Old vs New.

How does a classic Zeiss binocular square up to a modern roof prism binocular?

Unlike telescopes, which are mainly used by dedicated amateur astronomers, binoculars, for obvious reasons, are owned and used by a much broader cross section of the general population. When my students get to know me, they will inevitably have to endure my unbridled enthusiasm for optical devices of all kinds lol, and that includes binoculars. One of my mathematics students, Sandy, expressed an unusual interest in some of my instruments, and he further informed me that his parents, who run a small ferrying business at Balmaha, on the shores of nearby Loch Lomond, used several binoculars in their everyday work. My interest was further piqued when Sandy told me that his grandfather owned a big Zeiss binocular, which was inherited by his father and would eventually be passed on to him in the goodness of time. I asked Sandy whether he would be willing to bring the Zeiss binocular by so that I could have a look at it. After checking with his parents, Sandy agreed and kindly allowed me to use it for a week in order that I could assess it and give it a good clean. Naturally enough, I jumped at the opportunity!

The instrument, a Carl Zeiss Jenoptem 10 x 50W porro prism binocular, came in a lovely leather case; a far cry form anything made in this era.

The Zeiss Jenoptem 10x 50W complete with original leather carry case.

The instrument had no lens caps and so had accumulated quite a bit of grime on both the ocular and objective lenses over the years. The Jenoptem, which was manufactured in East Germany(DDR), featured a Zeiss multi-coating, which helped me to date it to after 1978, when the company apparently began to apply their anti-reflection coatings to all the lenses and prisms in the optical train. So my guess is that it was probably acquired in the early 1980s. I believe Zeiss Jena offered a higher quality porro 10 x 50 in the Decarem line around the same period, but I have not had the pleasure of testing one of these units out.

The Zeiss Jenoptem is multi-coated.

The instrument has a very Spartan look and feel about it. Weighing in at about 1 kilogram, the Jenoptem is built like a proverbial tank, with a central focusing wheel and right eye dioptre.Turning the nicely machined metal focusing wheel first clockwise, and then anti-clockwise, all the way through its trave,l showed that it was still in excellent working condition, with zero backlash and bumping that one usually encounters with cheaper porro prism binoculars.

As expected from Zeiss, the Jenoptem has a very well made focuser that moves with silky smoothness and with zero backlash.

To begin the cleaning process, I unscrewed the objective housings from the front of the binocular in order to get at the inside surface of the objective lenses, which had a significant amount of grime as well as a small amount of fungal growth. Using a good quality lens brush, I carefully removed much of the dust before using a microfibre lens cleaning cloth soaked in a little Baader Optical Wonder fluid. In just a few minutes I was able to remove the remaining grime on both the outer and inner surfaces of the binocular objectives, as well as the surfaces of the prisms in the rear module of the instrument. The ocular lenses were also given a good cleaning.

The objectives of the Zeiss Jenoptem can be accessed by uncrewing the front of the binocular from the prism and ocular housing.

I was able to verify that the prisms were indeed coated in the same way as the objectives, although I also discovered that the steel clips holding the prisms in place had rusted significantly over time. I did not attempt to clean the clips, as I judged that doing so might throw the instrument out of collimation.

Note the rusted steel clip holding one of the prisms in place, as well as the anti-reflection coating of the second prism(after cleaning).

The objectives on the Jenoptem after cleaning. Note the anti-reflection coatings.

Seen in broad daylight, I was able to verify that the lens coatings had not suffered much in the way of wearing, looking smooth and evenly applied, giving a bluish or purple cast, depending on the angle of view.

The appearance of the objectives in broad daylight after cleaning.

 

And the ocular lenses.

Optical tests:

After screwing the objective modules back into place, I was now ready to begin my optical tests of this older Zeiss binocular. I compared the views served up by this instrument with those garnered by my Barr & Stroud 10 x 50 Sierra roof prism binocular that I use almost exclusively for astronomical viewing. After setting the right eye dioptre on the Zeiss to suit my own eyes, I started with an iphone torch test to assess how the instruments fared in suppressing glare and internal reflections.

The Zeiss 10x 50W Jenoptem(right) and my Barr & Stroud 10x 50 Sierra roof prism binocular(left).

Because the Zeiss does not have the same close focus (~2m) performance as my Barr & Stroud, I had to place my iphone torch several metres away in my hallway in order to get the Zeiss to focus on its light. As usual, the torch was adjusted to its highest (read brightest) setting. Comparing the two in-focus images, I could see that the Zeiss fared considerably worse than the Barr & Stroud. Specifically, it picked up two fairly bright internal reflections, as well as quite a lot of contrast-robbing diffused light, which rendered the Zeiss image considerably less clean and contrasted in comparison to my control binocular. The difference was quite striking!

After dark, I aimed the binoculars at a bright sodium street lamp and again compared the images served up in both instruments. As expected, the Zeiss showed much more in the way of internal reflections, with a lot of diffused light that produced a fog-like veil around the street lamp. The Sierra 10 x 50 in comparison served up a much more ‘punchy’ image with much better control of internal reflections and far less of the foggy, diffused light evidenced in the Zeiss.

Next, I compared the Zeiss and the Barr & Stroud Sierra on a daylight test, examining a tree trunk in the swing park about 80 yards from my front door. Again, the difference between both instruments was striking! Although the image was very sharp in the Zeiss at the centre of the field, it was noticeably dimmer than the Sierra. That diffused light I picked up in the iphone torch test created a foggy veil that significantly reduced its contrast in comparison to the control binocular. I was also able to discern many more low contrast details in the Sierra owing to its ability to gather significantly more light than the older Zeiss. The colour cast presented by both binoculars was also noteworthy. The Zeiss threw up quite a strong yellowish colour cast  to the Sierra, which showed a much more neutral cast in comparison.

Examining the periphery of the same field also showed that the Sierra was exhibiting a larger depth of focus than the Zeiss, which was quite unexpected, as I had been given to understand that porro prism binoculars in general show more depth of focus than their roof prism counterparts. In addition, the Zeiss showed more distortion at the edges of the field than the control binocular.

The Zeiss Jenoptem has very tight eye relief, which I estimated to be just 10mm. The Barr & Stroud Sierra, in contrast, has much more generous eye relief in comparison- 17mm – making it significantly more suitable for eye glass wearers. Indeed, I found it difficult to image the entire field in the Zeiss, having to move my eyeball around to see the field stops.

In summary, these daylight tests clearly showed that the venerable Zeiss was no match optically for the Barr & Stroud 10 x 50 roof prism I had tested it against. The latter was simply in a different league to the former, no question about it!

Handling in the Field:

The Zeiss is rather big and clunky in my small hands and is more difficult to find that optimal position while viewing for extended periods. Weighing more than 200g more than the Sierra, it is also harder to hold steady. The significantly smaller frame of the Sierra roof prism binocular is much easier to negotiate, and is simply more comfortable to use. In addition, the Zeiss has no provision to mount it on a lightweight tripod or monopod, but the Sierra, like most other modern binoculars, does.

Astronomical tests:

Though the weather proved quite unsettled during the week that I tested the Zeiss, I did get a few opportunities to test it out on the night sky. Once again, I used my Barr & Stroud Sierra 10x 50 roof prism as a suitable control. My first target was a bright, waxing gibbous Moon fairly low in the southern sky. The Zeiss threw up more in the way of internal reflections than the Sierra. The colour cast of the lunar surface appeared more yellow in  the Zeiss compared with the cleaner images of the Sierra. As I expected from my iphone torch tests, the sky immediately arround the Moon was also brighter in the Zeiss, with noticeably lower contrast than the Sierra. Moving the Moon to the edge of the field also showed that the Zeiss threw up more distortions than the Sierra control binocular.

Turning to Vega high in the northwest after sunset produced good on-axis images in both binoculars, but when moved to the edge of the field, the Zeiss threw up that little bit more distortion than the Barr & Stroud Sierra. The same was true when I examined the Pleaides and the Hyades in Taurus.

Conclusions and Implications:

The Zeiss Jenoptem was a good binocular in its day but is clearly inferior in almost every sense to the Barr & Stroud roof binocular used in comparison. 40 years ago, the Zenoptem would have set the average factory worker a whole month’s salary to acquire new. In contrast, the Barr & Stroud Sierra can be had for between £100 and £120 in today’s market.  The value of waterproofing was made manifest in the observation of rusting of some of the metal internal components of the Zeiss. The Sierra, in contrast, is fully waterproof, o-ring sealed and purged with dry nitrogen gas to inhibit internal fogging and corrosion of any metallic components used in its construction.

Enormous advances in optical technology over the last four decades, particularly full broadband multi-coatings applied to all lens and prism surfaces, higher quality optical glass, as well as phase coated prisms on the roof binocular, collectively allow very efficient light transmissions to the eye. This is all the more remarkable since roof prism designs usually have many more optical components than their porro prism counterparts.

Better eregonomics in modern roof prism binoculars as well the employment of strong, low mass polycarbonate housings in their design make them lighter and easier to use than their porro prism counterparts from a generation ago. All of these add to the comfort of using them either during the day or at night when looking at the heavens.

I had a look on ebay to see what these old Jenoptems were being offered for. I found quite a few of them selling for between £150 and £200, so not the high prices demanded by other classic binoculars.

Like with all optical firms, time has marched on, with modern binoculars offering much better performance than earlier models.

This comparison test must have implications for many people who already own or use older binoculars and who have not compared them to modern incarnations. And that’s as true for Zeiss as with any other manufacturer. Indeed, I was quite shocked at how much better my first quality roof prism 8 x 42 roof prism binocular fared compared to an old 7x 50 porro I was gifted back in the early 1990s. Technology has well and truly marched on! And while I like classic instruments just as much as the next guy, I see little point in using any when even modest instruments created in the modern age are likely to perform better than similar instruments made a generation ago. It’s just a hard fact of life.

The technology of the past is certainly interesting but it would be daft to neglect the advances offered in the modern era.

 

I would like to extend my thanks to Sandy and his parents for allowing me to test drive these old binoculars. I will be advising him to use lens caps on the optics when not in use and have also provided a sachet of silica gel dessicant to minimise moisture-induced corrosion of the optic.

 

Neil English discusses all manner of classic telescope technology in his 650+ page historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy(Springer-Nature).

 

De Fideli.

In Search of a Good 8 x 32 Binocular.

Two mid-priced 8 x 32 binoculars compared: the Celestron Trailseeker(left) and the Helios LightWing HR( right).

The march of technology continues apace and never ceases to amaze me. This is especially true when it comes to telescope and binocular optics. You can now buy very decent optics at budget prices that display a level of quality we could only dream of a couple of decades ago. And technologies that were only available on premium optics up to fairly recently are now being offered by companies offering much more economical packages to sate the requirements of the masses.

That’s exactly how I feel about my recent foray into binocular testing. Advances in coating technology, in particular, has allowed many new optical firms to offer products that are edging ever closer to the performance levels only available on premium models until recently. Even entry-level roof prism binoculars feature decent anti-reflection coatings on all optical surfaces(which can be as many as 30 in a good roof prism binocular), as well as phase correction technology that significantly increase contrast, accurate colour rendition and image brightness. These less expensive models used either aluminium or silver coatings to boost light transmissions to as high as 80 to 85 per cent, but one can now obtain very economically priced models that also feature super-high reflectivity, broadband dielectric coatings that have increased light transmission to above 90 per cent, in touching distance of the most expensive, premium binoculars money can buy.

Unfortunately, many amateurs who enjoy using quality binoculars mistakenly conflate high-level optical performance with the introduction of extra low dispersion (ED) glass, but the truth is that such an addition contributes little to the quality of the optical experience. Much more significant is the use of higher quality coatings that significantly increase both the brightness and contrast of the images, which in turn enables one to see those finer details, thereby boosting resolution(perhaps this is why the Helios has HR in its name?). Of course, many(but not all) premium binocular manufacturers use a combination of ED glass elements and the finest dielectric coatings, making it all the more difficult for the user to assess the relative importance of either component. But I was able to explore and confirm the dramatic effects of the latter by putting a couple of  mid-priced 8 x 32 compact roof prism binoculars through their paces; a Helios LightWing HR and a Celestron Trailseeker(both pictured above), both of which feature premium quality dielctric coatings on the prism surfaces as well as high-quality broadband anti-reflection coatings on the multiple lenses and prisms used in their construction. Neither instrument contains ED glass elements however. For more on this, check out this short youtube presentation by an experienced glasser and binocular salesman describing one of the models I will be evaluating in this blog(the Helios LightWing),  and who formed the same conclusions as this author.

Both instruments were acquired from the same source, Tring Astronomy Centre. Their friendly and knowledgeable staff have offered exceptional service with a number of past purchases and I had thus no hesitation approaching them again for the acquisition of these 8 x 32 compact binocular models.

The first model I acquired was the Helios LightWing HR 8 x 32, which set me back £127 plus £5 to ensure an expedited delivery of the package within 24 hours of ordering. As soon as it arrived, I inspected the contents, which included the binocular with a rain guard, soft carry case, a lens cloth and generic(read single page instruction sheet) and padded neck strap. Within minutes of its arrival, I had the binocular out of its case to perform my iphone torch test in my living room to see how well an intense beam of white light behaved as it passed through the instrument. As I outlined in a few previous blogs, such a test is extraordinarily sensitive, showing up even the slightest stray reflections in the field of view and revealing how well the optical components suppressed the tendency of the light to diffuse across the field, reducing contrast as it does. Well, to my great relief, the result was excellent! Despite the torch being set at its highest setting in a darkened room, the Helios LightWing HR showed only the feeblest level of ghosting on axis. What is more, there was no difraction spikes or diffused light in the field! The image was exceptionally clean. Indeed, comparing the result to my control binocular, a Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42, which also exhibits exceptional stray light control, the Helios was providing even better results!

To put this in some additional context, the torchlight test result for the Helios 8 x 32 was better than my Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 pocket binocular and a Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42, as I recall from my notes!

I now had a new standard by which to measure all other binoculars!

The same was also true when I placed the light beam just outside the field of view. Only a very minimal amount of glare was seen in the field.

The Helios LightWing HR 8x 32 revealed exceptional control of stray light and annoying internal reflections.

Wow!

This told me that the binocular ought to produce very high contrast images in even the most demanding conditions, either by day, glassing in strongly backlit scenes, or at night, when looking at bright light sources, such as artificial street lighting or a bright Moon. No doubt, this is attributed to a variety of factors including excellent multi-layer coatings on all optical surfaces, as well as a sound knowledge of how to adequately baffle the instrument.

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Note to the reader: My pet peeve is seeing excessive glare and strong ghosting from internal reflections in a binocular image. Indeed, I am quite intolerant of it! Moreover, I usually dismiss any reviews that do not test for this phenomenon. Unfortunately, that also entails taking the majority of user reviews I read online with a large dose of salt!

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Examining the Helios, I noted the unusual colour cast of the anti-reflection coatings on both the objective and ocular lenses. They seemed to be immaculately applied! I also noted how the objectives were recessed very deeply; with ~ 10mm of overhang. This is a very good(and often overlooked!) design feature, as it cuts down on peripheral glare during bright daylight observations and also affords considerable protection from dust and rain.

The unusual colour cast of the anti-reflection coatings of the Helios LightWing objective lenses.

Mechanical assessment: The Helios is very well constructed. The chassis is fabricated from a magnesium alloy which combines light weight(500g) with good mechanical strength. This is an unsual offering in such a low-cost instrument, with cheaper polycarbonate or even ABS plastic being the rule rather than the exception on models offered at this price point. The central hinge had enough tension to maintain my particular IPD but I would have liked it to be just a little bit stiffer(just like my wonderful Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42). I found handling the binocular to be unusually tricky, as the rubber eyes needed to attach the neckstrap protrude from the barrels a little too much, making it rather more awkward to get the binocular comfortably placed in my hands while observing.

The focus wheel is very large in relation to the overall size of the instrument. Indeed, I thought it was a little too large! Although I could get a good grip, rotating it showed that it was somewhat clunky and offered unusual resistance to movement. In contrast, the dioptre ring moved with silky smoothness, and you can actually see the right ocular field lens moving as you rotate it!

The buttery smooth right-barrel dioptre ring is a joy to adjust.

The eyecups are rather stiff but do extend upwards with two clickstops. With an eye relief of 15.6mm, eyeglass wearers will find it difficult to image the entire field. Fortunately for me though, this wasn’t a problem, as I don’t wear eye glasses while glassing. The cups are made from quality metal covered by a soft rubber-like material. They are very firm and hold their positions securely even when undue pressure is applied to them. Overall, a very nice touch!

The chassis is covered by a rather thin rubberised skin, which was somewhat thinner than I’ve seen on a variety of other binoculars I’ve sampled. As a result, it has slightly less friction while man handling, which can prove important, especially if used for prolonged periods in the field. It also means that it would wear down that little bit faster after extended use.

The Helios can be attached to a tripod or monopod for increased stability via the built-in bush located between the barrels, toward the front of the instrument.

Optical daylight testing: Scanning some autumn leaves in my back garden confirmed what I had witnessed in the torchlight test. The image was very bright and tack sharp with wonderful contrast and colour fidelity. There was nary a trace of chromatic aberration( which continues to affirm my belief that ED glass is unnecessary: -a marketing gimmick? – for such small, low power binoculars). However, this was only true in the central 50 per cent of the field. The outer part of the field became progressively softer with the edge being out of focus. Examining a telephone pole about 25 yards in the distance unveiled very strong field curvature as it was moved from the centre to the edge of the field of view.

I hit another snag when I attempted to image the Fintry hills about a mile in the distance. The focus wheel was racked to the end of its natural focus travel but I still could not quite reach a sharp focus. Adjusting the dioptre ring on the right barrel allowed me to just get there but the left barrel was still not sharply focused. After dark, I did a test on the bright star Vega, which unfortunately confirmed my daylight tests. Although I could achieve pinpoint sharp images in the right barrel, the left barrel showed that the star was badly bloated. Another test on the Moon showed the same thing. The right barrel gave a razor sharp image with exceptional contrast and no internal reflections or diffused light around it, but the image at the edge was badly out of focus.

The whole experience left me somewhat bewildered. Why expend so much effort into applying state-of-the art coatings into a binocular with nice mechanical features, only to see excessive field curvature in the outer part of the field? It just didn’t make sense! I mean, Helios could have made the field a little smaller(it has a true field of 7.8 degrees) with sharper edge definition and I would have been happy.  In reallity you see, I had been spoiled by the nearly flat fields presented by my Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42(and over a larger field to boot- 8.2 degrees), as well as those presented by my Zeiss Terra pocket and my other models with aspherical ocular lenses. Needless to say I was disappointed and decided to contact the staff at Tring the same evening, explaining my findings.

Next morning, they contacted me, apologising for the defective optic, as well as suggesting that I could have a replacement Helios LightWing, or try a Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32, which apparently had very similar specifications to the former. Now, I had a bad experience with an 8 x 25 Celestron Nature DX(an entry-level roof prism binocular) which showed far too much glare and internal reflections for my liking. But I had a good look at the specifications on the Celestron Trailseeker models, which were recently discounted by 20 per cent and were now being offered at the same price as I had paid for the Helios LightWing. After some deliberation, I decided to accept their offer of trying the Trailseeker. And to their credit, Tring shipped out the binocular, together with a return label for the Helios, the same day, and I received it less than 24 hours later!

How about that for customer service!

The Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 package.

With some trepidation, I opened the package and inspected its contents. First impressions looked good. I received the binocular, a much higher quality carry case, a binocular harness, tethered rubber objective caps and rain guard, a decent quality padded neck strap, a lens cleaning cloth and a comprehensive instruction manual dedicated to the Trailseeker  line of binoculars( in five languages).

The Trailseeker binocular specifications looked very similar to the Helios, which included the application of premium-quality phase and dielectric coatings, a 7.8 degree field (136m @1000m), Bak-4 prisms, o-ring sealed, dry nitrogen purged, making it fog proof and water proof(though to what extent was not revealed). And just like the Helios, the Trailseeker can be mounted on a tripod or monopod.

As with the Helios, the Trailseeker has very deeply recessed objectives (again about 10mm) but the anti-reflection coatings looked different in daylight;

The Trailseeker also has deeply recessed objective lenses but the coatings appeared different.

Just like the Helios, the Celestron Trailseeker has a rugged magnesium alloy chassis but the focus wheel is significantly smaller. Weighing in at just 450g, it is 50g less bulky than the Helios. The Trailseeker build quality is excellent; rugged, much easier to handle than the Helios and overall having better ergonomics. The tough, rubberised covering has better grip than the Helios too, and small thumb indentations on the belly of the instrument makes it that little bit more comfortable to hold in the hand.

Nicely placed thumb indents on the underside of the Trailseeker make handling that little bit more intuitive.

Well, you can guess what I did next; yep, I set up my iphone torch, turned it up to its brightest setting and placed it in the corner of my living room with the curtains pulled to cut off much of the daylight. With a good close focus of about 6.5 feet, eagerly I aimed the Trailseeker binocular at the light and examined the image.

Drum roll……………………………………….

An excellent result! Internal reflections were minimal, diffused glare was all but absent and diffraction spikes were very subdued. Comparing the Trailseeker to my Barr & Stroud Savannah 8x 42 control binocular showed that it was on par with it. What a relief! To be honest, I had some reservations about the Celestron, owing to my unfavourable experience with the cheaper Nature DX model, and so I half expected that they might skimp on this important process. But no, they did a very good job! So far, so very good!

I was also impressed with the mechanical attributes of the Trailseeker, which is difficult to ascertain vicariously without man handling it. Though quite conservative in design, the eyecups are of high quality(metal over rubber) but have a nice feel about them. They twist up much more easily than those on the Helios and have two settings. Like the Helios, the eye relief is pretty tight(15.6mm) for eye glass wearers but is plenty good enough for those who observe without glasses.They do not budge even when considerable force is applied to them. I would rate their quality as very high, so much so that I don’t think I will have much in the way of problems with them going forward.

The metal-over rubber eyecups of the Celestron Trailseeker are a good step up from the Nature DX models and feel very secure while glassing.

The focus wheel has a ‘plasticky’ feel about it but unlike the Helios, infinity focus does not lie at the extreme end of the focus travel. This is actually useful for ‘focusing out’ some of the aberrations at the extreme edge of the field. Unlike other user reviews of the Trailseeker, the focus wheel on the unit I received was quite stiff to operate out of the box but this will surely loosen up with more use. Rotating the focuser both clockwise and anti-clockwise revealed little or no backlash or bumpy spots that you often encounter on cheaper binoculars. Some users balk at the idea of using a plastic focuser but I cannot for the life of me understand why it would make much difference. I mean, if it works, it works! What’s to give?

The focus wheel on the Trailseeker is nothing out of the ordinary but does work well in field use.

The dioptre ring is located under the right eyecup. It rotates smoothly with just the right amount of friction.

Optical daylight testing: As I’ve illustrated above, good mechanical design and great control of stray light don’t count for much if the images don’t deliver. So I was eager to see how the Celestron Trailseeker behaved when looking ’round the landscape. Accordingly, I examined the same autumn leaves in my back garden set a few tens of yards away. This time, the results were very much more encouraging! The leaves focused beautifully, throwing up excellent brightness, contrast and sharpness with a much wider sweet spot than in the Helios, which I estimated to be about 70 per cent of the field.  I could immediately tell that there was much less field curvature in this binocular than in the Helios, allowing me to sharpen up the edge of field definition with only minor tweaking of the focus. This much reduced field curvature was also apparent when I examined the same telephone poll I observed with the Helios. Instead of the strong off-axis distortions I encountered with that instrument, as the pole was moved from the centre to the periphery of the field, the Trailseeker proved much more forgiving.

What a relief!

Having said all of this, there was more off-axis field curvature in the Trailseeker than in my Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42, which, in comparison, throws up a wider and flatter field nearly all the way to the edge. As I’ve said many times before, the Savannah is a phenomenal operator given its very modest price tag. Perhaps some of the drooling gayponauts reading this blog right now could get off their fat backsides and confirm it!

Nah, probably too much to ask!

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 wide-angle binocular; an existential threat to the hubris of thieving gayponauts.

Nightime testing:

After dark, the Trailseeker delivered excellent results on artificial street lights, just as my torchlight tests reliably anticipated. There was no annoying glare, internal reflections and the diffraction spikes were small and very subdued. Turning the instrument on a low Moon skirting the horizon showed wonderful sharpness on axis, with well above average contrast. And when I placed the Moon at the edge of the field, it remained quite sharp, though visibly softened by a small amount of field curvature. Needless to say, it was in a completely different league to the Helios in this regard!

Later in the night, with the Moon having set, I examined the appearance of the large and sprawling Alpha Persei Association located nearly overhead at the time. This provided an excellent test of how its many bright stellar members would behave from the centre of the binocular field to the field stop. To my relief, the stars remained acceptably small and sharp across the entire field, with the stars at the edge of the field requiring only a small tweak in focus to improve their definition. They did not balloon to stupidly large sizes like I observed in the Helios.

Turning the binocular on the Hyades in Taurus gave very pleasing results too. Contrast was excellent with its many colourful stellar components remaining acceptably small and crisp even at the edges of the field.

I considered these results to be very acceptable. This is one small binocular that can be used profitably for nightime observations!

A Walk in the Countryside with the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32

Although the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 is a small, high-quality and lightweight instrument, it is not readily pocketable, unless you have a coat that has rather large and deep receptacles. Having tried a few 8 x 32 binoculars, I personally find them a little awkward to use in comparison to my two favourite pocket binoculars like my Opticron Aspheric LE and my Zeiss Terra(both of which are 8 x 25 formats) or a larger instrument such as my 8 x 42. I just find the 8 x 32 format a bit kludgy in my rather small hands. That said, the 8 x 32 seems to be a popular choice for birders and other nature enthusiasts, who tire of schlepping around a larger instrument for hours on end. In good light, there’s no real advantage in using a larger format binocular and so I tend to use my pocket binos most often. But if you are observing in low light conditions, such as a dull, overcast winter day, late in the evening or early in the morning, the 8 x 32 would definitely be a better choice. I have verified this wisdom by comparing the views through my  8 x 25 Terra and the 8 x 32 Trailseeker at dusk, where the brighter images served up by the latter are plainly in evidence. And because you have a relative abundance of good quality light to play with, you can see more details in the image. Shimples!

Choosing a small binocular is a deeply personal choice that you can only decide on after trying them in the field.

The consensus view is that larger binoculars are more comfortable to use since their larger ocular lenses make it easier to place your eyes in the correct position to see and immerse yourself in the field of view. I believe there is definitely some truth in this, but in the end it’s really about what you get used to. I personally have no trouble lining up my eyes with the smaller eye lenses on my pocket binos, so I never see this as being much of an issue.

Enjoying the rich colours of autumn on a hill walk overlooking Fintry.

All that having been said, the Trailseeker 8 x 32 is a very handy companion on my daily two-mile ramble ’round Culcreuch Castle Estate, which has some extensive wooded areas, a fast-flowing river, numerous small brooks, open fields which extend towards the surrounding hills and a small pond, where I enjoy watching the antics of a variety of water-loving avian species. The field of view is very generous at 7.8 degrees, which is quite large as most 8 x 32 binoculars go, though some models sport still larger fields in excess of 8( ~ >140m@1000m) angular degrees. The razor sharp optics on the Trailseeker has given me many wonderful views of golden autumn leaves glistening in weak November sunshine. I especially love to stand under a tree and glass the branches above me, focusing in on their wondrously complex contours. The low autumn Sun this time of year illumines the trunks of the trees in the wooded areas around the estate, highlighting the wonderful texture of the tree bark and the play of light upon the lichens and mosses that live symbiotically with it.

If time is not against me, sometimes I like to stop and focus in on a stretch of water flowing from the numerous small streams that feed into the Endrick, imaging the contours of rocks laden with fallen leaves and closing in on the foamy organic bubbles that swarm along the fast-flowing stretches. And when the Sun shines on the water, I can feast my eyes on the beautiful and intense reflections emanating from its surface. This is where glare control is paramount, as even a small amount of light leakage can ruin an otherwise compelling binocular scene.

Binoculars have come a very long way since their founding days. I find it amazing that one can acquire quality optics and durable mechanics like this at such keen prices. The Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 has been a very pleasant surprise, combining wonderful ergonomics with state-of-the-art optical science. I think a lot of people will enjoy it.  And now that its price has come down significantly, this is a good time to grab yourself a real bargain and enjoy the wonders of nature up close and deeply personal.

Just in case……………..

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Neil English has fallen in love with what binoculars have revealed to him, and is seriously thinking of compiling a larger portfolio of  binocular experiences for a future book-length treatise on their various applications.

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: The Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8 x 25 Pocket Binocular.

A fine compact binocular at a fair price.

Tiny little pocket binoculars have grown on me.They can be supremely useful to those who value or need ultra-portability, when larger binoculars simply are unworkable. Their tiny size ensures that they can be carried in a pocket or a small pouch, where they can accompnay hikers, hunters, sports enthusiasts, bird watchers and nature lovers who delight in seeing the full glory of God’s created order. Frustrated by a lack of any credible reviews of a variety of models, I began a ‘search out and test ‘ program that would teach me to select models that offered good optical and mechanical performance, as well as good value for money.  As you may appreciate, this was far easier said than done, but in the end, I did find a model that I could trust to deliver the readies; enter the Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8x 25 binocular.

Retailing for between £120 and £130 ( ~$175 US), the little Opticron pocket binocular didn’t come cheap. But good optics and mechanics are worth having, especially if the user intends to employ the instrument on a regular basis. As I explained, I chose this model based on the performance of a first generation Opticron Aspheric that I had purchased some time ago for my wife, possessing identical optical specifications to this newer model, but without having the additional advantage of being nitrogen purged, as well as being water and fog proof. In truth, I chose the original model without much in the way of research and with very little experience of what the market offered; Opticron is a good make, trusted by many enthusiasts for delivering good optical performance at a fair price.

Opticron began trading back in 1970, founded as a small British family firm, and offering binoculars, spotting scopes and other related sports optics for the nature enthusiast. Since those founding days, Opticron has continued to innovate, where it now is a major player in this competitive market, offering well made products catering for the budgets of both novices and discerning veterans alike. And while some of their less expensive models are made in China, many of their high-end products are still assembled in Japan.

What you get.

What your cash buys you: The Opticron was purchased from Tring Astronomy Centre. It arrived double-boxed and with no evidence of damage in transit. You get the binocular with both ocular and objective covers, a high quality neoprene padded case, a comprehensive instruction manual & warranty card. The details of that all-important warranty are shown below:

Details of the warranty.

After a few days of intensive testing I was satisfied that I had received a high quality instrument and so I elected to register my binocular on the Opticron website.Owners are not obligated to register the instrument in this way however, as all that is required is proof of purchase, should any issue arise with the instrument in normal use.

Binocular Mechanics: The Optricron Aspheric LE WP 8 x 25 is a classically designed pocket binocular with a double-hinge designed allowing the instrument to fold up into a very small size that can be held in the palm of your hand. The hinges have just the right amount of tension, opening up and holding their position even if held with one hand.

The focuser is slightly larger than the first-generation model, and has better grip, allowing you to use it even while wearing gloves. The barrels and bridge of the binocular are made from aluminium, overlaid with a tough, protective rubberised armouring. Compared to the first-generation model,  the new incarnation induces more friction with your fingers, an important feature if it is to be used for extended periods of time.

The New Opticron Aspheric LE is now water and fog proof.

Initially, I found that turning the focuser to be a bit on the stiff side, but after a few days of frequent use, I became used to it. Turning the focuser either clockwise or anticlockwise showed that there was no backlash, moving smoothly in either direction. The instrument has an integrated neoprene lanyard which can be wound up around the bridge while being stored in its case. I very much like this rather understated feature, as there is no need to fiddle about attaching a strap. Out of the box, it’s ready to use!

Using the Optricon Aspheric LE WP is child’s play; just twist up the eyecups and they click into place. There are no intermediate settings. If you wear glasses, leave the eyecups down.

The twist-up eyecups have a soft rubberised overcoat which are supremely comfortable on the eyes. There are just two positions; fully down or fully up. Once twisted up, the cups lock in place and rigidly stay in place with a click. Eye relief is very generous(16mm), allowing eye glass wearers to engage with the entire field. I don’t use glasses while observing through binoculars, so I always pop the eyecups up while viewing through them. Optimal eye placement is very easy to find quickly, thanks to the large field lens, with none of the annoying blackouts I experienced on a few lesser models.

The dioptre setting is located in a sensible place; right under the right eyecup. A small and very elegantly designed protruding lever on the dioptre ring makes it very easy to rotate either clockwise or anti-clockwise. It works well and stays in place even after repeatedly removing the instrument in and out of its small carry case.

An elegant design feature; a small protruding lever under the right eyecup makes it easy to adjust the dioptre setting.

I measured the interpupillary(IPD) range to be between 32 and 75mm, ample enough to accommodate most any individual. Moreover, the well designed dual hinges on the bridge ensure that once deployed they stay in place with little or no need to micro-adjust while in use. The Opticron pocket binocular weighs in at just over 290 grams.

If the Opticron Aspheric pocket binocular were a car, it would surely be an Aston Martin.

Optical Assessment: Although this tiny binocular does not have a stalk to allow it to be mated to a monopod or tripod, I was able to assess how well collimated it was by resting the binocular on a high fence, and examining the images of a rooftop some 100 yards in the distance, checking to see that the images in the individual barrels were correlated both horizontally and vertically. This was sufficient to affirm that the binocular was indeed well collimated.

During daylight hours, the binocular delivers very bright and colour-pure images thanks to a well made optical system which includes properly applied multi-coatings on all optical surfaces, good baffling aginst stray light and silver coated prisms(boosting light transmission to 95-98 per cent). The binocular also has correctly executed phase coatings on the prisms to assure that as much light as possible reaches the eye. Sharpness is excellent across the vast majority of the field, with the aspherical optics minimising off-axis aberrations including pincushion distortion and field curvature. I wouldn’t be surprised if the overall light transmission is of the order of 80 to 85 per cent(revised in light of the tranmissitivity of the Zeiss Terra ED pocket glass with a light tranmsission of 88 per cent).

One of my pet peeves is seeing glare in the image when the binocular is pointed at a strongly backlit scene. I was delighted to see that apart from very slight crescent glare  when pointed near the Sun, the images generally remained stark and beautifully contrasted. These good impressions were also confirmed by more stringent tests conducted indoors by aiming the pocket binocular at my iphone torch set to its maximum  brightness. These tests showed that although there was some weak internal reflections  and flare, they were well within what I would consider acceptable. At night, I was able to see that when the binocular was aimed at some bright sodium street lamps, only very slight ghosting was evident. Finally, aiming the 8 x 25 at a bright full Moon revealed lovely clean images devoid of any on axis flaring and internal reflections. Placing the Moon just outside the field did show up some flaring however, but I deeemed the result perfectly acceptable. You can chalk it down that these results are excellent, especially considering the modest pricing of the instrument.

Colour correction was very well controlled in both daylight and nightime tests on a bright Moon. On axis, it is very difficult to see any chromatic aberration but does become easier to see as the target is moved off axis. That said, secondary spectrum was minimal even in my most demanding tests, affirming my belief that a well-made achromatic binocular can deliver crisp, pristine images rich in contrast and resolution.

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An interesting aside: My former colleague at Astronomy Now, Ade Ashford, reviewed a larger Opticron binocular- the Oregon 20 x 80 – for the October 2019 issue of the magazine. In that review, featured on pages 90 through 94, he confirmed what I had previously stated about larger binoculars with powers up to 20x or so; there is no need to use ED glass if the binocular is properly made and this goes for both daylight viewing and nightime observations. Below is Ashford’s assessment of the 20 x 80’s daylight performance:

And here are his conclusions:

Moreover, Ashford offers this sterling advice to the binocular enthusiast:

” …..don’t get hung-up on ED glass instruments. A well-engineered achromatic model will perform well, particularly if it uses Bak-4 prisms and its optical surfaces are multi-coated throughout.”

pp 91

Having ED glass counts for nothing if the binocular is not properly made. I would much rather have a well made achromatic instrument than have a poorly constructed model with super duper objective lens elements.

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A fine quality pocket binocular in the plam of your hand.

My Little Aston Martin:

The little Opticron has already accompanied me on a few hill walks, a Partick Thistle FC( sad, I know!) testimonial and numerous rambles near my rural home, where it has delivered wonderful crisp images that never fail to delight. The field of view(5.2 degrees) is a little on the narrow side as pocket binoculars go, but its plenty wide enough for most applications and besides, the distortion free images nearly from edge to edge quickly override any perceived handicap of having a restricted viewing field.

Its tiny size and lack of garish colouring make it the ideal instrument to bring along to sports events, where it doesn’t attract attention from fellow crowd members. The Opticron is also a most excellent instrument to examine colourful flowers, butterflies and other marvels of nature near at hand, thanks to its excellent close focus; measured to be ~51 inches.And because its waterproof, it would also make an excellent companion while sailing or fishing.

The Opticron pocket binocular comes with a very high quality padded pouch to protect the instrument from any kind of rough handling.

Of course, the power of a small, high-quality pocket binocular quickly dwindles as the light begins to fade in the evening, or during the attenuated light before dawn, where a larger field glass really comes into its own. A little pocket binocular like this is far from the ideal instrument for viewing the night sky, but it can still be used for the odd look at the Moon, a starry skyscape or brightly lit cityscape.

I consider weatherproofing to be a sensible and worthwhile addition to any binocular and is certainly welcome on this second generation Opticron Aspheric. The instrument is purged with dry nitrogen gas at a pressure slightly higher than atmospheric pressure. This positive pressure helps to keep out dust and marauding fungi, and the sensibly inert nature of nitrogen ensures that internal components(including the silver coated prisms), will not tarnish or oxidise any time soon. This will only serve to increase the longevity and versatility of the binocular in adverse weather conditions, especially in my rather damp, humid climate. When not in use, I have taken to storing all my binoculars in a cool ( ~60 F) pantry with silica gel dessicant inside their cases. Yep, all my instruments are in it for the long haul.

Quality you can wear.

The Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8 x 25 is an excellent example of how a well made, achromatic binocular can deliver wonderful, sharp and high-contrast images. It is more expensive than many other pocket binoculars, but you most certainly get what you pay for.

 Thanks for reading!

Neil English’s new title, The ShortTube 80; A User’s Guide, will hit the bookshelves in early November 2019.

 

De Fideli.

N=2: Why I’m the Very Proud User of a Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 Binocular.

An alpha binocular in many ways, except for the price.

Semptember 9, 2019

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is something in a name.

In my ongoing investigation into binoculars, I’ve discovered that, like telescopes, you don’t always get what you pay for. In particular, if a product offers advanced optical features like a full multi-coating on all air to glass surfaces, ED elements, or phase corrected roof prisms, it doesn’t necessarily translate into a solidly functioning optic. I’ve tested products purported to have premium optics but upon inspection, did not deliver all the goodness that they were promising in cleverly devised youtube promos and fancy specification sheets etc.

One company that has bucked this trend is Barr & Stroud, a once prestigious optical and engineering firm, established in Glasgow, Scotland, that at one time supplied all manner of optical instruments to the British navy during two world wars. Like many other large optical firms established in Britain, it underwent considerable re-structuring over the decades. Today, the brand name is owned by Optical Vision Limited(OVL) and began producing binoculars for the civilian market in 2011, moving production to China.

My enthusiasm for the brand began just a year ago(2018), when I initiated testing a variety of their binoculars in different price ranges. Like many others who have looked through their instruments, I was duly impressed by the incredible bang for buck of their offerings, with optics that punched well above their modest price tags.

Of particular note is the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42, which delivered wonderful, wide-field, high-contrast and colour pure images of the Creation. Unlike other brands in the same price range, which offered so-so performance, especially off-axis, these binoculars maintained excellent control of the same aberrations. The massive 8.2 degree field of these 8x glasses is sharp across the vast majority of the field, with only the extreme edges showing significant distortion.

My first Savannah was actually purchased on the second-hand market, and that out of sheer curiosity. Expecting such a wide angle binocular to show average optical quality as one moves off axis(like so many others I’ve tested), I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that this excellent image quality was being maintained to the extreme edge of the field. Indeed, the view, in retrospect, was almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, the dioptre ring, which is situated in a very unusual place on this binocular (just ahead of the large focus wheel) developed a fault, which necessitated its return to OVL for repair. What I actually received was a brand-new instrument and so I was able to asess the performance of two samples of the Barr & Stroud Savannah that inspired the writing of this blog.

Two great performers: the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah(left) and the 10 x 50 Sierra(right).

Built like a proverbial tank, the fully weatherproof and nitrogen purged Savannah 8 x 42 is heavier than many competing models on the market. Indeed, at 819 grams, it even weighs more than my 10 x 50 Barr & Stroud Sierra binocular (which also delivers excellent optics and mechanics for the buck). Outwardly, the Savannah has a rather Spartan look and feel about it, with features that are simple and rather understated. The eye cups are of very high quality, which can be set to three positions, and with a very generous 18mm eye relief, is ideal for eye glass wearers and those who like to observe without glasses. When twisted up, they click into place with a reassuringly loud “thwack” sound, and which remain in that position even after excess pressure is applied. Indeed, I rate these eyecups very highly and amongst the best that I have sampled thus far in my binocular education.

The high quality multi-coatings on the 42mm objective lenses of the Savannah. The reader will also note how deeply recessed the objectives are. This helps suppress glare in bright, daylight conditions.

The focus wheel is large and moves smoothly without any stiction, either clockwise or anti-clockwise, making it easy to change the position of best focus from as close as 2 metres to beyond infinity. The tension is just right; not too stiff and not too slack.

All the accessories that come with the Savannah are of high quality; including a hard black clamshell case, a padded neck strap with the B&S logo and rubber objective and eyepiece lens caps that can be affixed to the binocular and so are not easily lost in routine field use. The instrument also comes with the company’s 10-year warranty.

The large and responsive focus wheel on the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42.

The new binocular turned out to be every bit as good optically than the first one I returned! Indeed, it could even be that little bit better! Images are bright and razor sharp, rich in contrast and colour pure. Though it contains no ED elements, the instrument shows only a trace of chromatic aberration, and only if you go looking hard for it. Like I said before, I don’t consider the presence of ED glass as a feature that is necessary on binoculars of this specification. Crank up the power nearer to the resolving magnification, and it’s a different story. But in this realm, what I’m more interested in, and which is far more important in the scheme of things, is how well the binocular is put together.

Roofs are complex instruments, requiring engineering skill and very careful assembly of the components. Some firms know how to do it well, others don’t…..methinks.

The high quality twist up eyecups on the Savannah click securely into place with a loud “thwack” sound. Note the tough, texturised rubber amouring covering the instrument.

My assessment of binocular optics involves the usual procedures employed by other reviewers, but I have also devised much more demanding tests to learn how well the light is being transmitted though the optical train.  What I have discovered is that many purportedly high-end roof prism binoculars (based solely on their recommended retail price) often show considerable flaring and annoying internal reflections when observing strongly backlit daylight scenes. In addition, night time testing on bright artificial street lights and the full Moon also provide solid clues as to what is going on inside the test binocular(which unfortunately, are all hermetically sealed!!).

One particularly stringent test is to direct an intensely bright beam of light from my iphone into the binocular to see how it deals with glare and internal reflections. No roof prism binocular, no matter how well made, can completely pass these tests;

All fall short:- but what astonished me was how well they were suppressed in the Savannah 8 x 42. Unlike many other models, which reveal too much glare and bright ghosting across the field, both my 10 x 50 and 8 x 42 Barr & Stroud instruments came out with truly excellent results! In particular, the degree of glare suppression and control of internal reflections present in the Savannah was fully the equal of a world class binocular: – in this case, the Swarovski 10 x 42 EL Range:. Where you will often pick up diffraction spikes and flaring from bright street lighting in an inferior instrument, as well as contrast-robbing diffused light around such artificial light sources (not to mention internal reflections), my new Savannah 8 x 42 shows up very little. This is easily seen in regular daylight testing, where the images thrown up by the instrument show very high contrast, allowing very fine details to be easily discerned.

Performing a small, bright light test in the comfort of my living room. Note the small amount of daylight left in the room to asist imaging objects immediately behind and around the light source(my iphone torch).

I thought long and hard about why such an economical instrument offered such unreasonably excellent control of stray light, and then I remembered how the same company made high-quality optical instruments for the British navy. Out at sea, where sunlight is strongly reflected off the water, glare suppression would have been a high priority for any optic used for long distance surveillance. Although it remains an interesting conjecture on my part, it could be that the technicians who assemble such binoculars have specialised knowledge on how to keep those internal light leaks at bay. Afterall, once upon a time, not doing so might well have made all the difference between life and death!

Some important details coming through on the focussing wheel. The ocular lenses are hard coated for extra durability.

Whatever the reasons for such optical excellence, the wonderful colour correction, contrast and suppression of stray light make the 8 x 42 Savannah binocular an excellent choice for birders and naturalists. I cannot think of a better instrument – without dropping an additional few grand – to take along with me to observe the deluge of autumnal colours that are only just emerging, as the trees shut down for a long, winter nap. But, as I’ve discovered, the 8 x 42 also delivers knock-out views of the celestial realm!

As I recall, it was with some trepidation that I decided to try the Savannah. I was leary of the advertised field of view -143m@1000m or 8.2 angular degrees. I had learned of other binoculars delivering such enormous fields of view but having disappointing off-axis performance. Better to have a binocular that delivers a smaller field of view with tightly focused stars near the edge than suffer the indignation of seeing those stars swell up in the outer part of the field. It’s just not tennis!

But my fears were completely allayed once I tried them out on the night sky.  I was literally blown away! Not only was the field of view enormous, but it was very well corrected, right to the edge of the field. Believe me, I have experienced some real howlers, where stars are pinpoint sharp in the centre of the field but when moved off axis, the same test stars balloon into enormous blobs when positioned near the field stop. Starfields remain crisp throughout the field of the Savannah binocular making it an excellent choice for casual star gazing.

Although the binocular can be mounted on a monopod for increased stability, I have rarely used it in this capcaity. Instead, I enjoy hand-holding the instrument where the 8x magnification makes it considerably easier to hold steady over a 10x instrument. That said, if I wish to push the instrument to see the very faintest stars, a monopod is a good way to go. Some binocular authorities I have read suggest that you can gain up to 1 stellar magnitude deeper if the image is stabilised.

The very well corrected, ultra-wide field of the Barr & Stroud Savannah  8 x 42  provides stunning views of large clusters of stars. For example, it provides knock-out views of Melotte 20, otherwise known as the Alpha Persei Association, where the field is littered with several dozen hot, white stars varying in glory from the third to the 10th magnitude. But perhaps my fondest night time experience with this wonder binocular was seeing the entire Sword-Handle and Belt stars of Orion in the same field on a cold, dark December evening.  And where my 10 x 50 Sierra binocular can just frame the Hyades, the Savannah frames the same picturesque asterism with plenty of room to spare!

The large, sensibly flat field of the Savannah has proven excellent for watching meteor showers. I just aim it at the radiant and watch to see if some shooting stars flash across the field. I also love exploring the interface between land and sky. Indeed, as described in this blog, the Savannah is my instrument of choice to explore Moon and starscapes rising above trees and buildings near my home. The Savannah has re-kinded my interest in observing the full Moon when the clouds pass over it. I adore the play of light and colour the binocular serves up in its enormous field of view.

The 8 x 42 is always by my side while using my backyard telescopes. It has greatly increased the speed and efficiency of finding faint fuzzies. Once I locate the target with the binocular, the telescope is pointed at the same spot of sky where I can rapidly hone in on the object.

A binocular that doesn’t want to go inside its hard case.

Readers will forgive my rather vaunted praise of this amazing instrument. But I feel it is justified. In an age of con artists and let downs, this instrument is nothing short of a ray of sunshine. It offers exceptional value for money and has sated my desire to acquire anything else in this mid-sized binocular class. I can hand-on-heart recommend it to other observers looking for an excellent all-round binocular for day and night time use. You’ll not be disappointed!

Thank you for reading!

 

Neil English is the author of several books in amateur and professional astronomy.

 

 

De Fideli.

In Search of a Good Pocket Binocular.

Far from the madding crowd.

August 30 2019

Pocket binoculars are a popular choice for many birders, hikers, ramblers and all-round nature lovers who want to get up-close and personal with God’s illustrious creation. If you have scenery like this right on your door step, trust me, you’ll be keen to take along some binoculars to enhance and extend what your eyes can see;

A pocket binocular usually has objective lenses less than 30mm in diameter and offer magnifications anywhere from 7x to 10x. They are small and in general fit inside a pocket, giving rise to their name. Like all other binoculars, pocket glasses come in a range of prices, starting from just a few tens of pounds right up to £1000, depending on the make and model. The cheapest models are to be generally avoided, as they often have very shoddy optics and/or mechanics, but things get very interesting once you move into the mid-priced market, where you can acquire decent optics and mechanics for prices anywhere from £70 up to a few hundred pounds. But is buying a pocket binocular from a reputable optics firm a sure way to get decent quality? I’m going to have to concede that the answer is “no.”

That’s based on my experiences mainly with two models from the well established companies: Bresser(Germany) and Kowa(Japan). Both models were acquired from amazon and possess similar optical specifications, the Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26mm and the Kowa SV 8 x 25mm DCF, which set me back £97.00 and £83.00, respectively. Both models are roof prism designs, have fully multi-coated optics and phase corrected prisms to maximise the amount of light that is transmitted to the eye, and to render colour-true images in bright daylight conditions.

The Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26mm was exciting to unpack, as it looked the bizz from the online images and the specifications promising “premium quality worthy of their prestigious lifetime warranty.” And when I opened up the case to have a look at the binocular, I must admit to being instantly impressed; here was a stylish looking instrument with a beautifully made, ‘Swarovski like’ open bridge design. The focuser was large and constructed from high quality metal. In operation, it was a joy to use, moving with silky smoothness, with no stiction when turned clockwise and anti-clockwise through its travel.

The Bresser Prisch 8 x 26 compact binocular.

All the accessories were of high quality, which included a padded next strap, an oversized nylon case, instruction manual, rubber objective and eyepiece covers, and a lens cleaning cloth.

The twist up eyecups are amongst the best I have encountered, clicking through a number of stages from fully retracted to fully extended.They hold their positions very well, even when significant pressure is applied to them. The dioptre setting is situated in a sensible place; just under the right barrel. It is stiff and once set in place it will not easily budge.

The beautifully designed twist up eyecups are amongst the best I have personally encountered with four positions. Here they are shown fully extended.

Handling this binocular was particularly pleasurable, as the open bridge design allows for firm gripping either with or without gloves, and can easily be focused using one or two hands. The binocular is lighter than it looks: ~ 290 grams

Firm grip: handling the Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26 binocular.

The Baader Pirsch 8 x 26 has outstanding mechanical quality.

The instrument comes with quality accessories, including a padded cary case and quality neck strap.

But mechanics are only half the story of any binocular. How did the optics fare?

Collimation was tested by mounting the binocular securely on a monopod that was firmly sandwiched in place between two planks of wood on my garden fence, and examining the fields of view presented by both barrels of the instrument. This showed that the binocular was indeed well collimated, certainly within factory tolerances. I had no trouble instantly merging the images once the optimum IPD was selected. Close focus was estimated at about 6.5 feet, in line with the stated specifications. So far so good.

The quoted eye relief for the Pirsch binocular is 15.6mm. That should have been plenty good for eye glass wearers. However, I found that only by pressing my glasses hard against my eyes could I observe the full field. It was not comfortable and so I think folk that have to use eye glasses when using this binocular will struggle.

Testing collimation of the Pirsch binocular. And yes, this wee instrument does have a tripod connecting thread!

True to the specifications, the binocular offers a fairly wide field of view. I measured it as about 6.6 degrees(in agreement with its stated FOV of 117m@1000m). Compared with an entry level test binocular with no phase coating(but with fully multicoated optics), the image was better corrected for seidel aberrations across the field of view, revealing noticeably less field curvature, pin cushion distortion and lateral colour than the entry level unit. On axis, no chromatic aberration could be seen at the edges of a nearby telephone pole as seen against a bright, overcast sky, while the control did show a little bit. And while the image looked good in many daylight scenes, it wasn’t long before I discovered that the binocular was not showing the contrast I had been enjoying with my wife’s Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25mm pocket binoculars. Looking into brightly backlit scenes revealed a potential problem with the Pirsch; there was some flaring and internal reflections coming through. So that caused me to investigate the matter further.

A cursory examination of the binocular review literature revealed something rather shocking to me. Very few reviewers had the presence of mind to investigate and report back on light leakage within the binocular, which can lead to very incomplete knowledge on how an instrument ought to behave under real-life situations. I consider it essential information for any savvy buyer, as it doesn’t matter how well a binocular is appointed with high-tech features if they can’t manage to adequately suppress stray light in the optical train. To me, this is Optics 101.

Fortunately, this is easily done by carrying out an indoor test using an iphone with its torch turned up to its maximum brightness and examining the in-focus images of how that light is delivered to the eye whilst looking though the binocular in a darkened room a few metres in the distance. You can also glean good information on how well a binocular will deliver by pointing the instrument at a bright street light or the full Moon(this is a considerably less severe test but an important one in any binocular assessment).

Well, the tests were very convicting. Not only was there many bright internal reflections but the Pirsch binocular seemed to be causing bright light sources to become diffused across the field of view, manifesting as a contrast-robbing, circular haze. And it was the same when I pointed the binocular at a bright sodium street light.  I had not seen such terrible control of stray light since the day I tested a very inexpensive Celestron Nature DX 8×25 unit several months back. Needless to say, I was not a happy bunny! Incidentally, even my entry-level control optic showed far less flaring and internal reflections than this purportedly “premium” instrument!

As another control for these tests, I employed my most excellent Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42, which shows remarkably little flare and diffusion of light under the same conditions. Indeed, as I already communicated in a previous blog, this superb instrument possesses the same level of glare and internal reflection control as a Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42 unit I recently subjected to the same tests. The reader will note however, that no roof prism binocular, no matter how well built it is, can completely eliminate such optical side effects.

My control binocular for flare and internal reflection testing; the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 wide angle, which delivers superbly contrasted images even in harsh lighting conditions.

A curious aside: I wonder will flare and internal reflection testing suddenly enjoy an upsurge on future binocular forums? Hmmm.

I suspect that many of these pocket binoculars are not tested for flaring and/or internal reflections because these small instruments are not recommended for night time use and so any problems they have in this regard might easily slip below the radar. I would check out your instrument to see how it fares in this regard.

For me, a binocular, no matter how small it is, should pass these tests. Remember, we’re not looking for perfection here. If you’re viewing a city scape at night or gazing at the Moon from time to time, your pocket binocular should have minimum light leak and scatter, so that it does not show up in ordinary use. Is that really too much to ask for?

I don’t think so!

Verdict: The Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26 possesses excellent mechanical features but its optics do not match its mechanics. Not recommended. Luckily I had registered the instrument with Bresser to enable the terms of the guarantee to be fulfilled.

So how did the Kowa SV 8 x 25 fare in comparison?

Here is what the company promised.

Well, the package I received came in a small box, containing the binoculars, instruction manual, carry strap and eyepiece caps but no objective covering caps. Unlike the Pirsch, the Kowa is double hinged, which enables you to fold the barrels under the bridge,. making it truly pocketable. You can get an idea of the transportable size difference of both the Pirsch and the Kowa by comparing the size of their carry cases;

The carrying cases for the Pirsch(right) and Kowa binocular(left).

My first impressions of the Kowa SV 8x 25mm binocular were favourable. It is small and rather cute looking. Kowa engineers deliberately designed the instrument to be very lightweight using modern materials. It has a very well armoured body with a tough, coarse- feeling rubberised exterior.

The Kowa SV 8x 25 is a well made binocular using modern materials to reduce the weight. Like the Pirsch, the dioptre setting ring is under the right barrel.

The eyecups twist up and down like the Pirsch  but appeared to have only two fixed settings; fully extended or retracted.  You can however, set the eycups at any position and they will hold their place.

The Kowa glass had what seemed to be immaculately applied anti-reflection coatings on the eye lenses and objectives, which almost disappear when examined head on. Kowa also apply a hydrophobic coating on the elements that allegedly repels water, oil etc, making cleaning the exterior optics that little bit easier.

The kowa ocular lenses have nice anti-reflection coatings. Note the smaller eye lenses on the instrument.

And here is what the objectives look like under inspection. Kowa engineers applied extra armouring around the nicely recessed objectives for added protection.

The objective lenses on the Kowa are nicely recessed and have immaculately applied anti-reflection coatings.

The focuser is made of a soft material that effortlessly moves clockwise and anti-clockwise. I found that it was smooth and very responsive in use, with little in the way of stiction.

A close-up of the Kowa focuser.

Like the Pirsch, the instrument is fully waterproof and is nitrogen purged. The optics are fully multi-coated and a phase coating applied to the Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms. But at this stage in the game, I had learned not to place my hope in an instrument based solely on these claims. I recalled the story of the little Celestron Nature DX which also advertised such advanced optical treatments, but failed miserably in field use.

Like the Pirsch, the Kowa barrels were well collimated and the field of view was found to be slightly smaller than the Pirsch, at just over 6 degrees. But when I began to assess the optics of the unit, I hit my first snag. The smaller eye lenses on the instrument made it very difficult for me to accurately position my eyes and I immediately noticed that I was frequently experiencing black outs as I moved from one daylight target to another. It did have better eye relief than the Pirsch though, allowing those who wear eyeglasses to use it fairly easily.

Worse still, I noticed that when I was observing with the Kowa in bright daylight conditions outdoors, I could see a faint ghosting in the field which would only vanish when I pressed my eyes tightly against the eyecups. The contrast was noticeably better in the Kowa images though, with excellent control of colour and seidel aberrations. But I was worried about the ghosting I saw, and so decided to perform my iphone torch test to see what was what.

Such testing revealed some problems. While the horrible diffused light I saw in the Pirsch was far better controlled(but nonetheless present), the test revealed a pretty bad case of on-axis flaring. My heart sunk as I contemplated the implications of the test. This would also show up in nightime test I told myself, and I waited until the evening to find out for sure.

Turning the unit on a bright sodium lamp all too easily revealed a pretty bad dose of on-axis flaring which ruined the image. And though internal reflections were much better controlled in the Kowa than in the Pirsch, the flaring on bright nocturnal lights was, quite frankly, very annoying and downright unnaceptable. And yet again, my entry-level control binocular fared better than the prestigious Kowa in the same tests.

I really hoped Kowa, a company which enjoys a strong reputation for precision, high-end  sport optics, would be able to deliver a binocular image without this degree of flaring, but  alas, it was not to be.

Visibly upset, I contacted Kowa UK to report the result. They quickly responded and apologised to me for the fault, explaining that this was a very ” unusual” finding.

Well maybe. But it didn’t stop me immediately packing up the instrument and its accessories and returning it to amazon. I received a full refund, but had no interest in  testing out a replacement unit. Once bitten twice shy.

Note added in proof: Control of light leakages bares little correlation to the price paid for these binoculars. For instance, my Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 and 10 x 50 roofs have a retail value of about £130 and £80, respectively, but have excellent control of stray light. If these did so well, why couldn’t the little pocket binoculars deliver?

Ich verstehe nicht.

Another pretender:

Same old same old: the Olympus 10 x 25 has the same optical design as the Kowa SV pocket binocular.

What about the Olympus 10 x 25 WPII?  I took a chance on this product also. Retailing for about £70, it offered all the same features as the Kowa binocular. Indeed it was almost a carbon copy of the Kowa, except for the magnification and focus wheel, but alas it also showed too much daylight glare when pointed at brightly backlit objects, so that went straight back to amazon as well. Though sharp in the middle of its relatively massive field(6.5 angular degrees), the Olympus binocular showed very distorted images in the outer 30 per cent of the same portal. So, not great, either.

An Old Reliable: It’s not all doom and gloom though. Compared with the three binoculars I had evaluated thus far in this blog, my wife’s Opticron LE Aspheric 8 x 25 pocket binocular is in a completely different league optically. With minimum flare, no blackouts and good control of internal reflections, the little classically styled Opticron is very well built and just works, time after time after time.

A classically styled pocket binocular that just works; the Opticron LE Aspheric 8 x 25.

Now a few years old, the Opticron LE Aspheric features multi-coated optics and silver- coated phase corrected prisms. Aspherical ocular lenses produce a very flat field that renders undistorted images right to the edge of the field. And though its field of view is a little restricted at 5.2 angular degrees, it’s a nice tidy portal with very well defined field stops.

The Opticron Aspheric LE has simple twist up eyecups for those who do not use eyeglasses while observing.

The eyecups have just two positions; up or down. With 21mm eye relief, the instrument is extremely comfortable to view through. The double-hinge design does allow the barrels to fold up to pocket size though;

Snug as a bug in a rug.

It has its own built in lanyard so there is no need to fiddle about attaching a neckstrap. The original Opticron Aspheric LE (with the green logo) is a bit on the urbane side though; it is not weatherproof and the outer armouring is smooth and non-texturised. But a few years back, Opticron gave this pocket binocular a bit of a makeover; the new Aspheric LE is waterproof and purged with dry nitrogen, making it that little bit more versatile than the first generation model. Eye relief is reduced to 16mm, which should still be plenty good for all users. It also has new eyecups and a  re-designed focuser. Details can be found here.

Nice big(17mm) eye lenses on the Opticron Aspheric LE make for highly immersive views.

The instrument is more expensive than the Pirsch and Kowa models though; ~£120. But that extra cost does buy you peace of mind, or so I’m led to believe.

I”m going to order up the new model to determine how consistent the quality is. I will report back in a wee while to tell you how I get on with it.

Watch this space!

September 10 2019: Well the new Opticron pocket binocular arrived safely today. So, what was in the goodie box?

The Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8 x 25 pocket binocular and its accessories.

The binocular was purchased from Tring Astronomy Centre, and I elected to have it shipped to me via expedited 24 hour delivery. The cost, including postage, came in at £120. Like everything else I have received from Tring in the past, the product arrived in perfect nick. It was double boxed, witth the package including the pocket binocular, an instruction manual, lens cleaning cloth, and warranty card, and a stylish padded carry case with the Opticron logo on the front. I even received a £75  wine voucher!

The New Opticron Aspheric LE is now water and fog proof.

Unlike the original model, the make and specifications on the new model are embossed on the upper bridge. The armouring is also slightly more texturised than the sleeky, first generation model.

The original model had plastic eyecups, but the newer incarnation has what appears to be a slightly more comfortable rubberised overcoat.

Using the Optricon Aspheric LE WP is child’s play; just twist up the eyecups and they click into place. There are no intermediate settings. If you wear glasses, leave the eyecups down.

I rather like the simplicity of the eyecups on this instrument. There are only two positions: fully extended or fully retracted. The 16mm eye relief is plenty good enough for eyeglass wearers(verified by my own tests).

The focus wheel is larger and a little easier to work with than the original model.That will make it easier to use with gloves on. I did find it to be a wee bit on the stiff side though, but I figure with more use, it will became easier to negotiate.

The newer Opticron Aspheric LE( right) has a slightly larger focusing wheel.

The ocular lenses are the same on both models; good and large and easy to engage with.

Both models have the same optics, including large ocular lens.

The neoprene carry case is very nicely made and fits the pocket binocular perfectly:

A very nicely fitting padded neoprene carry case will keep your optics safe while not in use.

Close up of the Opticron labelled padded case.

You can probably guess by now what I did first: yep, I performed my torch test to see how well stray light was being controlled inside the barrels. Well, it passed with flying colours; not perfect, but perfectly acceptable! Indeed, it was very similar to the results I obtained for the original model. Later, I performed a test on some sodium street lights and the results were very good. Only very slight ghosting and no annoying glare.

What a relief!

Conducting some observations during the day also delivered very pleasing results.The images are very bright, sharp and colour-pure, thanks to good quality glass, anti-reflection coatings and a silver mirror coating on the prisms. Like the original model, backlit scenes show excellent control of glare and certainly enough to satisfy the vast majority of users. The aspheric ocular lenses did a great job maintaining a very flat field nearly all the way to the field stop. Close focus was astonishing! I measured it at just 51 inches (~1.3m), so significantly less than the advertised 2 metres. A nice bonus!

Clearly the quality control on these instruments appears to be very good indeed.

Weighing in at just 291 grams, and with its double hinge design, folding it up and storing it in your pocket is a breeze. It’s nice to have a pocket binocular that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Alas, I was unable to perform my last test on the bright Moon owing to the presence of a weather system (the remnants of hurricane Dorian) passing over Scotland, but the results on stray ligt control gives me no cause to be concerned. It will pass the full Moon test with flying colours!

A quality pocket binocular in the palm of your hand!

A Curious Aside: Here’s a binocular review posted on September 11 2019.

Wow!

The reviewer even conducted tests for glare and flaring etc!

Shockeroonie!

Don’t take my word for it; look at some other reviews of the Opticron Aspheric LE pocket binoculars to better establish a consensus:

Calvin Jones, Irish author, birder and naturalist

Diane and Michael Porter’s Birding Binoculars

Feathersoptics review

 

Conclusions and Lessons Learned:

It is clear that good optical performance cannot be gleaned from checking the specifications of a pocket binocular. Claims of a product offering fully multicoated optics and phase corrected prisms etc count for nothing if they cannot suppress glare and internal reflections to an acceptable degree. In this blog I have sampled but a few models that fell short of my expectations. In the end, only the Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25 delivered the readies.

The best way to proceed with acquiring a pocket binocular is to test it out in person, if at all possible, before handing over your hard-earned cash. The reader should also be leary of any binocular review that does not mention or test for glare, flare and internal reflection. This is an essential feature that must be controlled if you are to derive the best performance out of your pocket optics.

Life’s too short to look through bad glass!

Opticron also manufacture a series of more expensive pocket binoculars in their BGAT PC Oasis series. These will also be a good bet, but you’ll have to cough up another £100 to acquire one. I may test one of these models out in the future.

I did consider a few ED models in my quest. For example, the Hawke Endurance ED 8x 25 has a wider field of view and retails for 20 per cent less than the Opticron(which has no ED glass), but is it as well built? And how do the optics fare? To be honest, I don’t know, as there wasn’t any discriminating reviews available for me to make a decision, but they might be worth a punt. I did contact Hawke asking them how well they suppress glare in their small pocket binocular and received a very quick reply. Here is a copy of my correspondence with the company:

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

Dear Sir/Madam
I am writing to inquire about glare suppression and internal reflections in your Hawke Endurance 8x and 10x 25mm pocket binoculars.
I have been testing a few brands and some show very annoying flare and/or ghosting when pointed at a bright street lamp or a bright Moon.
Will your products pass such tests?
I appreciate that no binocular can completely eliminate these but all I am asking for is no obvious ghosting when pointed at the moon or strongly backlit scenes in daylight.
Thanks in advance of your reply.
Sincerely
Neil English.

from: Hawke UK uk@hawkeoptics.com

Hello Neil,

Thanks for your email and interest in Hawke Optics. The internal components of our binoculars are treated to be as glare resistant as possible. We use a combination of matte finishes and ribbed surfaces to prevent a flat reflective surface. However, it will never be possible to completely eliminate reflections like you are talking about and so even with these countermeasures, our binoculars will show some white out when looking towards a bright light source.

Kind regards,

Alex Jenkinson

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

I wonder if any of you have tested the Hawke model? If so, I’d be very keen to hear from you. Failing that, I might just go ahead and purchase one to do a full review; warts and all.

I would also trust the optics in the Pentax AD bocket binocular, which also retails for about £100. But that’s not based on direct experience with this model, only an inference made from using two other binoculars from their line.

For a few hundred pounds more you can acquire excellent pocket binoculars from the ultra-premium end of the market from Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski. However, I don’t think you’ll notice any big optical differences between the Opticron and these though. The value lies more in their mechanics than anything else.

For me, I feel the Opticron delivers everything I could wish for in a pocket binocular; both mechanically and optically. It’s a quality product that will stand the test of time if looked after properly.

Well, I hope you found this blog to be informative.

Good luck with your quest to find a good pocket binocular!

 

Neil English’s newest title, The ShortTube 80: A User’s Guide, hits the bookshelves in early November 2019.

Post Scriptum: Shortly after local midnight on September 12 2019, I ventured outside to see if I could gain a glimpse of the bright and nearly full Moon, that had just past the meridian and about 17 degrees above the southerly horizon. I compared the Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26 to the Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8x 25. A brisk westerly breeze was blowing, quickly shifting the clouds over and then away from the Moon. During one such clear spell I pointed both instruments at its silvery white face and studied the images.

Result: The Pirsch showed annoying glare and some obvious internal reflections in the field. The glare also brightened the backround sky around the Moon, reducing contrast. However, the Opticron unit showed no visible internal reflections and only slight flaring when the Moon was placed just outside the field. The backround sky around the Moon was much darker to boot, showing clearly superior image quality to the “premium” Pirsch.

 

De Fideli.

Caveat Emptor!

As you may gather, I’ve taken a keen, active interest in testing out binoculars with an aim to providing my readers with good quality products that won’t break the bank. As part of that process, I needed a few entry-level models to compare and contrast them with other products purporting to provide better optical quality. In one transaction, I purchased an Eyeskey labelled 8 x 32 roof prism binocular on August 5 2019 from eBay. It was brand new and set me back £37.79, taking about two weeks to ship directly from China to my home in Scotland.

Here is a photo of what I received:

The Eyeskey Package.

Here is a close-up photo of the Eyeskey binocular; the reader will note the texturing of the armoring and distinctive tripod adaptor cover

The Eyeskey 8 x 32 roof prism binocular.

Here is what it looks like from the ocular end:

Note the plain 8 x 32 & Bak4 Prism labelling on the focus wheel.

And here is a photo of the tethered rubber objective lens covers as well as the thumb indentations on the underside of the binocular:

Note the tethered rubber objective covers and thumb indentations on the Eyeskey.

After inspecting the Eyeskey binocular and its accessories, I recalled another binocular, marketed by a company called Avalonoptics.co.uk, which I had come across in a previous internet search.

Here is Avalon’s 8 x 32 Mini HD binoculars( all images taken from their website):

Avalon 8×32 Mini HD Binoculars BLACK

Here is an image of the entire package:

Here is an image of the writing on the focusing wheel:

Note the thumb indentations on the under side of the barrels on the Avalon:

And here is an image of the tethered objective covers on the Avalon:

 

Next, I took a look at the specifications of both models.

You can view the Avalon specs here

And here are the Eyskey specs( source eBay):

8561-8X32_01

Both claim to be fully multicoated, are nitogen filled and fog proof, but there is no mention of a phase coating on either model.

There is a few differences in the quoted specifications. The advertised field of view is 6.78 degrees for the Eyeskey and 6.9 degrees for the Avalon model; quite close. Eye relief is quoted as 18mm for the Eyeskey and 15mm for the Avalon, but these figures can often be incorrect or at least misleading(as I will explain in another up-and-coming binocular review). The Eyeskey has an advertised weight of 18.3 oz = 519 grams, whereas the Avalon has a quoted weight of 416 grams.

Weight can also be misleading though, as it can vary according to whether you include the lens covers and strap etc.

The boxes look pretty similar with just different logos on them, same goes for the neck strap and generic instruction sheet.

Now for the price comparison:

Eyeskey 8 x 32: £37.79

Avalon 8 x 32 Mini HD: £119(recently discounted 20% from £149)

Finally, have a look at this youtube presentation of the said Avalon Mini HD binocular here.

Is the Eyskey 8 x 32 model worth the £37.79?

I suppose for what you get it’s a bargain.

But what about the Avalon?

I’ll leave that up to you to decide!

Caveat Emptor!

 

Neil English debunks many telescopic myths in his new historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

 

De Fideli.

 

The Field of Glory.

Companion under the stars: the Pentax PCF 20 x 60 binocular.

Preamble

Visual astronomy can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. We can use the eyes our Creator designed for us to marvel at the beauty of the night sky. Or we can employ a telescope to get those up-close views, where both resolving and light gathering power are needed to make sense of what we see. But there is also the binocular perspective, which fills a niche set midway between that of the eye and that of the telescope.

On the night of August 25 2019, I found myself doing all three. After an hour of admiring dim and hard to find deep sky objects using my largest telescope; a 12″ f/5 Newtonian reflector, I sat back in my observing chair to drink up the naked eye heavens above me. The air was still, with no wind, and only the occasional screech of a barn owl breaking the silence. After a few months of twilit skies with only the brightest stellar luminaries on display, true darkness had now returned to the landscape. By 11:30pm local time, the bright constellations of Cygnus, Lyra, Hercules and Aquila had passed into the western hemisphere, with Bootes now sinking perilously close to the western horizon. And over in the northeast, Cassiopeia, Perseus and Auriga were making excellent progress climbing ever higher in the sky.  Andromeda and Pegasus were also ripe for exploration. The familiar asterism of the Plough hung low over the northern horizon, far below the North Star, Polaris, around which the great dome of the sky wheels. With no Moon in the sky, and good transparency, the river of light from the northern Milky Way stood out boldly, snaking its way across the heavens from east to west. It was the perfect opportunity to break out my big binocular, a Pentax DCF 20 x 60 and boy did it deliver the readies!

Using a monopod for big binocular astronomy on the go.

As I described at great length in the preamble linked to at the beginning of this blog, the Pentax DCF 20 x 60 combines excellent optics with great mechanical features in a relatively light weight package; ideal for use with a monopod. The instrument attaches in seconds to a strong, high-quality ball and socket mount head and can be transported easily from one place to another. Delivering a pristine, flat field some 2.2 degrees wide, the Pentax had already delivered gorgeous views of the heavens during Winter and Spring evenings, but I had not yet had an opportunity to sample the skies of late Summer/early Autumn with this powerful optical instrument.

My first target was M13, easily found about one third of the way from Eta Herculis to Zeta Herculis in the western edge of the famous Keystone asterism. I had already admired this big and bright globular cluster earlier in the 12″ telescope at high power. The 20 x 60 binocular revealed a bright fuzzy bauble about half the size of the full Moon and neatly sandwiched between two 7th magnitude field stars. Of course, the binocular could not compete with the majesty of such a cluster as presented in a large, light bucket, but it was nonetheless a lovely sight with wonderful contrast against a jet black sky.

I then moved over to Lyra and centered the bright summer luminary, Vega, shining with its intense blue-white hue across the sea of interstellar space, and surrounding it a swarm of fainter suns, including the famous Epsilon Lyrae of double star fame. Moving into Cygnus, I turned the binocular on Beta Cygni, known more commonly as Albireo. With a steady hand, I could easily resolve the beautiful, wide colour contrast double star; marmalade orange and blue-green secondary. Panning about eight degrees due south of Albireo the binocular field soon captured that remarkable little asterism that is the Coathanger (Collinder 339). What makes this a particualrly engaging visual sight is the uniformity of the stars comprising it; most shining with a soft white hue and of the sixth magnitude of glory.

Moving about five degrees to the east of the Coathanger, and forming a neat little right-angled triangle with the stars of Saggita, the celestial Arrow, I chanced upon the large and bright planetary nebula, known commonly as the Dumbbell (Messier 27). Unlike other planetary nebula, M27 is one of the few that present clearly in the relatively low power view of the binocular. Try as I might though, I could not see the hourglass shape of the nebula as seen in telescopes at higher power; it was more or less circular in form, softly glowing against the background sky at magntude 7.4.

I didn’t have to travel far for my next visual treat; M71, a faint globular cluster situated nearly exactly midway between Gamma and Zeta Saggitae. With its population of mostly 12th magnitude suns, M71 presented as a misty patch in a glittering hinterland of August star light.

Adjusting the ball & socket head of the monopod, I ventured back into Cgynus and centred the lovely binocular double,  commonly referred to as 0^1 Cygni. Like a wider version of Albireo, the 20 x 60 binocular presented their fetching colours perfectly, orange and turquoise (magnitude 3.8 and 4.8, resepctively). I could not however clearly resolve the fainter 7th magnitude component parked up against the orange member, which a small telescope so easily shows.

Eager to examine another stellar hinterland, I moved the binocular so that Deneb was centred in the field of view. Well, this binocular portal took my breath away! Hundreds of suns of varying degrees of glory smattered haphazardly across the field, and here and there the excellent contrast of the instrument also showed up some small nebulous patches set adrift among the starry hosts. With its very generous 21mm of eye relief, the big binocular was delivering very comfortable and immersive views. It was almost as if I could reach out my hand and touch the heavens!

With midnight approaching, I noticed that the great square of Pegasus was clearing the rooftop of my house, and a little further to the east, Andromeda, the Chained Lady, had by now gained a decent altitude. Eagerly, I trained the binocular on a foggy patch clearly seen with the naked eye. I had arrived at the Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31). The lenticular shaped core was big and bright and beautifully contrasted against a sable sky, and with averted vision it was not hard to trace the spiral arms all the way to the edges of the field. Its fainter companions, M32 and M110, were also seen with a concentrated gaze, the former being easier to see and just a half an angular degree to the south of M31. M110 proved much more elusive though, being larger and fainter than M32 but nonetheless fairly easy to pick off about a degree away to the northwest of the main galaxy.

Moving into Cassiopeia, the binocular presented field after field of brilliant starlight with a wonderful variety of colours. Many faint open clusters came to life as I inched the binocular through its mid-section; NGC 457(otherwise known as the E.T. Cluster) was very engaging, especially the bright, 5th magnitude white super-giant star marking its southern border, and then on into the heart of M103, a compact little open cluster just to the northeast of blue-white Delta Cassiopeiae. My notes from a good few years back informed me that the cluster presented as unresolved in an inexpensive 15 x 70 binocular, but this instrument, with its significantly higher magnification, was just beginning to hint at some individual stars within the cluster. A comely quartet of stars flanking the southeastern corner of the Messier cluster made the scene especially engaging to study. Panning very slowly eastward through the constellation, roughly from Delta to Epsilon Cassiopeiae, my eyes picked up many faint open clusters, including NGC 44, 663, 559 and 637.

By about a quarter past midnight, Perseus had risen to a good height above the northeastern horizon, and I eagerly sought out the famous Double Cluster(Caldwell 14), easily located as a foggy patch to the naked eye roughly mid-way between Perseus and Cassiopeia. With great excitement, I moved in on my target, all the while bringing to mind the stunning views I had reported with this binocular last Winter. Wow! I wasn’t disaapointed. The entire field exploded with stars of various hues; white, blue-white, creamy yellow and sanguine, the two sumptuous open clusters beautifully resolved with curious fans of stars radiating outwards from their centres. Sharpness was extreme from edge to edge, with the stars presenting as tiny pinpoints. I believe that this 20 x 60 binocular renders these awesome natural spectacles as good as you’ll ever see them; the combination of decent light gathering power and magnification using both eyes is a match made in heaven! This was a pre-season teaser though. The Double Cluster will only increase in majesty, as it continues to climb higher in our skies over the next few months.

Moving to Algol, the Demon Star, I then navigated about 5 degrees west from it, where I was pleasantly surprised by how easily I was able to pick up another lovely open cluster, M34. The powerful double eye on the sky resolved a few dozen members, mostly 7th, 8th and 9th magnitude members sprawled across an area of sky roughly the size of the full Moon. Many fainter members, largely unsresolved by the instrument, gave the cluster a very lively, translucent appearance, a consequence I suppose of the inability of the binocular to cleanly resolve its faintest members, which go all the way down to magnitude 13. Sometimes, not seeing things clearly adds to the visual appeal of deep sky objects.

From there, I moved back to Alpha Persei and placed it at the upper edge of the field of view of the 20 x 60. Even though the binocular has a fairly restricted 2.2 degree true field, it was able to pick up a generous assortment of bright O-B stars at the heart of the moving cluster Melotte 20. It was a beautiful sight!

With the time fast approaching 12:30 am, I picked up the 20 x 60 astride its monopod and moved to the front of the house, where my gaze met with the Pleiades rising above the Fintry Hills to the east of my home. Though it was still at a fairly low altitude, the 20 x 60 produced a draw-jopping view of this celebrated open cluster, its orientation being rather lobsided compared with how it appears later in the autumn. Many of its fainter members were extinguished by virtue of its low altitude, but it was still a magnificent sight. Again I would concede that large binoculars produce the best views of the Pleiads. And it will get better, night by night, as Autumn turns to Winter.

With a waning crescent Moon not far away from rising, I retired from the field of glory with a head full of vivid memories. This was just the beginning though. God willing, it will show me even grander sights as the days continue to shorten through the autumnal equinox and onwards toward the December Solstice.

 

Neil English’s new book, The ShortTube 80, A User’s Guide, will soon be published by Springer-Nature.

 

 

De Fideli.

Test Driving the Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42 Binocular.

The Swarovski EL Range 8x 42 binocular.

For more than a generation Swarovski Optic has been supplying premium quality sports and nature optics to an international customer base. Beginning back in 1935 when Wilhelm Swarovski started manufacturing small 6 x 30 binoculars, his business expanded greatly during World War II and by 1949, Swarovski launched itself as a separate company, manufacturing very high quality binoculars, spotting ‘scopes and rifle sights at their large facility at Absam, Austria. Employing more than 800 employees, Swarovski has a turnover of in excess of 100 million Euro with 90 per cent of its revenue generated from exports.

Swarovski produce a very extensive range of premium quality binoculars for birders, hunters and nature enthusiasts, ranging from small pocket-sized instruments(8 x 25) right up to large 56mm aperture instruments for specialised, low light work.  Having recently re-kindled my interest in using binoculars, I have had the privilege of enjoying two Swarovskis, an older EL 8.5 x 42mm (owned by my coalman, Graham) and a first generation EL Range 10 x 42mm, owned by a neighbour of mine (Ian), both of whom are keen hunters. In this blog, I wish to discuss the latter instrument in some detail.

Introduced in 2011, the EL Range 10 x 42mm features top-notch optics and state-of-the art laser-based range-finding technology that enables the user to accurately estimate distance to any given distance between about 33 and 1500 yards with an error of just +/- 1 yard. In addition, its built-in inclinometer allows angular measurements up to 90 degrees, thereby covering every angle compensation you are likely to use (especially when hunting in mountainous regions). Powered by a CR2 lithium ion battery, up to 1000 measurements can be made before replacing it. The second generation of the EL Range series was introduced in 2015, which offers some improvements over the original, including faster estimation of distance.

Ian very kindly allowed me to borrow his first-generation EL Range 10 x 42 for a short spell. For my tests, I concentrated solely on the optical and mechanical performance of the instrument, which were conducted over the space of 24 hours between July 22 and 23 2019, which included indoor, bright daylight, dusk and night-time observations. For those of you who wish to learn more about its ranging capabilities, check out this link.

The Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42: optical and mechanical excellence.

Mechanical design: The EL Range 10 x 42 weighs in at about 32 ounces. This was surprising given the presence of two prominent arches placed on the underside of the instrument. These apparently increase the stability of the instrument when making hand-held distance estimates.

The underside of the EL Range 10 x 42 has raised arches to help stabilise the instrument while conducting distance measurements

The 10 x 42 Range has individually tunable eyepieces with the dioptre compensation is accessed by pushing up the ring at the base of each ocular. The twist up eyecups are a work of art, plain and simple. Beautifully made, they click up and down effortlessly and hold their positions even when considerable downward force is applied. They can also be unscrewed if they need to be replaced or to access the ocular lenses for cleaning.

The exceptionally well designed all-metal twist up eyecups are a joy to adjust with soft rubber  eye contacts to make viewing as comfortable as possible.

The focus wheel is also a joy to use. With very finely machined threads, focusing from nearby to far away objects is effortlessly achieved via its buttery smooth motions.

The beautifully designed large central focus wheel is buttery smooth with no stiction.

Like all other mid-sized binoculars by Swarovski, the instrument has an open bridge design which is very stable and easy to balance and the well-designed hinge allows for quick and easy adjustment for my optimum inter-pupillary distance. The optics are housed in magnesium barrels to reduce overall weight and are overlaid by a tough, protective rubber overcoat that is very easy to grip. The optics are hermetically sealed and nitrogen purged to prevent any internal fogging. The instrument is water resistant to depths of up to 13 feet.

Overall, I would rate the mechanics on this binocular to be of exceptionally high quality.

Optics: Just like its mechanical excellence, Swarovski spare no expense incorporating the very finest optics inside their binoculars, and by that I mean the highest quality optical glass(which includes extra-low dispersion components) and state-of-the-art anti-reflection coating technology. The prisms are of Bak-4 Schmidt-Pechan design, which require phase coating to optimise light transmission. Swarovski like to think of the entire optical system acting as one collective unit which they call “Swarovision.” The light transmission is 91%( a figure derived from their technical data).

The objective and ocular lenses immediately exposed to the air are also treated with a proprietary coating that repels water, oil and grease. They also will not fog up on cold days if one accidentally breathes on them.

The state-of-the-art anti-reflection coatings of Swarovski objectives. Note also the deeply recessed objectives which cuts down peripheral glare during field use.

After I had made adjustments to the dioptre settings for my own eyes, I excitedly began tests on the 10 x 42 during bright evening sunshine. Examining a range of targets including the top-most boughs of some nearby conifers, rooftops and the broad tree trunk of an old Horse Chestnut tree, I was most impressed at the crystal clear clarity of the images. Comparing these to my own Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 binocular, which gives a ‘warm’ tone, the Swarovski was more neutral toned in comparison and ever so slightly sharper to my eyes. But what most impressed me was that the image was also a little brighter than my 8 x 42! This became more apparent as the sun began to set and dusky twilight ensued.  If the Swarovski was transmitting 91 per cent of the light collected to the eye, the Savannah was probably transmitting something more like 85 per cent.

Comparing binocular views can be very enlightening. Top: the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42, bottom: the Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42 .

The field of view of the Swarovski is 6.4 degrees, the images being perfectly flat across the entire field thanks to specially designed field flatteners in the ocular lens assembly. This makes the field stop stand out that little bit more than in my 8 x 42 wide-angle Savannah (sporting an 8.2 degree true field). Examining the edge of a telephone pole some 30 yards in the distance revealed a sliver of chromatic aberration in the Savannah but I could discern none at all in the Swarovski.

Edge of field correction was also superior in the Swarovski. Where the Savannah clearly revealed some pin-cushion distortion at the extreme edge of the field, the Swarovski revealed little or none in comparison.

Going indoors for a while, waiting for the sky to get maximally dark, I conducted my iphone torch test to see how both instruments would compare in regards to their ability to suppress internal reflections. This is a severe test on any optic. I darken the room and turned my iphone torch on at maximum brightness. Then, viewing from a comfortable distance, I aimed both instruments at the light to see what was what. A while back, I had tested the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 (and the 10 x 50 Sierra made by the same firm) and noted how well they suppressed glare and internal reflections. To my delight, I found both the Swarovsji and the Savannah to reveal broadly similar results; both units very aggressively blocked annoying internal reflections! Note that this test is far more severe than pointing the instruments at a bright Moon. Indeed, some instruments(including some top of the range models) that passed the Moon test faired considerably worse in this more discriminating test.

Star testing and an encounter with a waning Gibbous Moon:

At this time during the summer, the twilight which dominates during late May, June and the first half of July begins to give way to significantly darker skies. So around local midnight, I ventured out again to test the binoculars on some starfields poking through some cloud banks that were beginning to break up as the night progressed. lying on my recliner, I aimed the binoculars on some star fields in Lyra and Cygnus. The view through both the Swarovski and the Savannah was excellent, with the former offering a flatter field from edge to edge. Contrast was excellent in the Swarovski as well, and the stars presented as tiny, sharp pinpoints. It also reached that little bit deeper than the Savannah as one would expect in comparing an 8x optic to a 10x optic of the same aperture. The Savannah, although possessing a wider field of view, also showed some distortion of the stellar images at the edge of the field.

At around 00:45 UT, a bright waning gibbous Moon was rising in the eastern sky and had gained enough altitude to see it from my back garden. Both instruments presented very pleasing views, but with the subtle differences in colour tone and image scale. The Savannah produced a warmer tone with a very slight yellowish tinge in comparison to the Swarovski, which was correspondingly cooler and a more neutral white appearance. The low altitude brought out the usual atmospheric refraction in both instruments. In the Savannah, a very slim sliver of blue was observed around the edges of the Moon, while in the Swarovski the same sliver was more yellow than blue. The greater magnification of the Swarovski was immediately apparent however, where it presented significantly more in the way of crater details than the lower power Savannah.

Before packing up, I enjoyed watching the fast moving clouds passing near and over the lunar image in both instruments, creating a wonderful dispaly of natural colour. It was good to get out and do some observing in a reasonably dark sky once again.

Now, I suppose you are wondering whether I would recommend the Swarovski to a prospective buyer, especially since I do not, in general, have a tendency to use or promote premium equipment. I’m going to say ” yes” with this one, for reasons I would like to outline here.

It boils down to how much you intend to use the instrument. For astronomical telescopes, most folk get to set up and use their gear maybe once or twice a week(if you’re especially keen)  for a few hours at the most, though I suspect that this is probably the exception rather than the rule. If you are a keen glasser however, you will likely use binoculars far more frequently and for long periods of time. The Swarovski is a beautifully made, precision instrument that will endure knocks, extremes of weather and much more besides. It comes with a very nice quality case and  carrying strap and the company stands behind many innovative accessories that will only add to your pleasurable experiences.  It will often be your only companion in the great outdoors. Without a doubt, a premium binocular like this will hardlly ever fail, so you are investing in a durable, high- quality instrument that will grow as your interests grow and diversify.

I can say all of this with absolute confidence. Why? Because within a couple of days of testing both instruments disaster struck with my Savannah.

If you recall, I bought the Savannah second hand from an ebay seller. It worked flawlessly even with continued use every day, for many months. I was intending to bring it along with me to southwest Wales for a family vacation, when the dioptre ring developed a fault. Although it still worked quite well, I found I had to turn it to the extreme end of its travel before getting a well focused binocular image! The failure upset me, but thank goodness, the story had a silver lining.

An Act of Generosity

I contacted Optical Vision Limited(OVL), the company that now owns Barr & Stroud, as well as other small players in the mid-priced binocular market. I explained the problem to them, at which point they asked if I could provide proof of purchase. I then explained to them that I actually bought it used and that I just assumed that the 10-year warranty was transferable to new owners. Unfortunately, OVL informed me that the warranty was not transferable. However, they were aware of my long-standing work for the astronomical community and kindly offered to honour the warranty. Well, the relief on my face was all too clear to everyone and I accepted their gracious offer. I dispatched the instrument by courier to their depot in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, just prior to setting out on our 400 mile journey to Pembrokeshire.

While we were in Wales, OVL contacted me to say that they would be sending me a new binocular to replace the old one and asked if I would choose a day for the courier to deliver the instrument. I arranged to have it delivered the day after our return home.

Sure enough, the new Savannah 8 x 42 arrived in perfect nick. Excitedly, I opened the box to find the brand-new instrument carefully packed inside. I had my new Savannah and it worked perfectly!

After a year of considerable grief in my professional career, something good finally happened!

 

Contentment.

Thank you so very much OVL!

What the experience taught me

I once purchased a pair of perfectly serviceable 10 x 50 binoculars for $30 at an electronics retailer. These binoculars showed that if you choose carefully, you can get good optics for relatively little money. So what do you get if you spend ten times as much? In terms of the actual view, not as much as you might expect. Yes, more expensive binoculars have better optics that will deliver more light to your eyes and sharper images, but the difference is not night and day. What the extra money does buy you is mechanical quality. Expensive binocuars can withstand the inevitable bumps  and knocks of everyday use without trouble, and having focusing mechanisms that are sure and precise.

Gary Seronik, Editor of Sky News and former Sky & Telescope columnist and author of over 200 articles under Binocular Highlights.

This quote from Seronik’s book, Binocular Highlights (2nd edition) is very true. In my case the Savannah binocular (mid-priced in the scheme of things) gives you about 90 per cent of the optical performance of the Swarovski. Yes, the latter is definitely the better instrument, but it is the mechanical design and not the optics where it especially excels. That said, I have become very fond of the Savannah, as it feels right in my hands, and punches well above its weight. I don’t know how the fault with the dioptre ring developed but what I can say is that I will be keeping a very close eye on it. And if any issues arise with it again, you’ll be the first to know!

Second time lucky: fingers crossed!

I am very grateful to Ian for allowing me to test the 10 x 42 EL Range. I now know why he spent so much money to acquire one!

 

Neil English’s new book, The ShortTube 80: A User’s Guide (267 pages) is now published.

 

 

 

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A Great Pocket Binocular: the Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28.

Excellent optical and mechanical quality in a compact size; the Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28. The instrument measures 117 x 115 x 44mm.

The compact binocular market presents a daunting challenge to the would-be buyer. There are just so many models to choose from. By compact, I mean a binocular that can fit in the palm of your hand and possess objective lenses less than 30mm in diameter. I purchased this instrument about eight months ago and have used it extensively on hill-walking trips and nature treks all around the beautiful, verdant landscape of rural and coastal Scotland. And they’ve even come in handy for watching sports events.

During the long and bright summer days, this pocket-sized binocular has excelled as a lightweight optical device to study the Creation at close range or from a distance. As any experienced binocular viewer will tell you, small aperture binoculars like these are all you need when light is abundant. That’s because the exit pupil of most folk’s eyes shrinks during daylight to 2 or 3mm and so using larger aperture instruments offer little in the way of advantage.

The Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28 offers very high-quality optics in a rugged field-friendly design. The objective; a triplet system arranged in two groups is fully multi-coated. The ocular lenses are a five element design(and fully multi-coated) and produce razor sharp images across the vast majority of the field.  The eyecups are of high-quality, rubber-over aluminium design that twist up, allowing the user to use them in any of four different configurations. The instrument sports very comfortable eye relief – 18mm – making them ideal for eye glass wearers.

The high quality twist-up eyecups are sturdy and offer excellent eye relief for all observers.

The eyecups hold their positions very well, even when unreasonable pressure is applied to them and only move when twisted.

The Pentax compact offers a true field of view of 5.6 degrees and a magnification of 9x. I’ve really come to appreciate this magnification, as it offers a real edge over 8x models, which bring finer details into sharp focus. 10x models start introducing too much shake which limits their use during extensive, hand-help outdoor applcations.

The ocular end of the Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28.

The unit is phase coated for bright, crisp imaging and is fully weather proof, being dry nitrogen filled to prevent internal fogging and corrosion. It is also water resistant, and tested at 1m depth for several minutes (JIS Class 6).

Glare and internal reflections are supressed to very satisfactory levels. One design feature to reduce flaring involves mounting the objectives a few millimetres (~5mm) in from the end of the objective barrels.

Recessed objective lenses are a clever way to reduce flaring during bright daylight viewing.

The superior optical design of the Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28 became more evident to me during poor lighting conditions, such as at dawn or dusk, or while viewing targets in a heavily forested location. Cheaper models, such as the Celestron Nature DX 8 x 25, quickly revealed its limitations during these demanding conditions, where the images became overly dim and harder to discern. No such problem with the Pentax unit, where its better coatings and supression of internal reflections made all the difference. And while larger binoculars in the 32 to 42mm aperture range are better for these low-light conditions, I’ve been quite impressed at just how well the Pentax stood up. The images are razor-sharp and colour free with a nice, neutral or ‘cool’ colour tone.

The dioptre setting( the texturised grey ring in the photos) on the Pentax is located immediately under the right-hand ocular lens and has proven to be very precise and largely immune to movement. Indeed, I have rarely felt the need to adjust it since the day the unit arrived here.

What I have especially come to appreciate about this model is the large focusing wheel, which offers very smooth and precise adjustments to focus. Many pocket binoculars have much smaller focusing wheels, making them that little bit more challenging to operate, especially when attempting to image targets moving from fairly close up to far away, or vice versa, like birds in flight, or while using gloves during cold weather conditions.

The large, smooth focusing wheel on the Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28.

Though not the lightest unit in its aperture class (365g), I have found them to be better suited than many lighter models, as the latter tend to be made more flimsily or are too small to fit securely in the hand during prolonged observations. You need a bit of inertia when using pocket binoculars at 9x, and for me, the Pentax provides the ‘Goldilocks’ size and weight to allow me to optimise my viewing experiences. The underside of the binocular has nice thumb indents for secure handling; a useful feature, in the hand.

Thumb indentations on the underside of the binocular make gripping the instrument that little bit easier.

While I  would never consider such a small binocular to be the ideal companion under the stars, I have enjoyed occasional quick looks of the celestial realm with this instrument. Gazing at the Moon is always a memorable experience, the main craters and mountain ranges being crisply defined and without the annoying internal reflections found in other models( the Nature DX was horrendous in this regard). Star fields are faithfully rendered, and provide pleasing images across its 5.6 degree angular field. Chromatic aberration is pretty much non existent as you’d expect from an instrument in this aperture class( indeed many of the so-called ultra premium models in this aperture class do not use ED glass).

The Pentax DCF LV 9 x 28 is fairly expensive, as pocket binoculars go (I actually bought mine in an ex-display sale with a one-year warranty), but I feel it was worth every penny. The peace of mind one gets when using a mechanically sound and optically excellent instrument such as this is definitely real and when one factors in the countless hours it has accompanied me on my long country walks, hikes, during vacations, and attending sports events(my boys are keen footballers, golfers and rugby players), it has already paid for itself many times over.

Since the introduction of the DCF LV range about a decade ago, Pentax has recently re-branded these models as the AD series (details here). I would heartily recommned this pocket binocular to anyone who is serious about making a life-time purchase. Its excellent optics and sturdy mechanical construction will give you years of hassle-free operation even in less than ideal observational conditions.

 

Dr. Neil English has recently re-kindled his interest in binoculars. His latest article, Paradigm Shifts(presenting the latest science against the existence of extraterrestrial life), will be published in Salvo Magazine Volume 50(Fall 2019).

 

 

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Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 Wide Angle Binocular: Specs & Independent Reviews.

The Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 wide angle: arguably the best bang for buck general purpose binocular in today’s market.

                                                                 Basic Specifications

Type: 8 x 42 mm roof prism

Field of View: 143m@1000m

Eye Relief: 18mm

Eyecups: solid, adjustable, twist up, two positions

Lens Coatings: Fully multi-coated(verified)

BAK4 Prism Phase Coating: Yes

Warranty: 10 years

Close Focus: 1.95m(verified)

Dioptre Compensation: +4 to -4

Focusing system: Central

Dimensions: 152x130x57mm

Weight: 819g

Carry Case: Clam shell type, solid construction

Carry Strap: High-quality padded starp, with B&S logo

Interpupillary Distance Range: 58-75mm

Waterproof: yes, immersion tested at 1.5m for 3 minutes.

Fog proof: yes, dry nitrogen gas filled and o-ring sealed.

Rubberised Ocular and Objective covers: yes

Price:~ £120(UK)

Last year, I wrote a review of the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 wide-angle binocular. There I stated that I was very impressed with the excellent optics and ergonomics of the instrument, which surpassed all my expectations, given its very modest price. Since then, I have conducted more testing of this instrument compared with a Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42 (borrowed from my coalman, an avid birder and hunter), where I found the views to be astonishingly similar (as he also verified!!), despite the enormous price differential between the models. These tests convinced me that, like telescopes, you can pay a great deal for brand bragging rights which made me openly question why some folk would fork out between £1000 and £2000 for an instrument that, for all intents and purposes, delivers identical views.

Here I wish to bring you a list of reviews of the Barr & Stroud 8 x42 Savannah from verified purchasers of the instrument, which I can wholeheartedly vouch for, based on my own, extensive field experience with the said instrument:

 

Very sturdy binoculars and rubber covered. Good image quality. Not too powerful where there is movement/shake with unsteady hands but powerful enough to bring images a lot closer and allow close focussing on a tree in the garden watching the wildlife. .At the weekend I saw a white vapour trail from an aircraft really high in the sky but when I looked at it through the binoculars I could make out the colour of the rear of the aircraft. Someone was piloting a single engine plane much lower than the passenger aircraft and could make out it was a middle aged gent pilotting it !! 8×42 are a good all rounder in my opinion and I would recommend these.

Graham Lynch ( January 2016)

 

I have always bought at the cheaper end of the market and have enjoyed bird watching but wanted to buy something that looked good and was the next step up and they didn’t disappoint
They come complete with sturdy case which has a hard shell to protect them, the bins are easy to use and crystal clear and very sharpe for viewing, the 10 year warranty is a nice touch
You can really tell these are proper made they feel sturdy and are going to last a long time
So in reflection I think these are great all round bins that will give you long service.

readanotherone(June 2014)

Read loads of reviews as I wanted an all round pair of binoculars to use when walking the dog and fishing etc when I’m away in the caravan. Ended up ordering these and I was not disappointed. They arrived the next day. They are so easy to use, smooth focus wheel, soft eye covers so I can leave my glasses on. Very sharp view. I can’t imagine why people would pay £1000’s for a pair apart from to say ” I own a pair of ………” for around £100 these are fantastic.

Cookie(January 2015)

 

Bought for viewing wildlife in Namibia. Wide angle, bright, well made, robust and N2 filled. You will not find a better buy. Whilst away I had plenty of opportunity to compare these with some other brands. These are very high quality – right up there with the best. The extra wide angle is nice.

Seashark(February 2014)

 

Bought these bins because I cannot justify the money for Swarovski. I am a photographer and carry bins and leave them lying around and generally abuse them. However, the quality of these bins is exceptional and I am really pleased with them – focus is great and very good in low light. Worth every penny.

Frank G (February 2014)

 

If you’re thinking of buying these Binoculars then don’t think about it just do it. For the money there is nothing to touch them. I am a wildlife skipper and tour guide specialising in White Tailed Eagles and have used these bins for about a year and they are perfect for spotting these well camouflaged birds with a lovely wide angle and very clear stable image. I did have a problem with the pair I ordered but the seller was very quick and efficient with sorting out the issue.

Andy Kulesza(May 2015)

 

Bought a pair of ‘used’ (as good as new) binoculars. Savannah 8 x 42 from Barr and Stroud. The image is extremely clear and accurate, this exceeded my expectation. The wide angle view is one of the finest for bird- and wildlife-watching. Construction is solid and more than adequate for sturdy outdoor use. The focusing is brilliant and very convenient with the adjustment-knobs in their ‘one-hand alignment’. Compliments for Barr and Stroud. I would recommend these binoculars to any-one, without hesitation.

Gerard Schiphorst(April 2013)

Optically superb, nicely balanced and a joy to handle, these are well made and feel like a quality product. Slightly let down by its mean-sized case which is too small to hold the binoculars without closing down the eyepieces each time and struggles to close with the strap attached – a bit of pain.

RPG(October 2014)

Bought these for an upcoming whale-watching cruise, really pleased with them. They feel nice and solid, but crucially the optics are great – bright image, wide angle and very little chromatic aberration. My friend has a pair of Minox HG 8×43 and we both agreed that the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8×42 have better optics, after doing a side-by-side comparison of the two.

Andrew Hart( March 2019)

Love them, bought for my Mum for Christmas but i will be purchasing another set for my self. Not too heavy, nice to handle, picture quality brilliant so clear, colours sharp, easy to adjust.

Gillian(January 2015)

These are just the nuts anyone wanting good clear images go for it.
Sometimes a wall support or similar is useful but can be hand held with not much problem.

Twe man(July 2015)

The finest binoculars I have ever used. The images are crystal clear with no blurring at any distance even when watching wildlife in flight.

stephen(July 2018)

excellent value and quality – good step up from previous 8×25 binos and much more substantial build quality

JRAC(July 2014)

 

Great binoculars for some one wearing glasses. Good and solid for the price.

smart(December 2014)

 

Great value for money, really pleased with the quality. No instructions in my box, after an email to the seller I received a link to a web page for instructions.
JW(March 2015)
Was advised these were good. I wasn’t disappointed, excellent binoculars came with smart case and well protected am very pleased with them
Annie(April 2013)
We bought a pair of Barr and Stroud 8×32 Sierra binoculars earlier in the year and were very impressed. On the basis of this we ordered a pair of the 8×42 Savannahs. These are another step up. Bright even in poor light and quite breathtaking at times. The only very minor negative is that they initially seem a little heavy. At the price they seem to be remarkable value.
Wauno(December 2011)
The upsides greatly outweigh the downsides of these binoculars, they produce a clear, bright image and are a joy to use. Downsides, well if I’m being fussy there’s nowhere for the neck strap of the binoculars to go when in the hard case, so it ends up being scrunched up which is a shame as it’s a nice strap. They’re also pretty heavy and the manual is a bit generic so it doesn’t specifically apply to this binocular, as such it can take a bit of working out (a bit disappointing for a premium brand and price). Other than that they’re very impressive indeed, as I said in the title I’m looking forward to plane/bird spotting with them in spring and taking them abroad with me.
Shuester( February 2014)
Purchased these glasses after researching various lines. My only gripe was the carrying strap coming away from the case on their first trip out. this was obviously a fault on the rivet that holds the strap to the case. I contacted Barr &stroud and they sent me a new case within a couple of days. The glasses themselves are excellent, just what I needed, very good quality, and have a good grip to them.
David Redshaw(July 2013)

Great quality for the price, beats optic that cost way more, thumbs up from me.

Buy if you want a very good binocular at a even greater price

Brian Steffen (February 2103)
The only reason I am not awarding this purchase 5 stars is because I never award anything 5 stars. That said, delivery was prompt, the binoculars arrived in pristine condition, and they suit my purpose well. I use them mainly to observe the birds and other wildlife in my garden and I also take them on country walks with me, again, to observe wildlife. I am no expert, but I am very happy with what I have. Well done, Barr and Stroud!
Ava(July 2013)

As others have said these are amazing Binoculars and quite possibly the best in their class.

On top of that however is the aftermarket customer service.

I bought these in 2013. Last month the diopter focus ring broke on it’s own. I emailed B&S’ parent company who deal with support and after sending them the purchase email for proof of purchase they told me to post the bino’s to them.

Today I got a package – not my repaired bino’s like I asked, but a brand new pair instead.

I am well chuffed right now. Turns out they have a 10 year guarantee and B&S honour it superbly.

Syrio(August 2016)
After a few evenings of on-line research, I purchased a pair of these and have not been disappointed. Great value and wonderful clarity of vision. Delighted with them and would recommend them. I didn’t realise how little – or how much you could pay for binos. I have used a pair of Swarovskis of similar magnification and these, for me, are as good. If there are differences, they may be slight and indiscernible – apart from the price difference.
If you are inclined to buy these, I would join with others who have commented favourably on them and would recommend them without hesitation.
They also come with a decent case, strap and a long term guarantee.
Amazon Customer(April 2017)
I have used these binoculars on safaris for the past year and are very impressed with them. The image quality and field of view is excellent even in low light conditions. In fact I had the chance to buy a reduced pair of Carl Zeiss ones, but after comparing both, there was no noticeable difference with the Barr & Stroud ones so kept them instead. They are easy to hold in one hand and the lens caps can be secured to the strap so you don’t lose them. For the money these are great binoculars and would not hesitate in recommending anyone buying.
Leeson(November 2015)
Average Amazon Rating: 4.8 out of 5.0 from 30 reviews.

Oh I do like to be beside the sea side……ken.

Well, I hope these testimonials have increased your buying confidence about this remarkable product. I can personally vouch for its extraordinary performance by day and by night. In a time when con artsts abound, you can get what you paid for and much more besides.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Dr. Neil English is the author of several hundred optics and astronomy related articles and is the author of several books in amateur telescope optics, history  and space science.

 

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