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May 13, 2013
New Binoculars 2013: OL Reviews the Best Full-Size and Mid-Size Binoculars of the Year - 6
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.
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.
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.
Vortex Razor HD
Leica Geovid HD-B (Innovation Award)
Alpen Teton EDHD
Sightmark Solitude XD
Leupold BX-4 Mckinley HD
Bushnell Fusion 1-Mile
Pulsar Expert LRF
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.
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.”