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XD 8.5x44 Prominar (Genesis)


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Kowa XD 8.5x44 Prominar (Genesis)

The Japanese based manufacturer Kowa is well known for its top-quality telescopes, but as for yet not much for its line of binoculars. Although inventions worked into the scopes were consistently applied to the binoculars, the impression is that with respect to marketing Kowa quietly allowed them to take second seat to the models produced by the likes of Zeiss, Leica, Swarovski and Nikon.
With the introduction of the two XD Prominar (or Genesis) binoculars, a 10.5x44 and an 8.5x44, it looks like this policy has been changed. Promoted with a new beginning and second generation, Kowa seems intended to take up the challenge and meet the top 4s competition head-on.
At a price of roughly two thirds of their Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski counterparts, Kowa offers Fluorite glass in both, air-spaced, objective lenses to control chromatic aberration. In comparison to the existing BD-line the housing has been modified as well, both ergonomically and aesthetically.
With respect to the latter, I think Kowa has succeeded completely: the XDs are very attractive to the eye. And to the hands as well: there is some kind of thumb-rest on the binoculars but its so shallow no-one will experience discomfort. Also, the balance is excellent, the (green) cladding reminds one strongly of the material used by Swarovski (could be the same) and the dioptre setting in locked, small steps wont travel on its own. Last but not least theres the large focussing wheel, made of solid metal, with exactly the right mass, speed and smoothness. This is the nicest focussing wheel Ive laid my fingers on, ever.
Accessories. The binos come with tethered objective covers, rain cap, neoprene strap (52 mm at the widest point) and a Cordura case with no strap of its own (you can lead the binoculars strap out).
But of course its the view that counts. Of the two Kowa XDs, which btw are identical in appearance and dimensions, I tested the 8.5x44, in comparison to a Swift Audubon 8.5x44 804ED (1994) because of its ED-glass and matching configuration, and a Leica Ultravid 8x42 BL. Next to this side-by-side comparison I used the Kowa in the field for two weeks without using anything else.
Well, image-wise it was obvious from the get-go that this is a real modern binocular. The image is exquisitely transparent across the whole field of view: its bright, displaying very good contrast and colour. Against a Kowa 8x32 BD I also had on hand it was clear the XD is in another league. This is real optical quality, as good as the best out there.
The Swift appeared as slightly more subdued against the Kowas brightness but I think this is a point where taste and ones idea of absolute neutrality comes in: to my taste modern roof binoculars are often delivering the goods a bit too bright as if the gods suddenly have switched on a spotlight. The Kowas Fluorite treatment definitely paid off against the Leica which suffers from colour fringing, and less so against the Swift (no preference here). Contrast is also better, more neutral, than the Leicas slightly exaggerated transmission of high lights and strongly contrasting detail (I happen to like this beautified contrast in the Leica because it makes it a very fast tool for identification which is 90% of what birding is all about - but Im the first one to admit that neutrality is another matter).
With respect to resolution, the ability to transmit fine detail, I had a hard time finding a difference between the three. Only when going to extremes - using test chart-like material, barcodes and spiders webs - could I detect anything significant. That is, with the Leica resolving on par with the Kowa, the Swift Audubon consistently performed just a little better. But by such a small margin, I wouldnt and didnt - worry for a second when using the Kowa in a more realistic situation, i.e. out in the field, birding.
These are excellent results. However, taking Kowas price point into account and, as such, their clear intention to present the XDs as affordable top quality, one would expect some compromises. So where did Kowa compromise? In two things: weight and viewing angle. These binoculars are, in comparison to the competition, rather heavy: 950 gr. (33.5 oz.). Now, one gets a real solid, dream-like focus wheel in return, and a very useful amount of mass to minimize shake, but its against the trend (note: I completely forgot about the weight within a few days use, but maybe thats just me).
The 7 deg. angle of view, which equates to a field of view of 122/1000m (366ft/1000y), is just adequate for a 8.5x binocular. Its on the brink: very well usable, but nothing more. Now the interesting thing is that this is both for the better and the worse. The positive effect of a field stop like this is that edge distortions can be kept out of the view (modern people associate a fuzzy edge with low quality) and aperture distortions (flare, ghosting, stray light) can be better controlled. Considering the remarkably clear, uncluttered view of the Kowa XD I think thats exactly whats happening.
The downside of a limited FoV is, of course, loss of information and diminished ease of view. For instance, I couldnt escape from some slight discomfort in the sense that the view seemed smaller, less generous to me than the Leicas which shouldnt since their apparant angle of view is about equal (59.5 deg.). This feeling of smallness quickly made way for great satisfaction when using the Kowa on its own, in the field. But only, Id like to add, after I took some measures against another, related problem: the eyecups.
The Kowa XD comes with large diameter eyecups which I would call oversized. That is, they are not oversized if you use them the way Kowa quite clearly intended: against the eyebrows. In this position the (long) eye relief is excellent, and aided by the 4-step adjustment in the cups everyone should be able to find a comfortable position. However, if you decide to use the binoculars the way Kowa NOT intended you may easily run into trouble. That is, you will crush your nose. Or, if you dont want to do that because you like your nose, you may be unable to find the correct interpupillary distance.
Since I dont like being told by any manufacturer, or designer or, even worse, the majority of people, how to hold my binoculars to my face, the decision was quickly made: I jerked off the rubber eyecups (no problem, theyre only glued by convention) and put two nice pieces of bicycle inner tube in their place. Very neat, very good looking, and very satisfying: right into my eye sockets. Bingo!
So you see, these are great looking and performing binoculars with a rarely found quality-cost ratio. But also, theyre full of character. Dont expect them to slavishly obey your orders. Educate them if you feel the urge. And the great news is, you can!

Renze de Vries

Latest reviews

  • extremely sharp, basically CA free, eyeglass friendly, robust
  • weight
I've purchased a Genesis 8.5x44 a month ago, after using a Zeiss Terra ED 10x42 for about two years. That's also about how long I've been doing serious birding. The Zeiss I've obtained from my partner, after they got themselves a Swarovski CL Companion 8x30.

The Zeiss' was a frustrating thing for me, as I observe with glasses - something that's difficult with the Zeiss. My partner and I also had the budget available to buy the Kowa TSN-883 a year ago and we've both been totally happy with it's quality, also compared to various Swarovski and Zeiss scopes.

My goal for a new Binocular was ~1000 Euro, glasses-friendly and low chromatic aberrations: I'm also a photographer and see CA easily, and they bother me. Hence, the genesis was quickly at the top of my list, except the spec sheet didn't seem up to date: Heavy, only moderately wide field of view, etc.

After ordering and testing two Nikon Monarch HG 8x42 and 10x42, I tested the Genesis at a dealer who stocks them. I decided for the Kowa, despite the weight and narrower FoV. In hand, the weight was for me (mid-30ies and generally fit) hardly different to the Nikon, but the rubber seemed more reassuring. I actually found looking 'around' in the view gave me less blackouts than the Nikon, and the nikon was basically CA free dead center, but had considerable CA towards the edges. And, in direct comparison the Field of view difference didn't seem significant. 145m vs. 123 sounds like a large difference, but somehow the even easier view for me with the Kowa set this off.

I wear it with an H-Strap or with hooks attached to my backpack, if I bring photo gear, and the weight is manageable. The large size can be a slight nuisance when packing, but that's a minor issue.

Overall, each time I'm using it I just enjoy the incredible view. I can only describe it as "like without binoculars, just 8.5x the magnification", there's so little aberrations or softness.
I added pictures of the eyecup modification. There are other, more sophisticated mods possible but this one has the charm of simplicity and keeps the adjustability intact as well. To make the ridge a bit softer, and add a few (welcome) millimeters to the height of the eyecup, I decided to drop in a Swift eyecup (Audubon HR/5, post-1985 type, still readily available). The Swift eyecup fits snugly so it won't drop out on its own.
Eyeglass wearers don't need all this, but for the bare eye users this mod can be just the thing. I learned for instance that the initial impression of a restricted view was completely related to the (for me) too wide eyecups, which uncomfortably fixed the binoculars to the eyes. Smaller eyecups facilitate some movement in front of the eyes, a kind of freedom one needs for a satisfying view. At least for me the angle of view has never felt restricted since.
After using this Kowa for a year and a half, I'm convinced it definitely belongs to the best binoculars made today. Suppression of CA is superb, it has ideal mass for the majority of conditions (wind!) and its transmission of color is unusually fine. That is, I've yet to encounter a binocular more color-neutral than this one.

  • Optically excellent
  • Mechanically poor
I've had a pair of the 10.5x44 Kowas for 9 months. Almost immediately, though optically excellent, I found them very (too) heavy - I'm over 6 feet tall and no lightweight! After a morning's birding my back and neck were aching. Using them almost daily, I soon found that the focussing mechanism became very impreciseas if it had become worn very quickly, making it difficult to "find" some birds, particularly those moving rapidly. By the time the binoculars were in focus, the bird had often gone. Depth of field on the 10.5x44s is also fairly poor. Another mechanical fault which has arisen more recently, again adding to the difficulty of locating birds, is that the rotating eye cup on the left eyepiece now winds itself down as it rubs against my jacket. This means that, at times and without my being aware, one eyepice is correctly set while the other isn't and has to be repositioned. Once again, birds are missed by the time this has been done and the bins focussed. I'm hoping that these problems will be covered by warranty but, overall, I wouldn't recommend these Kowas. There's plenty of room for improvement,particularly on wight and durability.

Item information

Large Binoculars
Added by
Renze de Vries
Last update
3.00 star(s) 3 ratings

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