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Leupold Switch Power review (10/17x42) (1 Viewer)

lucznik

Inspector Gadget
I thought I would post some info about a new binocular my wife got for me for a combo birthday/Christmas present.

It is the 10/17x42 Leupold Golden Ring (GR) Switch Power (SP) binocular. I think I will start out by giving some basic specs. I am also including the same specs for the Leica Duovid for comparative purposes.

(However, by way of disclaimer, let me make it clear from the outset that I am NOT trying to make any comparative conclusions between the two. I have never handled (nor in truth ever even seen “in person” a Leica Duovid so; I have no idea how the one would truly stack up against the other.)

Magnification
GR – 10 & 17
Duovid – 10 & 15

Objective Lens Diameter (mm)
GR – 42
Duovid – 50

Exit Pupil (mm)
GR – 4.2 & 2.47
Duovid – 5.00 & 3.33

Field of View (ft @ 1000 yds)
GR – 262 & 136
Duovid – 274 & 208

Eye Relief (mm)
GR – 21.1 & 18.1
Duovid – 14.5 & 14.3

Close Focus (ft)
GR – 12.8 & 13.1
Duovid – 12.9 & 12.9

Weight (oz)
GR – 23.9
Duovid – 44.0

Height (in)
GR – 6
Duovid – 7.8

Width (in)
GR – Unpublished
Duovid – 4.5

Weather proofing
GR – Waterproof/Fogproof
Duovid – Waterproof/Fogproof

Accessories
GR – RainGaurd, Neck Strap, Case, Leupold Full Lifetime Warranty, Extra Winged Eyecups, Extra Binocular Harness Strap
Duovid – RainGaurd, Neck Strap, Case, Leica Limited Lifetime Warranty, plus 3-years Leica Passport Protection Plan,

MSRP
GR – $1000.00
Duovid – $2800.00

As you can see, many of the specs (FoV, close focus, etc) are similar. Where there are differences (exit pupil vs. physical size/weight for example), there is plenty of room for there to be differing performance expectations that cause one individual to lean toward one feature where another would be more interested in the other.

The Leupold obviously wins in the price category. In fact, with their current (until 12/31/2010) mail-in rebate of $200 + a $100-off sale price, I was able to pick mine up for $700. Leica lovers will protest that their chosen brand enjoys “vastly superior” image quality which justifies the almost-3x higher price tag. To this I will have to refrain from giving an opinion based on direct comparison because, as I’ve already disclaimed, I’ve never made any such comparison. However, I can say that I have handled and looked through some of the best binoculars made by the (supposedly) best manufacturers in the world (Swarovski, Zeiss, Nikon, etc.) and I’ve generally been quite disappointed by the performance-to-price relationships being offered. So while I will happily concede that some, very small differences probably do exist in image quality that would prove to the Leica’s advantage, there is simply no way I could ever reasonably afford the Duovid so; those little differences don’t really matter in the end. And since Leupold has always done right by me in the past, I could see no reason to not give their SP model a try.

Now for some more direct (i.e. more subjective) observations:

With the exception of the magnification-switching lever on the front of the binocular the SP looks pretty much identical to other GR binoculars. I chose the brown rubber armored model so as to match with my 10-15x30 GR spotting scope. I have read a lot of negatives about the look of the brown rubber armoring on the GRs and I think that such complaints are nonsense. The brown goes perfectly well with the muted colors and camo patterns that are common in the hunting fields and is certainly as attractive as Swarovski’s choice of green. For those more-fashion-conscious individuals, Leupold does offer the SP with black rubber armor.

The SP works by adding in an additional lens element that moves into place when you flip the switch located on the top of the binocular just below the focus ring. You can actually see the extra lens move into place. An interesting note here is that, despite the required mechanics and the need for this lens element to be able to move out of the way, the SP’s barrel dimensions are really very thin; as thin as any other similarly-sized binocular and thinner than many, including Leupold’s own single-magnification GRs.

The SP is truly a dual magnification. You have either 10x or 17x. There is no “zoom” functionality. The magnification switch is positive and tactile. It is not hard to move but, it does not flop around on its own either. The hinge for setting interpupillary distance is firm and does not readily move by itself. The diopter adjustment is a click-set unit that is located on the right barrel. It is plenty stiff and will not move by itself once set. There is a dished out area in the rubber armor on each barrel in which to rest your thumbs. The inevitable branding is subtle and done in good taste (unlike say, Burris, who makes you carry around a veritable billboard with their name plastered in the largest possible lettering).

Accessories
Let’s proceed with a discussion about the accessories. The SP came with a nice, properly-sized, padded-cordura nylon case with a zipper top. I really like it, except that the back-side seam pulled out of its stitches almost immediately. My bag for my GR spotting scope is similar in construction and materials and has held up really well so; I’m not too worried about it. I just happened to get one that had an unseen flaw. It happens. Leupold is making a proper replacement and all will be fine.

The binocular comes with two sets of interchangeable eyecups. The first has the simple, flat edges that are traditional in binoculars. The other set has “wings” for helping to shut out stray light. I wear eyeglasses at all times so; this second set is unusable for me, but for someone who has better eyesight and/or who wears contact lenses, this could be an excellent option.

The SP also comes with both a neoprene neck strap and a binocular harness. Each is equipped with quick-disconnect buckles which you would think would be done to allow you to easily switch between the two, depending on which would be best for a given activity. But no, the buckles for each one is actually sized differently! For the life of me I can’t figure out why that would be. Not only would having them the same size allow for greater versatility, it would also cost less and be less of a logistical problem than having to purchase multiple sizes of buckles. Someone at Leupold wasn’t thinking very clearly.

Since they can’t be easily interchanged and since the whole concept of the binocular harness is an idea that is, at least for me, very limited in its usefulness, I have elected to use the neoprene neck strap. It is very wide and very comfortable. I like it.

Stay on objective lens covers come standard and again, I like them a lot. Sometimes I forget to flip them down and I look like an idiot bringing up binoculars to my eyes that are covered, but I’m used to looking dumb and I like the protection from dust, snow, fingers, etc. that these offer the glass. They are keepers.

The rubber so-named “rain-guard” that is supposed to hang from the neck strap and allow for covering the eyepieces to provide them with similar dust, snow, fingers, etc. protection is not nearly as well designed as the objective lens covers. It does not stay put when placed and it gets in the way often so; I pretty much don’t use that accessory at all, except when the binocular is put away in its case. When I need to protect the eyepieces, I slip the binocular under my jacket.

Finally, the SP sports a proper tripod mounting screw hole for use with an appropriate adapter. This is a feature that was removed from the regular GRs in favor of a “interpupillary distance lock” which I never liked at all. It was never a really solid lock and it constantly came unlocked making it basically useless. Even with low magnifications, I like being able to mount my binocular to a tripod and this is so much more important with a binocular like this one that is offering the opportunity to use a 17x magnification.



Of course, the basic premise behind the SP binocular (and the Duovid for that matter) is to give the viewer the option of scanning at low power until an object of interest is found and then, with the flip of a switch, increasing the magnification to get a better look. The SP does this very well. Let’s take a look at some of the basic comparative elements:

Exit Pupil (EP)
The SP offers the same 4.2mm EP as most “standard” 10x42 binoculars carried by untold numbers of very serious hunters. It is more than bright enough to serve at well before and well after any legal hunting hours in North America. If you are going to hunt in Europe or elsewhere where night hunting might be a possibility, then you might want bigger objectives. The 2.47mm EP @ 17x is about on par with most 10x “mini” binoculars and if it’s too dim to see the animal of interest through these binoculars at this magnification, then you are either too late or too early to be hunting just yet. Besides, if it really is too dark @ 17x, then you still have the option of viewing at 10x. The Duovid beats out the SP here, but only at the cost of significantly increased weight and bulk.

Field of View (FoV)
At 10x the FoV is narrower than what I am accustomed to enjoying. In fact it is significantly narrower than the 420 ft FoV of my up-till-now primary binocular, an 8x42 Porro prism B&L Discoverer. However, it is still on par with the only truly comparable glass, the Duovid, as well as with many other 10x binoculars. What’s more important is that it is entirely useable in the field and actually much less noticeable than I expected, except under direct, side-by-side comparison. At 17x the 136x FoV is similar to many spotting scopes at the same magnification and that’s good as this magnification is intended primarily to be used as a spotting scope substitute.

Eye Relief (ER)
In truth, I find the ER to be a bit too long, giving me black outs when I use the binocular with the eyecups in the fully-down position that is (was) my norm. The eyecups do have an intermediate setting that mitigates this problem but, ideally I would have liked Leupold to shorten the ER just a bit. In doing so they might have been able to increase the FoV a bit – which also would have been nice.

Physical Size
These binoculars are much smaller, both in size and weight, than other GR binoculars. This is good for the neck after long hours of carrying them and not so good for maintaining the very most stable image. Of course, they can be mounted to a tripod which solves this problem, if you can stand to carry a tripod around. These binoculars are much more comparable in size and weight to many other popular binocular lines.

Magnification
I have read many different things where authors, some amateurs and some professionals, try to wax profound about the pros and cons of higher and lower magnifications. Higher magnifications help you get closer – which is the very point of having binoculars. Low magnifications allow (theoretically) for steadier viewing. I have used both types rather extensively and am perfectly happy with either one. You may, however, infer from my choice of SP models which side of the “how much is enough/too much magnification” argument I personally have settled on. Leupold does offer a 7&12x32 model for anyone whose opinion in this matter differs from mine.
As an aside, I do still remain firmly convinced that the MSRP price of a given binocular is a pretty good indication of how much magnification it can reasonably support. I believe that, when speaking of a “primary” binocular and if you are going to pay under $700 retail for a roof prism (or under $350 retail for a Porro prism), then you should generally opt for the lower 7x-8x options and avoid 10x+ magnifications.

Aberrations
I will forever be willing to strangle the guy that taught me how to easily see Chromatic Aberration (CA) and, except for people who have some professional need to see it, I now always recommend people try to remain as blissfully ignorant of such techniques as possible. Such people, if CA is really bad in a particular optic, will still see it but, they won’t be bothered with endless niggling over small amounts that can’t be seen unless carefully looked for and which are in EVERY binocular they will ever handle, no matter the price. I, on the other hand, have had no end of frustrations as I have tried not to see CA in optics over the years.
That said, CA in the SP is very well controlled; at least as well as any other non-HD binocular I have seen and better than most – and the differences even between this and HD binoculars are very, very small.
Focus becomes a bit soft toward the outer edges of the field, again similar to what I’ve seen in other high end binoculars. This is a little bit more pronounced at 17x, though that is to be expected. There is no “rolling ball” effect that I can see and I also did not notice any pincushion or barrel effects – though I am, admittedly, not terribly good at seeing those except when they are severe. (I most probably WILL strangle the person who teaches me techniques for easily seeing these aberrations!)
The SP is not par focal; meaning that when you switch between magnifications you will have to do some slight focus adjustments to maintain the best image. The amount of adjustment required is very small but, it is there. I do not know if the Duovid is par focal or not.

Focus Mechanism
The SP’s focus wheel is smooth and fast. In fact, it is likely too fast for some people. It is much faster than the focus on my Discoverer and this has taken some getting used to. A slow focus means it is easier to dial in that absolutely perfect image, but often takes a lot of effort to get there, especially when switching from very near to very far and vise versa. A fast focus allows you to get onto the item of interest fast no matter what the distance disparity, but can sometimes be a bit niggly about finding that absolutely perfect focus point. I personally don’t really care what the focus speed is; I just have to get used to the binocular I happen to be using. If I were to nitpick, I would probably ask for a slightly slower focus on the SP, though I don’t want to get anywhere near the molasses-slow speed of my Discoverer.

Physical Design
I am pleased to no end that the GR binoculars have the long piano-hinge design that for decades was touted as being stronger and was therefore the primary reason for buying optically inferior roof prism binoculars instead of Porro prism models which were claimed to be too delicate for hard field use. It has always struck me as the hallmark of hypocrisy that we now throw around binoculars like the Swarovski EL and the like with claims of “superior ruggedness” despite their use of very Porro-prism-esque open hinges. I am convinced that all such posturing is marketing nonsense and that, if you truly want to have the most rugged binocular, you need to use the long hinge design. What’s even better is the current trend to see some Porro-prism binoculars (by Pentax, Minox, Leupold, etc.) now using a long hinge design.

To be fair I will acknowledge here that:
1. The Duovid also uses a long hinge design.
2. Even Leupold (in its Green Ring “WindRiver” line) offers roof prism binoculars with the silly open bridge.
3. I am also not convinced that the traditional, open Porro prism hinge, when used on quality-made binoculars, was ever quite as flimsy as manufacturers wanting to sell roof prism binoculars once tried to make us all believe. (They’re just not as strong as the long hinge, making them weak only by direct, and not necessarily reasonable, comparison.)


Conclusion
In short, the SP is a great binocular. It is offered by an American company and is designed and assembled here in the USA. Leupold offers the very best warranty in the business with an unmatched history of customer service to back that up. Optically the SP is as good as and perhaps better than any binocular in its price class and, due largely to its versatility, is perhaps better than others costing significantly more.
The SP offers a degree of versatility in its dual magnifications that is unmatched, except in binoculars costing so much that only a select few people can/will afford to buy them – and even if you are one of those few people, you do so at the additional cost of greater bulk and an inferior warranty. Having given this dual-power idea a try, I would find it difficult and distasteful to go back to binoculars offering only a single magnification option.

Now, to close, I do want to make one additional disclaimer. I am not, primarily, a dedicated birdwatcher, though I do very much enjoy the activity. Mostly though, I'm a hunter and I come at these things from a hunter's perspective. Over the years I have noticed that my birdwatcher friends have somewhat different expectations of their binoculars than do I. Oh, good optics are required for both activities to be sure, but sometimes these friends worry a lot about little things that simply don't effect me and that only the very most obsessive individual would ever be able to even notice. With that in mind, I think that things like the smaller FoV, the smaller exit pupils, etc. all combine to make the Switch Power (and probably the Duovid for that matter) a better hunting binocular that is serviceable as a amateur birdwatching binocular, but that probably would not serve as well as a primary binocular for a true, dedicated, optics-obsessed birdwatcher.
 
Great review. I owned for a time the Leupold 7/12 x 32 and agree entirely with your observations. I sold my Switch Power binocular as I couldn't hold it steady enough at 12x, but I thought the concept and execution was remarkable The Loopy warranty on its Gold Ring products is the best in the business, and I used the proceeds from the sale of my Switch Power to buy the Gold Ring 8 x 42 which I find to be an optical wonder. My 8 x 42 is brown BTW, and I think it actually looks quite distinguished in its utilitarian way.
 
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The SP works by adding in an additional lens element that moves into place when you flip the switch located on the top of the binocular just below the focus ring. You can actually see the extra lens move into place. An interesting note here is that, despite the required mechanics and the need for this lens element to be able to move out of the way, the SP’s barrel dimensions are really very thin; as thin as any other similarly-sized binocular and thinner than many, including Leupold’s own single-magnification GRs.

For the curious.

In a previous thread I posted a link to the patent which describes the design that the SwitchPower bins use. It has drawings of the mechanism.

http://birdforum.net/showpost.php?p=1445866&postcount=7

or read the whole thread

http://birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=137445
 
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