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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/09/2009 at 11:42
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This is the 7th in a series of monthly articles written for opticstalk.com by John Barsness, chief staff writer for the on-line magazine Rifle Loony News (www.riflesandrecipes.com).

 

            One of the most important lessons learned in a long hunting career occurred over 20 years ago when I headed to the Southeast on a spring turkey-hunting assignment for Field & Stream magazine. For various reasons my wife Eileen and I decided to drive down to Alabama and Florida from Montana, and about a day into the trip discovered that I’d forgotten the 8x24 Bausch & Lomb binocular I used for such close-range “woods” hunting in those days.

            Now, a lot of people don’t even carry optics when turkey hunting, which may be why so many turkey hunters get shot by other turkey hunters. But we feel incomplete without binoculars anywhere outside a town, and often inside one. We even keep one handy while watching TV, because on the other side of the living-room is a picture window with our bird feeders a few feet beyond, and who knows what might show up to eat sunflower seeds? But binoculars also help when hunting big birds like wild turkeys, because we can see objects much further off and determine not just whether they’re a gobbler or hen but a turkey instead of a human.

            So when the B&L turned up missing minor panic kicked in. Eventually I remembered that the glove compartment contained our “car binocular,” a cheap roof-prism compact that some company had sent for evaluation. It didn’t compare optically to the B&L, but using it beat the heck out of trying to buy another B&L somewhere between Montana and Alabama. And it worked! The cheap glass got carried all through two successful gobbler hunts. I wouldn’t have wanted to use it to sit on a ridge and search the Missouri Breaks for mule deer all day, but it was plenty for sizing up gobblers in the oak woods of eastern Alabama and the palmetto hammocks of central Florida.

            The lesson learned? Just about any hunting binocular beats none at all. This is something many of us should keep in mind today.

            Twenty years ago optical knowledge among hunters was really dismal compared to today. Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet, and the hunting magazines of the day rarely mentioned binoculars. If they did the advice was often stolen from a pamphlet published by Bausch & Lomb describing the different types of optical aberration. This made the writer sound like an expert but didn’t tell the reader much.

            In the 1990’s, however, a number of magazines started running regular optics columns. This coincided with some nifty advances in optics, especially the phase-correction coating of roof prisms. By 2000 general knowledge of optics among hunters had grown enormously, and today that knowledge is even greater, partly thanks to sites like opticstalk.com.

            One of the common pieces of magazine advice in the 1990’s was to spend as much as you could afford, because in optics you get what you pay for. This piece of wisdom has been repeated a zillion times over the years, not just about optics. Unfortunately it isn’t entirely true, partly because of world-wide economics, but increased awareness of good hunting optics over the last two decades has created a subculture of what might be called optics snobs. I know this because I have tendencies in that direction myself.

            True optics snobs have certain defining characteristics. One is an absolute certainty that THEIR binocular is the absolute best in the world. Another is that anybody who doesn’t spend at least $1000 on a hunting binocular shouldn’t be considered for membership at the country club, and any binocular not made in a German-speaking country isn’t worth talking about, much less buying.

            One reason for this sort of optics “evaluation” is that hunting is a relatively individual sport. Hunters tend to spend their together-time indoors, and go their separate ways in the field. Thus we don’t really get to compare our binoculars very often. The result is that binocular snobs can easily convince some of us that our binocular is inferior, even if they’ve never actually looked through it, or even met us.

            In contrast, bird-watching is a very social sport. Birders (as they call themselves) often gather at certain hotspots to look at rare or interesting birds, and their main tool is a fine binocular. Hunters tend to spend their primary money on firearms and riflescopes, with the binocular budget secondary, but to birders their binocular is their sport. Since they use binoculars a LOT more than the average hunter, year-round, ruggedness counts just as much as optical quality.

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/09/2009 at 11:58
Klamath View Drop Down
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Amen to that above. 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/09/2009 at 12:34
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that article helped me alot. thanks
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/09/2009 at 12:35
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Great piece, John!  Excellent  I think your observations are dead-on!
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/09/2009 at 13:44
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Great observations, John. 
To me the one line moral is--some glass is better than no glass at all!
I find it interesting in my profession(dentistry) as well as in my hunting that small improvements occur rather rapidly, and the technology of yesterday is quickly outpaced by the technology of tomorrow!
That also explains in part the closing of the gap for many of the mid range price optics with the alpha glass models.  The Zen ED and Vortex Razors, for example!
  
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/09/2009 at 22:01
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Great work as always John!
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/10/2009 at 09:14
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good writeup
I got a chance to check out several binos over the weekend
I got an invite to go hunt with Bill Wilson at his place (boy are you going to have fun when you go!)
There were quite a few binos floating around and we were comparing a Swarovski that belonged to his neighbor and checking a hog at night at about 140 yards under a feeder with red light on it.

I think it's safe to say that Bill can afford whatever he wants and likes nice stuff
but we spent 2 evenings out hunting hogs at night and he was using Monarch 8.5x56s
and they worked VERY well

nice writeup and very timely as I need to buy a set of binos soon
I think we all get way to obsessive (guilty)


Edited by ccoker - September/10/2009 at 10:05
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/10/2009 at 09:25
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As usual, great stuff and thanks.  I've been one to contend for a little while now that if there was some way to remove the names and #'s from binos we'd probably all be surprised how good some glass is.  A prime example would be the often chastised Bushnell elite.  When Bushy made the B&L Elites people were in love with them.  Change the name, keep the same or even better glass,  and people ridicule.  We can all be closed minded, especially about our optics I guess.  Thanks again and keep up the good work. 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/10/2009 at 14:20
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I had my first experience with that nearly a decade ago when Pentax had first brought out their DCF WP's. At a prairie dog shoot with a LOT of shooters, several were asked to compare the view between the Pentax and a very highly-regarded make from a German-speaking country--with the names on the binoculars taped over. Both were 10 binoculars with comparable objective size.
 
Almost everybody picked the Pentax as just slightly better than the Euro-glass. Of course, since then both brands have been upgraded quite a bit....
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/10/2009 at 14:35
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JG, how many times have you seen folks bash Elites at the Campfire cause of the Bushnell name? I'd bet a good number of them never owned, used or even looked through one either. I said it many times that if Elites still had the B&L logo folks would be swooning over them not to mention how much better optics get with the "right label" attached.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/10/2009 at 17:05
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Couldn't agree more Roy.  100% correct.  I've had the luxury (I guess) of not being real brand loyal with my binocs.  Good glass is a joy to look through, and there's a lot of it today, like JB said, @ $500 or even less.   I looked for hours (literally) comparing my Elite with my Trinovid, and the Elite is slightly brighter and just as sharp.  The Zen Ed2 has a better view than both.  Plenty of folks out there like you say RD. 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/10/2009 at 18:00
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I get a kick out of some of the bino reviews I read over there. Sounds like they swallowed an optics encyclopedia.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/10/2009 at 19:47
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Good article John.

I once did a blind test with a bunch of people.  I asked them to look through a series of binoculars with the names taped over.  The binoculars were from of a bunch of different magnifications and makes.  The test was very simple: "look at some distant targets and resolution charts and tell me which one allows you to see the most detail".  The experiment was repeated both handheld and mounted on a tripod.  Binoculars ranged from 6.5x to 10x in magnification.

Handheld, almost everyone could see the best with a 7x42 binocular.  Once there was a tripod involved, a good quality 10x emerged on top.

ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 08:37
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And the winners were??? I am really curious as I am not sure to take the big plunge or save my marriage and go with the "almost as good as" bins

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 09:36
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I'm sure you know this already pahuntnut, but a big increase in price doesn't get you a proportional increase in optics these days.  For instance you won't see something through a Zeiss FL that I can't see through my Bushnell Elite, Zen Ray, or a Razor, Meopta, etc.  That being said I've owned and used a Leica Trinovid 10x42 for the past dozen years or so and love it, but I would really see no need to spend that kind of money today when there are so many great choices @ $750 or less.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 10:16
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I have spent a lot of time in the field behind such sub-$500 glasses as the Alpen Apex, Bushnell Legend, Swift Audubon, Weaver Grand Slam and others to know that there isn't much given up there either.

One of the stories I've told before is about how my wife Eileen and I and her brother went to Yellowstone Park a couple of years ago to look at wildlife in spring. We took three binoculars: a Leica Duovid 8+12x40, a Zeiss FL 8x42 and a Leupold Cascade 10x42 porro-prism. We saw a bunch of animals, inclouding elk and wolves, but the ones that were hard to spot were bighorn sheep, often at very long distances. There wasn't any sheep we could see through the alpha glass that couldn't be seen--and almost as well--with the sub-$300 Leupold.
 
I would also add that the top Zen Ray and Hawke binoculars are incredible buys for under $500. They will only drive the price of fine optics down, as other companies try to compete.
 
One thing that I must re-emphasize from the article that if you buy a binocular based on any test (even one made last week) is that the test is already obsolete. The changes in modern optics come so fast these days that you might as well just pick one, instead of constantly trying to figure out what is best at the moment, because they all improve slightly just about every year. Plus, this has been going on long enough that even many $500 binoculars from 5 or more years ago are just fine. Trying to micro-analyze every binocular on the market will either lead to buying nothing (which does you no good in the field) or somehow imagining that you're missing out after finally making a choice.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 11:59
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Yes I know the dramatic increase in price after $500 is not proportional to optical quality.  However, I asked in another post if anyone ever sold their alpha's and just went with a less expensive bin and never really got an answer. Koshkin seemed to indicate the people in his test picked the alpha's and I was curious. i dont own any alpha glass and have no personal agenda. Not being as experienced as most on this forum when it comes to optics, It is hard for me to understand how a $400 bin can come very close to a $2000 bin. On another forum a person said they were an optometrist and said the human eye can only do so much? So no matter how they improve optics we will not really be able to appreciate it because we have limitations.  
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 12:04
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Originally posted by John Barsness John Barsness wrote:

Trying to micro-analyze every binocular on the market will either lead to buying nothing (which does you no good in the field) or somehow imagining that you're missing out after finally making a choice.


True that, it always makes me smile when I see that some people just buy pair after pair after pair of binos every year just trying to one up themselves over and over again. 

On the other hand though, I quite enjoy reading the reviews and knowledge that those people gain from doing that.  My pocket book is just glad it is them and not me.  Wink
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 12:13
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Originally posted by pahuntnut pahuntnut wrote:

Yes I know the dramatic increase in price after $500 is not proportional to optical quality.  However, I asked in another post if anyone ever sold their alpha's and just went with a less expensive bin and never really got an answer. Koshkin seemed to indicate the people in his test picked the alpha's and I was curious. i dont own any alpha glass and have no personal agenda. Not being as experienced as most on this forum when it comes to optics, It is hard for me to understand how a $400 bin can come very close to a $2000 bin. On another forum a person said they were an optometrist and said the human eye can only do so much? So no matter how they improve optics we will not really be able to appreciate it because we have limitations.  


It wouldn't make sense to sell the alpha class bino's for something less.  Even if all you gain is a 2 or 3% increase in optical quality for that extra $800 it is still an increase and at that point you already own them and have paid for them.  I really think it more comes down to buying in the first place.  Some are willing to pay it and can afford to do it, others that are cheapo's like me can not bring themselves to do it.

When I bought my Meopta bino's I had $1500 in cabelas points saved up to buy a pair.  I was probably going to buy a Leica or Swaro but once I compared them to the Meopta there was no way in hell I could justify paying $900 more for the Leica or Swaros.  I got my Meopta's for $600 in points after a cabelas rebate, and every time I look through them I am just as pleased as can be.  Then a few weeks later we turned around and bought my dad a pair of the Meoptas as well and had two pair for cheaper than one of the others.

Some can justify it and other just cannot.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 12:46
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Originally posted by pahuntnut pahuntnut wrote:

Yes I know the dramatic increase in price after $500 is not proportional to optical quality.  However, I asked in another post if anyone ever sold their alpha's and just went with a ... Not being as experienced as most on this forum when it comes to optics, It is hard for me to understand how a $400 bin can come very close to a $2000 bin.   
Lots of people have that problem.  Since you seem to be having some decision lock going on, I will offer a personal perspective that might help.  You said in one post something about saving your marriage (well maybe not that bad but we all have to deal with household budget concerns). 
 
It gets down to this.  You probably "need" an alpha if you are hunting in the remote areas a lot, use your equipment hard, or like some guys I know just are hard on stuff, or if you use binoculars fore far more than maybe 45 days or so a year in actual hunting and scouting.
 
You can get along just fine with less than alpha if your equipment typically does not get the stuffing knocked out of it.  You can take a ZEN ED or a Meopta and if you can not see it with those, you won't see it with an alpha either.  The optical quality is so darned close that you would have a hard to impossible time telling what was what with just a bunch of unmarked binoculars.
 
I like and use with confidence the ZEN ED and its near sibling the Promaster ELX ED.  I can't imagine a Meopta being unable to satisfy hard use, hard knocks at alpha level toughness at less than half of the alpha level price.  I am seriously thinking about a 7x42 Meostar just to have one to try out.  My Promaster has survived several purposely applied wet it freeze, and thaw episodes.
 
The comments about not obsessing are spot on the money.  I'd call and talk to Chris here at SWFA and make some arrangements to try the ZEN and the Meostar.  The image of either is plenty good enough.  When you have them in hand, you can make your own decisions on what about which one rings the sales receipt.
 
FrankD sold Zeiss FL and Swarovski EL when he saw the ZEN etc.  His point at the time was that he could not justify the cost of those when the ZEN was so good.  He apparently was in a temporary $$pinch right then as well.  He has repurchased some Zeiss FL.  But guys like Frank go through lots of glass.  I'm sort of glad he does because his posts about what he goes through are pretty good.


Edited by Klamath - September/11/2009 at 12:51
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 12:55
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Originally posted by pahuntnut pahuntnut wrote:

Yes I know the dramatic increase in price after $500 is not proportional to optical quality.  However, I asked in another post if anyone ever sold their alpha's and just went with a less expensive bin and never really got an answer. Koshkin seemed to indicate the people in his test picked the alpha's and I was curious. i dont own any alpha glass and have no personal agenda. Not being as experienced as most on this forum when it comes to optics, It is hard for me to understand how a $400 bin can come very close to a $2000 bin. On another forum a person said they were an optometrist and said the human eye can only do so much? So no matter how they improve optics we will not really be able to appreciate it because we have limitations.  

I do not think I made any mentino on the brands of the binoculars in question.

As a general rule, I would suggest you first figure out which configuration you want and then go on to determine the brand/make.

As far as what I recommend these days (as John pointed out, the marketplace changes quickly and my recommendations change with it), you get the most for your money with a 8x42, since there are a lot of options there.  With this configuration I have two recommendations:
 -under $500: Hawke Frontier ED 8x43
 -over $500: Vortex Razor 8x42 or 8.5x50

With 7x42, there are not nearly as many choices and the best one for the money is Meopta Meostar.  

Getting a more expensive binocular than the three I mention might get you marginally better performance, but it is a difference that you have to look for and that makes no practical difference I can think of.

ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 13:13
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why wouldn't the Meopta count as "alpha" ?
price tag?
don't they make the glass for Swarovski ?


Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 13:22
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Well just want to say thanks to all of you for you comments and your patience with me.  Your right when you summized I was experiencing decision lock.   
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 13:39
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Originally posted by ccoker ccoker wrote:

why wouldn't the Meopta count as "alpha" ?
price tag?
don't they make the glass for Swarovski ?



"Alpha" usually refers to Swarovski, Zeiss and Leica.  As for Meopta making glass for Swarovski, I am not aware of that, although I have heard that mentioned in relation to Swaro spotters.

ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: September/11/2009 at 15:05
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The only thing I know for sure is that Meopta makes most of the lenses for the Zeiss Conquest riflescopes. Zeiss makes the erector lenses and tube, Meopta makes the rest of the lenses and scope tube, adjustment parts, etc. Or at least that is what the people told me when I inquired.
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