Jan 09

New gear message: Binoculars!

Having been out birding lately much more often, I recognized the limits of my old Tasco 8×21 pocket binoculars. Now, I had made the mistake during the nature photography days in Fürstenfeldbruck last year to have a look through a nice pair of Zeiss Victory FL glasses! We know since Voltaire that the better is the enemy of the good – those were absolutely positively spectacular. Much more to my liking than the equally priced Swarovskis and Leicas. But completely outside of my budget. Sigh.

So, back to the Internet. What to buy? How much to spend? What are the parameters?

  • Magnification – Ok, there are birders who insist on 10x magnification, but this comes at a price: Loss of brightness, and field of view (viewing angle). I think I can stick with 8x for now.
  • Weight – It adds to the overall backback weight, right? So it better be light. After taking some pairs in my hands and comparing them in terms of weight, I decided that there are some who I find too heavy. “Ok” were those between 500 to 600 grams.
  • Bulkiness – while there are recommendations not to buy roof prism glass in the lower price ranges, I found the porro prism ones (“Traditional style”) to be just too bulky (and usually heavy, too).
  • Handling – as I am wearing glasses, it was important that it has turnable eye caps (not those rubber “flipping” ones) because I want to use it with and without glasses (pushing the glasses up on my head).
  • Price – I set myself the limit of 300€. I had also tested the Zeiss Conquest series, and can confirm that you get more when you pay more, but again those were twice as expensive.

First of all, I was awestruck by the variety of binoculars out there, and the number of manufacturers, each producing a huge array of different models. Quite overwhelming. The demand in binoculars by far outmatched my expectations… :-)

I quickly stumbled upon the Birders of the Cornell University, who did a much better job than me to summarize the parameters and explain what is important on their website – and who actually did really test a large number of models back in 2005 and published the results of their extensive binocular test.

Now, this is an US American test and many of these manufacturers are unknown or hard to get here in Germany, but one model I had already tested and liked myself: The Nikon Monarch series. I had noticed those becaue they not only have the “standard” 8×42 and 10×42 sizes, but also a smaller model 8×36, which saves length (not so much the other dimensions), and more importantly weight.

The German Vögel (“Birds”) magazine had a test of binoculars including the Nikon Monarch in their 01 2009 issue (how convenient!). They claim the resolution of the Monarch is on the lower side compared to the competition, but apart from that attested a high usability and utility. I must admit I didn’t look much further than that, having – invited by the test – also tried an Eschenbach Trophy and found it to be much too heavy.

The real push to buy point was when I found that the street price of the 8×36 Monarch was more like 180€ than the 300€ list price, making it look much more of a bargain in comparison! Decision made, order placed online last Sunday.

The package arrived today, the Monarch is working fine, and I am really looking forward to next weekend to give it a try! The waxwings are in the city, I have heard…


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