suggestion (October, 2012)
Note! I have not been able to test the latest version ZEISS Victory HT 10x42, but I expect it to be even better than the previous version. However it does not come in the 8/10x32 format.
ZEISS Victory FL 10x42 T*
is in my opinion the very best birding binoculars out there, barring the above model beats it. It is exceptionally bright, and can easily be used for owl watching. It is also very sharp and good contrast, has a close focus, neutral colors, a wide field of view, and a superb feel in hand. Compared to Leica it has more neutral and not so saturated colors. I also like the feel in hand compared to Swarovski, and the big wheel is perfect for focusing also with gloves on. In Short, the best of the best!
ZEISS 8x32/8x42 Victory T* FL are the best choices for those who don't insist on 10x magnification. The image details are similar to that of the 10x versions described above. But the specifications are of course quite different especially for the 8x32 which has a very wide field of view.
Leica 8x20 is the ultimate lightweight binocular at a mere 240g. It is very sharp, and with excellent contrast. It doesn't have the limitations that I previously associated with mini binoculars; dark image and looking through a keyhole feel. I tested the Trinovid model, but the new Ultravid have much better design, and features. Note however that the two-jointed design makes it hard to initially setup.
Look at the best binoculars
to see what you can get if money doesn't matter. Then you make the choice of what
to accept for the money you do have (or even better save up to the ones you really
Leica Ultravid, Zeiss FL, Swarovski EL, Nikon, etc., verses middle priced binoculars will continue to be a hot topic. But note that the top name brands all have established quality products that have stand the test of time and demanding consumers.
The familiar "You get what you pay for" is still true today. But note that the middle of the pack bino can be quite good these days. The ones above are very expensive and you will be happy with cheaper optics for sure. Compare with the best ones and accept somewhat darker image, less contrast and sharpness. Note that the cheapest optics usually cannot handle the accidental drop on the pavement so try and get one that has a good reputation. Also the most famous brands have middle of the pack optics that might fit your budget better.
Image Stabilized binoculars
It becomes very difficult to keep the image steady when using a high powered binocular over 10x. The image will blur unless you use some type of image stabilization.
Newcon Optik have an entirely mechanical image stabilized binocular that doesn't need batteries.
Even though it has individual eyepiece focusing it is worth investigating as a
low cost ($599) alternative to Zeiss 20x60 that is also supposed to use mechanical stabilization.
However the leaders in image stabilized binoculars use a gyroscopic image stabilization that need batteries. This is a big drawback as you can easily drain the batteries in a couple of hours, and if you didn't bring backup batteries you have an awfully heavy, blurry, and fairly
dark image binos that weigh down your neck.
These binoculars are not quite up to par when it comes to high-end optics, but
the ingenious stabilization that is enabled by the push of a button has its niche.
It is a fabulous pair of binos to have at sea! They keep the bird image steady
on the rocky boat, and you can follow the bird easily on a high magnification
(e.g., 12x or 15x).
Image stabilization is also great for raptor watching
where high magnification, and a large field of view are of extra importance.
Canon is setting the standards, and released in 2005 the worlds brightest IS binocular; 10x42 L IS WP (very heavy). Canon 12x36 IS II with up to 4 hours of battery life, have long been the most popular IS bino. on the market. But maybe the new 8x25 IS with 6 hours of running time can become the new favourite?
What to look for when buying a pair of binos?
People are different, and have contradictory impressions. That's why we will always discuss things like 8x vs. 10x magnifications. I personally find 10x binoculars to bring the subject closer, and thus render it clearer, and in more detail. I also use spottingscopes only about 10% of the time when out birding.
But many people find that an 8x is easier to hold steady, has better features, and that there isn't such a significant difference by increasing the magnification. This doesn't necessary have to hold true but I have eyeglasses, and many of the people I meet who claim 8x are their educated choice have perfect, unimproved vision.
for those far away birds. But if you have a hard time keeping the image steady,
don't see much of a difference, or always carry with you a spottingscope the 7x/8x would do even better.
Field of view:
A wide field of view is very important. The ultimate binocular should have over 400feet at a 1000yds, but this is hard to come by for anything but a low powered 7x or 8x. If you go up in magnification to a 10x then you should at least have 330feet/1000yds. You may go around this limitation with certain Porro prism binos, but note that the edge sharpness can take a toll. Usually this is not such a bad thing since the wide field of view is to detect or keep track of birds, and perfect edge sharpness isn't therefore of highest importance.
brightness, and contrast:
Look for a bright image and of outstanding contrast (Zeiss Victory FL
are exceptional, especially the 7,8,10x42).
you easily get the image in focus? Some binos focus very quickly (Zeiss 10x42
Victory FL), and some force you to turn the focus wheel a lot to go from far to
near focus in which time you might have lost sight of the bird (e.g. first generation Swarovski 10x42
It is important that you can focus close to a bird (3 meter/9 feet is fine).
32oz(900g) and above is a pain around the
neck, and can cause injury! Look at low weight options around 21-28oz(600-800grams).
You can relieve some of the weight by replacing the neck strap with one that
uses a shoulder harness to carry the weight (especially for 600g and up).
Note that small binoculars can more easily be brought with you on non birding trips, and birds can show up on the most unlikely places such as on city walks, a bicycle ride home from work, etc.
Armoring, and Waterproofing:
feel in the hand is important. Rubber coating is great in cold weather, and will
also protect against dings, and drops. Quality roof prism binos are almost always water, and fog proof. But you can still have great use for non-proofed binos. The key is to learn how to protect them against fogging up, and use rain guards!
One trick against fogging in cold weather is to keep the binos in the trunk of your car, or lower the heat in the car so that they wont fog when stepping out into the cold air. There are also anti-fogging liquids that can be wiped on the eyepieces. Nikon anti fog wipes have been recommended for not leaving a residue on the ocular, and one wipe will last at least a week.
For eyeglass wearers it is important to make sure you can get a full field of view without having to take off you glasses. There are still new binoculars being made with insufficient eye-relief, so make sure you test it carefully. 16mm down to 14mm is usually good enough eye relief.
Roof vs. Porro prism:
prism binos usually have a great close focus (3m/10feet), are fog/water proof,
and have an acceptable field of view (130m/390feet for 8x, 110m/330feet for 10x).
Porro prism binos are often less expensive, have a great image, and a wide field
of view, but can be rendered useless in rainy, humid conditions.