Product Review: The SvBony SA204 10 x 50 Binocular.

The SvBony SA204 10 x 50 package.

A Work Commenced September 17 2023

Product: SvBony SA204 10 x 50

Country of Manufacture: China

Exit Pupil: 5mm

Field of View: 114m@1000m(6.5 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 19mm

Closest Focus Distance: 6m advertised, 5m measured

Chassis Construction: Rubber-armoured aluminium

Prisms & Coatings: BaK4 prisms, fully multi-coated

ED Glass: No

Waterproof: Yes, IPX6 rating

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Dioptric Compensation: +/-4

IPD Range: 53-74mm

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Dimensions: 17.5 x 19.8 x6.4cm

Weight: 925g advertised, 875g measured

Accessories: Padded neck strap, rubber rain guard and objective covers, instruction manual, soft padded case

Price: US $84.99

Ever since its founding in 2009, Svbony has been delighting the astronomy and sports optics community with an expanding range of high-quality products offered at very affordable prices. SVBONY is an acronym which stands for Saturn(S), Venus(V), Birding(B), Optics(O), Nature(N), Youth(Y). I was first introduced to the company a few short years ago when I stumbled on their excellent SV202 ED roof prism binoculars, which have since gone from strength to strength and are now being enjoyed by an army of nature enthusiasts the world over. Not long before this time, consumers were left with very little option to shell out significantly more money for products that often left a lot to be desired quality-wise. Be sure to check out the most recent reviews of these binoculars. Since discovering the SV202s, I have also enjoyed some of their excellent spotting scopes, and regularly use some of their high-quality zoom eyepieces, like the SV191, which I’ve begun to employ extensively this season to observe Jupiter.

The impressive SV 191 7.2-21.6mm zoom eyepiece.

As a dedicated fan of Porro prism binoculars, I’ve steadily come to realise their exceptional value for money owing to great advances in technology, as well as their much simpler design compared with high-performance roof prism binoculars. Truth be told, it takes a lot of knowledge and technology to create roof prism binoculars that can even begin to approach the quality of a traditional, well-made Porro prism design. What’s more, many of the conventional objections purists have laid against the humble Porro prism binocular have now been satisfactorily addressed, including advances in anti-refection coating technology, water- and fog-proofing, and the introduction of modern twist-up eyecups with much better eye relief to accommodate eye glass wearers. In addition, advances in material science also means that good Porro prism binoculars can now be manufactured with lower mass chassis, allowing them to be carried longer in the field.

It was these considerations, as well as my own experiences with several budget-priced Porro prism models that led me to appraise one of Svbony’s newest products, the SA204 10 x 50, a traditional Porro prism binocular. Having ordered several products directly from their online store, I decided to purchase this instrument directly from Svbony too, since they’re currently not available from Amazon UK.

First Impressions  

The Svbony SA204 10 x 50 binocular.

The SA204 10 x 50 package took about two weeks to arrive from the Far East to my home. As usual with Svbony, I was extremely impressed with the attention to detail in how it was packaged during its long trip to the UK. The instrument arrived double boxed inside some bubble wrap to ensure that nothing moved out of place during transit.  All the accessories were also neatly packed away, including the ocular and objective covers, a carrying strap, lens cleaning cloth, a well-written instruction manual and a decent soft padded carry case. Inspecting the binocular, my first impressions were very favourable. The instrument is covered in a high-quality textured rubber substrate, ribbed at the sides for extra grip. The twist-up eyecups moved smoothly and were easy to adjust, keeping their individual positions firmly when clicked into place. Two intermediate positions are available between fully retracted and fully extended, so plenty of options for those who like to experiment.

Belly side up.

The aluminium central hinge is nicely tensioned, allowing you to easily adjust it to your preferred IPD. Once there, it stays rigidly in place. The rubber-covered central focus wheel has deep ridges to afford extra grip. Turning is very smooth with no free play. It ‘s quite stiff though, a consequence I suppose of the instrument being properly sealed and nitrogen purged. The focuser moves the eyepiece assembly up and down with no annoying wobbles I’ve seen in other instruments in this price class. 0.8 turns anticlockwise takes you from closest focus to jut beyond infinity. Eye relief is very generous. I was easily able to engage with the entire field using my varifocals, although I don’t wear spectacles when glassing under normal circumstances.

The dioptre adjustment is made using a small lever under the right eyepiece that rotates either clockwise or counter-clockwise, and I was easily able to find my optimal position. Once set in place, it stays there. I would say it’s very nicely engineered.

The large ocular lenses and twist-up eyepieces are easy to engage with.

The large ocular lenses have nice green multi-coatings and the objectives are decently recessed as all good binoculars ought to be. The objective coatings appear to be significantly more subdued to those applied to the ocular eyepieces and I detected a faint reflection off one of the interior lenses possibly indicative of one surface being singly coated. The rain guard and tethered ocular covers are quite basic but do an adequate job protecting the lenes from rain and dust.

The 50mm objectives have good coatings although there appears to be one surface that may be singly coated based on its appearance in daylight.

The instrument feels really nice in the hand with plenty of wiggle room to engage with my medium-sized mitts, making it easy to hold the instrument firmly. I was pleasantly surprised by the weight of the instrument without the strap and lens covers. Although the specs claim 925g, my SA204 tipped the scales at just 875g or 50 g less than advertised!  All in all, I came away with the impression that this was indeed a nicely appointed binocular, significantly better built than other 10 x 50 Porros I’ve tested in the past, including the Opticron Adventuer T WP and the Nikon Aculon.

Optics

My optical testing began by measuring the effective aperture of the instrument by directing my iPhone 11 torch into one of the eyepieces and measuring the size of the resulting circular shaft of light emerging on the other side of the objectives. By tracing a circle of diameter 50mm, I was able to show that the circular light shaft fitted snugly into the circle indicating that the SA204 was operating at its full aperture.

The SA204 10 x 50 operates at its full aperture.

In the next test, I examined how well the binocular handled a beam of bright light. Turning on a sodium street lamp after dark, I was relieved to see that only a few minor internal reflections were seen that were largely non-injurious to the image. There was no diffused light around the light ether. Consulting my notebooks, I reported a little more internal reflections for both the Nikon Aculon and Action EX Porros(both of which retailing for considerably more than the SA204) I reviewed some time back and about the same as I recorded with two models of Opticron Adventurer T, but not quite as good as that seen in the significantly more expensive Opticron Imagic TGA WP(a £200 value).

Looking at the exit pupils yielded quite good results. I recorded nice round circles but I could see some light leaks around the pupils suggesting that better blackening on the inside of the tubes wouldn’t have gone astray.

Left pupil.
Right pupil.

I had the opportunity to test the SA204 in all kinds of lighting conditions. The image is quite good: sharp, nice contrast, with a surprisingly large sweet spot. Colour fringing is very well controlled, especially off-axis.In this capacity, it’s certainly in a completely different league to the Nikon Aculons I tested, which displayed alarming levels of lateral colour to my eyes. Glare suppression is quite good too. I discovered that by retracting the eyecups one notch down from fully extended improved both the visibility of the field stops and the amount of glare I recorded. The instrument has an impressively wide field of view of 6.5 degrees with very well-defined field stops. I did perceive some peripheral softness near the field edges but it was not at all objectionable to my eyes. The instrument does display strong pincushion distortion however. I took the liberty of photographing some pink flowers at a distance of about 30 yards to give the reader an idea of how well corrected the field is:

Flowers imaged obliquely at 30 yards distance. Medium Resolution Image.

Close focus was measured at about 5m, less than the 6m advertised, putting it in the same ball park as a few other 10 x 50 Porro’s I’ve used. Of course, an instrument like this excels under the stars, where the 10x magnification and 50mm objectives pull in a lot of starlight. I checked collimation under the stars by defocusing the bright star Capella using the right eye dioptre while keeping the left barrel image as sharp as possible. The focused star remained well inside the defocused anulus not only in the centre of the field but also when placed to the extreme north, south, west and east edges, indicating very accurate alignment of the left and right barrels. Examining the Alpha Persei Cluster high up in the eastern sky reveals a rich cache of stars scattered across the field, I was delighted to see that they remained acceptably small and sharp across most of the field with only the outer 20 per cent of showing some mild distortion.  But even at the field stops bright stars like Vega and Altair remained quite tightly focused. Moving bright stars to the edge of the field showed little in the way of illumination drop off either. These results were most impressive for a large binocular retailing for significantly less than $100. Indeed, this instrument can be used to very good effect for general stargazing.

I estimated the field size by trying to image Alkaid and Mizar in the Plough, which have an angular separation of precisely 6 degrees 40’ or 6.66 angular degrees. I was unable to keep both stars in the same field of view but only just so, indicating that the advertised field size of 6.5 degrees was quite accurate. Views of the bright waning Moon rising over the eastern hills showed very nice results, with excellent crater detail coming through across the southern Highlands. There were a few minor internal reflections seen around the silvery orb, but they weren’t judged to be too offensive. I could detect a sliver of chromatic aberration at the edge of the Moon when centrally placed in the field  but this could be largely ameliorated by carefully reconfiguring eye placement. Off-axis colour fringing was more obvious though, but nothing I would describe as being out of the ordinary.

There was one negative however, and it manifested itself as I was imaging star fields in the vicinity of some streetlamps. Some of this peripheral light was entering the field, brightening the background sky by a tad. This disappeared however when I moved to the darkest location in my garden away from such light sources. In contrast, my Nikon E II 10 x 35(retailing at nearly ten times the price of the SA204) handled this stray light much more effectively. That said, I don’t count this as a major issue, and Svbony would do well to blacken the inside of the barrels that little bit more effectively.

Aperture Wins!

Comparing the Svbony Sa204 10 x 50(left) and Nikon E II 10 x 35(right) under the starry heaven.

Lest anyone be uncertain about the benefits of aperture, I took the opportunity to test both the SA204 10 x 50 and Nikon E II 10 x 35 under a dark country sky with no Moon during the wee small hours of September 17. Turning the instruments on the faint galaxy duo M81 & M82 in Ursa Major, I did manage to see them in both instruments, but they were much easier to see in the 10 x 50. The same was true when I moved the instrument to the celebrated Double Cluster in Perseus, now passing near the zenith at about 2.00 am local time. The view was compelling in both instruments, but the clusters were considerably richer in the larger glass. Ditto for the wondrous Pleiades and Hyades in Taurus as well as tracking down the trio of Messier open clusters in Auriga still low in the east. Indeed, I was quite impressed by just how well the SA204 managed to image the Hyades, with its constituent stars filling most of the field. I noted how well defined fiery red Aldebaran presented itself when positioned at the south-eastern edge of the field! All this to show that ‘you cannae change the laws o’ physics captain’ no matter how sexy and optically pristine the smaller, more expensive glass may be.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Great bang for buck!

The Svbony SA204 10 x 50 represents excellent bang for buck. It serves up a well corrected, sharp, bright and high contrast image with good control of chromatic aberration. It will serve as a fine general-purpose binocular, where it excels at low light observations and astronomy. I would have been thoroughly delighted with an instrument like this were I starting out in binocular astronomy again. I would however recommend using a more substantial neck strap than the generic one supplied with a chunky instrument like this. Better attention to internal blackening to improve contrast when observing under bright night lighting would also go a long way to making it an even better performer. That said, if you’re after a cost-effective instrument that does many things well, I would certainly recommend this neat 10 x 50 Porro to all and sundry.

Dr Neil English’s new 650+ page book, Choosing and Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, caters for all budgets and will soon be published in paperback. Now available for pre-order.  

De Fideli.

Product Review: Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42.

The Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42 package.

A Work Commenced August 21 2023

Product: Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Chassis: Rubber Armoured Magnesium Alloy

Field of View: 142m@1000m(8.1 angular degrees)

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 2.36m measured

Eye Relief: 15mm(Useable)

IPD Range: 57-74mm

Coatings: Full Broadband Multicoated, Dielectric coatings on BaK4 prisms

ED Glass: Yes FK-61

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Dimensions: L/W: 14/12.5cm

Weight: 671g advertised, 728g measured

Warranty: 2 years

Price: $329.95

In previous reviews I expressed my great admiration for the new Oberwerk SE Porro prism binoculars, which offer exceptional optical performance for their modest price tags. These experiences got me very intrigued about the company’s Sport ED roof prism binoculars, offered in the popular formats of 8 x 42 and 10 x 42. Could these deliver the ‘Wow Factor’ I had experienced while using the SE Porros?

Admittedly, this was going to be a tall order to pull off, especially in light of the many similarly priced models now available to the consumer offering many of the same features, at least on paper. Moreover, my love of high-quality Porro prism binoculars had somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for roof prism binoculars in general. But after putting the 8 x 42 Sport ED model through its paces in a variety of favourable and adverse lighting conditions, I think the answer is a confident Yes!

Ergonomic Features

An exceptionally handsome binocular.

I contacted Oberwerk owner, Kevin Busarow, who agreed to send me a unit for review. The instrument arrived well packed and double-boxed together with its standard accessories. My first impressions were certainly very favourable. While I’m not a fan of garish colours, I have to make an exception for this binocular. This is one handsome instrument, with its very fetching dark green rubber armouring and black, twist-up eyecups complemented by the cherry apple red anodized aluminium focus wheel and right eye dioptre ring.

The textured rubber armouring is exceptionally grippy without being overly thick, keeping its overall weight down. Even in wet weather, your fingers will not slip up. The focus wheel is truly excellent. The deeply knurled edges make it exceptionally easy to turn with one finger, rotating smoothly in both directions with zero free play. Indeed, this is probably the very best focus wheel I’ve personally encountered in a roof prism binocular! 1.75 turns anticlockwise takes you from closest focus to beyond infinity.

Ditto for the right eye dioptre ring. It’s very hard to rotate but you get there in the end. Once set it will stay in place!

Belly side up.

The rubber-clad metal eye cups have two intermediate positions between fully retracted and fully extended. Moreover, after clicking into place, they hold their positions very firmly indeed. And there’s plenty of eye relief for the bespectacled among us too. I was easily able to engage with the entire field while wearing ordinary eyeglasses.

The objective lenses are unusually well recessed(~12mm)  from the end of the barrels, helping to protect the coatings from the vagaries of the weather as well as acting as a protective barrier against stray light. The large(23mm) eye lenses make centring your eyes child’s play.

Note the very deeply recessed objective lenses.
Large eye lenses make for very easy centring of your pupils.

Being very compact at just 14.5cm long and 11cm wide, the Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42 feels great in my medium sized hands. My right-hand fingers comfortably fall on the bridge and can wrap around the right barrel, while my left index finger naturally rests on the large focus wheel rendering an exceptionally secure handling experience. All-in-all I would rate the ergonomic features of the Oberwerk Sport ED as superb; easily as good as anything I’ve seen from the top European manufacturers.   

Optical Assessment

I began my optical testing by looking for internal reflections and diffused light around an intensely bright light source. Setting my iPhone torch to its brightest output, and examining the image from across a room, I got an excellent result. I detected only a couple of very feeble reflections, no diffused light around the light source and no diffraction spikes. The same was true when I turned the binocular on a bright sodium streetlamp after dark.

Next, I photographed the images of the exit pupils. As you can see below, the results are very good; perfectly circular with plenty of darkness immediately around them. There is some light leakage set well away from the pupils but even with fully dilated eye pupils, you’re unlikely to be affected by it.

Left Pupil.
Right Pupil.

Now for the juicy bits. When I first set the Sport ED 8 x 42 to my eyes, I assumed the optimal position of the eye cups was in their fully extended position, as they usually are. But that yielded a slight tunnelling effect which prevented me from viewing the field stops clearly, but I quickly found my ideal setting by retracting the eyecups one notch down.

How are the views? In a word; excellent! But to elaborate, the Sport ED served up tack sharp images from centre to edge. Indeed, testing the binocular alongside my Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED ‘control’ I was able to resolve finer grain detail on the wooden beams on a climbing frame located about 80 metres in the distance. This instrument has a remarkably large sweet spot, and while the field of view is already generously large(8.1 degrees), it feels even more expansive by virtue of the sharp field edges. This is a remarkable result given that the instrument does not employ field flattening optics! Pin cushion distortion is also very well controlled in this instrument being noticeably milder than that observed in the Svbony control instrument. Colours are bright and true to life with a slightly warm tone which I very much enjoyed.  

Glare control is decent in the Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42. Only in the more severe lighting situations did I detect some. Colour correction is also WAY above average, even for its ‘ED’ billing. Indeed, after conducting many hours of testing on a variety of high-contrast targets, I could only detect the merest trace of off-axis chromatic aberration, and only at the extreme edges of the field of view. Those who find colour fringing annoying will find the Oberwerk Sport ED to be a refreshing break from the norm!

Notes from the Field

A wonderful companion in the great outdoors

One of the first tests I performed was to check collimation under the stars. This is easily done by turning the right eye dioptre so that it defocuses a bright star in the right barrel while the left barrel keeps the star tightly focused. The focused star stayed in the centre of the defocused anulus, not only in the centre of the field, but also when the star was moved around the field, checking as I did for possible detachment. The star remained centrally placed, irrespective of where the anulus was positioned inside the field. This confirmed that the instrument was very accurately collimated.

Excellent collimation also explains why I’ve been able to enjoy prolonged panning activities with this binocular, its soft eyecups being very comfortable to place your eyes against. The view is very immersive, almost as if you’re sitting in the image. Contrast and resolution are excellent, especially over longer distances. For example, I could easily pick off the variegated colours of a Goldfinch in flight over 150 metres away. The Sport ED 8x 42 has that crystal clear clarity reminiscent of high-end European binoculars like the Zeiss Conquest HD but with a significantly larger field of view.

Just a half a turn of the ultra-smooth focus wheel covers the vast majority of targets from about 8 metres out to infinity.  Closest focus was measured at 2.36m, a little longer than advertised but plenty close enough for viewing insects or other targets at proximity.

The excellent sharpness of the image was abundantly in evidence when I turned the Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42 on the stars. Aiming the binocular on the Alpha Persei star cluster, I immediately noticed the very fine pinpoints of starlight served up by the instrument. The stars making up this celebrated cluster were incredibly fine, with the subtle colour differences among its members easily discernible. The fineness of the stellar images were unquestionably better than any roof prism binocular I’ve tested in this price class.

My subjective impressions of a large sweet spot were also confirmed under the stars. In a sense, the eye can deceive during daylight hours. The ‘trickery’ of visual accommodation and all that….. Centring Altair and moving it across the field, I noted that the image of the star stayed tight and pinpointed most of the way to the field stop. To my eye, it only showed noticeably bloating in the outer 15 per cent of the field, where slight refocusing restored the image to a tight pinpoint of white light. Conventional wisdom has it that field flattening optics are necessary for observing pristine star fields right out to the edges but the very mild field curvature in the Sport ED show that excellent results can be achieved without such optics.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Sweet.

Test driving the Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42 has been nothing short of a revelation. Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, along comes an instrument like this that upsets the apple cart. Oberwerk has really hit the ground running with the Sport ED roof prism binoculars, as the many other reviews also attest. This is a seriously good piece of kit. For a very reasonable price you get an extremely well-made instrument that functions beautifully in field use. It has superb resolution, contrast, ergonomics, and engineering, and in my opinion, there’s nothing to touch it in this price class with a fit and finish more reminiscent of a £1k instrument. But that seems to be the siren call of Oberwerk in general. Not only has it made its name in high quality large aperture binoculars, the company’s new lines of compact binoculars are also making heads turn. And that’s great news for the consumer and the hobby in general.

Dr Neil English explores the fascinating world of binoculars in his up-and-coming book, Choosing and Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts due out in late 2023/early 2024.

De Fideli.

Product Review: Hawke Frontier ED X 8 x 42.

Hawke Frontier ED X 8 x 42 Package.

A Work Commenced July 30 2023

Product: Hawke Frontier EDX 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Chassis: Rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Field of View: 142m@1000m(8.1 angular degrees)

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.94m measured

Coatings: Fully Broadband Multicoated, high resolution phase corrected BaK4 prisms 

Eye Relief: 18mm

ED Glass: Yes

Water Proof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 692g advertised, 701g measured

Accessories: custom zip-closed clamshell carry case, rubber rain guard and objective covers, lens cleaning cloth, neoprene neck strap, instruction manual and warranty

Warranty: Hawke World Wide Lifetime warranty

Price(UK): £449.00

In a previous review, I tested the Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42, finding it to be a solid performer for the money. In this review I wish to report on the company’s more expensive Frontier ED X binocular, an 8 x 42 unit kindly lent to me by Steve at First Light Optics.

While the Hawke Endurance ED line offers very decent optical performance, their more expensive Frontier ED X range is a good step up in both optical and ergonomic quality. I spent a few months test driving the 8 x 42 and very much enjoyed the experience. What follows is a summary of what I found.

Ergonomics

The magnesium alloy chassis on the Frontier ED X is drop dead gorgeous: small, light-weight (701g) and covered in textured rubber for excellent gripping. I elected to test a grey coloured unit, although you can opt for a more traditional green armoured chassis if you prefer. The focus wheel is the dream ticket; silky smooth, perfectly tensioned, accurate and precise, taking just over one full revolution anticlockwise to go from closest focus(~2m) to infinity and completely controllable with the lightest touch of one’s finger. Indeed, I would rate this particular focus wheel as one of the best in the industry! Kudos to Hawke.

The grey armouring and the red ‘X ‘logo make for a visually striking chassis.

The twist up eye cups are a good step up in quality from the Endurance ED models too. They have one intermediate step between fully extended and fully retracted and rigidly lock into place with a loud clicking sound. Eye relief is adequate for eyeglass wearers, as I was able to engage with the entire field with my varifocals on. The right eye dioptre is nicely grooved for easy adjustment but once set maintains its position well. Like the Endurance ED models, the strap lugs are quite large and protrude a bit more than I would like, but in my tests I didn’t encounter any such issues. The objective lenses are nicely recessed and treated to Hawke’s hydrophobic coating causing rainwater to bead and run off the lenses during inclement periods. Of course, it goes without saying that the optics are o ring sealed and nitrogen purged making it both water and fog proof.

The large central focus wheel is exceptionally smooth, with no free play or backlash.

The interior of the Hawke Frontier ED-X is immaculately presented, very clean and dust-free. I detected only a few very minor internal reflections when I pointed it at an intensely bright light source. There were no annoying diffraction spikes or diffused light around the same light source suggestive of the use of high-quality optical components. Comparing these results to those obtained with the lower-priced Endurance model, the Frontier ED X is certainly a step up in quality. Examining the exit pupils produced excellent results too, with nice round pupils and no light leaks in their immediate vicinity.

Left pupil. Note the very slight truncation at the upper right.
Right pupil.

Optical Assessment

The daytime views through the Hawke Frontier ED-X are very impressive: bright, sharp across most of the field and I was delighted to see well-defined field stops. Chromatic aberration is pretty much non-existent in the centre of the field, and I was only able to see an occasional flash of lateral colour near the field edges when glassing the highest contrast targets. The view is good, wide (a full 8.1 degrees) and engaging, thanks to excellent contrast and colour rendition. Star testing revealed mild field curvature off axis but even at the field stops, the images of stars were not greatly distorted. Those used to glassing with the Endurance ED models will immediately see the higher quality optics on these Frontier ED-Xs. The colour tone of the images garnered by the Hawke Frontier ED X is definitely on the warm side, with an emphasis on reds and browns. Closest focus is a very respectable 1.94m, so good for viewing butterflies, rocks and other targets in close proximity.

The twist-up eyecups stay rigidly in place and offer good eye relief for those who wear eye glasses.

The fast focus on this high-performance Hawke model makes it ideal for birding. Its excellent handling and the stable, relaxed views at 8x will bring you back again and again to this delightful instrument.  It’s obvious from a few minutes using this instrument that you’re dealing with a high-quality instrument with excellent ergonomic features.  The accessories are of very high quality too, with an excellent corduroy carry case, a test certificate and wide, neoprene neck strap and the company’s excellent no-fault lifetime warranty.

Any downsides? Well, I did notice some issues with glare when the binocular was aimed at strongly back-lit scenes which could be a deal breaker for some. The strap lugs stick out a bit more than most other models I’ve tested too.

Conclusions

Is it worth the £449 price tag? I’m in two minds about that. On the one hand, it’s a very nice instrument to handle, with well above average ergonomics, but optically I’ve seen as good or better performance from less expensive models. Finally, for those who desire the best centre-to-edge optical performance, you might want to consider Hawke’s flagship model – the Frontier APO – with built-in field flattening optics.

Recommended!

Neil English reviews hundreds of binocular models in his up-and-coming book: Choosing and Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, which will be published later this year. He would like to thank Steve from First Light Optics for kindly sending the instrument for review.

De Fideli.

Further Adventures with the Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED.

The Magnificent SV202 8 x 42 ED.

A Work Commenced May 8 2023

It’s been nearly two years since I first hit on the new high-performance Svbony SV202 ED binoculars. It was pure serendipity on my part; I was drawn to the list of features the 8 x 32 model possessed with an eye to discrediting the claims. Why? Because the price was simply too good to be true. I found out however that far from being marketing hype, these instruments delivered in spades, with excellent coatings, brilliant images and superb ergonomic construction. Thus far, I’ve tested all four models; the 8 x 32, 8 x 42, 10 x 42 and 10 x 50, but I settled on the newest addition to the series; the formidable SV202 8 x 42 ED; an instrument that has become one of my favourite field glasses in over five years of optical testing and evaluation involving hundreds of models across all price ranges. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that these amazing instruments have set in motion an unstoppable revolution that’s bound to continue in the coming years, as European manufacturing enters a self-inflicted, suicidal death spiral owing to the wicked green agenda that is destroying industries for the sake of the pseudoscience of anthropogenic climate change. Our school teachers have become activists, brainwashing and indoctrinating our children with lies. There is no discipline and no boundaries. No wonder they’re so ill-equipped to cope with life in the modern world. It’s a recipe for disaster.. Our universities too are churning out ignorant, woke ‘graduates’ who simply can’t compete with the academic excellence coming from Chinese technological universities. They’d eat ours for breakfast. Small wonder, therefore, that Chinese optical quality is rapidly approaching the so-called alpha class of western-made binoculars. For me, the SV202 line of roof prism instruments are on the cutting edge of that revolution.

Optical Quality

An optical and ergonomic marvel.

I’ve owned and used the SV202 8 x 42 ED now for about six months. It’s been a reliable companion in all weathers the Scottish climate can throw at you: rain and hail, snow and ice, wind and sun. My journals reveal that it’s clocked up about 100 hours of service. And in all that time it’s behaved flawlessly, delivering pin sharp images within a large sweetspot. Brightness and contrast are second to none. It’s sharper and better colour corrected than my Nikon E II 8 x 30- my favourite Japanese-made Porro prism binocular – and has served up some incredible views of birds, trees, hills, rivers, ponds, valleys, flowers, insects, and other wildlife. It’s got great close focus too at just over 2 metres, and exhibits superb control of internal reflections and glare. Indeed, the Svbony SV202 ED quickly became my control instrument when testing and evaluating many other roof prism models featured in my up-and-coming book. I’ve tested it against very high quality binoculars costing many times more, up to and including the likes of the Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42 and I’ve never felt like it was pulling much behind; it’s just that excellent!

Check out those excellent antireflection coatings!

Ergonomic Excellence

The SV 202 8x 42 ED is, without a doubt, built to last. I was horrified by the response of some individuals on Birdforum who continuously expressed their doubts that such instruments simply couldn’t last the test of time. Such individuals are speaking in ignorance, of course, as they’ve never actually bothered to test these instruments out for themselves. I was particularly delighted to hear of one recent poster who decided to buy the 10 x 42 model out of curiosity as well as the excellent price with which they are now selling on sites like Amazon and AliExpress. He provided his honest opinion of it, reporting that it delivered 90 per cent of the image and build quality of his 10 x 42 Nikon Monarch HG. This was especially poignant given that the same individual bought the Svbony SV202 for just £70 with a coupon. The Monarch HG, in comparison, retails in the region of £1000 UK. He’s absolutely correct in making that claim; the Svbony wonder binoculars are really that good!

Happy is the man whose dioptre ring never wanders.

The instrument has a basic, no-frills design, with a sensibly located right eye dioptre compensation ring that has not budged one iota since I first adjusted it. It’s very tight; just set it and forget it. The focuser moves with silky smoothness and exhibits no backlash or free play. The multi-position twist-up eyecups are of identical quality to the Monarch HG and lock rigidly in place. They have never let me down. I’ve tested the instrument’s waterproof status(IPX7 rated) and it’s lived up to those promises.

A brilliant focus wheel.

I’ve also observed on many occasions over the winter that it’s fog proof. Condensation builds on the outer lenses when brought in from the cold but the interior always remained bone dry. The excellent non-oxidising rubber armouring is possibly unique. It’s incredibly easy to grip and is an absolute pleasure to hold in my hands, weighing in at just over 700g. All in all, the 8 x 42 has been an absolute powerhouse of optical and ergonomic virtue, so much so that it’s the only full-size roof prism binocular I now use. Furthermore, I consider all European brands to be a profligate waste of money.

Roamin’ in the Gloamin

The Gloaming.

May 9

The evening light of May is arguably the most beautiful of the year. The setting Sun drenches the trees with their young leaves, creating spectacular light shows – known colloquially as the gloaming. The SV 202 8 x 42 ED is the ideal companion for soaking up the riot of detail in full view. Forests walks are especially thrilling, where I routinely glass busy Chaffinches foraging on the forest floor. The brightly coloured males are especially frisky this time of year. Indeed, I’ve seen them mating on many occasions over the last few weeks Like Robins, they’re quite at home with humans. Indeed I’ve been able to get within a few metres of many of them and use the 8x glass to admire their beautiful plumage. Their fearless nature endears me to them.

The spring rains cause dandelions to flourish in the more exposed parts of the forest and where they grow, colourful Goldfinches are never far away. Rarely do I observe these in isolation. Where there’s one, there’s usually two or three nearby. The males have bright yellow feathers on their heads, necks, and chests, while their wings and tail are black with white markings. Their backs are a light brownish-grey colour, and they have a distinctive black patch on their foreheads. The females, in contrast, have similar colouring, but their plumage is more muted, with less yellow on their heads and chests. I like to stand and watch them from a distance of about 5 or 6 metres, where the 8 x 42 provides exceptional views of these striking birds. Later in the season, they’ll concentrate on eating the seeds of thistles in the open fields around my home.

After heavy rain showers, the air becomes laced with the smell of wild garlic growing on the forest floor. Its leaves are ripe for the picking. We crush them into a fine paste with a pestle and mortar creating delicious salad pesto. It’s always worth while glassing these temporary explosions of green. Little Wrens are often found scampering among them, especially near burns that meander their way through the forest. Sometimes a sunbeam would break through when the wild garlic begins to glisten in the gloaming, its leaves drenched with life-giving rainwater. Such light shows are to be cherished, spectacles provided us by our Creator, the fountainhead of all that is beautiful and true.

Elon Musk is Everywhere!

May 10

I ventured out shortly after local midnight, May 10, to enjoy a few minutes under the stars. The 8 x 42 accompanied me on the vigil. Lyra and Cygnus had risen to a decent height above the northeastern horizon, Bootes was approaching the meridian and the Big Dipper loomed large nearly overhead. Scanning the sky with my 8 x 42 revealed some shocking results; nearly everywhere I pointed my binocular I could see a satellite racing through the field of view! “Elon Musk!” I exclaimed. His Star Link satellites are everywhere, changing the character of the night sky utterly and forever. I can’t imagine astro-imagers would be too happy with these developments. The visual telescopic astronomer; not so much.

Personally, I don’t mind it. It’s inevitable anyway; technological progress to be sure, linking up more people from every corner of the globe. Indeed, it’s even prophetic. I remembered the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:14

Musk’s armada of satellites will help bring the gospel to even the remotest people groups of the Earth, just as Jesus had foretold. Judging by the state of our world with all its wickedness and immorality, we’ve got to be close!

Comparing Instruments

May 14

Hawke Frontier EDX 8x 42(left) and SV 202 8x 42 ED(right).

The afternoon of May 14 was grand and bright, allowing me to capture some images with my cell phone of the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 and the Hawke Frontier EDX 8 x 42.The images are unprocessed and the same file size, so they’re quite comparable.

The SV 202 8 x 42 ED
The Hawke Frontier EDX 8 x 42.

SV 202 8x 42 ED.
Hawke Frontier EDX 8 x 42.

While the Hawke Frontier EDX 8 x 42 has a slightly larger field than the Svbony, I think you’ll agree that the images through both instruments are quite comparable. What’s more, the Hawke retails for about three times the price of the Svbony and has already garnered an excellent reputation from birders and binocular reviewers alike, so why not the SV202 also?

It just doesn’t seem fair to me!

The Hawke also suffers from more glare than the Svbony. And while it’s a very capable binocular, the Svbony glass is just as sharp and fits in my hands better. Just some of the reasons why I chose the SV 202 as my go-to mid-size roof prism binocular.

May 17

Observing at Dusk

Sunset on the Castle Drive.

Now that I’m on my long summer vacation from teaching and writing commitments (yes, the first draft of my book has now been submitted), I’ve extended my glassing to later in the evening and sometimes well into dusk. This is when the benefits of a 5mm exit pupil really comes into its own. While I do most of my daytime glassing with smaller 8 x 30 and 8 x 32 instruments, their smaller aperture and smaller exit pupils limit the amount of detail you can see when the Sun falls out of the sky. This time of year, twilight encroaches, extending the time of dusk, enabling me to make use of the 8 x 42 SV 202 more extensively to watch for owls, badgers, deer and even the odd fox. Standing still under the cover of bushes, I’ve been enjoying watching badgers roam about in the gloom, sniffing the ground and uprooting plant tubers. One of the local farmers told me he has had lambs lost to badgers but is powerless to act because they’re protected under UK law. They seem quite cute to me but get in their way and they can unleash great ferocity with those powerful jaws..

I’ve tried other 5mm exit pupil formats for this kind of ‘on the move,’ low-light observing, including a 10 x 50 and a smaller 7 x 35, but neither of those cut the mustard compared with my Svbony. The former is too too large to carry about for extended periods and has too narrow a field of view to boot. And the latter doesn’t gather nearly enough light during these challenging lighting conditions. Moreover the 7x lacks the reach of an 8x glass. The 8 x 42 format, with its nice wide field, excellent light transmission and moderate weight, makes for the ideal tool for such activities.

May 28

Serendipitous Sightings

Culcreuch Pond, late evening May 25. Note the veneer of pollen near the shore.

This is the height of the pollen season. The air is chock full of it from all the trees and bushes bursting into bloom, bringing misery to many hay fever sufferers. Thankfully, that’s not me. The surface water at Culcreuch Pond gets covered in a scum from it as it accumulates over the days and weeks. And it gets on everything -clothes, lenses, tripods, you name it! When you think of the amount of genetic and epigenetic information stored in these tiny structures, the mind boggles. It must be orders of magnitude greater than all of mankind’s digital code combined. The Lord God is a masterful designer!

On the evening of May 28, I took myself off again for a saunter up the country road towards Cuclreuch Castle. As a keen beginner birder, I’ve been learning where to scan with my binocular for interesting birds that might come into the area. One endlessly fruitful activity in this regard is to glass the fences on either side of the road. I’ve learned to scan them intently since many small passerines seem to rest there from time to time. This is where I’ve successfully spotted Goldfinches, Chaffinch, Stonechats, Robins and Wagtails, to name but a few species.

The castle road, looking west towards Dunmore hill, with fences on either side.

I had little luck this evening and turned to walk back towards the house. In the distance, I saw my eldest son and two of his mates approaching me, and stopped for a brief chat. But over their shoulder, I saw a small bird, no bigger than a Robin fly in and land on the fence about 30 yards in the distance. I quickly brought my SV 202 to my eyes and noted its colours, which were very easy to discern, as the setting Sun strongly illuminated it. At first glance, I thought it was a male Bullfinch, but there was something distinctly odd about it. Yes, it had a bright orange belly and flank, but its beak was long and slender, not muscular like most finches I’d observed. Its lower head was jet black but above its eyes it was white with a grey cap, and bluish grey wings. Excited, I asked the boys to quieten down as I took another steady look. This was a bird I’d never seen before but I memorised its appearance as best I could. And I had no idea what it was until I got home and leafed through my RSPB book. Finally, there it was in all its glory on page 263; a beautiful male Redstart! The first of its kind I had ever seen!

A male Redstart, as depicted in my RSPB book of British birds.

As I later reflected on the the sighting, I realised just how lucky I was to get a glimpse of this summer migrant to the British Isles, amber-listed in the handbook. Apparently they are more common in Wales and the West Country, but the accompanying map illustrating its distribution also showed that some sightings have been made here, just north of the Scottish central belt.

When it comes to birding, you make you’re own luck.

Chance favours the prepared birder!

Sodom 2

Cities & Towns Are No-Go Areas

The wicked month of Sodom is now upon us and that means one thing for me. I avoid the cities and big towns where they ‘celebrate’ these depraved lifestyles. I refuse to enter any premises flying the rainbow flag and give them no business. There will be all sorts of lude behaviour at these gatherings; drink and drug-fuelled orgies, men pretending they’re women and women pretending they’re men, and chemically castrated children, not to mention a complicit general public pronounced guilty(in the eyes of a holy God) by association. Monkey pox, herpes and other STDs will be spreading. As the Bible teaches:

I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not cling to me.

Psalm 101:3

Redstarts

Since my first sighting of the male Redstart, I’ve since glassed it several more times, and always in the same location; at the top of the castle drive before the pond and between two great oak trees. Methinks it’s rearing young and that requires a female. I’ve tentatively made one observation of a possible female(mate). I spotted a small bird, rather like a Robin, but without its intense red breast. At this stage I can’t be sure though.

The SV202s Going from Strength to Strength

Volks Bino

I took a look over at Amazon this afternoon to see how the SV202s were doing. I’m delighted to report that there are now 80 reviews; a huge increase over the last time I looked with an average score of 4.5 stars out of 5! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; these are amazing binoculars! Indeed, it’s really all you could possibly want in a roof prism binocular.

The notion that you can’t get excellent ergonomic and optical quality at a price that is now affordable to many. Why pay more? These instruments will grow the hobby, allowing many more folk to get out and enjoy the creation, in all its glory!

Sodom 14

A Redstart Family

Since first sighting the male Redstart at the top of the castle drive, I’ve now observed it many more times since. Indeed, on almost every evening I take a walk there I catch a glimpse of it. What’s more, I’ve also spotted a female, with its more subdued colours. The clincher for me was identifying their nest site – a grand old oak tree. That comports nicely with the details given in the RSPB handbook which states that they indeed like to nest in oak trees. They’re incredibly graceful birds, being capable of hovering in mid-air in search of insects. I’ve often seen them foraging in the grassy kerbs at the side of the road, just like Goldfinches.

Discovering these birds so close to my home inspired me one afternoon to set up a spotting scope to study them in more detail and to maybe capture some images of these handsome creatures. I’ve been test driving a really nice spotting scope manufactured by Svbony; the SA405, an 85mm ED model with a zoom magnification range from 20x 60x. It works like a dream, delivering crisp images throughout the zoom range. While you really don’t need ED glass below about 30x, it sure does help reduce colour fringing beyond these powers. I’ve been very successful getting great close up visual views of both the male and female Redstarts, but imaging them is an entirely different matter. Because the CCD camera has a larger image scale than even the 60x setting on the zoom eyepiece, its more challenging to get the birds centred on the CCD chip. What’s more, these highly-strung birds never stay put for long; once you think you’ve got them framed, they fly off making the whole enterprise an exercise in frustration more than anything else.

The excellent Svbony SA405 85mm 20x 60x ED spotting scope.

Consistency

My up-and coming book on binoculars has given a well-deserved pride of place to the SV202 ED binoculars. While reflecting on their success, I realised that they all seem to have excellent control of internal reflections; right up there with the very best European models in fact. Take the appearance of the exit pupils, which I’ve photographed in the past as part of my reviewing work. Here they are again for interest:

8x 42.
10 x 50.
10 x 42
8 x 32

Now, that’s what I call consistent!

Good round pupils with an extensive area of darkness surrounding them. And no false pupils either!

Sodom 25

Superior close focusing properties.

Horses for Courses

Though I’m a big fan of high-quality Porro prism binoculars, there are tasks that roof prism binoculars just excel at. One of these is comfortable close focus ability.  I say ‘comfortable’ because although my beloved Nikon E II 8 x 30 actually focuses closer than my SV 202(1.95m versus 2.2m), glassing anything closer than about 5 or 6 metres is quite uncomfortable in the E II, necessitating an adjustment of the interpupillary distance downwards below my natural 65mm. In contrast, the SV202 delivers images that are much easier on the eye. This advantage really comes into its own viewing small birds at close distance, such as Willow Warblers and Treecreepers. My experiments in forests with both roof and Porro prism binoculars have also compelled me to favour the former over the latter in such environs.

Seeing the Light

The images served up by the SV202 8x 42 are very bright and sharp. I’ve compared it side-by-side with much more expensive binoculars with high(~90 per cent) light transmissions and have failed to see any significant differences in low light conditions. When I first began my binocular studies, I often came across statements which claimed that binoculars with ED glass deliver brighter images and words to the effect of, “the ED glass gives you an extra five minutes when the light really begins to fade.” Now, I’ve compared models of exactly the same specification, with one having ordinary crown-flint glass and the other possessing an ED element under rigorous low light tests and not noticed any differences. I wondered where this false meme originated from, since there is always a grain of truth to most of these ideas. It was after studying some of the physics of Augustin-Jean Fresnel(1788-1827) that I got a lead. His equations provided important advances in computing how much light is transmitted and reflected with materials possessing different refractive indices.

Many of the Fresnel equations are quite complex, as they involve light incident upon a surface at different angles. Let’s look at one particular equation:

R = Cos x – (n2 – sin2x)1/2/Cos x + (n2 – sin2x)1/2

Where R = the amount of reflected light from an optical surface

x = the angle of incidence and n= the refractive index of the material.

We can simplify this greatly by considering light arriving directly along the normal( i.e. looking at the centre of the lens head-on, so x =0), from which we obtain the much simpler equation:

R= [1-n/1+n]2

So the amount of reflected light only depends on the refractive index of the optical glass used. Now consider regular crown and flint glass having a refractive index of about 1.5. The amount of light reflected off such glass for normal incidence is

R = [1-1.5/1+1.5]2 = 0.04

Note: This is the origin of the 4% figure often quoted in telescope optics texts for uncoated glass.

Next consider extra low dispersion (ED) glass like fluorite or FPL 53 or some such, with a refractive index of 1.44. Plugging this number for n into the Fresnel equation delivers a value of 0.03 or 3 per cent.

This means that regular crown or flint glass transmits 96 per cent of the light incident upon it compared with 97 per cent for ED glass.

This is a very small difference but considering that only one or two elements in the optical train employ ED glass, and the applications of multiple layers of antireflection coatings further reduce the light losses for both types of glass, the visual difference in brightness will be all but indistinguishable.

So there you have it! Although the Fresnel equation allows for a one per cent difference in transmission, it amounts to effectively negligible differences in overall transmission, all other things being equal.

.

Don’t believe the hype!

To be continued……………..

De Fideli.

Product Review: The Nikon EII 10 x 35.

The Nikon E II 10 x 35 package.

A Work Commenced 1/6/2023

Preamble 1

Preamble 2

Product: Nikon E II 10 x 35

Country of Manufacture: Japan

Exit Pupil: 3.5mm

Field of view: 122m@1000m(7.0 angular degrees) advertised, 129.1m@1000m(7.3 angular degrees) measured

Eye Relief: 13.8mm

Chassis Material: Die Cast Magnesium Alloy

Coatings: Fully Broadband Multicoated

Close Focus: 5m advertised, 2.95m measured

Eco Glass: Yes

Waterproof: No

Nitrogen Purged: No

ED Glass: No

Weight: 625g advertised, 612g measured

Dimensions: 12.6 x 18.3cm

Accessories: Neck Strap, faux leather soft carry case, instruction manual, objective caps, rain guard, warranty card.

Warranty: 10 Years

Price: £729(UK)

About 15 months ago, I took possession of the Nikon E II 8 x 30. That instrument radically transformed my opinion about the relative merits of roof prism models versus Porro prism designs, so much so that it all but extinguished my interest in the former as a serious long-term investment. This world-class compact Porro delivers and astonishing, ultra-wide field of view with excellent brightness, contrast and sharpness across most of the field. But I also quickly appreciated the astonishing ease with which I could engage with the field of view despite its small (3.75mm)exit pupil, with zero blackouts or rolling ball effect, which I frequently encountered while using high-performance roof prism models such as the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30. Collectively, these qualities greatly endeared the instrument to me, and it remains my favourite, general-purpose instrument to this day.

When Nikon launched the E II back in 1999, they produced two models; the 8 x 30 and a larger 10 x 35 instrument. I had long resisted the larger 10 x 35 owing to my very positive experiences with the earlier Nikon E 10 x 35 Criterion model, which gave me a real taste of high-power widefield glassing in a compact, lightweight Porro prism format. But the newer E II model was never far from my mind. If the Nikon E 10 x 35 delivered such delightful images, what could I expect from the more advanced E II instrument? There was only one way to find out, so I ordered up a unit from a reputable UK dealer.

First Impressions

The Nikon E II 10 x 35 has a beautiful classic look.

The instrument arrived in exactly the same box with the same accessories as I received with the smaller E II; just a simple faux leather carry case, a neck strap, plastic objective caps and rain guard, instruction manual and warranty card. The serial number of the instrument is 020173, which my research was able to confirm, is a post-2017 manufacturing date.

The serial # indicates a fairly recent date of maufacture.

The instrument exudes quality. The light weight, die-cast magnesium alloy chassis is a real work of art. Tipping the scales at 612g without the strap, it’s exceptionally easy to hold in my middle-sized hands. The central hinge is strong and rigid, holding my required IPD perfectly. The fine kinematics of the central focusing wheel was a great relief to me. One of the things that niggled me about the Nikon E 10 x 35 was its stiff turning. I simply believed that this was a built-in design feature of the instrument and never occurred to me that it might have stiffened up over the years. That said, the E II focus wheel is a good step-up performance wise, moving with super smoothness through 1.25 revolutions clockwise from closest focus to a little beyond infinity. Indeed, its lightly tensioned gearing is pretty much identical to its smaller sibling.

Underside.

The right eye dioptre ring has the exact same tension as on the smaller E II model. Once adjusted it’s very hard to move accidentally. That came as a great relief to me also, as one of my pet peeves is a wandering dioptre. The objective lenses are decently recessed, and the antireflection coatings take on a very deep, dark blue hue in broad daylight. Indeed, as the image below reveals, there is a noticeable difference in colour cast between the smaller EII 8 x 30 and larger 10 x 35 objective coatings, which surprised me. The 8 x 30 has a stronger green hue to my eye and appears to reflect slightly more light than the 10 x 35 E II. The eyepiece coatings appear to be identical in each model, however.

The objective coatings appear slightly different in broad daylight. The 10x 35 appears more blue and slightly less reflective.

Handling the 10 x 35 EII is a real joy. The leatherette armouring is very easy to grip with or without gloves – as good as traditional rubber substrates. You can wrap your hands round those barrels, where your fingers naturally rest on the large focus wheel. I like to place my hands closer to the front of the instrument, for extra stability while glassing, something you can’t really do with the smaller and stubbier 8 x 30 EII. Indeed, on balance (excuse the pun), I think I prefer the handling on the 10 x 35 that little bit more. Like the smaller Nikon EII 8 x 30, the 10 x 35 has fairly tight eye relief for eyeglass wearers. By turning the rubber eye cups down, I could see the entire field while wearing eye glasses, but it’s a tight squeeze!

Optical Evaluation

Just like its smaller sibling, the Nikon E II 10 x 35 shows negligible internal reflections when aimed at a bright internal light source or a street lamp at night. Nor was there any diffused light around these light sources. Examining the exit pupils, I got broadly similar results to those found on the 8 x 30 E II, that is, perfectly round pupils with a pleasant degree of darkness surrounding them. Although very good, I’ve seen significantly better on less expensive instruments.

Left Pupil.
Right pupil.

Collimation was spot on as judged by defocusing a bright star using the right eye dioptre whilst keeping the left barrel image tightly focused. The tightly focused star was seen in the centre of the defocused anulus of light, as sketched below:

What perfect binocular collimation looks like.

Optically, the images served up by the Nikon E II 10x 35 are superb; extremely sharp, bright, faithful colours, lovely contrast and very little glare even in tough backlit scenes. The image is rendered even more compelling by virtue of its enormous field of view. The specs say it’s 7.0 angular degrees, but my own tests threw up a very pleasant surprise. Mounting the instrument on a sturdy photographic tripod, I centred the star Altair in Aquilla and measured the time it took for it to move to the field stop. Altair lies close to the celestial equator(+8.87 degrees declination), making it ideal for such measurements. Taking an average of three timings, I found that the true field in this instrument is actually 7.3 degrees(129.1m@1000m) That puts it right up there with the very widest roofs available today. For example, the Zeiss Victory SF 10 x 32 delivers a true field of 130m@1000m and 135m@1000m for the Swarovski 10 x 32 NL Pure. By any measure, this a hugely impressive result. Indeed, it’s like looking through a regular 8x birding glass, except the images are amplified to 10x. As you can imagine, this greatly adds to the sheer enjoyability of the instrument in field use.

An interesting Aside

When I got the results of these measures I contacted a very experienced E II user and astronomer, based in Nevada. Rich V has owned and used both of the E IIs for over 20 years. He was able to confirm that his measurements also provided a field of view of between 7.2 and 7.3 degrees for the 10 x 35 EII. He also measured the field size on the smaller 8 x 30 E II and it came out at 9 degrees! I subjected my own 8 x 30 E II to four timing measurements and my results yielded an average of 8.97 angular degrees – call it a cool 9.0 degrees!

Screen shot:

See Post #12

As additional evidence to support the larger than expected field of view on the Nikon EII 10 x 35, I took shots with my iPhone through my trusty Svbony SV202 8 x 42 and compared it directly to the image of the same scene through the Nikon glass. The reader will note that as part of my review of the SV202, I measured its field size to be almost exactly 7.5 angular degrees by noting that it was just barely unable to hold the stars Betelgeuse and Bellatrix (separation 7 degrees 33′) in the same field. The first shot shows the SV202 field:

The 7.5 degree field of the Svbony SV202 8 x 42.

Now compare this to the Nikon E II 10x 35:

The Nikon E II 10 x 35 field in comparison.

I hope you’ll agree that the Nikon E II field is just a little smaller than the field served up by the SV202. Indeed, I shared these images with Rich and he agreed that the results were pretty compelling.

One of the first instruments I compared it to is the venerable Nikon E 10 x 35 Criterion WF binocular, the direct antecedent of the EII series. Although I’ve greatly enjoyed the Nikon E with its immersive 6.6 degree field, a few minutes comparing and contrasting the images through both instruments showed the newer Nikon E II to be the clear winner. It had better brightness, contrast and superior control of glare and internal reflections. In addition, you can immediately perceive the enlarged field of view in the Nikon E II.

Like the Swarovski Habicht Porro prism binoculars, the Nikon E IIs do not employ ED glass. Despite this they serve up remarkably bright and vivid images. Indeed, it would be remiss of me not to stress that, despite what some birding magazine binocular reviewers keep parroting falsely, the incorporation of ED glass does not result in brighter images. Indeed, the binocular with the highest transmission measured to date – the Swarovski Habichts – have a light transmission of 96 percent – higher than any model employing ED glass currently on the market! Although I did not have any means to measure light transmission, I wouldn’t be surprised that the E II 10 x 35 delivers in excess of 90 per cent to the eyes. Indeed measurements made over a decade ago showed a light transmission of 86 per cent but Nikon has continually improved their coatings(often with no public notice to the effect) since then, resulting in brighter images with improved contrast.

The Nikon E 10 x 35 (left) and the Nikon E II 10 x 35(right).

As expected, chromatic aberration is a little bit more evident on high contrast targets than the smaller 8 x 30 model, but it’s largely unobtrusive. Close focus was measured to be 2.95m, significantly closer than the advertised 5m. What the 10 x 35 excels at though is presenting extraordinary stereoscopic views of the objects in the middle distance. One fine summer evening in bright sunshine, I visited one of my local patches, the Buzzard Field, on account of a pair of nesting Buzzards that have taken up residence in the trees on either side. One of my favourite targets is a large fallen tree that often shows birds that perch there before moving on. When I turned the Nikon EII 10 x 35 on the tree some 30 metres in the distance, I was gobsmacked -disabled even – by the stunning three dimensionality of the view, almost as if I could reach out and touch it with my hands!

Porro prism binocular images are qualitatively different from roof prism instruments. The much greater image plasticity in the former confers more information to the eyes allowing the observer to glean much more accurate spatial relationships between the objects in the image. Some have claimed that this enhanced stereopsis is unnatural because it artificially extends the separation of the human eye. But I find such arguments to be largely unfounded and somewhat disingenuous. Isn’t parallax- a closely related phenomenon – a useful optical parameter? Do we not employ it subconsciously to infer the relative distances to targets in the visual field? Should we then dismiss the seminal work of the German astronomer, Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel(1784-1846), who was the first person in the history of the world to measure the mind-boggling distance to the star 61 Cygni using this very phenomenon? Couldn’t we make the same argument for magnification? Perhaps we should all go round with binoculars magnifying 1x to get the most natural views? All jokes aside, the enhanced stereopsis at 10x over 8x is very easy to discern in the Nikon E IIs. It enhances the view of everything, from buildings and tree branches swaying in the wind, to swirling pools of water and rock formations, and all for the better.

Astronomical Applications

I have cultivated a strong preference for smaller exit pupils(4mm or less) when viewing the starry heavens, preferring 10 x 42 over 8 x 42, for example. The smaller exit pupil ensures that you’re imaging the field with the best(least curved) part of your eye. Larger exit pupils bring out the astigmatism in my eyes, distorting the images of point sources like stars. In addition, smaller exit pupils create more contrast between the stars and the background sky, painting more aesthetically pleasing vistas. Observing in summer twilight, when the sky doesn’t get properly dark, comparing the views through an 8 x 42 and a 10 x 35 shows the advantages of the smaller exit pupil. The 10 x 35 darkens the background sky much more effectively than the 8 x 42, causing the stars to stand out more. I have thoroughly enjoyed the astronomical views through the Nikon E 10 x 35 with its generous 6.6 degree field, but I must say the more advanced EII 10 x 35 is a nice step up, with its magnificent 7+ degree true field. Stars remain tight pinpoints within a generously large sweet spot, with only mild field curvature and astigmatism creeping up as one approaches the field stop.  Another nice feature of the E II 10 x 35 is that there is a negligible drop in field illumination at the field edges, making the field appear larger than it really is. Although it doesn’t have the reach of a more traditional 10 x 50, its low weight and excellent form factor render it decidedly more ‘handy’ than the larger 10 x 50 glass. For serious astronomical forays, 10 x 50 is the better option, but for casual stargazing, especially doing autumn Milky Way sweeps, the 10 x 35 simply can’t be beat.

Comparing the 8 x 30 and 10 x 35 Nikon E IIs

Siblings: Nikon E II 8 x 30(left) and 10 x 35(right).

Both instruments are beautifully designed with fantastic ergonomics. Both exhibit that majesty factor characterised by their expansive fields, as well as the instant gratification one gets when you bring them to your eyes. Small details, such as the position of the dioptre compensation are identical in both instruments, as the photo below shows.

The dioptre compensation for both instruments is identical. Consider parallax.

The 8 x 30 is a magnificent glass for scanning landscapes and closer range birding. It’s ideal for glassing in forests and its low weight makes it a wonderful travel binocular. The 10 x 35 excels at longer range viewing in wide open areas or for picking off details in smaller targets closer at hand. If you’re one who enjoys 3-D terrestrial impressions, the 10 x 35 is the clear winner. In addition, the larger EII is the superior astronomy glass as I’ve noted time and time again comparing the 8 x 30 EII to the 10 x 35 E model during the winter months, where it pulls in fainter stars and deep sky objects.

Storage

Dry box storage.

As outlined in Preamble 2 above, I’ve developed a simple storage technique that keeps the instruments bone dry as well as rendering them fog proof. Lining a Tupperware container with about 200g of activated silica gel draws all of the water vapour from the inside of the binocular so that it won’t fog up in normal use. It will also prevent fungal growth inside the instrument so that they can be used for years to come. I make sure to rack the focuser out a bit to get the the most rapid outward diffusion of water vapour. Indeed, having stored the new E II 10x 35 in such a container at room temperature for a couple of weeks, I was able to verify its fog proof status while carrying out the star drift measurements, when the instrument was exposed to the cool, humid night air for more than an hour. Once I brought the instrument into my living room, the outer lenses rapidly generated condensation, but once it had evaporated away, the interior remained completely clear and dry.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Sublime.

The Nikon E II 10 x 35 is an excellent, high-performance Porro prism binocular manufactured to the highest standards. It’s a greatly under-rated format, combining high power, wide-angle views in a light-weight chassis that can be carried around for hours on end. Despite its relatively high price tag, I think it represents excellent value for money when you consider the quality of the views it serves up, as well as its extremely comfortable handling. I for one am very glad I took the plunge to add a second E II to my collection.

Thank goodness there are only two!

I’d like to thank Rich V for interesting discussions on the Nikon E II 10 x 35

You can sink your teeth into a great many binocular reviews in my up-and-coming book, Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, which will be published by Springer Nature in late 2023.

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De Fideli.

Product Review: Oberwerk SE 8 x 32ED.

The Oberwerk SE 8x 32 ED package.

A Work Commenced February 6 2023

Product: Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED

Country of Manufacture: China

Exit Pupil: 4mm

Field of View: 145m@1000m(8.2 angular degrees) advertised, 7.48 degrees (131m@1000m)measured

Eye Relief: 15mm(Useable)

Coatings: Fully broadband Multicoated

Chassis Material: Aluminium

ED Glass: Yes (FK-61)

Water Proof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

IPD Range: 56-76mm

Close focus: 3m advertised, 2.99m measured

Weight: 794g advertised, 798g measured

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Dimensions: 13 x 11 cm

Accessories: neoprene neck strap, padded canvas carry case, rubber objective caps and rain guard, microfibre lens cleaning cloth, test card.

Warranty: 2 Years

Price(US): $249.95

If you’ve been following my blogs and the kind of gear I review, you’ll no doubt come to see that I have cultivated a particular fondness for Porro prism binoculars. Though they have somewhat fallen out of favour in the smaller size formats due to the flooding of the binocular market with roof prisms with all their technical bells and whistles, it remains the case that Porro prism designs are much easier to execute well to such an extent that it takes a great deal of technology to create a roof prism binocular that can compete with well-made Porro prism instruments. Moreover, they have certain optical qualities by virtue of their design that no roof prism can match.

Roof prism binoculars offer many conveniences to the modern outdoor enthusiast, not least of which is compactness, full water- and fog proofing, as well as the incorporation of dielectric coatings, phase corrected prisms and ED glass which deliver bright, sharp, high-contrast images nearly devoid of chromatic aberration. Add in field flattening optics and you arrive at a state-of-the art roof prism design that can edge out the best traditional Porro prism binoculars in critical tests. But there’s a catch: to do so involves shelling out relatively large sums of money, where today you’d have to pay four figure sums to secure the very best. And while there have been noble efforts made by a number of binocular manufacturers to bring those costs down, you still have to pay in the region of £350-500 just to acquire entry-level instruments having all these features.

The push to develop the best roof prism models over the last twenty years has resulted in a rather serious underinvestment in Porro prism designs. But there are signs that this trend is now being bucked with news of compact Porro prism binoculars with improved optical designs including wide angle eyepieces, ED glass and state-of-the art anti-reflection coatings, as well as better ergonomic features that promise to give the best roofs a run for their money. One such instrument arrived here in Scotland from the United States; the Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED.

I first got wind of the new Oberwerk binocular from online forums like Cloudy Nights and Birdforum, where it was generating quite a bit of excitement, especially from Porro prism fans. The founder and CEO of Oberwerk, Keven Busarow, seems to have a penchant for resurrecting cool instruments from the past. The company’s highly lauded Oberwerk 20 x 65 ED Deluxe is one such example, which Busarow described in his own words to be, “our take on the venerable Takahashi Astronomer 22x 60.” Here at least, Oberwerk appears to have been vindicated.

The Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED is the culmination of Busarow’s latest efforts to fashion a modern re-interpretation of a binocular that seems to have held legendary status among binocular collectors just a few short decades ago, the Nikon Superior E(SE) line of advanced Japanese-made Porro prism binoculars that flourished for a while before being discontinued back in 2014. Since then, these fine instruments, which included 8 x 32, 10 x 42 and 12 x 50 models, have become as rare as hens’ teeth, commanding eye-watering sums on auction sites whenever they show up. What Oberwerk has attempted to do is create a product that offers similar levels of performance at a price that won’t break the bank. Did they succeed? That’s what this review is all about!

First Impressions

The instrument arrived well packaged and double-boxed.  The binocular was stored inside a very attractive green canvas padded case of the type I’ve not seen before. All the accessories were there too – the neck strap, test card, lens cleaning cloth etc – but I found it odd that no instructions were included in the package. That said, the accompanying thank you card does have a link to Oberwerk’s online guide to setting up a binocular. Anyway, I soon forgot about that once I prized the instrument from the case. This is one chunky instrument, tipping the scales at 798g – the heaviest 8 x 32 that I’ve personally encountered and much more in keeping with instruments in the 42mm aperture class. That said, it has a beautiful, solid feel in the hands, the central hinge being good and tight, the focus wheel moving smoothly, the eye cups twisting up and down nicely. The instrument came with the thick rubber rain guard and objective lens covered attached. These were of unusually high quality, at least on a binocular that retails for just under $250. They fit on very firmly, so there’s little chance of losing them by accident. While the rubber rain guard is tetherable to the neck strap, there is no such provision for the objective caps. That wasn’t an issue for me though, as I hardly ever use them, except for storage purposes. I also really liked the antireflection coatings on the Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED. They are immaculately applied and give a pink hue in daylight.

Ergonomics

The handsome chassis of the Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED.

The Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED is a handsome binocular. With an aluminium chassis covered in a thick green rubber armouring, the instrument feels very secure in the hands. Like the Nikon SE, it has bulky shoulders where the prisms are located, which gives it a very distinctive look. The rubber armouring around the objectives has a rougher texture than that of the upper body, no doubt to assist the fingers in gripping the barrels. The objective lenses are exceptionally well protected thanks to about an inch of barrel overhang. Indeed they reminded me very much of the Kowa SV II, which adopts a similar design. This affords them excellent protection against rain, dust and the encroach of stray light. The sides of the barrels have upraised ribs to allow the palms of one’s hands to better grip the instrument.

Bellyside up: note the heavy duty armouring of the aluminium chassis.

The twist up eye cups are constructed from machined aluminium and covered with soft rubber which are very comfortable when pressed against the eyes. There are three intermediate positions between fully retracted and fully extended. At each position the cups lock securely into place. Eye relief is very generous, especially for a 32mm instrument. I was able to access the entire field using glasses while the eyecups were fully retracted.

The centrally placed focus wheel is distinctly different from the original Nikon SE in that it is placed further away from the eyecups. It’s very easily and comfortably accessed once you wrap your hands round the barrels, when the fingers can naturally fall on its prominent ridges. It turns smoothly with a good amount of friction. I experienced no backlash or free play, although I sometimes encountered a bit of inertia when the wheel was reversed in direction at the extreme ends of its travel. Just shy of 1.5 revolutions anticlockwise takes you from closest focus(measured at 2.99m) to infinity and a little bit beyond.

The excellent twist-up eyecups are very comfortable and offer generous eye relief for eye glass wearers.

The dioptre compensation is achieved by rotating a small plastic ring under the right ocular. It moves smoothly but I would have liked to have seen a wee bit more tension to avoid it accidentally wandering in field use. For example, while out on a forest walk, I encountered some light rain which forced me to place the rubber rain guard on quickly. Once the shower passed, I began to struggle getting it off again(yes it’s that tight!), but that physical effort was enough to move the dioptre slightly out of its desired position.

The exceptionally deeply recessed objectives afford excellent protection from the elements and stray light.

Though it’s quite a heavy binocular for its aperture class, the supplied padded neoprene strap helped greatly to lighten the load. Handling the instrument is a real joy though. Because more of the weight is located towards the eyepiece end of the binocular, its centre of gravity is tipped closer to your body, making prolonged viewing more comfortable. Indeed, Zeiss use the same idea –ergobalance – on their flagship SF models. I certainly never felt any strain or fatigue while using the instrument in the field for several hours at a time.

Optics

Good ergonomics count for very little if the optical performance isn’t up to scratch. So how did it perform? Well, beginning with my bright light test, I directed an intensely bright beam of light from my iPhone torch placed at the far end of my living room and examined the focused image of it through the binocular. The results were excellent. There was only a couple of very faint internal reflections and no diffused light around the light beam indicating well applied coatings throughout the optical train. The same was true when I turned the instrument on a bright sodium streetlamp after dark. The image was very clean with no internal reflections and no scattered light around the source.

My next test involved looking at the exit pupils of the binocular. As you can see below, the results are excellent: perfectly round pupils and no false pupils or stray light in their vicinity. In fact, this is one of the best pupil images I’ve personally seen in four years of testing out binoculars!

Right exit pupil.
Left exit pupil.

To be honest, I had very high hopes about this binocular given its advertised specifications as well as the reputation Oberwerk has garnered among members of the amateur astronomy community. And I wasn’t disappointed! The day the instrument arrived was quite overcast and dull – not the best light to glass, but certainly the best conditions to ferret out any issues the binocular might have had. The images were incredibly sharp in the centre and also on the edges, with bright, vivid colours, excellent contrast and superb control of glare. Examining a vertically erected scaffold pole, I was delighted to see very mild pincushion(positive) distortion in the outer part of the field. I was also thrilled to see the well-defined field stops with the eyecups fully extended. Unlike the Nikon SE, which was widely reported to have black outs owing to spherical aberration of the exit pupil, this instrument produced none. The view was, to all intents and purposes, sensibly perfect.

The Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED(left) versus the Nikon EII 8 x 30(right).

Images snap to a very precise focus with no ambiguity. But what really amazed me was its complete lack of chromatic aberration. This instrument employs Chinese FK-61 low dispersion glass, roughly equivalent to Ohara FPL-51, but it was more than enough to cut out colour fringing both in the centre of the images and in the outer field. Comparing the venerable Nikon E II 8 x 30 with the Oberwerk SE, the former showed some lateral colour on high contrast targets like the branches of trees set against an overcast grey sky. The Oberwerk SE showed virtually none, save for the merest trace right at the field stops. Indeed, comparing the views of both instruments in a variety of lighting conditions, I formed the impression that the Oberwerk was just slightly sharper with a little better contrast and more pronounced colour ‘pop’.It’s also noticeably brighter in dull light conditions owing to its 14 per cent greater light grasp. The biggest difference between the two was the significantly wider field of view in the Nikon E II(8,8 degrees vs 8.2 degrees). That’s quite a result for a $250 binocular!

On another afternoon, I chanced upon a wonderful apparition on the road leading to Culcreuch Castle. This time of year, Chaffinches, Bullfinches and other species forage in the leaflitter at the sides of the road, with many of them hopping onto the road in search of tukka. About 25 yards ahead of me, I watched in sheer amazement as a beautiful Redwing was taking a bath in a water-filled pothole. Standing dead still, I brought the Oberwerk SE to my eyes and focused in on the scene. The image was superb! I could see its beautiful dark brown spots adorning its white belly, its striking red flanks and underwings and the creamy white stripe over its eyes. The contrast against the dark tarmacadam made it all the more compelling, but I also became acutely aware of the bumps and depressions on the road, both in front and beyond the bathing Redwing- a consequence of the binocular’s prominent stereopsis(3D effects) at moderate distances.

Ad Astra

The question of how well corrected the field is is always best answered by examining celestial objects. That’s why I recommend all optics reviewers for birding magazines learn to star test their binoculars. It will also show up any potential aberrations that can all too easily be missed in daylight observing. Centring the bright star, Procyon, in the field of view, I was delighted to see that it remained a tightly focused pinpoint nearly all the way to the field stops. I would estimate that in the last 10 per cent of the field, the effects of very mild field curvature and a trace of astigmatism(elongation) could be made out with a concentrated gaze. This is an excellent result. I must report though that there is some modest illumination drop off as the star approached the field stops. Comparing it to the Nikon E II 8 x 30, the same tests showed more pronounced field curvature starting in the outer 20 per cent of the field, becoming distinctly distorted at the field edges.

An exceptional binocular like the Oberwerk SE deserves a high-quality carry case.

Turning to the full Moon, I noted no chromatic aberration in the centre of the field, but also crucially, virtually none right up to the field stops. Only the merest trace of lateral colour – blue nearest the centre and yellow furthest away – could be made out. The Nikon E II showed much more pronounced colour at its field stops in comparison. A few short weeks ago, I reviewed the Celestron Regal ED, which, you’ll remember, has field flattening optics. I noted that the image of the Moon was distinctly distorted at the field edges, mainly due to astigmatism and a touch of coma in the outer 10 per cent of the field, which couldn’t be focused out. What’s remarkable about the Oberwerk SE was that it was far better corrected at the field edges in comparison – and all of this without field flattening optics!

Summary & Conclusions

Hanging out.

The Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED is a phenomenal performer by day and by night. Though it was inspired by the Nikon SE, there are a number of significant design differences that set it apart from the famous Japanese optic: it has a significantly  larger field of view, incorporates modern ED glass to improve colour correction and doesn’t use field flatteners – a design characteristic I personally prefer. Yet it achieves a very high level of optical performance thanks to the incorporation of cleverly designed wide angle eyepieces. Moreover, it does not manifest the less desirable optical effects of the Nikon SE with its widely reported kidney beaning(blackouts). It’s also water proof and fog proof, so can be employed in a wider variety of outdoor conditions than the Nikon super glass. This is a first-rate birding binocular but will also serve up excellent views of the night sky. And if it gets a bit heavy to hand hold, stick it on a lightweight monopod and you’re off to the races. Mr Busarow ought to be congratulated for bringing such a superb optic to market at a price that many folk can afford. It goes without saying that this product gets my highest possible recommendation.

Very highly favoured!

Dr Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. His new book, Choosing and Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts is now available for purchase.

De Fideli.

An Extraordinarily Lucky Find: Nikon Action 7 x 35 Widefield 9.3 Degree.

 

A mid-1980’s Nikon Action 7 x 35 Widefield 9.3 degree field.

A Work Commenced January 25 2023

Over the last year, I’ve taken a deeper interest in Nikon Porro binoculars. In previous communications, I’ve described how much I’ve been enjoying both the 8 x 30 Nikon E II and the 10 x 35 Nikon E, the performance of which have really spoiled me. In more recent times I field tested the lower power 7 x 35 Aculon A 211 and Action EX and while both were enjoyable, I felt that their excessive field curvature at the edge of their 9.3 degree fields left a little something to be desired. I briefly considered the 7 x 35 E but its rather restricted field of view of 7.3 degrees didn’t sit right with me. To my way of thinking, a 7x glass is already compromised owing to its lower power – call it ‘pain’ if you like -and there ought to be some ‘gain’ in return, and that meant an enlarged field of view. So, in summary, I was after a 7 x 35 glass that offered better optics than either the Nikon Aculon or the Action EX, especially off axis.

I knew and read about some classic Porro prism binoculars from yesteryear that sported enormous fields, sometimes up to 11 degrees or more, but I wondered whether their edge of field performance would also let them down. So I began looking at classic Nikon Porros that offered something of a compromise and 9.3 degrees seemed to fit the bill the best. I’d lose a little magnification but gain a whole half a degree over my Nikon E II. But which model to choose?

Having never tested any of these out in real life, it was somewhat of a guessing game, but I had to start somewhere. The condition of the instrument ranked high on my list of priorities too. I wanted an instrument that was in good condition, with no large build up of internal haze on the prisms or, worse still, fungus. Did such an instrument exist? The answer, I’m delighted to say, is yes!

Doing some browsing on Fleabay, I came across a very intriguing instrument. This was a Japanese-made 7 x 35 Widefield 9.3 degree binocular in what looked like excellent working condition. It even had the original eyepiece and objective caps as well as the black bonded leather case – Japanese made also. And it was going for £85 inclusive of free delivery! The seller had the presence of mind to include some photos taken through the objective lenses against a plain white background, which allowed me to assess the condition of the interior lenses and prisms. It looked amazingly good for the age, which the seller informed me dated to the mid-1980s. So I pulled the trigger and sure enough it arrived two days later. Opening the package, I removed the case from the wrapping to find the instrument perfectly positioned inside. When I picked it up, I was quite taken aback by its rather large frame. This was a longer-barreled binocular than I expected any 35mm Porro to be. Take a look at it in comparison to my 10 x 35 Nikon E below:

The large frame of the Nikon 7 x 35 Widefield(left) is apparent compared with my Nikon E 10 x 35(right).

Upon inspection with a flashlight I confirmed that the innards of the instrument were indeed pristine. How on God’s Earth could a binocular that first saw light when I was a middle schoolboy still look so good after all these years? Well, the excellent condition of the chassis – with a couple of minor scuffs on the metal rims on the instrument’s mid-section– and the fact that it still had its original caps and no internal haze suggested to me that it must have been very lightly used. But it must also have been stored in a good, dry place to prevent the growth of internal fungus.

The instrument is fully coated – most probably using a single layer of MgF2 on all optical surfaces. Thus I fully expected that it would not be nearly as bright as instruments treated to a full modern multicoating. More on this later.

The coatings on the objectives appear pristine after all these years.

Unlike the later E series, the focus wheel, which also appears to be made of some kind of tough plastic, is much larger and placed right between the barrels. It was a bit stiff coming right out of the cold box, which had travelled the length of the country from the seller, but after I ‘thawed’ it out, as it were, it came back to life moving smoothly in both clockwise and counter clockwise directions, with no free play or backlash.

The Nikon 7 x 35 Widefield from above.

Splendid!

The eyepiece housings appear to be made of  some kind of tough plastic too, as were the rim of the objective barrels, which surprised me. The eyecups are made from rubber though, a significant departure from the hard plastic of the old classic Zeiss Porros. The dioptre ring is very similar to that of my Nikon 10 x 35 E, which has a tendency to wander while in field use, but I soon remedied that by fitting a very tight rubber o ring immediately under it which keeps it in place much better. The chassis is ‘armoured’ in an attractive, textured leatherette which is very nice to the touch as well as to visually inspect.

Belly side up.

Despite it being a big glass for a 35mm format, I was surprised that it tipped the scales at only 665g – much lighter than the Action EX and also lighter than the Aculon 7 x 35! The only disappointment with the instrument was a somewhat frayed neck strap, which I might have got by with, at least for a while. But having taken a short stroll with it, paranoia got the better of me, and I decided to replace it with a nice, old fashioned leather lanyard which supports its moderate weight well.

The strong blue-tinted ocular lenses. Note the leather lanyard.

The handling of this instrument is superb. I can wrap my hands round those curves in the mid-section with wonderful ease and comfort, using my middle fingers to fall naturally on the deeply ridged focus wheel. Less than half a turn clockwise brings you from closest focus (measured at 4.1 yards) to a little bit beyond infinity. All in all, this instrument, which has travelled nearly 40 trips ’round the Sun since it saw first light, is an ergonomic delight!

Bravo!

Optics

After about an hour of warming the instrument up to room temperature, I noted that all was well. The optics were clear both internally and externally. And it was at this moment that I brought it outside for a gander. Wow! This thing is super sharp! But what really impressed me was how big the sweet spot was: it was in a totally different league to the Nikon Aculon or the Action EX, which always gave me that funny goldfish bowl feeling as soon as my eyes drifted to the periphery of the field. No, this instrument was optically far superior to those other Nikon’s both on axis and especially off axis. Pure, indulgent pleasure! To access the entire field, I had to turn down the rubber eye cups in order to get a good view of the field stops, just like I had done with my Nikon E 10 x 35. Glare was surprisingly well suppressed for a singly coated optic like this; far better, for example, than my multi-coated Zeiss Jenoptem from the same era. It has a slight yellowish colour cast, very much like that achieved by a very mild photographic warm-up filter.

Both longitudinal and lateral colour correction are very well controlled. Hardly any was seen even on the most difficult high-contrast targets. Barrell distortion is mild. My first stroll with the binocular was during dull, overcast conditions. I brought it to one of my local patches, where a fallen tree occupies the far end of a pond. I’ve come to use this to judge how big the sweet spot is in many binoculars I test because it crosses the entire field. I could immediately see that its optical behaviour was much more like that of my Nikon E II 8 x 30 than either the Aculon or Action EX models. Far superior off axis performance, with the sharpness being maintained nearly right to the edge. Vertical correction was not as good though, but that’s true even with my Nikon E II 8 x 30 and virtually all others I’ve tested.

Right exit pupil of the Nikon Action 7 x 35.

My next tests took place in brilliant winter sunshine, on the formative afternoons of January 25 and 26. The views in this fabulous light were breath-taking. I could see details on the far hills that simply didn’t stand out in my tests with the Aculon and Action Ex. I quickly came to realise how little refocusing I was doing owing to the instrument’s impressive depth of field. The focus is a little stiffer than a top-rated birding binocular, but this turned out to be largely immaterial, owing to the generous field depth. I’m really coming ’round to appreciating this wonderful optical property! In bright sunlight, one hardly notices the slight yellow tint of the old Nikon Widefield 7 x 35, but as the light fades more tests conducted with my Nikon E II showed up the clear advantages of modern broadband multi-coatings. Venturing out just before sunset on a cold and cloudless late January day, I glassed some tree trunks about 80 yards in the distance. Comparing the images side by side, I could see that the Nikon E II 8 x 30 was already pulling ahead of the old classic. It had an unquestionably brighter image and better contrast between the browns of the tree bark and the green moss and lichen mottling its surface.

In yet another test, carried out in the early evening of January 26, I mounted both instruments on a tripod and studied the images of a beautiful crescent Moon sinking towards the western horizon. Apart from more internal reflections in the 7 x 35 I was genuinely impressed how comparable the images were. The Moon had a very faint fawn tint to it that I didn’t really find distracting, comparing it with the marble white colour served up by the Nikon E II 8 x 30. Colour correction was actually better on the Nikon Widefield 7 x 35 than the E II, both on and off axis. I would estimate its sweet spot is a good  75% of the field, about the same, in fact, as the 8 x 30. Illumination drop off was a bit more pronounced on the 7 x 35 though, but the effects of mild field curvature near the field stops could be easily focused out – just like the venerable E II.

Moongazing, January 26 2023.

Venturing out after midnight in the wee small hours of January 26, the Moon had set and the full glory of the winter night sky was presented to me. Cassiopeia, Perseus and Taurus were now hanging low on the north-western sky, Gemini was near the meridian and brilliant Arcturus was rising fast in the east. I enjoyed fabulous views of the Hyades and Pleiades. Framing the Auriga Messier open cluster trio in the enormous 9.3 degree field proved child’s play. I swept up the Beehive cluster in Cancer, and looking eastward I enjoyed some marvellous views of the Coma Berenices Cluster. Stars were beautiful pinpoints across most the field of view, with only slight distortion seen on the brighter stellar luminaries near the field stops. Despite its lower overall light transmission, this is a better glass than the Aculon or Action EX 7x 35s for stargazing. What it lacks in light gathering power is easily offset by its better corrected field of view.

After I had received the instrument and done some preliminary testing, I did a search to see if others had reviewed the Nikon 7 x 35 Widefield 9.3. My searches came up empty at first, as all I got was a number eBay links here and there showing some photos of the instruments for sale. Puzzled I began to read older threads on past Nikon Porro prism binoculars and eventually hit on the issue: this model was apparently known as the Nikon Action 7 x 35. What’s more, there were apparently several incarnations of the Action, with the later models being switched to production in China. What nailed it for me was finding a very interesting post on Birdforum dating to January 2012 made by Henry Link, an experienced US-based binocular enthusiast who discussed the same model. You can read his report of it here. What’s more, he came to largely the same conclusions about this binocular as I did: a Mark1 Nikon Action 7 x 35 Widefield. Furthermore, in his post he described the results of tests of this binocular, concluding that it was one of the sharpest shooters in its genre. It was, in his own words, “as good as it gets.” Link also provided a really good explanation for why the Action Mark I worked so well. It has a longer than average focal length – a full 140mm in fact – making it a slower f/4 optical system. Increasing the F ratio of any telescopic system is a way to reduce all geometric(Seidel) aberrations as well as chromatic aberration.

I contacted Henry to tell my story with a few photos of the instrument. He confirmed that it was the original Nikon Action as described.

Concluding Thoughts

What a marvellous find! To say that I’m delighted with it would be an understatement. This is a higher-class binocular than anything Nikon is currently churning out in the 7 x 35 format. But it raises as many questions as it answers. Why give up on such a great optical design? Can it be resurrected? It’s also taught me a valuable lesson; there is nothing new under the Sun and great optics can be had from pretty much any era if you’re lucky enough to stumble on them!

Neil English’s up-and-coming book, Choosing & Using Binoculars: a Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, will also include a chapter on classic instruments from the past. He would like to thank Henry Link for interesting discussions on this binocular.

 

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Celestron Regal ED 8 x 42.

The Celestron Regal ED 8 x 42 package.

A Work Commenced January 15 2023

 

Product: Celestron Regal ED 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Eye Relief: 22.5mm

Chassis: Rubber armoured Magnesium Alloy

Field of View: 139m@1000m(8.0 angular degrees)

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 2

Close Focus: 1.5m advertised, 2.04m measured

Coatings: Fully Broadband Multicoated,  Phase and Dielectric Coatings on BAK4 prisms

Field Flattening Optics: Yes

ED Glass: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

Fogproof: Yes

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Weight: 768g advertised, 819g measured

Dimensions: 15.2 x 13 cm

Accessories: High quality clamshell case, binocular harness, rubber rain guard and tethered objective lens covers, logoed neoprene neck strap, microfibre lens cleaning cloth, instruction sheet

Warranty: Limited Lifetime Warranty

Price(UK): £350.00

 

There’s a quiet revolution taking place in high quality sports optics. Over the last decade, Chinese optics houses are producing instruments of amazing quality, packed full of features that up to very recently would have been unthinkable. This is not born of idle speculation but from solid and extensive experience of many instruments made in China and now marketed extensively in western markets.

I’ve already showcased a number of instruments produced by Svbony, Vortex, GPO, Opticron and Nikon to name just a few, that have gone well above and beyond the call of duty, producing very high-quality instruments that offer both excellent images and solid ergonomics in packages consumers could only dream of a few short years ago. The instrument I will showcase in this blog is the Celestron Regal ED 8 x 42, the new flagship, full-sized binocular from the well-known telescope manufacturer.

The instrument was kindly lent to me by fellow binocular enthusiast, Gary, from Northern Ireland. He was keen for me to put it through its paces and to see what I thought of it. I’m delighted to reveal that I was very impressed with the instrument and would recommend it wholeheartedly to the community. For more details though, read on.

Celestron has been turning heads for a while now, bringing a good range of binoculars to the low and mid-priced market. The Nature DX and DX ED ranges are very good entry-level instruments for those who wish to cut their teeth in quality binocular optics, featuring fully multicoated components, phase corrected roof prisms in  lightweight, weatherproof housings. Moving up to the Traliseeker models, we see Celestron offering durable Magnesium alloy chassis, dielectric coatings and higher quality optical components, delivering brighter and sharper images. The next step in the intelligent design of the Celestron binocular is embodied in the Trailseeker ED range, which added extra low dispersion glass for sharper, higher contrast images. Collectively, these instruments have delighted birders, hunters and general outdoor enthusiasts alike and helped the hobby grow in ways unthinkable to the elitist attitude of top European optics houses, creating feverish competition between manufacturers to deliver the best bang for buck in a rapidly growing and evolving market. Now Celestron has gone one step further still, introducing flat field optical technology into their new flagship binocular models in the form of the Regal ED 8x and 10 x 42.

Ergonomics

The 8 x 42 binocular arrived brand new, as Gary had conveniently arranged for it to be sent to me first before shipping on to him at the conclusion of my tests. The instrument arrived inside an attractively presented black and orange box – the longstanding trade colours of Celestron. Upon opening the box, I found a beautifully designed clamshell case safely storing the instrument away inside. All the usual accessories were there: the tethered rubber objective covers, a high-quality rain guard, neoprene neck strap and binocular harness, microfibre cloth and instruction manual.

The Celestron Regal ED is a solidly built instrument with a well-thought-through optical and ergonomic design.

Holding the instrument in my hands for the first time, I was immediately taken by the heft of it. This is one chunky binocular! Weighing in at over 800g I was immediately struck by its attractive black rubber armouring and fetching orange touches. The heft of a binocular like this shouldn’t really surprise anyone. All those hi-tech optical components add to the weight of the instrument and, as such, is no different to anything found from the top-tier of European alpha binoculars.

Irrespective of how their weight is re-distributed under the bonnet , they’re all bricks in the end. lol

Heavy.

The oversized focus wheel moves with buttery smoothness, with no annoying free play or backlash. Just short of two full rotations anti-clockwise brings you from closest focus to infinity and a little bit beyond. Tension is excellent. I was able to move it perfectly well with my pinkie! The nicely machined multi-stage, twist up eye cups are clad in soft rubber and click rigidly into place. I noted that they were not quite as firm as those I experienced on the Trailseeker model, but still presented no issues in field use. The eyecups are very comfortable, with no eyestrain experienced even after using it for a couple of hours in the field.

The right eye dioptre located under the ocular lens is larger than normal, and moves smoothly with a good degree of friction ensuring that it stays in place with no issues. The large ocular field lenses are easy to engage with and I found no real trouble centring my eyes on the large(5.25mm) exit pupil. The fully broadband multicoated objectives are nicely recessed, protecting them from rain, dust and peripheral light sources.

The large ocular lenses are easy to line up with your eyes.

Eye relief is very generous. Though I don’t observe with glasses on, I had no trouble seeing the entire field when I donned by varifocals, with the eye cups fully retracted.

Note the deeply recessed objective lenses on the Celestron Regal ED 8x 42.

The underside of the binocular has some shallow thumb indents. I found these convenient to use but it’s not something I look for specifically when shopping for an instrument.

Belly side up.

The textured rubber armouring affords excellent griping in the hands and though I personally have a preference for a slightly shorter bridge where I can better wrap my fingers round the chassis, I was quickly able to find a nice stable positioning with my hands, allowing me to enjoy the views. Clearly Celestron have done their homework in delivering a very solidly made instrument that looks and feels like a quality act. Top marks awarded for ergonomics!

And I’m delighted to disclose that the optics too impressed me!

Optics

I began, as ever, directing a bright beam of light into the binocular and examining the images garnered from across my living room. These tests revealed very good results. There were no diffraction spikes, only the merest traces of weak internal reflections and no contrast robbing diffused light around the beam, all collectively indicative of high-quality optical components. My next test involved examining the exit pupils. Both presented as almost perfectly round with very little in the way truncation, but I did record some stray light immediately outside each pupil as the images below show.

Left exit pupil. Not the false pupil at upper right.

Right exit pupil showing slight truncation.

That said, I’ve seen considerably worse on instruments costing more than twice the retail cost of this instrument.

As soon as I brought the binocular to my eyes, and even before I had made the dioptre adjustment, the image was really impressive. That’s a sure sign of excellent optics. The image is very sharp across most of the field, with excellent contrast, casting a distinctly warm colour balance. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled in the centre of the image, with only a trace of lateral colour appearing in the outer part of the field on the highest contrast targets. Seeing the hard field stops certainly enhanced the degree of immersivity of the images. Testing the field flatness, I was pleased to see very good control of barrel distortion. Drainpipes and telephone poles maintained their straightness even when placed near the edge of the field. Indeed, it showed up the distinct barrel distortion in my own full-sized roof prism binocular all too easily.

I detected some slight blurring at the edge of the field during my daylight testing, but wasn’t sure of its nature until I employed the instrument under the stars and a bright, late December Moon. By defocusing the bright star Procyon with the right eye dioptre, I was able to confirm excellent collimation. Turning the binocular on a bright gibbous Moon showed some very minor internal reflections. The Moon looked razor sharp within its generously wide sweet spot, with excellent contrast and control of chromatic aberration, but when I moved the silvery orb to the edge of the field, I could see that the last ten per cent or so of the field produced a blurred image with some lateral colour – blue and yellow for the most part. I attempted to refocus the lunar image but was unsuccessful in doing so. This suggested the presence of astigmatism and/or coma as opposed to field curvature, which is easily focused out in contrast. Turning to some some bright stellar luminaries of the winter sky, I was impressed how well they maintained their pinpoint sharpness across most of the field, showing some elongation near the field stops.

Turning back once again to daylight tests conducted during some dull, overcast early January days, the Regal ED showed excellent control of glare, for the most part, but some did creep in when the binocular was pointed to targets in the general direction of the Sun. Veiling glare, on the whole, was also very well suppressed in this instrument too. Scanning a long stretch of conifer trees near one of my local patches did throw up some blackouts and some mild manifestations of the rolling ball effect, but it was far less severe than what I had encountered with a Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42 and a Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 in comparison.

Comparing the images in the Regal ED to my control binocular – the Svbony SV 202 ED 8 x 42 – during dull overcast conditions, I concluded that the latter was slightly brighter, a consequence I suppose of it having a simpler optical design, without using field flattening lenses. More optical components usually result in lower overall light transmission. Close focus was measured to be just over 2 metres, a bit longer than the advertised value of 1.5m, but not an issue for me.

I enjoyed some stargazing vigils with the Celestron Regal ED 8 x 42. Its very wide sweet spot – covering about 85 per cent of the field – made sweeping the winter Milky Way through Perseus and Cassiopeia a very pleasant affair. I enjoyed great views of the Swordhandle of Orion and the brilliant white Belt Stars. The instrument effortlessly swept up the trio of Messier open clusters through Auriga and made easy pickings of M35 in Gemini. The Pleiads were sparkling jewels in this instrument and below them, the magnificent Hyades produced some very memorable views. Mars was an intensely bright beacon high in the winter sky, its beautiful ochre tints standing out well against a jet-black sky hinterland. This will make a great binocular for astronomical viewing, but its significant heft will probably limit hand-held use to a few minutes at a time. That said, it’s easily mounted on a lightweight monopod if you’re after rock steady views of the heavens.

Impressive optical kit.

Is the Regal ED for you? Well, that depends on how well you respond to the effects of the field flattening lenses built into the instrument. I suspect that most people will find these new Celestron binoculars to be great. For me though, I have gradually come to realise that I prefer non-field flattened optics. I prefer the more relaxed views of daytime objects without any blackout issues, even if that means sacrificing some field of view and the effects of barrel and pincushion distortion.

This is definitely a binocular to try before you buy, if at all possible. But I can wholeheartedly recommend it to the binocular enthusiast looking for great optical and ergonomic performance. Celestron has really come a long way introducing these new high-performance instruments.

Where next Columbus?

I would like to personally thank Gary for kindly lending the instrument to me for the purposes of this review. May the road rise with you!

 

Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy, including his highly acclaimed tome, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, celebrating four centuries of visual telescopic history. If you like his work, why not consider buying one of his books? Thanks for reading.

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42.

The Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 package.

A Work Commenced January 8 2023

 

Product: Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Field of View: 133m@1000m(7.6 angular degrees)

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.83m measured

Eye Relief: 17mm

Chassis: Rubber armoured magnesium alloy

Coatings: Fully multicoated optics, phase corrected BAK4 prisms

ED Glass: Yes

Tripod Adaptable: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 705g advertised, 701g measured

Dimensions: L/W 14.8 x 12.7cm

Accessories: Padded clamshell case, logoed neoprene neck strap, permanently tethered objective covers, rubber rain guard, microfibre lens cloth, instruction manual.

Warranty: No Fault Lifetime Warranty

Price(UK): £239

Hawke is a British family-founded sports optics company that has established a solid reputation serving the birding, hunting and hiking community. Over the last few decades the company has expanded its business, creating a US branch in 2007. Their binoculars, monoculars and spotting scopes have earned high praise over the years, producing consistent optical quality at reasonable prices. The Hawke Endurance ED series has received various makeovers over the 15 years or so since its first incarnation and represents the company’s entry level mid-tier optic. In this blog, I’ll be reporting on the Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 model, which is available in black or green colours. I elected to choose the green coloured chassis. The unit was kindly loaned to me by First Light Optics.

The Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 has excellent ergonomics.

The instrument arrived in a small, attractive white box containing a high quality clamshell case(with strap), a logoed neoprene lanyard, lens cleaning cloth, a soft pouch, rubber rain guard, permanently attached objective lens covers and multi-language instruction manual. First impressions of the instrument were really good. The magnesium alloy chassis is covered in a grippy dark green rubber armouring with prominent ribbing on the sides. The central hinge has very nice rigidity ensuring that your preferred inter pupillary distance is reliably maintained. The instrument feels really solid in the hands even though it tips the scales at just over 700g.

I really like the metal focus wheel. Covered in large ridges, it rotates very smoothly and accurately with no free play. Just over two full rotations anticlockwise brings you from closest focus to infinity. The bridge is narrow – something I personally like very much, as it affords plenty of space to wrap your fingers round the barrels to hold the instrument steady. The twist-up eye cups are covered in soft rubber and are very comfortable to rest your eyes on. Four different locking positions are offered from fully retracted to fully extended. The cups hold their positions very well. Eye relief is decent, but I couldn’t quite see the entire field wearing my regular glasses. The enlarged ocular lenses are very easy to engage with and the objective lenses are quite deeply recessed to protect the optics from rain, peripheral light and aeolian borne dust.

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

The dioptre compensation is achieved by rotating a metal ring under the right ocular lens. Though it’s not lockable, it has a decent amount of resistance so won’t budge easily out of your desired position.  The strap lugs are among the largest I’ve experienced on any full-size binocular, protruding quite a bit from the side of the barrels making them a bit more susceptible to getting snagged on a bush or some such during field use.

All in all, this is a very well thought-through binocular with well above average ergonomics that make it a pleasure to hold in one’s hands. Good job Hawke.

Optical Assessment

My first tests involved shining a bright light located a few metres away and examining the images captures while looking through the binocular. I detected a few minor internal reflections and quite a bit of glare around the light source. The same was true when I turned the Hawke Endurance ED on a bright sodium streetlamp after dark. From previous experience, I anticipated that such glare would also reduce the contrast a tad on daylight targets, as my later tests were to verify.

Examining the exit pupils, I was relieved to see that were round with no signs of truncation, though one did reveal a small false pupil very near the true exit pupil as the photos below show.

Left exit pupil.

Right exit pupil. Note a small false pupil at lower right.

Testing in dull winter light which generates the worst possible lighting conditions generated good results. The field stop is very easy to see and very well defined: something I’ve grown to really appreciate. The image is nice, wide(7.6 degrees) and sharp, with good contrast though a small amount of glare reduced its punch by a notch. Colours are true to life, and quite warm compared to other 8x 42s I’ve experienced. The sweet spot of the Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 is quite large, with just a little bit of peripheral softness creeping in around the edges which I didn’t find particularly distracting. Colour correction is very well controlled, even off axis, where only a trace was seen on some high contrast targets. Barrell distortion was also very low on this test unit.

Notes from the Field

Close focus on the Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 was found to be 1.83m, a little better than the advertised 2m. Tracking a small flock of Redwings flying across an open field from 10 metres to beyond 100 metres only required about a one third of an anti-clockwise turn of the focus wheel to maintain a sharp image. Viewing through the instrument gives nice, relaxed images with no blackouts or rolling ball effect encountered while panning. Colour rendering is what I would describe as warm, with reds and yellows being most notably enhanced. Low light performance is decent but was not as bright as my control binocular with dielectric coatings, possibly indicating lower reflectivity aluminium or silvered( non-enhanced) roof prisms. I also detected some veiling glare while glassing a group of Carrion Crows perched high in some conifer trees against a grey overcast sky.

A good, all-round performer.

The Hawke Endurance ED served up some very nice images of the night sky. The full Moon was nice and sharp but I could see some glare in the sky around it. Moving the bright silvery orb to the edge of the field showed up some weak lateral colour and some mild field curvature. The winter showpieces of the sky including the Pleiades, the Hyades, the Perseus Double Cluster and the Sword Handle of Orion were nicely framed in this light weight 8 x 42. Stars remain nice tight pinpoints across about 70 per cent of the field after which field curvature begins to distort them, but overall, I judged its edge of field performance to be good.

Conclusions

The Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 proved to be a pleasant experience. It’s very nice to hold and everything works well. And while not a world class performer, it serves up very decent optical performance at this price point. And it’s good to know that should you encounter any hiccups, Hawke’s lifetime warranty should reassure you that they will take care of any issues you may encounter going forward

Recommended.

 

I would like to thank Steve from First Light Optics for lending me the Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 for review.

 

Dr N English’s new book dedicated to binoculars will be published later this year. Check out Choosing and Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts published by Springer Nature.

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: The Nikon Aculon A211 7 x 35.

The Nikon Aculon A211 7 x 35.

A Work Commenced December 27 2022

 

 

Product: Nikon Aculon A211 7 x 35

Country of Manufacture: China

Exit Pupil: 5.00mm

Eye relief: 11.8mm

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

Coatings: Multilayer coated

Close Focus: 5m advertised, 2.35m measured

ED Glass: No

Waterproof: No

Nitrogen Purged: No

Tripod Mountable: Yes

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

Dimensions: 11.9 x  18.5cm

Weight: 686g advertised, 684g measured

Warranty: 10 years

Price UK: £104

 

 

While it is generally true that you get what you pay for, it’s also true that you can pick up very decent optics for not a lot of money. I was very much reminded of this when I test drove the Nikon Aculon A211 7 x 35. This is yet another cost-effective Porro prism binocular from Nikon having a good black rubber armouring, twist-up eye cups and a large central focus wheel. Though it’s not quite as well armoured as Nikon’s more expensive and waterproof Action EX 7 x 35, it is considerably lighter, tipping the scales at just 684g. Indeed, I had no trouble carrying it round my neck for several hours while completing a 10km trek near my home.

 

The Nikon Aculon A211 7x 35 is a pleasure to use.

The instrument is multicoated ensuring a high light transmission. Indeed, according to tests carried out by allbinos.com, light transmission is close to 80 per cent. Right out of the box, this little Aculon impressed. I had a wee bit of trouble adjusting the dioptre setting as the ring under the right ocular was quite stiff but it eventually yielded. The image is bright and sharp within its sweet spot, which  covers the inner 50-60 per cent of the field depending on your degree of accommodation. Contrast is very good too. But what’s most impressive is its huge field of view: 9.3 angular degrees. That’s ideal for surveying landscapes. Eye relief is tight though: that wasn’t a problem for me as I don’t wear glasses while looking through binoculars, but when I did try to engage the view with eye glasses on, I could not see the entire field.

I found that the Aculon had a small amount of glare when the eye cups were fully extended upwards but I was really surprised to discover that I could comfortably access the entire field of view without glasses when they were fully retracted! This will obviously reduce the wear on the eyecups, so extending their functional longevity. But it also had the effect of removing much of the glare I encountered in the open air.

The focus wheel is silky smooth and easy to turn with no backlash or free play. Indeed it felt considerably better than the Action EX 7x 35 I reviewed some time ago. Moreover, of all the different brands of binoculars I’ve tested over the years, Nikon focus wheels have been consistently excellent. The ease with which I could move the focus wheel made this binocular a very enjoyable birding binocular. Indeed, I spent some time watching flocks of Long Tailed Tits flit from tree to tree across the valley. Their mode of flight – in fits and starts – reminded me very much of the way Wagtails navigate during the warmer months of the year. It was so easy to keep up with them, even as they moved off into the distance. The impressive depth of field meant refocusing was an infrequent affair. And that’s got to be a good thing for any birder.

I was impressed by its close focus distance – less than half of the 5m advertised value. The enhanced 3D views through the Nikon Aculon A211 were very memorable, especially when scanning for signs of life inside a densely forested patch near my home. The field curvature actually helps keep closer objects at the bottom part of the field tightly in focus, creating a heightened sense of spatial awareness. This little 7x 35 was a much better fit in my hands than the larger 8 x 42 Aculon I tested prior to acquiring this smaller instrument. Does it have any flaws? Yes. When I turned the binocular on a bright streetlamp after dark I picked up significant internal reflections. It was the same when I glassed a bright, waning gibbous Moon. Bothersome? Yes, a little, but didn’t really detract from the nice, relaxed views I enjoyed during the day. And while the internal reflections detract somewhat from the aesthetic of Moon watching, it’s quite an impressive stargazing binocular. By studying the image of the bright, first magnitude star Rigel, I could see that field curvature and coma are strongly apparent near the field stops but to be honest, there is plenty enough field to thoroughly enjoy the view. Lateral colour was also strong at the edge of the field but nowhere near as bad as what I saw testing the larger 8 x 42 Aculon A211.

I spent 30 minutes enjoying the glories of the Winter sky on Christmas Day. Orion looked magnificent riding high on the meridian, sweeping east into Monoceros where the binocular easily showed the somewhat overlapping NGC 237 and NGC 2244 and even the 8th magnitude M50 to the south was faintly discerned. I also enjoyed sweeping up the three Messier open clusters high overhead in Auriga. The large, expansive field of the little Nikon Aculon 7x 35 made light work of framing all of them inside the same field. I also spent some time in a zero gravity chair sweeping through the wonders of Perseus, Cassiopeia and Cygnus, now sinking low into the northwest sky.

The Nikon Aculon A211 7x 35 in its ultra dry Sarcophagus.

For a binocular that you can acquire for about £100 or less, it’s probably a best buy in my opinion. It does lots of activities well and is great fun to use. If you’re on a tight budget and want decent optical performance in a portable package, go check them out. Indeed, as a firm Porro prism binocular fan, this is such a good bargain that I decided to prepare another ‘Sacrophagus’ for the Nikon Aculon A211 7 x 35; a simple water tight Tupperware container with lots of activated silica gel desiccant inside. This will also render them fog proof, as my tests on higher-end Nikon Porros have shown

Recommended!

 

Dr Neil English is busy writing a book dedicated to binoculars. Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, which will hit the shelves in late 2023.

 

De Fideli.