SMOKELORE
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Editor's Desk

 
 

__________________

Factors In Accuracy, Part One:
Rifles And Shooting

 by John Barsness

Annealing Cases
 by Ken Howell

Factors In Accuracy, Part Two:
Handloading

 by John Barsness

Sonora: Where Giants Walk The Earth
 by Rick Bin

Your Chronograph Can Tell You More
 by Ken Howell

Big Eyes: Seeing Is Believing
 by Rick Bin

Handloading for Long-Range Shooting
 by John Haviland

Looking Long
 by John Barsness

The Campfire Hardcore Hunting Backpack Review
 by Scott Reekers

Big Ivory
 by Ken Howell
(as told by Elgin Gates)

A New Way To Hunt Lion
 by Ken Howell
(as told by Elgin Gates)

Killer Buffalo
 by Ken Howell
(as told by Elgin Gates)

Three Types of Hunters/
The Five Stages of a Sport Hunter

 by Denny L. Vasquez

How I Killed a Bear
 by Charles Dudley Warner

Last Minute Muley
 by Rick Bin

The .300 Winchester
 by Jack Steele

Choose the Right Backcountry Tent
 by Rick Bin

Who Bombed Elmer Keith?
 by Ken Howell

     
 
 
 
 
 
  Product Review  

A Campfire Review of 8x42 Binoculars
 Rick Bin


 

Several reviewers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Montana, and Mexicali, Mexico reviewed the following binoculars.  These reviewers are men and women, novices and experts, hunters and birders, Campfire members, and laymen.  In general, they have used these binoculars side by side on tripods during the critical periods of one hour before and after dawn and dusk, although they also used them side by side during the middle of the day in several locales as well.

Wherever the use of charts was practical, the reviewers used standardized resolution charts as their initial criteria and were free to use each binocular in whatever other ways that they chose.  Reviewers were asked to comment specifically on the fine resolution, color-rendition, clarity, over-all brightness, contrast, and edge-to-edge sharpness of each binocular.

The reviewers' spontaneous, unsolicited comments about the binoculars' ergonomics, accessories, and a variety of miscellaneous matters allow other stand-out features to reveal themselves naturally.  Finally, each reviewer was asked which unit was his "favorite."

The intent of this review was specifically to evaluate top-tier 8x42 binoculars, and reviewers' expectations were high.  Therefore, it was no surprise that except for one sample with suspected collimation issues (which was quickly and satisfactorily replaced), none of the reviewed units was a dud.  All performed very well, and any of the reviewed models would make a very fine first-order hunting binocular.



 

Zeiss Victory FL 8x42

The Zeiss Victory FL 8x42 was the nearly unanimous first choice in a category where the deciding factors are minute differences that often do not appear without extensive testing and comparison.  The Zeiss FL was brilliant where others were extraordinarily bright, and crystalline where others were extraordinarily sharp.  Eye-strain was nonexistent, even after prolonged use.  Color fidelity and contrast were superlative, and edge-to-edge sharpness was superb.
"It felt like there was no glass between my eye and the field."
"The Zeiss's image just has this extra little 'pop.'"
"Unbelievably bright and razor sharp."

Frankly, we were expecting a close horse race among some of the top-tier models, and that turned out to be true, but the Zeiss 8x42 Victory FL stood out to all but one reviewer as the top dog.  This is "The Best" full-sized hunting binocular that we have ever used.  

Is it perfect?  Not quite.  We still would prefer a diopter adjustment that was not integrated into the focus wheel.  The FLs, in particular, seemed more prone to accidental "unlocking" and inadvertent manipulation than the Leica or the Swarovski.  The focus wheel was a bit too free from resistance.  It needed a deft touch to get the most precise focusing.  In fact, more reviewers preferred either the Leica's or (especially) the Swarovski's mechanics to the Zeiss's.  Eye-cup comfort was notably better than it was in earlier FL models, and eye-cup stops were more positive.  

Regardless, the FL's optical quality impressed all but one of us as clearly the best.  In 8x42-class glass, the Zeiss Victory FL proved to be the cream of the crop.

Best In Show.

5 stars across the board.



 

Leica Ultravid 8x42

The Leica Ultravid 8x42 was superb in every way optically.  Resolution was world-class ?so were brightness, contrast, and color fidelity.  Eye-strain was nonexistent, and edge-to-edge sharpness was superlative.  Reviewers noted "absolutely no flaws optically."
"I could be happy with this binocular for the rest of my life."

One reviewer preferred the Ultravid to the Zeiss Victory FL, because "optically, they are almost identical, but the Leica is easier to focus."  Indeed, the Leica's focus adjustment (on the focus wheel) was silky smooth with just the right amount of resistance.

Our sample weighed 27.1 ounces and felt solid in the hands.  Its green rubber armor was stylish.  The three-position eye cups had positive stops and were comfortable to use for prolonged periods.  Caps, case, and strap were all top-quality.  The Ultravid delivered everything that any discriminating hunter or birder could desire.

Nothing less than world-class glass.

Five stars across the board.

Note: Leica has announced for 2008 a revamped Ultravid line, the Ultravid HD, which will feature fluoride glass for reduced chromatic aberration and enhanced contrast, a claimed three-percent increase in light-transmission, Aqua-Dura hydrophobic coatings, and newly designed focusing mechanism.  Expect a full review here when units become available.  CLICK HERE for pictures and a full discussion on the new Leica Ultravid HD.



 

Swarovski EL 8.5x42

The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 is an Austrian powerhouse.  The EL stole the show in terms of ergonomics.  "This binocular fits my hands much better than the others."
"I could really get used to these."
"I can't believe how much better these feel than the others."

Unanimously, reviewers felt that the EL's ergonomics and mechanical operation were unbeatable ?a cut above the other European models.

Optically, the EL seemed a hair less bright than the Zeiss or the Leica, but that is to be expected, since the Swarovski's magnification of 8.5x reduces its exit pupil from the 5.25 mm of the 8x42s to 4.94mm.  Still, the Swarovski's optics were stellar in every way.  Resolution, edge-to-edge sharpness, color rendition and contrast were all superlative.

Our sample weighed 29.3 ounces.  The eye cup operated extremely smoothly, although there were only two positions.  The focus wheel felt ridiculously precise and well engineered.  Reviewers agreed that its operation was unmatched.  Diopter-adjustment is incorporated into the focus wheel, and although some reviewers would prefer graduated instead of click-stop adjustment for the most precise adjustment, all the reviewers were able to focus superb images without eye-strain.  The rubber armor was especially attractive, clean, and tactile.  Interpupillary adjustment range was ample.

The Swarovski's combination of superb optics, superior mechanical function, and unparalleled ergonomics ranks it among the best eight-power binoculars in the world.

Five stars.



 

Minox HG 8.5x52 BR asph

The Minox HG 8.5x52 impressed and surprised all reviewers.  The HG was in the thick of things until the very end, in resolution tests where we all pored-over minute differences in steady light as well as in waning light.  Several reviewers considered the HG to be equal to the Big Three.
"This is the only binocular that truly stays with the Euros into twilight."
"As good as it gets."
"This thing is right there with the best."

To be fair, the 52mm objectives give this Minox a definite physics advantage over the others.  The Minox 8.5x52 produces a 6.18mm exit pupil and a twilight factor of 21.02, while traditional 8x42 binoculars have a 5.25mm exit pupil and a twilight factor of 18.33.  Aspherical lenses further enhance contrast and augment edge-to-edge sharpness.  HGs apparently are not about comparing apples to apples ?they appear to be about bending the rules to achieve a superlative image in a tidy package.  Mission accomplished.

Normally, physics being what it is, what is gained in one area causes a sacrifice in another ?in the case of larger objective lenses, weight and bulk, and in the case of aspherical lenses, decreased field of view.

Indeed, the only optical flaw that reviewers noted was reduced field of view, most likely attributable to aspherical lenses.  The Big Three offer approximately 400 feet at 1,000 yards each (topped-out by the Zeiss's 405 feet at 1,000 yards).  These Minox HGs provide only 288 feet at 1,000 yards, a full 25-percent reduction in field of view.  Granted, the edge-to-edge sharpness was superb, but the trade-off in field of view was not trivial.

However, the big story here is that Minox was able to utilize a 52mm (24-percent larger) objective and still keep this binocular extremely competitive in size and weight against classic 8x42 glass.  At 28 ounces, the HG is within two ounces of the Leica Ultravid and Zeiss Victory FL, and an ounce lighter than the Swarovski EL!  And while the HG is slightly longer than the standard 8x42s, the HG's streamlined profile and weight are well below what we expected.  Kudos!

Superlative glass in a remarkably light and portable package at a very attractive price.

Five stars.



 

Pentax DCF ED 8x43

The Pentax DCF ED 8x43 is Pentax's entry into the world of ED glass.  Our sample weighed a very trim 24.7 ounces, owing to the magnesium frame, and was a compact, stylish unit reminiscent in size to the Zeiss Classic 10x40.

Reviewers were impressed with the DCF ED's optical qualities.  
"Feels good in the hands and very sharp glass."
"Great color rendition on birds and flowers."
"The edge-to-edge sharpness is among the very best."

Reviewers also commented on the relative usability combined with light weight.  
"Feels lighter than the others, but I still get a steady view."
"Great optics and still very portable."
"Excellent close focus" (6.6 feet).

Reviewers noted a reduced field of view (330 feet at 1,000 yards), undoubtedly an effect of the aspherical glass elements.  
"A little bit of tunnel vision, but very sharp."

Reviewers were unanimously surprised upon hearing the manufacturer's suggested retail price.
"Half the price of the Euros, with ED glass; where do I sign up?"
"Undoubtedly a great value in optics of this caliber."

A complete upper-end binocular at a superb price.

Four-plus stars.



 

Vortex Razor 8x42

The Vortex Razor immediately calls to mind the excellent Swarovski EL in appearance.  Vortex has designed the center hinge to allow a "full-hand" grasping of each barrel, complete with finger ridges.  The result is a very ergonomic binocular that reviewers liked to handle.

Reviewers were impressed with many details in the Vortex package.  The machined-aluminum focus wheel was extremely tactile and very precise.  Two sets of flared eyecups featured well over a dozen graduated positive stops, for the most precise and repeatable eye relief adjustments.  Build quality appeared stout, without unnecessary weight.

Optically, the Vortex Razors impressed and surprised.  Resolution was top notch, as were clarity and sharpness, all benefits of extra low-dispersion glass.  Color-rendition was also among the very best.
"I am very surprised with the optics in the Vortex."
"Right on the heels of the Euros.  Where did these guys come from?"
"This is a large binocular, but in this size, I prefer it to the Nikon.  Super glass."

Outstanding binoculars.

Four-plus stars.



 

Nikon Premier LX-L 8x42

The Nikon Premier LX-L 8x42 is the flagship of Nikon's binocular line.  It is designed to compete with the best binoculars in the world, and Nikon has obviously pulled out all the stops with this unit.

Our sample weighed 28.3 ounces, and the full-sized unit filled the hands well.  Reviewers found the four-position eye cups to have very positive stops and especially generous eye relief (20mm) at full extension.  The diopter adjustment on the right barrel was lockable, easy to operate, and reassuringly separate from the focus wheel.  

Reviewers found the unit to have a lot of rubber armor, which added a bit to the over-all bulk and weight ?however, the relatively large and tactile diopter adjustment of the Nikon compared well to the others'.  Interpupillary adjustment was ample.  No provision is made for a screw-on tripod adapter, and the unit's especially "humped" profile made a platform or strap-over adapter tricky to use (the pressure of the strap continuously affected interpupillary adjustment) ?but to be fair, tripod compatibility may not be high on the list of features designed into an 8x42 binocular.

Optically, the reviewers were impressed with the LX-L overall.  Our results indicate that Nikon Premier 8x42 LX-Ls are only a minute rung below the best performers in the world, and sell for an attractive price for binoculars of this caliber.  

Resolution was excellent.  Sharpness and contrast were also very fine.  Field of view was noted to be somewhat limited (367 feet at 1,000 yards), and slight but similar degrees of color fringing were noted in two specimens that we tested.  (Abnormal eye strain was noted in a first specimen sent for review, leading to suspicion of collimation issues.  A replacement specimen was much better in this regard).  Eye-strain was very well controlled.

Considering that the MSRP is hundreds of dollars less than the Euros, the Nikon Premier LX-L delivers a lot of value for the money.

Excellent glass.

Four-plus stars.

Note: Nikon has announced for spring, 2008 release a brand new binocular line named "EDG."  The EDG line is set to supplant the Premier LX-L line as Nikon's top-of-the-line binocular, with retail prices up to $1999.99.  Features include proprietary ED glass and a completely redesigned body and housing.  Sizes will include 8x32, 10x32, 7x42, 8x42, and 10x42.  Expect a full review here when units become available.  CLICK HERE for pictures and a full discussion on Nikon's EDG.



 

Minox HG 8.5x43 BR asph

The Minox HG 8.5x43 is a compact, clean-lined unit.  Our sample weighed 22.6 ounces (exactly as advertised), making it one of the lightest full-sized units tested.  The large, knurled focus knob was very user-friendly, although the the knob's brightish stainless-steel finish could be more muted for field use.  The four-position eye cups had positive stops, and the lockable diopter adjustment on the right barrel (and out of the way once it was adjusted) was also a plus.  The graduated range-finding feature (up to 50 yards) on the focus wheel is well suited for archery hunters.  We consider screw-in tripod compatibility a plus, and the Minox is so configured.  Interpupillary adjustment was generous, and we all found the binocular user-friendly both in feel and in operation.  The padded leather case was especially classy, although we would prefer a more positive closure than its magnets.

Resolution and clarity were both excellent.  Close focus of 2.5m was found to be accurate, but reviewers did note some "double vision" at very close ranges.  Edge-to-edge sharpness was also superior, attributable to the aspheric lenses, if a hair less so than the 8.5x53 HG (as is to be expected with 17-percent smaller objective lenses).  Nevertheless, overall this unit earned solid reviews.
"Very nice binocular."
"This is solid glass with very few flaws."
"At the price, and with this size and weight, I love it."

Excellent binoculars, and a top value.

Four stars.

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