|(Michael is carrying his
beloved old Zeiss B/GA T
binoculars. Diane is holding onto her Swarovski
ELs. Photo by Joe Stanski.)
Birding binoculars are the tools of a sacred trade. The visions
they reveal create experiences of immeasurable quality.
perhaps more than any other group, appeciate the intimate connection
with nature that their binoculars provide. Forever approaching
the beautiful, birders want their optics to be equal to the
heart's desire, along with a robust economy, has driven the
market in birding binoculars to produce better and better optics.
If you're looking for new birding binoculars, you have better
choices today than ever before.
survey the current state of the art, we asked manufacturers
to choose and send us their best full-size birding binoculars.
We tested 61 models, whose specifications are included in the
also organized a testing day for a dozen experienced birders
to judge the binoculars. We'll include the results of the judges'
clear that manufactures have studied what birders want and have
responded with a host of improvements in optics and useful features.
Here's what's new.
past and future
Binoculars you love to touch
Lens caps lost and found
Locking diopter adjustments
The weighty matter of weight
Close focus feats
Infinity -- the other end of close focus
Roof prisms vs. Porro prisms
past and future
the small matter of eyecups. A few years ago, nearly all binoculars
accommodated eyeglass wearers with folding rubber eyecups. But
for birders who share their binoculars, rubber eyecups cause
trouble. Most require a bit of wrestling to fold them up or
down, costing several seconds each time the binoculars change
hands. That can make you miss the bird.
roof prism binoculars (such as those by Leica, Pentax,
and Brunton) have eyecups that neatly slide in and out. A few
(such as the Nikon Venturers LX,
the Bushnell Legend, and all the Swarovskis,
whose new EL model is shown at right) go one better and offer
twist-up eyecups that let the user dial exactly the needed amount
of eyecup extension. Twist-ups also maintain their position
without collapsing at crucial moments.
new eyecup designs are the future.
you love to touch
binoculars feel good to the hand. Many have a semi-soft, non-slip
armoring that protects the surfaces from dings and scratches
and cushions the occasional blow. (The Nikon Venturers LX shown
at right is a case in point. They are a real pleasure to hold.)
happy to see that most of the economical Porro prisms as well
as expensive roof prisms now have such skin-friendly coverings.
caps lost and found
often prefer to carry their binoculars around loose, rather
than in a never-ready case. Fortunately, the new, waterproof,
well-sealed, soft-armored binoculars are quite rugged.
expensive optical surfaces still need protection from scratches,
so lens caps have become more important than ever before. But
sometimes lens caps get lost almost before they're out of the
box. Therefore we applaud Swarovski,
Steiner, Brunton, and Swift (on the waterproof Trilytes) for
ingeniously attaching the lens caps to their binoculars.
binocular's diopter adjustment lets you alter the focus of one
eyepiece in order to compensate for any difference between your
left and right eyes. With the diopter adjustment properly set,
both eyes will comfortably focus at the same distance.
classical diopter adjustment, still used by most Porro prism
and some roof prism binoculars, allows you to turn one eyepiece
to adjust its focus. On too many binoculars, however, the slightest
bump undoes the adjustment.
improvements in top roof prism binoculars from Nikon, Swarovski,
and Bausch & Lomb lock the diopter setting so that it doesn't
accidentally get changed. A ring must be pulled or a knob pushed
before the diopter adjustment will move. A small but valuable
weighty matter of weight
the past, high quality optics have too often been a pain in
the neck. But today we are seeing full-size, lighter-weight
binoculars of superb optical quality.
example, Swarovski has recently designed a new birding binocular,
the Swarovski EL, with features
that excel its much-admired model SLC. Incorporating a magnesium-alloy
housing and weight-saving innovative design, the 10x42 EL weighs
only 27.5 oz. This shaves over three ounces off the carry weight
of the Swarovski 10x42 SLC
and makes it 7 oz. less than the 10x42
Nikon Venturer LX.
love close focus. We often study birds up close, and when birds
aren't available many of us watch butterflies. The closer a
binocular focuses, the better we like it.
close focus is not a cut-and-dried matter. Close focus varies
from person to person through binoculars just as it does with
the naked eye. So the distance that the manufacturer quotes
is at best a guideline. To determine true close focus, you have
to try the binoculars with your own eyes.
of close focusing binoculars are: Bausch & Lomb 8x42 and
10x42 Elites, Celestron 8x42 Regal and Eagle Optics 8x42 Ranger,
Brunton Eterna, Steiner Rocky S, Swarovski's
new EL series, Pentax DCF Waterproof
(shown at right), and Bausch & Lomb 7x26 Custom Compact.
All these can focus as close as 8 feet or closer.
-- the other end of close focus
and close focus are connected. Every binocular design has a
range of focus, from close to infinity. Actually, most let you
focus past infinity. This is necessary because human
eyes vary, and viewers dial infinity at different places on
the focus knob. To accommodate all eyes there must be range
room beyond infinity.
also another reason to go beyond infinity. We focus by going
past the point of sharpness, until the image blurs. Then we
back up to the optimum focus, satisfied that the image is as
good as it gets.
there are two ways to produce close-focusing binoculars. One
is to design the optics from scratch with a greater range of
focus. The other is to tweak an existing binocular design by
moving its whole range of focus closer. That method steals some
of the range from the infinity end.
that, for some viewers, a binocular design thus tweaked
might not focus sharply on distant objects. So when buying a
close focusing binocular, be sure to try it at infinity as well
as up close.
article is reproduced here with permission of BirdWatcher's
Digest, where it first appeared, in January, 2000.