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Report: cheap binos vs expensive binos

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: April/09/2006 at 19:01
czech1022 View Drop Down
Optics GrassHopper
Optics GrassHopper

Joined: May/01/2005
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Points: 4

Hi all:


I thought Iíd pass on a comparison test I conducted recently that illustrates the difference between expensive and cheap binoculars.


I donít have a lot of experience with binoculars, at least really good binocularsÖIíve never had a great deal of money to spare, and usually found other things that seemed to me to be more in need of an investment of cash. So Iíve usually ended up with low end Simmons and Bushnell glass that could be found in a department store.


But several months ago, I had the chance to go on a backpacking hunt for elk with a couple of friends in Idaho, so I put together all of my overtime pay and a few part-time jobs to come up with the necessities for the trip. One of the necessities was a good pair of binoculars for a price that wouldnít make me skimp on the rest of my gear. I did a lot of online research (including this forum) and went to every store that carried binoculars to do as much hands-on testing as I could.


First, I decided on a porro-prism style, because I could get very good optical quality without having to approach the $1,000 mark, even if I had to pay a price in extra weight. Second, I wanted to stick with something close to 8x40, for the best compromise of power, light gathering and size. Then I decided to narrow the field to Leupold Wind River, Pentax, Nikon Action Exteme, and Bushnell Trophy, because of recommendations and reviews I read online. Finally, I compared every available binocular side-by-side for weight, comfort, clarity and eye relief (I wear glasses, and long eye relief is an absolute requirement for me). To make it short, I found that the Leuopold, Pentax and Nikon were sharper than the Bushnell Trophy, so I dropped the Bushnell from my list. The Pentax felt large and clumsy in my hands, so I dropped them, too. The Leupold wasnít as easy to focus as the Nikon Action Express, and the Nikon had twist-adjustable eye cups that allowed a full field of view even with my glasses. So even though the Leupold was lighter and very clear, the Nikon won out. As a bonus, the Nikon came with a lifetime warrantee and I think the Leupold Wind River was 20 years maximum.


As a result, I ended up with a pair of very sharp and clear waterproof optics for my elk hunt that cost just about $100. The binoculars performed superbly during my hunt, and when my buddies passed around what they had brought, I could find nothing with a sharper, clearer view for even several times what I had paid.


Just last week, however, I got a chance to compare my purchase with a known standard in the optics field: I found a pair of 10x40 Zeiss Classic roof prism binoculars in excellent condition for $50 at a garage sale. Yes, I know, thatís kind of like hitting the lottery for people who love fine optics, but things like this just seem to happen to me.


I decided to compare the two and write down my thoughts. I compared them under sunny skies and in cloudy conditions, in full light and in a fading sunset, at close distances and while looking at far mountains. These are my conclusions.


The Zeiss feels heavier, even though they are actually a couple of ounces lighter than the Nikon, because they are more compact and the weight is concentrated in one spot in your hands. Itís like holding a steel bar compared to holding a brick (roof prism design vs. porro prism). The Nikon is a bit more comfortable in my hands because of its shape. The Zeiss is easier to focus quickly, since there is much less movement of the focus wheel for the same amount of change in the Nikon. I like the diopter adjustment on the Zeiss better, too, since it is out of the way of your hands while you are focusing. The Nikonís eye cup adjustment is better and worse: they are individually adjustable for height, so they will work well for most users, but since they move so easily it is common for one or the other to pop up to the wrong setting while youíre moving around on a hunt. The Zeiss has simple rubber eyecups that Iíve come to associate with cheap glass and rarely work well with my glasses, but on these binoculars they are perfectly adjusted for my use.


In either case, with the eye cups adjusted full down, I had a full field of view through each with my glasses on. And now, for the most important part, I hope you wonít be disappointed, but I could see almost no difference in sharpness, color rendition or clarity between the $100 Nikon Action Extreme 8x40 and the $800 Zeiss Classic 10x40, under every condition I described above: sunny skies, cloudy skies and fading sunlight, whether trying to read the print on the side of my neighborís RV or making out details in the construction of a far off housing project. There were a couple of lines of print I was able to see more clearly just because of the additional magnification of the Zeiss, but I also had noticeably more hand shake with the 10x compared to the 8x.


So what do you get for your additional $700 when you choose the Zeiss? Both have a lifetime warrantee, but Iíve read that customer service is far superior from Zeiss. More importantly, though, for a hunting binocular, is the ruggedness of the product. If you look at the hinges of the two binoculars, you will see a couple of narrow attachments to the center post on the Nikon binoculars. And with the wide weight distribution of the porro prism design, those hinges can be expected to be subject to great stress when dropped. In contrast, the Zeiss has a massive hinge, and with its weight concentrated close to the hinge axis, should be expected to endure much more punishment.


In summation, for anyone who canít afford nearly $1000 for binoculars, I can heartily endorse the Nikon Action Extreme (especially for eyeglass wearers). But given the choice, which one will I take on my next elk hunt, where failure of the glass would drastically affect my chance of connecting with an elk? No questionÖthe Zeiss.


Thanks for listening,


PS Just a week or so ago, I got a chance to compare the Nikons to a new pair of $1200+ Leicas: the difference in sharpness and clarity was obvious.

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: April/10/2006 at 13:32
Acenturian View Drop Down
Optics Journeyman
Optics Journeyman

Joined: September/07/2004
Status: Offline
Points: 543

Czech 1022:


That was an interesting comparison between the Nikon and the Zeiss Classics.  I truly believe that the first step in optics is the biggest step of all.  I think you will see a HUGE difference between a $300 pair of binoculars and a $40.00 pair.  The difference between a $300 and $800 the gap gets a little smaller. 


Poro's are still the best bang for the buck.  I have a pair of Swift Audubon ED's which I love and truely I cant see really any difference between them and some of the more expensive roofs. (Nice weather tests only so far)   I bought my father in law for Christmas a pair of Bausch and Lomb 8x42 Discoverer poro's and he was very impressed since all he had ever used was very cheap glass.


Now for the latest.  I was on a hunt recently and I brought a pair of my Weaver GrandSlam 10x45 binoculars.  They are very nice roof prisms and definitly not what I would call cheap at about ($450.00) and a couple of my friends use Zeiss and another Leica.  On day one while out hunting,  it was a little cloudy but sunny and I could not tell really any difference.  Day two, snow, snow and lots of snow.  Again not a huge difference but I could start to see where the extra money goes.  Day three snow with lots of sunshine.  The difference was beyond words.  The Weavers had lots of glare and chromatic aberration where the others had minimal or none.  The Weavers would fog easier than the others (when taken out of a warm jacket in the cold, and my breath) and would stay a bit longer on the lenses then the German nocs. 


It would be interesting to see how a good pare of poro's like my Swifts would stack up, but when comparing roofs to roofs, the German glass was clearly the winner.  So much so that when I got home I decided I would just save up and then go compare Zeiss, Leica, Swarovski and then buy a great pair of binoculars.  As the old saying goes "buy once, cry once".





Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: April/23/2006 at 13:19
chasseur106 View Drop Down
Optics Journeyman
Optics Journeyman

Joined: March/12/2004
Location: United States
Status: Offline
Points: 137

   Hello All,



        Just out of curiousity here; since this does seem the proper forum to discuss this particular topic, does anyone have good things to say over the Steiner binocular compared with the Kahles binocular?  I have a Steiner 8X 30 mm Predator, and really want to go up to the Kahles, or perhaps the Meopta in 8X 42mm.  I definitely want great glass, but simply cannot afford to spend the money for Swaro, Leica or Zeiss at this time.



Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: April/23/2006 at 16:28
lucznik View Drop Down
Optics Master
Optics Master

Joined: November/27/2004
Location: United States
Status: Offline
Points: 1436

There are some definite fans of Steiner Optics who frequent this board. Roy Finn being one of the principle ones. His observations have always seemed to be based on careful observations under "real world" conditions so, they are worth paying attention to. Personally I don't care for the Steiner's Individual Focus mechanism and their few Center Focus models seem high priced to me so, I don't give the brand much consideration when comparing optics.


In general Steiner seems to focus a lot of their R&D into optics intended for specific purposes rather than in more general-use options.  Your Predator model for example, includes coatings which block certain colors of light thus allowing the reds and browns of game animals to seem to stand out more prominently.  This is great if your binocular is used strictly for hunting but, it does mean that the binocular will suffer in low-light conditions (anytime you purposely restrict light this is a natural consequence) and also means that the binocular does not give very good "true color" images when looking at other things besides game animals. 


The move to the Kahles brand would be a definite "step-up" in both quality and utility.

Edited by lucznik
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