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Choosing New Binoculars (1 Viewer)

AnalogJ

Active member
After having some real cheapo Nikon binoculars, Sprint III 7x21 binoculars, my wife and I have decided to splurge on his and hers, not necessarily the same.

I wrote in another post about going to Cape May last September and seeking out a wildlife sanctuary there (and there are a few). We went to an Audobon sanctuary and came upon a small visitors center for advice. Inside, in addition to books, maps, t-shirts, etc., you were greeted in the door with a couple of large glass cases of binoculars, ranging in price from just over $100 going all the way up to over $3000. "Wow!", I thought. I had no idea they could be that expensive. And yes, I knew that Zeiss and Leica manufactured some of the finest optical glass. But Swarovski?!?

Anyway, while my wife is getting advice on trails to seek out, I asked someone there about what the sweet spot was in binoculars. Where was the point of diminishing return. Another guy started chiming in, suggesting I should be a $3000 Swarovski pair, justifying it by saying that if I went on 10 vacations, it would essentially cost just $300 per vacation. My reaction that that same $300 buys an economy seat on a jet to Europe. I'm not in the earning strata that would say "Hmm. $300 per vacation for binoculars. THAT'S a deal!"

Which brings us to the present. We were realizing that the Nikon Sprint III bins we have are not really very good. They don't present vivid images, and a pair of early '70s Minolta 8x40 pirro prism binoculars were a huge improvement. But they're bulky, fairly heavy, and not eyeglasses friendly, which I'd like a binocular to be.

My first research had me thinking that 8x42 or 10x42 bins were likely best, and leaning toward 8x42s to reduce shaking and better eye relief.

As going to a shop is not wise these days, I have been bringing in models to try at home and take out, making sure that there are good return policies.

There was a great buy on a discontinued Celestron Granite 7x33. It's fairly light, compact, and boy, does it have a great image, far better than what we had tried up to that point. In another class. Unfortunately, its eye relief isn't the best. Not as good as the Nikon Prostaff 3S or 7S. Should I be looking at an 8x32/33 or an 8x42?

So here are the models I have had in my grips thus far and my thoughts on them. All of them 8x42.

Nikon Prostaff 3S - Lightweight, well-balanced, easy to use, sharp image, certainly better than the Sprint III. Really good eye relief.

Nikon Prostaff 7S - A bit longer and heavier than the 3S. MUCH more colorful image and better in lower light. Slightly narrower field of view. Otherwise, easy to use, quick to lock into the image (as is the 3S). I could probably live with these.

Celestron Nature ED - Not as comfortable as the Prostaff. Bulkier in my hands. Harder to lock into the image. The comfort and ease of use of the Prostaff would win out. Back went the Nature ED bins to the store.

Wingspan Skyview - These have ED glass, but they're not as sharp or crisp as either of the Prostaff. Possibly had a bit more contrast than the Prostaff 7S, but not as bright. Color about as good as the 7S. These are lightweight and compact, but their lack of absolute sharpness compared to the Prostaff aborted any further consideration. Back they went to the store.

Celestron Granite (8x42) - These don't quite feel as good in my hands nor do I lock into the image (with or without glasses) as quickly as the Prostaff. But boy, do these images have POP. They're colorful, bright, and render 3D images that neither of the Prostaff do. I was focusing on a statue in my yard about 20 yds away. Next to it is a miniature Japanese maple, with branches positioned both in the same plane as well as to the rear and forward planes beside the statue. Through the Prostaff 3S and 7S, the statue was rendered rather flat, and the branches all appeared to be on the same plane. Through the Granite, the statue appeared to have a 3-dimentional surface, and you could clearly see, even though no branches overlapped the space of the statue, that there were branches on the same plane as the statue, as well as branches behind and in a plane in front of the statue. Add to that the pop in color and contrast, and it made a really nice binocular to look through. The image had life. In contrast, while the 7S had pretty good color, its image was flat. And the 3S lacked some color. Still, the Prostaff images were both sharp, not lacking in detail.

I haven't been able to go out and do much birding with any of them. I did do a couple of hours walk with the Granite bins. Toward the end of the walk, I was feeling them around my neck. I might try the included harness next time. And it might be a good accessory no matter which bin I end up with.

I was up in Plum Island north of Boston a couple of weeks ago. We spotted a turkey on some land in brush near the shore. The 3S allowed us to see the turkey with more detail. The 7S really popped the color of the head, which was bright pink, the space around the eyes, which was a rich and bright light blue, and iridescence of the black feathers which had this teal green glow. That richness of color wasn't there with the 3S. I tried the Granite 7x33 my wife was trying out. Again, the eye relief isn't great with those, but the image really popped. Surprisingly, though, the color with the 7S was almost as good.

So that sums up my experience thus far.

On their way to me are Athlon Midas UHD, Carson 3D ED, and Nikon Monarch 5 models. The latter two have almost equally good eye relief numbers, with the Carson having somewhat better FOV specs. Carson also makes an 8x32 in the 3D ED line. I might or might not bring those in.

Ease of use, comfort, clarity, good eye relief, and now the attribute of being sort of thrilled seeing something through them (rather than merely looking at something) are important qualities I have discovered. Our budget as risen as we have discovered aspects to binoculars that are really appealing. Still, I have seen enough at this point to tell me that I don't have to spend any more than $300 for each of us to get something really great. (and those Granite 7x33 bins were on sale for $180.).

While I have had time to do all this research given how much extra time I have on my hands right now at home, I have learned much about the science of binoculars in the process. Still learning.
 

jring

Well-known member
Hi,

first of all, welcome to BF!

Yes, Swarovski do make high quality optics, beside the more commonly known glass jewelry and the even more obscure industrial abrasive business... and you would be astonished how diverse the portfolio of a large multinational like Zeiss Group is...

As with many things, quality vs price in optical instruments in general follows the law of diminishing returns - for roof prism bins the step from $100 to $300 retail usually yields a huge improvement in quality and $300 tends to be a spot where some very usable examples can be found with some luck. Speaking of which, the Granite 7x33 for $180 seems like a great deal - over here I see prices from 420-500€ (which of course contains about 80-100€ tax).
At the $100 retail pricepoint I would prefer some porro models as those tend to be better than the available cheap roofs.

You mention quite a few different formats - for general birding, your best bets are 8x32 or 8x42 - the 8x32 trades a few minutes less observation time at dawn or dusk for a wider field and less bulk. Some people also like a 7x pair for that - it tends to be a bit easier to hold steady (for those that are struggling at 8x) and due to the larger depth of field, you do not need to focus so often.

10x pairs are mostly specialists in my opinion - not as easy to hold steady, narrower field and less depth of field so you have to focus more. While I have a very good 10x pair, it is not used that often - only when I know that I will be watching mainy far away stuff... raptors, seawatch etc... although I tend to carry a spotting scope for more magnification...

You also mentioned eye relief, so I'll assume that you wear glasses while using your bins - this is not strictly necessary if your prescription does not vary too much between your eyes (usually binoculars allow for a difference between 3 to 5 diopters) and does not contain strong cylinder or prism components. But I guess that taking of the glasses all the time to use the bins is also not great... I don't need glasses - yet...

There is a saying among optics nerds: Good eye relief, wide apparent field of view, compact eyepiece - choose any two...
Some simple geometry can be used to prove it.

So you should get a pair that offers just as much eye relief as you need with your glasses - some people on here have gotten a special pair of glasses form use with binoculars - no vari- or multifocals, compact frame with lenses close to the eye. Or use contacts, if you can...

Joachim
 

AnalogJ

Active member
Thanks much.

I don't wear contacts that often. It's a pain to take off eyeglasses to have to use binoculars. If I spot something with my bare eyes, I want to be able to quickly catch them with the bins. Speed can be important. I also have a slight astigmatism, so eyeglasses help.

There aren't that many options for 8x32 or thereabouts bins. Most options seem to be in the 8x43 or 10x42. Will I need them for owling? Might. And being on the coast and having marshy areas, we have lots of raptors. So a model as versatile as possible is important.
 

aCuria

Well-known member
Thanks much.

I don't wear contacts that often. It's a pain to take off eyeglasses to have to use binoculars. If I spot something with my bare eyes, I want to be able to quickly catch them with the bins. Speed can be important. I also have a slight astigmatism, so eyeglasses help.

There aren't that many options for 8x32 or thereabouts bins. Most options seem to be in the 8x43 or 10x42. Will I need them for owling? Might. And being on the coast and having marshy areas, we have lots of raptors. So a model as versatile as possible is important.

A 8x42 is versatile but heavy at about 800g, it can be a pain when hiking on foot. There are some really high peforming models like the zeiss 8x42sf and swaroski 8.5x42, I think this class of bins are best if you are in a car / boat / hide most of the time.

For hiking the zeiss victory pocket looks like a great pick, its only 290g and the image is really good as long as its not dawn/dusk/night (but who hikes at night?)

the 8x32 class is tricky because the optical peformance is not as good as the x42s while costing about the same. the swaroski 8x32EL and 8x30cl are pretty good and the new zeiss 8x32sf looks very promising. The nikon monarch hg is supposed to be pretty good but i have never tried it


Since you wear eyeglasses (I do too) then everything with low eye relief is out, like the nikon eii, allot of leicas, ...
 

[email protected]

Well-known member
Supporter
Most of the cheaper roof prism binoculars are questionable build quality being MIC so I think at your price point or a little higher you should be looking at porro-prisms. I had a Celestron Granite 7x33 and it actually hurt my eyes to use it for any length of time and the focuser had play in it and the eye cups were loose. I returned it in a couple of days. Honestly, it was a piece of junk. If you could stretch your budget to $400.00 you and your wife could get a binocular that would last you your lifetime and is comparable to many roof-prisms in the $1000.00 range or more. The biggest value binocular out there is the Nikon EII 8x30. It is made in Japan instead of China and it's optics and build quality are way superior to the roof prisms you are looking at and it is one of the best WA angle binocular IMO for the price that is available.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-Nikon-...324430?hash=item1cd10c3cce:g:VjAAAOSwMm1c2Vy7
 
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AnalogJ

Active member
Most of the cheaper roof prism binoculars you are looking at are not even phase coated and many are questionable build quality being MIC so I think at your price point or a little higher you should be looking at porro-prisms. If you could stretch your budget to $400.00 you and your wife could get a binocular that would last you your lifetime and is comparable to many roof-prisms in the $1000.00 range or more. The biggest value binocular out there is the Nikon EII 8x30. It is made in Japan instead of China and it's optics and build quality are way superior to the roof prisms you are looking at and it is one of the best WA angle binocular IMO for the price that is available.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-Nikon-...324430?hash=item1cd10c3cce:g:VjAAAOSwMm1c2Vy7

All but the Prostaff are roof coated prisms. The Monarch 5, Granite, and Athlon Midas UHD all have ED glass and use dielectric coatings.

I have certainly seen a few really good images thus far. Even the Prostaff 7S is decent. And the Nikons weigh in at about 20 ounces. But I'm wondering if a harness would help.
 

42za

Well-known member
Hello AnalogJ,

You may also want to look at these 2 , they are reasonably priced , are much better than a lot of lower priced roof prisms , and perform very well.

Kowa YF 8 x 30 Porro's.

Nikon Action EX 7 x 35 Porro's.

Might meet your needs.

Cheers.
 

AnalogJ

Active member
Phase coated was the term...

Joachim

Sorry. I'm new at this. But, yes, that's what I meant (writing late at night). They're all phase coated aside from the 3S, and aside from the Prostaffs, all the others I am now considering use ED glass and dielectric coatings (along with phase coating).
 

chill6x6

Well-known member
I actually have the Celestron Granite ED 8X42 and I've had it for a while. VERY decent binocular for the money. Just checked and it's $240 on Celestron's website. I probably paid $300 when I bought mine. It's going to be hard to beat that binocular for the money. So far I've have no real issues with this binocular.

You might want to try a Vanguard Endeavor ED II. This is a pretty highly regarded binocular for it's price. I've had the 8X42 version of this for several years. Still just as good today as it was new.

That Sightron S III 8X42 in the picture is another nice binocular for the money. I probably don't say ENOUGH about that one. Made in Philippines and better build quality than typical of this price range.
 

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dries1

Member
Analogj,

Seems that you have viewed some good glass, try the Nikons for a while, then later on you can upgrade if you want to (more $$ of course). Just remember much of the glass you have tried out/recommended to you are prone to faulty mechanics so if you get a good one, keep it. There are likely no stores open now to try any out in person, so looks like the mail order way is the only option.

Andy W.
 

AnalogJ

Active member
I'd also consider bringing in a more compact model such as the Carson 3D ED 8x32. It would offer a lighter weight, similar magnification with excellent eye relief and wide FOV.
 

lmans66

Out Birding....
Supporter
United States
But once....not twice. That is my motto. I have had friends who have some of those bins you mentioned and then some, as well as I can toss in one or two of mine that are laying around the house that either were given to me, I won, or whatever.

Bottom line is that almost all binoculars look nice and feel right and have good specs etc..... But how long do they last? I have seen many pair whose focus wheel just simply loses it. The 'play' in the focus wheel is to the point where you have no idea how many turns it will take and even if you do, you will constantly be trying to find tact focus.

Quality ...quality...quality. For instance, as in scopes too, if they state that it has ED glass, well...it probably does. But, what materials actually encompass the glass? There is no set guidelines as to what can be called ED glass or not in terms of quality, just general overall materials. But the % of those materials and how they were manufactured in general will differ. So, one ED glass for instance, does not equal a higher ED glass.

And some that appear to have quality have no 'quality control' at the factory. I know the Swarovskis, Leica's, Zeiss etc...have quality control 'out the door' ..... They check their products. Others have absolutely no quality control so you get a lot of bad stuff out the door I am sure.

Again, back to my old adage.....you buy once, or you buy multiple times. In optics, it is all about quality, and yes, it is measured in the price. Stuff made in China...I might pass on for in my thinking (can't be proven), they may look good on the outside, as they have stolen the technology and know how to copy, but the inside is where they skimp and is not quality and that might determine how long that pair lasts.

If price is an issue and we can all understand that....try picking up a used quality pair. Or....go back to the same 'big names' in optics and find a generation or two ago, which are still in excellent shape but are just older optics. Chances are, they will be better than newly manufactured 'so so's'...
 
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AnalogJ

Active member
But once....not twice. That is my motto. I have had friends who have some of those bins you mentioned and then some, as well as I can toss in one or two of mine that are laying around the house that either were given to me, I won, or whatever.

Bottom line is that almost all binoculars look nice and feel right and have good specs etc..... But how long do they last? I have seen many pair whose focus wheel just simply loses it. The 'play' in the focus wheel is to the point where you have no idea how many turns it will take and even if you do, you will constantly be trying to find tact focus.

Quality ...quality...quality. For instance, as in scopes too, if they state that it has ED glass, well...it probably does. But, what materials actually encompass the glass? There is no set guidelines as to what can be called ED glass or not in terms of quality, just general overall materials. But the % of those materials and how they were manufactured in general will differ. So, one ED glass for instance, does not equal a higher ED glass.

And some that appear to have quality have no 'quality control' at the factory. I know the Swarovskis, Leica's, Zeiss etc...have quality control 'out the door' ..... They check their products. Others have absolutely no quality control so you get a lot of bad stuff out the door I am sure.

Again, back to my old adage.....you buy once, or you buy multiple times. In optics, it is all about quality, and yes, it is measured in the price. Stuff made in China...I might pass on for in my thinking (can't be proven), they may look good on the outside, as they have stolen the technology and know how to copy, but the inside is where they skimp and is not quality and that might determine how long that pair lasts.

If price is an issue and we can all understand that....try picking up a used quality pair. Or....go back to the same 'big names' in optics and find a generation or two ago, which are still in excellent shape but are just older optics. Chances are, they will be better than newly manufactured 'so so's'...


Sure. But does it help when you get a "no fault" warranty when the company will fix the bins for life, no questions asked?
 

dries1

Member
Choosing new Binoculars

Sure. But does it help when you get a "no fault" warranty when the company will fix the bins for life, no questions asked?

There are always at least two sides to a story, the aforementioned statement is one of them, buying used premium glass at discount is another.
I always wonder if a Warranty is really for life... Hmmmmm....

Andy W.
 

eitanaltman

Well-known member
I think the little budget bin shuffle you’re engaged in is a good learning experience, but what I’m hearing is you’re not going to be satisfied with a cheap binocular. You’re inching up the ladder on price and I predict you will end up in the $400-500 msrp range when all is said and done.

In terms of diminishing returns, this is my view:

- $150 or less is generally garbage, the only decent options are porros. Only the most casual binocular user should shop here

- when you get to the $200-300 range (where you are now) you start getting to some really decent glass, thanks to cheap chinese ED market saturation. You’ve seen the difference between a mediocre cheap bin like the ProStaff vs the pop you got from the superior glass and coatings of the Granite ED. A lot of good options at this price point like Monarch 5, Carson ED, Vortex Diamondback, and any number of Chinese OEM options. This is where diminishing returns really kicks in for most casual users.

The problem with this price range is they all have some kind of compromise in terms of ergonomics, build quality, and optics that will bug a more serious user. I’ve used a lot of bins in this price range and they are honestly good enough optically for 90% of people but if you are a fairly heavy birder you’ll start to get annoyed at the flaws and mechanical breakdowns over time.

- When you get to the $400-500 range you get to some seriously good glass — Vortex Viper, Vanguard Endeavor ED, Nikon Monarch 7, Zeiss Terra ED, Meopta Meopro HD, Kowa BD XD II. This is the diminishing returns point for all but the most serious birders. There’s a serious step up in overall quality and a noticeable step up in optics. Not the step up that’s immediately obvious comparing them indoors briefly, but one that you can tell after several hours in the field where it’s just easier to get on the bird and snap it into focus and get that killer view, hour after hour, where the cheaper bins start to get fatiguing. You’ve already noticed the little flaws in the <$300 class, and they will just annoy you more over time as you use them in the field.

This level is good enough for 95%+ of birders, basically anyone who is serious enough to want good optics but doesn’t have the budget or desire to have the very best. This is where I think you are headed, and the key will be to find one of these that has the ergonomics you want but on clearance sale for your $300 budget.

$400-500 glass for $300 is very doable if you shop around. CameralandNY has the Zeiss Terra ED 8x42 open box for $299: https://cameralandny.com/shop/zeiss...420d-0138-8203-00163e90e196?variation=2160626

And if you shop used it’s easy to do (Vortex Viper is a good target because of the no hassle unconditional warranty, so used is low risk).

Also, since you’ve mentioned weight a few times and how you dislikes some of the “chunkier” bins, consider a good quality 8x32. The 8x32 Viper HD is a sweet little pair that can be found for $300-350 used for example. CameralandNY has the first gen Kowa BD XD 8x32 on clearance for $279, excellent glass and very compact and light, the only real knock is they don’t have a huge FOV: https://cameralandny.com/shop/kowa-...422b-0134-b5d9-00163e9110c0?variation=1666056

- The next step up is when you approach $1k. At this point you are at near-alpha glass that is good enough for nearly anyone but the most demanding users (90% of whom are in this forum I think). Nikon Monarch HG, Zeiss Conquest HD, Leica Trinovid, Vortex Razor, Meopta Meostar, and some new players like Tract and Maven that play at this level for a few hundred less. The glass at this level is so good most people would have to look really hard and be told what to look for to see the difference between these and the $2000-3000 alphas.

This level is good enough to be lifetime glass for most people. If you can stretch to $500-700 you can get to this level looking at demos, open box, used, clearance sales etc. Considering your affinity for slender, light handling bins, the Vortex Razor HD and Nikon Monarch HG are good targets if you just want to get to the finish line now and be done with it.
 
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eitanaltman

Well-known member
A curveball if you’re willing to splurge a bit and try a premium 8x30 ... Maven is having a 15% off sale and that makes the B3 8x30 only ~$450. They have a risk free in-home trial policy, the 8x30 are very compact and lightweight with great optics and a very wide field of view. They might be just the ticket. I think you’ll be blown away by how bright and clear a really good 8x30 can be, and you can carry them all day without worrying about weight.
 

42za

Well-known member
A curveball if you’re willing to splurge a bit and try a premium 8x30 ... Maven is having a 15% off sale and that makes the B3 8x30 only ~$450. They have a risk free in-home trial policy, the 8x30 are very compact and lightweight with great optics and a very wide field of view. They might be just the ticket. I think you’ll be blown away by how bright and clear a really good 8x30 can be, and you can carry them all day without worrying about weight.


Premium 8 x 30 ??.

You forgot the Habicht and Nikon E2 :t::t::t:.|:D||:D||:D||:D|

Cheers.
 

AnalogJ

Active member
I think the little budget bin shuffle you’re engaged in is a good learning experience, but what I’m hearing is you’re not going to be satisfied with a cheap binocular. You’re inching up the ladder on price and I predict you will end up in the $400-500 msrp range when all is said and done.

In terms of diminishing returns, this is my view:

- $150 or less is generally garbage, the only decent options are porros. Only the most casual binocular user should shop here

- when you get to the $200-300 range (where you are now) you start getting to some really decent glass, thanks to cheap chinese ED market saturation. You’ve seen the difference between a mediocre cheap bin like the ProStaff vs the pop you got from the superior glass and coatings of the Granite ED. A lot of good options at this price point like Monarch 5, Carson ED, Vortex Diamondback, and any number of Chinese OEM options. This is where diminishing returns really kicks in for most casual users.

The problem with this price range is they all have some kind of compromise in terms of ergonomics, build quality, and optics that will bug a more serious user. I’ve used a lot of bins in this price range and they are honestly good enough optically for 90% of people but if you are a fairly heavy birder you’ll start to get annoyed at the flaws and mechanical breakdowns over time.

- When you get to the $400-500 range you get to some seriously good glass — Vortex Viper, Vanguard Endeavor ED, Nikon Monarch 7, Zeiss Terra ED, Meopta Meopro HD, Kowa BD XD II. This is the diminishing returns point for all but the most serious birders. There’s a serious step up in overall quality and a noticeable step up in optics. Not the step up that’s immediately obvious comparing them indoors briefly, but one that you can tell after several hours in the field where it’s just easier to get on the bird and snap it into focus and get that killer view, hour after hour, where the cheaper bins start to get fatiguing. You’ve already noticed the little flaws in the <$300 class, and they will just annoy you more over time as you use them in the field.

This level is good enough for 95%+ of birders, basically anyone who is serious enough to want good optics but doesn’t have the budget or desire to have the very best. This is where I think you are headed, and the key will be to find one of these that has the ergonomics you want but on clearance sale for your $300 budget.

$400-500 glass for $300 is very doable if you shop around. CameralandNY has the Zeiss Terra ED 8x42 open box for $299: https://cameralandny.com/shop/zeiss...420d-0138-8203-00163e90e196?variation=2160626

And if you shop used it’s easy to do (Vortex Viper is a good target because of the no hassle unconditional warranty, so used is low risk).

Also, since you’ve mentioned weight a few times and how you dislikes some of the “chunkier” bins, consider a good quality 8x32. The 8x32 Viper HD is a sweet little pair that can be found for $300-350 used for example. CameralandNY has the first gen Kowa BD XD 8x32 on clearance for $279, excellent glass and very compact and light, the only real knock is they don’t have a huge FOV: https://cameralandny.com/shop/kowa-...422b-0134-b5d9-00163e9110c0?variation=1666056

- The next step up is when you approach $1k. At this point you are at near-alpha glass that is good enough for nearly anyone but the most demanding users (90% of whom are in this forum I think). Nikon Monarch HG, Zeiss Conquest HD, Leica Trinovid, Vortex Razor, Meopta Meostar, and some new players like Tract and Maven that play at this level for a few hundred less. The glass at this level is so good most people would have to look really hard and be told what to look for to see the difference between these and the $2000-3000 alphas.

This level is good enough to be lifetime glass for most people. If you can stretch to $500-700 you can get to this level looking at demos, open box, used, clearance sales etc. Considering your affinity for slender, light handling bins, the Vortex Razor HD and Nikon Monarch HG are good targets if you just want to get to the finish line now and be done with it.

Thank you. Wonderfully thoughtful post.

I can tell you that we're not going to justify spending >$400 for our first binoculars, particularly that I can predict getting something satisfactory with some Chinese made ones. For example, I could probably be happy with the Prostaff 7S (and I'm betting more thrilled with the Monarch 5). The Nikon's are well designed, ergonomically. They're light, easy to handle, and quick to lock onto the image. AND they have excellent eye relief. Their downside is somewhat limited FOV.

You mention the couple of options from CameralandNY. I'll check them out. The store would need a good return policy.

8x32 is an option I'm beginning to explore.

And used? As long as it's a brand that has an essentially 'no questions asked' warranty. Where is a reliable source for used? I'm gonna guess that there are classifieds in this forum?
 

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