Super Vision: Premium Optics vs. Budget Glass

Photo by Andrew McKean

Q: "I hear all the time that I should buy the best binoculars and riflescopes that I can afford, but how much better is premium glass, and is it worth the upcharge?"
—Scott Hamilton, Austin, Tx.

A: A decade of Outdoor Life's optics testing reveals that premium binoculars and riflescopes provide about 30 minutes of additional game-viewing opportunity a day compared with budget optics.

The brightest, clearest optics—generally produced by European manufacturers and costing upwards of $1,200—resolve details about 15 minutes earlier in the morning and about 15 minutes later in the evening than lower-end, budget-priced glass.

Low-light performance is an important consideration for hunters. How many times have you not taken a shot at twilight because you couldn’t count antler points or be sure of your bullet placement? And low-light brightness is a good proxy for other attributes, including optical resolution, color flaring, and lens aberrations.

But a key trait of premium optics isn’t neccesarily their glass. It’s their construction, which minimizes eye fatigue and enables you to glass longer and more effectively. To me, that performance is worth the premium price.

Did You Know?
You can get decent optics at a decent price by looking for ED (extra-low dispersion) glass, which corrects color aberrations.