Product Review: SvBony SV202 8 x 32 ED Binocular.

The Svbony 8 x 32 ED binocular.

A Work Commenced July 20 2021

 

 

Product: SvBony SV202 8 x 32 ED

Place of Manufacture: Hong Kong

Field of View: 136m@1000m (7.87 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 15.6mm

Exit Pupil: 4mm

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.98m measured.

Chassis Material: Rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Coatings: Fully broadband multi-coated, dielectric coated Bak-4 prisms, phase correction coating.

Dioptre Range: +/- 3 Dioptres

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (1.5m for 3 minutes)

ED Glass: Yes

Weight: 510g(measured)

Warranty: 1 year International Manufacturer Warranty

H/W:14.8/12.3cm

Accessories: Soft padded carry bag, padded neck strap, lens cleaning cloth, rubber ocular and objective lens covers (tethered), multi-language user manual

Retail Price: £99.99(Amazon UK)

 

Make no mistake about it; we live in a golden age for buying binoculars. Never before has the consumer had so much choice available, thanks to incredible advances in optical technology which has given many other individuals access to very decent optics for a small financial outlay. In recent years, new coating technologies have greatly increased light transmission and image sharpness, to such an extent that even the budget models now available can and do outperform premium models offered only a few decades ago. In addition, the incorporation of extra low dispersion(ED) glass is now common even in inexpensive models, which, if executed properly, promises to cut chromatic aberration and increase image contrast still more.

As I’ve commented elsewhere, the 8 x 32 format is the new 8 x 42, as evidenced by the offering of the former by both mass market and premium binocular manufacturers alike. This is in no doubt attributed to their lower mass, improved ergonomics and very efficient light transmission, as well as their perfect suitability during bright daylight but also well into low light situations encountered at the earlier stages of dusk and dawn.  Apart from the use of premium pocket glasses – my personal favourite format – the 8 x 32 format has always interested me, owing to its compactness and smaller exit pupil (4mm), which uses the best part of your eye to analyse the binocular image.

While many entry-level ED models are priced in the £250 to £300 range, I became very intrigued by a less well known manufacturer, SvBony, a Hong Kong-based optics firm that has recently marketed a compact and mid-size model – an 8 x 32 and 10 x 42 –  chock full of advanced features. But what really piqued my interest was that Amazon UK were offering the 8 x 32 ED model for just £99.99, inclusive of delivery! As you can see from the specifications above, the SvBony 8 x 32 ED has a number of advanced optical features that I simply wouldn’t expect in a model at this price point, but having another binocular available – the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32(retail price £146 UK) – that also possesses many of the same features – I was able to conduct an in-depth study of how the SvBony ED binocular compared with it.

Ergonomics Comparison

The SvBony 8 x 32 ED(right) and the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32(left).

No doubt you’ve heard that possessing a magnesium alloy frame is a feature only common to upper-tier binocular models, I would like to take this opportunity to put this urban myth to bed, once and for all. Since both the SvBony and the Celestron Trailseeker models feature a magnesium body in this low price category, having this design feature is no longer the preserve of the best models but is now commonly available even in much more economically priced products.

The Celestron Trailseeker has a large plastic focuser that becomes very hard to move in Winter owing to the solidification of the grease used in its gearing. But in warm weather, it becomes much easier to turn. In contrast, the lower priced SvBony 8 x 32 ED has a much higher quality metal focus wheel, which is much smoother and easier to turn. Taking just one and a half revolutions to go from one extreme of its focus travel to the other, I would describe it as slow to progressive in speed, so not especially suited to either birding or hunting – more of a general purpose instrument than anything else.

Turning now to the dioptre ring located under the right ocular in both models, the SvBony’s metal dioptre ring is better designed than the plastic one found on the Trailseeker. Looking at a close up of the SvBony dioptre, you can see that the markings are easier to make out, helping the user achieve his or her optimum position better. And just like the Trailseeker, the SvBony dioptre ring is stiff and thus will not get nudged out of position so easily during field use.

The lower-priced SvBony model has a higher quality dioptre ring compared with the Celestron Trailseeker.

Looking next at the quality of the eyecups, I was delighted to see that the SvBony had good, high qualit,y rubber-over-metal twist up cups, pretty much identical in quality to those found on the more expensive Trailseeker. What is more, they stay rigidly locked in place when fully extended. Yet again, that the SvBony possessed such high quality eye cups was a pleasant surprise to me, as I was not expecting anything as good as that on a compact binocular costing less than £100.

The matt black armouring on the Svbony is a little bit more grippy than the Trailseeker and the ribbing at the side of the former reminds me very much of the armouring found on the Zeiss Terra ED models I’ve sampled.

The ribbed side armouring on the SvBony 8 x 32 ED is very reminiscent of that found on Terra ED models.

The objectives on both the SvBony and the Trailseeker are equally well recessed to protect the glass from dust, rain and peripheral light. The anti-reflective coatings look to be completely different though, with the Trailseeker having a standard greenish reflection in bright daylight, as opposed to the more subdued purple hues seen on the SvBony.

The objective lenses on both models are nicely recessed but appear to have entirely different anti-reflection coatings applied. The SvBony model is at the top.

Overall, the SvBony 8 x 32 ED feels slightly lighter and more comfortable to use than the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32, which is a bit more ‘clunky’ in comparison, at least in my medium sized hands. That, together with the noticeably better focus wheel and dioptre ring on the former means that, from a purely ergonomic perspective, the lower-priced SvBony is the clear winner.

Optical Comparisons

Good ergonomics, of course, count for nothing if the optics are not up to scratch, so how well would the £99.99 SvBony 8 x 32 ED fare in comparison to the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32? Having reviewed the Trailseeker some time ago, I was quite impressed with how well it handled a beam of intense white light directed into it from my iphone. That’s because the same model is fully broadband multi-coated and has super-high reflectivity dielectric coatings applied to its Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms. I’ve seen similar results on dozens of high quality binoculars and so I expected the SvBony to yield good results too, if indeed it has those same coatings.

My efforts confirmed that the SvBony also passes this test with flying colours! Specifically, the image was devoid of any significant internal reflections and with no diffused light around the beam, which often betrays the use of lower quality optical components introduced into the optical train. What is more, while the Trailseeker did show a weak diffraction spike, the SvBony had none. Indeed, I would place the SvBony slightly ahead of the Trailseeker, based solely on the flashlight test. So far so very good!

But the good news only continued when I performed a daylight comparison test of both the SvBony ED 8 x 32 and the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 . While both models have effectively the same field of view(7.87 degrees), I felt that the SvBony provided a slightly sharper image than the Celestron, with better contrast and improved control over veiling glare. Both instruments have a large sweet spot but edge of field performance was a little soft in both models, as was the degree of field curvature seen. Chromatic aberration, although quite low in the Trailseeker, was better handled in the SvBony under the same conditions. Whatever ED glass elements are present in the SvBony, it seemed to be doing its job well. Depth of focus in the SvBony 8 x 32ED  is also good; a real plus if you’re a prospective birder. Close focus is just under two metres(1.98m measured).

Another way to ascertain whether similar coating technologies were applied to both the SvBony and the Celestron Trailseeker, is to perform a low light test by comparing the brightness of the image in both instruments at dusk. On paper, I expected both to behave rather similarly, and that is exactly the result I achieved. Both 32mm models produced a more or less equally bright image, with perhaps the nod going to the SvBony! As I have shown in many other comparisons, the ED element may have conferred a slight advantage to the SvBony in these challenging conditions but as expected, it was marginal if anything.

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Note Added in Proof: If you go back and listen to the optics trade review of the GPO Passion ED 8 x 32 linked to above, the presenter informs us that GPO did not use ED glass in their largest 56mm models, citing their reasons in relation to the lack of chromatic aberration seen in low light environments. If ED glass really had a significant low light advantage, don’t you think they’d mention it or go ahead and use it? And why do so many binocular reviewers(in published magazines too) I have come across still perpetuate this myth?

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Examining the 4mm diameter exit pupils on the SvBony showed nice, round pupils with no signs of truncation. There was also a nice periphery of blackness immediately around both pupils,  which contributes to the high contrast images I detected during my daylight tests.

Exit pupil of the left barrel of the SvBony 8 x 32 ED.

And the right eye.

Concluding Comments

The SvBony 8 x 32 ED  was a very eye-opening and pleasant experience. In terms of both optical and mechanical properties, it proved superior to the Celestron Trailseeker. Indeed, I would put the SvBony more on par with the new Celestron Trailseeker ED, though I’ve not actually tested this model. The very few realistic reviews I’ve seen of the SvBony  8 x 32 ED claim that it performs like models double or triple the price; a sentiment that I wholeheartedly agree with.  And at a retail price of less than £100, there is very little in this binocular that I can find fault with.

 

Very highly recommended!

 

Neil English is the author of seven books on amateur and professional astronomy and likes seeking out bargains in both the telescope and binocular market. 

Post Scriptum: I performed a measurement of the field size of the SvBony 8 x 32 ED just after local midnight, July 22. Turning to the Plough (Big Dipper) asterism high in the northwest, I was just unable to fit Phecda and Merak into the field of view of the binocular. These are separated by 754′ or 7.9 angular degrees, so I’m confident that the stated field size(7.87o) for this binocular is fairly accurate. 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Zeiss Terra TL 10 x 25.

 

The Zeiss Terra TL 10 x 25 package.

A Work Commenced July 8 2021

 

 

Product: Zeiss Terra ED 10 x 25 (TL Edition)

Country of Manufacture: China

Field of View: 97m@1000m/ 5.4 angular degrees

Eye relief: 16mm

Close focus: 1.9m

Exit Pupil: 2.5mm

Chassis material: fibre glass reinforced polyamide

Coatings: Zeiss T*, lotutec, hydrophobic coatings on outer lenses

Dioptre range: +/- 3 dioptres

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes to 1m( unspecified time)

ED Glass: Yes (Schott ED)

Weight: 310g

Dimensions: H/W 11.1 x 11.5 cm

Warranty: 2 years

Retail Price: £300 UK

Supplied with: soft storage pouch, carrying strap, lens cleaning cloth, multiple language instruction sheet

 

In a previous review blog, I bought in and tested a Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 pocket glass. There I reported its excellent performance and very good value for money given its Japanese optics and congratulated the company for bringing to market such a wonderful product that would would allow many ordinary people on a strict budget to sample real optical quality. But it was also a time of transition, as all of the other Terra models had shifted production to China and some controversy arose as to where the more recent Terra pocket models were being manufactured, and some folk began to chime in stating that their Terra pocket glasses were now being made in China.

In this communication, I wish to discuss a brand new Terra pocket glass with a 10 x 25 specification, clearly marked as made in China on the box and on the underside of the chassis. The ‘ED’ in the name is replaced by ‘TL’ which I am led to believe is short for ‘Travel.’ That said, the ED specification was clearly stated on the outside of the box. I’ve already covered much of the background to this product in the 8 x 25 review. Here I wish to give the reader my opinions on its optical performance and whether or not I think it is worth the fairly substantial price tag.

First Impressions

As you can see from the picture above, the newly presented Terra ED 10 x 25 is not the same as what I received with the 8 x 25 model. The box is a lot smaller and of much lower quality than the lovely, large hardboard box I received in the Japanese made 8 x 25 model. Also missing was the arresting alpine vista on the inside of the presentation box. All in all, it was poorly fabricated in comparison. Gone too was the good quality hard clamshell case with magnetic locking latch. Instead, I received a flimsy soft pouch which offers no protection of the binocular apart from keeping some dust out. Ho hum. The carry strap and lens cleaning cloth were the same however, which is something.

The design of the chassis looks identical to the 8 x 25 and feels good in the hand, but I was surprised to see quite a bit of dust on the objective lenses, not like the immaculate presentation of the 8 x 25. That was quite surprising, as I had come to expect better from Zeiss. But what shocked me most was the optics.

Optical Assessment

I began with my usual iphone torch test, a simple but very discriminating exercise that reveals internal reflections, diffraction spikes and diffused areas indicative of how homogeneous the optical glass was. It involves directing a very bright beam of light into the binocular and studying the resulting image visually. I’m relieved to say that it did pass this test with flying colours. Consulting my old notes I made on the 8 x 25, the 10 x 25 offered up pretty much the same high quality results, namely, a clean image with a couple of very subdued internal reflections, no areas of diffused light and a weak diffraction spike. So far so good.

After adjusting the dioptre setting for my eyesight, which is accessed at the end of the bridge, I took it outside in bright daylight to gain a first impression of its optical performance. Like the 8 x 25, the 10x model offered up a bright image(it has an advertised light transmission of 88 per cent)  but it was a lot more difficult to focus well  owing to a very stiff central focus wheel. Maybe I had been spoiled by the buttery smooth focuser on my beloved Leica Ultravid 8 x 20. Whatever it was, I was not impressed by its resistance to turning.  I do not recall having an issue like this with the 8 x 25, as my notes reminded me.

The Zeiss Terra TL 10 x 25(left) in comparison to the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR( right).

The image itself was good but not great. Much of the quality of the 8 x 25 was there, bright and quite sharp across much of the 5.4 degree field. Contrast was very good and it was quite resistant to glare when I pointed it near a brightly backlit tree. But I was shocked to see that the image had a lot of chromatic aberration, both in the centre and especially off axis. Indeed, it had more chromatic aberration than I had ever encountered in a binocular of this specification – and I’ve tested quite a few models in this regard. My target was a Conker tree in full Summer foliage backlit by a uniformly bright overcast sky and my eyes were drawn to the blue fringing of the leaves which was very strong off axis but also present more weakly at the centre of the image.

In comparison, the little Leica 8x 20 Ultravid showed none, or rather the merest trace at the extreme edges of the field, and only if I deliberately looked hard for it. Truth be told, I was left totally underwhelmed as I had expected much more from the Schott ED element at the heart of this £300 Zeiss designed binocular. What is especially ironic is that the Leica Ultravid 8x 20 doesn’t have an ED element yet delivered a much higher quality image in this regard. I don’t think it was an optical flaw as the image was otherwise quite sharp to the eye. In a previous correspondence, I noted that the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32, which also has an ED objective element, also showed some chromatic aberration in similar tests but nowhere near as much as this 10 x 25 Terra pocket.

In another test on a telephone pole located some 30 yards away and also backlit by a bright overcast sky, I compared and contrasted the images of the 10 x 25 Terra with my Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42. Again the result was the same. The non ED 8 x 42 showed far less chromatic aberration at the edges of the pole compared with the 10 x 25 Terra, and while lateral colour increased as I moved the pole to the edge of the field in both binoculars, it was far more pronounced in the smaller 10 x 25 Zeiss glass.

The Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 non ED( left) and the Zeiss Terra 10 x 25 ED (right).

These tests showed me that having an ED glass element is no guarantee of better colour correction, as both my 8 x 42 and 8 x 20 clearly showed.

I also bought in the 10 x 25 Zeiss to test image stability compared with my 8 x 20 Leica Ultravid. Again, I got on far better with the latter glass. The 10x magnification in a small frame made getting a steady image very challenging in comparison to the much more stable image of the little Leica glass.  That test convinced me that I will be sticking with 8 x 20 format for the foreseeable future.

Conclusions

The experience with the Chinese made Zeiss Terra ED 10 x 25 was not at all what I expected. It was much inferior to the views of my original Japanese made  8 x 25. The focus wheel was far too stiff and the colour correction was just not acceptable. I returned the instrument to the seller and received a full refund in return. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Not recommended for its considerable retail price!

 

 

Dr Neil English has over 40 years experience studying the night sky with all sorts of telescopes, but in the last few years has devoted himself to seeking out bargains for savvy binocular enthusiasts. His highly lauded 650+ page magnum opus, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, summarises four centuries of telescopic observing, from Thomas Harriot to Patrick Moore.

 

 

De Fideli

Product Review: Pentax SP 10 x 50 WP.

The Pentax SP 10 x 50 WP package.

A Work Commenced July 7 2021

 

Preamble

 

Product: Ricoh-Pentax SP 10 x 50 WP 

Country of Manufacture: China

Field of View: 87m@1000m( 5 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 20mm

Close Focus: 5.5m

Exit Pupil: 5mm

Focuser: Central, lockable

Chassis Material: Aluminium with rubberised overcoat

Coatings: Fully broadband multi-coated throughout

Dioptre Range: +/- 4 dioptres

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (JIS Class 6)

ED Glass: No

Weight: 1060g

Dimensions: 18 x 18 cm

Retail Price: £170UK

Supplied with: Soft carry case, logoed carry strap, plastic objective and ocular covers, multi-language instruction sheet.

 

Pentax is a company long synonymous with good optical quality. Over the last few years, I’ve reviewed a few models manufactured by this company, ranging from the very small(6.5x 21) to the very large(20x 60). In particular, I’ve included an earlier incarnation of the  20 x 60 SP model in my own personal arsenal of binoculars, where it’s employed in deep sky observation and regular white light solar observing. So, I was excited to see how its smaller sibling, the 10x 50 SP WP, would shape up in field tests.

First Impressions

I purchased the binocular with my own money and it set me back £170, inclusive of delivery charges. The binocular arrived double boxed, including the instrument itself, packed inside its soft case, together with plastic end caps for both the ocular and objective lenses, a logoed padded next strap and instruction sheet containing information concerning the warranty. The plastic caps that protect the optics of the 10 x 50 SP looked identical to those that accompanied my 20 x 60, and together with the woefully inadequate soft case, represent the weakest links in the entire package. The caps are loosely fitting and invariably fall off  when the binocular is picked up. As for the case, it does very little to protect the binocular from serious knocks so should really be upgraded to either a padded soft case or better still, an aluminium hard case to protect your investment.

The Pentax 10x 50 SP WP is an extremely rugged and well made binocular, built for the great outdoors.

Ergonomics

Thankfully, my initial impressions of the binocular itself were far more favourable. When I unpacked it, I was immediately struck by its rugged build quality. The binocular weighs in at a hefty 1kg and is covered with a thick layer of synthetic rubber identical to that found on my 20 x 60 . Like its bigger brother, it has a lockable focuser; simply push the wheel forward and it disengages with the internal gearing, preventing the wheel from being moved. Although not an essential feature by any means, I can see where it would come in useful if one observes targets at a fixed distance from the user or when observing the night sky, where all the subjects are located more or less at infinity.

The central focus wheel is very easy to grip and is lockable simply by pushing it forward.

The twist up eyecups are very well made and very comfortable to use. There are three positions; fully down, intermediate and fully extended. Eye relief is a very generous 20mm. Usually, I observe with the eye cups fully extended but I actually found the view to be most comfortable and immersive at the intermediate position without wearing eye glasses.

The very solid twist up eye cups are comfortable to use and have three positions. Eye relief is generous allowing those who wear glasses to fully engage with the entire field.

The ‘WP’ part of its name, I assume, refers to ‘Water Proof,’ with a specified JIS class 6 rating. The instrument is purged with dry nitrogen gas to prevent internal fogging and is O-ring sealed. The dioptre ring is located under the right ocular lens and is negotiated by moving an easy to access lever which can be adjusted clockwise or anti-clockwise. It is reasonably stiff to the touch so should hold its position well. The underside of the 10x 50 SP WP has two large thumb indents for easier hand holding. I found that my thumbs naturally rested in them while holding the binocular up to my eyes.

The focus wheel is very stiff; a strict no-no for birding or any activity that requires rapid focus changes. But for stargazing or for stationary targets located in the distance, it works just fine.

You’ll find two large thumb rests on the underbelly of the binocular for more secure gripping.

Optics

The proof of the pudding, of course, lies in the eating, and this is where this well-made classic Porro prism binocular really shines. The SP series underwent an upgrade from the first generation models, with better multi-layer anti-reflection coatings being applied throughout the optical train. Allbinos tested this model out and measured a light transmission value of about 85%, which is very good indeed considering the modest price tag on this binocular, as well as the fact that some of the world’s best Porro prism binos achieve about 95% or so.

Not for the Birds

Inspecting the innards of the instrument in broad daylight showed it to be clean and dust free. Setting up my iphone torch to its highest setting in my back garden at dusk and placing it a comfortable distance away revealed a few minor internal reflections and no diffraction spikes or diffused areas; another good result indicating that all was well with the instrument in keeping bright light sources under control. Placing the beam just outside the field of view showed very little ghosting so this will be a good binocular to observe bright objects in the night sky such as the full Moon and stars located near it. It will also garner excellent views of cityscapes at night. Close focus was measured to be about 5.3 metres – a little better than advertised but nothing to write home about. The coatings on the ocular and objective lenses seem to be very evenly applied. In addition, the objective lenses are very deeply recessed which helps protect the optics from the vagaries of the British climate and also cuts down on stray light.

Very evenly applied multi-layer anti-reflection coatings applied to the objectives help transmit a decent amount of light through the optical train.

In broad daylight, the view through the Pentax 10x 50 SP WP is very impressive, with great contrast, good colour rendition and good control of glare. Depth of focus is not bad either. Colour correction is excellent, even off axis, where one can detect a small amount of lateral colour. Field curvature is very gentle but does show a fairly minimal amount of pincushion distortion near the field stops. Even though the field of view is fairly narrow at 5 angular degrees, it didn’t feel overly restrictive to my eyes. At 1kg weight and delivering a 10x optical boost, these are not binoculars that one could handhold for long but it’s certainly possible to scan the landscape and night sky for a few minutes before some fatigue sets in. These are however, perfect for use on a lightweight monopod or tripod for ultra stable viewing.

Further testing at dusk showed excellent control of internal reflections and clean, crisp images garnered from a bright sodium street lamp. Placing the lamp just outside the field of view showed up no significant off-axis flares. Placing the binocular on a light weight monopod and turning them on the night sky also served up excellent results. Centring the bright Summer luminary, Vega, in the binocular field and focusing in showed a pinpoint sharp image with no secondary spectrum and with no diffraction spikes. Better still, moving the star to the edge of the field induced only a little distortion and some lateral colour(purple fringing), indicating that the aspherical optical element built into the eyepieces of the Pentax SP binocular were doing their jobs well. And while the skies were far too bright to provide a more in-depth study, with strong Summer twilight upon us here in central Scotland,  I compared and contrasted the view through the Pentax 10 x 50 and my trusty Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 mounted on a second monopod. Turning my attention to the well placed Coathanger asterism in Vulpecula revealed a cleanly resolved view in both instruments, but with fainter stars showing up better in the Pentax, albeit in a smaller true field.

Conclusions & Recommendations

In recent years, thanks to great advances in technology, there has been a steady movement within the amateur community towards roof prism designs over older, Porro prism binoculars. But after spending a few weeks testing out this affordable model from Pentax, I was genuinely surprised and delighted by its optical performance. Indeed, you’d have to fork much more money for a roof prism binocular with the same specifications as this Pentax to get the same optical quality. The only real advantage of the roof prism incarnations at 10 x 50 are their lower mass(but not by much) and slightly smaller frames. Having sampled a few inexpensive and mid-priced 10 x 50 roof prism binoculars in the past, I can say hand on heart, that they did not deliver the light transmission values anywhere near those attained by this classic, affordable 10 x 50. Indeed, I would strongly recommend readers to look more closely at tried and trusted Porro prism designs in aperture classes of 50mm or above over the roof prism varieties, especially now that they come with full waterproofing.

Qui bono?

Amateur astronomers looking for quality deep sky views on dark, clear nights, and casual daytime viewers with permanently set-up tripods or monopods surveying targets set in the distance. Remember that five degrees is still plenty good enough for the vast majority of deep sky observing! These would work very well in holiday cottages set by a lake or overlooking a picturesque valley floor. And although they can be handheld for short excursions, they do benefit greatly from mounting.

Very highly recommended!

 

 

 

Dr Neil English has over 40 years experience studying the night sky with all sorts of telescopes, but in the last few years has devoted himself to seeking out bargains for savvy binocular enthusiasts. His highly lauded 650+ page magnum opus, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, summarises four centuries of telescopic observing, from Thomas Harriot to Patrick Moore.

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10 x 42.

 

The Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10 x 42 package.

A Work Commenced July 1 2021

 

Preamble

 

Product: Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10 x 42 

Country of Manufacture: Myanmar

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

Eye Relief: 19mm

IPD Range: 58-74mm

Close Focus: 1.45m

Exit Pupil: 4.2mm

Chassis Material: Pebbled rubberised Armor over Magnesium Alloy

Coatings: Fully broadband multi-coated, silvered, phase corrected Schmidt-Pechan 

Dioptre Range: Lockable +/- 4 dioptres

Nitrogen Purging: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

ED Glass: Yes(Hoya)

Weight: 770g

Warranty: Limited Lifetime

Retail Price: £280(UK), $300(US)

Supplied Accessories: padded neckstrap, zip-closed padded case, lens cleaning cloth, tethered rubber eyepiece and objective caps, warranty card, instruction manual.

 

 

Vanguard is an international optics company founded in 1986 with over 1,000 employees worldwide. As well as binoculars and telescopes, they have also marketed high quality accessories for the sports optics industry. With a manufacturing and design headquarters in Myanmar, they offer an extensive range of binoculars from entry-level to upper mid-priced models. In this review, I’ll be discussing my experiences with an Endeavour ED II 10 x 42 binocular. This is a second generation ED binocular, bridging their simpler ED and more sophisticated ED IV models. Vanguard state that the ED glass elements used in their objectives are sourced from Hoya(Japan), but are assembled entirely in Myanmar, before being distributed to stores across the world.

I purchased the binocular with my own funds for £280 delivered to my door. The instrument arrived double boxed and came in a very attractive white storage box containing the binocular, a very nicely designed zipped closed logoed carry case, a padded neck strap, rubber ocular and objective lens covers, which can be tethered to the binocular, a lens cleaning cloth and an instruction sheet in many languages.

Ergonomics

The Vanguard ED II 10 x 42 is an impressive looking instrument, sporting a high quality Magnesium alloy open hinge design, with a black pebbled rubber overcoat that has a texture more akin to bonded leather than the usual rubber-looking substrate offerings on most other models I’ve sampled. Weighing it at 770g, it is quite hefty as 10 x 42 binoculars go, but still nowhere near the 850g weight of some of ultra premium models now on the market.

The Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10 x 42 is a solidly made instrument with an eye catching colour scheme.

The instrument feels very solid and secure in the hand. On its underside, two thumb indents suggest a place for you to properly hand old and balance the binocular. The instrument states “made in Myanmar” and has a serial number to help identify the batch and date of production.

The underside of the binocular has well positioned thumb rests. Note its country of origin and serial number.

The objective lenses have immaculately applied anti-reflection coatings and are very deeply recessed to cut down on stray light, dust and rain.

The fully multi-coated objectives are very deeply recessed.

The binocular has a number of notable features compared with many mid-priced instruments that I have tested in the past. For one thing, the right eye dioptre is lockable. You simply push the ring up, rotate it to your desired position and then push it down to lock. It works quite well but I did notice a bit of play in it. The ring itself wobbles when a bit of force is applied and to be honest, I would have been perfectly happy with a regular non-lockable dioptre ring if it offers a bit more rigidity.. The ED IV models from Vanguard offer a better solution in this regard.

The Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10x 42 has a lockable dioptre ring located under the right ocular. Push it up, rotate the ring to your desired position and then lock it in place by pushing it back down.

The central focus wheel is covered in a highly texturised rubber for excellent grip. Rotation is exceptionally smooth, taking just over one revolution of the wheel to go from one extreme of focus to the other. It is also remarkably fast, taking just three quarters of a revolution to sharply focus on the vast majority of objects. This makes it especially useful for birding, where rapid focus changes can be important, but I found it to be, well, a little too fast. You can easily overshoot the focus wheel if you’re not used to it, so this could be a bit off-putting for some users.  Personally, I would have been happier with a slightly slower focus but having said that, it’s all about getting used to the binocular; so, in and of itself, a super-fast focuser is certainly not a deal breaker.

The metal over rubber eyecups twist up and have two intermediate positions. Once fully extended, they hold their positions very securely.

The twist-up eye cups are metal-over-rubber and have two intermediate positions. Fully extended, they hold their positions very well indeed. The generous eye relief of 19mm makes it very comfortable to use with glasses(tested by yours truly), where the entire field can be reliably imaged. Another nice touch about these eye cups is that they can be unscrewed when they wear down or break. Vanguard will be happy to send you replacement cups should you run into a spot of difficulty. The binocular can also be mounted to a tripod or monopod for ultra stable viewing. Simply unscrew the V-logoed screw on the front of the bridge and you’re in business.

Optical Evaluation

Conducting the flashlight test on the Vanguard showed a good clean image; internal reflections were very minimal with no discernible diffused light indicative of good, homogeneous glass through the optical train. It did show a rather prominent diffraction spike though that was also observed at night when I turned the instrument on a bright sodium street light.

Conducting further daylight tests revealed a very sharp image with lots of contrast and excellent control of glare. Indeed, the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10 x 42 showed better control of veiling glare than my Barr & Stroud  8 x 42 Series 5 control binocular.

The view is impressively wide for a 10 x 42 instrument – 6.5 angular degrees. What’s more, the Vanguard enjoys a very large sweet spot. Indeed, it’s edge of field correction is excellent, especially considering its modest retail price. There is very mild  pincushion distortion near the field stops . Colours are naturally presented and chromatic aberration is pretty much non existent. Indeed I could only detect a trace of lateral colour at the edge of the field. All in all, the optics in this binocular are well above average, a fact that I was able to confirm by borrowing a first generation Swarovski EL Range 10 x 42 from a fellow villager. To my eyes, the views were very comparable in bright sunny conditions with the Vanguard having a slightly wider field of view.

Only when the light began to fade late in the evening did I begin to notice the Swarovski beginning to pull ahead. At dusk, near local midnight here in Scotland, the greater light transmission of the EL Range was very obvious, with tree branches located at a distance of 50 yards or so away being more easily seen than with the Vanguard. This is consistent with an allbinos review conducted on the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10 x 42, which revealed a light transmission of only 80 per cent. Another low light test using my Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 also showed a significantly brighter image than the Vanguard but this could well be attributed to its larger exit pupil (5.25mm versus 4.2mm) kicking in during these low light conditions.

Notes from the Field

The close focus on the Vanguard Endeavor ED II is very noteworthy  in that it focuses down to about 1.5 metres. I could sharply focus my walking shoes, which is more than I can say for many other 10 x 42s I have had the pleasure of using. Depth of focus is fairly shallow though – an expected result given its 10x magnification and roof prism design. Focusing is super fast on this unit, but I was slightly anxious about turning the focus wheel near the end of its travel. A tyro could easily turn the wheel too far and so damage the focuser. The lockable dioptre ring worked well in all situations. It remains tightly in place, so no worries there.

Because of the super fast focus wheel, I deemed it expedient to set the dioptre setting while the binocular was stably mounted on a tripod. After all, you need a stable view in order to achieve optimal image sharpness in both barrels.

The Vanguard Endeavor ED II’s super fast focuser necessitates a stable platform to adjust the right eye dioptre.

The open bridge design of the Vanguard makes it very easy to handle, even with one hand. You can wrap your fingers round the barrels of the binocular which allows the user to get a slightly more stable view at 10x. The padded neck strap accompanying the Vanguard Endeavor ED II is of good quality but is a bit too long for my liking. Indeed, I often thought about attaching another shorter strap while making my tests.

I do love the padded case supplied with the Vanguard. With its eye-catching colour logo, padded interior and its ability to be zipped closed, I think it’s one of the most thoughtfully designed binocular cases I’ve personally encountered. A very nice touch!

The very thoughtfully designed padded case supplied with the Vanguard Endeavor ED II is of very high quality and fits the instrument perfectly.

Conclusions

The Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10 x 42 offers a lot of bang for the buck. Optically, it serves up very nice images indeed and will hold its own against instruments costing far more. Indeed, my main take home point about this instrument is that as one invests in more expensive models, it is mainly the mechanical and not the optical properties of such an instrument that one is buying into. More expensive binoculars will have greater light transmission(of the order of 90 per cent) but those advantages can really only be seen at dawn or dusk. But if you do all of your glassing in broad daylight, that light transmission advantage will be of little importance to you. So, something to bear in mind.

I also get the impression that Vanguard care about their customer service and one can email an employee of the company – see the link provided above to start with – if you encounter any problems with your binocular. If you’re in the market for a sensibly priced instrument in this aperture class that will live up to the rigours of life in the great outdoors, then I would strongly recommend it. You’re not likely to get much more for an investment under £300 UK.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Neil English has been looking through optical devices for over 40 years and doesn’t take any prisoners. If you like his work, why not buy one of his seven published books or make a small donation to his website so that he can continue to provide real world reviews of interesting instruments for the savvy outdoor enthusiast.

 

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Vortex Diamondback HD 8 x 28.

 

The Vortex Diamondback HD 8 x 28 compact binocular package.

June 25 2021

 

 

Product: Vortex Diamondback HD 8 x 28

Country of Manufacture: China

Field of View: 101m@1000m(6.2 angular degrees)

Eye relief: 18mm (advertised), but a lot less in practice.

IPD Range: 55-72mm

Close focus: 1.83m advertised 1.75m measured

Exit Pupil:3.5mm

Chassis Material: Rubber Armoured Magnesium alloy

Coatings: Fully multi-coated, dielectric coatings on prisms, phase correction coating, Armotek hydrophobic coatings on outer lenses.

Dioptre range: +/- 4  dioptres

Gas purging: Yes Argon

Waterproof: Yes (unspecified depth and time)

ED Glass: Unknown

Weight: 398g

Dimensions: W/H 11.7/11.4cm

Warranty: VIP Unlimited Lifetime

Supplied With: padded carry case & strap, lens cloth, instruction manual, logoed padded binocular strap, rubberised ocular and objective tethers

Retail Price: £135 UK/$170US

 

Vortex Optics is a US-based company specialising in sports optics for the hunting, birding and the outdoor enthusiast. They have brought to market an extensive range of binoculars from entry-level right up to low-end premium, manufactured in China or Japan. Arguably their best-selling series is the Diamondback range of roof prism binoculars. Over the last 15 years or so, Vortex has upgraded and modified the design of these binoculars, where they are widely considered to offer the best performance to cost ratio on the market. This review will be looking at the newest, third-generation of the Diamondback – the so-called Diamondback HD series, which first hit the market in 2019.

I purchased the Diamondback HD 8 x 28 with my own money and the opinions I offer are entirely unbiased, unlike a lot of fake reviews of said products all over the internet.

First Impressions

The instrument arrived in a single box, containing the binoculars wrapped inside a plastic bag and securely placed inside a black padded case. I received a neck strap, lens cleaning cloth, rubber ocular and objective tethers, and a strap for attaching to the carry case. The full-colour instruction manual offers all the basic information you need to adjust the binocular to get the best use out of it.

As I removed the binocular from its case and assessed its fit and feel, I was quite impressed. This was a solidly made binocular with a tough army green rubber armouring, ribbed at the sides for a more solid grip. The little Diamondback has good quality metal-over-soft rubber twist-up eyecups and a large, silky smooth central focus wheel. The dioptre ring located under the right ocular is a bit hard to access, as it’s very resistant to movement; a good thing I suppose as one normally doesn’t want this to move easily while out in the field. Only by twisting up the eyepieces could I negotiate moving it to my preferred dioptre setting.

The external features of the Diamondback HD 8 x 28. Note the thin dipotre ring under the right eyepiece. It’s hard to access with medium and large hands and is best adjusted by first pulling out the eye cup.

The objectives are quite deeply recessed for a small binocular(4mm) which helps protect the lenses from dust, rain and peripheral light. Inspecting the inside of the instrument showed that everything was clean and dust free. The ant-reflection coatings applied to both the objective and ocular lenses appear to be very smoothly applied and give a faint greenish purple tint in broad daylight.

The twist-up eyecups have three settings and once they click into place, hold their positions rigidly. The focus wheel is covered in a textured rubber which makes gripping and rotating it very easy. Moving from close focus – measured at 1.75m – to infinity involves two full rotations of the wheel, and I was pleased to see that there was very little play or backlash throughout its motion, either clockwise or anti-clockwise.

The high quality twist up eyecups lock rigidly in place.

Ergonomically, the Diamondback HD 8 x 28 feels solid in the hand and is small and light enough to carry along on extended trips.

The Diamondback HD is weatherproof, O-ring sealed and purged with dry argon gas. In most other binoculars built for the great outdoors, dry nitrogen is used to replace the air inside. I suppose argon, having a larger relative atomic mass than molecular nitrogen, might diffuse out more slowly than the latter, but whether this has any real advantages in practice is debatable.

Size comparison between the Vortex Diamondback HD 8 x 28 (left) and the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 (right).

Optical Evaluation

With the advertised full-featured coatings used in the manufacture of this binocular, I was expecting a good result from my smartphone flash light test. Directing an intense beam of light into the binocular and looking through the eyepieces, I was pleased to see a very clean image, with very well suppressed internal reflections and with little in the way of diffraction spikes evident. Neither was there any diffused light showing that the glass was very homogenous and free of major artefacts. This would be a good performer looking at artificial lights at night or casual moongazing, as my subsequent tests indeed confirmed.

But while I was using it in the field, I uncovered a significant issue with the Diamondback HD 8 x 28. When I fully extended the eye cups and locked them into place, I was very surprised to experience pretty severe blackouts and it was very challenging to see the field stops. Indeed, instead of normal well-defined edges to the field, I was seeing a ‘ring of fire’ around the edges which I found quite distracting. I quickly realised that the eye relief was just too short for me to obtain a stable binocular image with no blackouts. I had seen this before but in a far less extreme way while using a Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 binocular, which has multiple twist-up positions. If I had inadvertently not pulled these eye cups fully out, I got more blackouts and these would alert me to the problem. So the same issue must have been happening in the Diamondback HD binocular, only it was much more severe.. Only by pulling my eyes away from the eyecups could I obtain a reasonably stable field  but I have to admit that I found this to be quite annoying.

More’s the pity as otherwise the Diamondback HD 8 x 28 served up a very bright, high-contrast image rich in detail and with a large sweet spot. Depth of focus in this instrument is good too. Colours were very vivid and realistic and it even exhibited well-above-average control of glare. Edge sharpness was also very good with only slight colour fringing seen on high contrast objects beginning about 70 per cent out from the centre.  I have no idea what the term ‘HD’ means – ‘High Density’ perhaps, or ‘High Definition’ even? And if HD indicated the use of some low dispersion objective element, why not just call it ED in line with most other models?  All I can say is that the image was of impressively high quality but somewhat off putting by the positioning of the eyecups.

When I tested the unit under a clear twilit June sky at night, star fields were impressively presented with bright luminaries like Vega, Arcturus and Deneb focusing down to sharp pinpoints and remaining tightly focused nearly all the way to the field stops. Again, this result was better than expected but I suspect that it is due to the rather small field served up by this binocular. Simply put, by restricting the field of view,  binocular designers can mask more severe distortion and field curvature that would show up in a larger field. Views of a low-hanging, waxing gibbous Moon were also very good! The bright, silvery orb was clean and sharp and showed no secondary spectrum on axis, but did show up some minor lateral colour as the Moon was moved to the edge of the field.

Final Thoughts

Does the Diamondback HD 8x 28 have a general design flaw or did I just get a lemon? Maybees aye, maybees naw!

In light of the many positive reviews of larger Diamondback HD binoculars made by experienced glassers, I am reluctant to write-off this series based on my less than favourable experience of this 8 x 28 model. With their modest cost, above-average optical performance and great ergonomics, I can see why these Diamondbacks enjoy a loyal fan base. Those who wear eye glasses, unlike me, will probably fare OK with these binoculars though. As for me, I returned the instrument and received a full refund, so no permanent harm done.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Dr. Neil English has written over 300 articles for various astronomy, religious and birdwatching magazines over the last 25 years, and is the author of seven books on amateur and professional astronomy. His magnum opus, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, continues to go from strength to strength among serious astronomy historians.

 

De Fideli.

 

 

Three Achromatic Binoculars.

Three achromatic binoculars.

A work commenced April 16 2021

 

Over the last decade I have dedicated much of my free time to educating the amateur community on the great achievements of the classical achromatic refractor. My 650 page historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, documents many of the amazing achievements made by highly skilled individuals over many centuries who used these great telescopes to divine pretty much everything amateur astronomers explore today. And despite what some claim regarding the newer refracting telescopes that employ extra low dispersion(ED) glass, this modern development represents, at most, a mere footnote to the true history of these telescopes.

But it is not the classical refractor that best exemplifies the wonders of crown and flint, but the humble binocular. I have had the pleasure of looking through many of these fine instruments and have been astounded at the wonderfully sharp and clear views they serve up. And even in this era of extraordinary technological development, I’m especially delighted to see that crown & flint is alive and well in a suite of state-of-the-art binoculars that carry on that legacy into the 21st century.

This blog will describe three such instruments that fulfil all of my binocular needs; the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR, the Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 and the Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60.

The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR

The extraordinary Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR.

This tiny optical marvel has transformed what I understand an ideal daytime binocular to be. This state-of-the-art instrument uses no ED glass, yet achieves a level of optical excellence that really needs to be experienced to be believed! The following sentiments are contrary to what you will read from almost every other binocular enthusiast, but they are solidly grounded in both optical theory and field experience. For daytime use and for much of the year, the size of your eye pupil is very small, typically between 2 and 3mm. This means that using binoculars with larger exit pupils (calculated by dividing the aperture of the binocular by its magnification) wastes a lot of the light collected by larger binoculars usually touted as being ideally suited to daytime use – I’m thinking of those with objectives sizes of 32 and 42mm in particular. But there is another, perhaps even more important reason for choosing these smaller exit pupils – image sharpness. When you are sampling the image with a smaller exit pupil you are employing the best part of your eye lens to bring that image to focus. And when you couple this optimal image sensor(itself a marvel of Divine creation) to an optically excellent binocular, you have a match made in heaven!

Thanks to the incorporation of the latest in coating technology into this small binocular, including phase corrected prisms, aspherical eyepieces, and multiple layers of the best anti-reflection coatings on all glass surfaces, this small 20mm aperture instrument serves up impressively bright and high-contrast images across the entire field of view. Leica optics are the contrast kings, being world leaders in suppressing stray light and internal reflections, including veiling glare, which is a particularly pernicious problem in many binoculars, however the size. The image just snaps to focus with none of the ambiguity you all too often get with binoculars of lesser quality. The mechanical build quality and ergonomic handling of this binocular are also superb, being designed for a busy life in the great outdoors. Only at dawn and dusk does the limitations of its small aperture become apparent, but these are times I do not normally glass, so these shortcomings are rarely encountered.

The Leica Ultravid BR 8 x 20 is very compact and lightweight(245g), fitting in any pocket. You can wear it ’round your neck all day and never experience neck strain. Try doing that with an 8 x 42 or even an  8 x 32! Employing a dual-hinge design, squaring on with the eye pupils takes a little more care to get right, but with practice this becomes easy. And because the collimation and robustness of the binocular is second to none, you don’t experience eye strain, blackouts or headaches even after prolonged daily use. But another hugely important factor for many glassers, including yours truly,  is its cost to performance ratio. You get sublime Leica(alpha) quality at a fraction of the price of buying larger alpha binoculars. And because it works so well, my encounter with the little Leica Ultravid saved me a small fortune. I’d have to shell out more than a £1000 more to get a larger instrument of similar optical quality.

The Leica Ultravid BR 8 x 20 goes everywhere with me. I use it for birding with its generous 6.5 degree true field, examining objects at close distance(less than 2 metres) both indoors and out of doors, surveying the landscape, whether in a rural or urban setting, and I look forward to being able to visit theatres, museums and classical music concerts in the future with it, as the country opens up for life as normal. I have even used it productively observing the phases of the Moon at night. I would highly recommend this to readers who are wanting the best optical quality at a price that is considerably lower than going the traditional- think heavier – route. It certainly works for me!

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 

The Series 5 8 x 42; a wonderful, cost-effective instrument to study the starry heaven.

As binoculars move from pocket to mid-size formats, they become easier to make well, owing to less stringent design tolerances. The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 is a solid, mid-tier binocular that I use for general stargazing. Its larger 42mm objective lenses collects far more light than the Leica 8 x 20, and produces impressive wide field images of the night sky. It is also often employed observing the Moon, especially when clouds pass over it in the sky, producing wonderful, colourful light shows. Ergonomically, the Series 5 is easy to handhold for considerable periods of time, and with its very well corrected 8 degree true field of view, it’s a superb tool for scanning the Milky Way and observing larger deep sky objects such as the Pleiades, Hyades, the Sword Handle of Orion, the Beehive and Coma cluster, the Double Cluster in Perseus and the Great Andromeda Galaxy, to name but a few.

The Series 5 has a light-weight magnesium chassis, a silky smooth focuser – one of the best I’ve encountered, in fact, in a binocular in this price class – and very decent optics. Its very large field is very well corrected – a lot better than many other models I’ve sampled in this price range – with stars remaining satisfyingly sharp even near the field stop. The metallic twist-up eyecups overlaid with soft rubber are of high quality and maintain their positions well, affording an exceptionally comfortable viewing experience. And though I don’t use it much during the day, the Barr & Stroud Series 5 has excellent contrast with very aggressive control of veiling glare. Indeed, internal reflections are also exceptionally well controlled so that it can be used to observe well lit scenes at night without showing up annoying internal reflections and diffraction spikes.

When I want the steadiest views I can place it on a lightweight monopod or tripod to coax out the maximum amount of detail from a celestial scene. Indeed my own experiments show that when tripod mounted it can detect stars as much as a magnitude fainter than when hand held.  Overall, it fits the niche I have made for it very well indeed, and without breaking the bank.

The Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60

Excellent bang for buck: the Pentax PCF WPII 20 x 60.

The Pentax PCF WP II 20 x 60 is my very economically priced, high power binocular that functions in much the same way as a spotting ‘scope during daylight applications when I need greater magnifications to see stationary objects better at an extended distance, such as a small bird or a distant landmark. Though conventional spotting ‘scopes do employ a greater range of magnifications(typically 15x to 50x), the 20 x 60 allows me to use both eyes, which is a big advantage over a regular monocular ‘scope and somewhat makes up for the lack of power at the higher end of the magnification scale. Unlike a dedicated spotter, it can be stably mounted on a monopod( that can be collapsed telescopically), which is easier to carry about than a regular spotting ‘scope mount

This large Pentax Porro prism binocular is fairly lightweight for its specifications – just 1.2 kilos in all – so it’s rather easy to mount on a tripod or even a monopod for steadier views. The optical quality of this large achromatic binocular is very good, thanks to its fully multicoated specification and excellent baffling, which ensures very good light transmission in high contrast. Just like the Leica Ultravid, this Pentax also sports aspherical ocular lenses, which serves up a very well corrected vista, right to the edge of its 2.2 degree field of view. As one might expect from a binocular of this specification, it does show a little more chromatic aberration on high contrast targets but it’s never enough to be intrusive. As with the Leica Ultravid, this binocular has a small exit pupil of just 3mm so it’s widely lauded sharpness among its many enthusiasts may well be attributed to this design feature as well. Indeed, as I’ve noted before, this may well have been the aim of the designers of the legendaryTakahashi Astronomer(limited edition) 22 x 60, which has an even smaller exit pupil and field of view(2.1 angular degrees).

The 20 x 60 presents the Moon in stunning detail, with wonderful contrast and sharpness and only a sliver of secondary spectrum seen at the edge of the orb.. Indeed it is one of my favourite instruments to study its changing phases, from slender crescent right through to full phase. Selected deep sky objects such as the Pleiades, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Beehive Cluster, the Orion Nebula and large Messier open clusters like M36 through M38 in Auriga, as well as M35 in Gemini can be observed in glorious detail with this nifty instrument, with stars remaining sharp and undistorted right to the field stop.

Sometimes, I like to use the Pentax 20 x 60 to study colourful star fields and wider double and multiple stars. I’ve enjoyed stunning views of the Garnet Star, Mu Cephei, the lovely colour contrast pair, Albireo, as well as O1 & 2 Cygni, and the orange dwarves comprising 61 Cygni. Indeed, the sky is chock full of widely spaced binocular doubles well within the reach of this powerful binocular. It could keep you going for years!

I also employ the 20 x 60 to conduct all of my solar observations, recording sunspots using a pair of homemade white light solar filters. It produces the right combination of image scale, contrast and resolving power to get the job done. In addition, I may use it to search for and/or observe brighter comets which grace our night skies from time to time.

I have often thought about going larger in terms of light grasp, perhaps with a 70 or 80mm binocular,  but this would severely limit its portability and mine too. Thus, I regard the 20 x 60 as being at or near the limit of where I’m willing to go with two eyes, before I switch to monocular vision with my astronomical telescopes.

Well, as I bring this blog to a close, I hope you will more fully appreciate the choices I have made in pairing down the binoculars I intend to use in the coming years, and hope that it inspires you to find your own path through the complex binocular maze. There is a great satisfaction in finding the minimal set of instruments that fulfil all the requirements of a busy life in the great out of doors, a set of instruments that don’t cost the earth and yet satiate every desire I could wish for them. I used to enjoy perusing the colourful adverts of all kinds of binoculars in the glossy birding magazines, but these days I tend to ignore them; they just don’t offer any temptations that I would want to pursue, and that’s a good thing in my opinion!

Thanks for reading!

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR.

Defending limes

A work commenced March 19 2021

 

 

Product Name: Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR

Country of Origin: Portugal

Field of View: 110m @1000m(6.3 angular degrees) advertised, 113m@1000m(6.5 angular degrees measured)

Eye Relief: 15mm

IPD Range: 34-74mm

Close Focus: 1.8m (advertised and measured)

Exit Pupil: 2.5mm

Chassis Material: Rubber armoured aluminium/titanium

Coatings: Fully multi-coated, High Durable Coating(HDC),  phase correcting coating P40 , HighLux-System (HLS), AquaDura coatings applied to outer lenses.

Dioptre Range: +/- 3.5 dioptres(lockable)

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes to 5m

ED Glass: No

Weight: 245g(8.6 oz)

Dimensions: Folded W/H 6.0/9.3cm

Warranty: 10 Years

Accessories: Logoed Cordura case, eye caps, woven neck strap, test certificate, warranty card, instruction manual

Retail Price: £495-570 (UK), $749 (US)

 

 

Every now and then, something crosses your path that is truly remarkable and worthy of discussion, something that radically changes your perceived priorities when it comes to choosing the right equipment for your intended needs and purposes. Having thoroughly test-driven the smallest instrument in Leica’s Ultravid line of binoculars, I would have to concede that the 8 x 20 BR is one such instrument, as I hope to elaborate on at some length in this review blog.

When I began my exploration of the world of modern binoculars less than three short years ago, I was amazed what a relatively small financial outlay could buy you in terms of optical quality. As with telescopes, gone forever were the days when you couldn’t acquire decent optical performance without breaking the bank. As my curiosity for all things binocular grew however, so did my appetite for buying up and hoarding lots of different models – some very expensive in the scheme of things – to the extent that I soon recognised that my collection was getting far too large, and indeed was becoming a bit of an obsession.

The catalyst for this personal reflection started when I tested a Leica Triinovid HD 8 x 32 against a far less expensive Barr & Stroud Series 5  8 x 42 binocular. The latter proved to be very good indeed, with a very wide and well-corrected field of view (of the order of 8 angular degrees). Optically, the Series 5 was only marginally less sharp and contrasty compared with the Leica and much easier to use owing to its larger and more forgiving exit pupil and comparable mass(less than 100g heavier than the Leica HD). Ergonomically, it was no slouch either, with a magnesium alloy body, excellent focuser, high-quality twist up eye cups, and a nicely finished rubber armoured exterior. I rapidly grew very fond of this binocular after using it extensively on my walks, and wondered if I had made the right choice in going for the 8 x 32 Leica. After some reflection, I decided that I would part with the Leica glass and embrace the Series 5 as my mid-size binocular. of choice Since then, I’ve had no regrets. Indeed, I’ve completely ruled out buying a more expensive mid-size instrument, as the Series 5 8 x 42 fulfils all my needs from that binocular aperture class.

Incredulous? Why don’t you test drive it?

Thus began a selling off spree that radically reduced my binocular collection. But it also freed up funds to acquire a state-of-the-art pocket binocular that utterly amazed me from the moment I acquired it; enter the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR.

Leica make some seriously nice kit. I had experienced the optical wonders of no less than three Trinovid binoculars; two pocket glasses – the BCA 8 x 20 and 10 x 25 – and the larger HD 8 x 32. Built to last, with optics to write home every day about, it soon became clear to me that Leica were a world-class binocular maker, holding their own or even exceeding the best other optical giants in the field could offer, including Zeiss and Swarovski. I had sworn to myself that the optical performance of these two pocket binoculars was as good as I could possibly perceive with my average eyes, and that acquiring their Ultravid pocket glass would not be justified. But I was wrong about that!

The 8 x 20 BR was purchased from a reputable dealer – Cley Spy of Norwich, England. I got it for a good price – at least as this model retails for – £495 delivered. It arrived the next day in a very large box filled with paper and foam, surrounding a much tinier box containing the binocular and its accessories. As is typical of Leica products, everything was immaculately packed inside; the instrument snugly placed inside the Cordura pouch, with the neck strap, user manual, warranty card, and test certificate.

The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR; up close and personal.

As I discovered in testing lots of different binoculars of different sizes, I deduced that as the instrument gets larger, they are easier to make well owing to their less stringent design tolerances. This is especially true of 42mm class instruments and above, and it was self evidently the case when I tested the excellent Series 5 binocular marketed by Barr & Stroud. But the opposite is also true, the smaller the binocular, the harder it is to make well – and the tiniest ones of all are the most difficult of all to build. And that’s why they are quite expensive as binoculars go. That said, what Leica achieved in miniaturising almost all of the technologies that went into their large Ultravid models is nothing short of phenomenal! To see why, read on!

Ergonomics

The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR is beautifully made instrument, with a very solid feel in the hand. Weighing in at 243 grams, its frame is constructed from aircraft-grade aluminium  overlaid by a thick layer of easy-grip black rubber(whence its BR labelling). It has a dual hinge design, just like the Trinovid BCA models but has fixed stops that prevent it from unfolding too far unlike the latter. That said, it can be used by anyone; from kids to adults, with a wide range of inter-pupillary distances to suit most everyone’s face.

The eye cups twist up and click firmly into place with a very reassuring ‘thwack’ sound. There are no detents just like the Trinovid pocket glasses. You simply leave the eyecups down if you wear glasses or pull them out if you don’t. I personally love this arrangement, as I don’t like having multiple stops as you usually find on most larger binoculars. They are held rigidly in place and only retract after applying a firm downward force to the edges of the soft-rubber-clad padding on the top of the eye cups.

The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR can be deployed in seconds.

One slight gripe I have is that the left eye cup is harder to deploy than the one on the right. Indeed I have to twist them round as I pull them up to get them to deploy quickly( I don’t observe using eye glasses), but I suspect this will become slightly easier to do with more use. The eye relief is a decent 15mm, a full millimetre more than the 8 x 20 BCA Trinovid. This makes for very comfortable viewing and easier squaring on of one’s eyes with the small exit pupils. Eye glass wearers will also have no problem seeing the entire field with this instrument. I checked this with my varifocals on.

The Ultravid pocket glass has a lockable dioptre mechanism. You adjust it by pressing a small button under the bridge of the binocular just ahead of the focus wheel. When the button is pressed in, you rotate the focus wheel which is indicated by a dial on the focuser. But this must be carried out while looking through the right barrel of the binocular, which can be quite a tricky task, especially if you have large hands. Once the button is released the dioptre setting is locked in place and need not be adjusted again – at least in theory.

The lockable dioptre setting on the Ultravid is located under the bridge of the instrument and is a bit fiddly to adjust. Note also the lack of a numeric scale on the display.

Although I do acknowledge that this is a clever engineering solution, I believe it’s a bit  overkill, and a bit fiddly to boot, as I found the dioptre adjustment on the Trinovid BCAs to be perfectly adequate in comparison, located as it is on the right objective barrel of the latter instruments. Furthermore, I find I need to tweak the adjustment of the dioptre from time to time, and the Trinovid solution is much more amenable to this kind of micro-adjustment on the fly compared with the Ultravid. The other minor gripe I have with the lockable dioptre on the Ultravid pocket binocular pertains to the lack of a numeric index on the scale. If you already know how much to offset the dioptre from its zero position, and in which direction to rotate it – either plus or minus – you can just go ahead and move it to that position. But that’s not the case with the Ultravid dioptre. You’re simply left guessing which way to turn the dial when first adjusting it. Ho hum.

The large, centrally placed focus wheel on the Ultravid is a significant ergonomic advance over the Trinovid BCAs, which has a much smaller focuser in comparison, and which is especially noticeable when wearing gloves. It is very smooth but rather stiff, especially using one finger. Indeed, I find I like to use two fingers while rotating the focus wheel to get optimum momentum. Close focus was precisely measured at 1.8 metres, exactly as advertised, taking just 1.5 revolutions to go from one end of focus travel to the other. It also can focus just a little beyond infinity.

The objectives of the Ultravid are recessed just a tiny bit more – perhaps 3.5mm – than I remember on the 8 x 20 Trinovid BCA. And while still rather shallow, I’m grateful to have that small improvement, as it affords the objectives with a little bit more protection from rain, dust and peripheral light. You also don’t have to worry quite as much about standing them upright on a level surface in case the lenses get scratched.

The thick rubber armouring covering the aluminium chassis is applied via a novel vulcanisation process which ensures that it will not come loose from the metal even under the harshest conditions of cold or heat.

The slightly more deeply recessed objective lenses on the Ultravid 8 x 20 BR is a step in the right direction.

Optical Evaluation

First class ergonomics counts for nothing of course, unless the optical quality is up to scratch. Beginning with my iPhone torch light test to look for internal reflections, diffused light and diffraction spikes, I was relieved but not really surprised to see that it was every bit as good as the Trinovid binoculars, but did fall a little short of my Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 control. Specifically, when the torch was set to its brightest setting about 2.5 metres away, the Ultravid served up very clean images of the light beam with only the merest trace of faint internal reflections, and no diffused light that causes a haziness to develop around bright light sources. There was however, a more pronounced diffraction spike in comparison to my superlative Series 5 control binocular. When pointed at a bright sodium street lamp, the little Ultravid served up a lovely clean image, with no diffused light, and only the merest trace of faint internal reflections. I could not make out any diffraction spiking however. Here again, I thought the Series 5 images of the street lamp were that little bit cleaner but the results for the Ultravid pocket glass was more than satisfactory.

The torch test never tells the full story however, as it doesn’t test for veiling glare, one of my pet peeves concerning binocular optics. Veiling glare comes mostly from on high lol, and is seen most easily in daylight in an open area away from the shading canopy of trees and observation hides. It occurs when light from above strikes the edges of the lenses in the objective causing a contrast-robbing veil of glare to manifest in the image. In addition, I discovered yet another source of veiling glare, not reported before in the literature to my knowledge, while testing binoculars during bright sunny winter days, with fresh snowfall underfoot. Under such conditions, the highly reflective snow adds to the veiling glare by causing the upper edges of the binocular objectives to add a significant additional source of this annoying stray light. It is easily detected by pointing a binocular high up in a tree canopy against a bright overcast sky. It also shows up in strongly backlit scenes, such as near a low-lying Sun.

The Leica Ultravid BR 8 x 20 exhibits excellent control of stray light and veiling glare but  is not quite as good as my superlative Barr & Stroud Series 5 8x 42 control binocular.

Well, I was absolutely amazed when I tested the Ultravid 8x 20 BR for this phenomenon! It proved excellent in supressing veiling glare; certainly in a different league altogether to the Trinovid BCAs and quite comparable to my Series 5 8 x 42 control binocular! Leica have really done their homework on this model and it is one of the major contributing factors to its optical excellence. Of course, while no binocular yet made can completely eliminate veiling glare, with pocket binoculars being particularly sensitive to it, the little Leica Ultravid is certainly the best pocket glass I’ve yet tested for this by some considerable margin. Leica binoculars are well known in the industry for their very aggressive control of stray light, being ahead of some other premium manufacturers such as Zeiss and Swarovski in this department. Well done Leica!

The field of view of the 8 x 20 Ultravid is advertised(as in the user manual) as 110m@1000m or about 6.3 angular degrees. I discovered however, that the true value is nearer 6.5 angular degrees or 113m@1000m. This I ascertained by imaging a star field at night. The Plough asterism provides a convenient test; specifically the distance between Mizar and Alkaid is a precisely known 6.66 angular degrees, and I was able to see that the Ultravid almost captures both stars in the same field; not quite but very nearly! The result is not surprising, as I’ve found that many manufacturers misquote their fields of view, but mostly to over-estimate field size.

From the moment I picked up the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR, I was deeply impressed with the images it served up. Even before tweaking the dioptre adjustment on the instrument it was showing an intensely sharp, bright and well corrected field. The lack of any glare has the effect of peeling away another layer that brings out the finest details in the image. I would describe the effect as being rather like going from a mediocre 7 element  eyepiece to one of the highest optical quality with just 3 or 4 elements. You can really see the contrast and sharpness gain immediately!

The Ultravid serves up a slightly brighter image than the Trinovid BCAs owing to its superior light transmission. Some independent testing by others have estimated its transmittivity to be of the order of 90+ per cent across much or all of the visible spectrum, even exceeding 94 per cent at green visual wavelengths (~550nm). In another test carried out on a larger first generation 10 x 42 Ultravid, a transmission value of 88 +/-3 per cent was measured.

Colour correction is excellent. Indeed, I have yet to see any secondary spectrum from this binocular, even after testing in very challenging light conditions. In good light, the colour rendition of the image is very rich and vivid but also stays natural. Greens and yellows are particularly vivid in this instrument – an observation I’ve made before with the Trinovid binoculars. Depth of focus is also very impressive in this 8 x  20, with objects beyond about 50 yards being in sharp focus and only requiring the tiniest tweak of the focus wheel for optimum results.

The other thing that was immediately noticeable to me was the flatness of the image across the field, with off-axis performance being particularly impressive. There is noticeably less edge distortion in the Ultravid pocket glass in comparison to the Trinovid BCA glasses(which are already very good). Furthermore, this was not only true horizontally but also vertically(hardly ever tested by users).  What is especially remarkable is that all of this is achieved without employing extra low dispersion (ED) glass elements!

This is not just hearsay. In an optical matter like this it’s always best to consult with the manufacturer. I contacted Leica Sports Optics UK, asking for information on this matter, and I got this reply:

Dear Neil,

Nice to hear from you!

We are glad to hear that you are impressed with the Ultravid. As you correctly guessed, the Ultravid 8×20 BR doesn’t have an extra-low dispersion element like the bigger “HD” Ultravid. Despite this, the compact Ultravid features aspherical elements that greatly reduce colour fringing and increase sharpness.

Please let us know if you have any more questions.

Best wishes,
Tizia

Tizia Barci
E-Commerce Manager| Leica Camera UK

So, there you have it! That extraordinary sharpness and excellent colour fidelity of the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR is achieved using specialised aspherical elements built into the eyepieces most likely, but maybe elsewhere in the optical train. But it also serves as a reminder to those who think the addition of ED glass somehow makes a binocular magically better or brighter.

Absolutely untrue!

The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 is arguably the world’s best achromatic binocular! 

But I believe there is yet another ingredient that contributes to the extraordinary image quality of the Leica Ultravid  8 x 20, and it pertains to the small exit pupil. The aberrations in the human eye increase as the exit pupil increases. This enables you to take in more light of course, but with the added disadvantage of introducing more aberrations. For normal daylight observations for much of the year, the exit pupil reduces to between 2 and 3mm, so there is no big optical advantage in using a binocular that serves up a larger exit pupil. Furthermore, because you are sampling the image with the best corrected part of the eye, the image does present as unusually sharp and well defined.  Again, this is not mere opinion. Studies have shown the same thing!  Thus, when you are using the Ultravid 8 x 20, you are delivering a very well corrected image to the best part of your eye.

Note added in proof: It’s amazing how some so-called ‘experienced’ folk discover the virtues of a small exit pupil after the fact!

Of course, all of this comes with some trade-offs; small exit pupils make it harder to align your eyes with the small light shaft emerging from the binocular making them more fastidious in regard to precise eye placement, with the result that some glassers report blackouts as the eye becomes misaligned with the exit pupil. This makes them unsatisfactory to some users, but I find this is a skill that most glassers can easily learn. You get better with practice! And because there are no collimation issues with these mechanically robust instruments, eye fatigue even after prolonged use is minimised.

Trust but Verify

Don’t be a snowflake: the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR submerged in a bowl of tap water for 10 minutes.

Unlike the Trinovid BCA pocket glasses, which are splash proof, meaning that they can handle light rain, they are not water proof in the same way that the Leica Ultravid  pocket glass is. Indeed, the latter is advertised in the user manual as being watertight to a depth of 5 metres(16.4 feet). Judging by its excellent build quality, I had no real reason to doubt this but decided to conduct a simple submersion test with the Ultravid, by placing it in a bowl of tap water and leaving it there for 10 minutes before retrieving it and letting it dry naturally. To my relief, it presented no problems whatsoever. The binocular remained bone dry inside with nary a sign of any trapped moisture.

I can also confirm that the AquaDura coatings applied to the outer lenses work very well indeed, by testing against another pocket glass with no such coating. Remarkably, even though the ocular lenses were of the same diameter, it took about six times longer to disperse a fog breathed on the surfaces of the control binocular in comparison with the Ultravid. I found a short youtube clip showing AquaDura strutting its stuff. You can see that clip right here.

In yet another test, I placed the little Ultravid inside a small tupperware container and left it inside a freezer at -20C for an hour. Despite being covered in ice crystals, the focus wheel remained smooth and functional, and the optical glass showed no signs of stress, so the instrument should be reliable in these extremely cold conditions.

These features really add to the robustness of the binocular. You needn’t worry about rain or rivers, or even whether the binocular will fog or freeze-up on even the coldest winter days

What does all of this give the owner? In a phrase, peace of mind!

 

Notes from the Field

The very first thing I did after giving the Leica Ultravid BR 8 x 20 a quick once-over was to affix the strap. Unlike the neoprene neckstrap that attends the Trinovid BCA binoculars, the Ultravid carry strap is fashioned from fine woven cotton. It’s quite comfortable but there is no provision to quickly remove it by unclipping it from the binocular like you can do with the Trinovids. With such a small and expensive instrument as this, one doesn’t want to tempt fate and drop it while you’re using it. Getting that strap on gives you that little bit of extra security.

Though there has been a tendency for sports optics manufacturers to provide ever wider and wider fields of view, I feel very fortunate indeed not to have been caught up with that rat race. The 113m@1000m field of view is plenty wide enough for most any outdoor activity. Leica binoculars have wonderfully delineated field stops that give the distinct impression that you’re looking into a finely textured landscape painting. I have referred to these picture paintings as vignettes and derive great joy framing objects in the landscape that present the finest blend of colour, light and contrast. It might be a tree trunk covered with moss or lichens, a rocky river bank, a cascading waterfall, a craggy outcrop on the summit of a hill catching the last golden rays of a setting Sun,  the delicate stone masonry of old, abandoned farm houses and water mills. The Scottish rural landscape is studded with such visual marvels.

The Ultravid 8 x 20 a fine binocular for birding. The very next morning after receiving the instrument, I took myself off for a quick walk down by the river. Frequent rain had replenished the streams that fed into the Endrick and many of its drier spots were now covered in fast flowing water. It was on this occasion that I came across a brand new species I had never laid eyes on before; a plump little Dipper. Presenting with a snow white breast and throat, a truncated tail and short wings, a jet black nape and mantle, and a ring of chocolate brown plumage on its lower belly, it sat on a rock in the middle of the rapids, bobbing its head up and down as if contemplating its next dive into the water. I got quite close to it- within about 15 yards or so- but the little Ultravid presented the creature in exquisite detail. I watched in amazement as it submerged itself in the water, disappearing for a few tens of seconds before coming back to the surface.

Of course, at the time, I had no idea it was a Dipper. It was only afterwards when I rummaged through my RSPB handbook, that I finally knew what I was observing. Apparently they are fairly common in rural waterways, but are quite elusive owing to their small size and tendency to remain submerged for long periods. They are supremely adapted to life underwater, another book informed me, having denser bones than normal which decreases their buoyancy. They actually walk along the bottom of the river seeking their next meal. How ingenious!

The next sighting I had of the Dipper was on the early evening of St. Patrick’s Day, nearly two weeks after my maiden sighting, but after that a longish dry spell put paid to any more visits. But after a day of rain on March 24, a short dry spell in the evening coaxed me back outside and down to the river to see if the Dipper would return; and sure enough it had! But it wasn’t just one – there were two Dippers enjoying the fresh rainwater. I had learned that pairs begin nesting at this time of year and usually set up home within a metre of water. As one bobbed frantically on a rock in the middle of the river, the other took to flight, hovering just a few inches out from the rock, calling its mate with a high pitched ‘zit zit zit’ sound. And then I watched as they took their turns scuba diving. What a wonderful treat to see such marvellous creatures just a short stroll from my home.

But the rain changes the behaviour of other birds too. I had learned quite some time ago that crows and ravens, wood pigeons, common and black-headed gulls, and even the odd Buzzard descend on the rugby fields annexed to the village sports centre in search of juicy earthworms that tend to come near the surface after prolonged rainy spells. The Ultravid has provided some sterling views of these avian species and their great inventiveness for finding grub.

The natural world pays little or no attention to what humans do. Thank God for that!

Can you imagine if nature turned as wicked and destructive as human souls have become?

God forbid!

Will animals and plants accompany redeemed humanity in the New Creation?

I would like to think so!

 

Another memorable birding event occurred on the afternoon of March 22, when a walk to my local pond in the grounds of Culcreuch Castle revealed a young Cormorant perched on a branch of a fallen conifer tree at the water’s edge. When I first caught sight of it, it was about 120 yards distant at the northwestern corner of the pond. Its relative youth was all too easy to discern owing to its light coloured underparts. When I tried to get a closer look, I frightened off some Mallard ducks that immediately took to flight, and the somewhat anxious Cormorant headed for the water, and began to swim away from me. This is not the first time I had chanced upon seeing a Cormorant at Culcreuch Pond. More than a year had passed since seeing one(an adult), where it remained for several weeks before moving on. Alas, a long staycation was not on this bird’s mind, as several visits to the pond over the next couple of days showed up nothing.

Unexpected Findings

The reader may recall that I subjected the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR to a water submersion test on March 23 2021. Specifically, I placed the binocular in a bowl of tap water for 10 minutes, after which I left it dry naturally. I reported that I encountered no problems after it had dried. The binocular seemed to pass the test flawlessly. In the coming days, I used the instrument on a daily basis and still encountered no problems. But things changed on the afternoon of March 29, when I noticed a marked drop in contrast while glassing some Dippers in the local river. Puzzled, I examined the objective lenses and discovered, to my horror, that one of them had completely fogged up!  Worst still, when I got home and inspected the optic more thoroughly, I noticed that the prisms had also fogged up!

Deeply concerned, I took a couple of photos to document what I understood to be clear evidence of a water leak, which took several days to manifest itself!

The Leica Ultravid 8x 20 BR showing an internally fogged up objective lens.

The internal prism also shows internal fogging.

The next morning I contacted the seller, informing them of my findings and also including the two photographs of the instrument featured above. They asked me to box up the instrument and send it back to them via a courier pickup they had arranged for it. They agreed to dispatch a replacement for the clearly defective instrument upon receipt of the defective binocular. The replacement binocular was received on the evening of April 7 2021. Thank you Cley Spy! To be honest, the whole experience was a bit of a shock for me. I mean, the instrument was meant to be water tight to a depth of 5 metres. In reality, it couldn’t withstand a simple submersion in just a few centimetres of water for 10 minutes!

Will I be checking the water tightness of the replacement binocular?

Are you nuts?

No.

But it does raise all sorts of questions in my head. Maybe this was just a fluke; an unfortunate one-off? But what if it wasn’t? If a leading binocular manufacturer such as Leica can have slip ups like this one, what chance do lesser manufacturers have in this regard?  How many other brands claim to be water proof and are not? Are you willing to test your investment? Is it really correct to designate the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR  as water tight to 5 metres? If so, for how long exactly? 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute? And if it’s not water tight, it can’t be air tight either. How long will the dry nitrogen pumped into it realistically remain?

At this stage in the game, I am only confident to assign the term ‘splash proof’ to this binocular and thus must tread more carefully with it than I had initially intended!

Having said all of this, I’m very grateful for the replacement binocular and remain suitably impressed with the instrument’s mechanical and optical quality.

Intended Usage

The tiny Leica Ultravid 8x 20 BR fits snugly inside the small clamshell case with a sachet of silica gel to keep it bone dry while being stored.

The Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR is to become my most used binocular for daytime use. Its superb optics in a small, ultra-portable package makes it the ideal companion for walks, treks through the forest, hill walking and birdwatching. It has replaced my two Trinovid binoculars – the 8 x 32 HD and 10 x 25 – and thus represents a significant cost-saving measure. My larger binoculars will be used exclusively for low-light and night time use, where greater light gathering power is an obvious advantage. I will store the instrument in my small clamshell hard case, with a fresh sachet of desiccant enclosed; the.same shell I used to store my long-gone, but missed; 8 x 20 Trinovid. Unlike the supplied Leica soft storing pouch, this smaller, tougher and  less expensive caddy can be zipped closed, keeping the instrument away from dust and moisture while not in use. I hope to write considerably more about my adventures with this small binocular in the months ahead, Lord willing.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Neil.

 

 

Neil English is the author of seven books on amateur and professional astronomy.

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Barr & Stroud Series 5, 8 x 42 Binocular.

The Barr& Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 package.

A work commenced March 2 2021

 

Product Name: Barr & Stroud Series 5, 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Field of View: 142m@ 1000m (8.14 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 17.2mm

Close focus: 2m advertised(1.78m measured)

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Chassis: rubber armoured magnesium

Coatings: fully multi-coated,  BaK 4 phase corrected roof prisms, water repelling coatings on outer lenses.

Dioptre range: +/- 4

Waterproof: Yes (1.5m for 3 minutes)

ED Glass: No

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 716g

Dimensions H/W: 15.4/12.6cm

Warranty: 10 years

Accessories: Hard clamshell case, lens cleaning cloth, rain guard and objective lens covers, quality padded neck strap, generic instruction sheet, warranty card.

Retail Price: £160-£200 UK

Ever since I was first introduced to Barr & Stroud by a village acquaintance, I’ve been singularly impressed with their line of roof prism binoculars. The Sahara range is one of the best options you can buy for under £80 and even these give you perhaps 60 per cent of what any premium binocular of similar specifications can offer up. Why can I assert that with confidence? Because technology has advanced so much now that even budget binoculars today vastly outperform premium instruments produced just a few decades ago. Advances in mechanical and optical engineering are now providing the budget consumer with instruments that are fully multi-coated, with phase corrected roof prisms, full waterproofing and purged with dry nitrogen to prevent internal fogging. Coupled to all of that are advances in material science, which enable the binocular manufacturer to create solidly constructed chassis fashioned from light weight metallic alloys like magnesium, titanium and aluminium, as well as synthetic polymers. Taken together, these advances mean that there has never been a better time to purchase a quality binocular at a price that won’t break the bank.

Having sampled various binoculars from Barr & Stroud, including the Sahara, Sierra and the Savannah range, I am more convinced than ever that this company employ staff that have advanced or even specialised knowledge in optical design. As I’ve explained in a few previous blogs, Barr & Stroud once enjoyed an illustrious reputation for delivering fine optical products to the British Navy during two world wars. With the advent of increased globalism in the post-war era, the company ceased trading independently in the late 1970s, but in 2008 the company was re-registered Barr & Stroud under its new parent company, Optical Vision Limited.

I surmised that any firm that created state-of-the-art optics for the British Navy would also know a thing or two about making rugged and long-lasting instruments that worked in the harshest environments and under very severe lighting conditions. They would therefore know how to suppress glare and internal reflections, how to hermetically seal off optics from the elements and how to build instruments that would stand the test of time, even if they are manufactured and assembled in China. All of these considerations came flooding back to me as I began testing one of their most advanced models; the Series 5, 8 x 42.

I purchased the binocular from a reputable dealer, the Birder’s Store in Worcester, England. I paid £159.95, which included a free two-day delivery to my home. That was a very good price, as other outlets were selling the same binocular for £200 +. I have learned the hard way about buying more pricey binoculars from mass market outlets like Amazon, which seem to have inventories that often have mechanical and/or optical deficiencies which ultimately leave you cold.  Reputable dealers, in contrast, get stocked with the best gear from any given range so you can be much more confident of obtaining a properly functioning instrument if purchased via these routes.

First Impressions

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 is a handsome instrument that feels good and solid in the hand.

The instrument arrived double boxed, with everything packed away safe and securely.  Unzipping the hard clamshell case revealed the binocular packaged inside a plastic bag. From the moment I held it in my hand, I could see it was a well-designed instrument, quite conventionally styled, and at 715g, weighing in more than 100g lighter than the Savannah 8 x 42 binocular I showcased very favourably in another review. The chassis is constructed from a magnesium alloy overlaid with a thick rubber substrate for extra grip.

Though it sports much of the same optical specifications as the Savannah 8 x 42, the ergonomics of the Series 5 are a good step up from the Savannah. For one thing, the dioptre ring is situated back under the right eyepiece, which is more sensibly placed than that of the Savannah series, which placed the dioptre setting just ahead of the central focusing knob. The dioptre ring is quite rigid and difficult to turn and so is not likely to get out of place easily.

The focuser on the Series 5 is remarkable, easily the best I’ve encountered in models costing as much as three times its modest retail price. It is buttery smooth, completely backlash free and very easy to grip owing to the textured rubber covering its all-metal construction. Unlike a few other models I’ve tested which possessed an outwardly similar appearing focus wheel, you don’t hear the sound of cheap glue unhinging from the internal focusing mechanism as you hone in on your object of study.  I’ve noted several times before that Barr & Stroud (B & S) produce binoculars with excellent focusing knobs and this one is no exception. Indeed, I would rate it of higher quality than its counterpart on the Savannah series and just a notch below my state-of-the-art Leica Trinovid 8 x 32 HD. In addition, I would describe the focuser speed as slow to progressive, moving through just over two full rotations going from one end of its focus travel to the other. It also focuses beyond infinity- a useful attribute that helps tweak edge-of-field images as and when required.

The focus wheel on the Series 5 8 x 42 is a work of art. Exceptionally smooth, backlash-free and a joy to turn.

The eyecups are made from metal overlaid with soft rubber and twist up in three stages. The eye relief on this instrument is a very generous 17.2mm, ample enough for eye-glass wearers to engage with the vast majority of the field. They are quite firm once locked in place, though I have noticed that the left eye cup is not quite as rigid as its right eye counterpart. They are less rigid, for example, than those found on the Celestron Trailseeker and Nikon Prostaff 7s series.  As a reasonably experienced binocular user, I felt a bit of anxiety over this issue, as I like my eyecups to be absolutely rigid and don’t want to wake up one day soon to find it fails to lock at all. I would have liked if B & S took some time in designing the eyecups so that they would hold their positions as rigidly as possible.

A good test for eye cup strength. If they can withstand the weight of the binocular whilst fully extended, they’re probably OK to go.

The fully multi-coated objective lenses are deeply recessed, conferring extra protection from rain, dust and stray light.

The objectives are deeply recessed, as all good mid-sized binoculars ought to be.

The accessories that attend this Series 5 binocular are also of good quality. You get a nicely padded neck strap adorned with the B & S logo, snugly fitting rubber rain guards and tethered objective covers that protect the instrument from the elements as well as from accidental scratching.

The B & S Series 5 also boasts a hydrophobic coating applied to the outer lenses which causes any accumulated moisture to pool and run off / evaporate quickly. I tested to see if this was the case by performing a simple breath test on the ocular lens and comparing it to an untreated lens surface. In the picture shown below, I can reveal that the ocular lens on the Series 5 binocular dispersed the fog about twice as quickly as my control binocular, a Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32. Even though the latter has a smaller ocular lens surface area, the fog dispersed faster on the Series 5. Impressive stuff!

The fog test shows the Series 5 (bottom) does have a hydrophobic coating that disperses moisture faster than a non-coated ocular lens( top). Both ocular lenses were fogged up at the same time.

Optical Evaluation

In order to be objective as possible, I decided to carry out tests of the Series 5 binocular alongside my control instrument; a Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32. My first impression of the Series 5 8 x 42 showed a lovely bright, sharp, high-contrast image with a huge field of view and a very large sweet spot. Depth of focus is excellent, with anything beyond about 60 yards remaining in sharp focus and only requiring the merest tweak to obtain optimal results. Handling is superb. The focus wheel is beautifully responsive and focuses down to about 1.78m – that’s significantly closer than advertised (2m), but not as good as the class-leading 0.95m the Leica Trinovid is capable of. Contrast and colour saturation in both binoculars was excellent with the nod going to the Leica, which has a more neutral colour tone compared to the slightly warmer tone of the Series 5. The Leica had better off-axis performance than the Series 5 however, with less pronounced pincushion distortion, lateral colour and field curvature. That said, it must be noted that the Leica has a considerably smaller field of view than the Series 5 – 7.12 vs 8.14 angular degrees, respectively.

The Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 (left) compared with the Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 (right).

Performing my iPhone bright light torch test revealed superb results for both instruments. The image was clean, with no significant internal reflections in either instrument, no diffused light and the merest trace of a weak diffraction spike. The same was true when I pointed both binoculars at a bright sodium light after dark.  The image was crystal clear with no diffused light, internal reflections and diffraction spikes. To be honest, I was actually expecting such a result for the Series 5, as several other tests I carried out on their less expensive Savannah series also yielded excellent results. These tests affirmed what I observed in my preliminary comparison of the two binoculars during a quick daylight evaluation.

But there was still more excellent results when I tested the Series 5 alongside the Leica glass for veiling glare. This is easily evaluated by pointing the instrument upwards at some tree tops against a bright, overcast sky. I am delighted to report that the Series 5 was every bit as good as the superlative Leica Trinovid in this regard. Taken together, these are excellent results that set the Series 5 well ahead of other binoculars costing significantly more, including the Viking ED Kestrel and Merlin, the Zeiss Terra 8 x 25 pocket, and way ahead of the otherwise beautifully designed Leica Trinovid BCA 10  x 25. Barr & Stroud have really delivered wonderful performance in the suppression of internal reflections, glare and lens flare; an amazing result when you also factor in its modest retail pricing!

The Camera Never Lies

After acquiring a neat new binocular mounting platform and digi-binning gadget I was able to capture images through the Series 5 and Leica Trinovid, enabling me to more objectively assess the optics of both instruments. And here again, the Series 5  stepped up to the mark!

The binocular mounting platform used to take images with my iPhone.

Below is an image taken of the wood carving in a tree located some 60 yards away as seen through the Series 5 8 x 42. The images are completely unprocessed; just the raw images as they were shot through my iPhone mated to the digi-binning adapter.

iPhone image of wood carving through the Series 5 8x 42 binocular.

The next image is shot though the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32  under the same conditions.

Image taken through Leica Trinovid HD 8x 32.

You can see that the Leica has the edge in terms of image sharpness, colour saturation and edge of field correction, but what’s remarkable to me is how good the Series 5 binocular has turned out!

I took another set of images of some wooden steps located about 20 yards away. The first image was taken through the Series 5 8 x 42.

Close up of some wooden steps taken with the Series 5 8x 42.

And here is the same target at the same scale taken at the same time with the Leica Trinovid HD 8x 32.

Image of the same steps taken through the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32.

The Series 5 image has a warmer tone than the Leica, but I think that there is little to differentiate them in terms of sharpness. The Series 5 shows a little more chromatic aberration in high contrast areas than the Leica but if you look carefully at the images, you’ll find some secondary spectrum in both glasses. All that having been said, the view through the binoculars using your eyes is far better than what the camera picks up. Bear in mind that your eyes were created to accommodate things like field curvature, chromatic aberration, and other optical defects far more effectively than an Iphone camera.

Now let’s compare prices: the Leica costs nearly 5 times the retail price of the Series 5 Barr & Stroud!

The exit pupils in both barrels of the Series 5 Barr & Stroud are nice bright circles, indicative that the optics have not been truncated. Also check out the nice dark areas immediately around them! Very nice indeed!

Right eye exit pupil.

Left eye pupil.

 

Further Notes from the Field

The Series 5 feels really good and sturdy in my middle-sized hands. It is supremely comfortable and immersive to look through, a consequence of the large exit pupil of the instrument. I’m also quite fond of the colour tone the Series 5 throws up. Once again I was reminded of why this particular configuration of binocular is close to being the ideal all-round instrument used by the naturalist. Even though it has a very large field of view, the level of correction it achieves is very impressive. While a lot of binoculars presenting this size of field have very blurry edges, the Series 5 field is pretty much useable from centre to edge. The focus wheel rotates at a speed roughly mid-way between a good hunting bino(slow) and a birding bino(fast), making it ideal for both activities. I measured the size of the true field under the stars. I was just able to fit the two stars in the Big Dipper – Phecda and Merak  – into the same field.  These are separated by 7 degrees 54 arc minutes(7.9 degrees), thus a little under the advertised field size of 8.1 angular degrees.

The reduced mass compared to the Savannah series is also very noticeable, enabling it to be worn for longer in the field before neck strain sets in. The padded neck strap also increases the level of comfort afforded to this binocular.

The instrument begins to pull ahead of my 8 x 32 Leica Trinovid shortly before sunset, where its larger aperture and greater exit pupil size transmit more light to the eye as dusk progresses. It’s also considerably better as an astronomical instrument than the 8 x 32, pulling in more starlight across a noticeably wider field of view. I enjoyed some spellbinding views of the Beehive cluster, the Belt stars and Sword Handle of Orion, the magnificent Pleaides and Hyades and many other celestial sights. It’s also an excellent moon-gazing binocular, throwing up the most gorgeous pastels as clouds approach and recede from it on a windy night.

Conclusions & Recommendations

An exceptional binocular at an exceptional price!

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 is a remarkable instrument in a number of respects. The images it serves up are very sharp, bright and show very high contrast with impressive depth of field. The field of view is very large and well corrected, with only a little peripheral softness. The binocular also shows exceptional control of glare and internal reflections. Ergonomically, the Series 5 is a joy to use, with an exceptionally smooth and precise focus wheel and a very tight right eye dioptre which rigidly stays in place. The instrument feels solidly made, with high quality twist-up eye cups and with its large exit pupil, easy to align with one’s eyes. And on the night sky, the 8 x 42  is vastly superior to any 8 x 32.

My experience with this Series 5  has led me to re-evaluate my current inventory of mid-size binoculars. Indeed, with a heavy heart, I must concede that it is a better general-purpose instrument than the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32. Indeed, the only real advantages the Trinovid has going for it pertain to its lower mass and slightly smaller frame, but if I’m being honest, these differences are not enough to justify staying with the 8 x 32 format.

I would highly recommend this binocular to birders, hunters and other nature enthusiasts who want maximum bang for the buck. If you’re thinking of getting a more expensive brand, I would encourage others to test-drive the Series 5  first before parting with their hard-earned cash. Incidentally, Barr & Stroud also market an ED version of the same instrument; that is, you get the same ergonomics with an extra-low dispersion objective element for about £70-100 more. Would I be interested in the ED version? No, for reasons that I have explained in a number of previous blogs. My eyes are perfectly sated with the achromatic version of this binocular, but your mileage may vary!

A very valuable addition to my binocular collection!

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy, who currently is enjoying a new lease of life exploring the fascinating world of binoculars. If you like his work, why not consider buying one of his books or by making a small donation to the upkeep of his website so that he can keep bringing you more of what you like.

 

 

De Fideli.

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.