Friday, June 22, 2007

Binocular Talk

I have a confession. Around mid-May I purchased a Swarovski EL 8x32 binocular. I had been saving my money for a road bike, but I already have a nice hybrid and wasn't sure how much use I would get out of it. I've coveted the EL 8x32 since first looking through them a few years ago. I do own two other Swarovski optics but I didn't make this purchase out of brand loyalty – philosophically, I have none. As a customer of Eagle Optics for years prior to working for them, I go with what I like. I seriously considered both the Leica Ultravid 8x32 and the Zeiss FL 8x32, but when it came down to the best match for my eyes, I went for the EL 8x32.

Now that I've birded with it the 32 EL for over a month, I find it optically superior even to my Nikon 8x32 Premier SE and everything else I've ever used. Sometimes I still use the SE at the prairie or when looking over water when I don't have to change the focus as much. But for those close encounters with warblers, vireos and flycatchers during migration, the EL 8x32 has changed the way I see them – the crispness and detail is superb. On one my first outings with the it, I recall watching a Black-throated Green Warbler gobble down a green caterpillar at eye-level from about 15 feet away – what an incredible visual experience. The clarity made it seem like I was within its world and not merely an observer.

While I've either donated or sold some, I still own a few 8x42 binoculars - but they are taking a backseat to my growing collection of 32mm aperture bins. An obvious question is what I think of the trade-off of smaller physical size versus low-light performance given the smaller aperture, right? It's a fair question. I always thought that if I ever purchased a super high-end binocular I would go with an 8x42 for best color and low-light performance. It's true, the popular 8.5x42 EL is just slightly brighter in low-light. But going against convention, my new judgment is all three 8x32mm super high-end binoculars (Leica, Zeiss and Swarovski) perform better in low-light than the overwhelming majority of 8x42 binoculars priced under a thousand dollars – the glass and coatings are that simply that good. That they pack a wallop in such a small and lightweight body is something a birder should consider when in the market for top glass. I love'm!

By the way, while we're on the subject, Eagle Optics is publishing a blog about optics. My colleague Kristin writes for it and is relatively new to optics but you're getting a fresh perspective. Fair warning, though, she's a stickler for detail. Feel free to comment if you have any questions for her!

Binocular image © 2007 Mike McDowell

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