The Optics Report - Binoculars

Seek Quality. Not Bargains.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Binoculars 1-6 Seek Quality. Not Bargain.

Many hunters spend $1,500 on a rifle and scope, and $39.95 on a bubble-pack binocular from Cheap-Mart. This is backward. Most rifles and scopes can take game for you, but you'll find far more critters with a good binocular than with an el cheapo.

Today's better binoculars are usually waterproof and use one of two prism systems, porro or roof. Porro-prism glasses have dogleg barrels. They're easier to manufacture to high optical standards and so are the better choice for a bare-bones budget, but they're also bulky, generally not as tough as roof prisms, and difficult to waterproof.

A decade ago only the most expensive roof prisms were "phase-correction coated," allowing them to optically match porro prisms. Today you can buy decent "p-coated" roofs for $300 or even less. Below $300 they still give up some optical quality compared to porros.

Most hunters buy too much magnification, especially in compact binoculars. Everything else being equal, slightly less strength provides a sharper, brighter image. Our shaking hands tend to blur very high-X images, so you'll see best with 8X glasses. Only if you frequently hunt wide open country should you consider 10X or 12X, and then only in full-size models.

All the roof-prism binoculars listed here are waterproof and passed the dunk test. The two porro-prism models aren't. P or R designates porro or roof prism. As for the listed weights, you can handle a 24-ounce glass on your neck all day. Really serious hunters can live with 32 or so. For heavier models, use a strap system that wraps around your shoulders.

(1) Leupold/Wind River Pinnacle 8x42mm 22 ounces / R / $450
This year Leupold offers two phase-coated roof-prism binocs, the Olympic and top-of-the-line Pinnacle. Both provide excellent optics in a lightweight package, but the Pinnacle has Leupold's Rain Shed coating for wet hunting.

(2) Leica Duovid 8X+12X x 42mm 34 ounces / R / $1,400
These aren't truly variable power. Instead they offer an instant choice of 8X or 12X. Incredibly rugged, with top-notch optics, they're somewhat heavier than conventional 8X glasses. But if you've got the cash, these do it all.

(3) Brunton Epoch X105 10.5x43mm 25 ounces / R / $1,500
This new binocular optically rivals the world's best and is very lightweight. The variable-speed focus system (mostly for the bird-watching market) is both superquick and superaccurate.

**(4) Bausch & Lomb Elite 10x42mm 28 ounces / R / $800 **
A top-of-the-line Japanese binocular, the Elite now has mechanical eyecups and is available with the RainGuard lens coating. Bausch & Lomb was the first to phase-coat Japanese binoculars, and they really have it down.

(5) Zeiss Victory 12x56mm 42 ounces / R / $1,400
For the open-country hunter, these are probably the finest 12X glasses around. They're heavy, but the big 56mm lenses are the key to their superbly bright, sharp optics.

(6) Pentax DCF SP 12.5x50mm 30 ounces / R / $800
Compared to a 12x50 from Germany for $500 more, this great open-country glass was slightly better-and weighed 3/4 pound less. This is a brand-new offering from Pentax, whose top roofs are great values.