Jan 11, 2021 at 9:15 pm #3693398lisa rBPL Member
Seems like an extravagance, but I’m looking for recommendations on UL optics so I can leave my heavy birding binoculars at home (which I usually do anyway). I found a couple threads on here but they’re ~10 years old at this point, so before I start googling around, figured I’d ask this group. Thanks!Jan 11, 2021 at 9:31 pm #3693400Philip TschersichBPL Member
@philip-akLocale: Kodiak Alaska
What’s your max weight? Minimum specs like objective lens diameter and power would be helpful. Price an issue?
UL optics is an odd concept because everything in optics is a trade off. Would you be into a kid’s plastic lens toy binoculars, or do you want something real?
Just to kick this off, consider Zeiss Victory 8×20, or 8×25 (I have the latter and they offer nearly the FoV of my big Swarovski EL’s albeit with less light gathering and 2x lower magnification… but still amazing).Jan 11, 2021 at 10:24 pm #3693403lisa rBPL Member
I have Vertex Diamondback 8 x 42 binoculars that I use for birding as my primary frame of reference. I also have super cheapo Alpen 10 x 25 monocular that’s pretty junky and never seems to be in focus. Something in between the two might be nice. I’m not looking to spend a lot of money (ideally under $100?) but don’t really have set cap…just curious what the options might be.
Primary purpose would be for viewing birds or wildlife when I’m backpacking, secondary purpose would be for scouting routes. Not looking for anything super powerful. Ideally I’d be looking to top out at ~2 oz (the Alpens are about 2.5) if such a thing exists, lighter is better, heavier might be a consideration for shorter trips when I’m not carrying a lot of weight.
(Btw, Philip, the kickers worked out great this weekend! Enjoyed a route I’ve done before without cursing through several miles of sustained climbing.)Jan 11, 2021 at 11:23 pm #3693407
I am a birder also, and I did get a lightweight pair of decent ones a few years back and I love them. I got the Zeiss victory 8×25 pocket binocs. They are not as nice as my regular pair for day hikes or birding specific excursions, but for backpacking they’re a good compromise between weight and lens size. Good enough to get most birds most of the time, without being a pain to carry or wear. Where I hike I also want to be able to spot bears from a distance, so you could call this a multi use item.
What I find amusing is that every time someone looks at my pack list when giving me advice on weight savings, they always recommend ditching the binoculars. To me, if a backpacker is carrying binocs, I know that’s not one of the negotiable items. As if that is a luxury item, ha!Jan 12, 2021 at 12:20 am #3693414
Telling a birder to leave their binocs behind is like telling an NRA member they probably won’t need their Glock.
We treated each other to Swarovskis one year: 8x25s CL Pocket, 12.3 ounces for me because I’d be schelping them around further on hunting trips and 10x30s CL model, 17 ounces for her.
It actually helped us in Costa Rica at a bird sanctuary. The group was a little too big for one guide, so the young guy took everyone else and the guide with 20-years experience took us, mistaking us for serious birders because of our binocs.Jan 12, 2021 at 12:21 am #3693415
I’ve tried a lot of monoculars over the years and only found two that seemed worth even the minimal weight to carry. I’ll dig them up tomorrow and post the models.Jan 12, 2021 at 12:29 am #3693416Luke SchmidtBPL Member
I like monocular. My personal favorite is the Vortex 10×36. Its about 9 oz and $150. If you want to be lighter/cheaper they have a smaller one that is 10×25 and 6oz if I recall. The bigger one is way better if you are scanning for caribou (i.e hunting). If you just want to look at the random critters you see on a hike the 10×25 is adequate.Jan 12, 2021 at 6:47 am #3693423bradmacmtBPL Member
I mostly carry binoculars (8×20) backpacking. My bigger bins stay home. Enjoyment of wildlife, birds, scenery and general route-finding are a big part of wilderness enjoyment. My ideal would be a 7×20 or 22 but nothing in the quality range I want is made in a 7X… a pity! Stay away from the 10×20 or 25. I doubt there’s a more unsatisfactory viewing experience than in those sizes.
The finest 8×20 I’ve found (and I’ve looked at all those from the top makers) is the Leica Ultravid 8×20. Just exceptional optics. Its resolution rivals full sized models, and at the end of the day most of what you’re buying from a top tier maker is the ability of the glass to resolve detail as finely as possible. No other 8×20 I’ve used can touch the Leica, including the Zeiss Victory 8×20 BT (which is really a fairly mediocre binocular given its price tag). I have NOT tried the above mentioned Ziess 8×25, but its also a fair bit heavier and bulkier than an 8×20.
Granted, the 8×20 Ultravid is a “buy once, cry once” sort of purchase, but they’re all I’d use. However, I also get not everyone wants to tie up that sort of money in a small binocular. If you can it’s the one to own.Jan 12, 2021 at 8:28 am #3693440
“Compact” bins – 8×25, 10×25 – are usually hinged so they can be folded to make them “compact”.
There is an art and a fair amount of practice required to get them out, opened up (no pre-set or marked stops), aligned, and level with your pupils. Your muscle memory from your big bins will be getting in the way as well.
I have 10×25 Ultravids and although I appreciate the magnification the 8×25 would have been a better choice. Getting on a busy bird in the smallish field of view is a challenge.
If possible, I’d order your two top picks from a dealer that has demos and do a week of side-by-side-try-before-you-buy.Jan 12, 2021 at 11:59 am #3693468Dan YBPL Member
Eagle Optics Ranger Platinum 8X42Jan 12, 2021 at 1:00 pm #3693485
One of the big outdoor emporiums (certainly Sportsman’s Warehouse, probably Cabela’s too) have a lot of low- mid- and high-end binoculars you can compare side by side. I look at store aisles 30 feet away, the far corner of the store 150 feet away, and out the front window across the highway at stuff 500 yards away.
When I first looked through my BIL’s Swavorskis, I realized how much work my eyes do trying to adjust and focus through low/mid stuff (Nikon, etc). My eyes just relaxed and it was like I had the correct prescription glasses on, except that everything was much closer.Jan 12, 2021 at 1:53 pm #3693502
Birders also never put binocs in their pocket! Even if the binocs are called “pocket” binocs. They are always at hand for quick operation. So the weight savings helps with neck fatigue too. I haven’t tried using my harness with a backpack; in fact I stopped using a harness altogether; I’m always donning and removing clothing, so it just got in the way. Maybe there’s a good harness option for attaching to the backpack straps?
Our box stores don’t carry much in the way of binocs, certainly not for birders. If you live near a major metro area that’s perhaps an option. I just found places that shipped and returned for free, and tried two before settling on the Zeiss victory pair. I bought from Sport Optics in Lousiana of all places, and customer service was excellent.
Some day I’ll swing for a pair of Swarovskis! Hard to justify right now. But yeah, they are super nice.Jan 12, 2021 at 8:43 pm #3693538
Karen asked –
“Maybe there’s a good harness option for attaching to the backpack straps?”
This is how I do it –
(sorry about the black-on-black)
On the right is the loose “socket” that I thread onto my bino strap. One end of the “plug” strap is sewn at the upper ring, and the other is a 3″ tail for adjustments so all the bino weight goes to the shoulder straps. (The OEM bino strap still goes behind my neck to support the binos when I take my pack off.)
On the left is the “working” assembly. Notice how the socket jams against the OEM strap to take the weight.
The buckles are 1/2 inch “single-adjust side release buckles”.
It takes some fooling around to get the straps long enough to get a good arc to your eyes but short enough to support the binos.
Yes, you’re locked in, but you only forget to unbuckle the first couple of times.Jan 12, 2021 at 9:01 pm #3693539Ethan A.BPL Member
@mountainwalkerLocale: SF Bay Area & New England
@lisa r, if you’re looking for optics for birding and wildlife watching, which means you’ll use them fairly often, I’d skip the monocular. No monocular is going to be as comfortable and good for viewing as a good binocular, not even an expensive high-end monocular.
For binoculars, a lightweight quality pair is going to give you good viewing in most conditions except for low light, where a larger, heavier pair with more light gathering will win out.
I highly recommend the Nikon Monarch 7 8×30, which my wife and I have been carrying hiking, kayaking and even trail running. They weigh only 15.3 oz., are waterproof, have a grippy exterior, smooth focus wheel, big field of view for the size and offer a sharp image. A few times a year you can find them on sale for 25% off, which is a great value. Nikon USA has a fantastic warranty on them.
I checked many pairs of binoculars in this range of magnification and light gathering, and tried about a dozen different pairs side by side, including a few models that cost several times as much. They weren’t several times better.
When not in frequent use I keep them in a side or front pocket of my pack, or in a drybag on top of my sea kayak just in front of me. I’ve worn them trail running as recently as last week at a coastal wildlife refuge, with the strap shortened a bit and slung over one shoulder and resting to one side of my chest, stabilized by the chest strap of the small pack I was wearing. Light enough to be no problem and well worth it for the raptors and many migrating geese.Jan 12, 2021 at 10:12 pm #3693545Rob LeeBPL Member
@ouzel-701Locale: Southern High Plains
Birder also. I pack with Nikon Travelite V 8×25 binocs @ 9.34oz. They are a decent midlevel pair. Currently considering a mono @ about 4oz just to save weight but haven’t had a chance to try any yet. I can’t hold the 10x steady enough for my liking.Jan 14, 2021 at 7:50 am #3693734Dale WambaughBPL Member
@dwambaughLocale: Pacific Northwest
The binocular/monocular choice is weight vs depth perception IMHO, all other things being equal.
Binoculars are better for navigation and orientation because they retain your depth perception. I’ve done boat navigation at night where that was a life saving feature.
Good optics can be very expensive. I think the camera manufacturers like Nikon seem to hit the edge of quality/value. The 800 pound gorillas like Zeiss make some great products, but you pay 300% more for what, 10% more optical quality?
If you can find good reviews they should have good empirical data on the various lens abbreviations, light falloff, etc. You have to separate the real data vs the optics as prestige jewelry issues. From there it’s personal preferences on weight, focusing hardware, eyesight compensation, etc.Jan 14, 2021 at 10:07 am #3693751NoCO-JimBPL Member
+1 on Karen’s ” I bought from Sport Optics in Lousiana of all places, and customer service was excellent.”
FWIW, they currently are clearing out the discontinued model Swarovski CL Pocket Mountain 8×25 at $739. Great merchant, good price.Jan 14, 2021 at 2:47 pm #3693795Elliott WolinBPL Member
@ewolinLocale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
We bring a Vortex Viper 10 x 28, great compromise between weight, cost, and quality. At first we were wary of 10x, but once we got used to it we wouldn’t use anything else. Otherwise we use a Vortex Viper 10 x 42 when weight doesn’t matter. Both are waterproof, very important for kayaking.Jan 14, 2021 at 4:13 pm #3693806Gary DunckelBPL Member
I’m pretty much a birding wannabe. I get my 3-mile walk 2-4 times a week at a superb nearby open space that is a true bird magnet with all of its ponds. The birders I meet out there are all quite nice people, and I decided that I wanted to be like them. So I bought a book, and then another. Pretty soon I was checking the boxes for western tanagers, hooded merganzers, yellow warblers, osprey couples and all types of ducks and raptors (and bull snakes, snapping turtles, and the occasional deer, bobcat, and coyote). I mainly go there for the exercise, but the birds and other wildlife are fun too. I am using a Nikon 10 x 25 which isn’t really proper. I like it for spotting griz in GNP and YNP from 1/2 mile away, which is the reason I bought it. I think a good 8 x 25 would be better, but I’m too cheap to buy another one. I did pick up a decent 8 x 25 monocular on sale, which is all I need for the occasional bird during the winter months. I like it for its convenience – it slips onto my belt, weighing just 7 oz.
In August-September when most of the birds move south, all that is left are dragonflies and small butterflies and a few magpies and red wing blackbirds. Binoculars are not needed for them, because they never stop moving, and they move fast!
But it is all good, getting some good wildlife 10 minutes from home, and meeting some genuinely good and gentle people. Good therapy during this Covid mess (but I DID receive my first Moderna dose this week, so I think I’m cool…)Jan 14, 2021 at 6:44 pm #3693832
Gary, PM sent.Jan 15, 2021 at 7:46 am #3693884Gary DunckelBPL Member
Greg, I tried to respond to your PM, but some BPL glitch prevented it. I appreciated your response, and I’ll keep at it while at the ponds. I probably should invest in a decent 8 x 25 to make things easier. All the best,
GaryJan 15, 2021 at 2:26 pm #3693975Elliott WolinBPL Member
@ewolinLocale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
No one else has experience using 10x binoculars for birding? I really recommend it.Jan 15, 2021 at 3:57 pm #3694001
I do use 10x binocs at home or on day hikes, but between 8 and 10 is a significant weight difference, too much for me on a long backpack trip. It’s a compromise. You just have to decide what you’re willing to carry. Even those gorgeous on sale Swarovskis (why did you do that?!!) are heavier than my Zeiss Victory. Probably would have eaten those 3 extra ounces though, if the Swarovskis had been on sale when I bought the Victory!Jan 23, 2021 at 12:52 pm #3695193David SugenoBPL Member
@davesugenoLocale: Central Texas
Some good info here. I am at a point where I am actually considering a new pair of binoculars for my backpacking trips. I have an old pair of Nikon Prostaff compact binoculars, but the quality is not really that great, so I always wind up schlepping my full-sized Swarovskis, which are wonderful to look through, but a burden to carry. I am so happy with my Swarovski ELs that I am very tempted to splurge on their 8×25 CLs. When I do decide to purchase, I will probably consult with and then buy from Redstart Birding, which was co-founded by Ben Lizdas, something of an optics guru, who spent many years at Eagle Optics. Ben sold me my last pair of binoculars, and is incredibly knowledgeable and very customer oriented. They have an excellent return policy, similar to the one they had at Eagle Optics.Jan 23, 2021 at 2:04 pm #3695203Bob KernerBPL Member
Not sure what your weight threshold is but I demo’d a pair of small Mavens a few years ago and was impressed with size and quality compared to my larger Leicas. The ability to demo them was very helpful and the process was painless. I would have bought them but my use-case for a smaller optic evaporated. The brand gets lost behind Leica, Zeiss and then Vortex; IIRC, they were formed as by former Vortex employees.
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