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Waterproof Binoculars

These binoculars can hold up under adverse field conditions.

By Gibbs Milliken

The latest top-quality binoculars are waterproof, fogproof, shockproof and completely sealed from dust and dirt. Other innovations include strong, lightweight construction, improved color correctness, superior sharpness and contrast, rapid and close-up focusing in a compact housing. In the larger, high-magnification models, electronic stabilization is available to dampen handshake, boat or vehicular movement. All have optical systems that perform excellently for anyone afield in less than ideal weather conditions.

One of the newest and best mid-size designs is the Brunton Epoch Binoculars ($1,449, 7.5 X 43 or $1,499, 10.5 X 43, Brunton, (800) 443-4871, www.brunton.com). These not only have excellent optical qualities, but also feature internal short-travel focusing for rapid subject acquisition and action-following. This unique design will close-focus down to 3 feet, making them especially useful for naturalists observing butterflies, tiny insects and spiders. The frame is a lightweight magnesium alloy and rubber-coated for a comfortable positive grip even when wet. Available as an accessory is a 2X Fieldscope attachment and tripod adapter that quickly transform the binoculars into a compact spotting scope. In addition, this product includes a lifetime guarantee and a Halo (rapid worldwide replacement service) policy with every unit. All features considered, this Brunton Epoch series is state-of-the-art in quality, performance and versatility.

The optical qualities of the Swarovski EL Binoculars ($1,532.22, 8.5 X 42 and $1,610, 10 X 42, Swarovski Optik North America, (800) 426-3089, www.swarovskioptik.com) offer exceptional viewing in a medium-size, lightweight, waterproof housing. Designed for both the birder and hunter, these have a full range of accessories including a 2X attachment for twice the power. Considerably less expensive and much smaller in size, the Swarovski Pocket Models ($521.11, 8 X 20-P or $576.66, 10 X 25-P in forest green or black, Swarovski) are ideal for the minimalist wanting binoculars that fold small enough to fit into a chest pocket. These watertight mini units have the high-quality construction, precision optics and guarantee that have made this brand world-renowned.

If larger size and weight are not a consideration, the new Nikon StabilEyes ($1,795, 14 X 40, Nikon, (800) 645-6687, www.nikonusa.com) feature a dual-mode, vibration-reduction system for both land and boating conditions. This stabilization is powered by four AA batteries that are sealed in an easily accessible external compartment. When activated, tiny sensor motors effectively dampen both tilt and panning movements for steady viewing at any angle. They come in a powerful 14 X magnification that can be hand-held under most field situations. While these professional-grade binoculars are large and bulky, they are excellent for marine use, distant wildlife viewing or big game hunting where a close approach is not possible.

In a medium size and price range, there are other waterproof designs from makers like Nikon, Canon, Leica, Leupold, Kowa and Eagle that are fine optics. The most outstanding models we tested in this category were the Eagle Optics Ranger - Platinum Class ($379, 8 X 42 and $399, 10 X 42, Eagle Optics, (800) 289-1132, www.eagleoptics.com) that offer sharp, bright images, close focusing, and all-round serviceability that are hard to equal at twice the price.

With any binoculars, the desired magnification is a relative thing. Most users can hold a 7X or 8X steady enough for clear viewing. Beyond this point, some type of rest may be needed with conventional designs to reduce vibration. Also, in the larger powers, the field of view is reduced, making subject acquisition more difficult. In dim light, the higher magnifications need larger objective lenses and special coatings for brighter images. Many professional guides prefer the medium-power glasses for their lightness, smaller size and wide-field viewing. In any case, the waterproof/fogproof feature is a must for any top-quality optics to be effective under all field situations.

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