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Shopping Advice - Best way to test out new binoculars?

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Old Saturday 14th September 2019, 19:14   #1
InspiredSquare
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Shopping Advice - Best way to test out new binoculars?

Hello all,
I am about to embark on the fun adventure of going to a number of shops to try out a wide array of high end binoculars. I'll be trying over a dozen different kinds, from a number of different makers.

Given the number of different variables involved in buying new bins, I wonder what process/protocol you like to use to compare? For example, what's the best way to test out glass in low light, given that some stores won't allow me to take them outside. B&H, for example, when asked, replied that 'it is starting to get darker out in the evening' when I asked how I might test out low light conditions.

So the question: what is your process for testing out and buying new bins (in a store)?
Many thanks in Advance!
I.S.
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Old Saturday 14th September 2019, 20:50   #2
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I generally don't buy in a store because you usually will pay retail and you can never really test them out properly under different lighting conditions, whereas, if you shop online you get a considerable discount especially from places like Ebay although there is more risk involved. Buy your binoculars from a seller that has easy returns and try the binoculars for a week or so under different lighting conditions and if you don't like them send them back. Especially try them in high glare situations close to the sun and low light situations because a lot of binoculars will vary in how well they control glare and more expensive binoculars will also be brighter in low light in general because they have better coatings and better higher quality glass. Good Luck!
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Old Saturday 14th September 2019, 22:19   #3
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Hello,

I am quite at the previous speaker, testing binoculars in the shop is hardly possible! You should test them in different situations otherwise you only get a very rough idea.
Binoculars that still show a usable image under artificial light can be completely insufficient under normal conditions.

Andreas
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Old Saturday 14th September 2019, 22:37   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InspiredSquare View Post
Hello all,
I am about to embark on the fun adventure of going to a number of shops to try out a wide array of high-end binoculars. I'll be trying over a dozen different kinds, from a number of different makers.

Given the number of different variables involved in buying new bins, I wonder what process/protocol you like to use to compare? For example, what's the best way to test out glass in low light, given that some stores won't allow me to take them outside. B&H, for example, when asked, replied that 'it is starting to get darker out in the evening' when I asked how I might test out low light conditions.

So the question: what is your process for testing out and buying new bins (in a store)?
Many thanks in Advance!
I.S.
1. Decide on what you’re looking for BEFORE heading out to buy.

2. LEARN how those things are determined—in general, unless there are many, opinions ain’t it.

3. Today’s NEW XYZ bino might, in fact, be the OLD 1962 QED bino with new AR coatings, covers, price, and advertising. Asians only reinvent the wheel when absolutely necessary. Wonder where they learned that?

4. On the Internet: Don’t believe ANYTHING you hear/read and only HALF of what you see. Good advertising need not be accurate or even meaningful; it need only be believed. That’s how that “autofocus” crap dominated the unwary for 10 years.

5. There are NO CONSUMER binoculars make in the US, and hasn’t been since shortly after WWII. Even when Bausch & Lomb was the big dog, many of their binoculars came from Zeiss. One foreign company does have a plant on US soil.

6. Don’t expect to buy from an optics/binoculars expert—the chances of that are slim to none. Be happy with a KNOWLEDGEABLE binocular salesperson. Dishonesty and ignorance result in the same things. Ignorance is not a crime; dishonest is. You COULD buy with confidence in a SHOP if there were honest experts around. The Internet’s ultracrepidarians have killed most of them off. But if you knew what you wanted; you could narrow a field of 50 in 10 minutes. Staying in the shop a long time tells the salesperson he or she has a fish in the line. If 1,000 binos came from Asia, 900 came from the same 3 or 4 plants. Also, if you have the MONEY, they have the PRODUCT.

7. Buy from a company with a long track record and a no-questions-asked return policy.

8. Just buy SOMETHING and be happy using it until YOU see a reason to change. Don’t start off by getting sucked into that “upgrade” delusion. Our hobby is full of folks who are eager to help you spend YOUR money on what THEY would like to have.

Lots of luck. ‘Back under my rock, now.

Bill
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Old Saturday 14th September 2019, 23:09   #5
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Thanks, denco:
It makes a lot of sense, that testing under store conditions is totally artificial, and won't work. That suggests the idea is to go to a store to examine ergonomics, balance, aesthetics, etc. of the model.. and then buy knowing you are protected by a great return policy. I think I can manage all of these things pretty well. I have an idea of exactly the bins I want to try, so that will guide me directly.
Much appreciated. IS

Going to add this piece that I just took from a previous thread years ago:
Not sure who said it, think it was Kimo, but the bins should 'snap' into focus, w/o having to keep focusing. I think this tests depth of field or depth of focus but it is a great, quick, 'in-store' test.

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Old Saturday 14th September 2019, 23:10   #6
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Makes sense.. I guess I will learn more about that after I buy from the store and take it outside.
I guess the ideal is to test them out in the field, while on birding trips.. but I don't have the ability to try the wide range of binos that I want, to do that.
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Old Saturday 14th September 2019, 23:13   #7
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B&H is about as high end as you can get in the US... as I am only going for alpha-level glass, it's only the most reputable makers I'm considering. And since they have a quality return policy, I guess I will expect to use that when needed. Glad you came out from that rock... I hope it's not too uncomfortable there.

Excellent, concise discussion of this topic here:
https://www.cloudynights.com/article...he-store-r1570

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Old Sunday 15th September 2019, 00:48   #8
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I think B&H is one of the best optics dealers in NY. They have easy returns and a wide selection and fast shipping. As far as I am concerned they kill Adorama.
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Old Sunday 15th September 2019, 00:59   #9
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Another thing you could do is just take my advice to the letter on what binocular to buy since I have tried almost every binocular made. Another thing to try is start at the top of Allbino's Ranking and try each binocular and work your way down until your budget intersects with a binocular you can live with. Trouble is you may not want to go DOWN on the list. I have always said "Once You Try Alpha You Can Never Go Backa". There was a famous thread with that title also in the distant past on Bird Forum. I have noticed one thing about shopping for binoculars. The optics and quality have a high correlation to the price for some reason.

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Old Sunday 15th September 2019, 01:03   #10
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I agree with Dennis. B&H is the only company I use when it comes to optics/camera equipment, etc.
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Old Sunday 15th September 2019, 15:13   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WJC View Post
8. Just buy SOMETHING and be happy using it until YOU see a reason to change. Don’t start off by getting sucked into that “upgrade” delusion. Our hobby is full of folks who are eager to help you spend YOUR money on what THEY would like to have.
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Old Sunday 15th September 2019, 19:23   #12
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Originally Posted by [email protected] View Post
Another thing you could do is just take my advice to the letter on what binocular to buy since I have tried almost every binocular made. Another thing to try is start at the top of Allbino's Ranking and try each binocular and work your way down until your budget intersects with a binocular you can live with. Trouble is you may not want to go DOWN on the list. I have always said "Once You Try Alpha You Can Never Go Backa". There was a famous thread with that title also in the distant past on Bird Forum. I have noticed one thing about shopping for binoculars. The optics and quality have a high correlation to the price for some reason.
Ha. But your experience may be very worthwhile (and may be irrelevant for me, because of ergonomics, eye width, whatever) so I'll take you up on it: what are your top 10 8x42s, top 10 10x42s, and top 5 7x42s and top 5 8x32s. Let's start there, and see what happens.

After posting this, I'm going to head over to Allbino's Ranking.. have not been there yet. I am taking seriously Audubon's relatively recent ranking of many of the top bins in all the major price categories... but if what you say about Alpha is true (and I hope it is), which I don't have the experience to weigh in on yet, then I can concentrate my efforts on the top tier only.

Since we are talking Alpha (I'm thinking above $2k here, but maybe above $1,800) what do you think are the reasons why Alpha no Backa? (Brightness, resolution, comfort, low-light performance, etc, etc.) Or is the answer just: yes.
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Old Sunday 15th September 2019, 22:13   #13
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Hi,

quite frankly, the differences between alpha pairs are really small especially if you look at just one size - it is much down to personal preference for stuff like balance, focus travel and feel and for some eye relief.

All these things can be easily tested in a shop. As can be stuff like experiencing a larger field of view (if Zeiss SF are being tried) or edge sharpness or the lack of it.

And also I am not really convinced that you will see a few percent of difference in transmission outside of a lab anyways, so low light testing is a moot point... actually for low light, aperture and magnification win, so get that 10x50 or larger... if you really need it. In most cases an 8x30 pair will be fine except for a few minutes at dusk or dawn.

PS: B&H is warmly recommended, those guys had good advice when I visited them.

Joachim
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Old Sunday 15th September 2019, 23:43   #14
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Hi,

quite frankly, the differences between alpha pairs are really small especially if you look at just one size - it is much down to personal preference for stuff like balance, focus travel and feel and for some eye relief.

All these things can be easily tested in a shop. As can be stuff like experiencing a larger field of view (if Zeiss SF are being tried) or edge sharpness or the lack of it.

And also I am not really convinced that you will see a few percent of difference in transmission outside of a lab anyways, so low light testing is a moot point... actually for low light, aperture and magnification win, so get that 10x50 or larger... if you really need it. In most cases an 8x30 pair will be fine except for a few minutes at dusk or dawn.

PS: B&H is warmly recommended, those guys had good advice when I visited them.

Joachim

That's what I'm hoping.. that alpha pairs will be just that.. and that the differences that they afford are appreciable from the less expensive pairs. I've reordered my thought process and planning as a result of these exchanges: I'm going to make sure I test out many brands both in the top and second tier. I will look to detect appreciable and valuable differences between the two tiers, and move from there. I also expect that the pair I buy, I will return. I may end up doing this several times, as I get them field tested for 7-10 days. I expect I will learn lots by the end of this process, and have you guys in part to thank for that.
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Old Monday 16th September 2019, 00:22   #15
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Hello IS,

If you have a friendly local optics store, and would like to support them, repeated visits during various light conditions is possible. The shop should be OK letting you demo the optics during your visits. Some shops also hold optics fairs when demo/new optics can be purchased at a decent discount.

I do not know of your past experience with binoculars in general, but in particular for a beginner, it might be too much to ask of his/herself to understand everything that experts in our forums check before making a purchase. In that case, before going top of the line, it might be a good idea to try the most commonly recommended varieties with different optical flavors in the ~$300-$400 range in store, pick one that one likes the best to hold and look through, and use it regularly for a year or so until they understand some technicalities, and their own subjective preferences. The user's knowledge on how to use binoculars properly will also improve over this period.

All that experience, along with the sheer interest in demo-ing various binoculars on different occasions, will feedback into purchasing "the" right bin, which may or not be more expensive than what they already hold, and which they might be willing to use for a few consecutive years before wanting to try something new. A few case in points. If fast focus is my only priority, I would be fine with a Meopta Meopro HD. I don't have to spend on a Conquest. If my eyesight is limiting, I do not have to stress over weeding out the sharpest cherry. If lightweight + FoV + "mid-range" is my preference, then a Nikon MHG. Etc.

In summary, I would start off figuring out (a) the subjective preferences, (b) understand some technical bits to check whether those are reflected in a given optic. If you think you have (a) figured out, you could seek the forum's experts' advice on the relevant models in light of your preferences. And then specifically target those.

I am just not sure if repeatedly ordering and trying out various binoculars over consecutive weeks is a good strategy for a beginner. I did that -- about seven 8x42 binoculars I think, when I started out. It did not work for me. I learnt a lot more with a Nikon M7 in hand for over 8 months, exchanging thoughts and seeking advice from our forum members.

Cheers and good luck with your search,
Kumar

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Old Monday 16th September 2019, 09:21   #16
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I never bought any binocular or telescope through internet and I never will, since I prefer a good shop with personel who knows what they are talking about, do have proper testing conditions and a good return policy. We have some of that type of shops in The Netherlands.
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Old Monday 16th September 2019, 09:46   #17
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Again, wisdom from Bill

I need to tattoo #8 on the back of my hand that I pull my billfold out with.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by WJC View Post
1. Decide on what you’re looking for BEFORE heading out to buy.

2. LEARN how those things are determined—in general, unless there are many, opinions ain’t it.

3. Today’s NEW XYZ bino might, in fact, be the OLD 1962 QED bino with new AR coatings, covers, price, and advertising. Asians only reinvent the wheel when absolutely necessary. Wonder where they learned that?

4. On the Internet: Don’t believe ANYTHING you hear/read and only HALF of what you see. Good advertising need not be accurate or even meaningful; it need only be believed. That’s how that “autofocus” crap dominated the unwary for 10 years.

5. There are NO CONSUMER binoculars make in the US, and hasn’t been since shortly after WWII. Even when Bausch & Lomb was the big dog, many of their binoculars came from Zeiss. One foreign company does have a plant on US soil.

6. Don’t expect to buy from an optics/binoculars expert—the chances of that are slim to none. Be happy with a KNOWLEDGEABLE binocular salesperson. Dishonesty and ignorance result in the same things. Ignorance is not a crime; dishonest is. You COULD buy with confidence in a SHOP if there were honest experts around. The Internet’s ultracrepidarians have killed most of them off. But if you knew what you wanted; you could narrow a field of 50 in 10 minutes. Staying in the shop a long time tells the salesperson he or she has a fish in the line. If 1,000 binos came from Asia, 900 came from the same 3 or 4 plants. Also, if you have the MONEY, they have the PRODUCT.

7. Buy from a company with a long track record and a no-questions-asked return policy.

8. Just buy SOMETHING and be happy using it until YOU see a reason to change. Don’t start off by getting sucked into that “upgrade” delusion. Our hobby is full of folks who are eager to help you spend YOUR money on what THEY would like to have.

Lots of luck. ‘Back under my rock, now.

Bill
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Old Monday 16th September 2019, 20:31   #18
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These are wise and measured words, Kumar. And provide a useful critique of what I've been thinking as of late. Along with another user who messaged me privately who pointed out that testing different bins over time, in different conditions probably demands too much from our cognitive/powers of memory.. and so may be quite unrealistic.

Alas, a local optics store I don't have, and hence the post. B&H is about an hour away, and I'll probably use that as my go to place. I don't have plans to order anything blind.. to me, that doesn't make much sense, and isn't as interesting. My Monarch 5 8x42s have served me exceptionally well for the past 14 months.

Subjectively, I want to have an optimal optical experience, that will maximize my abilities to ID birds, and to deepen my appreciation for their behavior and uniqueness. Another way of saying it is: I don't want to have any limitations on what I'm seeing placed on me from the bins...
I don't think I have any 'special needs' outside me being a glasses wearer, which puts eye relief on the table.

Thanks for your thoughts on this.. you have no doubt put your finger on the safest and most sober (and certainly gradualist) route.
Much appreciated!


Quote:
Originally Posted by mskb View Post
Hello IS,

If you have a friendly local optics store, and would like to support them, repeated visits during various light conditions is possible. The shop should be OK letting you demo the optics during your visits. Some shops also hold optics fairs when demo/new optics can be purchased at a decent discount.

I do not know of your past experience with binoculars in general, but in particular for a beginner, it might be too much to ask of his/herself to understand everything that experts in our forums check before making a purchase. In that case, before going top of the line, it might be a good idea to try the most commonly recommended varieties with different optical flavors in the ~$300-$400 range in store, pick one that one likes the best to hold and look through, and use it regularly for a year or so until they understand some technicalities, and their own subjective preferences. The user's knowledge on how to use binoculars properly will also improve over this period.

All that experience, along with the sheer interest in demo-ing various binoculars on different occasions, will feedback into purchasing "the" right bin, which may or not be more expensive than what they already hold, and which they might be willing to use for a few consecutive years before wanting to try something new. A few case in points. If fast focus is my only priority, I would be fine with a Meopta Meopro HD. I don't have to spend on a Conquest. If my eyesight is limiting, I do not have to stress over weeding out the sharpest cherry. If lightweight + FoV + "mid-range" is my preference, then a Nikon MHG. Etc.

In summary, I would start off figuring out (a) the subjective preferences, (b) understand some technical bits to check whether those are reflected in a given optic. If you think you have (a) figured out, you could seek the forum's experts' advice on the relevant models in light of your preferences. And then specifically target those.

I am just not sure if repeatedly ordering and trying out various binoculars over consecutive weeks is a good strategy for a beginner. I did that -- about seven 8x42 binoculars I think, when I started out. It did not work for me. I learnt a lot more with a Nikon M7 in hand for over 8 months, exchanging thoughts and seeking advice from our forum members.

Cheers and good luck with your search,
Kumar
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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 01:11   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WJC View Post
5. There are NO CONSUMER binoculars make in the US, and hasn’t been since shortly after WWII. Even when Bausch & Lomb was the big dog, many of their binoculars came from Zeiss. One foreign company does have a plant on US soil.
If you are referring to Meopta, the owners are Czech-Americans.
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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 02:24   #20
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If you are referring to Meopta, the owners are Czech-Americans.
During the Second World War, there were over 20 American companies producing binoculars, most under subcontract to Bausch & Lomb. When the massive wartime inventories were depleted, things changed quickly. I was speaking of Meopta. But, while they have a plant on US soil, their headquarters is in the Czech Republic and it isn’t an American company.

I am interested in a product’s quality and not it’s a country of origin. I just wanted folks to know the difference.

Cheers,

Bill
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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 02:30   #21
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Hello IS,

It's great to hear about your past experience with the M5. You mention you are about an hour away from B&H. If I recall correctly, the Cape May Fall Festival is scheduled for sometime mid-October. As far as I know, they always run a 10%-15%off sale during the festival days. That's about the same price as what stores like B&H would offer if I am not mistaken.

During the festival, you not only get to interact with several different optics vendors and their representatives, but you get to try out various copies of binoculars of the same model! And they let you try it out outside with no issues. I was there last year, and it was truly extraordinary -- not just the optics part, but spending sometime on the Hawkwatch platform with commentaries from a world class birder was a great experience!

So that's what I would recommend if your travel time allows - figure out a model that you like the most, make a trip to Cape May, pick the best to your eyes among the copies, spend some time with the best birders, rejoice! At the end of the day, you would also be supporting Audubon's conservation and research efforts with your purchase.

All the best,
Kumar

Quote:
Originally Posted by InspiredSquare View Post
These are wise and measured words, Kumar. And provide a useful critique of what I've been thinking as of late. Along with another user who messaged me privately who pointed out that testing different bins over time, in different conditions probably demands too much from our cognitive/powers of memory.. and so may be quite unrealistic.

Alas, a local optics store I don't have, and hence the post. B&H is about an hour away, and I'll probably use that as my go to place. I don't have plans to order anything blind.. to me, that doesn't make much sense, and isn't as interesting. My Monarch 5 8x42s have served me exceptionally well for the past 14 months.

Subjectively, I want to have an optimal optical experience, that will maximize my abilities to ID birds, and to deepen my appreciation for their behavior and uniqueness. Another way of saying it is: I don't want to have any limitations on what I'm seeing placed on me from the bins...
I don't think I have any 'special needs' outside me being a glasses wearer, which puts eye relief on the table.

Thanks for your thoughts on this.. you have no doubt put your finger on the safest and most sober (and certainly gradualist) route.
Much appreciated!
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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 17:33   #22
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Think Kumar is offering excellent advice, the CMBO Fall festival is the best set up venue for evaluating birding optics that I've seen.
All the major brands have stands at the CM Convention Center and allow one to take the glass out to the adjoining sea watch platform, which incidentally is usually festooned with a full range of scopes as well.
That venue allows easy A on B comparisons across a full range of prices, in comparable conditions.

All that said, your Nikon glass is actually pretty good, so I doubt that you will find the effort to be a life changing experience. You will probably get more out of chatting with the professional hawk and sea watchers than from the time you spend agonizing over very small differences in optical performance.
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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 17:45   #23
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It is a good thing that we ignore Bill's advise in post #4. If we did pay attention:

-we would buy less binoculars
-we would use them longer
-we would have more money for birding/astro trips and other stuff like food and rent
-optics dealers would go out of business, or at least most
-makers of optics would have to be more creative
-the economy would collapse with world recession

gotta keep buying the same, or almost same old stuff if someone tells us too

edj
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 14:44   #24
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WJC is so right.

Optics are an area where there is ALWAYS something better out there, in some way. No matter what you buy, there will be something lighter, or brighter, or with better edge sharpness or with a better focus wheel, or better eyecups, etc., etc. There is no one "best" binocular in every area. It just isn't possible.

It usually takes me a few weeks with a pair of binoculars to know whether I really like them or not. I've been fooled before by binoculars that I didn't think I would like but ended up liking very much, and vise-versa. So spend some time with them before you really decide.

I just picked up an older pair of Meopta Meostar non-HD's and for years I avoided those because I thought they were too heavy and too bulky. But I couldn't pass up this deal and now that I've had them for a few weeks, it turns out I really like them. They fit my very large hands much better than I expected (now my other binoculars all feel "too small" in my hands) and the extra weight makes the 10x easier to hand-hold. So they have become my go-to binoculars now. And to think I avoided them for a good 5+ years. Shame on me.

So make a list of what's important to you. Image quality really isn't everything once you get above the $300-400 price point. Ergonomics, eye relief, focus wheel speed and direction, diopter adjustments, hinge tension, single or double bridge, etc. all become very important in a binocular you use all the time.

The right binoculars will feel like an extension of your body. The wrong ones never will.
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Old Thursday 19th September 2019, 00:03   #25
dries1
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The optics in some very low cost glass have been getting better, however we pay more for those eyecups, focus wheel, diopter, armor that (function the same after a year of use). IMHO this is where the lower end glass falls short, some way short, and that is craftsmanship, so we end up paying more 800-1000 for those items, not just the warranty.

Andy W.
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