Product Review: Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 25 Pocket Binocular.

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 25 package.

A Work Commenced September 24 2021

 

 

Product: Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 25

Country of Manufacture: China

Field of View: 119m @1000m(6.8 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 13mm

Exit Pupil: 3.13mm

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 3 dioptres

Close Focus: 2m (advertised) 3.02 m measured

Chassis: Rubber armoured Magnesium Alloy

Coatings: Fully broadband Multicoated, phase corrected and silvered BaK-4 Schmidt Pechan Roof Prisms.

ED Glass: No

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (1.5m for 3 mins)

Inter-pupillary Distance: 38-72mm

Dimensions: 10.8×10.6×4.3cm

Weight: 296g advertised(310g measured).

Warranty: 10 years

Supplied Accessories: Tethered objective lens caps, rain guard,  carry strap and protective carrying case, instruction sheet, warranty card.

Price: £99.00(UK)

 

Binoculars are life enriching tools. They bring the world a whole lot closer, revealing details of the natural world that fascinate a curious mind. In my three year walk through the fascinating world of binocular optics, I have identified binocular categories that interest me more than others, and one of these is the so-called pocket binocular:- small (less than 30mm) aperture, ultraportable units that can be be folded up and stored in an ordinary pocket, where they can go with you where ever your curiosity carries you.

Of all the categories of binoculars I’ve explored, it is arguably pocket binoculars that I have bought in and tested the most. The pocket binocular market is growing rapidly, especially since the onset of the pandemic, where people began pursuing new hobbies and new pursuits to entertain themselves. Top companies like Leica, Zeiss and Swarovski have been constantly updating and improving their pocket binocular range. For example, Swarovski Optik has recently introduced an even smaller pocket binocular than their well-thought-of CL Pocket range. Called the CL Curio, it’s a 7 x 21mm model, with an impressive 7.7 angular degree field of view. Curiously, the 7 x 21 Curio is now about £100 more expensive than the larger CL pockets!

Not so long ago, it wasn’t really possible to acquire excellent optical quality from a pocket binocular without paying a heavy financial outlay. But astounding advances in optical technology has changed that forever. More and more cost-effective models are now being launched to cater for the public’s growing appetite for portable optical excellence. As a case in point, I wish to discuss the ergonomic and optical properties of a new line of pocket binoculars launched by Barr & Stroud, and in particular, the Series 5 8 x 25 model I bought in for field testing.

The all new Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 25 pocket binocular.

First Impressions

The package arrived double boxed, well protected from knocks and bumps. Inside I was excited to see a scaled down box used by Barr & Stroud in the packaging of their larger Series 5 binoculars. When I removed the 8 x 25 from its black soft padded case, I was delighted to see that this little instrument was very well made. The tough, Magnesium alloy chassis is overlaid by a British racing car green rubber armouring, with wonderful side texturing for more secure gripping.

The textured rubber side armouring of 8x 25 Series 5 is very easy to grip.

Although the supplied carry strap was not of the highest quality, I decided instead to borrow the lanyard from my Leica Ultravid when carrying out field tests of the Series 5 8 x 25.That said, getting the lanyard through the strap lugs was a little frustrating, as they are very narrow.

What I found most endearing however, was the petite tetherable rubber rain guards and objective lens covers that attended the instrument.

How sweet is that! The little Series 5 8 x 25 comes with high quality tethered rubber rain guard and objective covers.

Ergonomics

Tipping the scales at just over 300g, this is a light weight binocular by most anyone’s standards. It has a dual hinge design, which means that it can be folded down into a pocket sized package for easy transport. Because the hinges have firm stops on them, they are best aligned with your eyes simply by swinging the left barrel all the way out to the stop and then swinging the right barrel into position until the images merge. I’ve found that this is the easiest and most consistent way to get perfect alignment with your eyes without having to fiddle too much with the binocular.

The dioptre ring is located under the right ocular. It moves smoothly and has a satisfying amount of friction to keep it firmly in place. The dioptre ring is also clearly marked with plus and minus symbols that help you quickly find and make a mental note of your preferred setting.

The dioptre ring is easy to grip and moves smoothly, with just the right amount of tension. The twist up eyecups are made from machined metal overlaid with soft rubber.

The twist-up eyecups are nicely made and comfortable to use. Like most pocket binoculars, there are no intermediate positions. They are either pushed up or down, and they stay in place.

The objectives are quite deeply recessed for a pocket binocular – a very good move in my opinion – as this protects the lenses from rain, dust and stray light.

The objective lenses on the Series 5 8 x 25 are nicely recessed for added protection against the elements and stray light.

The ocular field lenses are a little smaller than those found on say the Zeiss Terra, for example, and more reminiscent of those found on less expensive models, such as the Olympus WP II or Kowa SV DCF, which initially concerned me, as I remember not having much fun with either of those. But as it turned out, my concerns were completely put to rest when I started to look through the little Barr & Stroud glass, as we shall see a little later.

The ocular field lens on the Series 5 8 x 25 are smaller than those found on other 8 x 25 units, such as the Zeiss Terra pocket glasses.

The focus wheel is nice and large and easily accessible in the middle of the bridge. It can be operated perfectly using a single finger and moves very smoothly, with no backlash or stiction, turning through about one and half revolutions from one end of its focus travel to the other.

The central focus wheel is located on the bridge and is beautifully designed. It moves very smoothly using just one finger.

In the hands, the binocular is easy to hold steady. To my mind, it has very similar ergonomics to the Swarovski CL pocket models, but with the focus wheel pushed further forward on the bridge. Compared with say the Zeiss Terra pockets, for example, the Barr & Stroud Series 5 mini glasses have a better and more robust build quality. All in all, the Series 5 8 x 25 gets high marks for fit, finish as well as handling, but what about the optics?

Optical Evaluation

The Series 5 8 x 25 arrived perfectly collimated. Examining the exit pupils in both barrels shows good circularity, with a nice annulus of dark surrounding them.

Left eye pupil.

.…and right eye pupil.

As I said on previous occasions, pocket binoculars are harder to make well in comparison to larger ones, owing to their much less forgiving design tolerances. That’s why so many pocket binos don’t pass muster, especially if you keep your budget low. That also explains why good pocket glasses are relatively expensive; good designs require real skill to execute and those skills need to be rewarded!

So, it was with some trepidation that I began to test this new Series 5 8 x 25, as I was hoping that at least some of the same magic that went into the larger models would also be inherited by these pocket glasses. Well, as soon as I brought the instrument to my eyes, I was amazed to see a brilliant, sharp and high contrast image, full of rich details and vibrant colours, with a large and generous sweet spot! I immediately got the impression that I was looking through a larger instrument because the view was so comfortable and immersive. A field of view of 119m at 1000m is big as pocket binoculars go, and while certainly not class leading in this regard, is up their amongst the widest in this pocket class.

Like its bigger siblings, control of glare is exceptional in this little 8 x 25. How shall I put it; in side by side testing, it performed just as good, if not even a little bit better, than a world class optic now costing close to six times the retail price of this Series 5. One of the main reasons I have enjoyed Barr & Stroud binoculars is their consistently excellent suppression of glare and this little 8 x 25 was strutting its stuff with grace! Exceptional too is the binocular’s control of veiling glare. By looking at some bushes on a bright and hazy afternoon just below the Sun, the Series 5 8 x 25 was in a completely different league to two other pocket binos with much heftier price tags, which I tested at the same time. Make no mistake about it: this Barr & Stroud 8 x 25 has world class suppression of veiling glare!  Having tested a multitude of pocket binoculars over the last three years, there’s simply nothing to touch them in this regard without moving to a larger, premium instrument.

Colour correction is excellent. Indeed pointing the binocular up through several layers of early autumn leaves against a bright overcast sky only revealed the merest traces of secondary spectrum. The reader should not be surprised by this finding. As I related in other reviews, a well made binocular can achieve excellent control of chromatic aberration without the need for ED glass. You just have to look through a Leica Trinovid or Ultravid pocket glass, or test drive a Swarovski CL pocket bino to see what I mean. In my experience, the addition of ED glass lens elements are much more important in the design of larger binoculars, such as the 32mm, 42mm and 50mm aperture classes, and for mainly daylight applications.

The image remains pin point sharp within a large sweet spot, and only becomes progressively softer in the outermost 20 per cent of the field. I tested how good the field was by conducting some observations at night on the stars under a clear sky. The results were very encouraging; stars remained acceptably tight and sharp over most of the field, only bloating modestly near the field stop. Most of this off-axis aberration could be focused out, showing that the main culprit is field curvature. And comparing it to a world class pocket bino with exceptional off-axis performance, the B&S Series 5 8 x 25 fared very well indeed. Good job Barr & Stroud!

Further Notes from the Field

Champion pocket glass!

The central focus knob is buttery smooth to operate, allowing one to quickly change focus on moving targets. Just a fifth of a turn of the wheel takes you from several metres to infinity. Close focus on this unit was considerably larger than that advertised. Instead of the quoted 2 metres, I measured it to be 3.02 metres. That’s a little bit of a set back if you like using your binocular as a long range microscope, but it’s no where near as long as some other pocket binos I’ve encountered in the past, such as the Leica Trinovid BCA 10x 25, which had a whopping 5 metres close focus!

The supplied soft storage case fits the binocular with quite a bit of room to spare. And while it will certainly do the job, I elected instead to store the instrument inside a smaller, zip-closable, leather pouch with a sachet of silica gel desiccant to keep the interior as moisture free as possible.

Eye relief is a little tight for spectacle wearers- just 13mm. That didn’t present a problem for yours truly as I don’t wear spectacles while glassing. I did check to see how I got on with glasses however. I was able to see a substantial amount of the field but not the entirety of it.

Whilst glassing very close to the Sun one afternoon, I did pick up a couple of internal reflections. Depth of focus is good but not enormous; it fell a bit short of a top rated 8 x 20 pocket glass. I experienced little in the way of blackouts with the Series 5 8 x 25, despite its small exit pupil size and greater sensitivity to eye placement. This is something I have experienced more with small binoculars possessing advanced ultra-wide eyepiece designs.

The dioptre setting stayed in place solidly even after removing the instrument from its case about a dozen times. I’m confident that it will only need very occasional tweaking going forward.

The binocular does not have a means of mounting to a tripod which employs a bracket, but such a small instrument rarely if ever requires a tripod. That said, it can be affixed to a simple mounting block using Velcro. Indeed, I used this mounting technique to ascertain the accuracy of collimation, and to adjust the dioptre setting for my own personal use.

Out and About with the Series 5 8 x 25 Pocket Glass

Ideal for a forest walk.

The little Series 5 is an excellent companion for walks in the woods. The silky smooth focuser makes honing in on nearby targets and far away ones very easy to negotiate. This time of year, the forest floor is littered with all sorts of weird and wonderful fungi, and the Series 5 8 x 25 helps me see exquisite details of their morphology. As Summer gives way to Autumn, the beautiful shades of orange and red are appearing on the dying leaves, and when dappled in sunlight, create the most amazing light shows. The full waterproofing and nitrogen purging affords solid protection from the elements. Brushing by wet leaves and shrubs, or even crossing a shallow ford will not cause anxiety carrying this small binocular It’s ideal for garden birding, hiking, travel and exploring rural landscapes, towns and cities. Are you a theatre goer or like spectator sports? This glass might come in very handy! It is small enough to fit in a purse or a trouser pocket, so will make little demand on space.

As stated previously, the view through the 8 x 25 feels like a larger binocular; more similar to 30mm than to 20mm in my estimation. It’s fairly wide field of view really helps create this interesting perspective. After consulting with Barr & Stroud, I leaned that the prisms are silver coated, the same as on the larger Series 5 models, which ensures very good light transmission but could be further improved by going to higher reflectance dielectric coatings in the future. In this capacity, there’s always room for improvement! That said, in one low light test with an older but otherwise similar pocket glass with silvered prisms, I detected a slight difference in brightness between it and the Series 5 8 x 25, with the nod going to the latter. The older pocket glass is most likely ten or twelve years old, which might have reduced the reflectivity of the silver coating, thereby reducing its light transmission by a shade. The fact that the interior of this little Series 5 has neither moisture nor reactive oxygen, should help maintain that silvered prism sheen that little bit longer.

Concluding Thoughts & Recommendations

Good pocket binoculars are difficult to make well. As a result, the market is flooded with many poor performers that you can pay sizeable sums for. But when you have a company that puts real effort into designing a pocket binocular and offers it at a reasonable price, then you have a real bargain. The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 25 is a very well designed miniature glass, with many of the same quality features of the larger Series 5 binoculars I’ve showcased on other blogs. It offers bright, sharp, high-contrast images with exceptional glare control. Its light weight and small, foldable ergonomics means you can take it with you wherever you want to go. With a retail price of just £99.00, you get a very smartly made product with a proven optics team behind it. Those interested in a 10x glass may also be interested to know that B & S market a 10 x 25 Series 5 as well, and for the same price!

Birds of a feather stay together!

Pocket glasses are all the rage!

I would recommend these great little picket glasses to anyone. They punch well above what their modest price tag suggests, and will reward the user with many years of no-nonsense performance. I, for one, will be keeping this handy little optic in my stable, where it will join its larger sibling in offering delightful views in a fine, ultraportable format.

Thanks for reading!

 

Dr Neil English has been testing optics since he was knee high to a grasshopper. His ambitious tome, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, celebrates four centuries of telescopic visual astronomy.

 

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: The Remarkable Svbony SV202 10 x 42 ED Binocular.

The Svbony SV202 10 x 42 ED package.

A Work Commenced September 14 2021

Dedicated to Hans Zimmer

Preamble

 

Product: Svbony SV202 10 x 42 ED

Place of Manufacture: Hong Kong

Field of View: 108m@1000m(6.16 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 15.1mm

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 3

Close Focus: 2.5m(advertised) 2.8m measured

Exit Pupil: 4.2mm

Chassis: Textured rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Coatings: Fully broadband multi-coated, dielectric and phase correction coatings applied to BAK-4 prisms

ED Glass: Yes

Nitrogen purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes IPX7

Weight: 693g(advertised) 698g measured

Dimensions: H/W: 14.9/12.5cm

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

Retail Price: £125.99(Amazon UK)

Warranty: 1 Year Limited

 

A couple of months back, I reviewed an extraordinary compact binocular, the Svbony SV 202 8 x 32 ED, showcased in the Preamble above. Retailing for just under £100(but now being offered for just £90), I was deeply sceptical regarding the claims made by the company, since it was offering an instrument with a raft of sophisticated features, including a magnesium alloy chassis, phase and dielectrically coated Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms and an ED element in the objective. Determined to debunk those claims, I happened to have in my possession another compact 8 x 32 – the Celestron Trailseeker – which also had many of those same features but with the exception of the ED element to compare it to. To my absolute astonishment, the claims made by the Hong Kong based Svbony turned out to be true! What’s more, the addition of the ED objective element pulled the Svbony ahead of the Trailseeker in careful optical testing. Even its ergonomic features proved superior to the very decent Celestron binocular.

Yet, it transpired that Svbony was also offering a larger glass, the SV 202 10 x 42 ED, with the same quality features found in the 8 x 32 model, and for a truly amazing price of £125.99 inclusive of delivery!  After a purchaser of both binoculars kindly posted some video footage of these instruments on YouTube, I became convinced that the larger model was worth investigating also, and sure enough, its larger sibling turned out to be even more exciting to test drive!

So, in this review blog, I’ll be taking the reader through the ergonomic and optical features of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED model, and hope to demonstrate why I think it represents exceptional value for money in today’s market. Indeed, it has given this author serious pause concerning the purchase of a more expensive, ‘top-tier’ 10 x 42 for future field use.

First Impressions:

The beautifully finished Svbony 10 x 42 ED.

The Svbony SV202 10 x 42 ED arrived in a similar package to the smaller 8 x 32 ED model. The binocular ( with objective and ocular tethers attached) was carefully packed away inside a nicely fitting soft case, with a soft lens cleaning cloth, a well written instruction manual, a nice quality padded logoed neck strap. The box itself was nicely made, simple and attractive to look at.

Stop Press: The supplied carry case actually closes properly lol, with the binocular and its carry strap attached. You’ve no idea how few binoculars come with cases that can do just that!

Once I removed the binocular from the case, I was immediately impressed with the build quality of the binocular. Just like its smaller sibling, the 10 x 42 felt very solid in the hand and was covered in a tough, textured rubber armouring that once again reminded me very much of the Zeiss Terra ED binoculars I had seen. Inspecting the objective and ocular lenses, I could see that the magenta coloured anti-reflection coatings were smoothly applied with no sleeks or pits. Passing a torch inside the binocular showed a nicely machined and blackened interior with no sign of dust, fingerprints or other debris. The exit pupils were round with no signs of truncation and the area around the pupils was nice and black. Nothing to concern me here!

Left eye box.

And right eye box.

Ergonomics: 

The Svbony 10 x 42 ED  feels very sturdy in the hand but is surprisingly light weight. Usually, the lighter models in the 10 x 42 class tip the scales at over 700g but this model weighed in at just 698g, which is good news for folk who want to travel light.

The eye cups are wonderfully made, properly machined and twist upwards for non-eye glass wearers. There are three positions in all, with each detent locking rigidly into place. These are top notch eye cups, as good as I’ve seen on models costing several times the retail cost of this binocular.

The very well designed twist up eyecups are nicely machined and covered with a soft rubber substrate.

The centrally located focus wheel is constructed from metal and covered with a finely textured rubber substrate for easy gripping. Focusing is smooth and precise with zero play. It’s a little on the stiff side but very easy to negotiate, and I’m sure this will relax a little further with more frequent use. The focuser goes through 1.75 revolutions from one end of its focus travel to the other. The rubber tethered objective and ocular covers fit snugly over the lenses. I generally don’t use these in the field, but I’m reassured that should I employ them, they won’t fall off easily.

The underside of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED has no thumb rests but neither are they really needed. Note the similarity to the Zeiss Terra armouring.

The metal right eye dioptre ring is also nicely machined and rotates smoothly but has just the right amount of tension to stay rigidly in place. Having taken it in and out of its soft case dozens of times over a few days of testing, it never budged a millimetre. Good job Svbony!

As stated above, the anti-reflection coatings applied to the ocular and objective lenses has a strong magenta hue in broad daylight. They reminded very much of those found on the new Zeiss Victory SF binoculars.

Ocular end of the binocular.

Objective lenses.

Like all good anti-reflection coatings, they ought to nearly disappear when viewed nearly straight on. Can you see the glass in the photo below?

Fur mein freund Hans: Good anti-reflection coatings should show little glare when viewed nearly head on in soft artificial light.

In summary, the ergonomics of this binocular are second to none. Really well made, with a quality fit and feel from the get go!

Optical Assessment

Beginning, as always, with my flashlight test, I directed an intensely bright beam of white light into the binocular and examined the image visually from a distance of about 3 metres away. Like the smaller 8 x 32 model, the result was excellent! There were no annoying internal reflections floating about, no diffraction spikes and no diffused light around the beam. It was clean as a whistle. As usual, I compared the results to my control binocular; a Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED, which displays exceptional control of internal reflections and diffraction spikes. I’m happy to report that the Svbony was fully the equal of it!

Later, after dark, I aimed the Svbony at a bright sodium street lamp and was delighted  (but not surprised) to see that it was clean, crisp with no internal reflections, diffused light and nary a sign of any diffraction spikes. These were great results, especially for such an inexpensive binocular. Indeed, I’ve seen much more expensive instruments fare a whole lot worse in this simple test. Good job Svbony!

These results present a problem for Hans.

Even before I tweaked the dioptre ring for my right eye, I was very impressed with the daylight images I was getting from this binocular. The instrument arrived on a very overcast, dull day, with the worst possible lighting. Despite this set back, I was immediately taken by the sharpness of the image and its very large sweet spot. Colour rendition was very neutral and accurate. Eye placement was easy to optimise and I encountered no blackouts. The image was bright and crisp with excellent contrast. I did encounter some veiling glare under these harsh lighting conditions but I remember thinking to myself; “If this is the worse it could be, it’s really not too bad at all!”

The next day afforded much better, sunnier seeing conditions and I was further able to test the mettle of this Svbony binocular. Early autumn leaves radiated with colour and the image remained pin sharp across most of the field. The images snapped to focus with absolutely no ambiguity – a property I had noted in other high quality binoculars. On a walk by the river, I was mesmerized by the clarity of water flowing around rocks  with beautiful sharpness and very little glare. Later the same afternoon, when some cloud rolled in, I examined the hills located a kilometre or so away, and I did detect some chromatic aberration on the edge of some cliffs against a uniformly bright sky. The result was very interesting because I also had my Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED with me to compare the views. After a few minutes going back and forward between the images, I could see that the Barr & Stroud – a lovely binocular in its own right and my personal favourite 8 x 42 – had better colour correction in the same image, but the Svbony was significantly sharper!

I had seen this effect before in the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32. Boy was that binocular sharp but it also showed some chromatic aberration on high contrast targets! More on this later.

Comparing the low light performance of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED with a Carson VP 10 x 42 (right) without dielectric coatings showed the former to have the brighter images.

I wanted to test the brightness of the Svbony 10 x 42 ED in comparison to a binocular with the same specifications but without dielectric coatings and ED glass. So out came my Carson VP 10 x 42. Starting around dusk and continuing into early September twilight, I wanted to ascertain whether or not I could detect a brightness difference between these binoculars, fully expecting the Svbony to deliver the brighter image. Sure enough, I could see a difference!  Looking into some brush under bushes as the light rapidly faded, the Svbony delivered a significantly brighter image under these conditions, affirming that the superior coatings on the Svbony resulted in a higher light transmission than the Carson.  Neat!

In another test, I canvassed the opinion of my maths student, Alexander, who was keen to help in the testing. I set up three 42mm binoculars; a Carson VP 10 x 42, a Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED and the Svbony 10 x 42 ED, as shown below:

Three 42mm roofs compared in broad daylight on the same target; from right to left: the Carson VP 10 x 42,the Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED and the Svbony 10 x 42 ED.

Looking at the trunk of a tree under good mid-afternoon illumination, exactly 20 metres away, I asked Alexander to carefully focus each binocular and judge the sharpness of the images, from worst to best. To make it as fair as possible, I asked him to examine the same trunk at a distance of exactly 15 metres away using the 8 x 42 ED to compensate for its reduced magnification. After a couple of minutes of testing, Alexander delivered his verdict; the Carson was the least sharp, the Barr & Stroud was sharper still, but he declared the Svbony to be the sharpest of all!

Alexander looking through the Svbony 10 x 42 ED.

Then I asked him to guess which one was the most expensive. Naturally enough, Alexander figured that the Svbony must be the priciest. He was quite surprised to learn that his choice was actually the least expensive of the three!

After a few days of using the Svbony 10 x 42 ED on long walks through the woods, along the river bank and through open fields, I began to appreciate the silky smoothness of the focuser. The focus wheel’s slow progression makes precise focusing a breeze, and while it’s more suited to hunting than birding, I was still able to enjoy some amazing glassing moments watching a Buzzard taking to flight from a tall conifer tree on one of my local patches. As I related earlier, the Svbony does show a very small amount of chromatic aberration on high contrast objects, yet it delivers sharper images than a more colour free binocular tested against it. This shows that absolute image quality need not be conflated with the degree of chromatic correction found in the binocular. As a case in point, the reader is invited to study reports made by reviewers of Leica’s flag ship binocular, the Noctivid.

Notes from the field: The Svbony has very decent focus depth for a 10 x 42 roof prism binocular. I measured close focus to be 2.8 metres – longer than the advertised 2.5 metres, but something I wasn’t too bothered with, as I usually do close up glassing using 8x models anyway. The comparatively light weight of this binocular makes it very easy to hand hold in my medium sized hands. The binocular does show some glare in the most demanding lighting conditions, but I learned to control it better by firmly holding my eye sockets to the eyecups to minimise the entry of peripheral light into the optical train. Greens and yellows are especially well accentuated in the Svbony, with the binocular delivering excellent brightness to the eyes, even during fading evening light.

Astronomical Testing

No matter how enthusiastic one feels about a binocular during daylight testing, observing the night sky produces still further insights into the relative quality of the glass. Luckily I enjoyed a couple of good vigils with the Moon out of the sky. Here’s what I found. Although it’s obvious that the Svbony 10 x 42 ED had a large, well-corrected sweet spot as seen in daylight glassing, it becomes much clearer by seeing how bright stars morph as they are moved from the centre of the field all the way to field stop. My first opportunity came on the evening of Saturday, September 11. Examining the bright yellow star, Capella, low down in the northeast at 21:45 local time, I was able to see that it remained pin sharp out to within~15 per cent of the distance to the field stop, beyond which point it started to bloat. But even at the field stop the bloating wasn’t too bad and indeed, I was able to focus most of it out. I consider this to be a very good result, especially for the very reasonable cost of the instrument.  I believe this is attributed to the modest choice of field size employed in the Svbony. Many inexpensive models make the mistake of opening up the field too much, with the result that the outer part of the field becomes noticeably more blurred than the centre of the field. And while the field of view of the Sybnony 10 x 42 ED is not overly restrictive at 6.16 angular degrees, the designers did not fall into the trap of making it too wide. This greatly aids in the aesthetic appeal of the night time binocular field.

Bright stars like Vega, Deneb, Altair and Arcturus, low in the west, showed their colours very faithfully. No secondary spectrum was detected within the large sweet spot. The large and sprawling Alpha Persei Association (Melotte 20) looked magnificent in this 10 x 42, as did the Double Cluster a little higher up in the sky. I enjoyed lovely views of the Great Andromeda Galaxy, the Coathanger asterism and the Engagement Ring, Finally, observing mighty Jupiter low in the south southeast shortly before 10pm local time, I could easily resolve, by just handholding the binocular, all four Medicean Stars to the east of the Giant Planet.

While I had intended to view the Pleaides and Hyades some time later that evening, it clouded over. Luckily though, the next night, Sunday September 12, also turned out to be clear and indeed it remained so for much of the night, well into the wee small hours of Monday morning. Beginning about 23:00 h local time and ending about half past local midnight, I enjoyed a fantastic night observing with the Svbony 10 x 42. Though most of my observations were handheld, lying back in a recliner, I did perform one high resolution test centring Albireo in Cygnus in the field of view with the binocular mounted on my tripod. I was delighted to get a beautiful split of this wonderful colour contrast double, the emerald and golden components showing up faithfully. Indeed, I took the opportunity to micro-tweak the dioptre setting just a little while observing this celebrated binocular double.

I enjoyed splendid binocular views of the globular clusters, M13 and M92 sinking lower in the west in Hercules. High in the east, magnificent Perseus was very prominent and I  once again soaked up the views of Melotte 20, and the Double Cluster. The lovely open cluster M34 stood out beautifully with a good sprinkling of faint stars being easily resolved within its confines. After that I just relaxed and went cruising along the river of Milky Way starlight meandering its way from Cassiopeia in the northeast, continuing through Cepheus, Cygnus, Vulpecula, Sagitta and Aquila now sinking into the southwestern sky.

Before ending the vigil, I moved from by back garden to the front garden, which faces east. The Pleiades was painfully beautiful in this binocular, the stars remaining pin point sharp and pure white as the driven snow. Moving the little asterism from the centre of the field to the edge showed a drop off in illumination of its constituent stars. I found it easier to see this fall off under these conditions than during the day. Nothing bad to report here either, as this is a common feature in even top rated binoculars I’ve tested in the past. Finally, with the Hyades rising over the Fintry Hills to the east of my home I was able to enjoy the horns of the Celestial Bull in their full glory. The field sparkled with stellar jewels of various hues and glories; red, orange, white and yellow. Just lovely!

Conclusions

The Heavens declare the glory of God…. you’ll see it well with this binocular.

I’m so very glad I followed up on reviewing this larger sibling from the Svbony ED binocular duo. The little 8 x 32 ED impressed me, but this instrument is just plain extraordinary! It feels and behaves like a much more expensive binocular. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it will compete favourably with the best mid-tier binoculars out there… no strings. Optically it reminded me very much of the lovely Leica Trinovid HD I owned and enjoyed some time ago. I don’t  know why it is priced so low, but I do know quality when I see it and this wonderfully designed binocular exudes quality, both ergonomically and optically. Please don’t listen to trolls and optics snobs who do nothing to help their fellow amateurs get as much as a foot up on the ladder, and who spout lies about this binocular, as Hans did in the video linked to in Preamble 1 above. I would encourage others to test out this binocular and spread the word to the wider community. You can purchase this in the USA for as little as $150.00 from Amazon. And if not satisfied, it can be returned and a full refund issued to you.

I’m not interested in buying another 10 x 42. This ticks all the boxes for my purposes.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Neil English is the author of the 650 page history of visual telescopic astronomy, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

Post Scriptum: Some updated commentary on this binocular can be found here

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30.

The Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 package.

A Work Commenced September 8 2021

 

Preamble 1

Preamble 2

Preamble 3

Preamble 4

 

 

Product: Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30

Country of Manufacture: Japan

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

Eye Relief:16.2mm

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.81m measured

Exit Pupil: 3.75mm

Chassis: Textured rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Field Flattening Optics: Yes

ED Glass: Yes

Light Transmission: 92%

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

Dioptre: Lockable +/- 4 dioptres

Waterproof: Yes 10 mins at 5m depth

Dry Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 450g

Tripod Attachable: Yes

Dimensions(L/W): 11.9/ 12.6cm

Warranty: 10 years

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

Price: £780- £825(UK)/ $950(US)

 

 

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

Packaging & Ergonomics

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Optical Evaluation: 

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

Left ocular

Right Ocular

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

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

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

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

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

Further Notes from the Field

A stylish companion in the great outdoors.

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

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

Astronomical Tests

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

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

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

Conclusions

A birder’s dream bino?

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

Thanks for Reading!

 

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

 

 

De Fideli.

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

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED.

A Work Commenced August 27 2021

 

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

Country of Manufacture: China

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

Eye Relief: 17.2mm

Close focus: 2m advertised[1.79m 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: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 710g

Tripod Attachable: Yes

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: £220-£250UK

 

Just to warn you: this will be a long review.

There’s something in a name!

 

Just three years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about modern binoculars, having no experience with all the technological developments that had occurred in the last few decades. But that changed when a fellow villager recommended a relatively inexpensive instrument, the Barr & Stroud Sahara 8 x 42. My first look through that binocular blew me away, as I was completely astonished at how good the image was through a binocular that cost substantially less than £100. It was bright and sharp and contrasty, with a wide, well-corrected field of view. Since then, I’ve sampled many more Barr & Stroud binoculars and can vouch for their excellent quality and value for money. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that I’m now a dyed-in-the-wool fanboy of Barr & Stroud(B & S) binos, because I believe they produce a variety of quality products and clearly know something about how a good binocular ought to perform.

Three years later, I finally got around to test driving their most sophisticated binocular range, the Series 5 ED, which comes in two models, a 10 x 42 and 8 x 42. These models are not to be confused with the other Series 5 binos from B & S, which offer the same two instruments as non-ED versions. In a previous blog I test drove the Series 5 8 x 42 non-ED version, where I reported that it offered excellent bang for buck. But I became very curious about the ED version of the same series, so decided to order the instrument up for review and to compare it critically with its non-ED counterpart. The reader will note that the instrument was purchased with my own money; I have no affiliations with any binocular company, and that the results I show here are entirely my own.

First Impressions

I purchased the B & S Series 5 8x 42 ED from the very reputable Rother Valley Optics, Sheffield, who were offering the instrument at a great price. I secured it for £209 plus another £15 to get expedited delivery of the instrument to me within 24 hours of purchase. So £224 all in. I left a message with the sales assistant to check the eyecups on the binocular prior to dispatching, as I have developed quite a disliking for eye cups that are too loose or collapse downward after being fully extended, with just a little pressure. They honoured that request!

The binocular was well packaged inside its fetching white box. The first thing I noted was that it was precisely the same box as the non-ED Series 5, only that the company put an additional ED sticker on it. While that may alarm some customers I thought it to be an ingenious cost-cutting move. Indeed, if I were marketing these binoculars, I would have done exactly the same thing lol! Everything was packed away securely, including the padded logoed neck strap, a lens cleaning cloth, rubber ocular and objective covers, generic instruction sheet, an excellent zip-lockable hard clamshell case, and warranty card. If you want to see those accessories and the box they came in, have a look at the link above to the non-ED version.

Removing the binocular from the inside the case, the first thing I checked was the eye cups, and to my great relief they were firm and locked rigidly in place when fully extended. Why fret over eye cups? Well, the non-ED Series 5 had a slightly loose left eye cup, which did niggle me a little, so seeing that both were more or less equally tensioned put a smile on my face. Good job!

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED astride its hard clamshell case.

Ergonomics

Just like the non-ED Series 5 8 x42, the instrument felt very solid in my medium sized hands. The magnesium alloy chassis and not overly thick green rubber overcoat helps keep the weight down. Indeed, I measured its weight at 710g, as opposed to just 690g for its non-ED  counterpart. That made sense to me as ED glass elements tend to be a little heavier than regular crown and flint glass.

The machined metal twist up eye cups are easy to adjust and click rigidly into place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As mentioned above, the rubber-clad metal eye cups twist up with two intermediary positions. They were easy to extend and held their positions securely, with very little wiggle room. Eye relief is a very generous 17.2mm, large enough to see nearly the entire field with my eye glasses on.

The centrally placed focus wheel is large, very nicely tensioned and very smooth to operate, both clockwise and anti-clockwise. If anything, I thought it was a shade over tight compared to its non-ED counterpart but to be fair, all focusers need a bit of breaking in time to get them moving as smoothly as possible. That said, I have spoken before about the care B & S put into their focusers. They are much better tuned than the majority of other binoculars I’ve tested in this price range. Taking just over two full revolutions to go from one extreme of travel to the other, I would describe it as being intermediate between the super fast focusers birders seek after, and the slower focusers hunters prefer.

The metal dioptre ring is located under the right ocular, and while not lockable, is quite stiff and easy to adjust. Moreover, it stays in position very well.

The Series 5 ED has a really smooth and easy to use focus wheel that is head and shoulders above those found on many other models in the same price range.

The Series 5 ED has a really smooth and easy to use focus wheel that is head and shoulders above those found on many other models in the same price range. The objective lenses are very deeply recessed, just like the non-ED incarnation, protecting the glass from stray light, dust and rain.

The B & S Series 5 ED has nicely recessed objective lenses.

Handling this binocular is a joy. While not the grippiest substrate I’ve encountered, the green rubber armouring provides a very adequate level of friction with your hands. There are no thumb indentations on the belly of this binocular but I’ve never really found them to be that advantageous to the overall ergonomics compared with several other binoculars that did have them. The rubber armouring is a little thinner than other models, such as the Nikon Prostaff and Monarch  5 & 7 lines, but this does cut down the weight of the binocular, which makes transporting it that little bit easier.

The Series 5 ED binocular I received did not have the ED labelling under the left ocular, as I was expecting from the images I’d seen on a few retailers’ websites. Instead, this model presents the ED moniker on the focus wheel, which might possibly indicate that this instrument was manufactured more recently.

I’ve always been more than satisfied with the padded neck strap accompanying the more expensive B & S binoculars. It’s very comfortable to wear ’round your neck without much in the way of chafing after a long walk on level ground on a hot summer day. The hard clam shell case is another great accessory. It zips closed and there is a little storage area inside to carry a lens cloth or a sachet of silica gel desiccant to keep the interior as dry as possible when not in active use.

Examining the exit pupils on the binocular showed nice circular openings, with a nice rim of dark around them.

Left eye exit pupil.

Right eye exit pupil.

All in all, I was very pleased with the overall fit and feel of the Series 5 ED 8 x 42. Elegant and understated, it has very nice mechanics that should hold up in field use for a long time to come.

Optical Assessment

One of the control binoculars I used to assess the optical quality of the Barr& Stroud Series 5 8x 42 ED. Seen at right is the Leica Ultravid BR 8x 20.

The first thing I checked was how well a bright beam of light behaved as it was directed into the binocular from across a room. I simply set my phone torch on to its brightest setting, focused the binocular, and examined the image. To be honest, I was expecting excellent results based on what I had previously experienced with both the non-ED Series 5  and their Savannah range of instruments. As a control, I was using my Leica Ultravid. The results were very much in keeping with my previous tests on the better Barr & Stroud binoculars, that is, the instrument was exceptionally clean and sharp, with only the faintest hint of internal reflections, no diffraction spikes and no diffused light, indicative of the use of very high quality optical components. Indeed, it was that little bit better than the Leica Ultravid in this regard. Leica are well known for their excellent suppression of internal reflections so obtaining an even better result from the Series 5 ED 8 x 42 was music to my ears.

Taking the binocular outside in the open air on a warm and bright August afternoon, I was immediately impressed with the image from the Series 5 ED. The binocular served up a beautiful, sharp and high contrast image. Reds and oranges really pop in this glass and overall I would describe the colour tone as slightly warm. The focusing was smooth and responsive, with the 8x providing a very stable image. The sweet spot is very large but begins to gradually deteriorate as one moves the target to the edge of the field. I also noted a small drop in image brightness at the edge of the field. Nothing dramatic here but certainly noticeable if you look for it. There is some field curvature as one moves off axis – considerably stronger than in the Leica Ultravid – as evidenced by looking at a telephone pole about 30 yards distant, but I don’t find this aberration to be especially annoying in field use.  I measured the close focus to be an impressive 1.79m, making it a very good choice for those who enjoy using their binoculars as long-range microscopes.

Comparing the Series 5 ED with the Leica Ultravid, I judged the former to be clearly superior to the latter in suppressing glare, as evidenced by examining a brightly backlit scene near sunset. Furthermore, the Series 5 exhibited far superior control of veiling glare than the Leica pocket glass. This was easy to ascertain by homing in on the leaves of a tree lying immediately below a mid-afternoon Sun( local time 3.30pm in late August). The entire bottom half of the Leica image was washed out to a much greater degree than the Leica. I attribute this result to the very shallow recession of Ultravid’s objective lenses making it more prone to picking up stray light. This test wasn’t even close, the Series 5 ED was far superior.

Comparing the Series 5 ED to the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30(left).

In another test, I compared the glare suppressing capabilities of the B & S Series 5 8 x 42 ED to a top-tier 8 x 30 binocular, the Nikon Monarch HG, costing four times the price. My target was a hill top about 800 yards distant with the Sun immediately above it.  The Monarch HG binocular handles glare exceptionally well, better than the Series 5 ED in fact. But it was only marginally inferior. I consider that an excellent result for a binocular that evidently has no portfolio.

I also conducted some night time viewing with both the B & S Series 5 8 x 42 ED and the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20, testing to see how they would perform on a bright yellow sodium street light placed in the centre of the field at a distance of 50 yards. Both binoculars, as expected, delivered excellent results here. The images in both binoculars were clean and crisp, with no annoying internal reflections, no diffused light around the lamp, and zero evidence of diffraction spikes.

On another afternoon, I enlisted the help of my math student, Alexander, to compare and contrast the image in both the Leica Ultravid and Series 5 ED. After a few minutes of going back and forth between the two instruments, he said that they were equally sharp with better colours coming through in the Series 5. I thought the Leica was that bit sharper overall though. I asked him to see if the sharpness fell off as he moved his target(a tree trunk in this case) to the edge of the field in both binoculars. He noted, as I did, that the Leica served up a tack sharp image all across the field but that the extreme edges of the Series 5 field was less sharp. He also noted that the 8 x 42 ED was easier to handle than the 8 x 20. Finally, he  mentioned that the background was in sharper focus in the Leica than the Series 5. He was, of course, referring to depth of focus here; the little Leica has exceptional focus depth, but the Series 5 is still very decent in this regard.

Alexander, enjoying the views through the B & S Series 5  8  x 42 ED .

 

Tests for Chromatic Aberration; Comparing the ED to the non-ED Series 5

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42(left) and the 8 x 42 ED(right).

On one overcast August afternoon, I hooked up with a former student of mine, Joe, who was keen to do a blind A/B test comparing the B & S Series 5 8 x 42 ED and the otherwise identical non-ED version. Before we carried out the tests I contacted OVL asking them a simple question: would I see a difference between the ED and non-ED Series 5?  They got back to me within minutes with this response:

“Most people wouldn’t notice much difference between the ED and non-ED versions unless they know what to look for. Standard optical performance is similar, you just don’t get the pronounced colour fringing with the ED glass, when viewing an object with a high contrasting background.”

That was a good answer, and that’s precisely what we found.

Superficially, both images were good and sharp with excellent contrast, but when we viewed a telephone pole against a bright overcast sky, the fringing was more apparent at the edges of our target in the non-ED binocular compared with its ED counterpart. Testing on another target – some leaves at the top of a Horse Chestnut tree some 40 yards in the distance, I was only able to detect chromatic aberration off axis in the non-ED, in the outer half of the field, but Joe claimed to see that little bit more towards the centre of the image. After looking through both binoculars for several minutes, we conducted a blind test – Joe handed me one binocular while closing my eyes, being only allowed to open them again once the instrument was deployed in front of my face. Then we switched roles, with Joe conducting the optical tests. The results were unanimous; we could see a small but perceptible improvement in the image using the ED binocular. In another test, Joe felt the intricate details of flowers were slightly crisper and had richer colours than the non-ED version, but I found it harder to verify this.

What about light transmission?

The previous evening, I emerged with both binoculars – the ED and non-ED Series 5 – at sunset and conducted a low light test, looking into the shadows of a bush located some 100 yards away as the light continued to fail. Try as I could to see a difference, it simply was too small to notice. Again, I would maybe give the nod to the ED binocular, but only just!

The Virtues of Testing Binoculars Under the Stars 

I’ve noticed that many binocular reviews published in birding magazines seem a tad over generic. Indeed, in many cases one could simply remove the name of one binocular and replace it with another, and hardly anyone would be the wiser. And in some reviews I’ve come across, the sense I get is that the writing is so contrived as to be almost fictional. Quite often, reviewers report of  ‘peripheral softness’ in the outer part of the field or some such. Others report that the field is either too restrictive or is wide and expansive. And still others report some drop off in illumination towards the edge of the field.

The trouble with this kind of reporting is that it is rather too subjective. Many birders might be interested to learn that one can get a much better handle on the extent of those properties simply by looking at the Moon in the sky or a bright star field. For example, one can use a pair of stars of known angular separation to accurately measure the field of view of any binocular. Off axis aberrations can also be more accurately ascertained by moving a bright star from the centre to the edge of the field  and noting how and where the stellar images begin to morph significantly. Furthermore, moving the Moon to the outer edge of the field will easily show reduced brightness if indeed, it exists at all. What’s more, the Moon can also be used to more easily differentiate non-ED from ED binoculars at the same power by looking at the extent of fringing observed on the lunar limb.

So how did the Series 5 8 x 42 ED  fare under the starry heaven? How did it look on the Moon?

Ad Astra

After a very overcast day on August 31, the clouds dispersed very late in the evening, leaving a clear and tranquil sky to verify the many properties of a binocular that can be ascertained simply by examining the images of bright stars in a binocular field. Assisting me this evening was Joe, who kindly gave me about 90 minutes of his time testing out a number of binoculars in comparison to the Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED. Starting shortly after midnight, we continued our tests on various objects until about 1:30 am, September 1.

The first thing we verified was the size of the field. As stated before, if you happen to know the angular separation of two bright stars in the sky, you can use that information to measure field size. As usual, I chose the two stars in the Ploughshare asterism in Ursa Major. We were just about able 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(8.1 angular degrees) for this binocular is fairly accurate. As an additional control, we employed the Nikon Monarch  HG 8 x 30, with an advertised field of view of 8.3 angular degrees, to show that it too was able to frame these two stars but with a little more room to spare.

Next we tested how well corrected the field was in both the Barr & Stroud Series 5  ED and the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30. Focusing on bright yellow Capella, now fairly low down in the northeast, we took our turns moving the star from the centre to the edge of the fields in both binoculars, making mental notes of the experience and later committing those notes to pen and paper. Here’s what we found: first off, the Nikon Monarch HG, despite having a field flattener built-in, did not have an entirely flat field. Furthermore, its lateral flatness was noticeably superior to its vertical flatness. To make that even clearer, side-to-side flatness was much better than up-and-down flatness. Furthermore, we observed the same phenomenon in several other binoculars including the Barr & Stroud Series 5 non-ED, the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32, a Carson VP 10 x 42 and a Leica Ultravid 8 x 20.

This asymmetry is a very real phenomenon that is unreported in the binocular literature

The little Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 exhibited by far the flattest, best corrected field of all the instruments tested.

The next best corrected field was the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30, where stars began to morph in shape at about 75 per cent out from the centre, getting gradually worse as it reached the field stop. The Barr & Stroud Series 5s were pretty much identical, with distortions occurring from about 70 per cent out from the centre. What is more, apart from the extreme top and bottom of the binocular field, both Barr & Stroud Series 5s offered up acceptably small stellar images over pretty much the rest of the field, making them excellent star gazing binoculars.

We were both quite shocked to see the Nikon Monarch HG behave in this way, as our daylight tests didn’t show this field curvature nearly as acutely as the star tests did. All we could say is that the Monarch HG had a flatter field than the Barr & Stroud  Series 5s.

By 1.00 am local time, a last quarter Moon was rising over the hills to the northeast  and we were able to test for chromatic aberration in both the Series 5 ED and non-ED binoculars. We both detected a small amount of secondary spectrum on the lunar limb in the non-ED which was all but absent in the ED, in full accordance with our expectations.

Finally, by moving the Moon laterally off axis, from the centre to the edges of the field, we noted how the lunar maria darkened a little near the field stop showing clear evidence of edge of field illumination drop off. That said, the same phenomenon was noted with the Monarch HG and the Leica Ultravid, although to a lesser extent.

Overall Conclusions

A binocular that will get the job done!

The Barr & Stroud Series 5 8 x 42 ED proved to be an improvement over the Series 5 non-ED. It does have better colour correction, slightly better contrast and slightly crisper images. Having tested many binoculars in the same price range as the Series 5 ED, I believe it has noticeably superior glare control, which keeps contrast levels high, even in fairly harsh lighting conditions. While certainly not in the same league as an alpha binocular, it does offer up very satisfying optics and ergonomics punching well above its modest price tag. I would unhesitatingly recommend this binocular as a very capable general use binocular that will sate the demands of the majority of birders, nature watchers and stargazers alike. It just does many things well and has a very wide and well corrected field.

I gifted the Series 5 8 x 42 non-ED to Joe for his enthusiastic services and will be keeping the ED version for my own personal use. He is delighted with it and I’m confident that Joe, who returns to the United States on September 3, will make maximal use of it.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Dr. Neil English is the author of several hundred magazine articles on visual astronomy, astrophotography, telescope testing, origin science and birdwatching, which have appeared on both sides of the Atlantic. He is also  the author of seven books including his lauded, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, detailing the lives and work of several dozen astronomers over four centuries of telescopic history. 

 

 

De Fideli.

Two Compact Reverse-Porro Binoculars Compared.

The Nikon Travelite EX 10 x 25(top) and the Vortex Vanquish 10 x 26 (bottom).

 

A work commenced August 19 2021

Preamble

This is going to be a very short review. In my opinion, the reverse Porro-prism binocular reached its zenith in the body of the wonderful Pentax Papilio II 6.5/8.5 x 21, which offers excellent optics in a very cost-effective package. I was mightily impressed with their excellent sharpness, contrast and edge-to-edge clarity, not to mention their exceptional close focus of just 0.5 metres. The Papilio II should be part of the collection of any keen binocular enthusiast!

So I was expecting these very economically priced instruments – the Vortex Vanquish 10 x 26 and the Nikon Travelite Ex 10 x 25 – to yield some good results when I put them through their paces. Alas, this wasn’t to be, as I shall now explain.

To begin with, I borrowed the Nikon Travelite EX 10 x 25 from an ex-student of mine(and graduate in astrophysics from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland), Joe, I recently hooked up with. The instrument is several years old and was actually owned by his mother. The Vortex Vanquish was bought in by yours truly for a comparative test under bright daylight conditions, and later under the stars. Joe accompanied me with the testing and we quickly came to a consensus. As a control, I brought out my Leica Ultravid 8 x 20, with a similar size exit pupil, as a suitable control, with only the magnifications being different (8x versus 10x).

Ergonomically, we both preferred the Nikon Travelite EX, which had a smoother focuser than the Vortex Vanquish. We also felt that the build quality on the Nikon was a wee bit ahead of the Vortex.The pull-up eyecups were pretty solid and easy to extend on the Nikon but we both felt their counterparts on the Vortex were rather stiff and hard to execute.

Our tests showed that both reverse Porro prism binoculars exhibited quite a bit of tunnel vision. With fields of view of 5.0 and 5.6 degrees for the Nikon and Vortex, respectively, both binoculars felt rather uncomfortable with very narrow feeling fields in comparison to the sumptuous comfort of the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20, with its 6.5 degree field. This was despite the adequate eye relief (around 15mm for all instruments) available on all three binoculars. Of the two reverse Porros tested, the Nikon Travelite EX was the superior performer, having significantly better contrast than the Vortex Vanquish and better edge-to-edge sharpness, owing to its smaller field and the utilisation of an aspherical ocular design.

Both instruments showed an annoying reflection off one or more optical surfaces, which reduced contrast, but while the Nikon Travelite Ex was OK, the Vortex Vanquish showed an alarming amount of the same reflection, which was very off putting for both Joe and I. The Leica in comparison was in a completely different league, as one might expect; beautifully sharp and contrast rich, with effectively no internal reflections to be seen. The same was true when we tested for veiling glare by looking up into the canopy of some conifer trees against a bright overcast sky. Both reverse Porros showed very high levels of veiling glare but the Vortex was particularly poor in this regard. In effect, most of the field was almost completely washed out and rendered effectively useless!

Star testing close to local midnight showed the clear superiority of the Nikon Travelite Ex, which served up nice pinpoint stars effectively all the way from edge to edge. The aspherical optics were definitely working here. In comparison, the Vortex was OK in this regard but did show significant distortions at the edge of its larger field.

These results are completely at odds with the review conducted by the gentlemen in the link provided in the preamble above. We would not describe either of these binoculars as providing quality views, at least in the way conveyed by that reviewer. And while both instruments retail for about £100 or so, there are far better options available to the discerning consumer.  For example, the Opticron Aspheric 8 and 10 x 25  provide views that are much more enjoyable than either of these incarnations, and, of course, there is the veritable Papilio II instruments to consider in the same price range, though not quite as pocketable as the former.

Hope you found that informative!

 

Thanks for reading!

Neil.

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: PRAKTICA Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED.

Praktica Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED binocular package.

 

Preamble

 

Product: Praktica Marquis FX 8 x 42 ED

Country of Manufacture: China

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

Eye Relief: 17.2mm

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

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

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

Chassis: Rubber over Magnesium Alloy

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

Dioptre range: +/- 5 dioptres

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (5 minutes at 1m depth)

ED Glass; Yes

Weight: 698g

Dimensions H/W; 14.5/12.6cm

Warranty: 25 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ergonomics

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

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

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

Optical Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ad Astra

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

Conclusions

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

Thanks for reading!

 

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

 

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

 

 

De Fideli.

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 quality 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.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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?

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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.