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While reviewing our test team’s ratings of this year’s field of new hunting optics, I was reminded of Garrison Keiller’s description of his fictitious hometown of Lake Wobegon, Minn., “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.” Were we too generous? Perhaps, but as one who has evaluated sports optics for more than 30 years, I can assure you that this selection is truly extraordinary.

Our test team, which consisted of five highly experienced optics users, critiqued 33 new instruments, including 15 binoculars, 9 spotting scopes and 9 riflescopes-our biggest field ever! We don’t claim that our rating system is infallible, especially since certain attributes, such as ergonomics, aesthetics and applicability, are extremely subjective. Our team members sometimes saw things from different perspectives and subsequently disagreed, which is why we value their opinions. In ergonomics, for example, a binocular that perfectly fits one person’s hands might be too large or too small for another’s. Team members were charged to lay aside their brand loyalties, personal preferences and prejudices and, above all, to look for faults as well as virtues in each product. Their ratings and comments show they did just that.

Sadly, the global optics market is not above deceptive practices-ranging from products that look good but perform poorly to misleading marketing practices. The suggested retail prices shown range from realistic to ridiculously inflated. For example, a binocular with a suggested price of $500 might have a street price of $300 or less, so it pays to shop around. We advise against buying optics of any kind without first looking through them. This is especially true in the under-$200 market, where quality controls are apt to be lax.

[XLINK 264264 “Binoculars”] | [XLINK 264270 “Spotting Scopes”] | [XLINK 264274 “Riflescopes”]