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RSPB HDX binoculars - equivalents? (2 Viewers)

sedgemoor

Member
RSPB HDX binoculars - equivalents/alternatives? Plus chromatic aberration

On Sunday I headed over to RSPB Pulborough for their "Binocular and Telescope open weekend". My current binoculars were a Christmas present aged 14 and they aren't much good for anything. Now that I know I want to birdwatch (and deer watch) it was time for a better pair.

I should say that I worked as a photographer a decade ago so I know what good glass looks like. I'm also that person who spots when white UPVC is slightly dirty when no one else does. You can guess where this is going...

The volunteers there were extremely helpful and started me off with their new "Harrier" binoculars. The first choice was 8x32 or 8x42? To me, despite the extra weight, 8x42 seemed preferable. It was brighter and I like the wider field of view; ideal (I think) when trying to spot deer at dawn or dusk.

The Harrier's image quality disappointed. And the chromatic aberration (CA)... oh my. Turns out I am particularly sensitive to it, and it is a REAL turn-off for me.

Next I tried the RSPB BG.PC binoculars at £380. They were considerably better. Looking through them felt more like stepping into the picture (vs the Harrier which was like viewing an oversharpened TV).

One volunteer recommended I tried the HDX, his go-to binoculars. Apart from colour (the BG.PC more magenta, the HDX greener) I didn't notice much difference, until it came to watching the raptors. Up against the clouds, the HDX (mostly) controlled the CA. The BG.PC was better than the cheaper ones but still had a wide band of magenta above and green below the birds.

I liked the HDX. It had the best CA control I saw that day, wider field of view (7.8 degrees), noticeably lighter than the BG.PC (I appreciate that), good microcontrast and a seemingly flatter image(?). It felt good in the hand. Variations in colour may have been easier to see than the BG.PC, but I'd have to look again to be sure.

But... at £680 was near twice what I'd planned to spend. Without other brands to compare with I had no way to tell whether the RSPB range was overpriced, or the HDX a complete bargain compared to the Zeiss and Leica binoculars the reserve also sold (at £1300+).

I have no problem spending that much for something that'll last a lifetime, but if the same quality is available for less (and the ergonomics work) I'd rather do that.

So... can forum members recommend any binoculars I should consider, and any places to do so? I've seen In Focus do field sales events but can't make the next two in this area.

PS: At Pulborough I also saw my first pair of red kites. Worth going for that alone! :t:
 
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mpeace

Well-known member
I tried an RSPB HDX at Arne and really liked it. I was very close to getting it, but didn't as I wanted to try others first. I tried lots of others, but without spending more didn't find one which I liked as much. So I then picked up a HDX 8x42 from Pulborough, but sadly never really got on with it. I sent it in to Vicking and they confirmed it wasn't well-aligned and sent me a new copy. However I think by then I had spent too long finding fault in it (trying to figure out why I wasn't getting on with the view), I was ready to move on and took it back. So a couple of points:

1. If you get a good copy, it really is a great binocular, don't analyse it too much and just enjoy it, it's also worth the money.
2. Don't buy from an RSPB shop unless you live close to it, try and buy online because you'll have to take it back in person if you find you don't get on with it. Buying online, you just post it back. They wont accept it back by post to a store.
3. RSPB have an amazing returns policy. I think you have up to 60 days or so (check, I can't quite remember) to send it back if you change your mind.

I don't think there's an 8x42 with such good colour, excellent ergonomics with good eye-relief, small size, light weight and decent field of view for the money. So if you did get a good copy you can be satisfied it's money well spent.

However, if your budget could stretch a little more then you could get some really top glass like the Nikon Monarch HG 8x42 or in smaller format Swarovski 8x30 CL companion or Monarch HG 8x30, which are all excellent for not that much more.

I think though if you're happy with what you've tried just order it and enjoy it. All binoculars have pros and cons and so when something feels right just get it or you'll never get any and spend all your time looking for that slightly better binocular for less money that may not even exist. In hindsight I'd have been better off just getting the copy I first tried in Arne and saving myself a lot of hassle and trips trying other binoculars etc.
 
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PYRTLE

Old Berkshire Boy
To start off, you really need to state or decide what your maximum budget is and have an open mind. RSPB will want you to buy their brand, same with Opticron. However, if your armed with say £400 and know you would like an 8 x 32 or 8 x 42, then you can very easily widen the range if you can source an independent optics retailer near you. Not sure if there is an LCE branch in Hampshire. Your budget would then incorporate so many more known brands such as Zeiss, Nikon, Vortex or Razor.
There are countless threads on here about binos {UK} in the 300 - 400 pound range, but you must try out at least 3 pairs as it's such a personal choice. There are some real knowledgeable members here who will help you create a short list.

You've stated you dont mind spending a lot of money for a unit that will last you a lifetime so why not just bite the bullet, only you can make that choice.
Good Luck.
P

2 shops listed, Portsmouth and Southampton.
 
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StephenHampshire

Well-known member
United Kingdom
To start off, you really need to state or decide what your maximum budget is and have an open mind. RSPB will want you to buy their brand, same with Opticron. However, if your armed with say £400 and know you would like an 8 x 32 or 8 x 42, then you can very easily widen the range if you can source an independent optics retailer near you. Not sure if there is an LCE branch in Hampshire. Your budget would then incorporate so many more known brands such as Zeiss, Nikon, Vortex or Razor.
There are countless threads on here about binos {UK} in the 300 - 400 pound range, but you must try out at least 3 pairs as it's such a personal choice. There are some real knowledgeable members here who will help you create a short list.

You've stated you dont mind spending a lot of money for a unit that will last you a lifetime so why not just bite the bullet, only you can make that choice.
Good Luck.
P

2 shops listed, Portsmouth and Southampton.
Also one in Winchester, i have tried out Opticron, Vortex and Nikon models there, including the Opticron Traveller BGA ED 8x32 which I really liked!
 

sedgemoor

Member
To start off, you really need to state or decide what your maximum budget is and have an open mind.

Let's say my budget is around £700-800. The real budget is how nice the binoculars are to use: optically and ergonomically, and how much reaching 'satisfactory' on that costs. If it's going to put me off picking up the binoculars as I walk out the door, it wasn't money well spent, however much I saved.

you can very easily widen the range if you can source an independent optics retailer near you. Not sure if there is an LCE branch in Hampshire. Your budget would then incorporate so many more known brands such as Zeiss, Nikon, Vortex or Razor.

Thanks, I will try and get to one this weekend. Assuming they let me look at something suitable, that will help.

There are some real knowledgeable members here who will help you create a short list.

That would be awesome. Monetary wise (and quality wise?) there seems a gap between the £500 mark and £1000. If members can recommend superb optical quality below £750 that would be really helpful.

so why not just bite the bullet

Good question, exactly the one my partner asked. The answer is I'd feel a complete mug if I found out later the RSPB were sticking their logo on a £450 pair and selling it for £680, and I bought one.

Despite my criteria being about satisfactory image quality, some habits die hard.
 

sedgemoor

Member
I tried an RSPB HDX at Arne and really liked it. I was very close to getting it, but didn't as I wanted to try others first. I tried lots of others, but without spending more didn't find one which I liked as much. So I then picked up a HDX 8x42 from Pulborough, but sadly never really got on with it. I sent it in to Vicking and they confirmed it wasn't well-aligned and sent me a new copy. However I think by then I had spent too long finding fault in it (trying to figure out why I wasn't getting on with the view), I was ready to move on and took it back. So a couple of points:

1. If you get a good copy, it really is a great binocular, don't analyse it too much and just enjoy it, it's also worth the money.
2. Don't buy from an RSPB shop unless you live close to it, try and buy online because you'll have to take it back in person if you find you don't get on with it. Buying online, you just post it back. They wont accept it back by post to a store.
3. RSPB have an amazing returns policy. I think you have up to 60 days or so (check, I can't quite remember) to send it back if you change your mind.

I don't think there's an 8x42 with such good colour, excellent ergonomics with good eye-relief, small size, light weight and decent field of view for the money. So if you did get a good copy you can be satisfied it's money well spent.

Thanks mpeace, really helpful advice - and to hear someone else go through the same saga I'm subjecting myself to. Out of interest, what pair(s) do you now have? I'm over an hour from a local RSPB shop.

However, if your budget could stretch a little more then you could get some really top glass like the Nikon Monarch HG 8x42 or in smaller format Swarovski 8x30 CL companion or Monarch HG 8x30, which are all excellent for not that much more.

Thanks, I will add to my list.

I think though if you're happy with what you've tried just order it and enjoy it. All binoculars have pros and cons and so when something feels right just get it or you'll never get any and spend all your time looking for that slightly better binocular for less money that may not even exist. In hindsight I'd have been better off just getting the copy I first tried in Arne and saving myself a lot of hassle and trips trying other binoculars etc.

You aren't my partner in disguise are you? Just checking :king:
 

PYRTLE

Old Berkshire Boy
I'll put in my ha'penny worth and hope it helps, based on an x8 magnification and brief reason for each.
Independent retailer......
  • Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 32
Compact size and from a well known company
  • Vortex Viper HD 8 x 42 (2018)
Full size so more light gathering.
  • Kowa BD XD 8 x 42
Well known Japanese company.

The price for these 3 vary from £450 up to £750 and should give you a feel for overall size, feel, weight, focusing and obviously the image. Take your time when examining and trying out. Only one last thing, choose the pair that you are happy with and don't be swayed by the best deal or sales talk. They are there to help you choose, you decide.

Do take the opportunity to look through an alpha unit, such as a Swarovski EL just to see what the differences may be.

All the best, Pat
 
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Paskman

Registered User
Supporter
Do take the opportunity to look through an alpha unit, such as a Swarovski EL just to see what the differences may be.



All the best, Pat


Whatever you do, do not do that. If you do you will be back on here the next day asking where the best deals for Swarovski, Zeiss et al...... Mind you I have a gut feeling that you will be here before long asking about ELs🙂
 

mpeace

Well-known member
Thanks mpeace, really helpful advice - and to hear someone else go through the same saga I'm subjecting myself to. Out of interest, what pair(s) do you now have? I'm over an hour from a local RSPB

Adding support to what Paskman has just said and answering your question I ended up with a Swarovski 8.5x42 EL FP. Add to that a Zeiss Victory Pocket 8x25, a Vortex Razor 10x42 and my latest purchase a Nikon 8x30 HG and that's my collection. By trying lots of different binoculars and appreciating the nuances between them the binoculars start also being a hobby rather than just a tool for the hobby of wildlife viewing. So, if you don't fancy that I'd save time and money by just getting the binocular that you try in a store and like best and that fits your budget. I do think if you just want one binocular that you can take anywhere with you the 8x32 and 8x30 format is great. If you get a 8x42 I reckon you'll want a smaller bin before long for convenience. The RSPB 8x42 HDX is so compact and light it could be all the binocular you need. Similarly the Nikon 8x42 HG is very compact. If I was starting out again on a budget of about £800 and limiting myself to 1 binocular I'd probably go for a Swarovski 8x30 companion (you may need to haggle a bit to get for £800) Nikon Monarch 8x42 or 8x30 HG. Still that's just me and others have given good suggestions. Good luck.
 

prc6995

Active member
I was in a similar position to you awhile ago, I had a very old pair of bins which I used occasionally but then my wife & I became quite interested in bird watching so decided to buy some new bins. Wife got a pair of Opticron Natura 8x32's & I was looking at the Swarovski CL Companion 8x30. However I really liked the look of the Swarovski 8x32EL. After trying both I decided on the EL as to me it just felt better in the hand, has a much brighter view, wider FOV & given that we now go out most days I was happy to pay for something that will stand me in good stead for many years. The only downside was that after using my EL's a few times I've had to buy the wife a pair too.
 

sedgemoor

Member
One week update

I took advantage of the RSPB’s generous returns period (thanks @mpeace for the tipoff) to order the HDX. First impressions are good and I’ve been out 4 times: by the sea when overcast and spitting with rain, near dusk with light cloud, and in bright sunshine; and to the heathland in light sun.

I’ve nothing to compare it to, so notes and questions rather than anything absolute:

Looking at water, every time the sun is over my shoulder (30-45ish degrees) I get a green circle in the view, somewhat obscuring the picture. Is this flare?

I’ve seen forum members talk about “snap to focus”. I find this pair slides through without any indication of when the best focus is reached. I’ll put it down to inexperience but keen to hear if there’s a technique to find the right point. FWIW the focus dial is buttery smooth.

CA is mostly well controlled. It fringes items at a distance (e.g. the Isle of Wight from the mainland). Today a sunlit white swan against dark water had a magenta ring; this was the first time it properly showed up.

Panning is “interesting”. At certain distances it’s nauseating; the best description is like the world bending around the binoculars. Sorry that’s so non-technical. At a guess because the centre is flattish, and the edges not?

They are bright, and in good light I have wished for sunglasses a couple of times, particularly by the water when the sun is perpendicular to me.

I am working on eye position; I get blackouts occasionally. Bracing under the eyebrows is working best when not wearing glasses; with glasses on they’re proving easier.

Is there a technique to set diopter adjustment if you can close only one eye?

At sunset (5.15pm in February) they worked. Could’ve been brilliantly, could be substandard; black geese on dark water was always going to be difficult. I’ve no idea how they were different to a 8x32 or anything smaller. The light gathering ratios aren't helpful compared to looking through them! It’s not a time I suspect I’d often be out, but days are so short at the moment.

I do think if you just want one binocular that you can take anywhere with you the 8x32 and 8x30 format is great. If you get a 8x42 I reckon you'll want a smaller bin before long for convenience.

Funny you should say that - one wrong assumption I had was that field of view was a factor of diameter, so 42mm would give a wider field of view than 32mm. Now I know that’s not true I will look. I’m heading to an InFocus optics event this Saturday near Christchurch. Hoping for bad weather and poor light, as testing in bright sun feels less useful!

I understand the HDX isn’t particularly heavy or bulky as 8x32/8x42’s go (640g, no ruler to hand to measure) but I am keen to see the tradeoffs with something smaller. After a couple of hours it tells round the neck.

Unfortunately InFocus don’t have a Zeiss 8x25 Victory Pocket which I was keen to see after the forum reviews (supposedly no stock in the UK), but sounds like they are bringing a fair range, including the CL 8x30.
 
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sedgemoor

Member
Sedgemoor how did you get on yesterday comparing binoculars at InFocus?

It was very useful to be able to compare and test outside (I'll never get the hang of looking at binoculars in a shop).

Short answer: the RSPB HDX are going back. They feel good, are light and bright, but I am finding they hurt my eyes. Not "looking through a window", more "borrowing someone else's glasses". Noticeable before, but moreso after comparing with others.

Longer answer: The InFocus range was somewhat limited, being a lot at the cheaper end, then Swarovski and a few others. The weather was poor (mist just lifted) and there was a distinct lack of birds; most testing was on little egrets, white against dark ditches. I tried:

Opticron Traveller HD 8x32 (£299)
Less sharp than the RSPB one (or, like all the rest, more natural?), same CA (IMO) as Swarovski 8x25. Easy eye placement.

Nikon Monarch HD 8x30 (£799)
Light and good balance. The one I wanted to like. Good CA control. But. Tricky eye placement. Half-blackouts. That's opposite to reviews on this forum, goodness knows what I was doing wrong.

Zeiss Terra Pocket ED 8x25 (£279)
Not sharp or good CA control. Gritty feel to focus wheel

Swarovski CL Pocket 8x25 (£525)
V light and compact - a fan of that. Noticeable narrower fov than some. Good but not great overall optical quality IMO (or v different rendition? Unsaturated colours, different contrast?). Some CA for white on dark and vice versa. Eye placement slightly sensitive.
[Edit: Unsure if this was the new 'B' model or the original. Assuming 'B']

Swarovski cl companion 8x30 (£839)
This was the surprise. Don't know if it was the sample, but I didn't like these. Chap running the event didn't either.
Narrow fov. Didn't sit right in the hand. Least favourite. Felt optically inferior to 8x25. More CA than 8x25.

Swarovski el 8x32 (£1500)
Yes, I tried the only alpha glass there. Amazing. Feel in the hand, image quality, and absence of CA. Would've liked to try Zeiss/Leica too, but ranges not stocked.

Where now?
Still thinking.

Alpha glass is what I expected, and matches my camera lenses in performance. But I don't want to spend that much yet.

Everything has CA. I am ultra-sensitive to CA and need to accept it.

8x25 is a wonderful size & weight. I wasn't wowed by the performance of this particular set of 8x25s. Perfectly usable, but I was left thinking "What's the Swarovski fuss about?". (I see it with the EL)

For everyday use, there's a reason 8x30 or 8x32 is more common than 8x25.

On satisficing vs maximizing, the Opticron Traveller isn't outstanding at anything but is a cheap package. It satisfices.


Looking at water, every time the sun is over my shoulder (30-45ish degrees) I get a green circle in the view, somewhat obscuring the picture. Is this flare?
Solved - it was the sun bleeding into the eyepiece over my shoulder. Doh!
 
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mpeace

Well-known member
It's a shame you haven't been able to try the Zeiss Victory 8x25 as it handles CA very well. It's wide for a pocket, but perhaps not wide enough for you. The Zeiss Conquest 8x32 is popular as well. You could have a look at London Camera Exchange as they have second hand optics and occasionally have a Leica Ultravid 8x32 or Zeiss Victory 8x32 at a reasonable price as well as a reasonable stock of new binoculars. The EL 8x32 can sometimes be had new for £1350 when there's offers and sales. Might be worth saving a bit for that since you liked it best.
 

jeffhosier

Well-known member
You may well find that a fairly old pair of top-end bins (mine are now 14 years old) will serve you better than a same price brand new pair.

A few years ago I bought a second hand pair of Swarovski 8x42s (manufactured in 2004) for around £800 from London Camera Exchange (LCE). Every time I go a WWT or RSPB site, I have a play with other mid-range bins, and none of them come near. (Frankly, to my 75 year old eyes, there's not a lot of difference between my bins and the current Swarovski models - certainly not enough for me to cough up about £1,00 to upgrade). I also have the comforting feeling that Swarovski will service/mend them for many years to come at very low - possibly zero - cost. And, if I want to sell I can still probably going to get a sizeable chunk of my £800 back (which you probably wouldn't on some mid-range bns)

Reputable companies like LCE offer a six month guarantee with second hand stuff, so the risk of being landed with a lemon is fairly low - certainly worth a punt.


Jeff
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
In the uppper mid-priced range I don't think anything beats a Kowa Genesis 8x33 for CA control and for sheer enjoyment of the view Meopta's MeoStar B1 8x32 stands out too. Both not easy to find but worth travelling to test if you are looking for binos that will keep you happy for years.

Lee
 

sedgemoor

Member
I popped into a London Camera Exchange yesterday. I didn't get to try the Victory Pocket 8x25 or Victory FL 8x32 (which I've read so much about) as they (and I believe all LCE branches) have reduced the amount of Zeiss binoculars they stock.

The staff member said this is is partly due to the poor area sales rep they had, but mostly when people come in and try Leica, Swarovski and Zeiss they buy the Swarovski or Leica. Additionally since Zeiss doesn't update their range as often as the others they didn't sell as many.

So, the range they keep in stock is the Conquests and a couple of Victory SFs. Even the Terras have been dropped.

I took the opportunity to look through the Leica Trinovid 8x32 and Zeiss Conquest 8x32 display models. The Conquest had the gritty-feeling focus wheel documented on these forums ("Hmm said the staff member, a brand new pair shouldn't feel like this". Well...). As all I could look at was a postage-stamp sized piece of blue sky and the building opposite in late afternoon sun, no optical conclusions drawn.


You may well find that a fairly old pair of top-end bins (mine are now 14 years old) will serve you better than a same price brand new pair.
Try looking for a used Zeiss Victory FL, and you can just about forget about CA.

Thanks Jeff & James, I agree. Sadly the only second hand pair yesterday was an Opticron Traveller 10x.

In the uppper mid-priced range I don't think anything beats a Kowa Genesis 8x33 for CA control and for sheer enjoyment of the view Meopta's MeoStar B1 8x32 stands out too. Both not easy to find but worth travelling to test if you are looking for binos that will keep you happy for years.

Thanks Lee, both ones I would like to try. I got a double take at LCE when I asked if they ever stocked Kowa - the salesman had looked through the Genesis and said they were very good and filled a price gap, but they have zero brand recognition so would never sell in-branch.

I am plotting a weekend away that "just happens" to be near to an extensively-stocked optics shop o:D
 
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