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Kowa BDII 6.5x32 XD review (1 Viewer)

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
Hello all,

Travel misadventures left me in California to weather the Covid-19 global lock down, as I cannot get back to Argentina for the foreseeable future. Being 10,000km from my partner basically sucks. But the situation yields some niceties as well - seeing my mom, enjoying a bit of socal spring migration, working on her yard list, doing a lot of gardening, and being able to try some new binoculars!

I'd long wanted a lower powered pair of binoculars, preferably compact, but was never tempted enough by any of the options out there to take the plunge. The Maven B3 6x30 was always the closest to what I was looking for but I never managed to pull the trigger. So when the Kowa came along with reportedly pretty good optics and critically (for my desires) the magic combination of a large FOV, sufficient eye relief, and a compact package, I was itching to try them.

Out of the box, the fit and finish is quite good - on par with Nikon M7 series, perhaps just a hair off something like a Zeiss Conquest. The binocular feels very solid and dense in the hand, a function of it's weight (modest) relative to it's form factor (really quite compact). The four position (down / two intermediate steps / up) eyecups are solid and feel like they came from a more expensive binocular. The rubber armoring is simple, has good texture, is well fitted with no looseness, and leaves me nothing to worry about. Focus is fairly smooth and has no slack or backlash on my example. It is not the smoothest focuser I own (clearly not as good as my Victory SF or MHG) but it is good, it functions perfectly, and it's the kind of thing that I quickly cease to notice in prolonged use unless it's particularly sticky or has a lot of slack. As others have mentioned, the ocular cover is way too tight fitting. For now I just barely fit it on when out and about but I will look for a better-fitting cover. Strap lugs appear to be plastic - generally not a problem unless an unlucky collision snaps/crushes one, which happened to me once on a different bin. The good thing about the strap lugs is they are rounded a bit and don't poke the hand too much if your preferred grip pushes your hand up against or over them. The strap itself is far too short for me, but then again I basically never use provided straps. Heavier bins go on shock-cord harnesses, and lighter bins go on long thin straps to be worn bandolier style.

As far as use goes, the functional ER works out for me with glasses. It is "barely comfortable - but comfortable," exactly the same as my 8x30 MHG. I do need to press them to my glasses lightly to get the full view, but I don't need to mash my glasses into my face (8x30 M7 and many others in the 15mm range of stated ER).

One minor oddity is that the neutral spot of the diopter is not at zero. I had to tick it over about one full mark out of 4 (not sure if one mark is meant to be one diopter or not) to get a good relaxed view. As long as it does not wander in the future this does not bother me. Most other binoculars I own the diopter stays right at zero. I've had one other binocular that required a non-zero diopter setting, and that bin eventually needed to be replaced under warranty as the diopter wandered far enough to be unusable after a couple of years of daily birding, so I'll keep a close eye on the diopter on this unit.

Central sharpness is quite good. The sweet spot is symmetrical and the same size on both tubes, and extends out to about 70-75% of the massive FOV with my accommodation. Basically, for me, it passes the test of the sweet spot being big enough (in absolute terms) that I have to make an effort to look into the out of focus area, so I don't notice the drop off. Out to 95+% of the FOV you can handily focus back into view but who does that instead of swiveling their head to what they want to see? Contrast seems good if not remarkable (less than MHG / SV / SF, but as good or better than many mid-tier bins). Color is pretty neutral - with varying lighting I cannot see a difference in white paper through the bin vs naked eye, and I've yet to notice any colors looking off. I have not yet seen any on-axis CA, including looking for it. CA is readily apparent, when looked for, in the outer part of the field of view. But again, the FOV is really large and you aren't going to spend time studying something without centering the bin on the subject so, effectively, the bin "seems" free of CA in my use. Flare / glare also seems quite well controlled though I've not had as much of a chance to really evaluate this aspect thus far. One small thing that is quite apparent is how close to the end of the tubes the objective lenses are mounted. I think this is a binocular that will deserve a bit of extra care; the objective lens feels a touch more exposed to scratching. Close focus appears to be just about on specification, though I've not measured it. The view at less than 2m is not 100% comfortable and I can't quite get the two tubes to resolve into a single circle.

Overall, I think they are physically and optically very good, particularly for the price. The large FOV is spectacular and the sweet spot is large enough that I don't notice that the outer field curves out of focus. Overall impression of the image - the combination of FOV, ease of view, sharpness, color, saturation, is really quite nice. I would say that I still clearly prefer the view through my MHG 8x30, as the MHG has comparable sharpness, a larger sweetspot, and a bit more contrast and saturation. But the Kowa wins against my M7 8x30, with the Kowa being sharper, more neutral, providing an easier view, and perhaps comparable contrast. Merely writing this review made me curious about the Maven B3 6x30 again but review specs and thinking about a ~51 degree AFOV vs ~65 degree AFOV was enough to remind me why I never pulled the trigger on even a demo Maven in the past.

For now, these Kowas seem like they definitely fit my parameters and are pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I look forward to trying them from boats, cars, and trains, and spending more time watching insects and herps. Initial use just around the yard and walking the dogs makes it clear that I prefer 8-10x for general birding, and makes me recall how fond I am of the MHG 8x30 on all fronts - great image, great ergonomics, comfortable in the hand, super compact and light weight. It's a shame there isn't a 6-7x MHG or CL-B, though if there were I would be $800-1000 poorer instead of $370 poorer :)

Cheers and happy yard-listing to all!
 

mwhogue

Well Known Member
Supporter
Josh,

Very nice review thanks for posting. A couple of things. The 6.5 is really great for long range observation as well. The low magnification is offset by, for me at least, a very porro-like 3D image effect, like looking at the real world magnified as opposed to a magnified image. The Opticron 45.5 mm BGA rain guard is a perfect fit .

Mike
 

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
Hi Mike, thanks for the kind words.

I did see some references in other threads to the 45.5 mm rain guard fitting well so I've got one on order now, as well as one of my preferred straps for lightweight bins - long, thin, and no padding, so that it slides easily over clothing and can be slid around readily when worn bandolier style.

It's interesting using and getting used to this bin. I do love the expansive field of view. I am not sure I notice a huge advantage to the greater depth of field, at least yet, though I'm still just getting used to the bin and getting to where it feels totally natural. Unless something is immediately off-putting or negative, I prefer to take my time forming opinions. Initial niggles may cease to be apparent and things missed at first might start to be noticed. I do know what you mean about the 3D / porro like image, I'm noticing it more and more, and I'm enjoying the relaxed aspect of 6.5x magnification for garden birding. Also related to the magnification and DOF, I do notice that birds/targets don't "pop" or stand out as much due to the greater DOF not isolating the target against the background as well. I've also started to feel that the Kowa seems noticeably weaker than my three regularly used bins (an SF, an EL SV, and an MHG) in terms of seeing detail in shadows or on backlit birds. Hard to say what component is magnification vs optical quality, though I suspect it is a mixture of the two. I do look forward to a better comparison with the M7 8x30, as that is the most comparable other bin we have.

Cheers again and happy yard listing :)
 

Swedpat

Well-known member
Thanks pbjosh for sharing your opinion about these interesting binoculars!
I am looking forward to compare them to my Vortex Viper HD 6x32.
 

Torview

Registered User
Supporter
Nice review Josh,

I`v been using mine a lot lately walking the dog around locally rather than on the Moor, I have been finding it to struggle with stray light, however I suspect anything with a 10 deg fov would have this problem.
 

ceasar

Well-known member
Hi Josh,

Thanks for your excellent review. It covers all the bases!

I got my BDII 6.5x32 XD on January 23, 2020 and I have been using it often. Optically speaking, I don't have any criticisms about it. I am very pleased with its comfortable eye relief. It is sharp and bright and its generous FOV is unique for its compact size. Still, even with that compactness it's feel is that of a "binocular of substance." If I had smaller hands I think I would find it more comfortable.

I think that women will find it pleasant to use.

Bob
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Hi Josh,

Thanks for your excellent review. It covers all the bases!

I got my BDII 6.5x32 XD on January 23, 2020 and I have been using it often. Optically speaking, I don't have any criticisms about it. I am very pleased with its comfortable eye relief. It is sharp and bright and its generous FOV is unique for its compact size.

Bob

Me too Bob.

Lee
 

jremmons

Wildlife Biologist
They are rather good binoculars and would be my recommendation for anyone looking for a lower priced, lower magnification model. Optically, stray light and edge sharpness/edge CA control are their only flaws, but I would think without alpha level monetary investments, such complaints are of limited importance when considering the wide FoV and central view performance.
Mine are still my typical 'work truck' binoculars due to their compact size and overall "ease" of view due to the combined wide field and large eye-relief.

Justin
 

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
I've now had nearly a month with these binoculars, and have used them for perhaps a half hour to an hour per day. I continue to enjoy them, but have come to the conclusion that I greatly prefer 8x or 10x magnification. I can hold my 10x amply still to see far greater detail / ID birds at a much greater distance. I do really like the huge FOV of the Kowa, however. The eye relief really is ample for my glasses - I have zero struggles to place the bins to my eyes and see the full field of view, I don't even notice pressing into my glasses, just placing against and I have the full view, so they are very easy in terms of "lift them up and not fiddle to get the view." I like the form factor and ergonomics quite well.

There are two things that I have noticed that I'm a bit less of a fan of, as time goes on:

First, the field curvature / out of focus edges / size of the sweet spot. This doesn't bother me at all when I'm looking at a still subject, and I can still amply see motion out to the edges with no problem to find new targets. But when panning around slowly looking for birds, the effect of the periphery going into and out of focus is something that I find a bit distracting and mildly uncomfortable.

Second, I find that the view is subtly but definitely less comfortable / relaxing than my other binoculars, but I've yet to come up with why. I'm no professional but have done a fair bit of trying to verify collimation within my abilities: looking at distant objects with the binoculars tripod mounted and then backing away and defocusing until the two exit pupils combine, then seeing if they resolve to one image, and they do quite well. I cannot find any breaks in horizontal surfaces doing this either. Essentially, I can't see any collimation problems, but again I am not an expert. Perhaps it's the curved field that I find a bit distracting? I will keep using them and playing with them and pondering this aspect of the situation, but for now I'm a bit surprised that I don't find them more "relaxing" to use. I definitely find my 10x42 Swaros give a bit more relaxing / easy view despite the smaller exit pupil and higher magnification.

All that said, I still think they are a nice binocular for the money and will keep them for use from boats / trains, but I increasingly doubt I will use them much for general purpose birding, as I really find that I prefer a higher magnification.

Anyways, cheers to all and good quarantine birding :)
 

perdu

Member
I have a pair of Monarch 7 8x40 and just bought this Kowa. Absolutely love it. The build quality is much better than the M7 and although it's not apples to apples I prefer it to the M7 optically. I'll write a review when I've had more time with the Kowa but for the money it's very good.
 

perdu

Member
I have a pair of Monarch 7 8x40 and just bought this Kowa. Absolutely love it. The build quality is much better than the M7 and although it's not apples to apples I prefer it to the M7 optically. I'll write a review when I've had more time with the Kowa but for the money it's very good.

Sorry I mean 8x42
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
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