Seeing is Believing: Bargain Binoculars

posted on December 19, 2013

Other than your gun, perhaps the most important tool you can bring with you while hunting is a good binocular. But not all binoculars are created equal. There is a huge variation in price and quality as well as size, shape and function.

It’s a rule of thumb that the higher the price, the better the binocular, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend your college fund on optics. The high-priced glasses will almost always be outstanding, but if you look around some of the economy binoculars can be very good as well.

Binoculars are designated by the magnification and the diameter of the front objective in millimeters. So 10X40 means they are ten-time magnification and the front objective (the glass lens in the front) is 40mm in diameter. There are two designs that hunters use: porro prism, where the front and rear objectives are offset from each other; and roof prism, where they are in line. Both are good, but a general rule of thumb is that the porro prism provides a better value for the price. The primary factors that determine image quality are the optical glass and the microscopically thin coatings applied to the glass surfaces to help manage the light passing through the binocular. Also, the larger the front objective, the larger the exit pupil, which means more light that comes through the binocular. This means the image your eye perceives will be brighter, especially in dim light. To find the exit pupil diameter, divide the front objective diameter by the power of the binocular. A 10X40 binocular will have a 4mm exit pupil, while a 10X30 will have a 3mm exit pupil.

You must also consider that the larger the front objective, the bigger and heavier the binoculars will be, so it’s best to find a balance.

Here are a few binoculars from some trusted names in optics, in a range of prices.

Weaver Classic
Weaver is an old company with a long history. Started in 1930 in El Paso, Texas, Weaver is now owned by ATK, the same people who own Federal Ammunition. The binoculars are currently made in Asia, which means a good value for the dollar.

The Classic is the “entry level” Weaver binoculars and this line provides a good product for a fair price. The Classic is a roof-prism design with rubber armor on the outside to protect from the bumps and jars of hard use. The lenses are fully multi-coated and the binoculars are waterproof, shockproof and fogproof.

The Weaver Classic binoculars are available in 8X32, 8X36, and 8X42 and 10X42. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price starts at $261.49 up to $346.49.

Nikon Monarch 7 ATB (All Terrain Binoculars)
These roof-prism binoculars have phase-correction-coated prisms, a feature that not so many years ago that was found only on the very highest quality and most expensive binoculars. Dielectric Multilayer Prism Coatings are applied to all of the lens and prism surfaces. The binos are waterproof, fogproof and rubber-armor coated and are capable of close focus at 8.2 ft.

Multi-setting, click-stop eyecups adjust for multiple heights, offering a full field of view for any user. I have used these in the field and found they are excellent binos for a fair price.

MSRP for these 10X42 binoculars is $499.99.

Leupold BX-1 Yosemite Binoculars
Full-size binoculars can be too large for many young hunters. The Leupold BX-1 Yosemite binoculars are designed to fit smaller hands and to fit the smaller interpupillary distance (the distance between the eyes) for smaller hunters.

These porro-prism binoculars have a fully multi-coated lens system, are armor coated and waterproof. They close focus to 10 feet, which is important for looking at birds and other wildlife

They come in 6X30 and 8X30 in black, brown or camo.

MSRP is $129.99 for the 6X and $149.99 for the 8X.

Bushnell PermaFocus
Sometimes the time it takes to focus your binoculars is long enough to make you miss the action. Bushnell has a line of binoculars that do not require focusing. There is a bit of a trade-off, as they do not have the range of use that binoculars that focus have, but for hunting where most of the observations will be at longer distances they make sense.

Their PermaFocus line has both roof prism and porro prism. The line ranges from 8X25 up to big 12X50 binoculars, with many models in between. The binos are armored with rubber and have fully coated optics.

The price for the 10X42 roof prism is only $89.99 at Cabela’s.

Cabela’s Alaskan Compact
There is something to be said for a compact binocular, and that is that they are light and small. That makes them easy to carry and easy for small hands to use. But they still can offer good performance in all but the dimmest lighting conditions.

The Cabela’s Alaskan Compacts are roof-prism binoculars with phase-coated prisms. They are rubber armored and have fully multicoated optics. The binos are 100 percent waterproof. They come in 10X28 at $299.99 and a 12X30 at $319.99. The 10X20 only weighs 8.6 ounces and stands 4.6 inches high, small enough to fit in a shirt pocket.

Everybody has a favorite and these are mine. I have used the Swarovski EL binoculars all over the world from hunting sheep in the Yukon to buffalo in Africa, and have come to trust them on any hunt. The Swarovski EL is not inexpensive, but in this author’s opinion, they are arguably the finest hunting binocular on the market.

In the EL series, Swarovski Optik uses the most advanced technologies, such as the SWAROBRIGHT coating for maximum color fidelity across the whole light spectrum. The non-stick effect of the SWAROCLEAN coating on the outer surface of the lens makes cleaning the objective and eyepiece lenses easier, which helps bring longevity to the binoculars.

The EL binoculars are available in several sizes from 8X32 to 12X50. My preferred 10X42 has a MSRP $2,777.00. MSRP for the line starts at $2,399.00 for the 8X42 up to $3066.00 for the 12X50. As with most binoculars, actual street price is at least 10 percent lower.

Zeiss Victory RF
This line combines the outstanding German optics of the Zeiss binoculars with an internal rangefinder. No need to carry both a binocular and a rangefinder and no need to fumble around, switching back and forth; one unit has them both. The rangefinder is good to 1,300 yards in all models. I have used these while hunting in Africa and the U.S. and am very impressed. The Victory RF is available in 8X and 10X in 45mm or 56mm front objective sizes. MSRP starts at $2,999.99 for the 8X45 and runs up to $3,111.10 for the 10X56.


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