Optics Test '08

BRUNTON ETERNA 10x51 Price: $380
Contact: brunton.com With its big, light-hungry objective lenses, long eye relief and surprisingly good resolution, this entry from Brunton belongs around your neck if you do much low-light glassing. Given all its high-end features, the Eterna offers a lot of optic for $380. However, the binocular offers a disappointingly narrow field of view and revealed a bit of color fringing. Our test model had slits in the eyecups that allowed light to enter (Brunton insists this was an aberration). Still, we are happy to see high-end clarity and user-friendly features in what has been a lonely middle price range. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Armor has nice tacky feel; Big for my hands; Three-position eyecups score points. Image Quality:***
Low-Light Rating:***
Design:***
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
Outdoor Life Online Editor
BUSHNELL ELITE E2 10x42 Price: $500
Contact: bushnell.com The bright glass in this classy, European-style binocular and the edge-to-edge crispness of its image are worth the price. The team liked the large ocular lenses and the locking eyecups, though they were divided on whether the dual-function diopter and focus knob was a brilliant innovation or not. The E2 scored well in the low-light test and performed adequately in the resolution test, but the eye relief is noticeably short. The magnesium chassis shaves weight yet absorbs punishment. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Bright even at low light; Diopter setting and focus knob takes some getting used to; Very crisp glass; Great ergonomic feel. Image Quality: ****
Low-Light Rating: ****
Design: ***
Price/Value: *** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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CABELA'S OUTFITTER SERIES 10x42 Price: $600
Contact: cabelas.com While this binocular carries the Cabela's name, it is actually a Steiner Predator C5 with a different armor design. The team loved the natural in-hand feel of the barrels, but they did not like the contoured eyecups. The consensus was that this is a solid, workaday, albeit somewhat pricey, binocular. The resolution of the two barrels was not consistent, with one scoring an impressive 4.1 seconds of angle, the other a dubious 5.8. The Cabela's configuration comes with a number of extras: a hard case, neoprene rain cover and strap-attachment system. **TESTERS' COMMENTS: Comfortable ergonomics; I don't like the eyecups; Very good close-in focus; Crisp focus control. Image Quality: ***
Low-Light Rating: **
Design: **
Price/Value: ** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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CARSON ED HIGH DEFINITION 10x50 Price: $380
Contact: carsonoptical.com Partnering high-quality optics with an accessible price point, Carson has produced a mass-appeal product here. Excellent resolution, a bright, crisp image and pleasingly long eye relief make this binocular stand out, especially given its price. The big binocular performed admirably in our resolution test, comparing favorably with the highest-end glasses. However, it was in the middle of the pack for low-light performance- surprising given its large objective lenses. Because of its relatively large size, this will be best used for spotting from a vehicle or a ground blind. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Bright picture at a distance but a bit ghosty up close; Excellent multi-position eyecups. Image Quality:****
Low-Light Rating:***
Design:***
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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LEICA ULTRAVID 10x42 HD Price: $2,000
Contact: leica-camera.com You know an entry is exceptional when testers gravitate to it after a long, eye-straining day of evaluation. It was hard to get this new Leica out of our hands, even during breaks. It has huge, eye-easing exit pupils and supremely bright ED glass, and is several ounces lighter than Leica's flagship Trinovid binocular. The Ultravid performed extraordinarily well on the resolution range and in the low-light test. Quality like this doesn't come cheap, but if you want to experience the upper limit of optical clarity, buy this binocular. TESTERS' COMMENTS: "Wow!" glass; Great shadow detail; Eye relief is a little short for eyeglass wearers; Ultrasharp resolution; One of the world's best binos. Image Quality:****
Low-Light Rating:****
Design:****
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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NIKON EDG 10x42 Price: $2,000
Contact: nikonsportoptics.com With this remarkable entry built on ED glass, Nikon has set a new standard for high-end binoculars. The test team was wowed by the EDG's stunning resolution; bright, contrasty image; comfortable open-bridge design; and generous eye relief. Evaluators noted its ability to resolve overlapping shadowed limbs in a tree line 100 yards away. Even when compared to its nearest competitor, the Nikon's optical clarity stood out. The EDG (pronounced "Edge") came in near the top in the low-light test and its resolution was second only to the Leica Ultravid's (though both far exceed the resolving ability of the human eye). If you demand the best optics money can buy, and appreciate a lightweight bino, delightful ergonomics and a wide field of view, the EDG will exceed your highest standards. TESTERS' COMMENTS: It's like looking out of a huge, spanking-clean picture window; I could look through these all day; Simply superb in every respect. Image Quality:****
Low-Light Rating:****
Design:****
Price/Value:****
EDITOR'S CHOICE Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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ALPEN PRO 10x42 Price: $170
Contact: alpenoutdoor.com It's a rare product that defies one of the most justified axioms in the optics industry: that quality is directly proportional to price. This full-size binocular from Alpen offers optical quality that you'd expect to pay two or three times as much to get from another brand. While its plain exterior could be enhanced with more user-friendly features, it's the glass that is the soul of any optical instrument, and this Alpen shines- literally- with quality. Its resolution matched or exceeded that of binoculars costing 10 times as much, and its tight focus and relatively low weight impressed the test team. Alpen has been quietly changing minds- and buying habits- among American consumers for several years now, and this full-size entry is another winner. You could pay much more for a binocular from a better-known brand, but with these Alpens you get quality at a great price. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Why is this priced so low?; Solid middle-of-the-road bino; Wish it had thumb detents. Image Quality:****
Low-Light Rating:**
Design:*** Price/Value:****
GREAT BUY Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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LEUPOLD GREEN RING MOJAVE 10x42 Price: $480
Contact: leupold.com This is one of the best mid-priced full-size binoculars we've seen in several years, and at 23 ounces, we expect it will set the standard for back-country hunters who need a powerful glass in a trim design. The sleek open-bridge frame shaves weight but doesn't compromise optical performance. While not a front-runner on the resolution range, the Mojave placed second in our low-light test. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Wonderful clarity at distance; Quite compact for a full-size bino; A good, solidly built binocular; Great ergonomics; Lockable diopter is a nice feature; Slight yellowish cast; Mid-priced gem. Image Quality:***
Low-Light Rating:****
Design:***
Price/Value:**** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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MINOX BD 8.5x42 BR Price: $550
Contact: minox.com The binocular field is crowded with heavy 10- and even 12-power optics that can resolve hair on the head of a bald man. But much of North America's hunting takes place inside 100 yards, where the ability to glass mid-range distances is more important than seeing over the far ridge. With its long eye relief and compact design, this mid-priced 8.5X bino should appeal to bowhunters and Eastern deer hunters. The team liked the sharp, high-contrast image, especially when viewing nearby objects, and the edge-to-edge clarity with excellent shadow detail. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Sharp, contrasty image; Great close focus; Some color fringing around periphery Image Quality:***
Low-Light Rating:***
Design:***
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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STEINER PREDATOR PRO 8x30 AUTO FOCUS Price: $260
Contact: steiner-binoculars.com The only porro-prism model in the full-size category, this entry from Steiner doesn't actually focus automatically. Instead, you adjust each barrel manually to a determined distance, then your eye does the focusing. The Predator Pro is a good bino for your pickup, and the wide spacing of the objective lenses boosts stereopsis, or the threedimensional perception of depth. Team members liked the wide field of view, edge-to-edge clarity and comfortable hand-feel, but subtracted points for its bulky profile, small objective lenses and good-enough focusing system. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Very comfortable in my hands; The focusing system takes some getting used to; I wish I could lock the focus rings; Tons of eye relief; Nice contrast and color fidelity; Widest field of view of any binocular in our test; Quite bulky. Image Quality:***
Low-Light Rating:**
Design:**
Price/Value:***
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VANGUARD SDT PLATINUM 10x42 Price: $250
Contact: vanguardusa.com Despite the world of sports optics becoming increasingly specialized and more niche-oriented, there are still some decent all-around products in the market. This binocular from Vanguard is one example. The bino has decent eye relief and resolution, but its features- click-stop eyecup adjustments, thumb detents and camo finish- are more impressive than its optical clarity. The SDT Platinum scored near the bottom in the low-light test, and testers complained about its relatively heavy weight and slick finish. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Image quality leaves a lot to be desired; White hash marks on the eyecups are a nice touch; Seems to be heavier than it should be. Image Quality: **
Low-Light Rating: *
Design: **
Price/Value: * Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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MINOX 8x25 Price: $190
Contact: minox.com A tough, useful compact, this glass impressed the team with its tack-sharp focus at objects inside 20 yards. But it suffers from some color aberration and distracting internal reflection due to the lack of phase-correcting coating on its roof prisms. Testers gave the binocular high points for its bright, contrasty image and "knock-around ruggedness," but noted its sloppy focus knobs and somewhat fuzzy image at long distances. The no-frills entry from this established German company also had the widest field of view- 390 feet at 1,000 yards- of all the compacts we tested. A great glass for a turkey vest or tree stand. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Nice ergonomics; Good value; Sharper than other entries when focused up close Image Quality:**
Low-Light Rating:***
Design:***
Price/Value:** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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PENTAX DCF LV 9x28 Price: $250
Contact: pentaxsportoptics.com It's rare that a single product garners both the Great Buy and Editor's Choice honors, but this year's remarkable entry from Pentax has world-class glass at a price point most sportsmen can afford. This hand-size marvel excelled in every category, leading the way in resolution and low-light performance but also getting the highest marks in every one of the subjective evaluations, including the coveted price/value consideration. The team especially liked the positive-locking, three-position eyecups, the bright, crisp image and the pleasing ergonomics of the DCF LV. Its mid-range power and objective lens size are about right for a compact, but it has the eye relief (18mm) and resolution of a full-size binocular. Its compact size and polycarbonate body make this a great choice when weight and mobility- along with value- are considerations. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Great range of tack-sharp focusing; Feels great in the hand; Exceptionally good eyecups; A little bulky for a compact; Image has nice contrast; Definitive eyecup-adjustment intervals; Brightness of image comparable to that of a full size. Image Quality:****
Low-Light Rating:****
Design:****
Price/Value:****
EDITOR'S CHOICE
GREAT BUY Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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BRUNTON ECHO 3.5-10x50 Price: $190
Contact: brunton.com Budget-priced riflescopes shouldn't be flimsy, and this entry-level scope from Brunton is built solidly enough. But its dim optical clarity and short eye relief- short enough to take a bite out of the brow of an unwary shooter at high magnification- cost it points. The glass-etched ballistic reticle is a nice feature, and its big 50mm objective lens performed well in the low-light test, but even its budget price doesn't make this scope a real bargain. TESTERS' COMMENTS: W/E adjustments are a bit sloppy; Bullet-drop-compensating reticle is a nice feature. Image Quality:*
Low-Light Rating:****
Design:**
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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BUSHNELL ELITE 6500 2.5-16x42 Price: $700
Contact: bushnell.com Bushnell sets a new standard in magnification range with this 1:6.5 ratio scope, zooming fluidly from 2.5X to 16X. The team loved the accessible side focus and the push-pull rezeroable W/E turrets. The area where the scope lost points was in image quality, probably because the high zoom range requires an extra lens. Optically, the scope has very good resolution for its 42mm objective. Simply put, this is a lot of scope for the money. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Clear, bright image; Eye relief stays constant across power range. Image Quality:***
Low-Light Rating:**
Design:****
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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CABELA'S ALASKAN GUIDE XT 3.5-10x50 Price: $380
Contact: cabelas.com This light-hungry 50mm model joins Cabela's solid Alaskan Guide line, and while there's nothing flashy about the scope, it offers a lot of value. The team noted its relatively wide field of view and its decent image quality, but deducted points for its rather short eye relief at 10-power. This scope has plenty of tube length for mounting on a variety of receivers. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Serviceable power range; Some opacity to image; A good value. Image Quality:***
Low-Light Rating:***
Design:***
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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NITREX TR ONE 3¿10x50 Price: $330
Contact: nitrexoptics.com Optically, this newcomer from Federal Ammo's parent company, ATK, is probably underpriced. But our model had just enough rough edges to remind us that it is still a budget product. Its resolution score was on par with or better than those of high-end scopes, and testers loved its bright image. But its sloppy W/E tracking and 1/4- to 1/2-minute point-of-aim shift cost it serious points. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Good image quality and field of view; Adjustment knobs are rough on your fingertips. Image Quality:****
Low-Light Rating:***
Design:**
Price/Value:** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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NIKON MONARCH ED 8-32x50 Price: $700
Contact: nikonsportoptics.com If you want to see the difference extra-low-dispersion glass makes in a riflescope, look through this remarkably bright and crisp optic from Nikon. The Monarch ED scope led the category in resolution and tied for the best low-light performance, and testers universally raved about its sharp contrast and edge-to-edge clarity. The Monarch has a number of shooter-friendly features, including 1/8-inch windage and elevation adjustments, a long 1-inch tube and lockable side focus. The 8- to 32-power model we tested is perfect for varmint eradication, but you might want to consider ordering yours with the standard Nikoplex reticle. Our test scope came with Nikon's BDC reticle, which gets very thick at 32-power and could cover small targets at extended range. This is a lot of scope for a number of applications, but during the most demanding conditions- at twilight or when you have to make a long-distance shot- you'll love this ED glass around the reticle. **TESTERS' COMMENTS: Lovely varmint scope, with great high-end power; Eye relief varies throughout power range; Excellent resolution; Good value for the money; Nice glass, crisp image. Image Quality:****
Low-Light Rating:****
Design:***
Price/Value:***
EDITOR'S CHOICE Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
Outdoor Life Online Editor
SWIFT PREMIER 3-9x40 WA Price: $199
Contact: swiftoptics.com This is a basic riflescope dressed up with a few added features. The wide-angle claim is real, though you gain only a foot of real image compared with a standard 3-9 power. (See "Innovations," page 135, for our take on the Sur-Lok.) Testers praised the price of this scope but were critical of its clarity, some chromatic aberrations and W/E tracking. TESTERS' COMMENTS: A good general-purpose scope; Minimal eye relief for big-bores. Image Quality:**
Low-Light Rating:*
Design:***
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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VORTEX DIAMONDBACK 4-12x40 Price: $199
Contact: vortexoptics.com A good knock-around scope, this entry-level glass from Vortex will appeal to a wide cross section of shooters. The "Dead-Hold" reticle is a little misleading because the mil dots on the elevation post don't conform to a ballistic curve. The Diamondback has passable resolution, and evaluators all agreed that this is a solid value for under $200. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Rough edge on power ring; Some amber coloration; Short eye relief at high power. Image Quality:**
Low-Light Rating:*
Design:***
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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WEAVER CLASSIC EXTREME 1.5-4.5x24 Price: $475
Contact: weaveroptics.com This low-power scope comes with a number of specialized features, including an illuminated reticle, a 30mm tube and resettable zeros on the W/E knobs. It's well-made and would dress up a slug gun or pair well with a dangerous-game rifle. Testers questioned its heft- it weighs nearly 50 percent more than Sightron's Big Sky- and deemed the illuminated reticle unnecessary. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Reticle gadget adds unnecessary weight; Large, easy-to-turn W/E adjustment knobs. Image Quality:**
Low-Light Rating:*
Design:***
Price/Value:** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
Outdoor Life Online Editor
ZEISS CONQUEST 3-9x40 Price: $597
Contact: zeiss.com/sports The Conquest had the best resolution score for 40mm scopes in our test, consistently long eye relief and precise W/E adjustments. But the team found the bullet-drop-compensating reticle to be complicated and too fine when viewed against a dark or cluttered background. However, it's a marvel for calculating bullet drop over long distances, and would be ideal for open-plains shooting. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Excellent value for world-class glass; Very defined, rich contrast. Image Quality:****
Low-Light Rating:****
Design:***
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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ALPEN 20-60x80 Price: $410
Contact: alpenoutdoor.com A big, full-size spotting scope, this budget-minded entry from Alpen took top honors on the resolution range by virtue of its large 80mm objective lens. Its image left something to be desired, with some pronounced flaring at lower magnifications and image deterioration at higher powers. Still, it's a lot of glass for the money, and is relatively light for its size. This scope would be perfect for your pickup or for picture-window viewing.
**TESTERS' COMMENTS: Nice, big image; I really like the fine-focus knob; Good mid-level, large-objective scope. Image Quality:****
Low-Light Rating:****
Design:***
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
Outdoor Life Online Editor
CABELA'S ALPHA SERIES 15-45x60 Price: $400
Contact: cabelas.com This scope comes with hard and soft cases and a tabletop tripod. But because you buy an optic for its glass, our test team didn't deem this midsize scope from Cabela's to be a bargain. The image demonstrated color flaring, darkness at higher magnification and fuzzy focus. The scope got high marks for its focus ring and sleek design, but in the end its optical quality cost it points. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Nice, clean design, but lost points on optical quality. Image Quality:***
Low-Light Rating:****
Design:***
Price/Value:*** Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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BRUNTON 20-45x62 Price: $650
Contact: brunton.com If you want to see the light-transmitting difference that ED glass makes, look through Brunton's midsize scope built around achro¿matic glass, then peer through the extra-low-dispersion glass in this remarkably vivid instrument. This scope has so much light-gathering talent that we couldn't get it to wink out during the low-light test. Granted, a bright moon impaired our darkness, but this glass is remarkably bright. Team members praised the Brunton's relatively compact profile and its accessible price point. But it's the image, dagger-sharp and clear, that makes this entry stand out. The Wyoming company has hit a towering grand slam with this scope. TESTERS' COMMENTS: A lot of scope for the money; Super image quality; Nice, compact design; Unmatched clarity and image quality; Love that the soft case can be left on while scope is mounted on tripod; Light enough that I would carry this scope in the backcountry. Image Quality:****
Low-Light Rating:****
Design:****
Price/Value:****
EDITOR'S CHOICE Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
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MINOX MD 50W 16-30x50 Price: $350
Contact: minox.com Spotting scopes don't have to be massive to be useful. This pocket-size delight from Minox is at home in a fanny pack or a turkey vest and fills the niche between 10X binoculars and full-size spotting scopes. It's small and light enough to go anywhere. Its glass is sharp enough and its magnification range handy enough to be used wherever you need visual reach. Its 50mm objective is limiting- it trailed the category in the low-light test- but the Minox is handy for everyone from backyard birders to hardcore mountain hunters. **TESTERS' COMMENTS: What a cute piece of glass; Perfect for mobile hunting; Would work well at the shooting range on a compact tripod; Compact clarity; Small objective but so easy to pack; Sweet and petite. Image Quality:***
Low-Light Rating:***
Design:***
Price/Value:****
GREAT BUY Click here to see THE VIDEO of the Optics Test
Outdoor Life Online Editor

This year's crop of scopes and binos features ED glass, ballistic reticles and compact brilliance.