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posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Saturday, January 1, 2011 

Funny Tim mentioned binoculars, very nostalgic...I was just thinking about binoculars and some of my old pairs in particular. But also particularly about optics quality.

Is there an ultimately superior binocular that is light years above all others, or even noticeably better? I’ll agree, the top models are better than the mid and low-level models, but is there a significant difference between the big money ($1300 and up) Zeiss, Swarovski, Leica, and Nikon? And, if someone says they see a substantial difference, are they disillusioned, reluctant to acknowledge another binocular, or simply correct? Have you ever seen anyone with an expensive binocular try out another binocular and say “Wow, these are better”? To tell you the truth, I would never spend over $400 on a binocular. It’s just the principle with me; I don’t believe Optics manufacturers can’t bring the price down…c’mon $2200 for binoculars. I would just feel like a sucker! Believe me, there are $350-500 models out there that are excellent and will suffice in any environment. I’ll probably get e-mails for this, but the big manufacturers haven’t improved the glass since the early 90’s…but have done a great job in marketing since then.

My advice, if you are in the process of buying binoculars, make sure the field of view is wide, the image is bright and sharp, and they feel comfortable in your hands and around your neck. I have a brand new pair of Zeiss Victory FL’s, the latest and greatest by Zeiss, and they are spectacular… probablythe best optically (opinion of course). But I still prefer my 1994 Zeiss Night Owl 7x45’s for hawk watching and forest birding, they are heavy and smell like a skunk, but they have the widest field of view ever made and are optically brilliant. I had a pair of Swift Audubon’s in the late 80’s that I absolutely loved, but gave them to my birding mentor after I acquired the Night Owls…still think about those Swift’s though. I have friends who have old pairs of binoculars I can’t even look through without straining my eyes or biting my tongue. Just goes to show, the “best binocular” is really a matter of opinion and personal preference. I’d love to hear feedback about other brands as well as feedback regarding Tim's post.

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Blogger Birding is Fun! said...

I use Eagle Optics Ranger SRT 8x42's which cost me $300, but are now $250 online. I love 'em! I have been able to compare the high-end optics. My favorites are the Swarovski's which are indeed noticeably better than my Ranger SRT's. To me, the difference in quality simply is not worth the additional $3000.

I'm currently in the market for a good spotting scope. I am sort of saving up for the Vortex which costs about $1600 which has rated favorably with the high-end scopes. If there is something out there with similar quality and a better value with a lower price tag, I am certainly interested.

January 1, 2011 at 9:44 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Ok, I will dig into this one Jerry. Any time that anyone asks me what binoculars I would recommend that don't cost a lot of money, I will always recommend the Nikon Monarch 8x42s. They ring up for $289 at most retailers, and if you search around you can find a pair online for as low as $200. I used a pair of 10x42 Monarchs for 6 or 7 years and they were great. Decent price, great optics, lightweight, waterproof, and 25 year no-fault warranty.

Truth be told I would probably stil be using them if I hadn't worked at the optics counter at Sportsman's Warehouse for 9 months after college. I sold enough Nikon optics to pick up a pair of Nikon Premier 10x42s. They retailed for $1900 at the time, and I couldn't have afforded them if I wanted them--but for free who would say no? There definitely is a difference in quality from the Monarchs to the Premiers, and it is noticeable--especially in low light.

My school of thought has and always will be, buy the best binoculars you can afford and that work best for you. most people that have the top of the line binoculars are in love with the brand they use and will usually talk them up as being the best--but everyone is different and no one binocular is king.

January 1, 2011 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger Vic Berardi said...

Great discussion! Being probably the most fickle purchaser of binoculars over the last 20 years or so, I've owned pairs from the most expensive to the mid-priced. Coincidentally, Jerry mentions Swift Audubons. in the early '90's when I got back into birding (after a long recess) I bought a pair of them (8.5 X 44) and felt they were one fine pair of optics and still do.

Then I started to notice all my birder friends were using Leica's and Swarovski's. So I transitioned into both of those brands over the years. But something weird happened along this path of pursuing the ideal pair. A few years ago I went to Eagle Optics in Madison, WI looking to buy a pair of Zeiss (still not satisfied). The sales person showed me all he had and they were really great. But there was a pair of Nikon Superior E's on the counter and while he was looking for another pair of Zeiss for me to try I picked them up. Wow! They felt unbelievably comfortable in my hands, were light weight and when he brought out the Zeiss pair and I compared them optically I wondered why I was about to spend all that money. Because they are a pentaprism design, my hands are further apart, I found I can hold them steadier than a porro prism design. On distant birds this helps me quite a bit.

So, even though my Nikon Superior E's might not be the preferred pair of many birders, I found them to be just what I needed for my style of birding and glad I bought them that day. So much so I just recently bought a pair of Nikon 8 X 32 Premier SE the successor to the Superior E's.

January 2, 2011 at 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm confused. You wouldn't spend over 400 dollars for binoculars, yet you own a brand new pair of Zeiss Victory FL’s. I know they cost well over 400 dollars.

January 2, 2011 at 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

They were given to me, and I love and use them all the time for general birding. They are lightweight and amazing to look through. But I still use my old Zeiss for hawk watching--for the field of view, and on windy days, since they are heavy and easier to hold steady. Also, if I were filthy rich, I would probably spend the money.


January 3, 2011 at 8:37 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

If I were filthy rich, I would have several pairs of Swarovski's and at least 2 scopes. Luckily I have 22 years left on my Nikon warranty, so I am good at until I turn 50...

January 3, 2011 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger Spotting Scope said...

Are you using best spotting scope for bird watching or hunting or something

October 27, 2015 at 10:32 PM  
Blogger Gary Sonnenberg said...

There is a point of diminishing returns as the price of binoculars increases.

June 18, 2016 at 9:39 AM  

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