Location: United States
Please allow me some time to upload all of the review (it may require multiple posts). I apologize ahead of time for the quality of the pictures. My primary camera has developed an issue and I was forced to rely on my secondary camera which does not have the resolution potential.
A few months ago I was reading a thread on one of the Birdforum sub-forums here where Klamath mentioned doing a $250 US and under binocular comparative review. I thought it was a great idea for several reasons so I decided to chip in and do one of my own. Klamath and I have a few models in common but we also bring some different models to the table.
For those that aren’t “regulars” here on the forums you might question why we would pick this particular configuration and why this price range. I can’t speak for Steve but from my perspective it captures two very common ingredients in many binocular purchases… price and performance. For most consumers that aren’t binocular aficionados $250 is a great deal of money to spend on something that sees relatively limited use. Even suggesting that they spend $100 on a pair of binoculars might create a gasp or two. So why $250? Well, I think it is fairly commonly accepted that the biggest leap in optical performance that most of us experienced was when we went from bargain basement binoculars up to something in the $200-$300 price range. For many years I believe that most folks considered the $300 price point to be the “serious step-up” in performance. In recent years I think that price point has dropped but in an effort to include as many budget models as possible I felt that the $250 price point was reasonable.
With $250 you can get many of the latest features that were once found on binoculars costing $750-$1000 only a decade or so ago. I am referring to things like dielectric coated prisms, good ergonomics, good close focus and all of it in a compact package.
The next question then is why the 8x32 configuration? A similar discussion came up a few months ago on here. The general consensus is that the 8x42 is the most versatile configuration and thus probably the best seller across the entire binocular market. The 10x42 configuration is most likely the second most popular. My experience leads me to believe that the 8x32 configuration would very likely be 3rd. So, why would I pick the third most popular configuration? Well, up until recently the number of high-performing 8x32s in this price class has been relatively scarce. Sure, there were always a few models but it seems that manufacturers have finally taken notice of the popularity of this configuration and at this price point.
An 8x32 binocular provides a wonderful compromise in terms of optical performance and portability. During regular daylight hours it can be practically indistinguishable in overall performance when compared with an 8x42 from the same product line. Sure the slightly larger exit pupil of the 8x42 does allow your eye to roam a bit more around the image but there are so many more advantages to the 8x32 overall. Most 8x32 units are about 1/3rd shorter and a 1/3rd lighter than similar 8x42s. They also typically have wider fields of view. The price is also, normally, a little less. To continue along that line of thinking, our own pupils only dilate to between 2-4 mm during daylight hours. The exit pupil on an 8x32 mm binocular is 4 mm. The exit pupil with an 8x42 mm binocular is 5.25 mm. That extra 1.25 mm gives very little benefit to the consumer unless you are using the binocular in poor lighting conditions (the first few and last few minutes of light or under very heavy tree canopy).
So why did I choose these particular models? Well, both Celestron and Zen Ray have recently introduced dielectric-coated 8x32s at this price point. Celestron also has an even less expensive phase-coated model included in this review. The Leupold is new to the market and their first 8x32, that I am aware, of at this price point. I chose Opticron’s least expensive 8x32 though they offer another, slightly more expensive model that still fits in the review’s price range. Klamath is reviewing that one so I went with the less expensive alternative. Lastly, I am utilizing the Sightron Blue Sky as my baseline unit to compare the others two. The reason for that is fairly obvious. I have owned quite a few binoculars in a variety of configurations. They come and they go. I have now owned the Sightron for 2 years+ and have zero problems with it either optically or mechanically. I consider it to be the benchmark of relatively inexpensive 8x32 binoculars. The others have a tall order to fill if they are going to compete with that model.
The format of this review is going to be slightly different than many of my previous ones. I am going to provide a synopsis of each individual model first and then a comparative piece at the end. I leave it up to you folks to decide what you put priority in to determine which of these models would suit you personally. ;)
Celestron Trailseeker 8x32:
The Celestron Trailseeker is the first model being reviewed. Advertised specs are listed below: