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Stalking the Elusive Alpha

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Old Thursday 1st February 2018, 23:08   #1
WJC
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Stalking the Elusive Alpha

Binocular forums thrive on the search for the affordable "Alpha" binocular. In a sense, this is a good thing offered up by folks looking for the best binocular available for the price they have to spend. Sometimes that's a great amount; sometimes not nearly so much. Sometimes what I have to say about the hunt for the "Alpha" is taken in a way I had never intended.

So, for my own edification, I would like to ask three questions of those who keep the search alive.

1) First, EXACTLY where is the line drawn between "Alpha" binoculars and the incredibly good binoculars that fall short of being "Alphas"? Is it dollars spent that make the difference? And ...

2) EXACTLY WHO has the necessary skills and experience to make that determination? I have spent my life repairing, restoring, and collimating binoculars and I am certainly not qualified to do so. And ...

3) Are those who lack qualifications in optical engineering (thus not understanding how Seidel aberrations are interconnected) or never having held a focus mechanism in their hands to see its strengths, weaknesses, and complexities really qualified to make pronouncements about what is really the quality level of the binoculars they write about-enough to be seen as gospel?

With today's dearth of qualified consumer-level optical techs, ALL THOSE FOLKS ARE DOING US A GREAT SERVICE. THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST WAS NOTHING MORE THAN TO CAUSE FOLKS TO THINK A LITTLE DEEPER, LOOK A LITTLE FARTHER, AND EXPECT A LITTLE MORE.

Cheers,

Bill
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Old Thursday 1st February 2018, 23:27   #2
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* I'm not talking about people who may expertly repair a small number of one company's product; I'm speaking of those who fix everything that magnifies and has been in production for many decades. So, Gary and Pete ... Please don't get your knickers in a twist.

That was supposed to be in an edit I tried to make in the original. I tried SEVERAL times to edit it in but the program would NOT allow me to edit. It would not allow me to DELETE my own words (the delete option was not even shown).
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 00:50   #3
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Bill, the alpha brands are the ones that are the most expensive....

Jerry
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 01:08   #4
WJC
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Originally Posted by NDhunter View Post
Bill, the alpha brands are the ones that are the most expensive....

Jerry
Gosh, Jerry:

That being the case, we might have another line to draw. See below.

Bill
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 09:50   #5
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my search for "good enough"

As I age, my eyes also age; and they are not as good as they once were,
and were not that good then either.
My hope is better optics will allow me to see better, to see more detail.

To quote, or paraphrase Al Nagler
" one should get the best optics that one can "reasonably" afford"

Can I tell the difference? Sometimes
Of course, "good enough" and "reasonably" vary with each of us;
but one can hope and dream.

edj
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 11:01   #6
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Well, here goes.

A binocular that allows the operator to see the most detail in the most natural way without realising that they are using a mechanical instrument.

Stan
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 11:56   #7
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We've come full circle...

From 2009
http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=150341

Last post in the above thread is a good one.
http://www.birdforum.net/showpost.ph...&postcount=129
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 12:52   #8
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I suppose you go right back to definitions of Alpha and who coined the phrase.
As it probably means 'first' (as in letters of Greek(?) alphabet), i would assume it meant: best optical quality; best construction quality; best sales and after-sales service etc.
Now, of course, another jar of worms - what is 'best'?
Is it that you get what you pay for, or you use what you can afford?
Both are ok with me.
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 13:08   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WJC View Post
..........
1) First, EXACTLY where is the line drawn between "Alpha" binoculars and the incredibly good binoculars that fall short of being "Alphas"? ......
The question reminded me of this sentence from an opinion by Justice Potter Stewart.

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it ...."
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 13:49   #10
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The question of what alpha means has indeed been discussed before. It is about brand status. Here are my favorite two past threads on the topic with some notes on usage. In my biased opinion, these are the best discussions of alpha on Birdforum.

http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=235008
http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=265755


--AP
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 14:33   #11
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Since the advent of the Nikon WX everything else is Beta at best. :-)
However, since most of us here are either birders, seven-stone weaklings or ancien pauvre, or a combination of these we can be quite happy with the alternatives.

John
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 14:51   #12
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There must be something to alpha's. When objective or subjective testing is done they seem to rise to the top but the difference is only a few % so you have to decide if they are worth the difference.

https://www.allbinos.com/allbinos_ra...king-8x42.html
https://www.allbinos.com/allbinos_ra...ing-10x42.html
http://redirect.viglink.com/?format=...-viper-hd-8x42
http://redirect.viglink.com/?format=...inocular-guide

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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 15:08   #13
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I'm certainly not qualified in no uncertain terms. I just like to look at birds!

I really have never even LIKED the term "alpha" when speaking of binoculars. I always just kinda assumed it meant the the top binocular from the top four makers; Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica, and Nikon. Nothing more, nothing less. I suppose it also means something similar to "the cream of the crop," "the cat's meow," etc, etc.

It's really a slippery slope to pick the best of ANYTHING, IMO. All have pros/cons, perfection doesn't exist mainly because WE aren't perfect and I'm a long ways from that. Of course the pursuit of perfection doesn't come cheap...
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 15:37   #14
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ALPHA OPTICS=What presents the Best Image, "To YOUR Eyes" (cost a Non-Factor)!

As per Chuck's sentiments, I just as soon do away with the misleading term, Alpha?!

Ted
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 15:37   #15
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There are some who would claim that they can see more detail observing through some Canon binoculars but they don't seem to emerge as being in the alpha class.
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 16:06   #16
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Originally Posted by The-Wanderer View Post
There are some who would claim that they can see more detail observing through some Canon binoculars but they don't seem to emerge as being in the alpha class.
We're on a roll; please keep it going. I'll explain later.

Bill
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 16:29   #17
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There are some who would claim that they can see more detail observing through some Canon binoculars but they don't seem to emerge as being in the alpha class.
I would definitely place the Canon 10x42 IS-L in the alpha class. If you want to see a lot without a tripod it is in a class by itself. It is the alpha porro.

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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 16:30   #18
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I certainly perceive Leica and Zeiss as long standing alpha brands, and have accepted Swarovski as a brand that has comparatively recently acquired alpha status and very recently have come round to the idea that Nikon is an alpha brand too (yes Bob, I am convinced at last). Of course Nikon has been an alpha photographic brand for ages.

I carelessly think of these brands' top-priced binos as alphas but this doesn't at all mean I think they are perfect, merely that as Chuck put it, they are the cat's meow or, as I put it now, the dog's dangly bits, in the eyes of the brands themselves.

Lee

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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 16:50   #19
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Originally Posted by Theo98 View Post
ALPHA OPTICS=What presents the Best Image, "To YOUR Eyes" (cost a Non-Factor)!

As per Chuck's sentiments, I just as soon do away with the misleading term, Alpha?!

Ted
Ted,

Just out of curiosities sake, what would you suggest be used instead? I don't really remember where I even heard the term first applied, but as we seem to have need to pigeon-hole things, something will get used.
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 17:29   #20
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the Flagship.....of its brand...

all brands have a Flagship model.....but some brands are crap bottom to top.....

trying to figure out the industries Flagship is another story.....

bet Bill likes the Flagship moniker....

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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 17:53   #21
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This is a purely subjective term and depends largely upon individual perceptions. As I see it, alpha binoculars (whether or not you like the term) are defined by those binoculars produced by Leica, Nikon, Swarovski, and Zeiss that entered the market in the last few years at a price above $2,000 US. I would bend that for the Swarovski SLC series. I also see a terrific tendency to automatically associate those with greatness. As somebody here has said more than once, good marketing need not be truthful, only believed. Yes it helps that those are terrific instruments.

As to who is qualified to make the determination, as far as I am concerned beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, another appearance of human perceptions. I have long held the opinion that the users satisfaction with a binocular lies solely in the ability of the binocular being used to shut off those little voices whispering in ones ear, that there has to be something better, and that since there is I will see it. That singing of little voices may not be quelled until the user gets to the alpha (flagship...whatever adjective you care to use). When the viewer realizes there is no more to be spent, those little voices may well go away. At that point the user just uses the binocular and the class of the glass gets the credit. At another point on the spectrum a less expensive glass may well quell the voices. Available disposable income and perceptions of personal spending preferences play a role here too. Nothing wrong with either, it seems to me to just be human nature.

Cell phones have a site where all of the flagship models are torn apart, piece by piece. The cost of the parts are determined, the phones are evaluated on the quality of the part and the level of construction, and given a repair score. Unless binoculars get a site like that nobody will have the ability to make that sort of determination. Again, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Even a great name on a lesser glass may well confer status on the lesser glass.

As to not being an optical engineer, does that mean you have to be a automotive engineer to evaluate an automobile to see whether or not it suits you? I make no pretensions about being any sort of a optical expert. I am however capable of forming and stating my opinions on various instruments. Win some loose some. Blessed be the name of the game.
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 18:51   #22
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I've always disliked the word alpha to describe binoculars. It's not very accurate. It is most associated with physics and animals and to the latter is used in the singular.

People around here tend to use alpha to describe a group.

Premium would be my choice to describe a manufacturer's highest quality product. Price not being a factor.
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 18:59   #23
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I certainly perceive Leica and Zeiss as long standing alpha brands, and have accepted Swarovski as a brand that has comparatively recently acquired alpha status and very recently have come round to the idea that Nikon is an alpha brand too (yes Bob, I am convinced at last). Of course Nikon has been an alpha photographic brand for ages...
Based on my strong conviction that alpha is a status term (except when appropriated to form an adjective, i.e. "alpha quality" optics), I agree about L, Z, and S, but not Nikon. Nikon makes tools, and occasionally executes designs (like the WX bins, or the occasional exotic camera lens) for specification bragging rights. I would argue that Nikon is also not an alpha in the photographic world. Alpha status equates to prestige among competitors. Nikon didn't enter as a prestige brand, Nikon cameras gained a following as reasonable cost solid tools with lots of system options, and now it is simply one maker of dSLRs within a very narrow field. Still photography is such a narrow industry when it comes to equipment for professionals and enthusiasts, there is almost no room for being an alpha brand. There's hardly enough competition to designate high status versus low status brands. Instead, most brands either have a special niche, or else are one of a very few co-equals. One could argue that among dSLR makers that Nikon and Canon are the prestige brands against Pentax, Sony, and Sigma, but Nikon and Canon bodies are owned by such a large percentage of dSLR users, I don't find the argument convincing. By comparison, only a very very tiny fraction of binocular users own Zeiss, Leica, or Swarovski binoculars, even when those brands' lower budget models are included. Speaking of alpha or prestige brands in the photographic world more broadly (than dSLRs), I'd point to brands such as Leica and Hasselblad.

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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 21:52   #24
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Originally Posted by Kevin Conville View Post
I've always disliked the word alpha to describe binoculars. It's not very accurate. It is most associated with physics and animals and to the latter is used in the singular.

People around here tend to use alpha to describe a group.

Premium would be my choice to describe a manufacturer's highest quality product. Price not being a factor.
Kevin:

I agree with your first point, but price has everything to do with
a makers highest quality product.

This is common with most consumer goods.

If you would compare the top model of most every mfr. to their lesser
models, I would think you can tell some difference.

I think I could.

Jerry
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Old Friday 2nd February 2018, 21:52   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tringa45 View Post
Since the advent of the Nikon WX everything else is Beta at best. :-)
+1 :)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alexis Powell View Post
Based on my strong conviction that alpha is a status term...
Yes, that's the problem. When you start talking about status people get very sensitive, even if you say "alpha quality", which I think just means a bino that even picky folks feel satisfied using. That's a matter of those "voices in the head" (Steve's term?) shutting up and letting you enjoy the view, which obviously happens at various levels of optical and mechanical quality for each of us. Wanting "the best" isn't necessarily frivolous if you feel nothing is quite good enough yet, as Better View once put it. Or maybe for some those voices also involve just feeling you've spent enough, I don't know.

The more interesting question is why these arguments about "alphas" are eternally restarted and repeated. I think it involves this ongoing confusion between status and quality, and how much issues of status or prestige trigger people. Enjoy your view, everyone.
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