Helios AM-6 High Resolution 8x42 Binoculars
My partner was recently shopping around for her own binoculars, having got rather fed up of using my glove box compacts and bemoaning the difference in quality whenever she borrowed my full size bins.
She didnt want to spend a fortune on a pair for herself and value for money was a major factor. She wanted optical quality without breaking the bank, so the premium brands were out of the question. We went to Cley Spy in Norfolk, UK as this would allow us to try a wide range of models side by side. Amongst many others, we tried the Helios AM-6 High Resolution 8x42 and we were both very impressed. With a recommended retail price of 219 we were very impressed indeed.
What features doe this model have? The binoculars are certainly lighter than the average 8x42 roof prism design at (according to my kitchen scales) 615g including strap. They feel light, compact and well balanced in the hands. The styling is functional rather than svelte but isnt particularly chunky or outdated. The grip is comfortable and the focus control easy to access with a smooth action that takes one and a quarter turns to go from one end to the other. The focus control is nicely geared which means it isnt as twitchy as some. Ive found some other models that have such a fast focus gearing there is a real tendency to overshoot the focus point a lot of the time, this isnt the case with the Helios.
The eyecups have a positive click stop at both fully in and fully extended positions, but no intermediate settings. With the eyecups fully retracted I can see the full field of view whilst wearing my specs I have a fairly severe prescription which on 90% of bins Ive ever tried this isnt the case. The dioptre ring does not have click stops but this doesnt present any problems as the ring doesnt move in day to day usage.
The binoculars are waterproof, nitrogen filled and come with a (rather flimsy) rainguard, lightly padded PVC case and simple strap. There is a tripod socket on the front of the hinge to allow use of a support with a right-angled adaptor.
So, enough about the features, what are they like to use? The close focus distance is impressive at well under 2m, though this does vary from person to person. The colour cast is very slight and on the warmer side of neutral. This was only apparent when doing the testing with several other models side by side on the same day and should not be regarded as a problem unless you have a particular preference for optics with a colder bluish tinge. General colour rendition is good and colours are easy to pick out on subtly changing objects, even when not in full sunlight.
These binoculars feature phase coating, this is, in my opinion, an essential feature and the last really big step up in image quality versus price. You are in the land of diminishing returns beyond this point. The image is noticeably crisper than similarly priced models from better known brands that dont have phase coating. The field of view is fairly average at [email protected]
and depth of field I would again describe as average for an 8x42 model. I have found that most 8x32 models will give a wider field but much shallower depth. You pays your money, you takes your choice. Whilst its not the widest field, it is still nicely in focus pretty much all the way to the edge. The phase coating seems to keep the chromatic aberration (CA) nicely under control, though there is still some minor fringing in extreme silhouette conditions. Pay 3x the price of these and youd still find some CA so its nothing to get hung up about.
Compared with models costing twice as much the image is not as good, no surprises there. The surprise comes when you analyse just how little difference there is between them. Yes, my own bins that cost 430 are better, but is it really almost twice the price better? This is a clear example of the law of diminishing returns. Its all a matter of how important image quality is to you and just how much your budget is but I would say that many, many users in a test, if not told the brand, would be highly impressed. Whenever I borrow them I dont get the feeling these are no good, I want my own bins back. Far from it, I always think These are really rather good for the money.
Im glad that Helios has spent most of the budget on getting the optical image quality right. The styling is basic, the accessories are basic, the handling is nice, the picture you see when you use them is very, very good for the money. Ignore any badge snobbery, if you have a budget around the 200 mark they should certainly be on your shortlist to try.
As with just about anything optical, if it is at all possible, even if rather inconvenient, I would very strongly recommend you try before you buy. There is only so much another persons opinion can tell you. All our eyes, and perceptions are different.