Most hunters wont drop a grand on binoculars. We know because our readers have told us somany times. And thats O.K ., because most dont genuinely need to. Truly high-class glass is a elation to behold, but mid- and even low-priced optics have improved vastly in recent years. If you attain your living spotting far-off critters in big country, thats one thing, but for the average hunters wants, todays modestly priced binoculars will likely do the job. The only question is: Which one should you buy?
To help you figure that out, I traveled to western New York to meet hardcore whitetail hunter and University of Rochester professor of optics James Zavislan, whose living room houses a miniature optics lab and whose hunting property attained for the perfect field-test venue. Zavislan enlisted hunting buddy Bill Lipnickey and urban bowhunteroptics undergrad student Joel Hoose. Together, we subjected 10 new full-size binoculars, ranging from a little over $100 to right around $1,000, to the most thorough and technical optics test F& S has in the past conducted.
1. BEST OF THE TEST: Sig Sauer Zulu7
Score : 92.3 Specs : 10 x42 5.9 x5″ 28.3 oz. 17 mm eye relief 4.2 mm exit pupil 341 ‘ FOV@ 1,000 yd. 5.9 ‘ close focus Lowdown : How good is the Zulu7? One measure is all the 9s and 10 s it scored in our eight exam categories( find p. 78 ), including top marks for resolve, perceived image quality, and weather resistance. Another was all the wows and oh damns issued from the testers upon seeming through them, which is like stepping into a world where everything is bigger, sharper, and more brilliant. The open-bridge design and tacky rubber finish offer a great feeling in the hand, and the grooved focus wheel responds smoothly to a medium-light touch. The one glaring fault is the objective lens encompass, which engage only with concerted effortthough it hardly matters because youll lose them within days due to how easily they pull off. Its a small shortcoming, however, that youll forgive the second that you bring this binocular to your eyes.
2. Cabelas Intrepid HD
Score : 86.4 $ 800 cabelas.com Specs : 10 x42 6.1 x5″ 29.5 oz. 16.3 mm eye relief 4.2 mm exit pupil 340 ‘ FOV 9.8 ‘ close focus Lowdown : A Cabelas-branded binocular make use of Vortex, the Intrepid HD get off to a sluggish start in our exam with a mediocre ergonomics score, due to a somewhat slick finish, a slightly awkward feeling in the hand, and a focus wheel that wasnt precisely rough but wasnt smooth either. It made up for those shortcomings, however, with stellar scores in almost every other exam category. Resolving and perceived image quality were just a tick below the Sigs; low-light performance was bettera 9.9 out of 10. The Intrepids diopter adjustment, which locks and features clicks, was one of the best use of all the test models. A thorough soaked had almost no effect on the perceived image, and after an hour in the deep freeze, the Intrepid was one of only two models to still deliver a serviceable painting with noticeable detail.
3. KILLER DEAL: Vanguard Endeavor ED IV
Score : 86.3 $ 499 vanguardworld.us Specs : 8×42 5.8 x5″ 28.8 oz. 19 mm eye relief 5.25 mm exit pupil 377 ‘ FOV 5.9 ‘ close focus Lowdown : This was a amaze. Priced on the bubble between the mid and low scope, there was no reason for us to guess the Endeavor ED IV would hang with models expensing $300 to $500 more. But it didand in many of the categories that matter most to hunters, including resolution, image quality, and low-light performance. The Endeavor pulled fine detail from both sunshine and shade, and delivered a clean, immersive painting. Another open-bridge model with a soft rubber coating, it too feels good in the hand. The focus wheel is big and smooth, and the diopter adjustment locks. The Endeavor did fall slightly behind the other top challengers for design and build and finished in the middle of the pack for weather resistance, but at this price, its a versatile, quality hunting tool and a standout value.
4. Meopta MeoPro HD
Score : 85 $ 1,035 meopta.com Specs : 8×52 7×5. 6″ 38.8 oz. 18.5 mm eye relief 7mm exit pupil 315 ‘ FOV 7.2 ‘ close focus Lowdown : This is a gorgeous binocular. The only model to notch perfect scores in design and construct, low-light performance, and ergonomics, the MeoPro HD narrowly missed the top picking for perceived image quality, too. Everything on this binocular, from the rubber finish to the ultrasmooth adjustments, has the feeling of quality and accuracy workmanship. So why is it fourth? First, the MeoPro did not resolve detail quite as well as some others, but chiefly its greater sizing and weight hampers versatility and may well restrict it to the truck for many hunters. And its price may set it out of reach. Ultimately, the MeoPro may not be the best all-around option on this list, but if youre after a great low-light binocular for the truck or blind, and you dont mind paying extra for gear that will last for decades, this ones for you.
5. Leupold BX-3 Mohave Pro Guide
Score : 84.9 $ 599( as demonstrated) leupold.com Specs : 10 x50 6.6 x5. 1″ 29 oz. 18.8 mm eye relief 4.9 mm exit pupil 283 ‘ FOV 10 ‘ close focus
Lowdown: The Mohave scored 10 s in resolve and construct. In words of detail in the middle of the imagesay, for counting tines or duck IDno model here did better. A tight FOV and some visual artifacts hurt, as did so-so low-light performance. We loved the ergonomics and the Kryptic finish.
6. Steiner HX
Score : 82.4 $ 1,000 steiner-optics.com Specs : 10 x42 5.8 x5″ 28.5 oz. 16.5 mm eye relief 4.2 mm exit pupil 326 ‘ FOV 8’ close focus Lowdown : The HX is a precision-built tool that will handle bad weather and glisten at dusk and daybreak. Resolving and image quality were not quite as good as the top models. And its pricey. We cant rank by reputation, but Steiner does have a name for stimulating glass that lasts, which may assist justify the cost.
7. Minox BL 10 x44 HD
Score : 82.3 $ 579 minox.com Specs : 10 x44 5.7 x4. 9″ 26.7 oz. 17 mm eye relief 4.4 mm exit pupil 345 ‘ FOV 8.2 ‘ close focus Lowdown : Hold the Minox BL in your hands, and you want to own it. Its compact, comfortable, and the adjustments are positive and smooth. Resolving, image quality, and construct werent quite equal to the ergonomics, though. Weather resistance was so-so, but low-light performance was very good.
8. Vortex Diamondback
Score : 78.5 $ 189 vortex.com Specs : 10 x42 5.9 x5. 1″ 21.8 oz. 16 mm eye relief 4.2 mm exit pupil 345 ‘ FOV 5’ close focus Lowdown : The inexpensive Diamondback comes with a significant drop in resolution, and it scored last in climate resistance. Still, despite noticeable field curvature, testers judged image quality higher than the other sub- $200 models, and construct demonstrated as good as some expensing much more
9. KILLER DEAL: Nikon Prostaff 3S
Score : 75.4 $ 129 nikon.com Specs : 10 x42 5.9 x4. 9″ 20.4 oz. 15.7 mm eye relief 4.2 mm exit pupil 367 ‘ FOV 9.8 ‘ close focus Lowdown : In words of resolving detail, the ProStaff 3S performed with the very best. It proved significant chromatic aberration, though, and image quality wasnt great. Neither was build or low-light performance. But theres no cheaper binocular better at counting far-off kickers in decent light.
10. Bushnell Trophy Xtreme
Score : 70 $ 180 bushnell.com Specs : 10 x50 6.4 x5. 4″ 32 oz. 17 mm eye relief 5mm exit pupil 315 ‘ FOV 10 ‘ close focus Lowdown : If the light is low, the Trophy Xtreme will let you find deer after the Nikon Prostaff 3S has gone dark. Youll give up detail during the rest of the day, but image quality is about the same. The binocular feels bulky, and it finished last in build quality. But with its smooth adjustments, its a good value.
After weighing and measuring the binoculars, we evaluated them in the following eight categories: Resolving Zavislan set up two poster committees, one in the sunshine and the other in deep shade, each with 1951 USAF Resolution Test Charts in varying contrasts, as well as two color artifact tests. From 100 yards away, testers recorded values corresponding to detail resolved and color change perceived. Perceived Image Quality Testers judged each models image for ease of use, feeling of submersion, clarity, and visual artifacts, including stray light and apparent field curvature( or blurring at the edges ). Low-Light Performance This category aggregated exit pupil, deep-shade resolve, and light transmitting, as measured by Zavislan. Design& Build Zavislan assessed features and subjected each unit to a drop exam; he also measured collimation and focus backlash and wander. Weather Resistance We submersed each binocular in a 5-gallon pail, and then froze them for an hour, rating the effects each time on image and functionality. Ergonomics We judged overall feeling in the hand, as well as the quality, feeling, and functionality of the focus wheel, eyepieces, diopter adjustment, and lens encompass. Handling The lighter and more compact, the better. Value Performance divided by price. We scored each binocular on a 1 to 10 scale for every category, and then doubled the key ones of resolve and image quality for a total possible score of 100. D.H .
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