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Leupold Golden Ring Switch Power Review

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 16:46
lucznik View Drop Down
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Well I haven’t been on much lately, but I thought I would post some info about a new binocular my wife got for me for a combo birthday/Christmas present. 

It is the 10/17x42 Leupold Golden Ring (GR) Switch Power (SP) binocular.  I think I will start out by giving some basic specs.  I am also including the same specs for the Leica Duovid for comparative purposes. 

(However, by way of disclaimer, let me make it clear from the outset that I am NOT trying to make any comparative conclusions between the two.  I have never handled (nor in truth ever even seen “in person”) a Leica Duovid so; I have no idea how the one would truly stack up against the other.)

 

Leica Duovid

Leupold Golden Ring

Magnification

10 & 15

10 & 17

Objective Lens Diameter (mm)

50

42

Exit Pupil (mm)

5.00 & 3.33

4.20 & 2.47

Field of View (ft @ 1000 yds)

274 & 208

262 & 136

Eye Relief (mm)

14.5 & 14.3

21.1 & 18.1

Close Focus (ft)

12.9 & 12.9


What if the hokey pokey really is what it's all about?
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 16:46
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Now for some more direct (i.e. more subjective) observations:

With the exception of the magnification-switching lever on the front of the binocular the SP looks pretty much identical to other GR binoculars.  I chose the brown rubber armored model so as to match with my 10-15x30 GR spotting scope.  I have read a lot of negatives about the look of the brown rubber armoring on the GRs and I think that such complaints are nonsense. The brown goes perfectly well with the muted colors and camo patterns that are common in the hunting fields and is certainly as attractive as Swarovski’s choice of green.  For those more-fashion-conscious individuals, Leupold does offer the SP with black rubber armor.

The SP works by adding in an additional lens element that moves into place when you flip the switch located on the top of the binocular just below the focus ring. You can actually see the extra lens move into place.  An interesting note here is that, despite the required mechanics and the need for this lens element to be able to move out of the way, the SP’s barrel dimensions are really very thin; as thin as any other similarly-sized binocular and thinner than many, including Leupold’s own single-magnification GRs.

The SP is truly a dual magnification.  You have either 10x or 17x.  There is no “zoom” functionality. The magnification switch is positive and tactile.  It is not hard to move but, it does not flop around on its own either. The hinge for setting interpupillary distance is firm and does not readily move by itself. The diopter adjustment is a click-set unit that is located on the right barrel. It is plenty stiff and will not move by itself once set. There is a dished out area in the rubber armor on each barrel in which to rest your thumbs. The inevitable branding is subtle and done in good taste (unlike say, Burris, who makes you carry around a veritable billboard with their name plastered in the largest possible lettering).

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 16:49
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Accessories

Let’s proceed with a discussion about the accessories. The SP came with a nice, properly-sized, padded-cordura nylon case with a zipper top.  I really like it, except that the back-side seam pulled out of its stitches almost immediately.  My bag for my GR spotting scope is similar in construction and materials and has held up really well so; I’m not too worried about it. I just happened to get one that had an unseen flaw. It happens.  Leupold is making a proper replacement and all will be fine.

The binocular comes with two sets of interchangeable eyecups. The first has the simple, flat edges that are traditional in binoculars. The other set has “wings” for helping to shut out stray light.  I wear eyeglasses at all times so; this second set is unusable for me, but for someone who has better eyesight and/or who wears contact lenses, this could be an excellent option.

The SP also comes with both a neoprene neck strap and a binocular harness. Each is equipped with quick-disconnect buckles which you would think would be done to allow you to easily switch between the two, depending on which would be best for a given activity.  But no, the buckles for each one is actually sized differently!  For the life of me I can’t figure out why that would be. Not only would having them the same size allow for greater versatility, it would also cost less and be less of a logistical problem than having to purchase multiple sizes of buckles. Someone at Leupold wasn’t thinking very clearly. 

Since they can’t be easily interchanged and since the whole concept of the binocular harness is an idea that is, at least for me, very limited in its usefulness, I have elected to use the neoprene neck strap.  It is very wide and very comfortable.  I like it.

Stay on objective lens covers come standard and again, I like them a lot.  Sometimes I forget to flip them down and I look like an idiot bringing up binoculars to my eyes that are covered, but I’m used to looking dumb and I like the protection from dust, snow, fingers, etc. that these offer the glass.  They are keepers.

The rubber so-named “rain-guard” that is supposed to hang from the neck strap and allow for covering the eyepieces to provide them with similar dust, snow, fingers, etc. protection is not nearly as well designed as the objective lens covers.  It does not stay put when placed and it gets in the way often so; I pretty much don’t use that accessory at all, except when the binocular is put away in its case. When I need to protect the eyepieces, I slip the binocular under my jacket.    

Finally, the SP sports a proper tripod mounting screw hole for use with an appropriate adapter.  This is a feature that was removed from the regular GRs in favor of a “interpupillary distance lock” which I never liked at all.  It was never a really solid lock and it constantly came unlocked making it basically useless.  Even with low magnifications, I like being able to mount my binocular to a tripod and this is so much more important with a binocular like this one that is offering the opportunity to use a 17x magnification.

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 16:51
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Of course, the basic premise behind the SP binocular (and the Duovid for that matter) is to give the viewer the option of scanning at low power until an object of interest is found and then, with the flip of a switch, increasing the magnification to get a better look.  The SP does this very well.  Let’s take a look at some of the basic comparative elements:

Exit Pupil (EP)

The SP offers the same 4.2mm EP as most “standard” 10x42 binoculars carried by untold numbers of very serious hunters. It is more than bright enough to serve at well before and well after any legal hunting hours in North America.  If you are going to hunt in Europe or elsewhere where night hunting might be a possibility, then you might want bigger objectives.   The 2.47mm EP @ 17x is about on par with most 10x “mini” binoculars and if it’s too dim to see the animal of interest through these binoculars at this magnification, then you are either too late or too early to be hunting just yet.  Besides, if it really is too dark @ 17x, then you still have the option of viewing at 10x.  The Duovid beats out the SP here, but only at the cost of significantly increased weight and bulk.

Field of View (FoV)

At 10x the FoV is narrower than what I am accustomed to enjoying.  In fact it is significantly narrower than the 420 ft FoV of my up-till-now primary binocular, an 8x42 Porro prism B&L Discoverer. However, it is still on par with the only truly comparable glass, the Duovid, as well as with many other 10x binoculars. What’s more important is that it is entirely useable in the field and actually much less noticeable than I expected, except under direct, side-by-side comparison.  At 17x the 136x FoV is similar to many spotting scopes at the same magnification and that’s good as this magnification is intended primarily to be used as a spotting scope substitute.

Eye Relief (ER)

In truth, I find the ER to be a bit too long, giving me black outs when I use the binocular with the eyecups in the fully-down position that is (was) my norm.  The eyecups do have an intermediate setting that mitigates this problem but, ideally I would have liked Leupold to shorten the ER just a bit. In doing so they might have been able to increase the FoV a bit – which also would have been nice.

Physical Size

These binoculars are much smaller, both in size and weight, than other GR binoculars.  This is good for the neck after long hours of carrying them and not so good for maintaining the very most stable image. Of course, they can be mounted to a tripod which solves this problem, if you can stand to carry a tripod around. These binoculars are much more comparable in size and weight to many other popular binocular lines. 

Magnification

I have read many different things where authors, some amateurs and some professionals, try to wax profound about the pros and cons of higher and lower magnifications.  Higher magnifications help you get closer – which is the very point of having binoculars. Low magnifications allow (theoretically) for steadier viewing. I have used both types rather extensively and am perfectly happy with either one.  You may, however, infer from my choice of SP models which side of the “how much is enough/too much magnification” argument I personally have settled on.  Leupold does offer a 7&12x32 model for anyone whose opinion in this matter differs from mine.

As an aside, I do still remain firmly convinced that the MSRP of a given binocular is a pretty good indication of how much magnification it can reasonably support.  I believe that, when speaking of a “primary” binocular and if you are going to pay under $700 retail for a roof prism (or under $350 retail for a Porro prism), then you should generally opt for the lower 7x-8x options and avoid 10x+ magnifications.

Aberrations

I will forever be willing to strangle the guy that taught me how to easily see Chromatic Aberration (CA) and, except for people who have some professional need to see it, I now always recommend people try to remain as blissfully ignorant of such techniques as possible.  Such people, if CA is really bad in a particular optic, will still see it but, they won’t be bothered with endless niggling over small amounts that can’t be seen unless carefully looked for and which are in EVERY binocular they will ever handle, no matter the price. I, on the other hand, have had no end of frustrations as I have tried not to see CA in optics over the years.  

That said, CA in the SP is very well controlled; at least as well as any other non-HD binocular I have seen and better than most – and the differences even between this and HD binoculars are very, very small.

Focus becomes a bit soft toward the outer edges of the field, again similar to what I’ve seen in other high end binocul

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 16:51
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Conclusion

In short, the SP is a great binocular.  It is offered by an American company and is designed and assembled here in the USA.  Leupold offers the very best warranty in the business with an unmatched history of customer service to back that up.  Optically the SP is as good as and perhaps better than any binocular in its price class and, due largely to its versatility, is perhaps better than others costing significantly more.

The SP offers a degree of versatility in its dual magnifications that is unmatched, except in binoculars costing so much that only a select few people can/will afford to buy them – and even if you are one of those few people, you do so at the additional cost of greater bulk and an inferior warranty.  Having given this dual-power idea a try, I would find it difficult and distasteful to go back to binoculars offering only a single magnification option.

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 17:19
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Lucznik:
Nice work, and good to see the review on how these dual powers work.
 
Looking at your first post, I am thinking you may have the price of these reversed Smile, or I will
be very quick to order a Leica !
 
Jerry
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 17:22
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Nope, not a price reversal, but rather a brand/model name reversal. 

My bad - goes to show what happens when you don't do a proper editing.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 18:07
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Not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but when i looked through my GR HD 10X42,  and then the SP on 10x, there's no comparison in the view.  
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 18:17
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JG:
 
Which one is better?  I respect your opinion.
 
Jerry
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 18:49
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Originally posted by JGRaider JGRaider wrote:

Not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but when i looked through my GR HD 10X42,  and then the SP on 10x, there's no comparison in the view.  


You're not raining on anyone's parade. If you saw something different than I, that's fair. Let's hear it.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/20/2010 at 18:53
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Lucznik,

Excellent and enjoyable review.  I think I will finally have to get my hands on a pair of these.

JG,

No comparison?

It seems that both binoculars should be of a quality build at least.  Both should be able to reasonably resolve objects.  Did one show more of some type (all types?) of aberration than the other?  Was the disparity in field of view too great to consider other areas of performance?  Was one lacking in resolution, contrast, field flatness, astigmatism, etc.? 

It seems most reviews of the Switchpower and GR HD lines have been pretty positive.

I am interested in this binocular and how it stacks up against the mid-price leaders.  I would be willing to give up some extreme levels of performance to gain the flexibility of a dual power binocular.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/21/2010 at 08:25
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Matt, I agree with you. I like the concept, but have always been leery of a switch power binocular. The more I think about this, the more I realize that I don't have any issues with a variable power rifle scope, so why wouldn't a switch power binocular give acceptable results.  This has peeked my interest and I'll give them a look the next time I'm at the sporting goods store.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/21/2010 at 10:00
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I just picked up a pair of the 7x12 SP a few weeks back from the sample list.  I like them a lot.  For the wooded areas here in Western WA, they work out very well.
 
Thanks for the W/U (write up).
 
 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/21/2010 at 10:08
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By no comparison I mean optically, the GR HD's are much brighter, and have a much greater FOV.  The optics in the HD are fantastic, on par with my SLCneu.  They trump the SP in contrast, resolution, brightness, and especially FOV.  I believe it's something like 265ft/1000yds vs 335ft/100yds......a very significant difference and very noticable.  The view through the GR just jumps out at you, the SP's did not.  When going back and forth between the two the SP seemed to have a rather dull view. I was impressed with the build of both, and the more I use the GR HD the more I compare the build to the toughest bino ever made IMO the trinovid.  The 17x in the SP was useless to me without a tripod.

As I said, I'm not trying to be argumentative, and I'm not saying it's not usable.  But when compared to a regular 10x bino it was very obvious to me. 


Edited by JGRaider - December/21/2010 at 10:09
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I have the 7/12x32 SP.  They are nice @7x and somewhat fuzzy @ 12x.  I think in this instance they would have been better off to go with a 6/10x32, a 8/12x42 and a 10/15x50.  I think they try to get too much magnification with too little glass at the high end.  An EP of 2.5-2.6 is not enough IMO.  The 12x is more useful than I thought it might be with its small size, but the 7x is not a lot different from the Swift 7x36.  You are better off with a good 10x42 for long distance.  However the concept of a dual power is decent enough. 
 
I think the 7x is a little less quality image than the 8x32 GR.  But I have only looked at the 10/17 in dealers displays.  It always seemed light for 17x.
 
You will have to give up some fov for the SP concept.  Nature of the beast it seems.


Edited by Klamath - December/21/2010 at 11:18
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/21/2010 at 11:41
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Originally posted by JGRaider JGRaider wrote:

By no comparison I mean optically, the GR HD's are much brighter, and have a much greater FOV.  The optics in the HD are fantastic, on par with my SLCneu.  They trump the SP in contrast, resolution, brightness, and especially FOV.  I believe it's something like 265ft/1000yds vs 335ft/100yds......a very significant difference and very noticable.  The view through the GR just jumps out at you, the SP's did not.  When going back and forth between the two the SP seemed to have a rather dull view. I was impressed with the build of both, and the more I use the GR HD the more I compare the build to the toughest bino ever made IMO the trinovid.  The 17x in the SP was useless to me without a tripod.

As I said, I'm not trying to be argumentative, and I'm not saying it's not usable.  But when compared to a regular 10x bino it was very obvious to me. 


You bring up some valid observations.  I've only had the GR SP for about a month now so; I haven't had the ability to directly compare it to a lot of optics, mostly just my 8x42 Porro prism Discoverer, a friend's 10x42 Cabelas Euro (made by Meopta), and another friend's 10x42 Nikon Monarch.  Of the three the Euro is the most directly comparable and I just didn't see what you have seen.

I would love to compare the SP directly with a Duovid but, in my neck of the woods, Leica's are profoundly unpopular.  In fact, I don't know a single person who owns one at all - and I work with doctors and surgeons so; there's no problem with their ability to afford them.

To address the specific issues you brought up, when comparing (briefly) the Euro and Monarch and (more extensively) the Discoverer to the Switch Power my observations were that:
  • Brightness - At 10x I have seen no noticeable difference in brightness at all between the more expensive two and the Monarch was only slightly behind.  The 8x Discoverer is brighter, as expected, but not so much that there is any meaningful advantage to it in normal hunting situations. 
  • FoV - The difference between the GR SP's 262 ft and the Euro's 330 is noticeable; so much more so the much larger gap to get to the Discoverer's 420 ft. FoV. However, as mentioned, I only really notice the difference when set up for direct side-by-side comparisons.  Part of this, I'm sure, is due to the SP's large "Apparent FoV." You are, evidently, more sensitive to this than I, which is totally fair and legitimate. It is interesting to note, however, that at a more common 100-yd viewing distance, the difference in FoV between your SLC and the SP is only about 7 feet and the difference between the SP and the more-directly-comparable (and hugely more expensive) Leica Duovid is only 1.2 feet.
  • Contrast & Resolution - I have not made any measurable, definitive comparisons of either contrast or resolution (and very likely never will) but I'll also bet no one else has either. My informal viewing both with this binocular as well as with many others over the years tells me that there are no great differences between any of the various high quality makes/models available on the market and what is perceived as such has much more to do with an individual's personal biases and brand preferences (and perhaps a little bit with their eyesight) than to any demonstrable reality.  I'm not making any accusations here; just pointing out that I've met no one who can put measurable, objectively-defined numbers to their claims.
  • 17x usefulness - I think I mentioned that 17x is best used with a tripod.  However, to call it "useless" without a tripod is, I think, intellectually dishonest. There are lots of ways to steady an optic without a tripod and even just hand held the 17x magnification can allow you to see more than you could without it. I know this flies in the face of the assertions of others, including some who are considered "experts" in the field like John Barsness (whose book on optics I own and have read numerous times), and I respect such opinions.  I just don't entirely agree with them.
As an aside and as a general rule, I personally have  been rather unimpressed with Swarovski's SLC's (both old and new) as well as their ELs. Oh, to be sure, there is nothing overtly wrong with them or their performance level, but I just have never seen any clear advantage to them over other quality, though somewhat lesser-priced, optics.  In fact, the only reason I was willing to spend the money to move away from my much-less-expensive Porro prism binocular was to gain the added versatility of the dual magnifications.  If it weren't for that, there is currently nothing that any single-power binocular offers that is worth (IMO) the extra cost. 

Although not technically correct, in today's nomenclature, the use of the word "trump" usually connotes a high level of superiority and, if we are accepting such as part of the definition, then Swarovski's (of whatever model), while admittedly better, don't  "trump" even the $300 Nikon Monarch.


Edited by lucznik - December/21/2010 at 11:44
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/21/2010 at 14:45
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JG,

Thanks for clarifying your position.  So we have one set of eyes saying the GR HDs knock the pants off the SP, and another saying the SPs keep up with the Meopta Meostar (err Cabelas Euro).

Now I have owned GRs and own Meostars and prefer the Meoptas to the GRs.  Only one thing to do:  find a pair of SP binoculars for T&E.

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/21/2010 at 15:49
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I'd sure be interested in your take also.  Strictly talking fixed binos, I usually find the differences minimal between the many excellent $500-$900 glass and the so called alphas, and it usually boils down to ergos as to what I really prefer.  For instance, I do not like the yellowish bias of the meopta/cabelas euro as compared to some, or the diopter that really doesn't "lock" and sits atop the focuser, but that's just me.  I'm certainly no expert, I just like great glass.  I could go hunt with an Elite, SLC, GR HD, Zen ED2, Meopta, Nikon LX, Steiner Preregrine, and other mid priced stuff and not fell underglassed for sure.  

I respectfully disagree with the OP's assumption of the SLCneu.......they are superb....
This is not the end all/be all of binocular testing, but I thought it was pretty interesting:

http://www.allbinos.com/allbinos_ranking-binoculars_ranking-10x42.html
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/21/2010 at 16:18
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Nice work, lucznik!  Thanks for posting.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/22/2010 at 10:29
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Originally posted by JGRaider JGRaider wrote:

I respectfully disagree with the OP's assumption of the SLCneu.......they are superb....
Totally fair.  If we all agreed on such things, we'd all be fighting over acquiring the same exact binoculars - and then we'd have nothing to discuss.


Originally posted by lucznik lucznik wrote:

Part of this, I'm sure, is due to the SP's large "Apparent FoV."
After doing some more reading, I think I may be using this term wrong.  I'm not sure how exactly to describe this without pictures but, I'll try...

When viewing through any binocular the FoV is surrounded by a circle of black.  To me at least, in some binoculars, this black circle appears thicker than it does in others - even though their published FoV may be the same.  In binoculars where this black circle is thicker, I experience higher levels of "tunnel vision" and the FoV appears to be narrower, even though it's not.   In binoculars where this black circle is narrower, the FoV seems more open and appears to be wider, again, even though it's not.  One of the best examples I can remember of this would be between a 10x42 Pentax DCF WP and a 10x42 Nikon Monarch where the Nikon just seemed wider, despite virtually identical FoV (315 ft vs. 314 ft respectively). In such cases, I know what I am experiencing is an optical illusion as the Fields of View are the same, but that doesn't change the fact that the one appears to have a wider, more comfortable FoV than the other.

I have always used the term "apparent field of view" to describe this phenomenon, but it seems that I was doing so in error.  I don't know what the best term would be to describe the effect, perhaps "perceived FoV" or "perceived openness?" 

Whatever that may be, I apologize for any confusion I may have caused with my mixing of terms.
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Originally posted by lucznik lucznik wrote:

lucznik]Part of this, I'm sure, is due to the SP's large "Apparent FoV."
After doing some more reading, I think I may be using this term wrong.  I'm not sure how exactly to describe this without pictures but, I'll try...

When viewing through any binocular the FoV is surrounded by a circle of black.  To me at least, in some binoculars, this black circle appears thicker than it does in others - even though their published FoV may be the same.  
[/QUOTE]
 
I know just what you mean.  Sort of like looking through an inner tube with the same size "donught hole" but with either a thicker or thinner tube.  The thicker tube can be annoying.
 
Standard calculation of apparent FOV is the actual degrees of the linear field multiplied by the binocular magnification.    So a 10x42 with a 6.3* field has a 63* afov.  Never could see much use in that.
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