Enjoying Winter with Small, High-Quality Binoculars.

Enjoying an early sunset at Loch Lomondside, Balmaha,  Scotland, December 30 2020.

A work begun January 2 2021

It’s taken no less than two and a half years for me to settle on the binoculars that I wish to use in the long term. In this time, I have bought in, tested and rejected the vast majority of instruments, finding fault with their optics, mechanics or both. Some of those instruments were mechanically quite sound but proved deficient in critical optical tests; others displayed the very opposite. These experiences have collectively shaped my philosophy about binoculars for personal use, and it is admittedly quite different from the conclusions I have garnered regarding astronomical telescopes. Because telescopes are relatively simple devices, the best bangs for buck are clearly Newtonian reflectors, where one does not need to invest a great deal of money to acquire very good optics. My three regularly used telescopes – all Newtonians – deliver brilliant, high-resolution images of the heavens when properly collimated and acclimated to the environment I set them up in.

Yet, in comparison to my binoculars, my telescopes are now used far less frequently. Where typically I would employ a telescope for a couple of hours every week, my binoculars are employed for timescales at least five times longer- at home by the window watching the birdfeeders, or during long walks out of doors and also at night. And because these small, portable instruments are used so frequently I quickly concluded that it pays to invest in the best instruments that deliver everything I could possibly wish for in a binocular. These instruments are both made by the world-leading optical firm, Leica; a little Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 and a larger Trinovid 8 x 32 HD, featured below:

My two instruments of choice: the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25(left) and the Trinovid 8 x 32 HD(right).

They are both light weight and easy to transport, they have excellent build quality and are designed for prolonged use, even under the harshest of outdoor conditions. Built to last, they will likely outlive this author if properly cared for. They also deliver excellent images, rich in contrast and accurate colour fidelity, with great control of glare and internal reflections. And while both fall a bit short of Leica’s flagship models, the Ultravids, these Trinovids provide 95 per cent of the performance of the former, so here, yet again, is a classic case of diminishing returns; you have to fork out considerably more to gain that last five per cent in optics and ergonomics, which, with my average eyes, I can well do without. The Trinovids have a pedigree that goes all the way back to the 1950s, unlike the Ultravids, which are relatively recent additions to their product line. In this capacity, the ‘Trinnies’ are more thoroughly tried and tested by binocular enthusiasts, not just from my own generation but also from a generation once removed from me. Of course, you don’t need to take my word for that. You will hear this from enthusiasts who own instruments from both of these lines. Check out this link as an example in point.

The 8 x 32 is a brilliant general-purpose binocular with a superb close focus of under 1 metre and a field of view of 124 metres @1000m, while the smaller, pocket-sized 10 x 25(with a field of 90m@1000m) provides an extra magnification boost when the need arises. Because both instruments do not make much demands in terms of size or weight, I can and often do take both of them along with me on general walks. This blog will describe some of the wonderful things I enjoy glassing with these instruments during the short days of Winter.

Enjoying the Magical Light of a low Winter Sun

Sunlight is a precious commodity in the bleak mid-Winter. God gave us sunlight to sustain living things by providing electromagnetic radiation that fully penetrates our atmosphere, providing both light and heat. But while we take such things as sunlight for granted, it is really a miraculous event, as the laws of physics and chemistry could well have prevented that light from penetrating all the way down to the surface. Sunlight lifts the spirit, strengthens the immune system and allows to us to see amazing details. The low altitude of the Sun at this far northerly latitude(56 degrees) creates wondrous light shows, bathing trees, hills,  streams and snow covered open fields in magical light. The 8 x 32 Trinnie serves me best during these short days, its larger objective lenses drawing in a good amount of light to the eyes.

Winter is also a great time to start birdwatching, as the trees where many birds take refuge in are much easier to pick up in the binocular, as they are devoid of leaves. Red breasted Robins, blackbirds and Blue tits are very commonly observed on my walks, and they also seem to be quite undaunted by human passers by. But the cruel frosts of Winter can make life difficult for bathing birds such as mute swans, ducks and geese, which sometimes get into a spot of trouble when the pond freezes over. Culcreuch Pond, a mere half mile walk from my home, is one of my ‘local patches,’ a place where a variety of habitats are provided for our feathered friends. During the cold snap of early January, I was anxious about the swans in particular, as they have been known to get trapped by ice on the water’s surface. Luckily, they were sensible enough to move elsewhere before the ice got the better of them. When milder conditions return, so hopefully will this monogamous couple, which together successfully raised 6 strapping cygnets this past season.

A nearly fully frozen over Culcreuch Pond, with Mallard Duck and a couple of Mute Swans( far right) preparing to leave temporarily.

The low Winter Sun also illumines the walls of Culcreuch Castle beautifully. The castle holds a special place for my family, as we had our wedding reception here some 22 years ago come the end of April next.  I often spend many idle minutes glassing the stone masonry of the castle on sunny afternoons, with its many nooks and crannies, and enjoying the glint of reflected sunlight from the hardy moss and lichens that eke out a living from the bare stone. There is history here too; the oldest parts of the castle dating back to Norman times (12th century). In the months ahead, God willing, Swallows and Swifts form Africa and southern Europe will roost and rear a new generation of these avian super-migrators.

Culcreuch Castle bathed in weak winter afternoon sunshine. January 2 2021.

 

 

Pure as the Driven Snow

A fresh fall of snow: Fintry, January 8 2021.

The second week of January 2021 brought very cold temperatures to our shores, when temperatures struggled to get above -6C during the day and plummeted to -12C at night, making it the coldest spell we have endured in about a decade. But we were also graced by a decent fall of snow which transformed the landscape into a winter wonderland, albeit for a brief few days.

While my sons enjoyed a few hours of sledging, my wife and I took ourselves off out to enjoy the frigid air in brilliant winter sunshine. There is something magical about enjoying the great outdoors during these conditions, when just a few inches of snow changes the valley into a bonnie, white desert under a cobalt blue sky. It’s during these conditions that one appreciates the larger focus wheel of a mid-sized binocular, which is easier to negotiate with thick-padded gloves on, though I was quite surprised to discover that even the small focus wheel of the 10 x 25 Trinovid can also be used reasonably productively under such conditions, and thus shouldn’t be a deterrent for those who use such a diminutive instrument.

In such an environment, even dull greys become quite intense and snow covered trees become especially colourful. One may not imagine that targets that are normally perceived as ‘white’ take on entirely different hues with snow on the ground. Take, for example, sheep foraging on the meagre vegetation available on the hilly crags. I was very surprised to discover that their thick woollen coats would render them almost invisible under such conditions. But quite the opposite is true; those woollen white coats show up as decidedly yellow under such conditions, making them quite easy to find and follow.

Even at the end of the first week in January, the increase in day length is quite perceptible and very much appreciated. It’s especially important to get out during these short but very cold days as even the feeble sunshine does wonders to keep one’s spirits high, now that the entire country is once again under these economically crippling, pseudoscientific lockdowns. Thankfully, the vast majority of the locals venture out without wearing masks, although it is occasionally distressful to see the odd mask-clad  soul struggling to get about and visibly frightened out of his/her skin. The Scots are canny people though- they’re not easily swayed by the cock ‘n’ bull propaganda constantly being beamed into our houses by the government. Even a short walk stimulates vitamin D production which has been shown in several studies to help protect against the Rona virus. During winter, I also take a few antioxidant supplements such as N-Acetyl Cysteine, a modified, sulphur-rich amino acid that has been shown to keep the lungs from clogging up and acts as a powerful protector against respiratory viruses. Indeed, ever since I started taking such a supplement during winter, I have not suffered a bad cold in nearly two decades! I also take extra vitamin D and astaxanthin(another powerful antioxidant) during the winter months, which helps keep one’s joints moving well. All of these supplements are available cheaply and without prescription. And true knowledge is power!

The bird feeders in my back garden are especially lively during these cold, snowy days, which I can enjoy from the comfort of the warm indoors, using the 10x glass to get up-close and personal with each subject. Starlings, which are rarely seen ’round these parts, make the most of the fat ball crumbs dropped by the hyperactive tits that swarm the feeders at this time of year.  Such harsh conditions often invites larger animals too, such as grey squirrels, which venture down from the conifer trees in the copse to the west of our home.

And up at the pond, the snow and ice provide some advantages over the usual grass and mud-covered tracks that make identifying some of its inhabitants, such as these laid down by a resident moorhen.

Birding is not always about looking up and about. It can also pay dividends to look down to the ground from time to time.

The effects of a snow covered valley on the night sky are especially pronounced. The  reflected light, even with the Moon out of the sky, greatly diminishes the glory of the winter stars. I was astounded by the darkness of the sky once the snow cleared from the valley, as if I were peering into another heavens altogether! Such is the power of the gentle snowflake!

Divine Light

One of the great tragedies of the modern world is that the vast majority of human souls, working in great cities strewn across the globe, never get to see the true splendour of the sky after dark.

God made the stars not only for signs and seasons but also to display His supreme power;

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Psalm 19:1

It is my firm belief that the emergence of towns and cities is one of the principal reasons why so many of their inhabitants have lost much of their sense of the divine. Furthermore, I feel very fortunate to live in a place where much of the majesty of the heaven is still manifested, and my binoculars are the ideal tools to explore its manifold wonders.

God made the Sun to rule by day and the Moon to rule by night, with both serving as masterful timepieces to orchestrate the fantastical rhythms of life in the Earth’s biosphere. But with the advent of human global civilization, science is yielding some alarming facts about the effects of artificial light on its various biomes. For example, recent studies suggest that the alarming decline in insect populations might well be attributed to the encroach of street lighting, and an even more extensive study has provided very compelling evidence that LED lighting is responsible for the decimation of coral reefs. These findings are completely at odds with the usual mantra of “climate change” parroted by environmentalists – for the most part, pagan to the core –  as well as those who worship at the altar of the new green religion.

Though valiant efforts have been made to raise awareness, both of light pollution in general, and to reversing its effects in some restricted cases, I’m not entirely sure whether much, if anything, can be done to reverse these worrying trends.

Birding Milestones

As a novice and only half serious twitcher, I have made some good progress finding new birds to add to my list of ‘conquests.’ On my river walk, for example, I discovered a patch of rather over grown bramble bushes where one member of the smallest species in the British Isles – the Goldcrest – hangs out. This tiny creature, barely 9cm long, betrayed its presence by virtue of a conspicuous yellow crest on the crown of its head, bordered by a prominent black stripe on either side. The fact that it was a yellow crest and not orange revealed to me that this was a female. Since first sighting it back in November, I have visited the same patch several times and have been lucky enough to glass this rather rotund bodied marvel a few times since with my trusty 8 x 32. And on one occasion, I was fortunate enough to observe her hovering over the same brambles, stalking its lunch or some such.

The aeronautical displays of the tiny female Goldcrest astounded me. Human aeronautical engineers have only recently been able to to design drones that only very clumsily approach the gracefulness of hovering birds and other flying creatures. And the same is true of the ubiquitous blue tits that frequent the birdfeeders in my own back yard. Birds are marvellously designed animals that abundantly display the power of their Creator who spoke them into existence. Of course, evolutionists will conjure up some just-so, cock n’ bull story that they evolved from therapod dinosaurs or some such, but there is no compelling evidence that even a single species emerged in this way, just like aeroplanes and drones must likewise have intelligent designers, and all are merely examples of reverse-engineering from our ongoing study of bird and insect flight.

On the dull, overcast afternoon of January 13 2021, I bagged yet another raptor. Glancing out of my front window across to the trees in the swing park, my eye caught the outline of a bird perched on one of the higher branches of a leafless Sycamore tree. Reaching for my 10 x 25, I could see that it was rather a large bird, about the size of a fully grown Woodpigeon, but with long, square-ended tail feathers. I called my wife, a far more experienced birder than myself, while scrambling to deploy my big gun, a Pentax 20 x 60. With its back to us, the 10x magnification wasn’t quite enough for us to identify the creature given the misty air we were peering through, but our luck changed as I was taking the caps off the objective and ocular lenses of the big bin, and it turned round facing us some 35 yards away in the distance. The 20 x 60 gave us an amazing view, its off-white belly adorned with dusky horizontal striping. But it was its ferocious stare, golden coloured talons and hooked yellow beak that finally convinced us that we were watching a female Sparrowhawk! After a few minutes, she took to flight, displaying her broad, rounded wings, which the RSPB handbook had alerted us to look out for.

What a wonderful distraction from an otherwise ordinary Winter day! And who says a 20 x 60 is too large to use as a birding binocular? On this drab afternoon, it made all the difference between vaguely suspecting and actually confirming a new bird of prey had paid us a visit.

Cool or what?

 

The Great British Garden Birdwatch

The last weekend in January will be a weekend of birdwatching. The RSPB is organising a nationwide backyard birdwatch. No cancel culture here folks: everyone is welcome to take part. Well, I’ve done my little bit to advance the cause of birdwatching by gifting binoculars to a few of my next door neighbours, so they will hopefully be participating too.

The idea is fairly simple; you just make a note of all the different kinds of birds that visit your garden. Of course, I expect Blue tits to dominate the scene, as they always do, but I also expect lots of curious Robins, blackbirds, Great tits, Long-tailed tits and even the odd Wren and House Sparrows, but no matter how many times you look, nature throws up a surprise, so it will make for an interesting weekend. Once completed, the data can be posted to a central data base where it can be analysed to reveal trends over time. This is my second year participating and so it should be fun!

Recently, I’ve started collecting some books by avid birdwatching celebrities. Two of them are by comedians; Bill Oddie and Bill Bailey; they’re good reads and very funny as you might expect, but sadly, they’ve succumbed to the propaganda of the evolution lunes. “These birds evolved this trait and these other birds evolved this way,” yada yada yada, and so on and so forth. My eyes glaze over when I read such bunk, but such is the level of deception among non-scientists, not only in the British Isles, but right across the world.  Never mind, maybe some day I’ll write a book that correctly attributes the properties of birds to their rightful Creator. But will anyone buy it? I mean, facts don’t really matter anymore do they?

In our post-truth world, facts will never change the brainwashed. They just don’t want to know!

After a weekend of family birding, we finally got to submit our tally to the RSPB website. As well as the usual suspects; Blue tits, Long tailed tits, Blackbirds, Song thrushes, as well as the odd House Sparrow, Starling, Coal tit and Treecreeper, I finally got to see a new(for me) bird; a colourful Nuthatch, gorging its way through the newly filled monkey nut feeder. Though my wife is well accustomed to seeing Nuthatches at her work at the nearby University of Stirling campus, where she would often send me close up pictures of one feeding just outside her office window, there is nothing quite like seeing a real life bird in the flesh, as it were. Mind you, it never stayed for long; just a few minutes feeding and then off it flew on the wings of a cold January wind. Perhaps it will visit the garden again soon? Time will tell.

A local boy, who hangs about with my two sons, was astonished at the number of birds he saw at our feeders and wondered why his own bird feeders were not as busy as our own. Then it dawned on me that it could well be due to the small wooded area of common ground just beyond the confines of our back garden, where many birds hang out and eventually make their way over in search of a free meal. In contrast, his bird feeder lies in the wide open, well away from the protection of trees. We suggested that he might have better luck moving the feeder closer to the hedgerows at the edge of his family property. He said he’d give it a try!

A Cold Winter

Compared with the last few years, this winter has been on the cold side. Many nights in December and January have been at or below freezing and sometimes the temperatures have fallen into negative double figures. Nor have we seen the last of the snow, as we enter the short month of February. Furthermore, it’s been very cold in many nations during this 2020-21 winter, a fact that may at least in part be attributed to a very inactive Sun that has only recently come alive again. Many of my students and new acquaintances I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with over the years have asked me  what I think about ‘climate change.’ They are often surprised to learn that while I do accept that the Earth is warming, I would never go so far as to become alarmist about it. I’m suspicious of so-called scientific ‘consensus.’ Why? Because the word consensus is a political concept not a scientific one.

Climate alarmism is a cult and I put those folk in the same box as I place evolutionists and militant vegans; annoying, generally uninformed and weaponised only with selective knowledge. And while I readily point them to some relevant literature that challenges their world views, they generally never follow up on any of it

As a Bible believing Christian, I understand that we have been given a clear mandate from God to properly steward the planet, but ultimately our Creator has resoundingly stated that humans will never be granted the opportunity to bring this world to an end:

“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease.”

Genesis 8:22

Yep, God and God alone, will decide that time for us.

He will end humanity’s tenure when He’s good and ready, so why all the alarmism?

Take a chill pill man!

And climate has always changed. Sometimes it was hot- very hot – such as when the magnificent dinosaurs roamed the planet – and we have had several ice ages. And in the days of the Romans, the climate was warmer than it is today, and humans certainly didn’t cause that. Indeed, I recall some of the Augustan poets eulogising the fecundity of the Italian countryside and how it delivered two or more harvests in a single year!

Nor do I believe that we must take drastic measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, certainly not in the way presented by those creeps at the World Economic Forum, who outline a truly dystopian outlook for humanity. Let’s get one thing crystal clear; those folk hate humanity. Why else promote measures to aggressively reduce global populations?

No, God clearly intends to have a very large family of redeemed humans in the New Creation. People chosen from all the nations of the Earth:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands,

Revelation 7:9

 

Yes sir, God’s got an awesome plan, watching over His word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12)

 

Let’s trust His good judgement!

 

Digibinning

With the inclemency in the weather continuing into February, with constant sleet, snow and rain, glassing out of doors is challenging to say the least but there are always new things to do and learn. Recently, I have developed an interest in so-called digibinning, that is, taking images through my binoculars with my iPhone.

I bought a new adapter for my tripod – the SnapZoom -that allows me to stably mount an assortment of binoculars on;

The SnapZoom binocular mount.

It’s simplicity itself; a horizontal platform that one places the binocular on and a simple strap that clasps it in place. I needed it because the 8 x 32 Trinny  doesn’t have a stalk to allow me to mate it with a regular binocular tripod adapter. But I also like the simplicity of the SnapZoom because it is so quick and easy to use, and it accommodates all of my binoculars, from the largest to the smallest.

I also purchased a neat little iPhone adapter mount that can be attached to the eye cup of a wide range of binoculars enabling me to take images through them. It’s a a bit fidgety but very easy to use once you get the hang of it.

The iPhone adapter that can be affixed to the binocular eyepiece.

My first results were very encouraging. Shown below is an unmodified image of a tree carving located some 100 yards from my front door as captured by the 8 x 32;

A tree carving, as imaged through the 8 x 32 Trinovid.

This gives you some idea of the bright and sharp images served up by this binocular. But it can also be used to provide an objective way of comparing the images generated by different binoculars.

Here’s an image taken through an inexpensive 8 x 42 binocular costing about £70.

An image taken through a budget-priced 8x 42 binocular retailing for about £70.

Now compare the above to an image taken through the Leica Trinovid 8x 32  below costing ten times more:

An image taken through the Leica Trinovid costing £700.

As you can see, the Trinny serves up a brighter, sharper and more contrasted image for sure, but is it ten times better?

I dunno.

 

Deep Freeze

Sunset, Culcreuch Pond, February 10 2021.

The second week of February 2021 has continued to see 10-year record low temperatures in Scotland. The night of February 10 is believed to see the mercury fall to -20C further north, but down here, just north of the central belt, it will fall to a relatively balmy -13C. Much of central Europe and North America is also in deep freeze. The snow fall in Germany, as well as having no wind nearly caused widespread electricity blackouts – surely a dangerous thing in these cold days. The cause? Germany’s over-reliance on renewables; solar and wind power in particular. Only the coal burning power stations saved the day – a stark reminder that these green technologies can let a nation down. France, in comparison, with its many nuclear power plants – suffered no such outages. All of this goes to show what the best available science tells us. A truly green economy will continue to rely on fossil fuels, hydroelectric and nuclear power if it is to be maintained in the long-term. And the best way to turn developing countries green is to lift their citizens out of poverty, by generating cheap sustainable electricity supplies so that they don’t have to resort to raiding forests and grasslands for many hours a day, gathering enough fuel to make their next family meal.

In these cold spells, farm animals need a little more TLC.

The Trinnies perform brilliantly in the cold. I have now had them operating for several hours, well below zero, and over several days. The mechanics work flawlessly. Their ergonomics increases in value, after trusting then verifying. Moreover, the quality of the images they serve up are  nothing short of breath taking! On the afternoon of February 9, my wife and I went for a walk round the castle grounds. Just as we reached the castle itself, she alerted me to the sight of a hovering Buzzard passing right overhead. Luckily I had the little 10 x 25 with me for extra reach. Soaring less than 80 yards above my head, I enjoyed a magical few seconds imaging this magnificent creature with its dark banded wings outstretched, passing right over my head! For a split second, I saw its extraordinarily dark and acute eyes looking right back at me, its hooked beak standing out starkly against a bright blue sky. What a way to see the world!

The Leica Trinovid 10 x 25 is right at home on a snowy winter day.

So, even on the coldest days, there are miracles worth witnessing with a small, quality glass.

The Gemini Hour

The evening sky in mid-February is one of my favourite times of year to enjoy the binocular heavens. With the snows now gone(and creating a new, ten-year low of -21.5C) from our shores, the true majesty of the winter night sky has returned. A beautiful, waxing crescent Moon graced the early evening sky, displaying wonderful earthshine through the 8 x 32 Trinovid. By 9pm local time, Gemini lies on the meridian, with mighty Orion still prominent but sinking lower into the southwestern sky. The intensely bright belt stars of the celestial Hunter are painfully beautiful in the 8 x 32, surrounded by a blizzard of fainter suns comprising Collinder 70.

Auriga, Taurus, Perseus and Cassiopeia form a grand procession of starlight, from southwest to northwest, and are considerably easier to enjoy, owing to their lower altitudes, which entails less neck strain while glassing. The placing of Perseus in particular in the north-western sky makes observing the beautiful Double Cluster and the Alpha Perseii Association particularly enjoyable to glass with my 32mm Leica.

Just a little off the southeast of Castor & Pollux lies the comely Beehive cluster(M44), jewel of Praesepe in Cancer. Though the objectives of the Leica glass are small as stargazing binoculars come, its impressively high light transmission gathers enough celestial photons to really make observing its numerous stellar components very worthwhile. The endearing Pleiads & Hyades are still well placed for exploration, as are numerous Messier open clusters that stand out well against a dark and transparent sky – M35 in Gemini is very prominent, M36, 37 & 38 can be enjoyed in a single field coursing through the heart of Auriga. M34 in Perseus stands out well also, as does M52 which shows up as a roughly kidney shaped misty patch over in Cassiopeia. And to top it all off, looking over in the east, the sprawling Coma Cluster (Melotte 111)  begins to take up a commanding position, a sure sign that Spring is on its way.

A walk by the river bank reveals myriad tender Snowdrops, now in full bloom, and even the Daffodils are beginning to poke through the frigid soil, though it will be many weeks yet before their radiant yellow flowers grace our eyes.

Rambling in Balmaha

The Conic, overlooking Balmaha, Loch Lomondside.

Every once and a while, we get incredibly mild and clement days during the Scottish Winter, and Sunday February 21 proved to be one such day. Gentle southerly winds brought warm air over the British Isles and temperatures responded by rising into double figures(11C). But while we normally associate such mild spells in Winter with rain and cloud, today was bright and sunny; the perfect day to go for a short family drive within our region and visit the picturesque Balmaha,  on the shores of Loch Lomond.

A choppy Loch Lomond on a mild and bright Winter afternoon

This is a favourite tourist spot irrespective of the time of the year, but owing to the Pandemic, we were greeted by far less overseas visitors. The Conic, which rises some 361 metres above the eastern side of the Loch, is perennially popular with hill walkers and provides fabulous views of the surrounding countryside for miles around. Though we’ve climbed this hill many times over the years, we decided we would do something a little less strenuous this time round, and simply enjoy the beautiful ancient woodland surrounding it.

Magnificent trees are great glassing targets.

The 8 x 32 Trinnie is the ideal instrument for exploring forest terrain, serving up stunningly beautiful images of  trees, burns, leaflitter and all manner of fungi, lichen and  moss that set the scene ablaze in a verdant riot. Forests have always been associated with sacred spaces, even in pre-Christian times, and to me, they are places of deep contemplation. I can’t help but think that God created these places to calm the human spirit, packing them full of life so that we might wonder after Him. For thus says the Lord God;

For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.

I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

Psalm 50:10-11

Alas, there were few birds to see this afternoon, save for the odd Robin, Pied wagtail and Wood Pigeon. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday, which brings more people to these places.

Beautiful freshwater burns flow gracefully across the forest floor.

After enjoying a lengthy ramble along well trodden pathways, we ended up taking a look around the village of Balmaha. Arguably one of the most visited sites is the statue of Tom Weir(1914-2006), one of Scotland’s best loved ramblers. But he was much more than a rambler. Weir was also an accomplished writer(as was his sister, Molly), broadcaster and evangelist for the great Scottish outdoors and its conservation; much like a 20th century John Muir. I fondly remember watching many of his TV shows, which ran for years and years on TV. There probably wasn’t an inch of Scotland he didn’t walk over or comment on! To say he’s sorely missed would be a gross understatement!

Tom Weir(1914-2006) suitably attired for the great out of doors. Note his trusty little Porro prism binocular, which accompanied him everywhere, round his neck.

Balmaha is a glasser’s paradise, that’s for sure.

I’m very glad I had my 8 x 32 with me to enjoy the scenery!

At home in the forest.

Investing in Quality

The Trinnies have served me well this winter, performing flawlessly under often harsh conditions, whether in rain or snow or ice. Their brilliant, bright images are the result of constant upgrading of their coatings which transmit a very high percentage of the light they collect, rendering them extraordinarily efficient instruments. I already mentioned, the 8 x 32 achieves 90% efficiency with the little 10 x 25 being not far behind. Indeed, I recently stumbled across a most interesting article by a German optics enthusiast who has documented the steady increase in light transmission of Leica binoculars over several decades. .According to his measurements, a 1978 pocket 8 x 20 had a transmittivity of only 55%, but by 1998 these same beauties were delivering light transmission values of 85 or 86%. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if my recently acquired 10 x 25 is a few percentiles higher still!

Sunset, Culcreuch Pond, March 1 2021.

My visit to the pond on St. David’s Day revealed some more curious visitors; a few Common Gulls enjoying a dip in the water, and a pair of Greylag Geese with their prominent orange beaks. It will be interesting to see how long they stay, as my birding handbook informs me that these are migratory species that winter here in the UK before moving back to Iceland and northern Scandinavia in April and May. The Corbies have now become much more vocal, as they begin to build their nests in the conifer trees to the west of the house.

We have now reached March 2021, the end of a long and cold winter here in Scotland. It’s been a tough season, what with the lockdowns, the very long nights and the bitter cold, but the Sun grows stronger every day, rising higher in the sky on its sojourn northwards.  The vernal equinox is just weeks away and by month’s end we’ll be back in good ole British Summer Time (BST). What will the Spring and Summer bring? Only time will tell! One thing’s for sure though, the little Trinnies will continue to accompany me on my outdoor adventures!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Pentax UD 9 x 21 Compact Binocular.

The Pentax UD 9 x 21 package.

A work commenced February 12 2021

 

 

Product: Ricoh Pentax UD 9 x 21

Country of Origin: China

Eye Relief: 9.9mm

Exit Pupil: 2.3mm

Field of View: 104m@1000m(6.0 angular degrees)

Close Focus: 3m advertised, 2.5m measured

ED Glass: No

Chassis construction: Plastic

Waterproof: No

Nitrogen Purging: No

Coatings: Fully broadband multicoated, no phase coating on prisms

Weight: 195g

Dimensions: H/W 8.7/10.8cm

Cost: £70.00 UK

Accessories: Case, carry strap, ocular lens caps, instruction sheet and warranty card

 

Over the last few years, I’ve come to really love and appreciate binoculars of all types – big ones, medium sized and tiny pocket glasses. In that time I’ve used several Pentax models, a little 9 x 28, a huge 20 x 60 and discovered the joys of the almost universally lauded Papilio II 6.5 x 21, noted for its exceptional close focus of about 0.5m. Pentax make good products, delivering quality optics and ergonomics at decent retail prices.

In August 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, Pentax launched their very economically priced UD series of pocket binoculars. Tiny and funky, their chassis come in a variety of colours; black, orange & grey, lime green and even pink. In addition, the UD series came with two magnification options 9 x 21 or 10 x 21. Intrigued by their appearance, I decided to order one up to see what was what. I went for the 9x model, as lower magnifications tend to have the least compromised optics. I chose the black chassis as I do not enjoy garish colours.

The product arrived double boxed. The binocular was accompanied by a nylon pouch together with a neck strap, ocular lens caps, a generic instruction manual and warranty card.

Ergonomics

The 9 x 21 Pentax UD is arguably the lightest binocular I have ever experienced. Weighing in at less than 200g, it made my 8 x 25 Opticron Aspheric LE and Leica Trinovid 10 x 25  seem heavy in comparison. The binocular chassis is constructed from ABS plastic and has no rubber armouring. Instead, it has a glossy finish that makes it a little bit of a challenge to grip properly, but once you get used to it, it doesn’t really present a problem.

The Pentax UD 9 x 21 has a glossy plastic chassis but no rubber armouring.

Fully deployed to my IPD, and with the eyecups extended upwards the binocular is as wide as it is tall. Here it is pictured side by side with the diminutive Leica 10 x 25 as a size comparison;

The Pentax UD 9x 21(left) compared with the Leica Trinovid 10x 25( right).

Despite its smaller physical size and mass compared to my other pocket glasses, the Pentax UD’s single hinge design means it can’t fold up as well as my Leica, with its dual hinge design, so storing it will require a little extra space.

The Pentax UD’s single hinge design means it can’t fold as neatly as the Leica (right).

The underside of the binocular has two small thumb rests that help you grip the instrument for a steady view:

Small thumb indents on the underside of the Pentax UD are designed for extra grip while glassing. Notice the single lug on the right barrel that attaches the carry strap, quite unlike anything I have seen before!

The eyecups are made of a soft plastic that can be twisted up for non-eyeglass wearers or left down for those who use glasses. However, the small eye relief of 9.9mm means that you won’t be able to see the entire field if using glasses. That wasn’t an issue for me though, but it’s definitely worth bearing in mind if you must wear eye glasses. However, the good news is that these eye cups click into place and hold their positions reasonably well.

The Pentax UD has fully multi-coated optics, which Pentax define as  “a multi-layer coating applied to all reflective lens surfaces.” However, those interested in looking at the 10x model might be somewhat disappointed as the above webpage states that it only has single layer coatings, which will definitely cut down on light transmission and contrast.

The ocular lenses are smaller than on more expensive pocket glasses I’ve showcased elsewhere on my website, and are more in keeping with those I encountered with the Kowa SV and Olympus WP II  8 x 25 models.

 

The ocular lenses are smaller than the 8x 25 Opticron, Leica and Zeiss 8/10 x 25 models.

The 21mm objectives are quite deeply recessed for a binocular of this size; certainly better than the Leica and Opticron 25 models I’ve used. The interior appears to be clean and dust-free and has decent baffling as well.

The green-tinted objective lenses on the Pentax UD appear to be well baffled and are fairly deeply recessed for a binocular of this size.

The focus wheel on the Pentax UD 9 x 21 is quite remarkable. On such a budget-priced model, I just wasn’t expecting such good quality. It is covered by a very grippy rubber substrate and moves smoothly with no backlash, either when rotating clockwise or anti-clockwise. It’s very intuitive and easy to use, owing to its large frame – a big plus on such a small binocular as this. Close focus was a very decent 2.5 metres and takes just over two full rotations to go from one end of its focus travel to the other. It also focuses a little beyond infinity, which is good for helping to clean up the edge of field performance of the glass.

The textured rubberised focus wheel is big and smooth to turn; a huge bonus on a small binocular!

The dioptre setting is very conventional and lies just under the right ocular lens. It is reasonably stiff but easy to use, and holds its position adequately in the field. As you can imagine, handling this binocular takes a bit of getting used to, as it is so small, but if your hands are not overly large, or if it’s being used by children and smaller adults, this shouldn’t present a problem. Remarkably, this tiny binocular can be mated to a tripod or monopod by unscrewing the cone shaped stalk at the head of the central bridge.

This featherweight binocular can be tripod mounted.

The UD series are not water or fog proof, so I would avoid using this model if you intend to explore the wet and the wild. That said, after I evaluated its optics, I can definitely see a niche for it. For more details, read on.

Optical Evaluation

On paper, the Pentax UD 9 x 21 doesn’t have much to write home about. The prisms are not phase coated(fully expected for a roof prism binocular in this price class), so light transmission and edge sharpness might have suffered somewhat as a consequence. After adjusting the right eye dioptre ring for my eye, my first impression was actually quite good! The image was brighter, sharper and more contrast-rich than I fully expected, but then again, Pentax know how to construct a decent binocular, and they sure as hell surprised me in the past!

Performing my iPhone bright light torch test, I was amazed to see that there was little in the way of internal reflections – excellent by almost anyone’s standards. It was clean and with little sign of diffused light like I had seen in other budget-priced instruments in this price class. It wasn’t perfect though. The intense torch beam showed up as a very strong diffraction spike; indeed the strongest spiking I’ve thus far encountered in my binocular education! But I had learned from many past experiences that this particular artefact would not be a fatal blow. Yes it did show up on bright outside lighting and while slightly annoying to see, you can quickly get used to it, especially if you avoid very intense night light sources or intend using the instrument only during daylight hours. In addition and for the record, no roof prism binocular is entirely free of this diffractive phenomenon; although more expensive models do manage to suppress it better.

Daylight observations of some tree trunks during bright winter sunshine served up an impressive image. The image was brighter than expected (remembering it has an exit pupil of just 2.3mm), contrast was good, colour tone seemed very natural, and the image has a nice big sweet spot, with only a little peripheral softness creeping in. How can this be achieved in such a low-priced binocular? The answer is by keeping the field of view on the narrow side. At 6.0 angular degrees (~ 5.9 measured), the image shows less field distortion at the edge of the field, allowing the sweet spot to seem impressively large. My notes on the Olympus 10 x 25 model showed that it served up a field of about 6.5 degrees in comparison, but the image had a noticeably smaller sweet spot and was quite badly distorted as one left the central part of the field, moving towards the field stops.

The Pentax UD 9 x 21 does show more veiling glare than I would have liked though. The glasser does have some control over this however, by observing under a roof or a forest canopy, or simply by stretching out one’s hand to shade the objectives better. That said, while it was no where near as good as the Opticron 8x 25 or superlative Leica 10 x 25, I have seen worse veiling glare in binoculars costing many times more than this little Pentax.

Colour correction is quite well controlled in the centre of the image, but does show some lateral fringing as a high contrast target(a telephone pole in this case) is moved off centre. In addition, there is some field curvature and pincushion distortion near the field stops.

Overall though, I was quite impressed with the optical performance of the Pentax UD 9 x 21, especially when you factor in its very modest price tag.

Brief Night Sky Assessment

Turning the Pentax UD 9 x 21 on the Hyades in Taurus, I was able to image the main stars in the bull’s horn. The stars were nice and tightly focused with most of the field being useful. There was definitely some softness and a bloating of the seeing discs  right at the edge though. The Pleaides looked good but a wee bit dim even for a pocket glass. Waiting up into the wee small hours of early February, with a break in the clouds, I finally had a chance to image the last quarter Moon fairly low in the sky. The Pentax delivered quite a decent image but you could clearly see the weak diffraction spike smeared across the field. This would definitely appear worse had I glassed a full or gibbous Moon.

Conclusions & Recommendations

The Pentax UD 9 x 21 is a fun little binocular. It offers very decent optical performance for a modest price. While it will never pique the attention of serious glassers who want to experience the very best views, there are many more people who just want something small, convenient and inexpensive, which will allow them to get close up to the action. It will therefore suit those who enjoy spectator sports, theatre goers, watching garden birds, trekking in the mountains, or campers who like checking out the local scenery. It’s small size, weight and inexpensive price tag, makes it ideal for kids and will provide a decent enough optical experience to sustain their curiosity until they cultivate the desire to buy a more serious instrument.  Its lack of waterproofing means you should take extra care and not use it in damp and rainy conditions but as long as you’re aware of these shortcomings you should be Ok to go!

 

Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. If you like his work why not consider supporting him by making a donation or buying one of his books? Thanks for reading!

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42.

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42 package.

A work commenced January 24 2021

 

 

Product: Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42

Country of Origin: China

Eye Relief: 15.5mm

Exit Pupil: 4.2mm

Field of View: 114m@1000m/6.5 angular degrees

Close Focus: 2m (advertised),  1.75m measured

ED Glass: No

Chassis Construction: polycarbonate, rubber armoured

Weatherproofing: water proof(1.5m for 3 minutes)

Nitrogen Purging: Yes

Dioptre Compensation Range: +/- 4 dioptres

Coatings: Fully Multicoated, phase corrected BAK4 Schmidt-Pechan prisms

Warranty: 10 Years

Weight 774g

Dimensions W/H/D: 13/15/5.7cm

Supplied Accessories: Clamshell hard case, logoed neck strap, warranty card, generic instruction sheet, lens cleaning cloth.

Retail Price: £120-140 UK

 

There is an old adage; you get what you pay for. Though there is more than a grain of truth to this, as I enter my third year exploring and enjoying the binocular market, I have found genuine exceptions to that time honoured maxim. There is such a thing as a great bargain binocular; that is, a solidly made instrument that offers a level of optical performance and ergonomics well above what you’d expect given its modest price tag. I have spoken in the past of the remarkable Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42, which punched well above its weight and left a lasting impression on this author. Here, I am delighted to present to you my evaluation of its higher power sibling; the Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42.

Just a couple of years ago, I was a total binocular virgin, having little or no experience with these optical wonders, save for an honourable mention to an old 7 x 50 Porro prism instrument I acquired in my youth. Little did I know that, like telescopes, the binocular market has undergone a veritable revolution, thanks to astounding advances in technology and a great capitalist, competitive spirit among manufacturers, which collectively have both improved the quality of bargain instruments and driven prices down. As a case in point, take a look at this review, dating back to 2011, of the same 10 x 42 I’m about to assess here. The reader will note its retail price was about £200. Now you can get the same instrument at a significantly reduced outlay; typically just 60 per cent of the 2011 retail price!

The Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 was purchased from a reputable dealer, the Birder’s Store, in Worcester, England. I paid £124.99 for the instrument and it arrived a couple of days after making the purchase. In the past, I have bought many economically priced instruments from Amazon, but discovered that quite a few are what I would describe as greyware; that is, while the price looks good, the products quite often have some optical or mechanical fault that necessitates sending them back and getting a refund. It pays to go to a specialised dealer when purchasing binoculars, especially if you don’t have a chance to test them out in person.

The instrument arrived in perfect nick: I received the binocular, a lens cleaning cloth, a warranty card, a high quality logoed padded neck strap, a generic instruction sheet and a clamshell case.

First Impressions

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42 is solidly built for a life in the great out of doors.

Being an identical build to the 8 x 42, the 10 x 42 Savannah is solidly constructed. The polycarbonate body is overlaid by textured green rubberised material that is easy to grip. While other enthusiasts have a tendency to look down on using polymers as the main housing, I personally don’t subscribe to that philosophy, being lucky enough to also own and use instruments that are constructed around aluminium and magnesium alloys. Indeed, I have encountered no hard evidence that instruments with a polycarbonate chassis are in any way inferior to those built around metallic alloys, despite the extensive hyperbole I’ve seen in online advertising and from other reviewers.

The central hinge is reassuringly stiff and maintains the correct inter-pupillary distance once adjusted. Though many of the more sophisticated models on the market have an open bridge design that enables the user to use it single-handedly, I fail to see why this would be important in a 10 x 42, as you’ll most definitely need both hands on deck to get a decently stable image at 10x.

One of the great features of this binocular, and Barr & Stroud instruments in general, are their wonderful focusers. This instrument is no exception; the focus wheel of which is covered in a textured rubber which is silky smooth to operate, with zero backlash, going through just over two full revolutions from one end of its focus travel to the other.  Having sampled several binoculars from Barr & Stroud, I know that this is no accident; this company once enjoyed an illustrious history serving the British navy in two world wars, with all manner of optical accoutrement. And even though they have long since ceased to be an independent trader, the company having outsourced all their manufacturing to China, it is clear to me that some of the skills they acquired in putting together highly functional binoculars in the past are still in evidence! What’s more, I would rate this focuser higher than many binoculars I have purchased for a few hundred pounds more!

As you can see from the photo above, the dioptre ring is not located under the right ocular lens, as is the case in the vast majority of roof prism binoculars, but just ahead of the focus wheel. This does make adjusting the right barrel optics considerably easier than its more conventional counterpart, but, for the record, it would be remiss of me not to mention a malfunctioning dioptre ring on a Savannah 8 x 42 I once purchased second-hand.

The twist up eye cups are of very high quality. With two click stops, they hold their position firmly.

Another very nice feature of these economical binoculars is their eye cups. They are made from metal overlaid with soft rubber. They can be extended upwards with two click stops and hold their positions very firmly. Again, I would rate them as well above average, and more in keeping with eye cups I’ve seen on binoculars in the £200 to £250 range.

The objective lenses on the Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 are very deeply recessed. I measured them at about 8mm, which is good news, as this will afford greater protection of the objective in rainy and dusty environs, as well as acting as an effective shielding of stray light.

The objective lenses are very deeply recessed, protecting the glass against rain, dust and stray light.

Optical Testing

Attaching the instrument to a sturdy tripod, I was able to show that it arrived with very good collimation, with only a tiny vertical asymmetry between the left and the right barrels, which the eyes can easily accommodate for. Examining the exit pupil in a bright shaft of light showed that there was no truncation and no stray light leakage inside the field stop.

No truncation of the exit pupil and no stray light inside the field stop.

The good news continued when I performed my iPhone torch light test. Directing an intensely bright beam inside the binocular, and examining the image arriving at my eyes, I was delighted to see what I had reported before about these Savannah binoculars. The image was very clean, with no diffused light, a very subdued diffraction spike and a couple of very weak internal reflections. I deemed the result excellent and only a notch down from the same result I got from my Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 binocular, but a tad better than my smaller 10 x 25 Trinovid which cost three times more! Yet again, this excellent control of light leaks is more in keeping with a binocular in the £250-£400 range. Kudos to Barr & Stroud for their exceptional attention to detail in this regard. Examining a bright sodium street light showed no reflections or diffused light either, and the same was true when I turned the binocular on a bright waxing gibbous Moon in a freezing January sky. This binocular will provide lovely views of illuminated cityscapes, with no annoying reflections to contend with.

To remain objective, it pays to carry out all your tests with a high quality ‘control’ binocular…..ken.

After the appropriate adjusting of the right eye dioptre, I began my daylight tests of the Savannah 10 x 42, comparing it carefully to the images served up by my Leica Trinovid  8 x 32. The Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 offers up a very sharp and contrast-rich image across the vast majority of the field of view, with only a little distortion/softness at the edge of the field. Indeed, the field is noticeably better corrected in this binocular compared with other models I’ve tested in the £200-£250 price range. The distortion is more pronounced when panning the glass vertically than horizontally, however, just like all other roof prism binoculars I’ve used in the past. The Leica proved slightly sharper but the differences were subtle at best. The image in the 10 x 42 has a very slightly yellowed appearance in comparison to the Leica, as if a very mild photographic warm up filter had been placed in the optical train, which I did not personally find off-putting. Indeed, it helps accentuate browns and tan colours that little bit better, which imparts a nice aesthetic effect to my eyes.

Looking closely at the contoured bark on a tree trunk a few tens of yards away, I got the distinct impression that the 10 x 42 was delivering slightly more detail than the 8 x 32, a consequence of the higher magnification and larger aperture of its ocular lenses, though this was somewhat negated by virtue of the 10 x 42’s significantly greater weight, which makes keeping the instrument steady considerably more challenging than in the smaller and lower power Leica. Under a bright blue winter sky, I judged the image in the Leica to be slightly brighter than the 10 x 42, a fact that I explained away as being due to my eyes not being able to exploit the slightly larger exit pupil of the 10 x 42 glass under these conditions, as well as its lower efficiency of light transmission.

I observed no chromatic aberration in the centre of the field of the 10 x 42, but did begin to show some lateral colour as a high contrast target was moved off centre to the periphery of the field. The Leica also exhibited the same behaviour even though it does have extra low dispersion glass in one of its objective elements.

During prolonged field use, the position of the dioptre ring on the Savannah 10 x 42 had a tendency to get displaced ever so slightly, as it is all too easy to touch while moving the focus wheel, especially while wearing gloves. Having the dioptre adjustment under the right ocular lens is a better solution in this regard.

Focusing was easier and more responsive with the Leica glass, owing to its state-of-the art central focusing wheel, which is less stiff than the 10 x 42. I suspect though, that with more field use, the stiffness in the latter will subside and become more responsive. Close focus on the 10 x 42 is very impressive. Although the official stats claim 2 metres, I found I could focus down to about 1.75m – a very good result for a 10 x 42 by most anyone’s standards – but nowhere near as close as the Leica Trinovid, which can bring objects just under a metre into sharp focus, a result no other roof prism binocular on the market can achieve!

Depth of focus in the 10x 42 is very good, but not in the same league as the Leica 8 x 32, which was expected given the fact that lower power units tend to have greater focus depth in most real-world situations.

Examining some tree top branches against a bright sky, revealed that veiling glare was very well controlled in the Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 Savannah but maybe just falling a little short of the Leica Trinovid. This is an especially pleasing result in my opinion, as veiling glare can rather easily wash out an otherwise sharp and contrast-rich image. Indeed, the suppression of veiling glare in this economically priced binocular was far better than a few instruments I’ve tested that cost twice or three times more. For example, it is in a different league to that served up by my 10 x 25 Leica Trinovid, which tends to show rather a lot of this under certain viewing conditions.

Observing at dusk allowed me to test out the low light performance of both the Leica Trinovid 8 x 32 and the Barr & Stroud Savannah. This is where I saw the greatest weakness in the latter instrument. Though it did give a brighter image, I was amazed how well the Leica performed in comparison; to my average eyes at least, both instruments were delivering equally bright images well into twilight, with the 10 x 42 only pulling ahead in the last five minutes or so, as dusk transformed into true darkness. This result is attributed to the significantly greater efficiency of the Leica optical components, which transmits 90 per cent of all the light it collects to the eye.

However, under the cloak of darkness, the greater exit pupil and higher magnification of the 10 x 42, as well as its larger objective lenses, made it the easy winner observing a few of the showpieces of the winter sky. The Pleiades was more magnificent in the 10x 42, as was the Hyades, Double Cluster and Alpha Perseii Association. Stars remain sharp and tightly focused across most of the field, with only the extreme edges showing some visible distortion. In contrast to the Leica, the 10 x 42 had slightly more field curvature; something I had also noted during my daylight tests when examining a telephone pole and moving it to the edge of the field in both binoculars.

This is a great Moon gazing binocular too. Its lack of internal reflections and sharp optics deliver a very decent and clean image that will show many craters, mountains valleys and maria on the lunar surface. And don’t forget also, the Savannah can be mounted on a tripod or monopod for added stability, which enables you to see even more details!

Ready to go when you are.

Solid Accessories

Not only does one acquire a good binocular in the Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42, but you also get above average quality accessories. The hard-covered clamshell case is a great way to store the instrument while not in use. The soft rubber ocular and objective covers are also a nice touch, as is the quality padded neck strap that comes as standard with the binocular. And if anything malfunctions, the parent company under which Barr & Stroud trades – Optical Vision Limited(OVL) – will repair or replace your binoculars if they fail during normal use. I have personally dealt with OVL in the past and they have always responded rapidly and effectively to any queries I had.

 

Concluding Thoughts

Reliable companion.

The Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42 delivers very satisfying images that will impress the vast majority of users who look through it. It feels solid in the hands and has a Spartan, no-frills quality about it. For not much more than £100, the instrument delivers optics and ergonomics that punch well above what its modest price tag suggests, with a large sweet spot and good edge-of-field correction. Even the accessories are of very high quality, making this an especially sweet package for the budget conscious, or the frugal naturalist who doesn’t want to spend a small fortune on a state-of-the-art instrument. Finally, as a well-made achromatic binocular, it proves, once again, that good optics don’t need fancy low dispersion glass to deliver an engaging image.

 

All in all, this gets my highest recommendation as unbeatable value for money!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Dr. Neil English has been using optical instruments for more than 40 years. He is the author of seven books including his magnum opus(650 + pages), Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy (2018), celebrating four centuries of visual astronomy, as well as the personalities who shaped the hobby and profession of astronomy as we know it today.

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: The Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 Pocket Binocular.

The Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 package.

A work begun December 18 2020

 

Preamble

Instrument: Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25

Country of Origin: Portugal

Eye Relief: 15 mm

Exit Pupil: 2.5mm

Field of View: 90mm @ 1000m/ 5.2 angular degrees

Close Focus: 4.5m

ED glass: No

Weather proofing: Splash proof

Nitrogen Purging: Yes

Operating Temperature Range: -25C to +55C

Dioptre Compensation Range: +/- 3.5 dioptres

Coatings: Fully multicoated, P40 phase coating, HDC coatings, HighLux System((HLS), water and dirt-repellent coatings applied to outer lenses

Warranty: 10 years

Weight: 255g

Dimensions W/H/D: 6/11/3.6cm

Supplied Accessories: Neck strap, field bag, test certificate, warranty card, multi-language instruction manual

Retail Price: £370-400 UK, $499-525 USD

 

If you know anything about my recent adventures into the world of binoculars, you’ll already be aware that I have a particular fondness for pocket-sized instruments. I just think the idea of being able to carry one anywhere and deploy a small pocket-sized glass at a moment’s notice is an irresistible prospect. Having tested and enjoyed a variety of models in the 8x category over the last two years or so, I settled on something larger and more versatile – a Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 – as my general purpose instrument. But I also hankered after a smaller instrument of comparable quality to the 8 x 32, but in a 10x format, and that led me to investigate a number of models in the 10 x 25 class. Fine optical and mechanical quality were important to me, having learned that both are necessary if one intends to use it for long periods of time, and over many years. Those considerations led me to explore a few options, but in the end I decided to go with what I already knew about Leica – that they manufacture excellent, high-performance binoculars which not only deliver optically but also ergonomically, and have exceptional durability. Many users of these instruments have reported decades of flawless operation in the field.

This was especially the case since I have previously enjoyed Leica’s tiniest glass – a Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 – for the best part of a year, but its very small size rendered it quite awkward to use, not to mention it throwing up a substantial amount of veiling glare, which also got on my nerves. Its bigger brother though – the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25- should be easier to hold in my hands, I reasoned, without adding much more weight, and so I pulled the trigger and purchased it from a reputable dealer – the Birder’s Store, Worcester, England – who had one of the 10 x 25s in stock. I paid £369.00 for the binocular, which included free, expedited, next-day delivery of the instrument to my home here in Scotland. Shown above is what I received in the package.

Would I be happy with my purchase? Thankfully, the answer is Yes!

The Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 has the same dimensions as other high-quality 10 x 25 pocket glasses but weighs only 255g – much lower than the competition!

Fit & Finish

The first thing I noticed about this little Leica is just how light weight it is; at just 255g it comes in at just 20g heavier than its smaller 8 x 20 counterpart! That’s quite amazing when you consider the mass of the Zeiss Terra 10 x 25 (310g), the Zeiss Victory pocket( 290g) and the even heavier Swarovski CL pocket, which tips the scales at 350g. This means that it will never be an issue carrying this instrument on even the most exhausting of excursions, including hill walking and mountain climbing – where weight is always a very serious consideration. Indeed, such weighty matters can sometimes be a deal breaker, as this reviewer concluded.

The 10x 25 BCA is easily deployed thanks to its superbly designed dual hinge system.

Weight considered, the other good news about this instrument is that it unfolds to become an instrument that fits my hands much better than the ‘uber-klein’ 8 x 20. Its narrow bridge and long, slender barrels mean that you can get a much better grip of the instrument; and that translates into much less anxiety while handling, and much greater viewing comfort – an important consideration for a 10x glass.

Proof of the pudding is in the handling; the narrow bridge and long barrels allows one to grip the instrument firmly even with one hand.

Small details count for a lot when you purchase a luxury item like this little Trinovid binocular. As a case in point, consider the neck strap that accompanies the instrument. Composed of neoprene, you simply slide it through the eyes on the side of the binocular barrels and then clip it into place. This also enables the user to disconnect the strap if need be.

Even the neck strap on the Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 is a study in elegance.

One of the great joys of using these little Trinovids is their wonderful ergonomics. The pull-up eyecups are rigidly held in place and will not retract unless a sizeable down-ward acting force is exerted on them. I love the simplicity these offer, with only two options – leave down if you wish to use glasses and pull-up if you don’t. I actually prefer these eyecups to those on my larger 8 x 32 Trinovid, which offers up to six different positions in comparison.

The focusing knob on the 10 x 25 BCA is centrally placed and though on the small side, is exceedingly smooth to operate. You can feel the friction it generates while it’s being rotated, rather like moving over gritty sandpaper. An unusual feature of these pocket-sized Trinovids pertains to their dioptre setting, which unlike the vast majority of other binoculars, is housed on the right objective barrel. It works brilliantly though, just like the smaller 8 x 20, and stays rigidly in place even after many hours of use in the field.

The dioptre setting on the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 is located on the right objective barrel, just like its smaller sibling, the 8 x 20.

Leica is famous for its meticulous anti-reflection coatings which are applied to all of the lenses and prisms. Looking straight through the instrument from the objective end, you’ll have a hard time seeing any reflections, almost as if the lenses have disappeared. From the side, they reflect a very subdued purplish hue. No doubt these are some of the best optical coatings available in the entire industry.

Meticulously applied, the Leica anti-reflection coatings help transmit a very high percentage of the incoming light to the eye.

Like the smaller 8 x 20 incarnation, the 10 x 25 BCA has objectives that are not as deeply recessed (which I’ve estimated at about 2.5mm) as full size binoculars, which doesn’t bode well for suppressing veiling glare. Yet despite this concern, I was relieved to discover that these did not have quite the same problems as the 8 x 20 glass in this regard, as I shall elaborate on more fully later in the review.

The carrying pouch that comes with the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 is identical to that which was supplied with the smaller 8 x 20 unit. I reported that this pouch was just too big for the 8 x 20 and that led me to seek out a better fitting case for this pocket binocular, when I eventually stumbled on a small clamshell case which could be zipped closed.

The Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25(centre) with the supplied Leica logoed pouch seen on the left and the clamshell case I acquired for the 8x 20 on the right.

While the supplied carrying pouch fits the 10 x 25 that little bit better, it still cannot be sealed off, so I investigated whether the clamshell would fit the 10 x 25. As you can see for yourself below, the answer is affirmative. This will prove to be the ideal storing vessel for this binocular, as it can be zipped closed and still fit inside an ordinary trouser or jacket pocket.

A small clamshell case fits the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 perfectly, protecting it from dust, moisture and inadvertent knocks.

Optical Tests

My first test always involves examining how well the binocular handles a beam of intensely bright light, which can show up problems with internal reflections, diffused light owing to departures from homogeneity in the glass used etc. So out came my iphone torch set to its brightest setting. The results were very good but not quite as good as I had found in the smaller 8 x 20! The image was clean, with very little diffused light, a very subdued diffraction spike, but there was some moderate internal reflections of about the same quality as I had experienced with the Zeiss Terra 8 x 25. Don’t get me wrong, the Zeiss rated very highly in these tests but it was not quite as good as my notes showed the 8 x 20 to be.

Examining a bright sodium lamp showed that all was well though; very weak internal reflections and a clean image with little or no diffused light. Examining a bright waxing gibbous Moon showed a crisp, clean image, with plenty of lunar surface detail and no visible reflections around the bright orb. Collectively, these tests showed that the various coatings and glass quality in the 10 x 25 BCA is of a very high standard.

Daylight Evaluations

As I’ve described in previous blogs I have absolutely no problem accommodating a small, 2.5mm exit pupil such as is found on this 10 x 25 binocular. Indeed I strongly believe that the images are especially fine when using such a small exit pupil. This is because the most optically perfect part of the eye lens occurs near its centre and Leica knows this. During bright daylight use, the eye pupil shrinks to about this size making larger exit pupils unnecessary. Sure, there are trade offs in regard to eye placement but once you get used to it, it doesn’t present as a problem. The collimation on this binocular is so precise that you will not develop eye strain even after using the instrument for many hours.

From the first time I put this binocular to my eyes, I was very impressed with the quality of the image. Targets remain wonderfully sharp across the entire field and contrast is excellent, though not quite at the same level as my larger 8 x 32. I was delighted to discover that the amount of veiling glare was not as hindering as it was on the smaller 8 x 20 model, as evidenced by glassing a column of trees under a bright, overcast sky.  Even in the most demanding light conditions, the veiling glare is usually weak enough to remove simply by shading the objectives with an outstretched hand.

Colours really pop in this little binocular, with green and brown hues being particularly vivid. There is some pincushion distortion at the edge of the field but to my great surprise, chromatic aberration is nearly impossible to detect! Indeed, the level of secondary spectrum is actually less on this binocular than it is on my larger, 8 x 32 Trinovid! This is all the more remarkable since the Trinovid BCA 10x 25 does not have ED lens elements, while the 8 x 32 model does!

What’s going on here? Can an achromat outdo an ED instrument in the colour correction department? No, if all else is equal. This pleasant fiction is probably attributed to both the lower light gathering power of the 10 x 25 over the 8 x 32 format and the greater need to get one’s eye perfectly square on with the small exit pupils on the former. With the larger exit pupil of the 8 x 32, you have more wiggle room and any misplacement results in seeing some chromatic aberration in difficult lighting conditions. The small instrument gathers less light under normal conditions than an 8 x 32 of comparable quality, so I think the results I have found also reflects the relative insensitivity of my average eyes to detect secondary spectrum under standard testing conditions.

Moving from 8x to 10x in a pocket glass has been a very pleasant and rewarding experience. On paper, one might assume that a small field of view of 90m@1000m would render a tunnel vision effect, but I must admit to not experiencing anything like that. Indeed, comparing my Opticron Aspheric LE  8 x 25 with its slightly larger field of 91m @1000m, this tunnel vision is significantly more pronounced than it is in the 10 x 25 BCA. The higher magnification of the latter appears to do away with this effect. And the enlargement in detail is very impressive. Bird targets that are a strain to see in my 8x glass are much more easily picked off at 10x, though of course, the trade off here is smaller field of view.

Nor have I experienced much in the way of decreased stability of the image, oft reported by users of 10x systems over 8x. Because I can hold the 10 x 25 BCA very securely with my hands, I can get nice, stable views with little shake. That said, it does take some practice to minimise this effect, but that’s been a fun experience for me.

Intended Uses

A wonderful achromatic binocular.

The Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 has given me all of the joy the smaller 8 x 20 glass I had and more besides. Because it is so light, I can bring it along with my 8 x 32 to use on the spur of the moment to get a magnification boost if and when required. I use it routinely each day at home, watching the riot of activity at my bird feeders. I have fallen in love with the adorable platoons of long tailed tits that frequent the feeders in these dying days of 2020 – the way they ruffle their feathers in the Rowan tree, before swooping down to gorge on the nuts, seeds and fat balls set out for them; the way they habitually mingle with groups of blue tits before flying off somewhere else.

The close focus of the Leica Trinovid BCA 10 x 25 is about 4.5 metres, so is not great for looking at insects, rocks and flowers at close range. I knew this going forward though and was quite deliberate on my part, as I did not want the little pocket glass to compete with my 8 x 32 Trinovid which has an exceptional close focusing distance of about 0.95m. Thus, in this capacity, these instruments complement each other more than anything else.

Because a 10x glass is ideal for studying open fields, valleys and rivers from an elevated vantage, I also plan, God willing, to bring the glass along with me on hill walking excursions and mountain climbing in the coming year.

I have also discovered that the 10 x 25 is a much better tool to study the heavenly creation than the smaller 8 x 20. The larger aperture and greater magnification boost afforded by the former has allowed me to enjoy the splendours of the silvery Moon in its phases, from slender crescent to fullness, with more resolving power than the 8 x 20 could ever achieve.  Stars are tiny pinpoints of perfectly focused light. Views of the more spectacular deep sky objects, such as the Sword Handle in Orion, the Alpha Perseii Association, the Beehive and Double Clusters and the comely Pleaides and magnificent Hyades, are very satisfying.  Indeed, comparing it to my 8 x 25, I especially enjoy the wonderful aesthetic effect of its imparting a darker sky background in the 10 x 25. So, while not being able to pull in as much starlight as its larger sibling(my 8x 32), the view of bright stars against a sable winter sky never fails to pack a powerful punch on my retinal masses.

At the end of a very challenging year, it gives me great joy to use this tiny but optically perfect glass. And while I certainly don’t hold out much for 2021, I look forward with great anticipation to the lengthening of the days once more, so that I can more fully enjoy this beautifully crafted pocket glass.

Surely that’s not too much to ask for, is it?

 

Dr Neil English was a regular contributor to Astronomy Now, Britain’s best-selling astro magazine for 25 years, but grew weary of the one-sidedness of the editorial’s stance on life in the Universe and their unwillingness to entertain any other ideas which threatened their increasingly unassailable scientific views. He now writes feature articles for Salvo Magazine, whose editorial team has welcomed his content with open arms. 

Thank you all for reading, and have a blessed Christmas!

 

Post Scriptum: On the early evening of December 23, our family finally got to see the “Christmas Star,” the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Alas we were unable to observe them at their closest on December 21 and 22nd owing to cloud cover. We took a short car trip to the top of the Crow Road to see the apparition low in the southwest sky after sunset at 16:45 UT. We brought along both the 8 x 32 and 10 x 25 to observe them quite close together.  Below is a quick sketch I made with the 10 x 25.

Jupiter(left) and Saturn as seen from the top of the Crow Road, Fintry, on the early evening of December 23 2020.

 

 

De Fideli.

Experiencing Autumn with the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32.

The Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32; a marvellous companion for autumn exploration.

A work begun November 5 2020

The Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 has been my constant companion over the last few months, having gone on long days out, both at home, and on vacation to the Scottish borders. It has also been a marvellous instrument in my ongoing exploration of the binocular night sky.  It’s one of those pieces of kit that keeps on delivering, time and time again, and while it is expensive as binoculars come, I think it was worth every penny, for reasons that I wish to elaborate on in this blog.

A Blaze of Autumn Glory

Rich autumn colours are a delight to experience with the little 8 x 32 Leica.

The vibrant colours of autumn are a visual gift from the Lord, a pick-me-up before the dull, cold days of winter. They’re meant to be enjoyed and there is no finer glass I’d rather use to explore them. Many Leica aficionados have described the extraordinary vibrancy of reds, oranges and greens they get from their binoculars.  For a while, I dismissed that claim as subjective prattle, but having enjoyed the 8 x 32 Trinovid for several months now, I can more fully understand what they meant. And there may be some science to back that up. For example, the opticians at Leica can optimise the colour correction to peak in the green-red part of the visible spectrum, while leaving the blue end less corrected. I see evidence for this using the 8 x 32, since it does show some blue-violet fringing on highly contrasted targets. The fringing is only very slight mind you, and very lovely; in an innocent way; so I think it’s an acceptable compromise.

While the human world is increasingly dark, psychotic and distressing, I make a special effort to get outside and make the most of my free time, enjoying the wonders of creation. Unlike humans, mother nature still behaves as God intended it. The low autumn Sun creates extraordinary light shows, illumining the hills round my home. The contrast in this little Leica binocular really has to be seen to be believed. Its exceptional control of veiling glare produces images that are truly sumptuous to my average eyes. Details just pop. The intricate graining of tree trunks, the contours of exposed rock formations, the stark beauty of ruined farmhouses, castles and water mills – things and places hardly anyone notices have suddenly become worthwhile glassing targets, though I still get the odd funny look from passers by lol.

The exceptional close focus on the Leica Trinovid brings objects a smidgen less than 1 metre away into sharp focus. That’s unmatched by any binocular on the market, with the exception of the Pentax Papilio (with its 0.5m close focus). I have been able to get up-close and personal with rocks by the riverside and succulent autumn berries, and golden leaves glistening in weak sunshine after a shower of rain. The Scots are always moaning about the rain, but it is the key ingredient that creates and maintains the surreal beauty of the Scottish landscape. Long live the wet and the wild!

A Great Birding Binocular

Culcreuch Pond, looking east, with the Fintry Hills soaring in the background.

I’ve found the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 to be the ideal birding binocular. With its 32mm objective lenses, it provides significantly brighter images than the best 25mm pocket glasses, particularly on dull, overcast conditions in the open air and in lower light conditions, such as under a forest canopy. And when the light is feeble, such as at dawn and dusk, the highly efficient light transmission(90 per cent) of the Leica glass really comes into its own, picking off details that elude lesser glasses. The silky smooth and fast central focusing wheel on the Trinovid is particularly well suited to birding, since it’s easy to adjust the focus as birds vary their distance from me. Added to this, is the instrument’s impressive depth of focus, allowing one’s subject to remain in sharp focus  over a large range of middle-to-long distances.

My interest in birdwatching really took off during the cruel,in-human lockdowns starting in March earlier this year, and since then, I have continued to learn from books, as well as  gaining some solid practical experience in the field. I have fitted new bird feeders in my garden and seed-laden fat balls that have served to lure many an avian species within striking distance. When I joined the RSPB, I was gifted a small bird box which our family has since erected about 2.5 metres above ground level on a conifer tree in the copse  to the west of our large back garden. I have high hopes that it will become a cosy nesting place for some small bird come the spring.

The exceptional optical quality of the Leica has allowed me to observe all manner of bird; robins, finches, tits, wrens, tree-creepers, carrion crows, jackdaws, chaffinches, wood pigeons, collar doves and blackbirds, to name but a few, in glorious detail. I have also learned to recognise their distinctive voices, which helps me to pin down more elusive visitors that hide away in the bushes and hedgerows near my home. To date, my most thrilling sighting is a greater spotted woodpecker that keeps a keen eye on the fat ball feeder outside of my office. Having enjoyed all manner of small birds flitting to and fro for most of the time, I was overjoyed  to observe one helping itself to a nutritious snack one afternoon in early October. Compared with all the other birds that usually come to visit, this handsome woodpecker, with its black and speckled white plumage and crimson red flank, seemed positively enormous in comparison. Indeed, I thought at one stage that it was going to tear down the fat ball feeder owing to its relatively large size, but all was well. In addition, my Leica was able to make out a small red nape on the bird which revealed to me its male sex. Isn’t that funny; unlike the fairer human sex, male birds are created to be more colourful in general than their female counterparts. Then again, I know some blokes who love nothing more than to dress up in garish, migraine-inducing colours, so maybe the distinction is not as well founded as I had thought lol.

Since then, I have identified another great spotted woodpecker in the large trees on Kippen Road, adjacent to the sports field in the village. They’re such timid creatures though, standing motionless for many minutes high in the canopy, and if it senses a threat, will quickly move to the opposite side of a tree trunk in order to hide. Beautiful birds!

Last year, I reported that a small squadron of magpies had taken up overnight residence in the rowan tree in my back garden. After a couple of months, they moved on., But this year, a couple of magpies have once again come to sleep in the same tree. Lots of folk have taken a disliking to these birds but I have found them to be charming and intelligent. Like Roman legionaries preparing for an overnight camp, I have observed them arriving at dusk, and carefully making their way to the centre of the tree, so protecting themselves from predators. And they’re up and away before dawn!

A pair of magpies resting overnight in the rowan tree.

Culcreuch Pond, about half a mile walk from my home, and featured in the image above, remains a favourite haunt of mine to observe ducks and mute swans that thrive in the small artificial waters immediately in front of the 12th century castle, that up to recently served as a popular hotel and retreat before it was shut down in January of this year, just before the China virus arrived. The beautiful, variegated hues of autumn trees flanking the shores of the pond makes for wonderful glassing opportunities and I’m always on the lookout for the odd grey heron hiding in the reedy shallows, and even a cormorant that took up residence there during the winter months of 2019. Hopefully, I will see one again this year, but so far with no luck.

The bird hide at Wigtown Bay.

On a recent October family vacation to a favourite farmhouse holiday cottage on the outskirts of Wigtown, on the Solway Firth, in Southwest Scotland, I was amazed to discover that the town had a little ‘harbour,’ which we had not visited before simply because we always took a different route down to the salt march. Though we’ve been no less than five times over the years, we had no idea that a tower hide had been constructed, dedicated to twitchers and other wildlife enthusiasts, which overlooks a pretty stretch of salt marsh, and which serves as a home to all manner of gull and wading bird.  Alas, we only ‘discovered’ the hide on the final morning of our vacation. Thankfully, it was a bright and sunny spell and we were able to share some wonderful views of these creatures before making our way home. It’s amazing what lies right under your nose if you’re not looking for it! Needless to say, this will become a favourite spot for birdwatching on our next trip.

The view from the bird hide.

Extended Walks

At weekends and during our family vacations, I like to take off on longer 4-5 mile walks, exploring forests and hills. There are extensive forested regions near Newton Stewart, Wigtonshire, which provides great days out for families and groups of ramblers, with extensive forest trails to explore, either on foot or on mountain bikes. The feather weight of the Leica Trinovid 8 x 32 binocular allows me to carry it effortlessly through miles of difficult terrain. I am attracted to the riot of life that abide in forests. Fallen trees are a favourite glassing target in good light, where I can explore the vibrant colours of lichens, mosses and fungi that thrive on their rain-soaked surfaces. I have no compelling reason to glass in these places other than the aesthetic appeal of seeing the wondrous complexities of the creation, to activate the visual, auditory and olfactory senses as you wade through mud and decaying autumn leaves underfoot. The exceptionally robust build of the Trinovid lowers my anxiety levels, as I negotiate through bramble bushes and especially dense thickets of vegetation. This is an instrument that will easily negotiate knocks and bumps and still come up smelling of roses.

Interesting forest terrain near Newton Stewart, Wigtonshire.

On our journey home from Wigtown, we hooked up some old friends who live in a charming bungalow overlooking Tinto Hill near the village of Thankerton, Lanarkshire. Tinto soars just over 700m above the surrounding valley and makes for a good hill walk in the Spring and Summer months. But on this occasion, we decided to visit an old Roman fort dating to the Antonine Period in the mid-second century AD. Not much of the fort remains, save an old ditch that one can still walk around. There is also a bath house somewhere near the fort but we never got to see it that afternoon The fort overlooks the valley below, with Tinto imposingly rising to meet the sky on the far side.

Looking down on the valley from the Roman fort outside Thankerton, Lanarkshire, with Tinto Hill in the background.

A striking colonnade of trees leads the way up from the valley floor to the fort and is especially beautiful on a sunny afternoon, when the rich colours of autumn leaves dazzle the eye. One would be forgiven for thinking that the Romans created this too but such trees don’t live that long!

A visually striking colonnade of trees lead the way to the Roman fort.

The Romans had an active presence in Scotland during the High Empire but never attempted a full-scale invasion. The Scots love to pride themselves in claiming that the ancient Celts inhabiting these lands were too fearsome or intimidating for the Roman legions, but having studied Roman history at degree level, I understand that the likely truth is that they decided that it was just not economically viable to completely Romanise the northern part of Britannia. But try telling that to the Scots!

The ditch of the Roman Fort near Thankerton.

There is something really appealing about glassing a valley from a raised vantage. In my mind’s eye, I imagined the lonely vigils of a Roman auxiliary patrolling the turf ramparts of this ancient fort, looking down on the fields below and wondering if some raiding party would attack. What thoughts would have coursed through his mind?

Glassing in wide open terrain like this confers advantages to higher power binoculars. In this capacity, I hope to acquire another smaller Trinovid, the BCA 10 x 25, or a Zeiss Terra ED 10 x 25 in the near future, to enable me to explore this kind of terrain in greater detail.

Things Done Well

The 8 x 32 Trinovid was made for the great outdoors. I have used it in sub-zero temperatures, during the wee small hours of the morning observing the night sky. Even after an hour or so in such conditions, focusing remains silky smooth and precise, and the outer lenses remain fog free. When the instrument is taken in from the cold, some condensation does form on the ocular and objective lenses but disperses very quickly owing to the effective hydrophobic coatings applied to the exterior lens surfaces.

I have also tested the binocular in regard to its water proofing. Sound crazy? Perhaps! I filled a basin full of freshwater to a depth of about 8 inches and submerged the instrument in it, leaving it there for 15 minutes. I observed no air bubbles throughout the duration of that 15 minute episode, and after taking it out of the water and drying it at room temperature, I was delighted to see that it performed as good as it ever has. This little Trinovid is actually water proof to a depth of 4 metres, so my testing in this regard was rather modest. I suspect that many binoculars of lesser quality than this Trinovid are not really waterproof since they are not hermetically sealed. That’s just a hunch but I know of no one who is willing to sacrifice their binocular to the water gods, for fear that they might receive a nasty surprise!

The firmness of the eye cups on the Trinovid are marvellously engineered; certainly among the best in the industry. They offer several settings to accommodate virtually anyone’s taste, and once set in place, they remain firmly in place with absolutely no wiggle room. With lesser quality binoculars, you’re always wondering when and if the eyecups will fail, but with these, you can be 100 per cent confident that they will work flawlessly again and again and again.

Most economically priced binoculars possess eye cups that can’t be removed. In contrast, the Leica Trinovid eye cups can be pulled off to get at trapped grit, sand and other air-borne debris that accumulates under the cups with repeated use. This enables you to thoroughly clean both the ocular lenses and their supporting structures before popping the cups back on again. And when the day comes when the cups finally give up owing to wear and tear, I can call the folks at Leica who will send out replacement caps! Now that’s what I call service!

Unlike cheaper branded binoculars, the Leica Trinovid eye cups can be removed safely to clean the ocular lenses and their supporting structures.

Exploring the Heavens

The Leica Trinovid  8 x 32 has become my constant companion under the stars. In the last few months, I’ve greatly reduced my telescopic observations in favour of binocular  surveys. Indeed, I have elected to learn the night sky completely anew using this binocular, choosing a patch of sky within a constellation, and carefully studying each binocular field that I chance upon. I have ‘discovered’ many new asterisms, star clusters and nebulae in this way using the 7.1 degree field of this binocular. The project will likely preoccupy me for years to come, but I derive great joy from it. After spending many decades peering through all manner of telescopes, it is so refreshing to re-learn the constellations using this fantastic binocular. Call it a new lease of life!

I’m very much looking forward to observing the great planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which reaches its climax just a few days before Christmas 2020. The Lord created the heavens to reveal His great power and glory. But He also gave us the starry heaven for signs & seasons. I understand this up-and-coming conjunction to be a possible sign that Yeshua foretold his disciples about the times concerning the closing of human history. Indeed, many of the other signs He prophesied have manifested before our very eyes; apostasy & the purging of the Church, a marked escalation in human wickedness which leads to lawlessness, false prophets, pestilences, wars and rumours of wars etc. What is more, the heavens similarly proclaimed the first coming of our Lord two thousand years ago with the Star of Bethlehem, that could well have been another planetary conjunction, a few of which occurred in the year spanning 2 to 3 BC. Like the fading of Betelgeuse last year, I believe the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction could well represent an unmistakable message from our Creator – that He will be returning soon for His Bride.

 

Even so, come Lord Yeshua!

 

 

Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy, as well as several hundred magazine articles over the past 25 years. If you like his work, why not consider making a small personal donation, or purchasing one of his books. Thanks for reading!

 

De Fideli.

 

Product Review: Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 Pocket Binocular.

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25: a noble gesture from a market-leading optics firm.

October 1 2019

Preamble;

Review A

Review B

 Review C(verified purchaser):

Although I read glowing reports for these pocket Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 light carry binoculars, my previous 4 month ownership of the Swaro CL 8X25 pockets had tempered my expectations. However, I found these small glassing gems to perform optically and ergonomically within 95% of the venerable and well built CL’s (at 1\3 the price)! They, just as the CL, have handling and comfort limitations compared to compact or full size binoculars. But for quick trip non-intrusive viewing, ease of portability and very accurate powered views, these little pockets are hard to beat. Overall, they possess very nice ergonomics, have natural color presentation, crystalline resolution that is real sharp and bright, with very good contrast views. Their FOV (field of view), whose sweet spot extends to within 10% of their wide 357ft limit, has a comfortable and stereoptic DOF (depth of field) . Hinge tensions are perfect, and the focuser is fast, going from close focus (mine’s about 5ft) CW to infinity in just 1.25 turns. Eye cup adjustments lock fully in (for eye glass wearers) and fully out (non-eye glass wearers). My vision is 20\15 and with the very comfortable eye cups fully extended and resting on my brow, I can align the small EP (exit pupil=3.1) with my pupils, gaining a full unobstructed sigh picture! With its ED glass, CA (chromatic aberrations) is well controlled and I find day light\low light viewing to be bright, natural and enjoyable! Diopter is set on the front dial (for the right barrel) and has enough resistance to stay put. Made in Japan for Zeiss, they offer a lot of features and performance at a great value point. These will make great travel companions and will be back-ups for my full sized field excursion instruments!

Review D(verified purchaser):

I also read about these on an astronomy forum, where I got the “use” info below, but not the specs.
Buy these now. A best buy. Here’s why:
1. Zeiss is a world class optics company. So is Swarovski.
Compare this Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 to the world-class Swarovski 8×25 at $819 on Amazon (list price is even higher). This will show you
a) specs are same: field of view (6.8˚),
brightness (14.1 vs 14.2),
weight (11 vs 12 oz),
eye relief (16 vs 17mm), and
size in inches
b) specs favor Swaro: water resistant to 4 meters (vs 1 meter for Zeiss)
c) specs favor Zeiss: close focus 6.2ft (vs 14.2 for Swaro),
operating temperature -20 to 144˚ (vs -13 to 131 for Swaro)
d) use favors Swaro: view is said to be more comfortable to look at, ergonomically
focus has lighter touch, for those who like that
e) use favors Zeiss: view is more crisp, contrasty (Swaro view is said to be softer, more milky)
focus has firmer touch, for those who like that
f) price favors Zeiss: $293 (vs $819 for Swaro)2. Compare them to other Zeiss binos from the SAME series – Zeiss Terra ED.
– 8×25, 10×25 are made in Japan
– 8×25, 10×25 are getting great reviews, for small binos
– all larger Terra ED models are made in China
– all larger models are getting panned for poor optics and build quality
I think everybody is well aware that China optics and build quality are inferior (so far) to those from the US, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Austria, etc.So this 8×25 model is unusual. Superior optics and build are normal for Zeiss, except for their Chinese built Terra ED line.
Luckily, the 8×25 model is made in Japan with Zeiss design. This results in typical world class Zeiss quality.What is hard to understand is how Zeiss makes a $293 optic that arguably outperforms an $819 Swarovski.For bino newbies looking at 10×25, remember: the 10×25 will have a smaller exit pupil, so your views may black out more. Also, a 10x is way harder to hold steady and actually see than an 8x. So, even though you think you want 10x, you probably really want 8×25. With the 8×25, you’ll actually see and enjoy the view more.………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

What you get:

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 pocket binocular kit.

The Zeiss Terra pocket arrived double-boxed. After opening the outer packaging, the binocular kit was housed inside a very nicely presented box with a very fetching design which folds open to reveal the contents. Unlike other products I’ve received in the past, the Zeiss box has depicted on the inside, a colourful alpine scene with majestic mountain peaks soaring high above a beautiful river valley. Perhaps the team at Zeiss intended the user to explore such landscapes? Whatever the reasoning behind it, it was certainly a pleasant touch.

With Zeiss, even the packaging is premium.

Unlike customers who bought the Zeiss pocket binocular when it was first launched just a few years ago, I was relieved to see that the instrument was housed inside a small clamshell case with a magnetic latch carrying the blue & white Zeiss logo.The box also contained a lanyard, operating instructions and a lens cleaning cloth. I was surprised that the binocular itself came neither with eyepiece or objective lens caps, but I suppose they are not really necessary, as the case very effectively protects the instrument from dust and moisture.

The box has the serial number on the side, which is needed to register the product on the Zeiss sports optics website.  On another side of the box, the detailed specifications of both the 8 x 25 and 10 x 25 models are presented; another nice touch.

The binocular was housed inside the clamshell and was pristine, with no dust on the lenses, or gunk on the interior of the barrels. From the moment I prized the neatly folded instrument from its case, I was impressed. The frame is composed of a fibre-glass like polymer, with a fetching black, grey and blue livery. The sides of the binocular have a rubberised exterior making it easy to grip well while in use. The double-hinges were rigid and hold their positions solidly once the correct inter-pupillary distance is chosen for your eyes. The optics are hermetically sealed, nitrogen purged and had immaculately finished anti-reflection coatings on both the ocular and objective lenses. They are also treated with a Zeiss’ proprietary hydrophobic coating that encourages any moisture and grime that gathers on the lenses to fall off, rather than accumulating on the surfaces. The instrument is guaranteed to operate flawlessly over a very impressive temperature range: -20C to +63C, so covering almost any environment it is likely to find itself in.

The binocular is water resistant, but to what degree remained a bit of a mystery owing to the rather odd way in which Zeiss chose to present it: 100mbar.

You what mate?

Thankfully, some physics knowledge helps to clarify the reference to water pressure.

P = Rho x g x h, where P is the water pressure, Rho is the density of water, g is the acceleration due to gravity and h is the depth in metres. Rearranging to find h gives;

h = P/ (g x Rho) = 10^4/ (10 x 10^3) = 1m

Knowledge is power lol!

So, not as waterproof as a Swarovski pocket binocular(I think it’s 4m) but adequate for most purposes.

Fully folded down, the Zeiss Terra pocket is about 70mm wide and 110mm long. The oversized barrels make the Zeiss a wee bit taller when placed on its side in comparison to a classic pocket instrument, like my lovely little Opticron Aspheric LE;

The Zeiss Terra Pocket(right) is a little wider and taller than the more conventional Opticron Aspheric(left).

The Terra weighs in at 310g, so about 40 grams lighter than the Swarovski-made counterpart. Lighter isn’t necessarily better however, as some individuals find holding such light glasses problematical. But once unfolded, the significantly wider barrels more than make up for its low mass, as I shall explain more fully a little later in the review.

The eyecups look a bit suspect, but once you begin rotating them, they work really well. They have no indents but do have ample friction. There are only two positions; fully retracted or fully extended. You know you’ve reached either situation by hearing their clicking into place. They are very solid and hold their positions superbly. Eye relief is 16mm and I was able to enjoy the full field with eye glasses on or without. Placing your eye on the eyecups is very comfortable, with their soft, rubberised overcoat and the large field lenses makes for very easy centring of your eye sockets along the line of sight of the optical train.

The dioptre(+/- 3) setting lies at the other end of the bridge(near the objectives), which initially presented some problems for me, as it is rather stiff and difficult to get going, but once you’re done you’re done! The focusing wheel is centrally located and is reassuringly large and easy to grip, even with gloves on. It moves very well, with the perfect amount of tension. Motions run smoothly, with little in the way of play or backlash when rotated either clockwise or anti-clockwise. The focuser requires one and a half full rotations to go from one end of its focus travel to another.

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 has a large, centrally placed focuser. The right-eye dioptre ring is located at the other end of the instrument, near the objective lenses.

The objective lenses are very deeply recessed, more so than on many other pocket binoculars I’ve used. This affords the 25mm objective lenses greater protection against aeolian-borne dust and also serves as a first-line defence against glare. Cool!

As the other reviewers showcased earlier, the Zeiss Terra pocket binoculars are manufactured in Japan, with the larger models originating in China under Zeiss supervision. You can see that quite clearly by examining the under belly of the instrument:

The underside of the binocular reveals its country of manufacture: Japan.

That said, and contrary to what the other reviewers have asserted, I don’t fully subscribe to the notion that all Chinese-made binoculars are inferior to those produced in Europe or Japan, as I shall elaborate on later.

All in all, it’s pretty obvious that a great deal of sound engineering was put into these pint-sized field glasses.

Handling: The Zeiss pocket is supremely comfortable to use, the slightly larger frame fitting comfortably in my hands. Indeed, with its wide field of view and thicker barrels, it feels like you’re peering through a larger instrument. The big eye lenses make it easy to get the right eye placement with none of the blackouts I’ve experienced on a number of other pocket binoculars. Its light weight means that you can carry it round your neck for hours on end with no neck strain. Its easy to get both hands resting on the central bridge, using my little finger to engage with the focus wheel.

Optical Assessment:

Straight out of its case, the Zeiss Terra impressed. Looking at some tree trunks just beyond my back garden fence reaveled a wealth of high contrast detail. I was immediately taken aback with the expansive field of view; not only was it wide, but the image remained tack sharp across nearly all of the field. Images snapped to a very sharp focus and I experienced no trouble focusing from just a few yards away all the way out to some trees located hundreds of yards away. Glare suppression looked excellent, even when pointed at some backlit scenes strongly bathed in sunlight. It was immediately clear to me that I was looking through a very high quality optical instrument.

As I stated in earlier blogs, I don’t really consider the inclusion of low dispersion (ED) glass as necessary in a small binocular like this, but it’s a nice feature when presented as part of a larger, properly designed system. After all, and as several other reviewers pointed out, the Zeiss seemed quite comparable to arguably the most sought-after pocket binocular on the market; the venerable Swarovski CL pocket binocular. But what is not widely communicated is that the latter achieves all its optical excellence without using ED glass. That should send a powerful message to the gayponaut propagandists. No, its all about using great glass, great coatings and solid mechanical engineering. Alas, I was not able to compare this pocket binocular with the Swarovski, but the fact that the little Zeiss was often mentioned in the same company as it speaks volumes about its optical quality.

Further daylight tests showed that off-axis aberrations were very well controlled. Even at the edge of the field pin cushion distortion and field curvature were minimal. Looking straight up at a denuded tree branch against an overcast sky showed no colour fringing on axis but as the image was moved off axis, some slight secondary spectrum was noted. Overall, I was very impressed at the Zeiss’ optical quality; it really does exactly what it says on the tin!

A niggly moment: While the little Zeiss pocket binocular fits perfectly inside its small, clamshell case without the supplied neck strap attached, I found that the addition of the strap made it very difficult to get a snug fit. Wrapping the neck strap around the central bridge simply didn’t allow the case to close properly(the magnetic latch never stuck), but after several attempts experimenting with different approaches, I finally hit on a way to get the binocular with its strap on to fit the case. The trick involves wrapping the strap tightly around the ocular lenses.The latch sticks.  Problem solved!

More discriminating optical tests:

Flare & Glare assessment:

Even if the glass used in binoculars were mined from the asteroid belt, it counts for nothing if it can’t control light leaks. My initial daylight tests showed that glare and internal reflections were very well controlled in the little Zeiss binocular, but they can’t tell the whole story. So, I set up my iphone torch at its brightest setting in my living room and examined the focused images through  the Zeiss Terra, comparing its results with my Opticron Aspheric(a nice little performer) as well as my control binocular; the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah, which has excellent control of stray light.

The results were very interesting. The Zeiss faired better than the Opticron, but not by much. However, it was not as good as the Savannah, which exhibits exceptional control of internal reflections even though it collects far more light than any pocket binocular.

Further testing of the binoculars on a bright street light revealed some additional information. Internal reflections were well suppressed in both the Zeiss and Opticron binoculars, but the Zeiss showed more prominent diffraction spikes. The Savannah control binocular, in comparison, proved superior to both pocket binoculars. It shows very little flaring and internal reflections and much better control of diffraction spikes.

And therein lies an instructive lesson. The Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42 is fabricated in China yet shows exceptional control of glare and internal reflections. So, it’s not so much where a binocular is built that counts so much as how it is constructed.

An exceptional, Chinese-made binocular; the Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah wide angle 143m@1000m.

It is all the more remarkable, since the Savannah can be purchased for half the price of the diminutive Zeiss!

All in all, these tests showed that the Zeiss binocular is very well protected against stray light, glare and internal reflections and this goes a long way to explaining why the views through it are so compelling.

Collimation and Field of View Tests:

I checked the collimation of the barrels on the Zeiss by placing the instrument on a tall fence and aiming at a rooftop, checking that both the horizontal and vertical fields correlated with each other. They matched up very well.

Field of view is best assessed by turning the binocular on the stars. Accordingly, I aimed the Zeiss Terra at the two stars at the end of the handle of the Ploughshare, now low in the northern sky. The Zeiss was able to image both Mizar and Alkaid in the same field with a little bit to spare. These stars are separated by an angular distance of 6 degrees 40′ (or 6.66 degrees). This result was consistent with the specifications on the inside of the box; 6.8 angular degrees.

Further Observations:

Comparing the Opticron Aspheric to the Zeiss Terra in daylight, showed that both instruments were about equally matched in terms of sharpness( the aspherical oculars on the Opticron certainly help in this regard), but I could discern that the image was that little bit brighter in the Zeiss. Better coatings in the Zeiss binocular throughout the optical train give it the edge in this regard. Field of view was also much more expansive in the Zeiss( the Opticron has a true field of 5.2 degrees in comparison). Colours were also that little bit more vivid in the Zeiss pocket binocular, caused perhaps by its better contrast and superior control of chromatic aberration.

Close focus is very good. I measured the Zeiss Terra to have a minimum close focus distance of 1.4 metres, so this should be a great little instrument for use as a long distance microscope, to spy out insects, fungi, flowers, rocks and the endlessly fascinating complexities of tree trunks.

The eye lenses on the Zeiss Terra pocket binocular measure 18mm in diameter, the same as the Swarovski CL pocket. But they are still small in comparison to a larger format binocular like my 8 x 42.

But while the field of view is quite immersive in the Zeiss Terra, it lacks the majesty factor of a larger binocular, such as my Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Savannah, with its whopping 8.2 degree true field and better eye relief. Larger binoculars are simply easier to engage with your eye sockets and are thus more comfortable to use than any pocket binocular on the market.

Performance under low light conditions easily show the limitations of the small objectives on the Zeiss Terra. At dusk, the 8 x 42 was vastly superior to the Zeiss, showing much brighter images, as expected. So, as good as the Zeiss pocket binocular is, it can’t defy the laws of physics.

A Walk by the River Bank

River Endrick, near my home.

One of the best reasons to own and use a pocket binocular, is that it encourages you to go outside and explore the landscape. They’re so light weight and handy that anyone can carry one. Sometimes I use the Opticron and at other times I like using the Zeiss. Their sharp, high-contrast optics deliver wonderful images of the Creation. For me, nature is life affirming; a profound source of revelation and illumination. Like a great Cathedral, it fills me with awe and wonder. The sound of the wind whistling through the trees, the babbling brook and the noisy chirps of small tree birds form part of a symphony paying homage to the One who fashioned it all. For some, the Darwinian, materialist lie has dulled or even extinguished the sense of wonder that is innately endowed to every child. Dead to the world, believing themselves to be highly evolved animals, they pose no meaningful questions and can give no meaningful answers to life’s biggest conundrums. As you think, so you are.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

For me, being able to explore the wet and wild places with tiny optical aids is a source of unending joy. On sunny afternoons or early in the morning, I sometimes take myself off for a walk along the banks of the River Endrick which meanders its way through the beautiful valley in which I live. Stretches of shallow, fast-flowing water predominate but are also complemented by deeper pool and riffle sequences; favourite haunts of  Brown Trout, Perch and other course fish. Lanky Herons frequent these waters in search of fresh prey.  Bracken flourishes all along the river, and my pocket binocular allows me to study their shape and form in great detail. As summer gives way to autumn, their bright lorne hues transform into various shades of brown and tan. Spiders weave elaborate but deadly webs of silk with their spinnerets that sparkle and glisten in the morning sunlight, creating a wondrous decoration that I can experience up-close and personal with my long range microscope.

Towering trees soar into a blue sky by the banks of the Endrick.

Many species of tree grace the banks of the river; Ash, Silver Birch, Sycamore, Horse Chestnut and even the odd Oak. Thriving from frequent rain showers, their trunks are covered in lichens, moss and algae that reveal a wealth of intricate structure and a riot of colour that changes in accordance with the varying altitude of the Sun as it wheels across the sky. I especially delight in observing the colour of autumn leaves in bright sunlight, the ruby reds of anthocyanins and the yellow-orange hues of carotenoids. Every now and then, I watch as the fast-flowing water, dappling in weak autumn sunshine, ferries off fallen leaves, their destinies unknown. My pocket binocular shows me that every tree trunk is unique. Each tells its own story, visual scars of its past life.

On some stretches of the river bank, I can still find some late-flowering wild plants that delight the eyes with colour in unexpected ways. And as autumn continues its march towards winter, the thick brambles begin to yield their succulent fruit. What could me more pleasing and more natural than to feast on their nutritious berries?

An expected riot of autumn flowers observed along the river bank.

At some places along the river bank, there are expansive rocky stretches. And yet every stone you un-turn reveals even more of God’s Creation. A scurrying earwig, a wondrously armoured wood louse or a frolicking spider.The pocket binocular brings everything into stunning clarity. And though at first glance, each stone looks more or less the same, my little pocket spyglass shows that they too are all unique. Every crevice, every colourful grain is one of a kind.

A rocky stretch along the river bank.

This tiny corner of the world is ripe for exploration, with every day that passes presenting new adventures, new wonders to delight the eye. But so is yours!

Bird Watching with the Zeiss Terra Pocket Binocular:

Lots of birding websites don’t recommend using pocket binoculars for bird watching, citing their small fields of view and reduced comfort compared with larger binoculars as the most common reasons. Having used these small binoculars for a while now, I must say  that I respectfully disagree. The Opticron Aspheric has served as a good birding binocular for me, especially for quick looks at birds that visit our back garden table and the crows that nest in the conifer trees in the common ground beyond our back yard fence. Recently, a group of five magpies have taken up residence in the Rowan tree in our back yard. Each evening as darkness falls, they hunker down in the tree and don’t seem to be fazed by us turning on an outside light or noisy disturbances when it’s time to put the garbage out. During the day though, they are often seen chackering away at each other loudly(magpies don’t actually sing) as if to resolve some dispute among themselves. Further afield, there is a small pond just a few hundred yards away in the grounds of Culcreuch Castle, which attract quite a few varieties of water bird; swans, duck, water hens, heron and even the odd cormorant. Once I learned to use them properly, small binoculars like these have never presented much in the way of a problem for me.  And since the Zeiss Terra pockets have a nice wide field of 6.8 degrees, they have proven to be better suited than the Opticron in this regard because you can better track the motions of birds with a wider true field.

On the Zeiss Sports Optics website, under ‘usage’, they seem to be saying that the Terra pockets are less suitable for birding, but I wonder if this is merely a clever ploy to get folk to buy into their larger(and more expensive) models. If so, they’re lost on me. With their excellent optics and generous field of view right to the edge, they can and do serve as good birding glasses. Of course, you can only form your own opinions by actual field experience but you may discover that the little Terra is all you really need! Seen in this light, acquiring a Zeiss Terra pocket binocular can actually serve as a cost-saving measure that stops you haemorrhaging your hard-earned cash on ever bigger and more expensive models.

How About Astronomy?

A small binocular like this is not the best for exploring the night sky since its small objective lenses cannot gather enough light to really wow the observer. However, the Terra’s excellent performance both at the centre of the field and extending nearly all the way to the edges, as well as its wonderful contrast make star gazing a pleasant experience. Out here in the sticks, the sky is quite dark and rewarding, even when observed with such a small instrument. Its field of view is large enough to enjoy some of the showpieces of the sky like the Pleiades, the Hyades, and larger asterisms such as Melotte 20 in Perseus, which can be taken in with its generous field of view. Stars remain very tightly focused and pin sharp across the field. Later in the season, I look forward to exploring the winter constellation of Orion the Hunter, to seek out its magnificent nebula in his Sword Handle, as well as the many delightful clusters of stars that are framed within its borders.

On another autumnal evening, I was able to pick up the three Messier open clusters in Auriga, M34, the Messier galaxies, M81 and M82, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Double Cluster in Perseus, wide double stars like Mizar & Alcor and the Coathanger asterism in Vulpecula. Running the binocular through Cygnus and Cassiopeia will also reward dark-adapted eyes with innumerable faint stars, like fairy dust on black velvet. One delightful little project involves exploring the lovely colours of bright stars such as blue-white Vega and Sirius, creamy white Capella, brilliant white Rigel, orange Arcturus and fiery red Betelgeuse and Aldebaran.

Following the phases of the Moon can also be a rewarding and worthwhile pursuit, as the Terra’s above average glare and internal reflection control will ensure that you get nice crisp, contrasty images. Lunar eclipses can also be enjoyed. You might also like to try your hand at observing the beautiful light shows presented by clouds passing near the Moon on blustery evenings. The excellent contrast of the Terra will also allow you to see stars around the Moon which can be very arresting to observe. Capturing the bright Moon as it rises over man-made buildings will also delight the eye. Above all else, don’t let its small aperture deter you from exploring God’s wonderful creation, which fills the Universe with hope and light.

Final thoughts:

Terra: for exploring the Earth and beyond.

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 pocket binocular is a fine, high-quality optical instrument that is easy to use and transport. If taken care of, it will give you years of enjoyment where ever you wish to take it. As I said from the outset of this blog, I believe Zeiss did something very noble in bringing this little binocular to market at the price point they set. To be honest, and as others have quipped, they could well have stuck a ‘Victory’ label on it and no one would be any the wiser. Optically, Zeiss engineers have cut no corners to deliver an ergonomic, durable and optically sound instrument that will delight anyone who looks through it. I suspect that the Zeiss Terra pocket might be one of their best-selling products. It is even available on finance and buy-now-pay later schemes here in the UK, although I would strongly advise would-be buyers to save up and pay the price in full rather than incurring more debt, where you ultimately pay more. The Zeiss is expensive as small binoculars go, but I feel that it’s worth every penny, as for me at least, it has already given me countless hours of wonderful experiences. In the world of high-quality pocket binoculars, the Terra certainly stands out in a crowd. Highly recommended!

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Neil English is the author of a large medley of essays(650pages), Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, which showcases the extraordinary lives of amateur and professional astronomers over four centuries of time.

Post Scriptum:

1. The Zeiss Terra has a two year warranty, which is enacted once you register the product on the Zeiss website. Cross-checking is thorough, requiring the serial number, and the name & address of the place of purchase. After checking these details, you receive a confirmatory email from the Zeiss Sports Optics team, welcoming you to the world of Zeiss.

2. The little foldable Zeiss Terra is very suitable for those adults with unusually small inter pupillary distances (closely spaced eyes) and children.

3. The overall light transmission of the Zeiss Terra ED is 88 per cent. Source here. This is exactly the same as the Swarovski CL Pocket(non-ED just in case Pepperidge farm forgets, ken ) binocular. Source here. Zeiss Victory Pocket binocular light transmission is 91%. Source here.

4. The family of magpies came back to the Rowan tree in my garden, as they always do, just before sunset. Here is a picture of four ( I think!) individuals settled in the tree branches at 20.09pm local time on the evening of October 6 2019.

Wee magpies hunkering down for the night in my Rowan tree.

5. After a week of abysmal weather, with endless cloud and rain, I finally managed to test the little Zeiss Terra pocket binocular on a very bright gibbous Moon at 10:25 pm local time on the evening of October 10 2019, when it was within an hour of meridian passage. At the centre of the field, it delivered a beautiful, clean and razor sharp image with no false colour. The background sky was good and dark with little in the way of diffused light. Internal reflections were pretty much non-existent with the Moon in the centre of the field. Only when it was placed just outside the field did I detect some minor flaring. Moving the Moon to the edge of the field threw up some slight lateral colour, bluish at its southern edge, and green-yellow at its northern edge. These results were entirely consistent with my flashlight testing. This will be a useful Moon-gazing glass!

6. May 11 2020: This afternoon I received a phone call from the Zeiss team clarifying that the Terra pocket binoculars have indeed moved production to China, but they also reassured me that the quality of the product is identical to the original Japanese-made instrument, as is the packaging, accessories and two-year warranty. Not all employees were aware of this until recently and this was the root source of the recent confusion.

7. October 25 2020: Optics Trade has done a new video review of the Zeiss Terra ED  8 x 25 pocket glass. The reader will note that the model featured in the video is also manufactured in Japan. Link here.

 

 

The Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8 x 25 Redux.

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

A work commenced October 2 2020

Anyone who has been following my blogs will be aware that I’ve used and discussed many pocket binoculars from every price class. I find them to be charming and useful in equal measure. But after two years of speculation and accumulation, I’ve returned to one model that will remain in my stable; enter the Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8 x 25.

In all, I’ve had experience with no less than three of these units; the older model, used by my wife, which is neither waterproof or fog proof, and two of the updated models which are weather proof. I gave one unit away to my next door neighbour as a gift when I finally acquired the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20. But in a series of recent optical shootouts between my wife’s Opticron and the little Trinovid, I discovered that while the Leica had the edge in terms of optical performance over the latter, it displayed significantly less veiling glare than the Leica! That came as quite a shock to me and the experience weighed heavy on my mind.

Then I acquired a large Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32, which threw up another issue; this superlative(but expensive) binocular has the best optics I had personally experienced and also displayed exceptional control of veiling glare. Furthermore, because of its small size and light weight, I could use it for all kinds of activities; for casual viewing during my long walks, for birding and even for sweeping the night skies. These circumstances meant that I was no longer using the little 8 x 20 like I had used it in the past and, as I absolutely hate hoarding instruments, I decided to part with it and settle for the much more economical Opticron; the third one.

As I described in a previous blog, the Opticron Aspheric is a really well made pocket binocular, with solid mechanics and very good optics. Furthermore, its larger exit pupil compared with the  8 x 20 makes it much easier to line up with my eyes and its long eye relief(16mm as opposed to just 14mm for the Leica 8 x 20) makes for very comfortable viewing. The field of view of the Opticron is small though – just 5.2 angular degrees( 91m@1000m) but its aspherical ocular lenses ensure great edge-to-edge sharpness that is far more aesthetically pleasing than having a larger field where the sharpness drops off rapidly as one goes off axis. The Opticron produces beautiful vignettes of the creation, just like the smaller than average field of view offered up by my Leica Trinovid HD 8x 32 (at 7 angular degrees). You see, I have personally come to value pristine edge-to-edge performance over chasing ever larger fields of view.

I acquired the Opticron Aspheric LE WP 8x 25 from the Birder’s Store for the princely sum of £95 – reduced from its usual price of ~ £120 – which I think represents exceptional value for money. I wondered why such a nice instrument was going for such a low price. Sadly, I learned that the models had been discontinued as of July 2020. So if you’re looking for a real bargain in pocket binoculars, now would be a good time to acquire one before they’re all gone!

I intend to use the Opticron pocket glass for birdwatching from my kitchen window, sporting events, the occasional trip to the theatre(if they ever open again) and, you know, ‘domestic tomfoolery.’ For all serious excursions though, the larger 8 x 32 will remain my most used, general purpose binocular.

Two classically styled, general purpose binoculars.

 

Thanks for reading!

De Fideli.

Product Review: Viking Optical Ventura 10 x 25 Compact Binocular.

 

The Viking Optical Ventura 10 x 25 Compact Binocular.

A work begun September 25 2020

 

Product: Viking Optical Ventura 10 x 25

Weight: 305g

Chassis: Polycarbonate

Coatings: Fully multi-coated, dielectric and phase coated prisms

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

Eye Relief: 13mm

Eye cups: Twist up

Close focus: 4m

Tripod compatible: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes; 1 metre for 5 mins.

Warranty: 10 years

Dimensions: 11 x 11.5 cm

Supplied Accessories: Carry case, neck strap, lens caps

Retail Price: £120-145 UK

 

Viking Optical is a UK-based company that has recently brought a good range of their own branded binoculars to market. In past blogs, I have favourably reviewed two of their models, the Viking Kestrel ED 8 x 42 and Merlin ED 8 x 32, which offer excellent value for money, with their very good optics and mechanics. Having developed rather a soft-spot for pocket binoculars in general, I was curious to find out how their smaller glasses would fare, and so I ordered up Viking’s Ventura 10 x 25 for evaluation. What follows is arguably the first review of this model I have seen on the internet.

The Ventura pocket binocular arrived in perfect nick, double-boxed and containing all the promised accessories, which included the 10 x 25 binocular, a soft neoprene pouch, ocular and objective lens caps and a high quality neck strap. First impressions were very good. The instrument felt nice and solid in my hands, with a tough, texturized rubber armouring which is beautifully finished. The metal focuser moved smoothly, both clockwise and anti-clockwise, with no discernible backlash. The twist-up eye cups are of high quality and slide upwards rather than clicking into place. Both cups are overlaid with soft rubber making viewing through them quite comfortable. The right eye dioptre, located just under the ocular lens proved to be very rigid –  a bit too rigid for my liking to be completely honest  – and my first impressions of the optical performance showed that it delivered nice, sharp, bright images, with a large field of view.

The Viking Optical Ventura 10x 25 showing the fully multi-coated ocular lenses.

Tests for light leaks, internal reflections etc

Setting my iphone torch at its brightest setting, I directed the little Ventura binocular into the intensely bright light beam and examined the images generated. I was relieved to get a very good result – there was a few, minor internal reflections and a modest diffraction spike, but overall the image was very clean and free from diffusion, indicative of the use of high-quality glass components. Overall, it was a notch down from my superlative Leica Trinovid  8 x 32 in this regard, but I was very happy with the result, especially given its moderate price tag. Testing on a bright sodium street light after dark showed very little in the way of internal reflections. This will be a good binocular for observing lit-up scenes in towns, cities or habours, as well as for Moon gazing.

The objective lenses have good anti-reflection coatings but are not very deeply recessed.

Impressions in the bright daylight conditions

I was quite surprised by the size of the field of view on this instrument, especially given its 10x magnification. 6.5 degrees is very wide and indeed, it is larger than the 6.3 degree field offered up by the 8x model. My previous experiences with binoculars delivering impressively wide fields taught me to be cautious about expecting excellent edge-to-edge field performance from a mid-priced model like this. And my tests confirmed by suspicions. Though the binocular has quite a large sweet spot, the image softens noticeably as one moves beyond about 60 per cent of the way from the centre. Indeed the outer 15 per cent or so was very blurred indeed. And while I could correct for much of this edge of field blurring by refocusing, it left the centre of the field out of focus. Testing under the stars showed that it displays quite strong coma, and a touch of barrel distortion near the field stop, with bright stars like Vega transforming from tiny pinpoints in the centre of the field into prominent ‘seagulls’ at the edge. Depth of field too is noticeably shallower than in a high quality 8 x 25 binocular I used as a control in side by side tests. The image is very sharp and bright provided one stays within the sweet spot, so potential buyers should bear this in mind. The binocular displays excellent control of chromatic aberration even though it does not have extra low dispersion glass elements.

The underside of the binocular.

The most annoying result I found with this binocular was its very strong veiling glare. Observing in the open air, under a bright, overcast sky manifested this very strongly indeed. It also shows up when one observes the tops of trees or a hill under a bright background sky. This can be somewhat ameliorated by shading with an outstretched hand but I still couldn’t eliminate all of it. The images were much better if I observed under the shade of a tree or under a roof where the bright overhead sky is blocked off. The effect is also not seen while observing under the shade of forest trees.

Strong veiling glare like this results from the objectives not been deeply recessed enough from the end of the barrel but also from ineffective buffering of reflected light off  the lens edges or the space between the lenses. Compared to an Opticron Aspheric LE 8 x 25, which has objectives that are about as deeply recessed as the Viking Ventura, the latter proved to have much stronger veiling glare. This is a problem Viking should look to improve in the future.

The ergonomics of the Ventura binocular are excellent as pocket glasses go. Its long barrels and short central bridge allows one to wrap one’s fingers around the instrument to achieve a very steady viewing posture. Remarkably, the focus wheel requires nearly three full revolutions to go from one focus extreme to the other! It’s quoted close focus of 4 metres is a gross over estimate though, at least on the unit I tested. I measured the 10 x 25 Ventura’s close focus to be more like 2.5 metres.

As stated earlier, the binocular comes with an exceptionally high quality neck strap which is well padded, and, owing to its quick-release clips, can be easily removed. Ditto the soft neoprene case that fits the instrument snugly, even with the strap attached.

The exceptional quality neck strap that accompanies the Viking Ventura 10 x 25.

Conclusions

I have mixed feelings about this binocular. While its mechanical and ergonomic virtues are clearly in evidence, I felt it under-achieved optically. This is especially the case since I have tested similarly priced instruments with better optical performance than the Ventura pocket glass. The designers could have sacrificed some field size for better field correction and this would not have been missed on a binocular this small. 6.5 degrees is relatively enormous for a 10 x 25 glass anyway. The instrument could also benefit from supressing veiling glare more strongly. Personally, I could live with the inferior edge of field performance if the veiling glare issue were better addressed, since its centre of field performance is quite excellent. Together though, these defects represent a deal breaker for me. I do hope that the 8 x 25  Ventura shows less issues than the 10x!

The Viking Optical Ventura 10 x 25 comes with a snugly fitting soft neoprene pouch for easy storage and transport.

 

Neil English hopes to review many more binoculars in the future in order to build a decent portfolio for a forthcoming book. Thanks for reading.

 

 

De Fideli.

Caveat Emptor!

 

August 30 2019

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

Here is a photo of what I received:

The Eyeskey Package.

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

The Eyeskey 8 x 32 roof prism binocular.

Here is what it looks like from the ocular end:

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

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

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

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

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

Avalon 8×32 Mini HD Binoculars BLACK

Here is an image of the entire package:

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

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

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

 

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

You can view the Avalon specs here

And here are the Eyskey specs( source eBay):

8561-8X32_01

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

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

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

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

Now for the price comparison:

Eyeskey 8 x 32: £37.79

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

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

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

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

But what about the Avalon?

I’ll leave that up to you to decide!

Caveat Emptor!

 

Update: September 16 2020

I have been monitoring a website that sells Avalon binoculars and noted a number of irregularities that continue to concern me. If you click on this link, you’ll see a model called the Avalon Titan ED 10 x 42. If you scroll through the marketing blurb and the specifications of the binocular, its main feature is ED glass. But there is no mention of phase coatings, type of multi-coating, or dielectric coatings, the material out of which the chassis is constructed etc which I would expect given the very high price of the binocular; a whopping £1099 UK! You will also note that the packaging looks very similar to the Eyeskey model featured above, with a generic (one page) instruction sheet. To say the least, I would have expected far more technical information about such an expensive binocular, especially when it retails for more than top branded models from Zeiss and Leica, for example.

I dispatched an email to the said company a week ago, where I asked why the Titan model(weighing a whopping 1.3 kilos) was so much more expensive than their other models given the very sparse information provided on the website. I received no response. I sent another email to the company yesterday and it too has fallen on deaf ears!

 

The company has also produced a number of dodgy youtube videos  and have even used a ‘mathematical ecologist’ ( ooooh) to flog their gear.

The same website sells Zeiss Terra ED binoculars at greatly marked up prices. For example, the Terra ED pocket ( 8x 25) glass is on sale for £489 UK in comparison to nearly all other retailers( ~£250).

Needless to say I am deeply suspicious of this company and would continue to caution customers to tread carefully in order to avoid disappointment.

 

 

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

 

De Fideli.

 

Product Review: Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32.

The Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32.

Product: Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32

Country of Origin: Portugal

Weight: 630g

Chassis: Rubber armoured Magnesium

Eye Relief: 17mm

Exit Pupil: 4mm

Dioptre Range: +/- 5 D

Field of View(Published): 124m@1000m (7.07 angular degrees)

ED Glass: Unknown

Eye Cups: Removable, twist-up in 5 locking steps

Light Transmission: 90%(published)

Close Focus: 0.95m(measured)

Waterproof: Yes to 4 metres depth

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Coatings: Fully multi-coated, P40 phase coatings, HDC coatings, hydrophobic & dirt repellent coatings applied to outer lenses.

Tripod Adaptable: No

Dimensions: W/H : 11.7 x 13 cm

Warranty: 10 years

Supplied Accessories: Leica padded strap, rain guard, ocular lens caps, lens cleaning cloth, non-padded neoprene carry bag, instruction manual, warranty &  test certificate.

Price: £700-£750(UK)/$899 USD

Preamble

Review A

Review B

Review C

Review D

Review E

 

A work begun September 1 2020.

 

Leica (formerly Leitz) is a name familiar to all camera and binocular enthusiasts. For over a century, this German based company has brought to market state-of-the-art products for discerning outdoor enthusiasts, combining high quality optics with award-winning mechanics, creating instruments that are not only highly durable but have great aesthetic qualities that make them a delight to hold in the hand and to just look at.

The Trinovid line of binoculars by Leica has long been considered the company’s ‘heritage’ brand. First produced in the late 1950s, the Trinovids were so named because of the three features – or Tri Novitäten in the German tongue – which combine state-of-the-art optics, true internal focusing and excellent ergonomics in one tidy package. If you think the latest incarnation from Swarovski – the NL Pure’s – have a wide field of view of at 159m @ 1000m, it pays to remember that Leica was churning out Trinovids with much larger true fields – up to 170m@1000m by the mid-1960s. If that ain’t prestigious enough, a Leica Trinovid – really a highly specialised 10 x 40 monocular nicknamed the “Eye of Apollo” – accompanied the US astronauts on their epochal sojourn to the lunar surface in the northern summer of 1969.

The Trinovid remained Leica’s flagship binocular until the introduction of their Ultravid line in the mid noughties, but were continued as a lower cost alternative until Leica ceased production of the Trinovids altogether in 2015, much to the chagrin of many Leica fans. So that was the end of a line of binoculars that served the outdoor enthusiast perfectly for well over half a century right?

Thankfully, no!

In 2016, the company announced a new line of Trinovids, revamped with an ‘HD’ moniker. As usual, the new Trinovid HDs – all made in Leica’s factory in Portugal – were first launched in the perennially popular 8x and 10 x 42 incarnations, but a year later Leica added two smaller glasses to the same family – the 8x and 10 x 32. This review will take a close look at the 8 x 32 model. Leica specifically marketed the new Trinovid HD line as “entry-level premium class,” whatever that means.

In order to make this review as objective as possible, I would like to compare and contrast it with the performance of two other 8 x 32 models; the Celestron Trailseeker and the Viking Optical Merlin ED 8x 32, shown below;

Two other good 8x 32 models used to test alongside the Leica Trinovid HD 8x 32; The Celestron Trailseeker(top) and the Viking Merlin ED(bottom).

These models were chosen for a number of reasons; both have fully multi-coated optics, dielectric and phase corrected roof prisms, while the Merlin has two ED elements in its objective for improved colour correction. These models retail at considerably lower prices than the Leica however – the Trailseeker (recently discontinued) at ~£150 and the Merlin at ~ £239. So, testing these units along side the much higher priced Leica would serve as a good reality check in terms of both optics and ergonomics, and will thus provide the reader with a much better overall indicator as to whether or not the Leica Trinovid HD is worth its much heftier price tag.

First Impressions & Ergonomics

The Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 was purchased brand-new from an authorised UK Leica dealer – The Birder’s Store – for a good price; £699, which included free expedited special delivery to my door. I was actually struck by the number of stores that advertised the instrument on their websites, only to find, upon further enquiry,  that many did not have it in stock.

Now what do the townies call that again?

Oh yes; vapour ware.

This was not the case with the Birder’s Store however, the staff of which were friendly and professional throughout, and were able to process my order the day before it arrived here.

The instrument came in the standard padded grey Leica box, complete with neoprene carry case, a lens cloth, padded neck strap with the Leica logo, rain guard, tethered objective lens covers, instruction manual, test certificate and warranty card. I was immediately struck by the beautiful, solid build quality of the instrument, with its magnesium chassis and thick, flat black rubber armouring. The red Leica logo made for a nice aesthetic touch embedded at the end of the right barrel of the instrument. Built like a proverbial tank, the large central focus wheel moved with silky smoothness, taking just over two full revolutions from one extreme of its travel to the other. This extra long focus travel is unusual in a binocular of these specifications but is required for the instrument’s amazing close focusing distance of under 1 metre – the closest I have personally encountered by quite a considerable margin, with the exception of the marvellous Pentax Papilio II 6.5 x 21, with its unrivalled 0.5 metre minimum focus.

I was very much looking forward to examining the eye cups on this Leica, which turned out to be every bit as good as I had hoped! They are beautifully engineered with five positions from fully extended to fully retracted, and all locked into their respective positions with a loud and reassuring ‘click’ sound. Supremely comfortable, they are ‘cushioned’ in a lovely soft rubber that sanctions prolonged glassing in the field  They remain in place with a rigidity(read rock solid) that I had come to expect from this company owing to my previous pleasant experiences with its smaller sibling – the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20  pocket glass. Sporting a very generous eye relief of 17mm, this is one binocular that eye glass wearers will never struggle to see the full field with! That’s good news going forward, as I don’t know if I will eventually(maybe a few decades hence when I’m in my 70’s lol) have to observe with my eye glasses on all the time.  The eye cups are also removable should I wish to give them a thorough clean.

The eye cups on the Trinovid HD are made to a standard I would expect from a world class company like Leica.

I normally wouldn’t even comment about the rain guards and tethered objective covers  – like who really cares lol? – but in this case I have to say that they were of unusually high quality- a first for a premium manufacturer like this. The rain guard is very snugly fitting – indeed it takes a bit of effort to prize it off if you’re in a hurry. But I find that it affords that little bit more protection to the eye pieces during rough handling, especially if dust, dirt and sand etc are prevalent. This is the case irrespective of whether or not the eye cups are extended or fully retracted.

Same goes for the objective lens covers too. Unlike most others which are far too loose, these stay on snugly helping to protect the instrument.

It’s just a pity I’ll never use them!

Unlike the older Trinovids and the current Ultravid models, the new Trinovid HDs have their dioptre setting placed under the right ocular lens, as is common with the vast majority of binoculars you’re likely to come across. It has a prominent red line which one can use to mark the optimal setting for your right eye but is not lockable unlike that found on the Ultravid models. Many of the reviewers cited above view this as a retrograde step, but personally, I have always felt that having a lockable dioptre is a bit of a gimmick; more an over-engineered ‘gee whizz’ solution than anything else and not really worth the extra cost incurred in acquiring a model with one installed. Other folk may have different opinions on this and that’s OK. But there are other practical reasons why I prefer to have a dioptre setting that can be adjusted on the fly. Knowing my own physiology, I have come to learn that my eye sight can change ever so slightly if I glass in the early morning after resting for many hours, or after staring at a computer screen for a long period of time. I also notice small changes if I’m tired. And all of these states often have me reaching for the dioptre ring to micro-adjust the focus in my right eye during critical glassing moments when I require the very finest images the binocular is likely to  provide. The adjustments, though very slight, are nonetheless real, and so having a well-made but conventional dioptre ring that I don’t have to adjust by pulling on the focus wheel and fiddling with a dial is actually a distinct advantage in my books.

The Leica Trinovid HD has a simple, right eye dioptre that does exactly what it says on the tin.

All of this may seem a bit new to many readers, but I can assure you I am not alone in noticing this in prolonged field use.

My first look through the Trinovid greatly impressed me; I was immediately taken by its bright, sharp and colourful images of the creation. Indeed, that first look convinced me that I had a first-rate optic in my hands, as I will elaborate on shortly. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at the results my tests revealed about this binocular in comparison to the other models cited above.

Tests for Light Leaks and Glare

Setting up my iphone torch at its brightest setting, I dimmed the lights in my living room and aimed the binocular into the intensely bright light beam just a few metres away, studying the image for internal reflections, diffraction spikes, diffused light etc.The Trinovid produced an excellent result, as I had anticipated. No binocular on God’s earth can pass this test with 100 per cent success, but any reflections it possessed were very very minor and strongly subdued. It was fully the equal of my smaller Trinovid in this regard,  and also the Viking Merlin ED, but a notch up from the Celestron Trailseeker. If the latter scored an 8.5 out of 10, both the Leica Trinovid HD and the Merlin were awarded a score of 10 out of 10. They both displayed a very weak diffraction spike which I did not find bothersome. This is in sharp contradistinction to that reported on the larger 10 x 42 model reviewed by the gentleman in Review C showcased above.

When pointed at a a bright sodium street lamp at night showed excellent results for all three binoculars. No annoying internal reflections and no sign of a diffraction spike – a result I had anticipated owing to the lamp’s less intense brightness. The Leica Trinovid HD will make an excellent binocular to study night time scenes such as city scapes from a lofty vantage, a bright full Moon, or a distant harbour lit up at night.

The Leica Trinovid HD 8x 32 shows little or no light leaks around the ocular lenses (left hand ocular).

And a right ocular.

All binoculars, no matter how well made, suffer from some degree of veiling glare while glassing under an open sky in broad daylight. I am happy to report that the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 exhibited the lowest amount of this phenomenon I have personally experienced. It was simply far less of a problem than that witnessed in either the Celestron Trailseeker and Viking Merlin glass when viewing under the same bright, overcast sky, and phenomenally better than the little Leica 8 x 20(which shows very strong veiling glare owing in part to its exposed objective lenses). This was the case even though the objectives on the Trinovid HD were not as deeply recessed as on the Merlin binocular( a full 10mm), so must have been attributed to much closer attention to proper baffling of the overhead light. And while much of this veiling glare can be all but removed by shading the glass from above with an out-stretched hand, it is nice to be able to glass without having to resort to such antics except in the most demanding conditions. Kudos to Leica for addressing this niggling and pervasive problem!

Glassing Tests in a Summer Garden

Glassing some late flowering Cosmos flowers in my back garden in bright sunlight was enough to show off the quality of the images in this new Leica glass. The glass is supremely sharp across the vast majority of the field, with only a little peripheral softness near the field stop. Like all the roof prism binoculars I have had the pleasure of using, lateral(horizontal) field correction is noticeably better than when the same image is examined by moving a target from the bottom to the top of the field (vertical panning). This has hardly been mentioned in the online literature so far as I know.

The Leica image has a sparkle to it that was simply missing in the Trailseeker and Merlin, with noticeably better contrast than either of the test binoculars. Reds and yellows are especially enhanced to my eyes. It was almost as if someone had peeled away a thin veil allowing my eyes to see those last fine details that had remained more elusive in the both the Merlin and the Trailseeker. I could also see that the noticeably wider fields on the latter glasses(136m@1000m) were significantly softer in the outer 30 per cent of the field, indicating that the Leica had a much larger sweet spot. Glassing the top of a telephone pole against a bright overcast sky revealed some colour fringing(chromatic aberration(CA)) in the Leica Trinovid HD. Indeed, in the same tests, it was not present in the Merlin ED and actually less prevalent in the Celestron Trailseeker too! This is in agreement with all of the lengthy reviews cited at the beginning of this blog, but you will still note their comments as stating that the “images are excellent(or very good) despite having noticeable CA. This last point deserves further comment.

So what’s going here? According to Leica USA’s Jeff Bouton, the new Trinovid HDs do indeed employ some kind of ED glass but they are not as well corrected in this capacity in comparison to their more expensive Ultravid line. That said, the image in the 8 x 32 Trinovid HD has a quality about it that places it just ahead of the Merlin glass  within its sweet spot, which exhibits better control of CA. I attribute a large part of this to the Leica’s exceptional control of glare which in turn delivers higher contrast images to the more ‘apochromatic’ Merlin. It just goes to show, once again, that a binocular need not exhibit overly aggressive control of secondary spectrum to deliver a gob-smackingly good image. To my mind, the Leica Trinovid HDs offer a very convincing ‘proof of concept’ in this regard. And besides, I rather like to see a little in some images as I have been fond of telling my readers over the years! Having said all of this, I have noticed that the degree of fringing in difficult observing settings is sensitive to eye placement. Paying a little more attention to squaring your eyes in the 4mm exit pupil of these small binoculars will all but eliminate it.

Stop Press: The Leica Trinovid HD is a decidedly achromatic binocular!

Low Light Tests

The Leica Trinovid HD boasts an excellent transmittivity of 90 per cent, placing it just a few percentage points behind the very best binoculars currently available. But how would it fare against the much more economically priced Trailseeker and Merlin binoculars in low light conditions, such as those experienced at dawn or dusk?  Remembering that all three glasses sport fully multi-coated optics, phase corrected prisms with high reflectivity dielectric coatings, I performed some tests on tree branches some 50 yards distant after the Sun had set in early August skies. The results were not surprising to me, given what I had already learned from a number of other tests carried out earlier in the year; there was very little difference in perceived image brightness between all the instruments, though I did give the nod to both the Merlin and the Leica HD over the Trailseeker, but only just. What this tells me is that light transmission is very efficient in these mid-tier binoculars. I would be confident enough to bet that they transmit 85%+ of the light they collect and that’s very good news for the budget conscious consumer. How times have changed from only a short few years ago! What is more, the claim that ED glass results in brighter images was not really in evidence in these tests either, contradicting the claim by the gentleman who conducted Review A above.

Further Impressions in Field Use

The Trinovid HD 8 x 32 has an excellent depth of field. Anything beyond about 50 yards remains in good focus, only requiring a slight tweak of the focus wheel to obtain ultimate sharpness. But it is its remarkable close focus – just 0.95m as I measured it – that really distinguishes it from its competitors including the company’s more expensive Ultravid and Noctivid lines. Viewing objects at close focus – rocks, flowers, insects – has brought many joyful experiences, although I have to switch to ‘monocular mode’ to get the most comfortable views at these short distances.

I measured the field of view under the stars, where I was able to hold Alkaid and Mizar & Alcor in the Plough asterism  in the same field of view with a little bit of room to spare. Since these stars are ~6.7 angular degrees apart, I felt the quoted 7.1 degree field was quite accurate.

I realise that many binocular enthusiasts will be a little alarmed by the smaller field of view offered up by the Trinovid HD. Most 8 x 32 models have fields approaching 8 angular degrees or even a little higher, but this was a very deliberate choice in my case. I mean, if I wanted a wider field of view, I could have acquired the Zeiss Conquest or the Swarovski CL companion for about the same price I paid for the Leica glass. But I have discovered that I’m more interested in vignettes where I don’t have to resort to rolling my eyes around to take in the entire field rather than broader vistas. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that smaller fields are more conducive to study than overly large ones! I absolutely love the wonderful sharp field stops on the Trinovid and the way it frames each binocular scene I wish to image. I also understand from past experiences with instruments like the Nikon Prostaff 7s 8 x 30, which has an excellent 6.5 degree field, that optical engineers can deliver better edge to edge sharpness by cutting down the field of view. I think the folk at Leica are fully aware of this trick, opting for bigger sweet spots within a smaller field of view, rather than a larger, more conservative field of view but with the loss of critical definition as one moves from the centre to the edge of the field. Truth be told, a seven degree field is more than ample for virtually every scenario I’m likely to find myself in, and in field use I don’t ever get the feeling that the image is ‘restricted’ or ‘tunnelled.’

The Leica Trinovid HD has special coatings applied to the outer lenses which repel dirt, oil and water. Though some Leica-run websites give the impression that this coating is their patented AquaDura, I felt it best to contact the Leica Sports Optics team directly for clarification on this matter, and here is how they replied:

The lenses of all Leica Trinovid binoculars feature an extremely effective, water-resistant and dirt-repellent coating. It is a similar style of hydrophobic coating in that it doesn’t allow water to pool on the lens should you be using them in the rain and it also makes cleaning them easier as fingerprints and dirt along with water can’t cling to the surface. The actual “Aqua Dura” coatings are reserved for our Ultravid HD+ and Noctivid ranges only.

Fortunately, this is easy to test at home. I set up the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32(which does not have such coatings) alongside the Trinovid glass. Both these instruments have the same ocular lens size, so I breathed heavily on them, creating a ‘fog.’ Next I watched both to see which one dispersed that fog more quickly. The easy winner was the Leica. I would estimate that it takes about three times longer to disperse on the uncoated Celestron. This will prove to be very useful in the colder and damper months of the year, where exterior fogging is a common though inadvertent problem.

The Choice of 8 x 32 versus 8 x 42

For less than £100 more, I could have acquired the 8 x 42 Trinovid HD, but I’m a convert to 8 x 32, having enjoyed the larger format glass for quite a while. The main reasons are compactness and reduced weight. I do a lot of glassing; maybe a hour on work days and several hours at the weekends and holidays. The 8 x 42’s I’ve used can be tiresome hanging around your neck after prolonged field use. Indeed, sometimes they felt more like bricks than binoculars. The 8 x 32 format gives up very little to their 42mm equivalents in the vast majority of applications. A high-efficiency 32mm glass  like this works well in strong sunlight and dull overcast days. It also performs adequately under a forest canopy, where there is restricted sunlight. Only at dawn and dusk is a good 42mm binocular a better option, but as I said before, I don’t do a lot of glassing at these times. A 32mm is no slouch for star gazing either, as I shall explain a little later. The smaller frame of the 8 x 32 is also more conducive to stashing away in a rucksack or pocket.

Going from a 5.4mm exit pupil on the 8 x 42 to just 4mm on the 8 x 32 wasn’t an issue for me either, as I discovered using both the Celestron and Merlin binoculars. The Trinovid HD 8 x 32 is supremely easy on my eyes and I don’t have any problems with blackouts or kidney beaning. Furthermore, I happen to think that the smaller exit pupil on the 8 x 32 format produces an image that is that little bit sharper than the larger 8 x 42 owing to the reduced aberrations inherent to design of the human eye. Opinion on this matter will undoubtedly vary and there is no absolute right or wrong answer. You see, it’s all about personal taste!

Why not the Ultravid or Noctivid?

As I alluded to earlier, Leica offer higher priced models with allegedly slightly better optics, light transmission and more refined mechanical features, such as a lockable dioptre that I commented on previously. The Noctivid is not available in a 32mm format, so that eliminated it as an option, but it is offered in the Ultravid HD line. Having said that, many experienced commentators will admit that you’re getting 95 per cent of the performance of the Ultravid HD binocular in the Trinovid optic, and I happen to agree with that assessment having average, though well-trained eyesight.  I doubt that I would be able to tell much of a difference between these glasses, with gains of just a couple of percent in light transmission and slightly better edge of field performance(the Trinovid shows mild pincushion distortion at the very edge of the field), but I certainly would notice the big gaping hole in my wallet. I was struck by the write up made by the gentleman in Review B above, who commented that although he had intended to acquire the Ultravid HD 8 x 32 that day in the Leica store, he couldn’t tell the difference between it and the Trinovid HD, and ended up saving himself a lot of cash! I’m not a sucker for the law of diminishing returns, so for me, the Ultravid HD is overkill and over priced. I don’t need it nor desire it. I got what I paid for and I’m satisfied!

And last, but by no means least, I wanted a top-tier binocular with solid history behind it and only the Trinovid from Leica really has this. Newer, fancier models come and go all the time, of course, but the Trinovid goes back to an era before I was born and there is a satisfaction in owning an instrument that carries on that tradition.

Your mileage may vary.

 

Ad Astra

Though you can fruitfully engage with the night sky with any binocular, large or small, I find a 30mm aperture about the minimum that will yield views that will keep you engaged for long periods of time. And going from 30 to 32 mm results in a noticeable (~14 per cent) increase in light gathering power. With the light from the city of Glasgow some 25 miles to the south having diminished during the lockdowns, the sky is noticeably darker to my eyes and more majestic with it.  The Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 was my instrument of choice to re-explore a truly dark sky after the summer twilight had come and gone. In mid-August, with no Moon in the sky, I set up a comfortable recliner in my back garden, and lying on my back, I explored the starry heaven down to perhaps the 9th magnitude of glory. The stars appear as beautiful, tiny pinpoints and their colours true and rich. I’ve even watched falling stars streak across the field during the Perseid meteor shower in the second week of August, and even witnessed a few brilliant fireballs with this wonderful, small glass.

I’m using my binoculars more and more now to escape the drudgery wrought by this scamdemic and the escalating evil, violence and depravity we’re constantly bombarded with on the air waves. You could say that the sky and the great outdoors have become my new telly. To me the stars are like old friends that come and go as the seasons change and I have enjoyed observing all manner of deep sky objects with this little instrument – the comely Pleiads and the Hyades in the wee small hours of the morning, the Coathanger asterism, the Engagement Ring around Polaris, the majestic Double Cluster and brilliant stellar associations such as Melotte 20 in Perseus. Later in the night, Auriga begins to dominate the eastern sky and all three of its Messier open clusters can be framed within the binocular field. Scanning the Milky Way through Cygnus, I usually pause to soak up the especially rich star fields around Sadr and Deneb, before panning onwards into Cassiopeia further east. The heavens surely declare the glory of God!

I have also enjoyed gazing at the Moon growing ever brighter as the days of August proceeded, its size appearing larger owing to its proximity to the horizon. The Leica binocular serves up tack sharp images of the lunar regolith, set against a jet black sky and remaining pleasingly coherent even at the edge of the field. Placing a bright Gibbous Moon just outside the field stop shows that this binocular is superior to the other models in suppressing stray, off-axis light. And when the rain clouds move in from off the Atlantic, racing across the Moon’s silvery countenance, they create painfully beautiful light shows that are rich in colour. In short the Leica is a wonderful companion whether it be day or night. I have even made some makeshift white light solar filters to fit over the instrument’s objective lenses in order to keep an eye on the Sun. Alas, it appears to be entering what astronomers call a grand solar minimum, which does not bode well if historical archives are anything to go by. Is God saying something here too?

Maybees aye, maybees naw.

A Favourite Birding Spot

Culcreuch Pond, looking east toward the Fintry Hills.

In the last twelve months, I have taken up bird watching as another hobby; something I never thought I would find myself doing if I’m being honest. But by and large, the human world has become such a dark place to me that nature is the only refuge I have left. At least she still obeys her Creator lol. I’m very fortunate to live in a place where I can access the wet and the wild, and observe her perfect regularities with all her wonders and beauty. Having a good binocular makes this an especially joyful experience.

Just a half mile from my home is Culcreuch Pond, where I have spent a few minutes on most dry days glassing a pair of Mute Swans and their new family of six cygnets. I have watched them grow from tiny hatchlings to strong and healthy juveniles. The bright, dry spring and warm, wet summer has generated plenty of pond vegetation for them to thrive on. On many days, the adults see me observing them from the banks and begin to swim their way towards me, the cygnets following their parents gracefully in a wonderful flotilla. And they get real close too; often within a few metres of where I’m standing. The youngsters make loud whistle sounds as they approach in search of an easy meal but I have always resisted feeding them. I guess other folk do throw them food, explaining why they cross the pond to see me. To the casual onlooker, they all appear more or less identical, but I have come to know them so well that I can identify unique markers on their body that helps me to distinguish them.

The pond is also a good place to observe all manner of duck, Coots and even the odd Grey Heron lurking in the reedy shallows. Unlike the swans, Herons are far more leary of humans and getting closer than a few tens of metres has proven all but impossible for me. Still, the Leica glass allows me to make up for this distancing and I have observed these magnificent birds as they patiently patrol the shores for approaching fish.

Looking eastward beyond the pond, the hills soar 1,000 feet or so above the valley and I can often observe majestic raptors – mostly Buzzards but also the odd Peregrine Falcon gliding effortlessly on the warm summer thermals. Much of the lower lying parts of the hills are covered by deciduous trees and bracken which change their colours as the seasons progress. Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to glassing their beautiful autumnal shades as September gives way to October.

Summary & Conclusions

Worth saving for.

I commend the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 to the enthusiastic naturalist, birder or casual star gazer. It does exactly what it says on the tin and its robust – indeed slightly overbuilt – construction will appeal to those who value performance over bling. It has a classical look and feel about it that is as good to look through as it is to look at. It is durable, water proof to 4 metres depth, and can be relied upon in all weathers. It yields wonderful, bright and tack sharp images of the creation that will delight anyone who looks through it.  Like any other product from the modern world, the Leica Trinovid does have a couple of things that niggle me. For one thing, the silly looking neoprene case does not befit an optic of this quality in my opinion. Nor do I really like the ‘HD’ moniker associated with its name. What does that signify? It’s certainly not a scientific term! Does that mean there will be an HD plus in the future, just like the evolution(don’t we really mean intelligent design?) of the Ultravid model?

If so, I’m not for chasing the wind. But I guess some folk will never be content.

For sure, the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 is an expensive instrument by almost anyone’s standards, but I feel its cost is justified in this case, especially if you intend to use it as frequently as I plan to, by day and by night.

 

Highly recommended!

 

Neil English is the author of many books in amateur and professional astronomy.  He prides himself in sorting the bling from the bread. You can support his ongoing work by purchasing one of his books or by making a small personal donation. Thanks for reading!

 

De Fideli.