Sunday, February 7, 2010

Praxis: Responses on Binoculars

SAC sends this picture with comment:

I may be a simple Hillbilly from Appalachia but it seems to me you can get 90% of the result with 10% of the cost – if you use your noodle... especially when it comes to weaponry and gear.

Binoculars, I like a medium sized pair that will give me a good field of view and not reflect light (or a little as possible).

These are Nikon 8x40 – very robust and have lasted 3 years without any problems.

Note: I take off my lower (Objective) lens caps but leave on the upper (Pupil) lens caps – which seem to gather dirt, gunk, and water.

The Trainer writes:

Prefered Optics: BUSHNELL H20 WATERPROOF BINOCULARS (8 X 25mm) - About $40. Small, waterproof, fog proof, rubber armored, and the magnification is just about right. Small enough for an external pouch on the LBE/LBV, or if wearing a LBV, slip inside one of the internal pockets. External pockets on a M-65 type jacket or BDU top also work well. When coupled with proper night vision adaptation skills, target acquisition is very, very good.

Bob S. from Wyoming sends:

On the binos, and at risk of telling you theory that you already know: The "night binoculars" term does not mean much, other than the application of light physics to the M1 eyeball. All else being equal in glass quality, 7x50s are real good for aiding what the eye can take in at night. 8x50 is less good. 10x50 not so good at all.

In smaller but still good sizes, 8x30s can get by for night use, but sacrifice compared to the smigen less powerful, bulkier, and heavier 7x50. A 6x30 bino of quality can get by for night use if saving weight is a great factor in choice. But for night use, a bino with a 50mm objective lens rules. Thus the Navy descriptor, "night binoculars."

I like Steiner binos for ruggedness and value. Currently I've been using their 8x30 Military for more than ten years. Steiner's 7x50 Commander, with its internal compass and a mil reticle etched on one lens, is a better night optic, has a couple of nice additional features, but has a fair amount of bulk for a dismounted person, and is heavy. Some like other brands which get into serious money. I can respect that, but I still like Steiners as a good bang for the buck. About $200 or a bit less for the 8x30 Military. Prices have not changed much over the past decade for this model.

Squid writes:

Dear Mike:

I enjoy the Praxis articles and am learning a lot from them.

WRT your binocular query, I used a pair identical to your binoculars on active
duty back in the '80's. That's a nice old pair.

I also have used the Steiner 8x30 Military/Marine binoculars. They have awesome
optics, like all the Steiner products. They are a bit pricey; I checked on the
Net and they can be had these days for $250.00. That's a bargain in a way.
Optics are a lot like champagne; more money equals better glasses, at least to
some extent, but to me after enough of a price increase the better taste/looks
just isn't worth it. The Zeiss binoculars, for example, have just never seemed
worth their astronomical price to me.

My current binoculars are 8x42 Leupold Wind River Mesa waterproofs. They have
awesome light gathering capabilities and so far have been completely waterproof,
as advertised, but I haven't had them in salt water surf either. I bought them
thinking that Leupold makes great rifle scopes, so their binoculars would
probably be pretty good too, and that has proven correct so far. A check shows
they can be had for $175.00.

The Achilles heel of modern binoculars is the case. The Steiner case was OK,
but not stellar, and the Leupold case is flimsy. There are a couple of tactical
cases on the market, some designed to be compatible with MOLLE gear, but I
confess to being a bit old-fashioned in this and other ways. I like the leather
cases that old binoculars came with, and I am likely to either have a custom one
made for my glasses, or to buy an old one. One of the dealers that provides
gear for World War II re-enactors has some old U.S. Marine cases, and, if my
glasses fit the cases, I may go that route.


Pat H said...

Buying optics, including binoculars, is a bit like buying fine wine including champagne, you usually get what you pay for. Since binocs, like firearms, are essentially lifetime+ property, the best that one can afford is the way to go in my opinion.

I like the ultra high quality, light transmission, and color authenticity of Swarovski binoculars. These are their lightweight pocket models, the kind you can take with you on scouting expeditions or to see who is chasing you from a distance.
Swarovski Pocket Binocs

Also consider Leica Compact Binocs as an alternative to the above.

Neither of these are cheap, but ten years from now when they're still going strong, you'll be happy you paid the price.

ebd10 said...

Iconsulted a birdwatcher on the subject of binoculars, since they seem to use them most often and the advice I got was; buy the best pair you can afford. Make sure they have a wide enough field of view to scout the landscape and the optics should be of high enough quality to see details at distance. Lens coatings should prevent moisture build up and fogging. I went with Bushnell Discoverers and they have served me well.

Scamp1776 said...

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Einherjar said...

One thing to keep in mind with optics of all types is the "Exit Pupil" formula. This is especially important in low light conditions.

Exit pupil formula:
Objective lense diameter (mm) / magnification = Exit Pupil (mm)

In order to get the maximum amount of, usable, magnified light into the pupil of the eye (and thereby into the brain), the "Exit Pupil" of the optics must (as closely as possible) match the users pupil diameter in any given ligthing condition. Now during daylight hours it's pefectly OK to have more exit pupil as the wasted light gathering would not be noticed.

By the way, this goes for scopes as well.

For example, the typical person has an exit pupil diameter of around 7mm at night (young folks are around 8-9mm and older folks are around 5mm) and everyone's is around 4mm during the day.

If you look at the typical "compact" binos (say 8x21) the exit pupil (EP here after) formula is 21mm / 8x = 2.625mm for an EP. that means even in full daylight, these binos are only bringing in much less of the light that the eye can handle (at 4mm daylight EP). Forget using these in low light.

Looking at the more traditional 10x50 bino, the exit pupil is 5mm. Much closer to the average night pupil (especially for old farts like me). For low light/night use, this is much more practical. As a matter of fact, during the Cold War the Russians used binos like these at night to make up for their lack of widepsread night vision devices. Poor man's NV.

At the far extreme would be something like Russian Naval binos at 30x60mm with a measly 2mm EP. They would be fine where bright daylight conditions exist (and EP wouldn't matter anyway) and would absolute garbage at night.

The bottom line is do not get suckered into buying more optics than your eye can use if you will regularlly be using your optics in low light conditions. Better to spend that extra money on beans and ammo.

Anonymous said...

Amazon has a good price on the Bushnell 8x25 H20 and free shipping.


Fat Balding Caver (ret) said...

I'lll second Pat H

I was looking for pocket binos about 10 years ago.

At a game fair, I had the chance to stack Swarovski, leica and ziess models one onto of the other to compare.

Ziess had way poorer field of view and appeared to have narrower exit pupil too. performance looking into the light was poorer too.

Swarovski and leica were simillar for eas of use and clarity of view, even into the light, but the Swarovski were waterproof and the leica weren't.

There've been a couple of times I've passed my binos to friends to look through, and I had a look through their's. When I passed their's back, they've asked me what the hell I've done to them to make the view go fuzzy around the edges.

There wasn't actually anything wrong with their binos, it's just that accurate grinding and mounting of lenses costs a lot of money, and you can see the results when you compare them directly.

however, if you are crawling through mud for fun or stirring up dust, the performance of any bino drops very quickly until you can get them properly clean again.

patrick henry said...

I'd sure love to be you guys who have $750+ to spend on Binocs.

If I had $750 to spare I'd have to choose between a good used Rem700 and scope or 2 SKS' and some ammo.

Anybody got any ideas for us po' boys?

Anonymous said...

"Anybody got any ideas for us po' boys?"

Pick your binos from a mid range maker, Nikon, cosina etc, then try as many different examples as you can, look for clear focus accross the field of view, good clarity looking into the light, minimum backlash on the focus.

Everything is made to tolerances, the design of mid range binos is very good, but the slightly wider tolerences mean that you are only rarely going to get the best that the design is capable of.

If you are going to spend lots of time looking through binos, a really good pair will make it a lot pleasenter experience, and it will be longer before you get a head ache and fatigue.