Product Review: Sky Rover Banner Cloud APO 8 x 42.

The Sky Rover Banner Cloud APO 8 x 42 package.


A Work Commenced April 11 2024


Preamble

Product: Sky Rover Banner Cloud APO 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Chassis: Magnesium alloy overlaid by protective rubber

Exit Pupil: 5.4mm

Eye Relief: 18mm

Field of View: 159m@1000m(9.1 angular degrees)

Dioptre Compensation: +\-4

Coatings: Fully broadband multicoated, Phase corrected Schmidt Pechan prisms, hydrophobic coatings on ocular and objective lenses

ED glass: Yes(2 elements)

Field Flatteners: Yes

Waterproof: Yes, 1m/30 mins

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 2.09m measured

Light Transmission: 90-92%

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Dimensions:15.6 x 12.3cm

Weight: 860g advertised, 913g measured with objective covers on.

Accessories: Soft padded carry case, objective covers, ocular rain guard, padded neck strap, microfibre cloth, instruction manual

Warranty: 3 Years( to be possibly negotiated)

Price: £419.00(minus 19%import tax)

Over the last few years I’ve had the immense good pleasure to buy in and test some remarkable binoculars. I’ve been especially interested in bringing the greatest bang for buck instruments to the community and have identified a number of excellent Chinese-made instruments that have inched ever closer to the kind of quality images garnered by long-established European brands. In this capacity, some have come frighteningly close to the very best in their aperture class. That being said, I now have the opportunity of presenting an instrument that, I believe, completes that evolutionary journey: enter the SkyRover Banner Cloud series of high-performance roof prism binoculars which are every bit as good as the current crop of so-called ‘alpha’ binoculars made by Zeiss, Swarovski and Leica, but without their enormous price tags. Currently the Banner Clouds are offered in two configurations: 42 and 50mm. I test drove the popular 8 x 42 model, the subject of this present review.

The SkyRover Banner Cloud Apo 8 x 42 is a chunky and handsome binocular.

The United Optics SkyRover Banner Cloud Apo binoculars are manufactured in Kunming, China, and are packed full of high-end features. Let’s take a look around the instrument. First off, the binocular has a fair heft to it, tipping the scales at 913g with its objective covers on. But that’s just the kind of heft you see with all the alpha 8 x 42s in current production. Maybe it’s just psychological, but it seems right that top performing roofs ought to have this kind of gravitas

The magnesium alloy chassis is covered in a fairly smooth- textured green rubber armouring. It’s perfectly fine but I’d have preferred to see a more rough textured substrate like that exhibited by my Swarovski Habicht 8 x 30 W. 

The metal focus wheel is well engineered. Two fingers wide, it is gloriously twirly: moving with absolutely no bumps or free play. The wheel rotates through 1.5 revolutions anti-clockwise from closest focus to infinity. 

Two-fingers wide, the central focus wheel is tactile, twirly and great fun to use.

The rubber-clad metal eyecups are of the twist-up variety and provide five positions from fully retracted to fully extended. Eye relief is generous. I was able to view practically the entire field with my spectacles on with the eyecups fully pushed down. The ocular lenses are positively enormous(27mm in diameter), making eye placement very easy. One very neat feature of the Banner Cloud eyecups is that they can be screwed off to better access the ocular lenses for cleaning. It also raises the possibility that should one malfunction, a replacement could be shipped out if need be. With only a few exceptions, these kinds of features are almost invariably found on only the best European made instruments.

The rubber-0ver metal twist up eyecups offer five positions, and can be unscrewed for cleaning the lenses.

The dioptre compensation mechanism is traditional, located under the right ocular lens. To keep costs down, SkyRover avoided the design of a lockable dioptre mechanism: an eminently sensible move as these really are a solution waiting for a problem. Then slap on another $500 for the “convenience.”Totally unnecessary and not conducive to sharing! The ring rotates with a fair amount of inertia, stable enough to hold its position well during field use. The objective lenses are quite deeply recessed and are further protected by snugly fitting rubber covers that clip into the base of the instrument. They can easily be removed however, if they’re not to your liking.

The objective lenses are decently recessed. Check out those snugly fitting objective covers!

Both the objective and ocular lenses are treated with the company’s proprietary hydrophobic coatings, which I tested against a suitable control (Nikon EII 10 x 35). I can report that they work very well indeed, removing condensation rapidly and in real time.

Even though the Banner Cloud has larger objectives, it was clearly able to disperse condensation within a few seconds compared with the 35mm EII objective. The image shows the result after 10 seconds.

The supplied neoprene neck strap is wide and padded, offering  very decent support for this hefty instrument. I also liked the quality of the rubber rain guard which fits over the eyecups snugly. I also really like the padded case with its pretty red logo. Where have I seen that before? Hmm. It locks securely and is a perfect match for the size of the instrument even with the neck strap remaining attached. A very nice touch!

All in all, the instrument handles superbly, feeling very solid and secure in my medium sized hands. 

Cold Weather Testing

One of the concerns some folk have levelled against the Banner Cloud binoculars is that they won’t cope in extreme temperatures unlike the top European brands which are typically reliable between say -25C to about + 60C. Less reliable models struggle particularly at very low temperatures when the focus wheel stiffens up or stops moving altogether. After performing some star tests on the SkyRover over a couple of hours at +4C, the focus wheel remained just as buttery smooth to turn under these conditions as it did at room temperature. This is unusual, as I invariably notice some tightening up of the focus wheel on many other instruments under these conditions. Immediately after this I brought the instrument inside and placed it in my freezer( yes, you read that right) at -20C where it remained for a further hour. I’m delighted to report that even after this ultra-low temperature plunge, the Banner Cloud 8 x 42 focus wheel was still turning smoothly with no apparent loss of functionality! Very impressive! The outer lenses fogged up as expected as it struggled to warm up to room temperature but it remained bone dry in its interior. I’m therefore confident that these instruments will cope admirably in whatever conditions nature throws at them.

Dr Merlitz provided some useful information in his preamble linked to above. It was indeed designed to operate at -20C all the way to +55C thus covering most any realistic environmental situation. Neat huh?

How did they pull that off? A little research quickly revealed a new generation of cryogenic greases that have been especially designed for use in ultra-low temperatures. Perhaps the focus wheels on the Banner Clouds are lubricated with some such grease? I can only guess!

Optical Tests

My first test involved the examination of the image the instrument through up when pointed at an intensely bright white light source. The results were excellent. I detected no internal reflections or diffused light around the source. I did pick up a very small and faint diffraction spike however, but deemed it largely non-injurious. 

Next I photographed the view around the exit pupils of the instrument. As you can see below, the result was very good indeed. 

Left pupil.


Right pupil.

The instrument arrived on a dull, overcast day and I took myself off around Culcreuch Castle Estate for some preliminary testing. One often hears that it takes many weeks to garner an accurate assessment of an instrument’s optical and mechanical quality. While there is some truth in this, the reality is that once you’re used to looking through first-rate optical instruments one can easily come to firm conclusions after just a few minutes of use. In this capacity, I was immediately taken by the superb performance of the Banner Cloud 8 x 42: the view is outstanding in many ways: razor sharp from edge to edge, wonderful contrast, and vibrant true-to-life colours. The field flatteners all but eliminates field curvature and pincushion distortion is refreshingly mild, only becoming slightly apparent in the outer 20 per cent of its enormous field. The instrument instantly reminded me of the Swarovski 8.5 x 42 EL only with a much larger field of view. During brighter spells, I could see that it performs admirably against the light. Glare suppression is well above average in this unit.

Testing the SkyRover Banner Cloud Apo 8 x 42 against the optically superb Swarovski Habicht 8 x 30W.

I spent a few days comparing the view in the Banner Cloud with my reference binocular, the venerable Swarovski Habicht 8 x 30W: an instrument of unimpeachable optical quality. I call it ‘reality through the looking glass.’ This instrument has a flat transmission curve across the visible spectrum, delivering 96 per cent of the light it gathers to my eyes.  As a result its colour tone is absolutely neutral. Compared with the Habicht, the Banner Cloud delivers slightly warmer colours, with a slight bias towards the red and orange region of the visible spectrum. Placing the instruments on my tripods and carefully comparing the views, I judged the central sharpness of the Banner Cloud to be every bit as good as the Habicht. Indeed I came away with the distinct impression that the Banner Cloud was revealing slightly finer details at distance, an impression I attribute to its larger objectives. 

Chromatic aberration is very well corrected in the Banner Cloud. I detected none in most lighting situations. Only in the most critical conditions, like looking through several layers of tree branches against a uniformly grey sky, did I detect traces of lateral colour in the outer 10 per cent of the field. More on this a little later. 

Stray light is much better controlled in the Banner Cloud Apo 8 x 42 too. While observing the bright star. Vega,  rising in the northeast with a bright sodium street lamp just outside the field of view, the difference between the Habicht and the Banner Cloud was like night and day. The Habicht all too easily showed its weakness in manifesting off-axis glare, with the bigger Banner Cloud stubbornly refusing to reveal any in the same test.

Notes from the Field

A robust field companion.

Close focus was measured to be just over 2m, in accordance with the published specifications. Although 1.5 revolutions of the focus wheel takes you from one end of its focus travel to the other, focusing anywhere from about 10m to infinity only requires about a quarter of a turn of the wheel. There is quite a generous focus travel beyond infinity however: good news if you suffer from severe myopia. 

The instrument excels in all terrains, whether it be wide open hills, valleys, observing out at sea and forest exploration. The Banner Cloud 8 x 42 Apo also impressed me with its very decent stereopsis when viewing complex targets in the middle distance. 

I found the best eyecup positions to be two clicks down from fully extended. This allowed me to better engage with the entire field, as well as clearly accessing the field stops. The eyecups hold their positions very well. I experienced little in the way of blackouts and only very occasionally a ‘rolling ball effect’ whilst panning the edge of a forest at distance.

The enormous field of view (9.1 degrees) and its excellent sharpness from edge to edge made it a particular joy to watch a group of newly arrived Swallows feasting on the insects hovering just above or on the surface of the water at my local pond.  Tracking their complex aerial displays becomes a lot easier when this size of field is open to you. 

Another highlight was observing the playful antics of the newly arrived lambs in the fields round my home. The gorgeous micro-crystalline details served up by the Banner Cloud made picking off small birds like the Pied Wagtail in the distance very easy to do. Focusing is crisp and unambiguous, with none of the focus chasing you see all too often on lesser instruments: a sure testament to the optical excellence of this test unit. 

Turning to the night sky I was fortunate enough to observe a glorious crescent Moon riding in the western sky after dark on the evening of April 12. A wealth of high resolution details of the battered southern highlands was a joy to behold, as was the wonderful earthshine from its dark face as best presented during March and April. I detected no chromatic aberration within the central 60 per cent of the field but began to notice a sliver of yellow on the lunar edge when moved towards the field stops. Tests like this on brighter light sources fool the eye a lot less. Drop off in illumination is very mild in the outer ten per cent of the field.

I enjoyed a few hours observing the showpieces of the Spring sky. For this kind of work it pays to mount the instrument on a sturdy monopod such as the excellent Oberwerk Series 2000 withs its nicely engineered trigger release ball head.  Auriga now sinking into the western sky revealed the ghostly wisps of its three Messier open clusters peppering its mid-section, the generous binocular field easily framing all three members with lots of room to spare. Praesepe and the celebrated  Beehive Cluster were spell binding, as was the sprawling Coma Cluster further off to its east. 

Star images remain nice pin points across the entire field. Indeed this binocular will delight stargazers who enjoy flat fields to monitor the heavens.

Conclusions & Recommendations

This is a very exciting development for sure! While the West is busy going woke and de-industrialising, China is powering ahead, offering ever more sophisticated technologies for the consumer market. This new series of binoculars by Sky Rover represents the most highly advanced binocular that competes favourably with European brands costing several times their modest price tags. Those wanting a little more power would do well to consider the 10 x 42 with its class-leading 7.8 degree field. As the acknowledged expert, Holger Merlitz, astutely announced in his assessment of the larger 12 x 50 model(see the preamble link above) and subsequently the 10 x 50 model also, these really do perform at a phenomenal level. But long-term success will require maintaining good quality control and the offering of a decent warranty period. I also believe there will be a vibrant market for smaller 8x and 10 x 32 models if they can successfully scale down the technology. All in all, this is very encouraging news for consumers who want new levels of sophistication for their hard-earned cash, and will surely help to break the ugly, pretentious, elitist “pay to play” cycle all too often seen on our vulgar forums. 

Very highly favoured!

Explore many more binocular models across all genres in my new book, Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts.

De Fideli.

Product Review: Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 42.

The Zeiss Terra ED 8x 42 Package.

A Work Commenced November 9 2023

Preamble

Product: Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Chassis material: Polyamide, reinforced fibreglass

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Field of View: 125m@1000m(7.13 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 18mm

Light Transmission: 88%

Close Focus: 1.6m advertised, 1.8m measured.

Coatings: Zeiss multicoating, LotuTec hydrophobic coatings on outer lenses

ED Glass: Yes(Schott ED)

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 725g advertised, 728g measured

Dimensions:14 x 12cm

Accessories: padded logoed neck strap, clamshell case with zip lock, microfibre cloth, instruction sheet, rain guard and objective covers

Warranty: 2 years

Price(UK): £449.00

It’s been almost a decade now since Zeiss introduced their line of entry-level binoculars encompassing the Terra ED series. A few years back, I did a thorough test drive of the small pocket model and was duly impressed with its optical and ergonomic quality, I even investigated whether the quality of the original Japanese-made models of the Zeiss Terra ED Pocket were the same as their newer Chinese manufactured counterparts, finding that there was no discernible differences in performance between them. In this review, I’ll be reporting on the full-size 8 x 42 Terra ED.

During my investigation of the pocket model, I was contacted by a Zeiss Rep, who helped clarify many details about the Terra pocket binoculars but also offered some general comments on the philosophy behind Zeiss breaking into the mid-tier binocular market. She told me that their goal in marketing the new Terra ED line was to achieve ‘’best in class performance.’ She also told me that in the early days they were having some problems getting their Chinese employees to apply the coatings on the lenses to the standards established by Zeiss but that was close to being resolved. Fast forward a few years and I now feel that I have a truly mature product with all the initial manufacturing bugs having been eliminated.

First Impressions

The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 42 is a handsome & well-appointed binocular.

I ordered up the instrument from Amazon. The package arrived in fine condition. The box was brand-new with no signs of tampering. I chose the plain, black-coloured model. Inside I found a nice quality storage box with a pretty alpine picture inside the top cover to whet my appetite. The instrument was found inside a well-made Cordura case – a scaled up version of that accompanying the pocket models. This is a far cry from the soft pouch that accompanied earlier incarnations of the same instrument.

The full-size 8 x 42 Terra binocular comes with a nicely fitting Cordura clamshell case.

The box also contained an instruction sheet with warranty information, a high-quality Zeiss microfibre cloth, and a good, wide, Zeiss-logoed neoprene strap. The instrument was located inside the case with the rubber rain guard and objectives covers attached.

Bellyside up.

I was pleasantly surprised when I took the binocular out for initial inspection. Zeiss apparently gave the larger Terra models a makeover in 2017, using a thicker rubber substrate to armour the re-enforced fibreglass chassis. It’s much more grippy than that found on the pocket models, smooth on top and nicely textured on the sides of the barrels. Unlike a number of other reports I’ve read, there was no strong smell from the rubber either. The Zeiss blue logo sits pretty on the broad single bridge.

Tipping the scales at just over 700g, the instrument possesses a median weight among 8 x 42 roof models I’ve tested. The large central focus wheel is superbly tuned. It rotates extremely smoothly with no play in either direction. Just shy of one full revolution clockwise brings you from closest focus(1.8m measured) to infinity and beyond. This is a very fast focussing mechanism – ideal for birding, as I was to discover.

The right eye dioptre is sensibly located under the right ocular lens and is fairly stiff to turn – a good thing surely. I’m glad Zeiss didn’t go for one of those gimmicky plastic locking dioptres found on similarly priced $500 binoculars, which are likely to malfunction sooner rather than later. Indeed, I personally don’t consider locking dioptres to be that desirable.

The twist-up eye cups are comfortable and very well designed.

The eyecups are excellently designed. Covered in soft rubber, they are extremely comfortable to rest your eyes against.  Four locking positions are offered, quite enough for most users. Unlike the 10 x 42 model, the eye relief is plenteous enough to image the entire field easily with ordinary glasses.

The objective lenses are nicely recessed. They have immaculately applied antireflection coatings that make the lenses almost disappear when viewed head-on. The large ocular lenses make centring one’s eyes easy and intuitive too. Zeiss had the presence of mind to include their proprietary LotuTec hydrophobic coatings to the outer lenses to cause water to bead and run off the lenses during downpours. You needn’t worry about the lenses fogging up in cold weather either. The same coatings will disperse any condensation very rapidly as my own testing verified.

The nicely recessed lenses have a beautiful magenta bloom.

I like the quality of both the rain guard and objective covers. Made from high quality rubber they fit snugly onto the instrument and provide excellent protection from the elements. The neck strap is of high quality – a good step up from the cheap generic designs you get with other models in the same price class.

Check out those large ocular lenses.

In the hand, the instrument feels great. It’s grippy, robust and with a silky-smooth focus wheel, it’s very easy to engage with. Overall, the Zeiss is a very handsome binocular both to look at and to hold and seems to be robust enough to withstand anything nature is likely to throw at it. This is one place where I disagree with the reviewer in Preamble 2 above. Good job Zeiss!

Optics

Inspecting the interior of the binocular when trained on a bright torch light revealed excellent results. There were no internal reflections or diffused light around the light source, but I did detect a weak diffraction spike – a common artefact in roof prism binoculars in all price classes. This was much more subdued than in the 8x 25 pocket Terras I tested though. The spike is not intrusive on larger light sources but when I trained it on small light sources in the distance, I could see that little diffraction spike. Overall though these tests proved quite excellent and so will make a great instrument for studying cityscapes or surveillance at night.

Examining the exit pupils showed very good results too(see below). They are big, round and have very good darkening around the pupils indicating good blackening of the interior and effective baffling.

A very good result.

I was very pleasantly surprised when I looked through this binocular. The view is excellent; bright, very sharp, wonderful contrast but what impressed me above all was its exceptional glare control. Testing the instrument in all sorts of conditions from bright autumn sunshine, dull overcast, and wet drizzly conditions yielded uniformly excellent results. Many other binoculars in this $500 price class have ED glass, but this binocular taught me that not all ED glass is created equal. This Zeiss contains Schott ED glass and it really shows! Other instruments I’ve tested in this price class tend to show glare in low light conditions or when pointed toward a strongly backlit target, but this nifty little Terra stubbornly refused to show anything significant. This is one of the optical virtues that sends it right to the top of the pack in this price class in my opinion. This also explains the excellent contrast of the images garnered by this instrument. While I could detect a very slight yellow tinge against a whitewashed wall, it made the images warm, enhancing the beautiful colour of autumn leaves. Many lesser binoculars are ruined by glare and even though they serve up perfectly sharp images, their lesser contrast brings them down a notch or two in perceived sharpness.

How does your binocular handle strongly backlit scenes like this? The Zeiss Terra ED handles it superbly!

Colour correction is excellent in this unit also. I could see none on axis and only a trace near the field stops even after testing it in very severe lighting conditions. The sweet spot is generously large. To my eye about 80 per cent of the field is very sharp with the last 20 per cent or so showing some softness. Pincushion distortion is very low and only manifests itself in the outer 20 per cent of the field. These low distortion images will be useful for studying architectural features.

Collimation was judged to be spot on as evidenced by how the binocular behaved under the stars. I also confirmed that the sweet spot extends to about 80 per cent of the distance to the field stops, with some field curvature and astigmatism morphing the stars significantly in the outer 20 per cent of the field. I also witnessed moderate illumination drop off when the Moon was moved from the centre of the field to the edges.

In summary, I was frequently reminded why Zeiss put their prestigious name behind this binocular. It has very high image quality and way above average resistance to glare of all types. I’m certain that it will delight the vast majority of people who look through it and therefore I’m in full agreement with the opinions garnered in Preamble 1 above. A thoroughly delightful visual experience!

Notes from the Field

The Zeiss Terra works flawlessly in wet weather.

The Zeiss Terra ED binocular is designed to operate flawlessly over a temperature range of -15 to +60C. In one test I left the instrument exposed to sub zero night temperatures for two hours(-3C), together with my Nikon EII 10 x 35. I can report that the focus wheel moved very easily and smoothly after this two hour exposure. In contrast, the Nikon focus wheel was much more sluggish and hard to turn until the grease had softened after warming up for a few minutes of it being brought back indoors.

Some of the more animated reviews I’ve seen, seem to be confusing a thin focal plane with depth of focus. Indeed, they seem to think that different binoculars offering the same magnification can show significant variations in focus depth but this is simply not the case. The main factor that determines focus depth is magnification – the lower the better. The super fast focus means that the focal plane is much thinner than found in a slower focuser taking say two or more revolutions to get from one end of its focus travel to the other. He also mentions the flat field of the Terra but I’m sure that’s just par for the course for a roof prism binocular. In another video, he compared a 10 x 42 Terra to a 10 x 42 Conquest HD and noted the Terra’s better colour correction.

The all but absent glare in the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 42 makes it a particularly excellent instrument to use in dull overcast or low light conditions where colours become especially vivid. Browns and reds really pop in this glass! It was head and shoulders above and beyond my control 8 x 42s in this capacity. Views of the Moon are great: tack sharp, no glare or internal reflections and very little secondary spectrum within its sweet spot. Only at the edges of the field, did the Terra show some lateral colour but all within very acceptable levels. Is there anything I didn’t like about it? Well, yes; a small matter really. When I turned the instrument on a bright star field after dark, I noted how the brighter stars showed tiny diffraction spikes compared with my Porro prism binoculars, which produced perfectly round stellar seeing disks in comparison.  However, since I generally don’t star gaze with 8 x 42 roofs, this wasn’t an issue for me. The field of view of 7.1 degrees is also a little restricting, especially if you’re accustomed to enjoying expansive 7.5 or 8 degree fields. That said, I never felt ‘ tunnelled in’ while using it.

If you’re used to a slower focuser, the super fact focus wheel on the Terra 8 x 42 might take a bit of getting used to. But once you spend a few days in the field with the instrument, it becomes very easy and intuitive to use. Just a quarter turn brings targets from just a few metres away to several tens of metres away into perfect focus. This makes it particularly suited to high-intensity birding, and in this capacity, I enjoyed many moments following migrating Fieldfares and Redwings flit from the ground to the safety of trees in large groups. Sharpness at distance is also very noteworthy in the Zeiss Terra 8 x 42. I was able to pick off a tiny Goldfinch flying at a distance of 80 yards or so against a grey, overcast sky.

Conclusions & Recommendations

A gift from Zeiss.


The Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 42 was a very pleasant surprise. It has an extremely well thought-through design and seems very robust and reliable. Optically, I rate it quite highly. The images it serves up are tack sharp with well above average colour correction, contrast and glare suppression. Has Zeiss succeeded in achieving ‘best in class’ status with the Terra line? From the tests I’ve carried out the answer appears to be a clear ‘yes.’ You’re not just getting a mid-tier binocular here, it’s a Zeiss binocular and you can tell that from the moment you bring it to your eyes.

Highly recommended!

My new book, Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts hits the bookshelves in December and is also available for pre-order.

De Fideli.

Product Review: Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42.

The Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42 package.

A Work Commenced August 21 2023

Product: Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Chassis: Rubber Armoured Magnesium Alloy

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

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 2.36m measured

Eye Relief: 15mm(Useable)

IPD Range: 57-74mm

Coatings: Full Broadband Multicoated, Dielectric coatings on BaK4 prisms

ED Glass: Yes FK-61

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Dimensions: L/W: 14/12.5cm

Weight: 671g advertised, 728g measured

Warranty: 2 years

Price: $329.95

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

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

Ergonomic Features

An exceptionally handsome binocular.

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

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

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

Belly side up.

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

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

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

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

Optical Assessment

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

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

Left Pupil.
Right Pupil.

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

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

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

Notes from the Field

A wonderful companion in the great outdoors

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions & Recommendations

Sweet.

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

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

De Fideli.

Product Review: Hawke Frontier ED X 8 x 42.

Hawke Frontier ED X 8 x 42 Package.

A Work Commenced July 30 2023

Product: Hawke Frontier EDX 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Chassis: Rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

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

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.94m measured

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

Eye Relief: 18mm

ED Glass: Yes

Water Proof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 692g advertised, 701g measured

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

Warranty: Hawke World Wide Lifetime warranty

Price(UK): £449.00

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

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

Ergonomics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Optical Assessment

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

Recommended!

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

De Fideli.

My Thoughts on the Asahi Pentax 8 x 40 Wide Angle(9.5 Degree) Binocular.

The Asahi Pentax 8 x 40 Widefield.

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

A Work Commenced 18/6/23

Preamble 

“What on earth were these instruments designed for? “

That was the question I posed to myself as I first brought this old classic Japanese-made Asahi Pentax 8 x 40 wide field binocular to my eyes for the first time. The view had a very sharp central image and a huge 9.5-degree field of view for an 8x glass, but the image was tinged in a weird greenish cast. A quick google search brought up a few possibilities but the most common answer was that the special coatings applied to the ocular lenses acted like polaroid sunglasses cutting down on glare, especially on sunny days. But if that were so, what was the green tint all about? I mean, I’ve never had sunglasses that imparted a greenish tint to everything!?

A original leather case with a gorgeous rose-coloured lining.

I picked the instrument up from a chap on fleabay back in early March for £65 plus £6 shipping, so £71 all in. The condition of the instrument looked immaculate, especially for a 1970s vintage glass. The original leather carry case is beautifully made with a rose-coloured lining.  When I received the instrument, I was amazed how pristine it was; really like brand new. This must have been stored somewhere warm and dry for decades Indeed, the only reason I could think of to explain its tip-top condition was that it was hardly used at all!

The fine leatherette armouring is pristine for such an old glass.

The build quality of this Asahi Pentax is very impressive. Good big prisms, with a nicely tensioned central focus wheel moving very smoothly after all these years. The objectives looked singly coated with the standard bluish glint of magnesium fluoride anti-reflection coating. The right eye dioptre moved very smoothly but with great resistance to accidental displacement, with an easy-to-read +/- scale. The eyecups are made from hard plastic and so can’t be adjusted to improve eye relief for the bespectacled, but I suppose some resourceful person could shim them down to access more of the field.

Belly side up.

The instrument is extremely chunky, tipping the scales at 979g without a neck strap. I guess this was one of the instruments that helped stereotype the classic Porro as being big and bulky, although that’s not really true today I’m glad to say. I measured close focus at 6 yards – again stereotypical of glasses from this era but also no longer necessarily true today either. Using it for a few minutes,you really do come away with the impression that this was a quality instrument, especially when it saw first light all those decades ago. Based on the stampings on the front cap, this was manufactured by Zuiho Kogaku Seiki Co, Tokyo.

Serial # and angle of view.

The eyepieces are coated with a substance that reflects golden light to the eye. It’s not gold however, in case you’re wondering. The wavelength of the reflected light (~600nm) only depends on the refractive index of the coating and its thickness. I’ve heard of some folk who have removed these coatings using acetone and a bit of elbow grease with varying degrees of success. Some reported that the colour cast of the resulting images are more natural but also that it exposed more internal reflections and glare in the images they served up.

The strong colour shift renders the Asahi Pentax almost useless for birding excursions. Accurate identification relies on the binocular delivering colours that are faithful to the natural image. It’s not especially good at cutting down on glare either. Turning the binocular on some strongly backlit scenes showed up significant glare in this instrument, as it also did when I turned it on a sodium streetlamp after dark. But what’s remarkable about this instrument is the expansive field of view with very good sharpness across most of the field. As an astronomical instrument, it also does quite well but the low light transmission and colour shift renders the images a bit dimmer than a modern instrument having superior coatings.

A well-corrected 9.5 degree field is very impressive for an 8x instrument though.  It’s actually larger than my Nikon EII 8 x 30(~9 degrees) and my Nikon Action 7 x 35 ( 9.3 degrees). But when I began to study a variety of older Porro prism binoculars, especially in the 7 x 35 format, I was shocked by what I discovered. Paul Wehr, a keen binocular collector based in New York was kind enough to share some images of his extensive collection of classic Japanese-made 7 x 35s with me. It turns out that 9 or even 10-degree fields were rather on the small side. Take a look at some of the models in his collection.

Here are a couple of vintage Bushnell 7x 35 Rangemasters sporting 10 degree fields:

The vintage Bushnell Rangemaster 7 x 35 with 10 degree field. Image credit: Paul Wehr.

But they come significantly wider again. Take a look at this Swift Holiday Mark II with an 11 degree field:

The Swift Holiday Mark II 7 x 35 with its 11 degree field. Image credit: Paul Wehr.

Or how about this Sans & Streiffe 7 x 35 model with a whopping 13 degree true field!

The Sans & Streiffe 7 x 35 with a 13 degree true field! Image credit: Paul Wehr.

My conversations with Paul made it obvious that he’s very impressed with these classic widefield binoculars. I would be too! Ultra wide fields like this are not unique to Porro prism models either. Take the Leica Amplivid 6 x 24, for example, sporting a 12 degree field.

Back to the Future

My personal ‘discovery’ of the existence of these ultrawide compact binocular models from yesteryear raises interesting questions in my mind. In 2023, leading binocular manufacturers like Swarovski and Zeiss wax lyrical about their wide-angle flagship models, like the NL Pure range and Victory SFs, sporting fields of the order of 9 degrees. Owners rave about their huge fields seemingly unaware that much bigger fields were available to binocular enthusiasts a half century ago.

There’s an important lesson to be learned here. Resurrecting these classic Porro prism designs with enormous fields could be done at much lower costs than those commanded by today’s top wide-angle roofs. Can you imagine what could be achieved by applying state-of -the-art multilayer coatings to the optical surfaces of such designs? Adding a field flattening lens would also make them very sharp nearly to the edge. Re-designing the eyepieces with greater eye relief wouldn’t go amiss either. Adding seals would render them water proof and purging them with dry nitrogen gas would keep them from fogging up in cold /humid weather.

Some of these sentiments are echoed in Holger Merlitz’s excellent article linked to in the preamble above. In particular, he makes the point that by incorporating modern, wide-angle eyepiece designs into these classic models, they would deliver wider and better corrected fields of view.

Just imagine what could be achieved!

It would surely usher in a revolution in binocular technology, and open the hobby up to more people if they’re offered at a significantly lower cost than the current top tier roof models now on the market.

We can only dream!

Thanks for reading!

Neil English’s new book: Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, will be published in late 2023 by Springer Nature.

I would like to sincerely thank Paul Wehr for sharing images of his classic wide-angle models, as well as his enthusiastic conversations about their potential.

De Fideli.

Product Review: Oberwerk SE 10 x 42ED.

The Oberwerk SE 10 x 42 ED Package.

A Work Commenced April 20 2023

Preamble

Product: Oberwerk SE 10 x 42 ED

Country of Manufacture: China

Chassis Material: Rubber Armoured Aluminium

Exit Pupil: 4.2mm

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

Eye Relief: 15mm(Useable)

Close Focus: 4m advertised, 4.39m measured

Coatings: Fully Broadband Multicoated

ED Glass: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 872g measured

Accessories: Carry case, objective and rain guard(tetherable), lens cleaning cloth, test card, logoed and non-logoed neck straps.

Dimensions: 15 x 16.5cm

Warranty: 2 years

Price: $279.95

A few months back, I took the plunge and decided to order up one of the new binoculars offered by Oberwerk (see the preamble above). While I had heard great things about the company’s larger binoculars, I was genuinely intrigued when they brought out their SE series of smaller aperture Porro prism binoculars. The 8 x 32 SE has turned out to be something of a marvel; very bright, sharp, high-contrast images, a great big sweet spot and superb colour correction. But it didn’t end there. The same binocular is very well built and handles better than any other binocular I’ve had the pleasure to field test in this aperture class.. The 8 x 32 SE is the smallest binocular in this series, but my sustained attention to high-performance Porros stoked my interest in its larger sibling, the Oberwerk 10 x 42 SE. Intriguingly, it was being offered for only about $30 more than the 32mm model, so I ordered a unit up for testing and evaluation.

The Oberwerk SE 10 x 42 ED is a sturdily built binocular made for the great outdoors.

Like the 8 x 32 package, the 10 x 42 arrived within a week of me ordering it. Everything was well packed; the binocular with attached rain guards, the test card, neck straps and a fine soft padded case. Amazingly, this bigger brother of the 8 x 32 SE only weighs about 80g more. And just like the smaller Oberwerk, it’s built like a proverbial tank, with a thick, grippy rubber armouring surrounding the aluminium chassis.

The big beautiful eyecups on the Oberwerk SE 10 x 42 ED. Check out those antireflection coatings!

Everything worked smoothly; the central focus wheel, the right eye dioptre, the twist up eye cups with their comfortable eye relief. The only significant difference from the smaller model is that the objective lenses are not as deeply recessed. But that’s only because the extent of the recession of the 8x 32 SE objectives is truly cavernous!

Though not as deeply recessed as the smaller 8 x 32 unit, the objectives are still very well protected.

Next, the optics. Just like the 8 x 32 model, the 10 x 42 shows no internal reflections when pointed at a bright artificial light source. Taking a shot of the exit pupils showed very nice results, maybe not quite as nice as those found in the 32mm model but very good nonetheless.

Left eye pupil.
Right eye pupil.

So what is it like to look through?

In a word: terrific!

On the afternoon it arrived, I quickly attached the neck strap and took myself off up to Culcreuch Pond to have a gander at the bird life. I was greeted by no less than three Cormorants, all perched on the fallen tree at the north edge of the pond. The generous field of view framed the birds perfectly. This is the tree I most often judge the size of the sweet spot during daylight hours as the trunk spans the field from edge to edge. I could instantly see that this was a high-quality optic with beautiful details on their feathers and long slender beaks coming through. I could also see that there was only a very modest amount of softening of the image at the field stops. That said, having experienced a few other 10x glasses with 6.5+ degree fields, the portal seemed a little short of what I expected. More on this later.

With leaden skies and the light rapidly failing, I didn’t think I’d see much more of interest that day, but as I was walking down the country road on the castle drive I heard the sound of a Woodpecker and quickly aimed the Oberwerk 10 x 42 SE as best I could towards some trees in an open field. Scanning carefully, I caught sight of a Great Spotted Woodpecker busy hunting for insects. And, as if by magic, a beautiful sunbeam broke through the clouds, illumining the tree with warm, radiant light. The striking colours of the bird – black, white and red -came to life. But then, from out of nowhere, a second Great Spotted Woodpecker emerged from behind another branch! I had never seen anything quite like this before! The view was razor sharp, the colours pure and intense, the stereopsis in the middle distance enhanced by the 10x boost producing an unforgettable visual extravaganza. The first bird took to flight after about 45 seconds of viewing it, the second followed suit shortly thereafter. Then the sunbeam disappeared, and I was back to sullen grey rainclouds serving as the backdrop to the tree top.

Still, the target served as an excellent test bed to see how well the optic was corrected for chromatic aberration. Once again, the Oberwerk 10 x 42 SE delivered in spades! Did it reach the sheer excellence of the 32mm unit? No, not quite, but it was very close.

I had anticipated that the perfect colour correction of the smaller 8 x 32 unit would be considerably more difficult to pull off with that higher magnification and greater light grasp of the larger 42mm objectives. But the results were excellent! I detected only a trace of lateral colour right out near the field stops and none within the sweet spot under these harsh lighting conditions. Indeed, on subsequent days with varying quality light, I became convinced that this binocular was well above average, even compared with other glasses endowed with well-executed ED glass objectives. Those who are sensitive to CA will be delighted with this optic. It’s just not an issue – quite a result, actually, for a big 10 x 42 like this.

Both the 8 x 32 and 10 x 42 Oberwerk Porros exhibit exceptional suppression of glare, which can only be achieved by a combination of high-quality coatings, good baffling and decently recessed objectives. Glassing into strongly backlit scenes presents little problem for these glasses. This extraordinary glare suppression adds to the visual punch of the images they serve up. Close focus on the 10 x 42 was measured to be 4.39m, a little longer than advertised but of no consequence to me, as this glass was designed for observing in the long to middle distance. Eye glass wearers will also be able to view the entire field thanks to the generous useable eye relief on these models.

The Oberwerk SE 10 x 42 is very comfortable to handle, despite its heftiness. Indeed, as I extended my glassing sessions with both these instruments, I came to appreciate that I could actually get slightly steadier images from them compared with my smaller, lighter glasses, so long as I didn’t over do it time wise, when muscular fatigue sets in. Studies I’ve read suggest hand-induced tremors manifest in the low frequency range, between 3 and 10Hz, and further indicate that using heavier glasses will introduce enough inertia to dampen these oscillations significantly. I noted this first with the smaller 8 x 32 SE comparing it with my lighter 8 x 30 Nikon E II, but it’s also true of the larger 10 x 42 unit, having done similar tests comparing it to my beloved Nikon E 10 x 35 WF.

Little & Large: the Oberwerk SE 10 x 42 ED(top) and the Nikon E 10 x 35 WF(bottom).

So how did these glasses compare optically? The Nikon has the wider field of view at 6.6 angular degrees. In bright light, the views are very comparable, that is, excellent, although I could see a good deal more lateral colour in the Nikon glass(non-ED) compared with the Oberwerk. In dull light conditions, such as near sunset or on heavily overcast days, the Oberwerk serves up significantly better images; they’re brighter and display no glare, which can sometimes be an issue for the Nikon. The Oberwerk also shows much milder pincushion distortion in the outer field compared with the Nikon too.  

Adventures under the Stars

I can pretty much instantly tell if a binocular is mis-collimated in daylight tests, but I usually also test alignment of the barrels under the stars. By defocusing the bright star Arcturus using the right eye dioptre ring, I could see the focused star image from the left barrel was perfectly centred inside the defocused anulus of the right barrel image, so all was well. Centring the same star and moving it progressively further off axis, I was delighted to see that it remained a sharp pinpoint to about 80 per cent of the way to the field stop, after which the star showed the tell-tale signs of mild field curvature and some astigmatism. That said, even at the field stops, the star was only moderately deformed and didn’t present as an issue. Indeed, I consider that excellent performance for a binocular that lacks field flatteners.

The monopod maketh the binocular.

In my next test, I mounted the Oberwerk SE 10 x 42 ED on a tripod and centred Regulus in Leo, located some 12 degrees from the celestial equator and near my local meridian to conduct timing measurements of how long it took the star to reach the field stop. These times(in seconds) were doubled and then plugged into a standard astronomical formula requiring the cosine of the star’s declination, to measure field size. The arithmetic mean of such timings yielded a result of 6.44 angular degrees, a little less than the advertised 6.5 degrees, which I had suspected whilst comparing the Oberwerk to my Nikon E 10 x 35. These tests were carried out during a string of cold nights, where the temperatures fell below zero in the wee small hours of early April. This afforded an excellent opportunity to test another claim made by Oberwerk; fog proofing. Exposing the instrument to the cold for a couple of hours, I then brought it inside to a warm living room where the external optics fogged up, as expected. The inside of the instrument remained clear and fog free however, indicating that these instruments were indeed immune to internal fogging. Apparently, Oberwerk has been successfully doing this for well over a decade, as I came across a reference made by Phil Harrington who discussed this fact in his 2007 Star Ware.

Enjoying a long spell of settled clear weather, with blue skies by day and clear frosty nights, I enjoyed several astronomical vigils with this binocular. Handholding is OK for quick looks, but to get the most out of the instrument I mounted it on my trusty monopod, with a ball & socket head for increased stability and maximum manoeuvrability. On the evening of April 10 at 9.15pm local time, I spied an amazing apparition in the late evening twilight sky; the bright planet Venus and the Pleiades were framed within the same field of view! Venturing out about half an hour later with the sky fully dark, I was enthralled to see the same view, only this time many more stars were visible within the cluster and brilliant white Venus shining through the darkness, creating an unforgettable visual spectacle. Lying comfortably on a zero-gravity chair, I enjoyed spellbinding views of Praesepe and the Beehive Cluster at its heart, the sprawling stellar association known as the Coma Berenices Cluster(Melotte 111), the Alpha Persei Association and the Double Cluster, now sinking lower into my northern skies. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s something very special about the star images Porro prism binoculars serve up compared with their roof prism counterparts. To my eye, they appear more pinpoint and intense, more aesthetically pleasing. What’s more, I’ve noted the greater contrast induced by smaller exit pupils(< 5mm). The sky appears noticeably darker, intensifying the images of stars and faint nebulae. That’s also why the Nikon E 10 x 35 WF is such a lovely stargazing glass!

Because summer twilight sets in from about mid-May to the end of July this far north, I often do some of my summer observing in the wee small hours of late April mornings when the sky is still properly dark, and the traditional summer constellations rise high in the eastern sky. I had the opportunity to observe the Milky Way through Cygnus and Lyra, soaking up the beautiful, pristine star colours each field of view afforded. The region around Sadr was particularly memorable, as was the striking colour contrast binocular double 31 Cygni. Brilliant Vega was pure white as the driven snow and nearby Epsilon 1 & 2 Lyrae were easy pickings for this binocular. The great globular cluster in Hercules, M13, was a striking sight in this excellent 10  x 42, as was Albireo(Beta Cygni), which was nicely resolved using a steady monopod into comely orange and blue components.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Complementary glasses.

The Porro prism binocular revolution continues apace, and Oberwerk has positioned itself at the cutting edge of this movement with the marketing of these new instruments. Both the Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 and 10 x 42 proved to be excellent performers by day, and also after dark. Their no-nonsense, robust build quality and great optical performance will delight most anyone who views with them. Indeed, the experiences I’ve had with these instruments make me seriously question why anyone would want to consider roof prism binoculars costing up two or three times more than these instruments for little or no gain in performance. It just doesn’t cut the mustard! Both represent exceptional value for money in today’s market and will provide years of reliable performance to birdwatchers and stargazers alike.

Needless to say, you’ll be hearing more about my adventures with both these instruments in the months and years to come!

So, watch this space!

Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. His 8th title on binoculars hits the shelves later this year.

De Fideli.

Product Review: Celestron Regal ED 8 x 42.

The Celestron Regal ED 8 x 42 package.

A Work Commenced January 15 2023

 

Product: Celestron Regal ED 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Eye Relief: 22.5mm

Chassis: Rubber armoured Magnesium Alloy

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

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 2

Close Focus: 1.5m advertised, 2.04m measured

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

Field Flattening Optics: Yes

ED Glass: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

Fogproof: Yes

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Weight: 768g advertised, 819g measured

Dimensions: 15.2 x 13 cm

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

Warranty: Limited Lifetime Warranty

Price(UK): £350.00

 

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

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

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

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

Ergonomics

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

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

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

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

Heavy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belly side up.

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

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

Optics

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

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

Right exit pupil showing slight truncation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressive optical kit.

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

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

Where next Columbus?

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

 

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

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42.

The Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 package.

A Work Commenced January 8 2023

 

Product: Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

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

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.83m measured

Eye Relief: 17mm

Chassis: Rubber armoured magnesium alloy

Coatings: Fully multicoated optics, phase corrected BAK4 prisms

ED Glass: Yes

Tripod Adaptable: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 705g advertised, 701g measured

Dimensions: L/W 14.8 x 12.7cm

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

Warranty: No Fault Lifetime Warranty

Price(UK): £239

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

The Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 has excellent ergonomics.

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

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

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

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

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

Optical Assessment

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

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

Left exit pupil.

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

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

Notes from the Field

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

A good, all-round performer.

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

Conclusions

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

Recommended.

 

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

 

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

 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Swarovski Optik EL 8.5 x 42.

The Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42.

Product: Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42(first generation)

Country of Manufacture: Austria

Field of View: 130m@1000m(7.4 angular degrees)

Exit Pupil: 4.94mm

Eye Relief: 18mm

Close Focus: 2.5m advertised, 2.07m measured

Coatings: Proprietary Swarodur, Swarotop, Swaroclean, Swarobright

Dioptre Compensation: +/-3

ED Glass: Yes

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 820g advertised, 822g measured

Dimensions: 16.5 x 12.3cm

Accessories: Padded logoed neoprene neck strap, rubber rain guard and tethered objective lens covers, stylish clamshell carry case, Instruction manual, warranty card

Warranty: 10 years

Current Retail Price: £1675(UK)

 

 

 

In this review blog, I’ll be test driving a first generation Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42 and comparing it to a few newer, mid-priced models available today, with some surprising results!

 

Tune in soon for full details……………………

 

De Fideli.

The Extraordinary Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED.

The Extraordinary Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED.

A Work Commenced November 12 2022

Preamble 1

Preamble 2

Preamble 3

Product: Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED

Country of Manufacture: Hong Kong

Chassis: Textured rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Field of View: 131m@1000m(7.5 angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 17.5mm

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 3

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 2.27m measured

Coatings: Fully broadband multicoated, dielectric and phase coatings on BAK4 roof prisms

ED Glass: Yes

Waterproof: Yes IPX7 rating

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 720g advertised, 720g measured

Dimensions: 15 x 11.5 cm

Accessories: Padded soft case, logoed neoprene neck strap, ocular and objective covers, microfibre lens cleaning cloth, instruction manual

Warranty: 1 year

Price(US): $179.99

The old Latin proverb, Omne trium perfectum, came to mind as I finally got a chance to look though the new Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED. After discovering the many virtues of both the compact 8 x 32 and full-size 10 x 42 from the same series, and communicating my findings with the general community, a great many people have benefited from using these binoculars and reported on their amazing optics and ergonomics. Despite receiving attacks from online trolls and a few individuals who hate me and my work for no cause, they got egg on their faces as interest in these binoculars went viral(preamble 3 is only one of several threads available to peruse online). More and more favourable reports kept coming out, making these instruments go from strength to strength across the world, where they have shattered once and for all the myth that excellent binoculars can only be had by shelling out large sums of money.

I’m delighted to say that those days are well and truly behind us now!

As soon as the new 8 x 42 had been launched, I immediately received a barrage of emails requesting a review. After thinking about it a little while, I decided to act on these requests – it just seemed to be the right thing to do. The instrument was not yet available on Amazon, the online retailer that I had bought the SV 202 8 x 32 and 10 x 42 ED models from, so I went to Svbony’s Website and ordered it directly from them. My order was placed on October 20 and the instrument arrived safely on the afternoon of November 1. I paid $179.99 US to secure my order but had to pay an additional 20 per cent import tariff in order for the binocular to clear customs, so about £200 all in.

First Impressions & Ergonomics

Just like the previous two models, the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED arrived in the same neat little box. Inside, the same black soft padded case housed the instrument, with the rain guard and tethered objective lens covers attached. The box also contained a padded neoprene logoed neck strap, a lens cleaning microfibre cloth and multi-language instruction manual and warranty information.

The instrument was immaculately presented with its durable magnesium alloy chassis overlaid with a tough non-oxidising rubber armouring, and presenting the same ridges at the side of the barrels as the other models for excellent gripping in all weathers. Inspecting the innards of the binocular from the objective end, I was relieved to find that everything looked immaculate, with no signs of streaks on the optics, dust or other debris inside. The knife-edge baffles looked nicely machined and the inside painted a dull matt black to optimise contrast.

Examining the focus wheel, I was delighted to see that it was silky smooth and backlash free, taking 1.5 turns anticlockwise to go from one extreme of its focus travel to infinity and a little bit beyond. Tension is excellent – just as good as on the 10 x 42 ED and not quite as tight as on the 8 x 32 ED model(which niggled me a little).

A great focuser maketh the binocular.

The twist-up eyecups are also excellent. Fashioned from machined metal overlaid with soft rubber, they have three positions to accommodate the vast majority of users, including those who wear eyeglasses. They lock into each position with a reassuring ‘click’ and remain very rigidly in place. Indeed, from memory, they appear to be very similar to those found on the excellent Nikon Monarch HG binocular series. The eye relief is more than sufficient to view the entire field with glasses on, as my tests showed.

The right-eye dioptre adjustment ring is located under the eyepiece. It has excellent texture and tension to enable the user to quickly and accurately find his/her desired setting. Unlike the majority of binoculars in this price range, the plus and minus settings are easy to see and a white dot makes it easy for you to remember your preferred setting. Once adjusted, it remains rigidly in place for hassle free observing.

The single bridge is fairly short, allowing the user to wrap his/her fingers around the front of the barrels securely to ensure supremely comfortable handling.

The broadband anti-reflection coatings have a beautiful purple hue in broad daylight. They appear very evenly applied and appear to almost disappear when viewed from oblique angles. The 42mm objective lenses are nicely recessed, affording good protection from stray light, dust and rain. The ocular lenses are large and easy to centre one’s eyes in.

The beautifully applied anti-reflection coatings on the large ocular lenses.
The deeply recessed objective lenses on the Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED.

Overall, and in keeping with my comments on the 8 x 32 and 10 x 42 models, the fit and finish on the Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED is excellent. And just like its siblings, it looks and feels like a real class act, being quite lightweight(720g) and a particular joy to handle. These binoculars were clearly built with longevity in mind, and all I can say is that there is nothing in the design of these instruments that gives me any grounds for doubt.

Optical Assessment

In my experiences testing dozens of models in this aperture class over the years, I’ve encountered many that look the part only to discover that their optics were, let’s just say, underwhelming. I’m delighted to report that the optics of the SV 202 8 x 42 ED did not disappoint! To give the reader an honest and thorough idea of how good this binocular is, I took the liberty to test it alongside two other instruments in the same aperture class: the Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 retailing at just over £200 and the more expensive GPO Passion ED 8 x 42 costing £404.

GPO Passion ED 8 x 42(top) and Svbony SV202 8 x 42 ED(bottom).
Hawke Endurance ED 8x 42(top) and the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED(bottom).

First examining the image of an intensely bright beam of white light directed into the instruments from across a darkened indoor setting, the results from the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED were really excellent! It stubbornly refused to show up any internal reflections, unlike the Hawke Endurance ED, which showed up some prominent ones in comparison. Nor was there any diffused light around the light source in the Svbony unlike the Hawke which was easy to see in comparison. Clearly, the Svbony has noticeably superior coatings and baffles to stubbornly block off these annoying optical artefacts. Now, when I compared the Svbony to the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42, the results were a lot closer but I must report that the Svbony also showed slightly better resistance to internal reflections than the GPO. Indeed, predictably enough, I obtained the same results when I turned the instruments on a bright full Moon and a sodium streetlamp after dark. Internal reflections and diffused light were quite obvious in the Hawke and much better in the GPO but I was still able to make out some weak internal reflections in the GPO binocular in comparison to the Svbony, which showed none in comparison. These are excellent results, and quite in keeping with the two other SV202 models I purchased and tested in my past evaluations(see Preamble 1 & 2 above).

Next, taking a look at the exit pupils aimed at a bright, artificial light source, I was delighted to see that the large exit pupils on the Svbony SV 202  8 x 42 ED were perfectly round, with little in the way of light bleeds in their vicinity as the photos below show;

Left exit pupil.
Right exit pupil.

So how are the views through the Svbony SV202 8 x 42ED? In a word: excellent! The image is very bright and razor sharp across the vast majority of the field. The binocular shows lovely micro-contrast details. Images snap to focus with absolutely no ambiguity. You’re either in focus or out of focus. No fiddling required! Contrast and colour rendering are also excellent. Glare is very well supressed but not quite as good as the best binoculars I’ve sampled in the £800 + range. On a CN thread I initiated on the SV202 8 x 32 ED I made the comment that Svbony were better off making the field of view a little smaller to reduce the severity of the field curvature seen near the field stops. I believe Svbony has listened and actively addressed the problem. The view is wide(7.5 angular degrees) but not overly so. This makes the sweetspot proportionately larger in the 8 x 42 than either the 8 x 32 or the 10 x 42 models previously assessed.  How big? I’d estimate that its razor sharp over at least 70 per cent of the field, with mild field curvature and some barrel distortion creeping in as one approaches the field stops. But make no mistake about it, even at the field stops, the images of stars I assessed(discussed below) were tighter than I remember on the two earlier models I field tested.

Comparing the views through the similarly-priced Hawke Endurance ED, the difference was obvious; the Svbony was noticeably sharper, had better contrast and with better control of both general field glare and veiling glare. Colour correction was maybe a shade better in the Hawke though, but I’ve noted that some of the sharpest binoculars I’ve tested over the last four years have had some secondary spectrum bleed. Having said that, there is only the merest trace of it within the sweet spot but as one moves to the outer field, lateral colour can often be picked up when viewing tree branches against a uniformly lit grey background sky; a harsh test for any binocular, however well made.

I got even more excited when I tested the Svbony SV 202  8 x 42 ED against the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42. This time, I canvassed the opinions of a few students to compare and contrast the views in both good and poor ambient light conditions, having already made my mind up on the matter. The results were again unanimous: they all agreed with me that the Svbony served up sharper images though they noted that the field of view of the GPO was noticeably wider( 8.1 angular degrees). But they could see, as I did, that the edge of field performance was noticeably better in the Sybony – a consequence of its more conservative sized field of view. These are truly excellent results and fully in keeping with the title of this review: the Extraordinary Svbony!

Notes from the Field

The majority of my most rigorous testing of the Svbony SV 202 ED 8 x 42 took place under a starry sky, where optical issues are easier to assess. Defocusing the bright, first-magnitude star, Capella, by rotating the dioptre ring to the end of its travel, I could see that collimation was fine. The focused star image from the left barrel was well inside the defocused anulus appearing in the right barrel. Stars remained tiny pinpoints of light across about 70-75 per cent of the field, with the last 25 per cent or so revealing some field curvature and a minor amount of astigmatism right at the field stops.

I was easily able to measure the size of the field of view in the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED. Noting that the stars Betelgeuse and Bellatrix in northern Orion are precisely 7 degrees 33’ apart, I was just unable to fit both into the same field. That’s very much in keeping with the 7 degree 30’ stated in the specifications. Good job Sybony!

Examining a bright waxing gibbous Moon in late October skies threw up a marble-white orb, peppered by grey lava seas and excellent crater detail across the southern highlands. Chromatic aberration was completely absent from the lunar limb within the large sweet spot, but did throw up some as the Moon was moved out towards the field stops. I noted some moderate drop off in illumination of the Moon at the field edges but nothing to take issue with, where only very slight refocusing was needed to bring it sharply into focus.

Back to daylight testing again now. Close focus was measured to be 2.27 metres, a little longer than advertised. I noticed some pincushion(positive) distortion looking at an off axis drain pipe. On the many very dull, overcast days we experienced throughout October, the Svbony SV 202  8 x 42 ED threw up superlative images. Colours in autumn leaves really popped, with no contrast-robbing glare to reduce the intensity of the views. Greens, browns and red colours seem to be enhanced under these conditions. Near dusk, these colours really become enhanced!  Imaging fallen leaves at close quarters(within a few metres) really shows off the exceptional sharpness of this binocular. I attribute this to unusually good correction of spherical aberration. Indeed, to my eye, better spherical aberration correction is more desirable than a slightly softer but better colour corrected image, as was manifested in the Hawke Endurance ED 8 x 42 tested alongside it. I detected no blackouts while panning large swathes of hillside with the Svbony 8 x 42 ED, unlike I encountered with the GPO Passion ED 8 x 42. I attribute this to simpler eyepiece design in the former. I’ve found blackouts to be a significant issue in many wide-angle 8 x 42s, with more aggressive field flattening strongly correlating with the frequency of blackouts encountered.

Under bright sunny conditions, the Svbony does throw up more in the way of glare, especially in the direction of the Sun, but although I’m especially partial to this kind of defect, it was never bothersome. Indeed, comparing my notes of observations conducted using a well-heeled Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42, I observed similar levels of glare under the same conditions. In another low light test, I compared and contrasted the images garnered by the GPO Passion ED and the Svbony. Observing at dusk and far into deep twilight, looking into the deeply shaded undergrowth of shrubs some 20 metres in the distance,  I was unable to see any significant brightness differences between the instruments. That’s good news considering the former has a light transmission of the order of 90 per cent. Whatever the precise light transmission of the Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED, it’s likely to be impressively high.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Even the soft padded carry case fits the binocular with its strap attached. Cool!

They say good things come in threes. That’s certainly turned out to be a true adage in my experience with these SV 202 compact and mid-sized ED binoculars from Svbony. Furthermore,  of the three I’ve tested and reported on, this new SV 202 8 x 42 ED has got to be my favourite. It’s an awesome binocular, especially considering its very modest pricing. It will make an excellent birding binocular, for example, where the finest optics are required to pick off the minutest details in your avian targets. It’s also a fine star gazing binocular with its great near edge-to-edge sharpness. It will do well in any situation; bright sunlight, or at dusk and dawn, so will also be useful as a hunting glass. I’m confident that the performance of this instrument will match or exceed pretty much any instrument currently on the market under £500, and will give £1K instruments a frightening run for their money. Any room for improvement? Yes. A few extra layers of antireflection coatings applied to the elements in the optical train will cut down the already minimal levels of glare to levels seen on binoculars in the £800 price range. Adding a hydrophobic coating on the outer lenses wouldn’t go amiss either, especially if you intend to use it in cold and wet environments. Other than that, I’d say leave well alone!

Very highly favoured!

Dr Neil English will publish a new book dedicated to binoculars: Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, due out in late 2023.

De Fideli.