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 faces 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 barrel 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. I noticed some barrel(negative distortion) looking at an off axis drain pipe. 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. A small spur on the ring allows you to rotate the ring. 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.

Product Review: Eschenbach Club 8 x 20 Pocket Binocular.

The Eschenbach Club 8 x 20 pocket binocular and leather pouch.

 

A Work Commenced October 9 2022

 

Product: Eschenbach Optik Club 8 x 20

Country of Manufacture: Unknown

Exit Pupil: 2.5mm

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

Eye relief: 16mm

Coatings: Fully multicoated, phase correction coating on BAK4 roof prisms

Close Focus: 1.6m advertised, 3.0m measured

ED glass: No

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Tripod Mountable: No

Weight: 220g advertised, 220g measured

Accessories: High quality leather storage pouch, lens cleaning cloth, lanyard, eyepiece and objective lens caps, instruction manual 

Warranty: 5 years

Price UK: £149.00

 

Eschenbach Optik, based in Nuremberg, Germany, is not a name that crossed my radar in my tour of the binocular market. But while reading an online birding forum, I came across some comments and a few pictures of an intriguing pocket binocular marketed by Eschenbach; the Club 8 x 20. It looked rather stylish, somewhat resembling the gorgeous little Leica pocket glasses discussed in some of my earlier reviews. Curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to order one up for closer inspection and testing. What to expect? An opto-mechanical gem or muton dressed as lamb?

I was surprised to learn that Eschenbach Optik was founded over a century ago, in 1913 to be precise, and is a manufacturer and distributor of optical instruments, but is perhaps best known for the manufacture of spectacle frames. Currently they have a work force of nearly 300 people and have a business volume worth about 70 million Euro annually. Eschenbach, I discovered, also sell a comprehensive range of binoculars – most likely imports – in all the popular sizes.

When the binocular arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by the packaging. I received a lovely sliding hard case. A rather fetching leather pouch with the Eschenbach brand name on the front houses the little Club 8 x 20. The package also included a neck strap, a bright blue lens cleaning cloth, instruction manual and presentation card summarizing the features of the instrument in a number of languages. I was surprised to see that the binocular came with both ocular and objective lens caps, something you don’t encounter too often on many of the higher end pocket glasses in my experience.

The packaging makes a great first impression.

The Club is certainly a cute looking instrument; weighing just 220g, it has a double hinge design with a large central bridge. The silver-coloured focus wheel is located at the far end of the bridge, while the dioptre adjustment is accessed by a small wheel built into the eye piece end of the bridge.

The Eschenbach pocket glass unfolded.

I was happy to see some plus and minus markings on it to give the user some basic information about which way to turn it in order to get to your desired setting quickly.

The Club 8 x 20 has a nicely designed dioptre adjuster built into the bridge near the eyepieces.

The barrels are lightly armoured with a finely textured leatherette substrate that gives the instrument quite a retro look, reminiscent of that seen on the Leica Ultravid BL pocket glasses, with delicate contouring of the ocular and objective ends of the binocular.

The underside of the binocular showing the main specs of the instrument. Note the textured leatherette armouring on the barrels.

The chassis appears to be made entirely from nicely machined aluminium. The tiny Club 8 x 20 measures only 10cm long and folds down to a width of just over 6cm, so comfortably fitting in the palm of your hand.

I absolutely love the twist up eye cups on the Eschenbach Club 8 x 20. They are beautifully engineered and remind me very much of those found on the Swarovski’s newest wonder glass, the CL Curio 7 x 21( and the CL pockets as far as I remember). They glide effortlessly and hold their positions very well.

The eyecups are a real class act; turning smoothly upwards to their fixed position.

 

Eye relief is good, but not outstanding. I was able to see the entire field wearing eyeglasses but some will find it fairly tight. The objectives lenses are nicely recessed – surely a good thing – to cut down on intrusions from rain, dust and peripheral light. The anti-reflection coatings on the lenses are smooth and evenly applied giving a green or purple tint depending on the viewing angle.

Coatings on the ocular lenses.

Nicely recessed objectives.

The aluminium focus wheel on the Club 8 x 20 is nicely textured for good gripping even while wearing gloves. It moves smoothly in both directions without any slippage or free play.

I wasn’t able to find where the instrument was made, although the underside of the bridge displays the main optical specifications. If I’m guessing, it was probably made in China. The instrument is waterproof, and nitrogen purged, making it more useable in wet weather than the Leica Trinovid BCA models, for example, which are only ‘splashproof’, at least in theory.

Moving on to optics, the instrument arrived perfectly collimated.  The BAK4 roof prisms are phase coated and possibly silvered or aluminised. I say ‘possibly’ because the information is not available anywhere in the instruction manual or on their website. I did note that their higher priced Trophy F 8 x 25 ED model has dielectric coatings though, so having a lower reflectivity metal coating seems like a good bet.

Performing my torch test, I picked up some internal reflections and diffused light around a bright light source. The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 tested in the same way had much more subdued reflections, no diffused light, but had a more prominent diffraction spike. Judging by what I had seen before, I would say that these results with the Eschenbach Club 8 x 20 were more in keeping with pocket binoculars offered at around the £100 mark, rather than the £149 I paid for it.

Taking a look at the exit pupils, I was relieved to see that both presented as round, with little in the way of light leaks around them. Good job!

Left exit pupil.

Right exit pupil.

The daylight images served up by the Eschenbach Club 8 x 20 are quite good. The sweet spot is located in the central 50 per cent of the field, with field curvature creeping in and increasing steadily as one looks towards the field stops. Contrast and sharpness are good and glare is kept under very good control for a pocket binocular. I was quite surprised to measure the close focus on my sample of the Eschenbach Club 8 x 20 to be 3 metres and not the 1.6m advertised on their website. Comparing it in side-by-side tests with the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25, which has the same 6.8 degree field of view, I was immediately able to see that it was noticeably brighter, a little sharper over a larger field area and had better contrast than the Club 8 x 20. I also detected a slight yellow tint to the Club compared with the more neutral colours served up by the Zeiss. Colour fringing is well controlled in the Eschenbach within the sweet spot but does begin to show on higher contrast targets as they are examined near the field stops. Again, the little Zeiss did better in this regard. Curiously, while displaying the same field of view, I came away with the strong impression that the Zeiss glass was wider.

Size comparison: Eschenbach Club 8 x 20(left) and Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25(right).

It was only after I looked at a waxing gibbous Moon on the evening of October 8, that I could begin to offer an explanation for my daytime perceptions. Comparing the Zeiss with the Club 8 x 20, I noticed that the sweet spot was considerably larger in the former, with the Moon remaining acceptably sharp nearly all the way across the field. The Eschenbach Club pocket glass threw up a good image of the Moon in the central 50 per cent of the field, but quickly became blurred as it was placed outside its sweet spot. I confirmed that the predominant aberration was field curvature, since I was easily able to focus it out as the Moon’s silvery orb was brought near to the edge of the field.   So I think that my perceptions of the Zeiss having a wider field lies entirely with the fact that it just has a much larger area of its field inside which objects look very sharp. I got broadly similar results when I looked at the bright star, Capella. The image remained pinpoint sharp in the inner 50 cent of the field but as I moved it outside this area, the image of yellow Capella started to show the effects of defocus owing to field curvature. In the outer 15 per cent of the field, the star had bloated to an unpleasant defocused disk.

The Club also threw up a few stronger internal reflections on the Moon than the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25. Indeed, despite the Zeiss showing a strong diffraction spike when turned to a bright streetlamp, it wasn’t all that prominent on the bright full Moon observed on the evening of October 9.

Pocket–sized fun.

In conclusion, the little Eschenbach Club 8 x 20 has lots of nice, elegant ergonomic features usually reserved for higher-end pocket binoculars, such as excellent eyecups, a smooth focusing wheel and a well-made dioptre system, not to mention the high-quality leather storage pouch it comes in. It’s a true pocket binocular with its folding hinges. Optically though, it behaves more like models I’ve tested costing about £100, which is probably adequate for lots of people, but for those who believe they are getting something that rivals a Leica or a Swarovski, you might be a little underwhelmed.

 

Neil English has cultivated a fondness for pocket binoculars. If you like his work, why not buy one of his books on telescopes and the history of astronomy?

 

De Fideli.

Zeiss Terra ED Pocket 8 x 25 Redux.

 

Zeiss Terra ED Pocket 8 x 25(China) Package.

A Work Commenced October 1 2022

 

Preamble

When the Zeiss Terra ED pockets were first launched, many enthusiasts were pleased to learn that they were manufactured in Japan, but as of 2020, Zeiss moved the production of these units to China, where all of the larger Terra ED models continue to be made. At first, it was the source of some confusion, with some folk chiming in to inform me that their new Terra pockets were marked “Japan,” while others showed pictures of “China” under the bridge. When I made some enquiries, I was first told by one Zeiss employee that they were still being made in Japan, but shortly thereafter they backpedalled, informing me by phone that the new Terra pocket glasses were now being made in China, leaving only their flagship Victory pockets in Japanese production.

A solidly constructed instrument, just like the Japanese-derived model.

Over the last few years, I bought in, tested and evaluated many pocket binoculars from many manufacturers, and inevitably, the build up of equipment in my house meant that I had to gift many of them to friends or sell them on – and that included my Japanese-made Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25. But after owning and using some top pocket binoculars from Leica, including the 8 x 20 and 10 x 25 BCA models and the Ultravid 8 x 20, I gradually came to accept their limitations, as charming as they are, especially when I began to explore the larger format 8 x 30 and 8 x 32 models. The latter were simply much more comfortable and easier to use, with their bigger eye box and more comfortable handling. And as for optical versatility, the larger 30-32mm formats were in a completely different league to any pocket glass, however sophisticated. A week using my superlative Nikon E II 8 x 30 – my favourite binocular by a country mile – finally convinced me to sell off my little Ultravid 8 x 20 to help recoup some funds(I’m not a collector but an observer), but it did leave a small hole in my modest stable of instruments. I still yearned for a good quality pocket binocular for occasional use, for trips to the theatre and galleries, for travel and exploring interesting buildings in the towns and cities of Scotland and further afield. What to do? It was at this time that I thought I would give the little Terra pocket a second chance, noting that it was still selling at about the same price I paid for my first Terra – £270 – so I took the plunge and ordered a unit up from Cameracentre UK in South Wales.

The China label on view under the bridge.

When it arrived, I was pleased to see that the instrument was presented in the same presentation box my first Terra pocket came in; a sturdy fold-out arrangement, with a lovely presentation of an alpine nature scene. I was equally delighted to see that the binocular was stored inside the same hard, zip-fastened clamshell case, with a magnetic latch to boot. This was a very pleasant surprise, as a 10 x 25 Terra ED model(with a new black chassis) I bought off Amazon in 2021 only came with a soft pouch – hardly enough protection for the instrument, which I returned after not being entirely happy with its optical performance.

A closer look at the large ocular lenses on the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25.

The exact same strap was supplied with this new Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 too; another good thing, as it is of high quality and perfectly designed to support this small pocket glass(310g). Examining the instrument, I was pleased to see what I had previously observed with my Japanese-made unit. Well put together, with the same grey-black chassis as before. I liked that colour scheme, with the blue Zeiss logo located just ahead of the central focus wheel. I was relieved to see that the double hinge was tight, maybe not as tight as I recall on the Japanese unit, but tight enough. The same immaculate Zeiss multi-coatings were smoothly applied to the ocular and objective lenses, and applying a breath test on a cool, afternoon outdoors, showed that the company’s proprietary LotuTec hydrophobic coatings rapidly dispersed the condensation. Neat!

The wonderful coatings applied to the deeply recessed objectives.

The twist-up eye cups were also working perfectly, rigidly staying in position once clicked into their grooves. The dioptre adjuster – a small wheel located at the far end of the wide bridge – moved smoothly – and once adjusted, I was ready to test the optics.

Beginning with my flashlight test, I directed the light from my Iphone torch adjusted to its brightest setting into the binocular from across my living room to examine the focused image. As I noted with my Japanese model, the results showed very good suppression of internal reflections and very little diffused light around the intensely bright beam but, as before, it did show up a prominent diffraction spike, which was also unfortunately picked up by looking at some streetlamps after dark. No difference between the Japanese and Chinese-made instruments in this capacity. The little Leica glasses were much better in this regard, showing very little of diffraction spikes in comparison.

I never conducted an examination of the exit pupils on my first Terra ED pocket, so was keen to see how they fared in this unit. I’m pleased to report that the results were very good, as you can see below; both pupils presented as perfect circles, with no significant light leaks around them. Bravo!

Left exit pupil.

Right exit pupil

But things turned out even more swimmingly as I began to study the images in bright autumnal sunlight. The view was excellent; bright, sharp, lovely contrast and vivid colours – all the things I had admired in the Japanese-made unit. That’s a consequence of the Schott ED glass used in the objectives and dielectrically coated Schmidt-Pechan prisms delivering an impressive light transmission of 88 per cent. The sweet spot is very large, with only a small amount of softening near the field stops. The view is wide – 119m at 1000m(6.8 angular degrees) – better than on my Leica pockets. I judged the Terra ED’s glare suppression abilities to be very good too – significantly better than my Leica’s, as I remember, with veiling glare being especially well controlled – for a pocket glass at least. The deeply recessed objectives and highly efficient coatings applied throughout the optical train definitely work together here. The quoted eye relief of 16mm is generous enough to enjoy the entire field using glasses, if that’s your thing. It’s also water and fog proof, making it suitable for the most adverse weather conditions Mother Nature is likely to throw at you.

If I’m being honest, the large focus wheel on the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 was, if anything, a little smoother than on my Ultravid 8 x 20. Just over one full turn clockwise brings you from closest focus(~ 1.9 m)  to beyond infinity. Indeed, the wheel moved further beyond infinity than many other binoculars I’ve tested. Surely that means that with a bit of clever tweaking(which can be done!), the focuser can be re-adjusted to render the close focus even shorter, but that’s for another day.

Comparing the Nikon E II 8 x 30 to the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25(right).

In good lighting conditions, and taking into account its considerably smaller field,  the Zeiss Terra pocket throws up very comparable views to my Nikon EII 8 x 30, with broadly similar levels of contrast and sharpness. Colour tone is noticeably warmer in the little Zeiss Terra though, and following the course of a long, straight section of country road, the compact Nikon Porro easily showed greater levels of contouring(stereopsis), as I expected from its more widely spaced objectives. This is a quick and easy way to see the advantages of Porro prism binoculars over their roof prism counterparts. The fact that you can more easily discern the bumps and depressions in the road is proof enough that the Nikon shows more spatial information than the little Zeiss roof prism binocular.

Another significant difference between the models is comfort and ease of viewing; eye placement is a lot more finicky with the Zeiss, requiring the precise alignment of one’s eyes with the barrels, and the smaller exit pupil requires a little more skill to find a satisfactory viewing experience. But a 3.1mm exit pupil is much easier to engage with than the 2.5mm pupils on my Leica glasses. None of this was an issue with the little Nikon 8 x 30 though: you simply bring it to your eyes for instant gratification, and drink up the enormous 8.8 degree field in all its optical glory! Having said all that though, I was very impressed how well the little Terra handled the affair. It’s a pocket binocular after all!

A quality experience.

So, in conclusion, should I be worried about the fact that the new Terra ED pockets are made in China? For me, the answer to that question is definitely no. It’s every bit as good as the Japanese unit I once had. Properly looked after, it ought to give many years of service. After all, it’s still a Zeiss binocular; and you can tell that from the instant you gaze through it!

Happy Camper!

 

Neil English has tested more pocket binoculars than you could shake a proverbial stick at. Find out more from his up-and-coming book: Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Nature Enthusiasts, published by Springer Nature in late 2023.

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: GPO Passion 8 x 56.

GPO Passion 8 x 56.

 

 

A Work Commenced September 23 2022

 

 

Product: GPO Passion 8 x 56

Country of Manufacture: China

Chassis: Rubber armoured magnesium alloy

Exit Pupil: 7mm

Eye Relief: 20mm

Field of View: 126m@1000m(7.35 angular degrees)

Close Focus: 2.3m advertised, 2.14m measured

Prism Type: Abbe-Koenig

Coatings: Fully broadband multi-coatings, phase correction coatings on Abbe Koenig prisms

Light Transmission: 92%

ED Glass: No

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 1245g advertised, 1257g measured

Dimensions: 19.2 x 15.8 cm

Accessories: Instruction manual, cleaning cloth, hard, case, neoprene neck strap, hard case strap, objective covers, ocular covers and warranty card.

Warranty(European): 10 Years

Price: UK £589.00

 

In previous blogs, I reviewed some excellent quality binoculars from the new German-based company, German Precision Optics(GPO). In these reviews I was very impressed with the outstanding build quality of their products, not to mention their excellent optical quality. But GPO have not just settled on securing a solid niche in the compact and mid-sized binocular market, they have also developed larger aperture models specifically designed for low light work and astronomy; enter the GPO Passion 8 x 56 and 10 x 56 series.

I acquired a 8 x 56 unit on loan from Steve at First Light Optics for testing and evaluation, and I must again say how delighted I was to see that GPO really are delivering excellent value for money in this competitive corner of the sports optics market.

The instrument arrived in a beautiful presentation box, as shown in the photo above. The binocular was set rigidly in place in the cut-out foam section and lying adjacent to it, the beautifully designed hard case to store the instrument. Inside the case you’ll find the usual accessories; padded neoprene logoed neck strap, carrying strap for the case, a comprehensive multi-language instruction manual and microfibre lens cleaning cloth. If you take the case out, you’ll also find the 10-year European warranty card for the instrument.

Ergonomics

The GPO Passion 8 x 56 is one chunky instrument and you immediately get the feeling of quality the second you prize it from the box. This larger instrument is a scaled up version of the 42mm and 32mm Passion ED binoculars, with a magnesium alloy chassis overlaid by a nicely textured black rubber armouring.

The distinctive curves of Abbe-Koenig optics are abundantly in evidence at first glance.

Tipping the scales at 1257g, this is not an instrument that many would happily trek with all day long; unless you’re Hulk Hogan.

The underside of the GPO Passion 8 x 56. Note the absence of thumb indents which aren’t really necessary anyway.

It’s designed to be used for short hand-held viewing but mostly for tripod mounted activities, such as hunting in low light or watching the stars The focus wheel is covered in a textured black rubber which is easy to grip, rotating just over one full revolution anti-clockwise from nearest focus to just beyond infinity. Though I have reported a small amount of free play in a smaller 10 x 32 GPO Passion ED in a previous review, I was pleased to see that there was none apparent on the focus wheel of this 8 x 56 model.

The beautifully machined aluminium twist-up eyecups are amongst the best in the industry.

A closer inspection of the shape of the barrels betrays the nature of the prisms used in this binocular; the large Abbe-Koenig roof prisms that deliver higher levels of light than standard Schmidt-Pechan prisms incorporated into the smaller GPO models. It’s these Abbe-Koenig prisms that contribute to the weight and the length of this binocular, but it’s all the more remarkable that this optical design is incorporated into this low light binocular at this price point. These prisms are notoriously difficult to make well and are usually only found in instruments costing at least twice as much as this 8 x 56 costs.

The beautifully machined twist-up aluminium eye cups are covered in soft rubber for very comfortable viewing. Four positions are offered to suit most anyone’s requirement for eye relief. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these are amongst the best eye cups ever designed by any binocular manufacturer, period. I was easily able to access the entire field of view with eyeglasses, so absolutely no worries there. The dioptre adjustment is accessed by turning a ring under the right ocular. It moves smoothly but with considerable tension, ensuring it won’t easily be moved out of position in field use.

The proprietary broadband multi-coatings present with a fetching purple hue in broad daylight and are immaculately applied. Viewed head on, they make the lenses almost disappear. The instrument is dry nitrogen purged internally and o ring sealed to prevent fogging up of the internalized optics. It’ s also waterproof, but GPO don’t mention to what degree it will withstand water immersion.

The view of the ocular lenses and focus wheel from above. Check out the beautifully applied antireflection coatings as seen in broad daylight.

The reader may be surprised to learn that, unlike the smaller ED models, the larger 8x and 10 x 56 models do not contain ED glass. GPO believe it wasn’t necessary to incorporate extra low dispersion glass in these models because their main use was in low light conditions, when seeing any colour in a given target becomes difficult to discern, so there would be little advantage in employing an ED element which would have significantly increased its production cost. Having enjoyed many hours testing the instrument both in low light situations and under the stars at night, I can only agree with their design philosophy, as I shall report on a little later. All in all, the build quality and ergonomics of this 8 x 56 are exemplary, and quite in keeping with the other models I’ve reviewed from both their ED and HD lines in the past.

The large objective lenses on the GPO Passion 8 x 56; note how the glass almost disappears when viewed from certain angles.

Optical Testing

My first optical test involved shining a bright light source into the binocular and examining the images produced. I detected a few minor reflections but nothing too intrusive. Diffraction spikes were very subdued and there was very little in the way of diffused light around the light source, indicative of good, homogenous glass. Turning the binocular on a bright streetlamp after dark did show a few minor internal reflections as I anticipated, but by and large I was quite happy with the result. Placing the lamp just outside the field of view showed very little in the way of stray light intrusion; an impressive result compared with many other similar tests performed on other binoculars.

Examining the exit pupils also yielded good results, as shown below. The large 7mm exit pupils were perfectly round with little in the way of extraneous light around them. I did pick up some light leaks well away from the pupils though, a consequence of using Abbe Koenig prisms perhaps? Thankfully they appeared to make no material difference to the images garnered by the instrument, in daylight at least.

Left exit pupil.

Right exit pupil: note the arc of light away from the pupil at lower right.

Testing the binocular out on a bright, sunny afternoon revealed very impressive images right from the get-go. The view is razor sharp inside its very large sweet spot, with only a small amount of softening of the images noted near the field stops. Contrast is excellent.  Scanning a large swathe of trees at the edge of a forest proved to be a very comfortable experience and extremely easy on the eyes, with no blackouts or the rolling ball effect, kept under control courtesy of a modest amount of pincushion distortion near the field stops. Colours are very vibrant in this big glass and I immediately noted the warm tone of the images – very much like those I reported on the smaller ED and HD models. Indeed, I had long wondered whether this warm colour tone was a manifestation of the ED glass utilised in the smaller GPO binoculars or just from the coatings used. I now think it has more to do with the latter than the former.

Glare suppression is excellent in the GPO Passion 8 x 56. It stubbornly refused to show any on bright autumnal days, and also on grey overcast days in the open air. Veiling glare was also exceptionally well suppressed in this instrument too; a testament to the excellent coatings applied to the lenses and prisms, as well as the baffling used throughout the optical train. Close focus was also very surprising. I measured it at just 2.14m, so slightly better than the advertised 2.3m. I consider that amazing for such a large glass!  Chromatic aberration was also very well controlled in this unit. There is a small amount visible on high contrast targets, such as imaging the side of a telephone pole against a bright overcast sky. Lateral (off axis) colour is a bit more pronounced in this large aperture instrument though, as I openly expected, but I felt it was perfectly acceptable given the modest price tag of this instrument. Overall, I would rate the daytime images as quite excellent.

Testing its low light capability, I compared and contrasted it with the views through my excellent Opticron Imagic TGA WP 10 x 50 Porro prism binocular. I found the views very comparable until about a half hour before sunset on September evenings, with the 8 x 56 pulling noticeably ahead on selected targets under poorly illuminated hedgerows as the last rays of sunlight dipped below the horizon. By about a 40 minutes after sunset, the 10 x 50 was really struggling in comparison with the 8 x 56.

Under the Stars

I was dying to find out how the GPO Passion 8 x 56 would perform under a dark, clear sky at night, and I wasn’t disappointed here also! In fact, the views were absolutely stunning! The very generous field of view effortlessly frames wonderful star fields. Bright stars such as Vega and Aldebaran are rendered in their natural colours. Chromatic aberration was a non-issue in the inner 50 per cent of the field, and only showing mild splashes of bluish purple as the stars were moved to the outer part of the impressively large field of view. Fainter stars were examined to see how well they maintained their pinpoint sharpness. I was very pleased to see that they remained impressively small and tight across about 75 per cent of the field, with some mild field curvature beginning to show up thereafter. Only in the last 10 per cent of the viewing portal, could I make out  a small amount of astigmatism and coma creeping in.

I was genuinely surprised how long I could hand hold the binocular while scanning the Milky Way through Cygnus, Perseus and Cassiopeia. The low power of 8x definitely helps in this regard. For more serious studies though, I resorted to mounting the instrument on a light weight monopod. Views of the Pleiades and Hyades in Taurus were simply stunning, its impressively high light throughput presenting very faint stars quite invisible to a 42mm model. In fact, this instrument threw up some of the best binocular views of the heavens I have personally experienced. I enjoyed exploring many early autumn open clusters, such as the M36, 37 and 38 spanning the mid-section of Auriga. M 34 in Perseus and the great globular cluster in Hercules (M13) in this large binocular light bucket. Mighty Jupiter, now prominent in our night skies, was dazzlingly bright, with its four giant moons being easily seen. Fiery red Mars was also stunningly presented in Taurus against a jet black sky.  The Alpha Persei Association and Double Cluster in Perseus were breath-taking in this binocular too. Rising up in the wee small hours of late September, I was treated to some extraordinary views of Orion; with the white and blue-white Belt stars shining brilliantly, and below them, the famous Sword Handle of the celestial Hunter, with the magnificent Orion Nebula blazing forth across the light years. The excellent light gathering power of the GPO 8 x 56 allowed me to follow much fainter tendrils of nebulosity than I could make out in a optically excellent 7x 50 Porro prism binocular, though I must concede to yearning at times for a look through its higher power sibling; the 10 x 56, which probably would have totally blown me away lol. All of these experiences only consolidated what I had seen during the day: this is an excellent low light/astronomy binocular that would satisfy the most discriminating of observers.

Bon Voyage!

So, here we have yet another GPO binocular offering exceptional ergonomics and really good optics for a very decent price. I say this in light of a cursory examination of other 8x or 10 x 56 models, built around Abbe-Koenig prisms. The Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 56, for example, has a build quality quite comparable to the GPO Passion, but its field of view is slightly smaller(125m@1000m), its weight slightly heavier(1265g),  its eye relief lower(18mm), its close focus distance much longer(3.5m), and possesses a light transmission of 90 per cent, lower than that of the GPO Passion, even with ED glass. But that instrument retails for more than twice the price of the big GPO light bucket! Or consider the fluorite containing Maven B5 10 x 56 costing a few hundred pounds more than even the Zeiss Conquest HD but with the same light transmission as the GPO Passion(92 per cent or so). Seen in this light, the GPO Passion 8 x 56 offers tremendous bang for buck and absolutely deserves great success in the burgeoning sports optics market.

 

Highly Recommended!

 

 

Dr Neil English explores many more hot bargains in his up-and-coming book, Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Nature Enthusiasts, due out in late 2023. 

My sincere thanks to Steve at First Light Optics for kindly lending me the instrument for field testing.

 

 

De Fideli.

Evaluating a Classic Nikon E 10 x 35.

The Nikon E 10 x 35.

A Work Commenced September 7 2022.

Preamble 

 

If you’ve been following my blog reviews, you’ll be aware of my great affection for the Nikon E II 8 x 30. From the moment I put it to my eyes, I was stunned by the magnificent views it served up: a wonderful, tack sharp, ultra-wide view, rich in contrast and detail, and all with an enchanting 3-dimensionality. That experience got me curious about other small Nikon Porros and I became intensely interested in the now discontinued E series, especially after reading Roger Vine’s glowing report on the Nikon E 8 x 30 linked to in the preamble above. I decided to bite the bullet and purchased a used Nikon E 10 x 35 from a seller based in Tokyo, Japan.

The workmanship that went into the making of the Nikon E 10 x 35 is exemplary.

The seller stated that the instrument was in good condition, with no fungus and a small amount of dust that had made its way inside the instrument. Checking the serial number, I was relieved to see that it was one of the later, multi-coated models, which were manufactured between 1988 and 1998, after which time Nikon introduced their latest, greatest small Porros – the venerable E IIs and SEs. Judging by the numbering – 611675 – I guessed that it was made in the mid -1990s.

The serial number most likely dates this instrument to the mid 1990s.

It took just a week for it to travel from the Far East to my home here in rural central Scotland, and I was very excited about the prospects of holding the instrument in my hands. The binocular was exceptionally well packed, taking what I felt was an eternity to remove all the bubble wrap before I could finally hold it! Straight from the get-go I was extremely impressed with the instrument, coming only with a neck strap of extremely high quality. The instrument looked very lightly used, with no significant scuff marks on the body. I could instantly tell that this instrument was made during an era where craftmanship was at a much higher level than it is today; the beautiful contouring of the solid metal chassis, overlaid by an immaculately applied retro leatherette armouring. As Mr Vine states, you simply don’t get instruments made to these standards today!

The underside of the binocular.

Weighing just 624g without its strap, the instrument feels great in the hands. Like the newer E II models, the eyepieces are fitted with soft rubber and offers decent eye relief for eyeglass wearers. Texture-wise they felt just as firm as the E II, which came as a relief to me, as I had heard that this type of rubber hardens with age. The focus wheel is slightly less refined than on the E II though, feeling significantly stiffer to turn. The opposite was true when I examined the dioptre adjustment mechanism, located under the right ocular. It was significantly easier to move then the E II dioptre ring, but still stiff enough to remain in place firmly during field use.

The objective lenses looked immaculate, with the characteristic green coatings. Ditto for the ocular lenses.

The multicoated objectives are in pristine condition.

View from the ocular end of the instrument.

I was relieved to see that the instrument arrived in excellent collimation. The exit pupils were nice and round, with very little extraneous light around them. Performing my Iphone torch test showed no significant internal reflections, diffused light or diffraction spikes, all characteristic of a well-executed Porro prism design. But I hit a snag when I examined the interior of the binocular from the objective end. Yes, there was a small amount of dust visible on the prisms, a very thin veneer of haze, but also significant fungal growth on the prisms of both barrels – something I was assured was not present by the Tokyo seller.

Saprophytic wee blighters. Top centre. Some haze present also.

Bummer.

Left exit pupil.

Right exit pupil.

Fortunately, the fungal growth and dust didn’t significantly compromise the view. How was it? Well, I can agree with Mr. Vine about its sheer superiority to the classic Zeiss 8 x 30s. Compared with my late 1980s multicoated Zeiss Jenoptem 8 x 30, the Nikon view was indeed much better. 10x in a very well corrected 6.6 degree field offers a unique perspective; at least from my own experiences. Brightness, contrast, glare suppression and sharpness were all very good in this modern classic. And just like my smaller E II, the view is supremely comfortable, with no problems with eye placement and zero issues with blackouts. I disagree with Mr Vine’s claim of 90 per cent transmission though. Maybe at yellow-green wavelengths, but surely not over the entire visible spectrum.

I also disagree with Mr. Vine regarding the ultimate quality of the view; comparing the images of the Nikon E II 8 x 30 to the E 10 x 35, I judged the former superior in terms of contrast and glare suppression. I also compared it to my excellent Opticron Imagic TGA WP 10 x 50, which served up a noticeably brighter and maybe even a tad sharper image, with much better glare suppression and noticeably more vibrant colour renditions. I know this was not a totally fair comparison, as there is a world of difference between a 10 x 50 and a 10 x 35. In bright sunny conditions, the views were quite comparable, but under overcast skies, the 10 x 50 pulled far ahead of it.

A properly executed modern Porro prism binocular can edge out even the greatest of classics. Opticron Imagic TGA WP 10 x 50(left) and the Nikon E 10 x 35(right).

This came somewhat as a shock to me, but in retrospect, modern anti-reflection coatings are just superior to older ones, and there’s no getting around that. The world has moved on. Mr. Vine also stated that to get images in the same league as the E series, you’d have to move to the Swarovski Habicht, Nikon E II or SE series. My comparisons of the Nikon E 10 x 35 with the Opticron Imagic TGA WP proved otherwise.

A Great Night Under the Stars

In the wee small hours of the morning of September 6, I enjoyed sumptuous views of the Hyades in Taurus and right above it, fiery red Mars and the Pleiades. 10x has  been my personal favourite magnification for stargazing of late. It just goes that little bit deeper than a 8x equivalent. I was very impressed by the Nikon E 10 x 35’s wide field of view, with pinpoint stars across most of the field. Near the field stops, you can readily make out some field curvature, which can be focused out to some degree. Moving higher into the sky, the Nikon E served up excellent views of the early autumn Milky Way through Cygnus, Cassiopeia and Perseus. Views of the Double Cluster were also highly captivating, following the curving chain of stars northwards to commune with the lovely starry patch, Stock 2. Later in the season, this will make a nice lightweight binocular to study the winter constellations of Gemini and Orion, both of which are rich in astronomical booty.

Notes form the Field

At home in nature.

I enjoyed one more day with the Nikon E 10 x 35, taking it up to one of my local patches – Culcreuch Pond – where I enjoyed some great views of Mute Swan cygnets learning how to fly. It’s all about mimicry. The adult directs the cygnets to one end of the pond, then takes to flight, keeping low above the water. The cygnets began flapping their wings frantically but as yet, they’ve not mastered the power of the air. I was also lucky enough to watch a magnificent Red Kite circling over the newly cut hay in a nearby field, the 10x glass showing some nice details quite invisible to a 8x equivalent. Close focus was measured to be 3.7 yards – plenty close enough for the vast majority of birding activities. It was during such a time that I thought about what I’d do about this very good modern classic, and I decided on getting it professionally serviced by skilled experts. I wanted to have the fungus removed from the prisms and the optics thoroughly cleansed so that it would enjoy a new lease of life. So I phoned Tony Kay, technical director of OPTREP, based in Selsey on the south English coast( the home of the late Sir Patrick Moore no less), explaining what work needed done to the instrument and whether he was willing to refurbish it for me. To my relief, he accepted. So I fetched my leatherette pouch that came with my Nikon E II 8 x 30, which proved to be a snug fit for the larger 10 x 35 glass, packing it away in a small box with plenty of bubble wrap. The next day, September 7, it was winging its way to his workshop.

Haste ye back!

Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Tony can do to revitalise the Nikon E 10 x 35. Hopefully, I’ll get it back soon, when I’ll provide an update to this blog.

Update: On Saturday September 24, the instrument arrived back safely from its journey to the English south coast. I’m happy to report that the Nikon E 10 x 35 was thoroughly cleaned internally, with no sign of fungus, haze or dust inside the barrels. Collimation was perfect also. All in all, a very happy camper and excited to begin new adventures with this great classic Porro prism binocular from Japan.

The refurbished Nikon E 10 x 35.

I prepared another ‘sarcophagus’ for this instrument to keep it bone dry and free of internal moisture; just in the same way I store my Nikon E II 8 x 30.

The water and air tight container filled with several silica gel desiccant sachets to maintain a bone dry storing compartment for the instrument.

I’ll have more to say about both these instruments in the coming weeks and months, so watch this space.

Thanks for reading!

 

Neil.

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Kowa SV II 8 x 32.

 

The Kowa SV II 8 x 32 package.

A Work Commenced  September 20 2022

 

 

Product: Kowa SV II 8 x 32

Country of Manufacture: Japanese designed, assembled in the Philippines

Exit Pupil: 4mm

Eye Relief: 15.5mm

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

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.68m measured

Chassis: Thick rubber armoured polycarbonate

Coatings: Fully Multicoated, phase correction coating on Schmidt Pechan roof prisms, KR hydrophobic and anti-scratch coatings on outer lenses.

ED Glass: No

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Weight: 565g advertised, 563g measured

Accessories: Soft padded case, quality logoed neoprene neck strap, rubber ocular rain guard and plastic lens covers, instruction manual.

Warranty: 10 years

Price UK: £229.00

 

The Japanese optics company Kowa has earned an excellent reputation among sports optics enthusiasts for over three quarters of a century. Today, they offer an exciting range of binoculars and spotting scopes that constantly push the envelope in ergonomic and optical performance. At the time of writing, Kowa manufacture an impressive array of binoculars to suit most people’s budget, ranging from tiny, pocket-sized binoculars right up to 56mm monsters. The SV series, Kowa’s entry level mid-sized binoculars, were first introduced in 2011, and created quite a splash, with many birders and hunters singing high praises for their innovative design and great optical performance. But in January 2020, Kowa introduced their revamped SV II series, which gives the customer a choice of six models in all – just like the original series  – a 8 x 32, 10 x 32, 8 x 42, 10 x 42 and two 50mm models giving 10x or 12x. I ordered up the 8 x 32 SV II model for testing and evaluation. I’m also delighted to say that it was a very pleasant surprise! To see why, read on!

The Kowa SV II 8x 32 has a very well designed chassis with a distinct ultra-modern accent.

Ergonomics

The binocular arrived inside a padded logoed carry case, which in turn was placed inside a small green box. The instrument has a thick green rubber armouring; very reminiscent of the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 I tested in 2021. The chassis is fashioned from a lightweight but tough polycarbonate substrate and has extra rubber padding around the objective lenses to afford them some extra protection from stray light and the elements. The rubber is beautifully textured and very easy to grip but does attract dust rather easily.

Close up of the textured rubber used on the Kowa SV II 8 x 32. Though it grips well, it does attract dust rather easily.

The eyecups on the Kowa SV II 8 x 32 were also a very pleasant surprise. They have four positions in all and lock into each place with a reassuring ‘click’ sound. I’m also happy to report that the eyecups don’t collapse unless a sizeable force is applied to them. Eye relief is tight though: I struggled to see the entire field with my eyeglasses on. Fortunately, that isn’t an issue for me as I don’t wear glasses while using binoculars. The focus wheel is covered in soft rubber with tear shaped indentations very much like those used on Kowa’s YF range of compact Porros. I judged its tension to be excellent – very smooth with no free play and backlash when rotated in either direction. 1.75 revolutions clockwise brings you from closest focus to just beyond infinity.

Close up of the serial number and country of assembly.

The Kowa SV II 8 x 32 feels great in the hands, as it’s so easy to grip and wrap your hands around. Kowa didn’t skimp on the strap either; it was easy to attach and is nicely padded for comfortable transporting. The exterior lenses are treated to Kowa’s proprietary KR coating to repel water, dirt and oily deposits, and helps protect against accidental scratching.

Check out the extra thick padding around the objectives!

 

There was no cleaning cloth supplied with the instrument however. The ocular rain guard is made from standard rubber, but the objective caps are of the cheap plastic variety. To summarise, I love the thoroughly modern accent of this binocular, which was very thoughtfully designed to be pushed hard in the great outdoors.

Optical testing

I began to test the optics by examining how the instrument handled an intensely bright beam of light from across a room. The results I got were very encouraging. There was very little in the way of internal reflections and ghost images. I did see a weak diffraction spike though, but it was quite subdued compared with other instruments in this price category. There was very little diffused light around the beam, indicating the glass used was of very good quality and of high homogeneity. Later, after dark, I turned the Kowa SV II 8 x 32 on a bright sodium street lamp and, as expected, I got a great result; no ghost images and only the merest trace of a faint diffraction spike. In another test I photographed the light emanating from the exit pupils. The results were excellent as you can see below, with nice dark areas around the perfectly round pupils. So far, so very good!

Left exit pupil.

Right exit pupil.

The view through the Kowa SV II is excellent; very bright, sharp and with really impressive contrast and a lovely hard field stop. Collimation was spot on. The excellent tension on the focus wheel brings the images to a very precise, razor-sharp focus, with absolutely no ambiguity. Colours are vibrant and true to life, presenting with an overall neutral cast to my eyes. The sweet spot is very large, with only the extreme edges of the field showing any significant distortion. This I was able to ascertain by star testing more fully at night. Centring the bright star Vega in the field of view, I was able to monitor how the image changed as it was moved off axis towards the field stops. I was delighted to see that even at the extreme edges, there was only very minor distortion mostly attributed to very mild field curvature. To be honest, I had expected it to fare worse in this regard as the specs of this binocular – 7.8-degree field, 15.5mm eye relief etc – are found on quite a few other models, such as the Svbony SV 202 8 x 32 and the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32, for example, each of which had quite blurry images near the field stops, as my notes showed. This Kowa SV II turned out to be in a completely different league in this regard, with a much flatter outer field.

Glare suppression was also in a completely different league to the aforementioned models but I’d also have to include the Vortex Diamondback HDs here too. The excellent coatings and baffling on these Kowa SV IIs made all the difference in aggressively suppressing both general and veiling glare as revealed after extensive field testing. Close focus was measured to be just 1.68m, considerably better than the quoted 2m stated in the accompanying user manual. Blackouts – caused by spherical aberration of the exit pupil – were pretty much non-existent as well. Overall, I found the views extremely relaxing and engaging; a sure indicator of an optically excellent  instrument.

Though the field of view is fine and wide, one gets the impression that it’s wider than it really is owing to the well corrected outer field. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled despite its non-ED labelling. I could detect the merest trace of it in the centre of the field on the highest contrast daytime targets, and an average level of lateral colour as one moves away from the centre to the periphery of the field of view. There is a modest amount of illumination drop off as targets are moved to the edge of the field. This was easily seen by centring the Pleiades in the binocular field and then moving the celebrated asterism to the field stops.

Portable Pleasure.

In conclusion, the Kowa SV II 8 x 32 is an excellent instrument for birdwatching, nature studies and even for enjoying the showpiece objects of the night sky. For its modest retail price it sure punches well above its weight. At the time of writing, I note that its bigger brother; the 8 x 42 is available for a lower price than then 8 x 32 model. That sounds like one heck of a bargain!

 

Highly recommended!

 

Dr Neil English is currently writing a comprehensive binocular buyer’s guide. Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Nature Enthusiasts hits the bookshelves in late 2023.

 

 

De Fideli.