A Work Commenced September 20 2022
Product: Kowa SV II 8 x 32
Country of Manufacture: Japanese designed, assembled in the Philippines
Exit Pupil: 4mm
Eye Relief: 15.5mm
Field of View: 136m@1000m(7.8 angular degrees)
Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.68m measured
Chassis: Thick rubber armoured polycarbonate
Coatings: Fully Multicoated, phase correction coating on Schmidt Pechan roof prisms, KR hydrophobic and anti-scratch coatings on outer lenses.
ED Glass: No
Nitrogen Purged: Yes
Tripod Mountable: Yes
Weight: 565g advertised, 563g measured
Accessories: Soft padded case, quality logoed neoprene neck strap, rubber ocular rain guard and plastic lens covers, instruction manual.
Warranty: 10 years
Price UK: £229.00
The Japanese optics company Kowa has earned an excellent reputation among sports optics enthusiasts for over three quarters of a century. Today, they offer an exciting range of binoculars and spotting scopes that constantly push the envelope in ergonomic and optical performance. At the time of writing, Kowa manufacture an impressive array of binoculars to suit most people’s budget, ranging from tiny, pocket-sized binoculars right up to 56mm monsters. The SV series, Kowa’s entry level mid-sized binoculars, were first introduced in 2011, and created quite a splash, with many birders and hunters singing high praises for their innovative design and great optical performance. But in January 2020, Kowa introduced their revamped SV II series, which gives the customer a choice of six models in all – just like the original series – a 8 x 32, 10 x 32, 8 x 42, 10 x 42 and two 50mm models giving 10x or 12x. I ordered up the 8 x 32 SV II model for testing and evaluation. I’m also delighted to say that it was a very pleasant surprise! To see why, read on!
The binocular arrived inside a padded logoed carry case, which in turn was placed inside a small green box. The instrument has a thick green rubber armouring; very reminiscent of the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32 I tested in 2021. The chassis is fashioned from a lightweight but tough polycarbonate substrate and has extra rubber padding around the objective lenses to afford them some extra protection from stray light and the elements. The rubber is beautifully textured and very easy to grip but does attract dust rather easily.
The eyecups on the Kowa SV II 8 x 32 were also a very pleasant surprise. They have four positions in all and lock into each place with a reassuring ‘click’ sound. I’m also happy to report that the eyecups don’t collapse unless a sizeable force is applied to them. Eye relief is tight though: I struggled to see the entire field with my eyeglasses on. Fortunately, that isn’t an issue for me as I don’t wear glasses while using binoculars. The focus wheel is covered in soft rubber with tear shaped indentations very much like those used on Kowa’s YF range of compact Porros. I judged its tension to be excellent – very smooth with no free play and backlash when rotated in either direction. 1.75 revolutions clockwise brings you from closest focus to just beyond infinity.
The Kowa SV II 8 x 32 feels great in the hands, as it’s so easy to grip and wrap your hands around. Kowa didn’t skimp on the strap either; it was easy to attach and is nicely padded for comfortable transporting. The exterior lenses are treated to Kowa’s proprietary KR coating to repel water, dirt and oily deposits, and helps protect against accidental scratching.
There was no cleaning cloth supplied with the instrument however. The ocular rain guard is made from standard rubber, but the objective caps are of the cheap plastic variety. To summarise, I love the thoroughly modern accent of this binocular, which was very thoughtfully designed to be pushed hard in the great outdoors.
I began to test the optics by examining how the instrument handled an intensely bright beam of light from across a room. The results I got were very encouraging. There was very little in the way of internal reflections and ghost images. I did see a weak diffraction spike though, but it was quite subdued compared with other instruments in this price category. There was very little diffused light around the beam, indicating the glass used was of very good quality and of high homogeneity. Later, after dark, I turned the Kowa SV II 8 x 32 on a bright sodium street lamp and, as expected, I got a great result; no ghost images and only the merest trace of a faint diffraction spike. In another test I photographed the light emanating from the exit pupils. The results were excellent as you can see below, with nice dark areas around the perfectly round pupils. So far, so very good!
The view through the Kowa SV II is excellent; very bright, sharp and with really impressive contrast and a lovely hard field stop. Collimation was spot on. The excellent tension on the focus wheel brings the images to a very precise, razor-sharp focus, with absolutely no ambiguity. Colours are vibrant and true to life, presenting with an overall neutral cast to my eyes. The sweet spot is very large, with only the extreme edges of the field showing any significant distortion. This I was able to ascertain by star testing more fully at night. Centring the bright star Vega in the field of view, I was able to monitor how the image changed as it was moved off axis towards the field stops. I was delighted to see that even at the extreme edges, there was only very minor distortion mostly attributed to very mild field curvature. To be honest, I had expected it to fare worse in this regard as the specs of this binocular – 7.8-degree field, 15.5mm eye relief etc – are found on quite a few other models, such as the Svbony SV 202 8 x 32 and the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32, for example, each of which had quite blurry images near the field stops, as my notes showed. This Kowa SV II turned out to be in a completely different league in this regard, with a much flatter outer field.
Glare suppression was also in a completely different league to the aforementioned models but I’d also have to include the Vortex Diamondback HDs here too. The excellent coatings and baffling on these Kowa SV IIs made all the difference in aggressively suppressing both general and veiling glare as revealed after extensive field testing. Close focus was measured to be just 1.68m, considerably better than the quoted 2m stated in the accompanying user manual. Blackouts – caused by spherical aberration of the exit pupil – were pretty much non-existent as well. Overall, I found the views extremely relaxing and engaging; a sure indicator of an optically excellent instrument.
Though the field of view is fine and wide, one gets the impression that it’s wider than it really is owing to the well corrected outer field. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled despite its non-ED labelling. I could detect the merest trace of it in the centre of the field on the highest contrast daytime targets, and an average level of lateral colour as one moves away from the centre to the periphery of the field of view. There is a modest amount of illumination drop off as targets are moved to the edge of the field. This was easily seen by centring the Pleiades in the binocular field and then moving the celebrated asterism to the field stops.
In conclusion, the Kowa SV II 8 x 32 is an excellent instrument for birdwatching, nature studies and even for enjoying the showpiece objects of the night sky. For its modest retail price it sure punches well above its weight. At the time of writing, I note that its bigger brother; the 8 x 42 is available for a lower price than then 8 x 32 model. That sounds like one heck of a bargain!
Dr Neil English is currently writing a comprehensive binocular buyer’s guide. Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Nature Enthusiasts hits the bookshelves in late 2023.