Product Review: Oberwerk SE 8 x 32ED.

The Oberwerk SE 8x 32 ED package.

A Work Commenced February 6 2023

Product: Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED

Country of Manufacture: China

Exit Pupil: 4mm

Field of View: 145m@1000m(8.2 angular degrees) advertised, 7.48 degrees (131m@1000m)measured

Eye Relief: 15mm(Useable)

Coatings: Fully broadband Multicoated

Chassis Material: Aluminium

ED Glass: Yes (FK-61)

Water Proof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

IPD Range: 56-76mm

Close focus: 3m advertised, 2.99m measured

Weight: 794g advertised, 798g measured

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Dimensions: 13 x 11 cm

Accessories: neoprene neck strap, padded canvas carry case, rubber objective caps and rain guard, microfibre lens cleaning cloth, test card.

Warranty: 2 Years

Price(US): $249.95

If you’ve been following my blogs and the kind of gear I review, you’ll no doubt come to see that I have cultivated a particular fondness for Porro prism binoculars. Though they have somewhat fallen out of favour in the smaller size formats due to the flooding of the binocular market with roof prisms with all their technical bells and whistles, it remains the case that Porro prism designs are much easier to execute well to such an extent that it takes a great deal of technology to create a roof prism binocular that can compete with well-made Porro prism instruments. Moreover, they have certain optical qualities by virtue of their design that no roof prism can match.

Roof prism binoculars offer many conveniences to the modern outdoor enthusiast, not least of which is compactness, full water- and fog proofing, as well as the incorporation of dielectric coatings, phase corrected prisms and ED glass which deliver bright, sharp, high-contrast images nearly devoid of chromatic aberration. Add in field flattening optics and you arrive at a state-of-the art roof prism design that can edge out the best traditional Porro prism binoculars in critical tests. But there’s a catch: to do so involves shelling out relatively large sums of money, where today you’d have to pay four figure sums to secure the very best. And while there have been noble efforts made by a number of binocular manufacturers to bring those costs down, you still have to pay in the region of £350-500 just to acquire entry-level instruments having all these features.

The push to develop the best roof prism models over the last twenty years has resulted in a rather serious underinvestment in Porro prism designs. But there are signs that this trend is now being bucked with news of compact Porro prism binoculars with improved optical designs including wide angle eyepieces, ED glass and state-of-the art anti-reflection coatings, as well as better ergonomic features that promise to give the best roofs a run for their money. One such instrument arrived here in Scotland from the United States; the Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED.

I first got wind of the new Oberwerk binocular from online forums like Cloudy Nights and Birdforum, where it was generating quite a bit of excitement, especially from Porro prism fans. The founder and CEO of Oberwerk, Keven Busarow, seems to have a penchant for resurrecting cool instruments from the past. The company’s highly lauded Oberwerk 20 x 65 ED Deluxe is one such example, which Busarow described in his own words to be, “our take on the venerable Takahashi Astronomer 22x 60.” Here at least, Oberwerk appears to have been vindicated.

The Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED is the culmination of Busarow’s latest efforts to fashion a modern re-interpretation of a binocular that seems to have held legendary status among binocular collectors just a few short decades ago, the Nikon Superior E(SE) line of advanced Japanese-made Porro prism binoculars that flourished for a while before being discontinued back in 2014. Since then, these fine instruments, which included 8 x 32, 10 x 42 and 12 x 50 models, have become as rare as hens’ teeth, commanding eye-watering sums on auction sites whenever they show up. What Oberwerk has attempted to do is create a product that offers similar levels of performance at a price that won’t break the bank. Did they succeed? That’s what this review is all about!

First Impressions

The instrument arrived well packaged and double-boxed.  The binocular was stored inside a very attractive green canvas padded case of the type I’ve not seen before. All the accessories were there too – the neck strap, test card, lens cleaning cloth etc – but I found it odd that no instructions were included in the package. That said, the accompanying thank you card does have a link to Oberwerk’s online guide to setting up a binocular. Anyway, I soon forgot about that once I prized the instrument from the case. This is one chunky instrument, tipping the scales at 798g – the heaviest 8 x 32 that I’ve personally encountered and much more in keeping with instruments in the 42mm aperture class. That said, it has a beautiful, solid feel in the hands, the central hinge being good and tight, the focus wheel moving smoothly, the eye cups twisting up and down nicely. The instrument came with the thick rubber rain guard and objective lens covered attached. These were of unusually high quality, at least on a binocular that retails for just under $250. They fit on very firmly, so there’s little chance of losing them by accident. While the rubber rain guard is tetherable to the neck strap, there is no such provision for the objective caps. That wasn’t an issue for me though, as I hardly ever use them, except for storage purposes. I also really liked the antireflection coatings on the Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED. They are immaculately applied and give a pink hue in daylight.

Ergonomics

The handsome chassis of the Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED.

The Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED is a handsome binocular. With an aluminium chassis covered in a thick green rubber armouring, the instrument feels very secure in the hands. Like the Nikon SE, it has bulky shoulders where the prisms are located, which gives it a very distinctive look. The rubber armouring around the objectives has a rougher texture than that of the upper body, no doubt to assist the fingers in gripping the barrels. The objective lenses are exceptionally well protected thanks to about an inch of barrel overhang. Indeed they reminded me very much of the Kowa SV II, which adopts a similar design. This affords them excellent protection against rain, dust and the encroach of stray light. The sides of the barrels have upraised ribs to allow the palms of one’s hands to better grip the instrument.

Bellyside up: note the heavy duty armouring of the aluminium chassis.

The twist up eye cups are constructed from machined aluminium and covered with soft rubber which are very comfortable when pressed against the eyes. There are three intermediate positions between fully retracted and fully extended. At each position the cups lock securely into place. Eye relief is very generous, especially for a 32mm instrument. I was able to access the entire field using glasses while the eyecups were fully retracted.

The centrally placed focus wheel is distinctly different from the original Nikon SE in that it is placed further away from the eyecups. It’s very easily and comfortably accessed once you wrap your hands round the barrels, when the fingers can naturally fall on its prominent ridges. It turns smoothly with a good amount of friction. I experienced no backlash or free play, although I sometimes encountered a bit of inertia when the wheel was reversed in direction at the extreme ends of its travel. Just shy of 1.5 revolutions anticlockwise takes you from closest focus(measured at 2.99m) to infinity and a little bit beyond.

The excellent twist-up eyecups are very comfortable and offer generous eye relief for eye glass wearers.

The dioptre compensation is achieved by rotating a small plastic ring under the right ocular. It moves smoothly but I would have liked to have seen a wee bit more tension to avoid it accidentally wandering in field use. For example, while out on a forest walk, I encountered some light rain which forced me to place the rubber rain guard on quickly. Once the shower passed, I began to struggle getting it off again(yes it’s that tight!), but that physical effort was enough to move the dioptre slightly out of its desired position.

The exceptionally deeply recessed objectives afford excellent protection from the elements and stray light.

Though it’s quite a heavy binocular for its aperture class, the supplied padded neoprene strap helped greatly to lighten the load. Handling the instrument is a real joy though. Because more of the weight is located towards the eyepiece end of the binocular, its centre of gravity is tipped closer to your body, making prolonged viewing more comfortable. Indeed, Zeiss use the same idea –ergobalance – on their flagship SF models. I certainly never felt any strain or fatigue while using the instrument in the field for several hours at a time.

Optics

Good ergonomics count for very little if the optical performance isn’t up to scratch. So how did it perform? Well, beginning with my bright light test, I directed an intensely bright beam of light from my iPhone torch placed at the far end of my living room and examined the focused image of it through the binocular. The results were excellent. There was only a couple of very faint internal reflections and no diffused light around the light beam indicating well applied coatings throughout the optical train. The same was true when I turned the instrument on a bright sodium streetlamp after dark. The image was very clean with no internal reflections and no scattered light around the source.

My next test involved looking at the exit pupils of the binocular. As you can see below, the results are excellent: perfectly round pupils and no false pupils or stray light in their vicinity. In fact, this is one of the best pupil images I’ve personally seen in four years of testing out binoculars!

Right exit pupil.
Left exit pupil.

To be honest, I had very high hopes about this binocular given its advertised specifications as well as the reputation Oberwerk has garnered among members of the amateur astronomy community. And I wasn’t disappointed! The day the instrument arrived was quite overcast and dull – not the best light to glass, but certainly the best conditions to ferret out any issues the binocular might have had. The images were incredibly sharp in the centre and also on the edges, with bright, vivid colours, excellent contrast and superb control of glare. Examining a vertically erected scaffold pole, I was delighted to see very mild pincushion(positive) distortion in the outer part of the field. I was also thrilled to see the well-defined field stops with the eyecups fully extended. Unlike the Nikon SE, which was widely reported to have black outs owing to spherical aberration of the exit pupil, this instrument produced none. The view was, to all intents and purposes, sensibly perfect.

The Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED(left) versus the Nikon EII 8 x 30(right).

Images snap to a very precise focus with no ambiguity. But what really amazed me was its complete lack of chromatic aberration. This instrument employs Chinese FK-61 low dispersion glass, roughly equivalent to Ohara FPL-51, but it was more than enough to cut out colour fringing both in the centre of the images and in the outer field. Comparing the venerable Nikon E II 8 x 30 with the Oberwerk SE, the former showed some lateral colour on high contrast targets like the branches of trees set against an overcast grey sky. The Oberwerk SE showed virtually none, save for the merest trace right at the field stops. Indeed, comparing the views of both instruments in a variety of lighting conditions, I formed the impression that the Oberwerk was just slightly sharper with a little better contrast and more pronounced colour ‘pop’.It’s also noticeably brighter in dull light conditions owing to its 14 per cent greater light grasp. The biggest difference between the two was the significantly wider field of view in the Nikon E II(8,8 degrees vs 8.2 degrees). That’s quite a result for a $250 binocular!

On another afternoon, I chanced upon a wonderful apparition on the road leading to Culcreuch Castle. This time of year, Chaffinches, Bullfinches and other species forage in the leaflitter at the sides of the road, with many of them hopping onto the road in search of tukka. About 25 yards ahead of me, I watched in sheer amazement as a beautiful Redwing was taking a bath in a water-filled pothole. Standing dead still, I brought the Oberwerk SE to my eyes and focused in on the scene. The image was superb! I could see its beautiful dark brown spots adorning its white belly, its striking red flanks and underwings and the creamy white stripe over its eyes. The contrast against the dark tarmacadam made it all the more compelling, but I also became acutely aware of the bumps and depressions on the road, both in front and beyond the bathing Redwing- a consequence of the binocular’s prominent stereopsis(3D effects) at moderate distances.

Ad Astra

The question of how well corrected the field is is always best answered by examining celestial objects. That’s why I recommend all optics reviewers for birding magazines learn to star test their binoculars. It will also show up any potential aberrations that can all too easily be missed in daylight observing. Centring the bright star, Procyon, in the field of view, I was delighted to see that it remained a tightly focused pinpoint nearly all the way to the field stops. I would estimate that in the last 10 per cent of the field, the effects of very mild field curvature and a trace of astigmatism(elongation) could be made out with a concentrated gaze. This is an excellent result. I must report though that there is some modest illumination drop off as the star approached the field stops. Comparing it to the Nikon E II 8 x 30, the same tests showed more pronounced field curvature starting in the outer 20 per cent of the field, becoming distinctly distorted at the field edges.

An exceptional binocular like the Oberwerk SE deserves a high-quality carry case.

Turning to the full Moon, I noted no chromatic aberration in the centre of the field, but also crucially, virtually none right up to the field stops. Only the merest trace of lateral colour – blue nearest the centre and yellow furthest away – could be made out. The Nikon E II showed much more pronounced colour at its field stops in comparison. A few short weeks ago, I reviewed the Celestron Regal ED, which, you’ll remember, has field flattening optics. I noted that the image of the Moon was distinctly distorted at the field edges, mainly due to astigmatism and a touch of coma in the outer 10 per cent of the field, which couldn’t be focused out. What’s remarkable about the Oberwerk SE was that it was far better corrected at the field edges in comparison – and all of this without field flattening optics!

Summary & Conclusions

Hanging out.

The Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED is a phenomenal performer by day and by night. Though it was inspired by the Nikon SE, there are a number of significant design differences that set it apart from the famous Japanese optic: it has a significantly  larger field of view, incorporates modern ED glass to improve colour correction and doesn’t use field flatteners – a design characteristic I personally prefer. Yet it achieves a very high level of optical performance thanks to the incorporation of cleverly designed wide angle eyepieces. Moreover, it does not manifest the less desirable optical effects of the Nikon SE with its widely reported kidney beaning(blackouts). It’s also water proof and fog proof, so can be employed in a wider variety of outdoor conditions than the Nikon super glass. This is a first-rate birding binocular but will also serve up excellent views of the night sky. And if it gets a bit heavy to hand hold, stick it on a lightweight monopod and you’re off to the races. Mr Busarow ought to be congratulated for bringing such a superb optic to market at a price that many folk can afford. It goes without saying that this product gets my highest possible recommendation.

Very highly favoured!

Dr Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. His new book, Choosing and Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts is now available for purchase.

De Fideli.

17 thoughts on “Product Review: Oberwerk SE 8 x 32ED.

  1. The Oberwerk SE 8 x 42 ED is the culmination of Busarow’s latest efforts to fashion a modern re-interpretation of a binocular that seems to have held legendary status among binocular collectors just a few short decades ago, the Nikon Superior E(SE) line of advanced Japanese-made Porro prism binoculars that flourished for a while before being discontinued back in 2014
    Should be 8×32 (though I’d be happy if it IS a 42!!!)

  2. Excellent review Neil!! I’ve been using my 8x32SE quite a bit and I’m continually amazed at it’s performance, especially at the edges of the field of view!! Your review is spot on!!

  3. Hello Kenneth,

    Thanks for your message.

    Yes indeed! It’s an amazing performer!

    An excellent dollar value!

    Best wishes,

    Neil.

  4. Great thorough review! Thank you! Hopefully the production models are consistent. I’ve been trying to replace an Atco 10×50 from 1971 and have been discouraged by poorer total light throughput from it’s challengers. Using averted vision to capture a star at the lowest threshold limit of my vision using the Atco as a benchmark, the newer binocular always looses. Comparisons are alway in a similar price class. The Atco was $35.00 in 1971 which is $268 today. The coatings on the Atco are in really bad shape and there is mold. It should be easy to beat. But it’s not. Makes me wonder what is going on with modern porro prism binoculars. I also have a Bushnell 7×35 from the late 1950’s built by Fuji. Brilliant optics, pinpoint stars. Some things have not gotten better. This SE sounds like a winner!

  5. Dear Keith,

    Many thanks indeed for the feedback, much appreciated!

    Yes indeed, the new Oberwerk binocular is a real class act. The optics are superb in my test unit and it appears that’s the consensus from what I’ve read from other posters. It’s certainly an excellent dollar value in the market today.

    I also totally agree with you regarding older instruments. I recently took a punt on an older Japanese Action 7x 35 dating from the mid 1980s. It was in great cosmetic condition with clean interiors and the coatings were still in good nick. But I was shocked to discover just how good the optics were! It’s just fully coated so a bit down in light transmission but the images are razor sharp across most of the field. It has a longer focal length apparently: 140mm or F/4. Here’s a link to that story:
    https://neilenglish.net/an-extraordinarily-lucky-find-nikon-action-7x-35-widefield-9-3-degree/

    Kind Regards,

    Neil.

  6. Dear Neil,

    I was just about to make a decision on purchasing the Nikon E II 8×30 binoculars when I stumbled upon your insightful review of the Oberwerk SE 8 x 32ED. Now, I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. I know how much you favor the Nikons, but I’m curious if you use the Oberwerks specifically for challenging weather conditions while reserving the Nikons for more favorable weather? Additionally, I was wondering if you have any plans to conduct a more comprehensive comparison between the Nikon E II 8×30 and the Oberwerk SE 8 x 32ED. This decision is proving to be quite challenging for me :-))

    Best regards,
    Tanel

  7. Dear Tanel,

    The Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 ED is one of the best 8 x 32s money can buy – right up there with the best roofs costing many times more.. My sample has sensibly perfect optics. The Nikon E II is not quite as sharp on axis and shows some CA off axis but it has a magnificent 9 degree field and is substantially lighter. I use both regularly. The waterproofing and armouring of the SE make it extremely rugged, so better serves me in adverse weather conditions.

    I wouldn’t be without either.

    Best wishes,

    Neil.

    • Dear Neil,

      Thank you for your prompt response! It seems like I might just need both of them after all. My plan is to acquire the Nikon E II first and then explore the possibility of getting my hands on the Oberwerk SE through their European e-shop. Unfortunately, it appears that the e-shop is currently non-operational, making it impossible to place an order at the moment.

      Best regards,
      Tanel

  8. Hi Neil,
    Thanks for doing all these binocular reviews recently. I own the Celestron Regal ED and was looking for an upgrade in an 8x binocular. I have “astronomical standards” for flat field, but the Regal ED has minor problems, e.g. kidney bean and a tiny bit of color fringing on black-on-white text. I wonder if these would be a good candidate replacement? I would do mainly daylight viewing plus landscape, so that’s why flat field is important. Maybe mounted astronomy, but I already have a set of Nikon Prostars for that in case these exit pupils are too small.
    I see you’ve also reviewed the Oberwerk Sport ED 8×42, but it seems the color fringing and corrected field are slightly worse? Also the Opticron Aurora but that costs too much. Any other suggestions for less than $800 USD?
    Thanks

  9. Hello Alan,

    Many thanks for chiming in and for the heads up!

    Though it doesn’t have field flatteners, the Oberwerk SE 8 x 32 has a very well corrected field. I find it’s edge of field performance to be well above average. Its colour correction is also exceptional. I would maybe consider this as a possible candidate given your requirements.

    With best wishes,

    Neil.

  10. Hello Neil,
    Could you please give a very brief comparison between this excellent Oberwerk and the Opticron Adventurer T WP you have tested earlier? I have the Opticron and love it, especially love its fantastic focuser plus very ergonomic shape of eyepiece rubbers. I’m not sure I could get past the strange Oberwerk’s focuser and very wide rubber eyepiece rims, despite its certainly superior optical performance. Did you have any trouble positioning the binoculars comfortably into your eye sockets? What is your opinion on this?

    Thanks,
    David

    • Hello David,
      The Oberwerk SE is optically and ergonomically in a different league to the Adventurer T WP. I have no trouble positioning my eyes on the eyepieces. It has much better eye relief than the Opticron too IIRC.

      Best wishes,

      Neil

  11. Thanks for the excellent review. I just bought a set of 8×42 GPO Passion HD binoculars for myself, and I have been very happy with them. A friend of mine found the Oberwerk SE binoculars online, however, and after reading your review, I have become very interested in them as a backup binocular, or perhaps as a gift for a family member. I am curious what your thoughts are on how the GPO Passion HD’s and these new Oberwerk SE’s compare in terms of clarity, low light performance, anti-fog, and glare suppression.

    Additionally, do the 8×32 SE’s in particular work decently well in low light, or would you recommend something with a larger objective lens? Do you think the Porro prism helps them make up for some of the disparity in objective lens size (in terms of light gathering/low light performance) when compared to a good 8×42 such as the GPO Passion HD? I know the exit pupil size is roughly the same as that of a 10×42 binocular rather than the larger exit pupil produced by an 8×42, however, I am curious if the Porro prism yields any advantage in light gathering/transmission.

    Thanks again for the excellent review, and I look forward to hearing from you!

  12. Hello Caleb,

    Congrats on the acquisition of the GPO Passion HD. Very nice binocular!

    The Oberwerk SE is an entirely different binocular. The 8x 32 SE is has excellent optics and provides a much stronger 3D impression due to its Porro prism design. Sharpness, colour correction and glare suppression are all well above average in the SE.

    The separation of the objectives does not influence light gathering power. The smaller objectives will be less useful in low light compared to the 42mm objectives of the HD.

    Check out my new book for more information on all of these.

    With best wishes,

    Neil.

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