A Work Commenced September 8 2021
Product: Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30
Country of Manufacture: Japan
Field of View: 145m@1000m (8.3 angular degrees)
Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.81m measured
Exit Pupil: 3.75mm
Chassis: Textured rubber armoured Magnesium alloy
Field Flattening Optics: Yes
ED Glass: Yes
Light Transmission: 92%
Coatings: Fully broadband multi-coated, dielectrically coated and phase corrected Schmidt Pechan prisms, hydrophobic and scratch resistant coatings on outer lenses.
Dioptre: Lockable +/- 4 dioptres
Waterproof: Yes 10 mins at 5m depth
Dry Nitrogen Purged: Yes
Tripod Attachable: Yes
Dimensions(L/W): 11.9/ 12.6cm
Warranty: 10 years
Accessories: high quality clamshell case (zip closed), high quality logoed padded neck strap, rubber ocular and objective lens caps(2 types supplied), warranty card, instruction manual.
Price: £780- £825(UK)/ $950(US)
The Japanese camera giant, Nikon, also manufacture an extensive range of binoculars and spotting ‘scopes for the growing sports optics market. Much of their less expensive models have now been transferred to China but they still manufacture their best gear in Japan. In this blog, I’ll be providing a comprehensive review of one of Nikon’s top tier binoculars – the Monarch HG – and in particular the 8 x 30 compact model. The binocular was purchased(£840) with my own cash and I have no association with any optics company, so what you’ll get here is a completely impartial opinion on its properties.
Packaging & Ergonomics
The Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 arrived in a rather plain looking brown box. Inside, the binocular was nicely housed inside a really high quality zipper-closed clamshell case. Everything was packed away nicely and I was surprised to see that Nikon included two different kinds of objective covers. The first has caps that can be firmly pressed into the objective. The other option is to go without them. In this case, Nikon provide the user with simple rubber covers that protect the ends of the barrels but do not include the tethered ends. Since I’m no fan of tethered caps, I elected to replace them with the sleek rubber covers.
The binocular itself is very nicely finished in a leather-like textured rubber that is quite reminiscent of the BL offerings from Leica. The strong Magnesium alloy body provides light weight(just 450g) but enough mechanical strength to meet the tough demands of outdoor work, yet I was left feeling that the armouring was a bit too meagre compared with the thicker rubber offerings found on the very popular Monarch 7 line. I began to wonder just how durable this covering would be going forward, especially while negotiating thick brush and brambles. Personally I would have sacrificed some of the obvious aesthetic appeal of this armouring in favour of something a little bit more practical and bulky.
The right eye dioptre is very nicely engineered. To adjust it, simply push it up, rotate to the desired position and push it back down to lock it. Unlike less expensive models which possess a similar kind of lockable dioptre, Nikon’s solution is very firm. And unlike what some of the reviewers above have mentioned, I never experienced a situation where it popped up by accident.
The focus wheel is a work of art. Taking just over one revolution to go from one end of its travel to the other, it is silky smooth and completely backlash free, enabling one to easily use just a single finger to execute precise focus. Neat!
While there are no thumb indents on the underside of the binocular, I found I never really desired them. The longish barrels are easy to get my medium sized hands around and the instrument feels solid and stable to man handle. The stiff, single bridge design works perfectly well with a binocular of this size too, and I was able to engage with it using one hand without any difficulty, thanks to the fairly long barrels. Having said that, I’m not a fan of glassing this way, as two hands are always more stable than one!
The eye cups are properly machined metal, with a soft rubber overcoat. They have three positions and lock firmly in place. That said, I have seen similar quality eyecups on much more economically priced binoculars, such that I didn’t consider those of the Monarch HG to be exceptional in any particular way. For example, I felt they were similar in quality to the Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 I reviewed some time ago. With an eye relief of 16.2mm, I could image the entire field without glasses, but couldn’t see all the way to the field stops with my eye glasses on, and with the cups fully retracted.
Collimation was spot on, as judged by examining the images of a far distant vista in both barrels. Inspecting the exit pupils, I was less than impressed with the amount of light around the eye box of each ocular, as seen in the images shown below. I expected a little better attention to these details in a binocular marketed as ‘premium.’ For further commentary on this, see the remarks made by the reviewer in Preamble 3 above.
Performing my simple iphone torch test, I directed an intense beam of white light into the binocular and examined the image. I was disappointed to see a fairly pronounced diffraction spike although internal reflections were very well controlled, with no sign of diffused light around the light source. The same spike was present when I turned the binocular on a bright sodium street light after dark. My control binocular – the Barr & Stroud Series 5 ED 8 x 42 – in comparison, showed no diffraction spikes and even better control of internal reflections.
Right from the get go, I was extremely impressed with the brightness and sharpness of the image of the Monarch HG 8 x 30 in bright sunlight and its enormous field of view ( 8.3 degrees checked on the stars). The image sparkled with high resolution details on everything from flowers, tree trunks and distant hills. The image was unusually immersive. Indeed, comparing it to my Series 5 8 x 42 ED, which exhibits a similar true field size(8.1 degrees), I came away with the distinct impression that the HG was delivering a slightly higher magnification than it really was. I have no explanation for this rather wonderful optical illusion but I witnessed it on too many occasions to discount it as not entirely illusory! The image remained impressively sharp across the vast majority of the field thanks to the built-in field flattening technology, with only a minor amount of distortion seen at the field edge. Looking through many layers of fresh mature Sycamore leaves under a forest canopy against a bright overcast sky, revealed virtually no chromatic aberration. Only at the extreme edges of the huge field of the HG did I detect a trace. Depth of focus was very good in the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 but not quite as good as my Leica Ultravid 8 x 20.
Glare was exceptionally well controlled on this unit – better than my control Series 5 binocular in this regard – and that was also the case for veiling glare. This is best tested by looking at some under growth with the Sun immediately above it. Here too, the Monarch HG 8 x 30 bested my Series 5 control – but it wasn’t like a night and day difference.
But despite scoring very high marks optically in many departments, the little Monarch HG 8 x 30 was not without its issues. The most immediate problem I encountered was blackouts, that is, spherical aberration of the exit pupils. I found it very annoying. Indeed, it was not only present while panning with the binocular but it also showed up quite often as I moved my eye around the enormous field while glassing a fixed target. And while one can learn to minimise these blackouts by paying more attention to proper eye placement, I could never really ‘make it go away,’ as it were. Furthermore, the effect was noted by my wife, as well as by several of my students. Looking through my notes on the Leica Trinovid HD 8 x 32, I also recorded some blackouts but they were few and far between in comparison to this Nikon binocular. Nor was this entirely caused by the small exit pupil (3.75mm), as my little Leica Ultravid 8 x 20, with its smaller exit pupil of 2.5mm, is virtually devoid of this problem. I concluded that these pronounced blackouts must have something to do with the special, wide-angle eyepiece design of the Monarch HG. Indeed, the same blackouts were also mentioned by the reviewer in Preamble 4 above using a 10 x 42 Nikon Monarch HG. In addition, I never encountered these blackouts through a Nikon Prostaff 7s 8 x 30, which, despite its identical magnification, objective diameter and exit pupil size to the HG, has a simpler eyepiece design and smaller field of view.
Less serious was the observed rolling ball effect I noted for the first time in my binocular testing career, a consequence of artificially flattening the field. It was quite apparent while panning the edge of a forest at a distance, and gave me somewhat of a queasy feeling. That said, I’m confident I could unlearn this effect with more sustained use.
Further Notes from the Field
Close focus of the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 is very good. While advertised at 2m, I measured a significantly closer focus of 1.81m. The vast majority of targets from 20 feet away all the way out to infinity snap to focus merely by moving the focus wheel through about one quarter of a turn of the wheel. Because the focuser is so soft and smooth, I found this activity to be particularly enjoyable. It really is quite impressive!
The image through the HG is impressively bright, with good enough transmission to allow one to continue to glass well into twilight, but ultimately proving inferior to a decent 8 x 42 in similar low light conditions. Nikon claims a light transmission of 92 per cent, but two spectrophotometric measures on the 8 x 30 and 10 x 42 show slightly lower values of 90.1% and 88.3%, respectively. That said, the light curves look almost identical and show a nice, flat profile over the most important visual wavelengths, peaking in the red.
The 8 x 30 format is about the minimum aperture required to really enjoy the night sky. Smaller binos are all well and good for the Moon and some of the brightest deep sky objects, but you go a whole lot deeper moving from 20-25mm up to 30mm. The Moon looks very sharp, bright and colour free through the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30, but I did notice a trace of the 4 diffraction spikes emanating from the Moon during waning gibbous under good, transparent conditions.
Testing on a rich star field like the Alpha Persei Association afforded a good opportunity to test for field flatness/curvature. Canvassing the help of a former student of mine and keen amateur astronomer, we noted that the field is not perfectly flat to the field stops in the Nikon Monarch HG. Stars remained very tight out to about 75 per cent of the field, with distortion increasing rapidly in the last 25 per cent of the field. That said, in most situations, the stars remained acceptably sharp over the entire field, so should be an enjoyable companion under the starry heaven.
Moving a last quarter Moon from the centre to the edge of the field of the HG did reveal a small but significant darkening of the maria which provides strong visual evidence for a drop off in illumination in the outer 20 per cent of the field. I found it very difficult to discern these changes during tests conducted in broad daylight.
For some folk, the Nikon Monarch HG might well be a birder’s dream binocular, with its very sharp, contrast-rich and extremely wide and flat field of view. For me though, I feel the blackouts are a major issue which would make me somewhat leery of paying the relatively steep retail price for these binoculars. This concern isn’t just confined to the Nikon Monarch HG though, as another reviewer mentioned how the same phenomenon completely put off his daughter while testing the Zeiss Victory SF 10 x 32, so any potential buyers will be strongly advised to try them out before buying. I find it a little alarming that some of the reviewers presented at the beginning of this blog never even mentioned this effect! What’s more, the small size of the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 may not suit those who have large hands. In addition, the rolling ball effect, while mild in this binocular, may deter others in favour of models that do not have field flattening technology. In the end, the decision lies with you!
Thanks for Reading!
Dr Neil English is the author of Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, celebrating four centuries of visual telescopic astronomy.