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
"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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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.
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.