Optics Review: OL Ranks the Best New Mid-Size Binoculars for 2012

Outdoor Life runs the toughest optics test in the industry and the results are in for 2012 mid-size binoculars. See … Continued

What makes a good binocular? Optical quality, light transmission, design, and bang-for-your-buck are a pretty good start. Each year we test the newest optics on the market. The results are in for our finally in for our 2012 test, see which mid-size binos took home top honors. More from the Guns and Optics Test – Best New Rifles 2012 – Best New Shotguns 2012 – Best New Rifle Scopes 2012
Swarovski Companion 8×30 This is one of those rare small-frame binoculars that doesn’t feel small. The Swarovski’s configuration (8×30) is just right for those glassing tasks–bowhunting, turkey hunting, traveling–when a full-size binocular might be too bulky. The Companion’s open, single-hinge frame, mid-point balance, and surprisingly light weight (17.8 ounces) makes one-hand operation a cinch. While the BAK4 glass in the “entry level” Companion is a step below the HD glass found in high-end EL and SLC Swaros, this was easily the clearest and brightest entry in our mid-size category. Our sample handily won the low-light test and earned praise from the panel for its optical contrast, edge definition, and depth of field. We dinged the Companion for slight color aberration, concern over the fragility of the single-hinge design, and (probably unfairly) comparison to its optically stunning big brother. Still, this is a marvelous utilitarian binocular that offers big-optic performance in a trim package. See video for the Swarovski Companion 8×30. Test Results Score: ★ ★ ★ ★ Price: $929 Optics: A+ Perceived Image: A Design: A Price/Value: A- Contact: swarovskioptik.us
Vortex Talon HD 10×32 We’re big fans of open-bridge binoculars, and on light, compact frames, the design allows for easy one-hand operation. Optically, our 10×32 Vortex turned in mixed results. It was runner-up on low-light performance, but resolution testing revealed a significant discrepancy in precision between its barrels. Panelists also noted some edge distortion. This solid, bright, well-designed binocular comes with Vortex’s full lifetime warranty. Test Results Score: ★ ★ ★ ★ Price: $550 Optics: A Perceived Image: B Design: A- Price/Value: B- Website: Vortexoptics.com
Bushnell Legend 10×25 After handling full-size binoculars for a week, our test team expected this trim, pocket-size bino to be a toy. It’s not. Thanks to premium Ultra HD glass, this 10×25 binocular punches well above its size class, delivering a bright, crisp image in a package that folds down to the size of a deck of cards. Downsides to this take-anywhere gem: 8X would be a better power, the diopter wheel grinds, and the focus wheel is too small. See video for the Bushnell Legend 10×25. Test Results: Score: ★ ★ ★ ½ Price: $200 Optics: A- Perceived Image: B+ Design: B+ Price/Value: A- Contact: bushnell.com
Alpen Shasta Ridge 8×30 Alpen has gone old-school with this bright, tight porro-prism binocular. It has some smart innovations, too: a strong triple-hinge design, very good glass for the money, generous eye relief, and a nice finger- grabbing geometry. But our 8×30 felt fragile and plasticky, and we had problems with the focus assembly, which ran out of adjustment as we glassed especially long distances. Still, there’s a ton of value in this handy little binocular. Test Results
Score: ★ ★ ★ ½
Price: $140
Optics: A
Perceived Image: B
Design: B+
Price/Value: B
Website: Alpenoptics.com
Kowa SV 8×32 Team members either loved or hated the red “kissy-lips” bling on the hinge, but were unanimous in praising the Kowa’s solid hunting chops. Our 8×32 turned in great low-light scores, though its resolution performance was less impressive. We also noted some spherical aberration, but overall panelists liked its balance and grippy texture, the finger-grabbing detents of its oversize focus wheel, and the big-binocular feel in a mid-size frame. See video for the Kowa SV 8×32. Test Results Score: ★ ★ ★ ½ Price: $200 Optics: B+ Perceived Image: B Design: B+ Price/Value: B Contact: kowasporting.com
Kruger Backcountry 10×32 This handy little binocular surprised the entire panel by delivering a very good image in a small, well-built package. We frankly expected the 10×32 Kruger to be another ho-hum Chinese import. But we discovered excellent edge-to-edge clarity and well-coated, bright glass. Noteworthy amenities include a tight clicking diopter wheel and precise focus. Its real asset, though, is its ability to deliver a big picture in a very trim frame. See video for the Kruger Backcountry 10×32. Test Results Score: ★ ★ ★ ½ Price: $184 Optics: B Perceived Image: B Design: B+ Price/Value: B Contact: krugeroptical.com
Hawke Frontier PC 8×25 Nearly identical to the Bushnell’s double-hinge design, the Hawke suffers from glass that produced only average clarity and resolution. Its image is by no means bad, but small deficiencies like edge distortion and color fringing are exaggerated in such a sized-down configuration (we tested the 8×25). Still, testers praised the compact design, and noted the Hawke’s utility for turkey hunting and bowhunting and as a handy travel optic. Test Results
Score: ★ ★ ★
Price: $114
Optics: B+
Perceived Image: B-
Design: B
Price/Value: B-
Website: Hawkeoptics.com
Nikon Compact Zoom 8-24×25 This hand-size Nikon is the resurrection of an idea we thought had faded: the adjustable-power binocular. The good news is that Nikon has handled the difficult configuration with style. The reverse porro-prism smoothly zooms from 8X to 24X. The unhappy news is that the image it produces is dark, murky, and fatiguing, especially at the upper end of the magnification range. The zoom performed well on the resolution range, though it disappointed on our low-light test. Testers noted that the optic feels flimsy and recommended a larger focus knob. Still, if you’re looking for a lightweight travel binocular that won’t face much punishment, this isn’t a bad choice. Test Results Score: ★ ★ ★ Price: $150 Optics: B+ Perceived Image: C Design: C+ Price/Value: C+ Website: Nikonhunting.com
Celestron UpClose G2 10×25 Can a $20 binocular ever be overpriced? This compact Celestron makes the case that an accessible price point doesn’t necessarily make an optic a bargain. Optically, the double-hinge binocular delivers a $20 image. It trailed the field in low-light and resolution testing, and internal inspection revealed uncoated lens surfaces. Stingy eye relief, a maddeningly dark image, and imprecise focus justifies the test team’s indictment of the UpClose. Still, this is not a disposable optic. It features a durable finish and acceptable eyecups, making the case that it’s better than no optic at all in a treestand or a turkey blind. Test Results Score: ★ ★ Price: $20 Optics: C- Perceived Image: C- Design: C Price/Value: C+ Website: Celestron.com

Outdoor Life runs the toughest optics test in the industry and the results are in for 2012 mid-size binoculars. See which new binos stood fared the best in our test.