Product Review: PRAKTICA Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED.

Praktica Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED binocular package.

 

Preamble

 

Product: Praktica Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED

Country of Manufacture: China

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

Eye Relief: 17.2mm

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

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

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

Chassis: Rubber over Magnesium Alloy

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

Dioptre range: +/- 5 dioptres

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (5 minutes at 1m depth)

ED Glass; Yes

Weight: 698g

Dimensions H/W; 14.5/12.6cm

Warranty: 25 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ergonomics

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

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

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

Optical Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ad Astra

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

Conclusions

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

Thanks for reading!

 

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

 

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

 

 

De Fideli.

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