A work commenced January 24 2021
Product: Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42
Country of Origin: China
Eye Relief: 15.5mm
Exit Pupil: 4.2mm
Field of View: 114m@1000m/6.5 angular degrees
Close Focus: 2m (advertised), 1.75m measured
ED Glass: No
Chassis Construction: polycarbonate, rubber armoured
Weatherproofing: water proof(1.5m for 3 minutes)
Nitrogen Purging: Yes
Dioptre Compensation Range: +/- 4 dioptres
Coatings: Fully Multicoated, phase corrected BAK4 Schmidt-Pechan prisms
Warranty: 10 Years
Dimensions W/H/D: 13/15/5.7cm
Supplied Accessories: Clamshell hard case, logoed neck strap, warranty card, generic instruction sheet, lens cleaning cloth.
Retail Price: £120-140 UK
There is an old adage; you get what you pay for. Though there is more than a grain of truth to this, as I enter my third year exploring and enjoying the binocular market, I have found genuine exceptions to that time honoured maxim. There is such a thing as a great bargain binocular; that is, a solidly made instrument that offers a level of optical performance and ergonomics well above what you’d expect given its modest price tag. I have spoken in the past of the remarkable Barr & Stroud Savannah 8 x 42, which punched well above its weight and left a lasting impression on this author. Here, I am delighted to present to you my evaluation of its higher power sibling; the Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42.
Just a couple of years ago, I was a total binocular virgin, having little or no experience with these optical wonders, save for an honourable mention to an old 7 x 50 Porro prism instrument I acquired in my youth. Little did I know that, like telescopes, the binocular market has undergone a veritable revolution, thanks to astounding advances in technology and a great capitalist, competitive spirit among manufacturers, which collectively have both improved the quality of bargain instruments and driven prices down. As a case in point, take a look at this review, dating back to 2011, of the same 10 x 42 I’m about to assess here. The reader will note its retail price was about £200. Now you can get the same instrument at a significantly reduced outlay; typically just 60 per cent of the 2011 retail price!
The Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 was purchased from a reputable dealer, the Birder’s Store, in Worcester, England. I paid £124.99 for the instrument and it arrived a couple of days after making the purchase. In the past, I have bought many economically priced instruments from Amazon, but discovered that quite a few are what I would describe as greyware; that is, while the price looks good, the products quite often have some optical or mechanical fault that necessitates sending them back and getting a refund. It pays to go to a specialised dealer when purchasing binoculars, especially if you don’t have a chance to test them out in person.
The instrument arrived in perfect nick: I received the binocular, a lens cleaning cloth, a warranty card, a high quality logoed padded neck strap, a generic instruction sheet and a clamshell case.
Being an identical build to the 8 x 42, the 10 x 42 Savannah is solidly constructed. The polycarbonate body is overlaid by textured green rubberised material that is easy to grip. While other enthusiasts have a tendency to look down on using polymers as the main housing, I personally don’t subscribe to that philosophy, being lucky enough to also own and use instruments that are constructed around aluminium and magnesium alloys. Indeed, I have encountered no hard evidence that instruments with a polycarbonate chassis are in any way inferior to those built around metallic alloys, despite the extensive hyperbole I’ve seen in online advertising and from other reviewers.
The central hinge is reassuringly stiff and maintains the correct inter-pupillary distance once adjusted. Though many of the more sophisticated models on the market have an open bridge design that enables the user to use it single-handedly, I fail to see why this would be important in a 10 x 42, as you’ll most definitely need both hands on deck to get a decently stable image at 10x.
One of the great features of this binocular, and Barr & Stroud instruments in general, are their wonderful focusers. This instrument is no exception; the focus wheel of which is covered in a textured rubber which is silky smooth to operate, with zero backlash, going through just over two full revolutions from one end of its focus travel to the other. Having sampled several binoculars from Barr & Stroud, I know that this is no accident; this company once enjoyed an illustrious history serving the British navy in two world wars, with all manner of optical accoutrement. And even though they have long since ceased to be an independent trader, the company having outsourced all their manufacturing to China, it is clear to me that some of the skills they acquired in putting together highly functional binoculars in the past are still in evidence! What’s more, I would rate this focuser higher than many binoculars I have purchased for a few hundred pounds more!
As you can see from the photo above, the dioptre ring is not located under the right ocular lens, as is the case in the vast majority of roof prism binoculars, but just ahead of the focus wheel. This does make adjusting the right barrel optics considerably easier than its more conventional counterpart, but, for the record, it would be remiss of me not to mention a malfunctioning dioptre ring on a Savannah 8 x 42 I once purchased second-hand.
Another very nice feature of these economical binoculars is their eye cups. They are made from metal overlaid with soft rubber. They can be extended upwards with two click stops and hold their positions very firmly. Again, I would rate them as well above average, and more in keeping with eye cups I’ve seen on binoculars in the £200 to £250 range.
The objective lenses on the Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 are very deeply recessed. I measured them at about 8mm, which is good news, as this will afford greater protection of the objective in rainy and dusty environs, as well as acting as an effective shielding of stray light.
Attaching the instrument to a sturdy tripod, I was able to show that it arrived with very good collimation, with only a tiny vertical asymmetry between the left and the right barrels, which the eyes can easily accommodate for. Examining the exit pupil in a bright shaft of light showed that there was no truncation and no stray light leakage inside the field stop.
The good news continued when I performed my iPhone torch light test. Directing an intensely bright beam inside the binocular, and examining the image arriving at my eyes, I was delighted to see what I had reported before about these Savannah binoculars. The image was very clean, with no diffused light, a very subdued diffraction spike and a couple of very weak internal reflections. I deemed the result excellent and only a notch down from the same result I got from my Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 binocular, but a tad better than my smaller 10 x 25 Trinovid which cost three times more! Yet again, this excellent control of light leaks is more in keeping with a binocular in the £250-£400 range. Kudos to Barr & Stroud for their exceptional attention to detail in this regard. Examining a bright sodium street light showed no reflections or diffused light either, and the same was true when I turned the binocular on a bright waxing gibbous Moon in a freezing January sky. This binocular will provide lovely views of illuminated cityscapes, with no annoying reflections to contend with.
After the appropriate adjusting of the right eye dioptre, I began my daylight tests of the Savannah 10 x 42, comparing it carefully to the images served up by my Leica Trinovid 8 x 32. The Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 offers up a very sharp and contrast-rich image across the vast majority of the field of view, with only a little distortion/softness at the edge of the field. Indeed, the field is noticeably better corrected in this binocular compared with other models I’ve tested in the £200-£250 price range. The distortion is more pronounced when panning the glass vertically than horizontally, however, just like all other roof prism binoculars I’ve used in the past. The Leica proved slightly sharper but the differences were subtle at best. The image in the 10 x 42 has a very slightly yellowed appearance in comparison to the Leica, as if a very mild photographic warm up filter had been placed in the optical train, which I did not personally find off-putting. Indeed, it helps accentuate browns and tan colours that little bit better, which imparts a nice aesthetic effect to my eyes.
Looking closely at the contoured bark on a tree trunk a few tens of yards away, I got the distinct impression that the 10 x 42 was delivering slightly more detail than the 8 x 32, a consequence of the higher magnification and larger aperture of its ocular lenses, though this was somewhat negated by virtue of the 10 x 42’s significantly greater weight, which makes keeping the instrument steady considerably more challenging than in the smaller and lower power Leica. Under a bright blue winter sky, I judged the image in the Leica to be slightly brighter than the 10 x 42, a fact that I explained away as being due to my eyes not being able to exploit the slightly larger exit pupil of the 10 x 42 glass under these conditions, as well as its lower efficiency of light transmission.
I observed no chromatic aberration in the centre of the field of the 10 x 42, but did begin to show some lateral colour as a high contrast target was moved off centre to the periphery of the field. The Leica also exhibited the same behaviour even though it does have extra low dispersion glass in one of its objective elements.
During prolonged field use, the position of the dioptre ring on the Savannah 10 x 42 had a tendency to get displaced ever so slightly, as it is all too easy to touch while moving the focus wheel, especially while wearing gloves. Having the dioptre adjustment under the right ocular lens is a better solution in this regard.
Focusing was easier and more responsive with the Leica glass, owing to its state-of-the art central focusing wheel, which is less stiff than the 10 x 42. I suspect though, that with more field use, the stiffness in the latter will subside and become more responsive. Close focus on the 10 x 42 is very impressive. Although the official stats claim 2 metres, I found I could focus down to about 1.75m – a very good result for a 10 x 42 by most anyone’s standards – but nowhere near as close as the Leica Trinovid, which can bring objects just under a metre into sharp focus, a result no other roof prism binocular on the market can achieve!
Depth of focus in the 10x 42 is very good, but not in the same league as the Leica 8 x 32, which was expected given the fact that lower power units tend to have greater focus depth in most real-world situations.
Examining some tree top branches against a bright sky, revealed that veiling glare was very well controlled in the Barr & Stroud 10 x 42 Savannah but maybe just falling a little short of the Leica Trinovid. This is an especially pleasing result in my opinion, as veiling glare can rather easily wash out an otherwise sharp and contrast-rich image. Indeed, the suppression of veiling glare in this economically priced binocular was far better than a few instruments I’ve tested that cost twice or three times more. For example, it is in a different league to that served up by my 10 x 25 Leica Trinovid, which tends to show rather a lot of this under certain viewing conditions.
Observing at dusk allowed me to test out the low light performance of both the Leica Trinovid 8 x 32 and the Barr & Stroud Savannah. This is where I saw the greatest weakness in the latter instrument. Though it did give a brighter image, I was amazed how well the Leica performed in comparison; to my average eyes at least, both instruments were delivering equally bright images well into twilight, with the 10 x 42 only pulling ahead in the last five minutes or so, as dusk transformed into true darkness. This result is attributed to the significantly greater efficiency of the Leica optical components, which transmits 90 per cent of all the light it collects to the eye.
However, under the cloak of darkness, the greater exit pupil and higher magnification of the 10 x 42, as well as its larger objective lenses, made it the easy winner observing a few of the showpieces of the winter sky. The Pleiades was more magnificent in the 10x 42, as was the Hyades, Double Cluster and Alpha Perseii Association. Stars remain sharp and tightly focused across most of the field, with only the extreme edges showing some visible distortion. In contrast to the Leica, the 10 x 42 had slightly more field curvature; something I had also noted during my daylight tests when examining a telephone pole and moving it to the edge of the field in both binoculars.
This is a great Moon gazing binocular too. Its lack of internal reflections and sharp optics deliver a very decent and clean image that will show many craters, mountains valleys and maria on the lunar surface. And don’t forget also, the Savannah can be mounted on a tripod or monopod for added stability, which enables you to see even more details!
Not only does one acquire a good binocular in the Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42, but you also get above average quality accessories. The hard-covered clamshell case is a great way to store the instrument while not in use. The soft rubber ocular and objective covers are also a nice touch, as is the quality padded neck strap that comes as standard with the binocular. And if anything malfunctions, the parent company under which Barr & Stroud trades – Optical Vision Limited(OVL) – will repair or replace your binoculars if they fail during normal use. I have personally dealt with OVL in the past and they have always responded rapidly and effectively to any queries I had.
The Barr & Stroud Savannah 10 x 42 delivers very satisfying images that will impress the vast majority of users who look through it. It feels solid in the hands and has a Spartan, no-frills quality about it. For not much more than £100, the instrument delivers optics and ergonomics that punch well above what its modest price tag suggests, with a large sweet spot and good edge-of-field correction. Even the accessories are of very high quality, making this an especially sweet package for the budget conscious, or the frugal naturalist who doesn’t want to spend a small fortune on a state-of-the-art instrument. Finally, as a well-made achromatic binocular, it proves, once again, that good optics don’t need fancy low dispersion glass to deliver an engaging image.
All in all, this gets my highest recommendation as unbeatable value for money!
Thanks for reading!
Dr. Neil English has been using optical instruments for more than 40 years. He is the author of seven books including his magnum opus(650 + pages), Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy (2018), celebrating four centuries of visual astronomy, as well as the personalities who shaped the hobby and profession of astronomy as we know it today.