Product Review: Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30.

The Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 package.

A Work Commenced September 8 2021

 

Preamble 1

Preamble 2

Preamble 3

Preamble 4

 

 

Product: Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30

Country of Manufacture: Japan

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

Eye Relief:16.2mm

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.81m measured

Exit Pupil: 3.75mm

Chassis: Textured rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Field Flattening Optics: Yes

ED Glass: Yes

Light Transmission: 92%

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

Dioptre: Lockable +/- 4 dioptres

Waterproof: Yes 10 mins at 5m depth

Dry Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 450g

Tripod Attachable: Yes

Dimensions(L/W): 11.9/ 12.6cm

Warranty: 10 years

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

Price: £780- £825(UK)/ $950(US)

 

 

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

Packaging & Ergonomics

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Optical Evaluation: 

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

Left ocular

Right Ocular

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

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

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

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

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

Further Notes from the Field

A stylish companion in the great outdoors.

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

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

Astronomical Tests

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

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

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

Conclusions

A birder’s dream bino?

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

Thanks for Reading!

 

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

 

 

De Fideli.

7 thoughts on “Product Review: Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30.

  1. WoW..what a thorough review. I am new to birding. In fact I am looking for my first pair of binoculars, and stumbled across your review of the Monarch HG. I am not able to try out any binoculars before buying. I have been gleaming information from reviews; bird forums; my state’s Audubon Society; and online optics stores. The recommendations vary greatly from spending the most (or more-Zeiss SF Victory/Swarovski NL Pure 8x32s) than you can afford, to not breaking the bank for your first pair (Vanguards ED) to something in between (Kowa Genesis 8×33). I need a lighter weight as I have physical limitations and will do most of my viewing from home. Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you!

  2. WoW..what a thorough review. I am new to birding. In fact I am looking for my first pair of binoculars, and stumbled across your review of the Monarch HG. I am so glad I did because the specs sounded great and I had not considered a Nikon. I am not able to try out any binoculars before buying. I have been reading reviews; bird forums; contacted my state’s Audubon Society; optics stores online. I have been told everything from spend the most or more than you can afford (Swarovski NL Pure; Zeiss SF Victory 8x m32) to not breaking the bank on your first pair (Vanguard ED 8×32) to something in between (Kowa Genesis 8×33; Swarovski CL Companion 8×30). Do you have and suggestions? Any recommendations would be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you!

  3. I forgot to add the Opticron BD ii as a possibility in the “in between” category.
    Also, how can you tell if the binocular has a field flattener/wide angle? I have been reading all of your reviews and learning so much.

  4. Hello Kerri,

    Thanks for your messages and for the feedback.

    I would think an 8x 30 or 8 x 32 would be ideal for you as a beginning birder. These offer a very wide, stable field of view, and are very light weight so can be carried around for long periods of time.

    In my experience, the Monarch HG 8x 30 is a very good choice but is rather expensive and I found the field flatteners to give too much rolling ball effect. I also experienced too many blackouts with it.

    In all honesty, I would recommend something considerably less expensive but not much different in terms of quality: the GPO Passion ED 8 x 32 I have just reviewed.

    https://neilenglish.net/product-review-gpo-passion-ed-8-x-32/

    It has excellent build quality and has a very wide and well corrected field of view.
    It gives you wonderful ergonomics and optics in a nice, light weight package and doesn’t have the substantial blackout issues I encountered with the Monarch.

    I think you would love it and it retails for less than half the price of the Monarch.

    Hope that helps.

    Best wishes,

    Neil.

    • Thank you Neil. I actually read that review earlier today. I wasn’t sure if GPO Passion was available in the US. I will check our online stores. I appreciate your candid reply regarding the Monarch HGs. I never heard of rolling ball before reading your review and looked it up, and field flattening. As I said in my earlier reply, your review was so thorough and gave me a lot of homework in looking up binocular terminology. I also see that the Kowa binoculars are having a spring sale. I don’t want price to be too much of an influence in my choice, but Kowa was on my list (albeit a little heavier-Genesis Prominar- than some of the others). Quality/clarity/view and weight/ease of use are most important.
      Looking up GPO now.. any thought on the Kowas is appreciated.
      Thank you!!

  5. Hello Kerri,

    Apologies for the delay in getting back to you.

    There are many really nice binoculars available today to suit everyone’s budget. I don’t have a lot of experience with Kowas but the BDIIs are very well received by the community.

    I would take a good look at GPO. They make some really nice gear. You can contact directly in the USA here:

    https://gpo-usa.com/

    You can drop them an email here:

    info@gpo-usa.com

    If you call them directly you may get to talk to the GPO USA owner, Mike Jensen, and he will see to your order very quickly. They have an excellent warranty too. You really can’t go wrong with them!

    Happy hunting,

    Neil.

  6. Ps. If you’re open to suggestion, I would encourage you try this little porro:

    https://neilenglish.net/product-review-opticron-savanna-8-x-30.

    Great optics, feather light weight, nice ergonomics, and easy on the wallet. Would be valuable to compare it to a premium 32mm roof.

    There’s a Koya version: YF II 8 x 30:

    https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1557001-REG/kowa_yf_ii_30_8_8x30_yf_ii_binocular.html

    Leupold Yosemite 8 x 30 version

    https://www.overtons.com/leupold-bx-1-yosemite-binoculars-8×30-shadow-gray-222546.html

    Just good.

    Best wishes,

    Neil

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