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Anyone here into high-end binoculars?

Discussion in 'Hangout' started by kenny, May 22, 2013.

  1. kenny
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    by kenny » May 22, 2013
    I worked for decades in a high-tech industry.
    I developed an appreciation of the finest optics money can buy from Zeiss and Leica and a couple other companies.
    I LOVE sharp fine camera lenses and will gladly eat fishheads and rice forever to acquire these gems.
    What fine optics can do is astonishing and I really appreciate it.

    I had a pair of small but nice Nikon binoculars for around 20 years, but left them in Disney Hall after a concert so I'm shopping once again.
    But this time I'm reaching for the Holy grail of binocs, Swovarvski EL Swarovision, Zeiss Victory HT, or Leica Ultravid HD, in 8x42 size.
    Priced from $2,200 to $2,600 these will not, rather can not, be upgraded.
    IT's like 3 D IF diamonds with tip-top but different cut, an ACA, an Octavia and an AVC.
    IOW, binocs for life.

    I've spent zillions of hours researching Internet reviews, manufacture's sites, birdwatching fora, hunting fora, astronomy fora, optics fora.
    The consensus is there is no consensus beyond these 3 are equally superlative, and people with decades of experience using the best of the best binocs are pretty much evenly distributed between loyalty to each of these 3 brands.

    There is a particular complaint against Zeiss that the edge of the circle is not quite as sharp as the center, but we're talking TINY degradation.
    Swarovsky...there is an astonishingly flat field but the achieve this there is a 3-D bizarre effect when panning with them that is disorienting, but most can get used to it and after getting used to it devotees are passionately dedicated to this brand.
    With Leica there is apparently no particular complaint I could locate.

    So, I wanted to compare them personally.
    $2,200+ is a lot to spend on a binco so I insist on a test drive.
    I called all around to find a local dealer authorized to sell a 3 brands, who has an 8x42 in stock with all 3 brands.
    They all sell them for the same price +- a few bucks.

    I just wanted to try each out in the store, side by side.
    Well, nobody has all 3 brands, let alone all 3 in the size I want. ;(
    So, I decided to temporarily buy all 3, one from each of 3 different dealers, and try them out and return 2 before the 30-day return period.

    Is that evil?
     
    


    


  2. Circe
    Ideal_Rock
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    by Circe » May 22, 2013
    I'd say practical! If you're committing for a lifetime, you should know what you're getting into. I'll look forward to the reviews ... I make do with a little old pair of pearl-sheathed opera glasses from the 1920s, but they really are more about form than function. It'll be interesting to hear what I'm missing out on!
     
  3. kenny
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    by kenny » May 22, 2013
    Girlfriend, listening to me will be bad for your wallet. :Up_to_something:
    I've convinced several people to buy multi-thousand-dollar guitars.
    Grab your purse and RUN, while you still can. :bigsmile:
     
  4. marcy
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    by marcy » May 22, 2013
    I will be interested in which one you find has the best optics.
     
    


    


  5. Circe
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    by Circe » May 22, 2013
    Heheheh - hey, your advice started me on the road to decent photography (or, at least easier-to-shoot baseline-acceptable photography), so I figure it's got me going in the right direction. If that direction proves costly ... it's not like you can take it with you, right? ;-)
     
  6. Matata
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    by Matata » May 22, 2013
    Kenny DH and I are avid birders so we buy Leica & Swarovski binos and damn the cost. When you're using then for something you're passionate about, buy the best you can afford. Our latest acquisition is the Swarovski SLC 56, around $2000. Superb for our needs, especially at dusk. I can count the feather lice on the birds, that's how good the binos are. Love 'em.
     
  7. kenny
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    by kenny » May 22, 2013
    I never intended or tried to get anyone to spend a zillion bucks on a guitar, and never made a dime off it.
    It's just that I seem to have a knack for:
    1. Identifying the best.
    2. Cutting through all the gobble-tee-gook and articulating WHY X brand is so groovy.

    When the why is understandable and the source is trust-able, it's easier to drop a ton of money.
    We all want good value for our $$$ but often it is hard to understand what is a good value and why.
    There is so much biased and suspicious info out there.
     
  8. kenny
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    by kenny » May 22, 2013
    Ohhhh, you got me all excited.
    See how you are. :Up_to_something:

    I've heard the best bins let you see subtle colors even when the sun, or moon, is behind a bird.

    56? OMG!!! I may get a pair of those for astronomy.
    I'm just starting out by comparing 8x42s from these 3 brands.
    Ziess only makes their newest design, Victory HT, in 8x42 and 10x42, otherwise you must buy their older Victory FL T* FL.

    Here's my spreadsheet of the candidates for Kenny's lifetime bins.
    Note two Swovarski's can focus as close as 4.9 feet :o ... so they'd be good for studying bees and butterflies on flowers in front of you.
    Also the Swoarvs have 20mm eye relief so they blow the other two brands away if you wear glasses.
    They are 8.5 instead of 8 so they have a little better night-time performance, aka twilight factor.

    screen_shot_2013-05-22_at_8.png
     
  9. kenny
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    by kenny » May 22, 2013
    The Swoarvski arrives tomorrow, Thursday.
    The Zeiss, Friday.
    The Leica Tues May 28.

    Then a fourth bino Nikon 8x42 ATB arrives, which regularly retails for $139, but was on sale for $79 from B&H.
    Don't ask, but it will be edumacational to compare them to the Ferraris.
     
  10. Dancing Fire
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    by Dancing Fire » May 23, 2013
    Yes,if you use the binco to spot pretty girls... :naughty:
     
    


    


  11. kenny
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    by kenny » May 23, 2013
    DF, we're all not pervy :twisted: psycho-stalkers. :rodent:
     
  12. Matata
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    by Matata » May 23, 2013
    Kid in a candy store! Enjoy scoping out the binocs. I hope you find a pair or 2 or 3 that are perfect for you. And you are spot on about the 56s being terrific for astronomy. I got up close and personal with the Milky Way at New Years. We were staying at a remote place in the Nevada desert. Felt like I could reach out and touch the Pleiades. Andromeda went from a barely discernible smudge to in your face fantastic. I was awestruck.
     
  13. kenny
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    by kenny » May 23, 2013
    Scoping out binocs? Hahaha.
    I'm envious of dark skys. ;(

    Okay, first impressions on the Swarovskis ...
    It is full afternoon sun and I'm looking at trees and flowers and telephone poles in my backyard.
    I can almost feel the texture of the bark on a far-away tree.
    Bees buzzing around flowers look magical, like a Disney movie.
    The unique visual impression is from the compression of space that a high-magnification lens offers, along with razor, no scalpel-sharp glass.

    Astonishing brightness.
    It is like someone turned a light on that supplements the already beautiful brilliant Southern California sun.
    I literally gasped out loud.

    I was a fine-bin-virgin till today.
    This is my very first glimpse through a top-drawer bins.
    I couldn't believe how bright and clear they are.
    Next the contrast and color saturation !!! OMG!!!
    It's like someone put the view through Photoshop and amped up the contrast and color saturation.
    It's hard to believe they are just passive optics, no electronics, no batteries.

    Ironically it is was akin to what I feel when using my highest magnification macro gear to get large, bright sharp views of tiny things.
    Using fine optics makes the ordinary extraordinary, whether it's a tiny thing close up or something far away.
    This is sooo exciting. :errrr:

    I'm not experienced using bins; I clearly need to practice holding them steady.
    They make a harness thingie that goes around your shoulders to your back, which I think will help and be much more convenient than carrying around a tripod or monopod.

    Anyway I can already tell the 8x is the right magnification for Kenny's all-around use.
    I doubt I could hold 10x steady so I'll stop considering them.
    Right now I'm thinking I'll eventually end up with two bins, a 8x42 and something like a 12x56 for astronomy.
    Many people who want day and night use compromise and get only one bin that is around 10x50 ... but that would leave me longing for more light-gathering glass at night and less shake, magnification and weight during the day.

    Tommorrow the Zeiss arrives and next Tues the Leicas arrive. DARN that Memorial Day Holiday! :angryfire:
    Kid in a candy store indeed! :cheeky:
     
  14. kenny
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    by kenny » May 23, 2013
    What magnification are your 56s, 8x or 15x?
    Can you hand hold them, or do you have one of those holders?

    123qwe.jpg
     
  15. Matata
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    by Matata » May 23, 2013
    15x and they're not what we use when romping thru the woods chasing birds. We use them when we're with a bunch of other crazy birders sittin' in the woods or at the beach waiting for the birds to come to us. I have to do bicep curls to keep up the strength to hold them. Tripod is easier and usually what we use. Love the pic. I gotta get one of those.
     
    


    


  16. kenny
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    by kenny » May 23, 2013
    There are a zillion designs of astronomical binocular holders for use when sitting or laying down.
    I guess I'll eventually be researching those.

    Years ago I went to Mt. Pinos here in the Southern California mountains near Frazier park to an astronomy GTG on top of a hill on a parking lot.
    I walked around and tried may cool telescopes and got a star-gazing bug.
    Since then I've read about the astonishing view available, at a much lower cost, with good binoculars with large objective lenses, 50+.

    Your 15x56s weigh 1290 grams, or almost 3 pounds. :o
    Do you have this $40 Swarovski support/strap thingie?
    Isn't a tripod very restricting for following a wild flying bird?



    Which Leica model do you have?
    Sorry I'm so nosy.
    It's just cool to find a bino-geek right here on PS.

    screen_shot_2013-05-23_at_3.png
     
  17. Matata
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    by Matata » May 23, 2013
    The strap thingie came with our Swarovski. I have the Leica Ultravid HD 8x32 (a gift from DH). For birding, I prefer higher mag and narrower FOV. DH is the opposite. However, now that I'm getting older and my hands are not as steady as they used to be, I should probably change to higher mag since they're not as sensitive to hand shaking. Please don't mistake me for a geek with a decent knowledge base -- when I want new binocs, I read recs in bird watching magazines, talk to some birders, take a few for a test drive, and choose a pair that shows me what I want to see. I think I qualify more under the category "a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing." :bigsmile:
     
  18. kenny
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    by kenny » May 23, 2013
    Wow, the Swarovski that arrived today, EL Swarovision 8x42, was $2459 and did not come with that strap. ;(
    Do you use it?
    Should I buy one?

    Don't you mean lower mag is less sensitive to hand shaking?

    I certainly do not qualify as a binocular geek either.
    I just started learning.
     
  19. kenny
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    by kenny » May 23, 2013
    Ignore double post. :oops:
     
  20. Matata
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    by Matata » May 23, 2013
     
  21. kenny
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    by kenny » May 25, 2013
    Somehow FedEx delivered the Leicas yesterday instead of next Tuesday. Kudos to them.

    So I got to play with all 4 for a day and I've already made my decision.
    It was SUCH a good idea to buy all for and test them at my leisure, in both daylight, twilight and nighttime.

    This post is for the fashion show, and later I'll post my review.

    Left to right: Swarovski, Zeiss, Nikon, Leica.



    For the next 3 pics from top to bottom Leica, Nikon, Zeiss, Swarovski.

    top_view.png

    side_0.png

    objective_view.png

    eyepiece_view.png
     
  22. kenny
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    by kenny » May 25, 2013
    I was amazed I could see so much difference in performance given the obscene price of the Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski.
    Obviously the $150 Made-in-China Nikons (on sale now at B&H Photo for $79) could not compete with Royal European glass, but they are a killer deal for the price.
    I just included them to compare a decent lower-priced reference.
    Few people are bonkers enough to spring $2,000+ for bins and those Nikons are a good deal I thought I'd pass on to you reasonable folks. :))
    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?Ntt=nikon+8x42+trailblazer&N=0&InitialSearch=yes&sts=ma&Top+Nav-Search=

    All three fancy ones have raaaaaazor-sharp eye-popping images in the center of the view.
    Away from the center is where I could see a difference.

    Swarovski
    This was the first I looked through.
    Since they popped my cherry for high end bins they may have an unfair advantage. (First Love, and all that.)
    They have a real 3D thing going on.
    I was looking at a branch of a flowering tree swaying in a breeze and I could have sworn I had 3-D glasses on.
    What you see is so real; it's like you are just there with no glass in the way.

    When moving the binoculars the Swarovski has a strange optical phenomenon that's hard to describe.
    A few customers are bothered by it, can't get used to it so they send them back.
    When you are viewing, say, a row of buildings and you pan from left to right, the buildings on the right almost seem to bulge towards you a bit as they move towards the center of the view.
    It is subtle and some folks may not notice it, but it's definitely there but I was able to quickly get used to it so to me it is not a negative factor.
    I've read it is the result of optics designed to get the edge is a sharp as the center ... and it REALLY is!
    The other two brands are not.
    I'll bet in 20 years other makers will adopt this design approach.
    Sharpness reaching the edge is a benefit when you want to watch several birds scattered throughout your view without moving the bins.

    Ergonomically, the Swarovskis felt the best in my hands and against my face.
    The angle of the rubber on the eyecups seems to perfectly fit the anatomy of my eye sockets.
    Besides the view being like no glass is there, the feel is also practically invisible.
    These binoculars just melt into, and become one with, your body. They disappear.

    They could also focus MUCH closer so I can watch bees on flowers right in front of me.

    Ziess
    The instant I put them to my eyes I said, "WOW! These are so bright!"
    They are by far the brightest of all 3 and that translates into better views in low light.
    The Zeiss looked as sharp as the Swarovski in the center but off center and especially at the edges the sharpness falls off quite a bit, especially considering the price.

    One thing you want minimized in your binoculars is chromatic aberration, CA.
    CA is unwanted color that's introduced around high contrast objects.
    Example: looking up at a flagpole with a bright sky behind it.
    Ideally you'd see no false colors next to the pole.

    For my test I looked up at an aluminum fence post in front of a bright mid-day sky.
    When I placed the pole at the edge of the view the Ziess had noticeable purplish-blue edges around it.
    When the post was in the center of the view I could see none of this CA.

    The Ziess had the worst ergonomic fit to my hands and face, and no groove for the thumbs.
    Scroll up and look at the first pic of all 4 bins ... I don't like how the barrels are not supported over their full length.
    One drop and the barrels might be more-easily knocked out of alignment compared to the other 3 designs.
    I did LOVE Zeiss's large smooth focusing knob.

    Leica
    The only thing I preferred them for was their small size, both length and diameter of the barrels.
    They shared the same CA problem that the Ziess had. (Amazingly I could detect zero CA at the edges of the Swarovski's view.)
    Sharpness in the center of Leica's view was superlative, like the other 2, but it softened a bit near the edges, not as much as the Zeiss but definitely more than the Swarovskis.
    I've read Leica's customer service is VERY bad, while Swarovski puts Nordstrum to shame.

    Color rendition: the Zeiss was a tad blue, the Leica a tad warm, but the Swarovski was neutral.

    Another big nail in Leica's coffin was hammered in by this link to a websiste (which does a super job with binocular testing, reviews and ratings). http://www.allbinos.com/18.12-binoculars_reviews-summary-Endurance_test_of_8x42_binoculars_Leica_Ultravid_8x42_HD_.html
    All 3 of these brands/models are supposed to be waterproof.
    You can actually put them in your sink and run water over them if they get all muddy or salty.
    This reviewer submerged two supposedly 'waterproof' Leica Ultravid HDs and they BOTH were destroyed by water getting in.

    I tried all 3 at night but I could not hand-hold them steady enough to make any useful comparison, and I don't yet have one of those binocular-holder thingie in the pic above.
    I assume the Zeiss would be brightest but the Swarovskis would benefit from the best edge to edge sharpness.

    Decision
    IMO the best is Swarovski, followed by Ziess, followed by Leica.
    I'm keeping the Swarovskis and send the other 3 back ASAP so the refund happens before my CC monthly cycle ends.
    Deciding on the Swarovskis was a complete surprise.
    Before trying all 3 I expected the opposite result ... to like the Leica the best and the Swarovskis the least.
    I associate Swarovski with crystal beads for making jewelry, and Leica and Zeiss as the best optics makers.

    After deciding on the Swaros I was happy to read this guy rated them the very best 8x42 made.: http://www.allbinos.com/allbinos_ranking-binoculars_ranking-8x42.html
    This guy really does detailed, competent, and unemotional reviews and tests of every quality of a binoculars.
    Unfortunately they are the most expensive of the 3. ;(
     
  23. Dancing Fire
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    by Dancing Fire » May 25, 2013
    Congrats,Kenny... :appl: never knew that a binocular can cost $2500 bucks... :oops:
     
  24. kenny
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    by kenny » May 26, 2013
    Thanks.
    ... and I never knew watches can cost way over $50,000. :wavey: ... I wouldn't buy one but it's fascinating to read about why they cost so much.
     
  25. vc10um
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    by vc10um » May 26, 2013
    kenny, thank you for this thread! While I am nowhere near ready to purchase such high-end binoculars at this point, hubs and I enjoy watching the wildlife in our front and back yards and have been saying "we should get some binoculars"... I just ordered a pair of the Nikons through B&H's great deal based on your recommendation!

    Enjoy your Swarovskis!
     
  26. kenny
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    by kenny » May 26, 2013
    Thanks.
    Glad the thread helped.
    Enjoy your Nikons.

    Warning: NEVER look through expensive binoculars because you may get infected with a rare insidious European virus that infects the brain via the retina and optic nerve, and leads to erased bank accounts. ;))
     

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