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The Best New Binoculars

An investment in high-end optics can pay off over the long run with years of better viewing of birds and other wildlife — even under the most rugged conditions.

By Gibbs Milliken

Premium binoculars are in a class by themselves. Because these instruments use the finest lenses, prisms and coatings, they are relatively expensive. But the investment can pay off in the long run, because these binoculars can provide many years of reliable service. The best designs offer a wide field of vision that is sharp, bright and distortion-free. The precision housings are lightweight, waterproof, fogproof and shock-resistant, and they’re protected by armored non-slip coatings that prepare them for use under the most rugged conditions.

Many professional guides and naturalists consider the new Zeiss Victory 8x42 T* FL binoculars to be state-of-the-art in terms of brightness, image contrast, color neutrality and construction. This series uses premium fluoride glass and special prisms designed to perform exceptionally in dim twilight hours and in dark, shadowy habitats. They have an excellent wide-field view for easy subject acquisition and close focusing down to 6 feet. Their handling characteristics are user-friendly with smooth, fast, convenient adjustments and a positive ribbed grip. Simply put, these binoculars set a new standard for excellence. ($1,499.99, Carl Zeiss Optical, Inc. (800) 338-2984, www.zeiss.com)

Also among the very best is the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 model. It has all the desirable features plus an open center for a wraparound grip on soft-textured barrels and deep thumb cutouts that are very comfortable. Optically their light gathering and transmission is excellent with near perfect color-correction. It is truly a wonderful instrument with a well-deserved reputation for outstanding performance in every field application. ($1,698.89, Swarovski Optik, (800) 426-3089, www.swarovskioptik.com)

The Brunton Epoch 10.5x43 binoculars combine high-grade optics and versatility in one unit with an extreme close focusing ability of 3 feet, ideal for viewing butterflies and other invertebrates. Also available for these are an x2 Field Scope attachment and tripod-mount. Standard with the Epoch is a fitted waterproof hard case and excellent warranty. If for any reason your glasses are damaged anywhere in the world, you can call an emergency number and a loaner pair will be shipped to you via the fastest delivery. ($1,499, Epoch. $279, 2X Field Scope, Brunton, (800) 443-4871, www.brunton.com)

Many outdoor enthusiasts are fans of the Leica Ultravid 8x42 BR design. Leica is world-renowned for their impeccable quality of glass, coatings and construction. In performance, however, some users have noted that this model tends to dim-out while following backlit subjects against a bright sky and the closest focus range is limited to about 10 feet. ($1,550, Leica Sport Optics, (800) 222-0118, www.leica-camera.com)

The latest in high-power binoculars is the Canon IS 15x50 all-weather model that produces steady hand-held images through electronic image stabilization. Without I.S. technology, “freehand” use at 15 magnifications is almost impossible for the average person due to vibrations. These glasses are ideal for open country, mountain and marine applications. They are large but lightweight for their power and brightness. The ability to see distant wildlife and focus on objects as close as 19 feet away are distinct advantages in observing wary birds and mammals. ($2,400, Canon USA, (800) 385-2155, www.usa.canon.com)

Selecting binoculars is somewhat like buying clothes; no one style or size fits all. The highest quality binoculars are very close in performance. Before making a major purchase, you should try several models under a wide range of actual field conditions. In the final analysis, it is a matter of selecting the pair that feels just right to you in terms of form and function.

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