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New Binoculars 2013: OL Reviews the Best Full-Size and Mid-Size Binoculars of the Year

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May 13, 2013
New Binoculars 2013: OL Reviews the Best Full-Size and Mid-Size Binoculars of the Year - 7

From the flimsy to the fortified, this year’s field of 14 full-size binos and 4 mid-size binos have something for everyone. The most interesting trend is the continuing integration of electronics into hunting optics. Three binoculars feature rangefinders. See our review of the best new hunting binoculars on the market.

Full-Size Binos

Units with ranging features include the plasticky Pulsar Expert ($800), Bushnell’s Fusion 1-Mile ARC ($1,200), and the new Geovid HD-B from Leica ($2,945), which represents the pinnacle of this alliance of electronic and optical technology.

The Pulsar’s rangefinder is a simple laser unit with no angle-calculating inclinometer or ballistics information.

Bushnell has come a long way with its ranging bino since the first Fusion was launched a couple of years ago. The objective lens coatings are much clearer and the dot-matrix display is much easier to read. The Bushnell includes a sophisticated inclinometer, a bullet-drop calculator that displays holdover references for eight families of rifle calibers, separate bow and rifle settings, and a laser that ranged targets out to 1,800 yards. Bowhunters will like the Fusion’s close-in ranging ability.

The more traditional full-size binos ranged from Carson’s handy $250 3D to Steiner’s Tactical ($799), which sports bat-wing eyecups and a blacked-out finish.

Weaver’s Kaspa makes the case that a headache-­inducing binocular is no bargain even at $125. Other disappointing optics included the Redfield Rebel ($175), the Sightmark Solitude XD ($399), and Leupold’s McKinley HD ($775), which had such boxy eyecups that most testers couldn’t get the binocular to comfortably fit their face.

Three super-size binoculars completed the field: Alpen’s well-priced and appealing 10x50 Teton ($445); a tight and bright Vortex Razor HD in 10x50 ($1,289); and the behemoth 15x56mm Minox BL ($899), which ships with a tripod adapter to minimize hand shake and fatigue.

Zeiss Victory HT 10x42

This stunning German optic may be the brightest binocular in the world.

Most well-made sports optics transmit around 90 percent of visible light to the user’s eye. Zeiss claims the Victory HT has “more than 95 percent light transmission,” and our testing seems to confirm its optical superiority. The binocular won our resolution test hands down, and was one of the top-scoring 42mm optics in our low-light test.

A new class of Schott glass is responsible for the bright, crisp image. But Zeiss has engineered plenty of hunter-friendly features around the glass. The durable short-­single-hinge design and grabby armor lock your hands around the contoured barrels, and the oversize focus wheel makes adjustments easy and precise, even with gloved hands.

Whether you can afford that level of performance is another question.

Configuration: 10x42
Price: $2,499
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: A
Perceived Image: A
Performance: A
Design/Durability: A Price/Value: B
Final Verdict: An heirloom optic, with gem-bright glass and hand-gripping barrels

Nikon Monarch 7 10x42

With this light, bright, durable hunting optic, Nikon has delivered affordable excellence that bridges the gap between its flagship EDG and entry-level ProStaff lines.

The Monarch 7 was a unanimous selection for our Great Buy award, which is no small feat, as each panelist’s assessment of value depends on his experience and budget. The team felt that the Monarch 7 delivered “silly-nice” glass for $500. Testers praised its tacky armor and solid hand feel and balance, as well as its 23-ounce weight, which seems even lighter when supported by a binocular harness. Optically, the team noted clarity all the way to the edge of the image—we pay special attention to peripheral distortion, which can be a sign of inferior glass and grinding.

The Nikon finished near the head of the class in both low-light and resolution testing, and one panelist deemed it the “purest hunting optic” in our test. High praise, indeed, considering the field.

Configuration: 10x42
Price: $500
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: A-
Perceived Image: B+
Performance: B+
Design/Durability: A-
Price/Value: A
Final Verdict: A screaming value in a tight, bright, light, and grippy hunting optic

 

Minox BL

Configuration: 15x56
Price: $899
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: A
Perceived Image: B+
Performance: B+
Design Durability: B+
Price/Value: B+
Verdict: Very nice image in this gargantuan configuration. A good value.

Vortex Razor HD

Configuration: 10x50
Price: $1,289
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: A
Perceived Image: A-
Performance: A-
Design/Durability: A-
Price/Value: A
Final Verdict: A sweet optic, this well-made binocular is very fairly priced and very bright

Leica Geovid HD-B (Innovation Award)

Configuration: 10x42
Price: $2,945
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: B+
Perceived Image: A-
Performance: A+
Design/Durability: A+
Price/Value: B
Final Verdict: Best rangefinder in the industry, monster field of view. A game-changer.

Steiner Tactical

Configuration: 10x42
Price: $799
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ½
Optical Quality: A-
Perceived Image: B+
Performance: B+
Design/Durability: B+
Price/Value: B
Final Verdict: Love or hate the bat-wing eyecups, the tactical-leaning Steiner has fine glass.

Alpen Teton EDHD

Configuration: 10x50
Price: $445
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ½
Optical Quality: B+
Perceived Image: B+
Performance: B+
Design/Durability: B+
Price/Value: A-
Final Verdict: Great balance and hand feel, and adequately bright optics, in a value bino.

Sightmark Solitude XD

Configuration: 10x42
Price: $399
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ½
Optical Quality: A-
Perceived Image: B
Performance: B-
Design/Durability: C+
Price/Value: B
Final Verdict: Optically sharp, this priced-right open-bridge bino features textured armor.

Leupold BX-4 Mckinley HD

Configuration: 10x42
Price: $775
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ½
Optical Quality: B+
Perceived Image: B-
Performance: B
Design/Durability: B
Price/Value: C+
Final Verdict: This tight, heavy bino features disappointing glass and a boxy frame.

Carson 3D

Configuration: 8x42
Price: $250
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ½
Optical Quality: B
Perceived Image: B
Performance: B
Design/Durability: B-
Price/Value: B+
Final Verdict: Optically average, this is a solid price-point binocular.

Bushnell Fusion 1-Mile

Configuration: 10x42
Price: $1,200
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: B-
Perceived Image: B
Performance: B
Design/Durability: B
Price/Value: B
Final Verdict: Optics and coatings are much improved in this fast, accurate ranging bin.

Redfield Rebel

Configuration: 8x42
Price: $175
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: C+
Perceived Image: B-
Performance: B-
Design/Durability: B-
Price/Value: B+
Final Verdict: An optically underwhelming but otherwise tight, value-priced binocular.

Pulsar Expert LRF

Configuration: 8x40
Price: $800
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: B-
Perceived Image: C+
Performance: C
Design/Durability: C+
Price/Value: C+
Final Verdict: The rangefinder in this plasticky binocular is adequate, but optics are not.

Weaver Kaspa

Configuration: 10x42
Price: $125
Overall Score: ★ ★
Optical Quality: C-
Perceived Image: C-
Performance: C
Design/Durability: C
Price/Value: C
Final Verdict: This bino is cheap in every way, from its price to its questionable durability.

Mid-Size Binos

This year saw a stark division between entry-level and more sophisticated optics in the mid-size class. At the lower end of the spectrum was Bushnell’s porro-prism NatureView ($100), detailed above, and the 8x32 Sightmark Solitude ($175), which failed to impress both optically and mechanically.

At the other end of the price and quality spectrums were the Zeiss Conquest HD ($900), left, and another European bino, the bright 8x32 Kahles ($921) that testers thought was overpriced.

Zeiss Conquest HD 8X32

As one of the handful of elite European optics dynasties, Zeiss is making some unconventional decisions. The German company continues to craft some of the world’s brightest, clearest optics. But this year Zeiss launched its Terra line—entry-level optics sourced in China and marketed to American hunters who want the Zeiss brand without the European price tag.

To make room at the bottom, Zeiss has elevated its mid-level Conquest line, which offers reasonably priced optics with a Euro pedigree. The Zeiss Conquest HD binocular is a fine example of this class.

For $900, hunters get a very good German-made binocular, featuring a durable, ergonomic design and bright glass. The do-everything Conquest HD performed better than several full-size binos on the resolution range. As such, some testers expected it to cost more than $900.

Configuration: 8x32
Price: $900
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: A+
Perceived Image: A
Performance: A
Design/Durability: A Price/Value: A-
Final Verdict: Bright glass in a durable, marvelously balanced optic. our only knock: the focus feels too slick.

Bushnell NatureView 6x30

An old-school, low-magnification binocular, this Bushnell belongs around the neck of every beginning hunter in America. And it’s just as much at home on the dashboard of your pickup as on the sill of a picture window. The 6-power porro-prism NatureView is light and bright, with a generous field of view. It’s not as compact as a roof prism, but the design allows Bushnell to manufacture an accessibly priced binocular that features decent optics.

The NatureView had the lowest resolution score in the admittedly small mid-size binocular field, and it struggled in low light. But the glass is not the reason to buy this bino. Instead, look to it for its durability, its no-­nonsense design, and above all, for its price. “This Bushnell is, for me, the surprise of the test,” said gear editor John Taranto. “Its close focus isn’t great, but it has a lovely in-hand feel and is an incredible value.”

Configuration: 6x30
Price: $100
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: C
Perceived Image: B
Performance: B
Design/Durability: B
Price/Value: A Final Verdict: A basic porro prism with decent glass, this is a good deal for an entry-level optic.

 

Kahles

Configuration: 8x32
Price: $921
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ½
Optical Quality B+
Perceived Image: A-
Performance: A-
Design/Durability: A-
Price/Value: C+
Final Verdict: This tight, compact binocular is a good choice for a hunter who wants a bright, light optic.

Sightmark Solitude

Configuration: 8x32
Price: $179
Overall Score: ★ ★ ½
Optical Quality: C
Perceived Image: C+
Performance: B-
Design/Durability: B-
Price/Value: B
Final Verdict: This nicely sized and balanced binocular failed to focus well and caused eyestrain.

See how we test and evaluate optics.
See the riflescope review.

Comments (7)

Top Rated
All Comments
from TiMi wrote 10 weeks 1 day ago

Great! Thank you for sharing the information!
www.repliquemontrefr.eu

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 31 weeks 4 days ago

toddm - Sorry to neglect your question. Yes, I can explain our procedure and reasons the Geovid scored relatively low. We measure both resolution and low-light performance, and typically the additional lens elements required to display the rangefinding readout reduces the light-gathering ability of an optic. The coatings required to enhance the display can also affect both resolution and light transmission. I hope that helps.
- Andrew McKean

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesbrown wrote 39 weeks 1 day ago

All Binoculars look nice but expensive, We bought one much cheaper from a online shop.
Here is the link:
binosmall.com/panda-10x50-waterproof-tactical-army-military-hunting-sports-binoculars.html

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from toddm wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Andrew could you please comment on the detailed testing procedure for both the Optical Quality and Perceived Image scores?

I was looking at the Geovid HD-B's but the above reviews list the Optical Quality as only a B+, that's worse than the $400 Solitude binoculars scored or the $500 Minoltas, I know it has a rangefinder built it but that just seems really off the mark for image quality in a $3000 pair of binocs.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from officerdom1987 wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

@ Huntingeditor, at no way was I slamming the article or the way it was written. I cherish getting OL magazines every month and the first thing my eye notices is the Great Buy award. I just get discouraged like most probably who foam at the mouth and these items we want until we see the price tag amount. Thank you for your clarification still.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

officerdom, yours is a great point. I encourage you to base your first criteria of these optics on our Price/Value score. That's the single best barometer of good glass for the money, and help separates the world-class optics that tend to cost more than the downpayment for a house vs those that are no bargain even at rock-bottom prices. We probably put more work and consideration into our Great Buy award than any other, because we know it's the most meaningful one for our readers.
I hope that helps.
Andrew McKean

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from officerdom1987 wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

I see a lot of really nice binoculars shown here, but most cost what I'd spend on a down payment on a car! Unfortunately the one pair that is affordable to the "common man" is told the optics stink. Most of us are not guides (even though we want to be) and can't afford to spend thousands on binoculars when it costs thousands for us to get a flight and tag to go on the hunting trip in the first place. Show me optics I can buy for a meager price.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

from officerdom1987 wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

I see a lot of really nice binoculars shown here, but most cost what I'd spend on a down payment on a car! Unfortunately the one pair that is affordable to the "common man" is told the optics stink. Most of us are not guides (even though we want to be) and can't afford to spend thousands on binoculars when it costs thousands for us to get a flight and tag to go on the hunting trip in the first place. Show me optics I can buy for a meager price.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

officerdom, yours is a great point. I encourage you to base your first criteria of these optics on our Price/Value score. That's the single best barometer of good glass for the money, and help separates the world-class optics that tend to cost more than the downpayment for a house vs those that are no bargain even at rock-bottom prices. We probably put more work and consideration into our Great Buy award than any other, because we know it's the most meaningful one for our readers.
I hope that helps.
Andrew McKean

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesbrown wrote 39 weeks 1 day ago

All Binoculars look nice but expensive, We bought one much cheaper from a online shop.
Here is the link:
binosmall.com/panda-10x50-waterproof-tactical-army-military-hunting-sports-binoculars.html

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from officerdom1987 wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

@ Huntingeditor, at no way was I slamming the article or the way it was written. I cherish getting OL magazines every month and the first thing my eye notices is the Great Buy award. I just get discouraged like most probably who foam at the mouth and these items we want until we see the price tag amount. Thank you for your clarification still.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from toddm wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Andrew could you please comment on the detailed testing procedure for both the Optical Quality and Perceived Image scores?

I was looking at the Geovid HD-B's but the above reviews list the Optical Quality as only a B+, that's worse than the $400 Solitude binoculars scored or the $500 Minoltas, I know it has a rangefinder built it but that just seems really off the mark for image quality in a $3000 pair of binocs.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 31 weeks 4 days ago

toddm - Sorry to neglect your question. Yes, I can explain our procedure and reasons the Geovid scored relatively low. We measure both resolution and low-light performance, and typically the additional lens elements required to display the rangefinding readout reduces the light-gathering ability of an optic. The coatings required to enhance the display can also affect both resolution and light transmission. I hope that helps.
- Andrew McKean

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from TiMi wrote 10 weeks 1 day ago

Great! Thank you for sharing the information!
www.repliquemontrefr.eu

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)