £85. The instrument is covered with a durable black rubber armouring that affords excellent grip when hand-held.  While it’s unquestionably a large binocular, it’s not all that heavy. My sample tipped the scales at 1251g, so quite light for this configuration.

Optics

During the day, the SkyMaster 15 x 70 produced bright and sharp images, with surprisingly good contrast. I could instantly see how it’s so popular as a long-range optic, for studying targets in the far distance. Indeed, I can see it serving well as an alternative to a low power spotting ‘scope. Collimation was perfect – unlike what I’d seen on some of the Revelation clones I had used in the past – and close focus was measured to be about 15.5 yards. The central focus wheel is covered in textured rubber and rotates very smoothly with no free play or backlash. The dioptre adjustment is located under the right eyepiece. It moves with a fair amount of friction, ensuring it won’t wander easily during ordinary use.

The large central focus wheel moves smoothly without any free play.

The large achromatic doublet objective has immaculately applied multi-coatings contributing to the bright image and high contrast views. This is undoubtedly helped by the longer than average focal length of the objectives on this instrument – 280mm  – making it a solid f/4 relative aperture. The SkyMaster has a big sweet spot in the centre of the image but does show significant softening at the edges of the field, mostly in the form of field curvature. Of course, a large light cup like this really shines under a clear, dark sky. To get the best use out of it, it needs to be stabilised on a monopod or lightweight tripod. The package I received also included a decent quality tripod adapter to get you started, but a quick rap test introduced too much vibration in the mounted instrument which took quite a few seconds to dampen down, so I’d strongly encourage folk to invest in a higher quality unit, made out of machined metal rather than the hard plastic unit supplied with the binocular.

A big bino like this really benefits from a good, sturdy tripod or monopod.

Examining the exit pupils of the instrument, I was delighted to see that they were round and untruncated, as you can see below.

The left exit pupil.

The right exit pupil.

When I directed a bright light through the ocular lens and measured the size of the resulting disk projected onto a flat surface, I measured its diameter to be about 63mm. That didn’t come as a big surprise though, as these budget instruments are known to have stopped down optics. I did not however consider this to be a serious handicap though, as the instrument still lets through a large amount of light. In another test, I looked for ghosting and internal reflections by turning the SkyMaster 15 x 70 on a bright sodium streetlamp in the distance. I did detect some minor reflections, but they weren’t that prominent based on what I had already seen in some other instruments I’ve tested – sometimes costing significantly more.

Those big objective lenses gather a surprising amount of light.

Star testing on bright stars showed that the inner 50 per cent of the field shows very nicely focused stars, but as one moves further out, the effects of field curvature, astigmatism and coma gradually increase. The outer 20 per cent of the field is pretty much unusable, but that’s a small trade off considering what the binocular can show in the middle of its wide, 4.4 degree field of view.

Let me elaborate.

Views of the Moon are spectacular in the Celestron SkyMaster 15 x 70. Its intensely bright silvery surface is tack sharp in the centre of the field, with excellent contrast. A very minor amount of chromatic aberration could sometimes be glimpsed at the centre of the field, but I found that it was very sensitive to eye placement. Internal reflections were very minor and weren’t in the least bit intrusive on this bright celestial target. The vast crater fields of the southern highlands were beautifully rendered, as were the mountain ranges and ray craters peppering its ancient and battered surface. This will be an excellent instrument for observing earthshine on the crescent Moon when it’s particularly prominent during the months of March and April.

With a steady view, I was thrilled to be able to make out the tiny globe of Saturn, as well as its magnificent ring system. Jupiter can also be glimpsed as a tiny globe together with its four large Galilean moons. Try as I may though, I was unable to glean any details form its oblate disk. At this low magnification – from a telescopic perspective at least – the giant planet is simply too bright to resolve any surface details. However, you can watch the satellites change from hour to hour and from day to day.

The very generous field of view is perfect for framing large open clusters. The Pleiades is stunning through this large binocular, as is the Double Cluster in Perseus and the Beehive Cluster in Cancer. Following the sky south of Albireo(Beta Cygni), the Celestron SkyMaster 15 x 70 served up an excellent view of the Coathanger asterism. I enjoyed a spellbinding view of the Sword handle in Orion  in the wee small hours of a chilly October night, the sheer brilliance of the belt stars and the great Orion Nebula beneath them presenting a very compelling binocular portal. From a good, dark rural sky, stars of at least the 10th magnitude of glory can easily be made out.

Another great use of this 15 x 70 is white light solar observing. The 15x magnification provides a very decent-sized solar disk to allow you to clearly see any sunspots present on its surface. I’ve used my own home-made filters fashioned from a sheet of Baader Astrosolar material, placing them over the large 70mm objectives to get excellent views of our life-giving star.

Conclusions

In summary, for the modest price paid for this binocular, the Celestron SkyMaster 15 x 70, certainly represents great value for money. Some critics have noted that many of these units get whacked out of collimation all too easily. Fortunately, re-collimating this instrument is relatively straightforward, using a simple screwdriver to turn two screws (one for vertical movement and the other for horizontal adjustments) which are easily accessed under the rubber armouring of the binocular. You can find several YouTube presentations to see how it’s done. Doubtless, a savvy and resourceful individual can achieve a great deal with this economically priced instrument, whether it be deep sky observing, comet hunting, solar observing or studying a bird’s nest from afar. It’s simply imagination limited!

 

Neil English’s new book, Choosing and Using Binoculars: a Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Nature Enthusiasts, hits the shops in late 2023.

 

 

De Fideli.