I have resisted testing the new crop of big binoculars. By "big" I mean binoculars with large objective lenses...50mm and larger...as opposed to the more normal 40-42mm birding glass (though clearly, increasing the size of the objective lens increases both the size and weight of the whole instrument). Zeiss has their NightOwl line, both Swarovski and Leica have recently introduced 50mm roof prism glasses, and Meade has an 8x56 on the market (see last issue for a review of the Meade). 10x50s, of course, have always been common in the porro design. The real innovation here is 50mm glasses in 7 and 8 powers and 10x50 roof prism designs.
My feeling has always been that comfort in the field is as important (or almost as important) as optical excellence. These glasses are all in the 40 ounce range, and correspondingly bulky. That is a lot of weight to hang around your neck. Even with some kind of shoulder support system, I find that heavy glasses lead to early fatigue and less enjoyment of the time afield. Call me a wimp, but I don't care how much extra a glass might show me if I am already too miserable to enjoy looking at it.
Still, there has been a good deal of interest, among the BVD readership, in the the new 50mms from Leica and Swarovski.
Because I am aware of a slight bias against the bigger glasses, I put a good deal of effort into determining for myself, by direct experiment, exactly what the advantages of carrying the extra weight might be. In my experience in the field I have noted several situations where larger binoculars seem to outperform smaller ones...I set up several tests to see if I could confirm my impressions under controlled conditions, with a variety of binoculars of different sizes on hand to make direct comparisons.
Situation One: pulling color and detail in extreme low light.
Optical theory says that binoculars with larger objectives should be brighter...they should deliver more light energy to the eye. Brightness is the hardest element of optical quality to judge or compare. The human eye is built to adjust rapidly to changes in light level. The pupil of the eye expands to admit more light in low light, and contracts to admit less light in bright light...keeping the amount of energy reaching the retina of the eye fairly constant. Placing binoculars in front of your eye does not change the eye's ability to compensate. In full daylight, if you try to compare the brightness of, say, 8x32 and 8x50 binoculars, the pupil will expand while looking through the 8x32s and contract while looking through the 8x50s. As long as light levels remain within the eye's ability to adjust, both will appear equally as bright.
To complicate matters, studies have shown that we humans have difficulty identifying differences in actual brightness of much less than 25%. 25% is a lot of difference.
Finally, even if you could use an instrument to objectively measure the actual amount of light energy transmitted by various binoculars...you still would not get an accurate representation of how bright the binoculars would appear to the eye/brain system. Color balance...the particular mix of frequencies of light...transmitted by each system affects our impression of brightness. We are simply more interested in certain colors than in others...if the energy levels for the colors we want to see are high, then we will think of the binoculars as bright. Then too, some binoculars seem to be particularly effective in low light situations. In twilight, they pick up color that is out of proportion to their full daylight performance.
What we are really interested in, as birders, is the ability of binoculars to extend the range of our vision...to extract color and detail when our eyes have already reached the limits of their ability.
To determine how much extra color binoculars of different sizes deliver to the eye, I set up two different tests. In the first, I took individual strands of embroidery floss of different colors and mounted them on black and neutral gray felt (that is, I took a length of floss as it comes from the store and separated out a single one of the twisted threads). I taped the felt up on a wall and set up a tripod at 20 feet. The primary light source was an incandescent lamp about 6 feet from the wall. Measured illumination at the wall was 2 foot candles (the amount of light given off by two candles at one foot).
With this setup I could see no meaningful difference in the amount of color delivered to the eye for binoculars in the 32-50mm range. Even 8x23 binoculars delivered significant color. When I reduced the amount of illumination (by using a lamp about 10 feet away and at a greater angle to the wall) only 10x50 glasses showed any advantage over the others...and it was very slight (the illumination at this point was below the ability of my meter to measure).
Round two: I set up in my basement on a winter morning as the sun rose. I was 25 feet from a US Air Force Standard Resolution target placed at the dark end of my basement and illuminated only by the indirect light from two ground level windows. At the beginning of the test, the edges of objects at that end of the basement were not yet distinct. By the end of the test, I could clearly see the edges of objects, but at no time during the test could I distinguish any color on the target from where I stood (the AF chart has resolution blocks in red, blue, and yellow as well as black). The target was not evenly illuminated. The light level fell gradually from one edge to the other, so that one edge was still indistinct while the other was clearly visible. All optics were hand held for this test.
At the beginning of the test (lowest light levels: near darkness) I could barely distinguish individual bars within the resolution blocks on the brightest edge of the chart through any of the binoculars. 10x50 glasses yielded the highest level of detail, followed by 10x42, then 8x50, 8x42, and 8x32. The differences between 8x50 and 8x32 were barely perceptible, but at that very low level of light, the 10x glasses had a distinct advantage. No color was visible through any of the glasses.
As the light level increased to the point where I could begin to easily distinguish the edges of objects (deep twilight), I could see detail further into the shadowed area of the chart. I also began to be able to see a difference between resolution blocks of different colors, even before I could have said what color the blocks actually were. By the time I could see any color at all I could see it through all of the binoculars. Red showed up first; blue was very difficult to distinguish from black even at the end of the test, but, just as the red blocks did, blue blocks showed as much detail as black blocks; yellow was visible but showed no detail even at the end. 8x50 binoculars showed the most color detail, followed by 8x42, 8x32, 10x50, and 10x42. Again, differences were just barely evident.
By the time I could distinguish blue from black at the brightest edge of the chart through the binoculars (twilight), I could see a significant amount of detail through all of the binoculars. At this light level the 8x50s had just a bit of an edge, followed by 10x50s, 10x42s, 8x42s, and 8x32s. Differences between 8x42 and 8x32 glasses were barely evident. Even differences between 8x50 and 8x32 glasses were subtle.
When I tried this same test in full daylight, there were no significant differences in the hand held resolutions of the binoculars I had for testing. It was marginally easier to see the smallest details through the 10x50 glasses, but I still could not see any smaller detail than the 8x32s already showed.
Situation Two: shadowed areas against a bright background. Classic scenarios: birds in flight against the sky...soaring hawks, Crossbills overhead...or birds high in a tree at the end of the branch, in siloquet. In either case it has always been my impression that larger objectives show more detail and color in the bird than smaller. (You get a similar effect when looking into shadowed areas in deep foliage, especially if there is direct sun anywhere in the view. Even though the overall view is no brighter, larger objectives seem to penetrate the shadows better.) I tried an informal test of this by examining the underside of bare winter branches on the Maples in our back yard. The 50mm binoculars appeared to show more detail and more color in the shadowed areas, followed by 42mm, then by 32mm. Power did not seem as significant, but again, the 10x glasses made detail somewhat easier to see.
To formalize the test, I backed an Air Force resolution target with black paper and taped it to a window. Inside illumination came from the natural daylight of a window at right angles and 8 feet away. Behind the target I saw the white siding of the house next door. From 35 feet away there was a marked contrast between the illumination of the target and its background. Under these conditions, hand held, I could see exactly the same amount of detail in the target, no matter which binoculars I used. Once again, 10x glasses made the detail easier to see, but did not show any smaller detail than even the 8x32 glasses.
Increasing the illumination falling on the target, but keeping it considerably less bright than the background illumination (a meter reading showed a 10 to 1 ratio) increased the amount of detail I could see through all of the glasses, but, once again, it did not show up any significant differences in the amount of detail shown by different sized objectives.
Finally, I made an arrangement of embroidery floss on a square of black felt and taped that to the window. At 35 feet, I could see no color with the naked eye. Once again, hand held, there were no significant differences in the amount of color seen, or in the ease of distinguishing colors, among any of the 32 to 50mm glasses I had for testing. The 10x glasses (both 50 and 42mm) made the color easier to see, but did not show any colors or details that the 8x32 glasses did not show. It may have been just slightly easier to distinguish grey-green from brown through the 10x50 glasses than it was through the 8x32s, but it was a very subtle difference, one that could easily be overcome by looking a bit harder through the 8x32s.
Situation Three: detail at great distances. Almost any quality binocular will give you exceptional views at under 40 feet. In fact, as noted above, it is all but impossible to distinguish between the amount of detail shown handheld at moderate distances by binoculars in the 32-50mm range. Even truly excellent compacts perform well at these distances. As the distance stretches out though, the demands made on the binoculars increase proportionately. One would expect that there would come a point where the extra resolution of larger objectives would begin to come into play, and big glasses would clearly show more detail than smaller glasses. To test this I put a resolution block from the Air Force chart out at 60 feet (because of the regression of test bar sizes, 60 feet simulates much greater distances). At that distance I could not see any difference between the amounts of detail delivered, hand held, by binoculars in the 32-50mm range.
I then moved out three times as far, to 180 feet. At that distance only the largest bars on the target could be confidently resolved hand held through any of my test optics. Both 10x glasses gave glimpses of finer bars, but, the 10x42s yielded the most consistent views of finer details, perhaps because they were lighter and I could hold them steadier (these 10x glasses achieve equal scores on both the NEED test and a standard tripod-mounted resolution test). The 8x glasses, 50, 42, and 32mm, all resolved the same largest bars as the 10x glasses with confidence, but it was much more difficult to catch smaller detail. Among them, the 8x32 glasses yielded the most consistent glimpses of finer detail.
Of course, I also did NEED tests on this set of binoculars. Remember, the NEED test compares the distances at which optics show the same naked eye detail, while mounted on a tripod. The NEED test showed clear differences between the performance of 50mm, 42mm, and 32mm glasses...but the differences did not directly correspond to objective size. The 10x50s and the single 10x42 achieved the best scores and were all very close together. The 8x50s outperformed the 8x42s, but one of the 8x32s equaled the performance of the best of the 8x42s and the other equaled the performance of the best of the 8x50s!
Just for the fun of it, I also ran a set of tripod mounted resolution tests on the set, using an examination scope behind the eyepiece to boost the system up to the limits of resolution. With the exception of the 7x50 in the test, the resolution figures corresponded exactly to the NEED figures.
With those two tripod mounted tests in mind, I redid the shadowed areas against a bright background test, only this time I used my tripod under the binoculars. With the binoculars at rest, the 10x glasses clearly showed more detail in the AF target (by one block of lines), and slightly more color in the floss test than the 8x glasses. Again, however, the 10x42s edged out one of the 10x50s. The 8x glasses were all much the same as far as detail went, with the larger glasses showing just a smidgen more color.
I am pretty sure this tripod test explains the apparent contradiction between my formal dark on bright test and the backyard Maples test. When looking up, binoculars rest firmly on the face (or eyeglasses as the case may be), with most of the weight supported by the head...in effect giving a much steadier view...one which approximates the results of a tripod mounted test closer than it does a hand-held one.
So, after all of this, what are my conclusions?
It should be said that the steadier your view, the more benefit the larger glasses give. Tripod mounted, these 10x50 and 8x50 roof prism glasses equal the highest NEED figures so far recorded for their classes. Only the truly exceptional Nikon Superior E porroprism glasses match them for detail, and the 8x50s both edge out the 8x32 Superior Es when it comes to color in extreme conditions (though not by much).
If you are an exceptionally steady handed birder, or if you habitually use a Finn Stick*, and you often bird in extremely low light, the 50mm roof-prism binoculars tested in this issue will give you a slight advantage over smaller glasses. Enough advantage to make an occasional ID you might otherwise miss? Yes, I would say so. Enough to make carrying the extra weight full-time worth while? It depends on how important that occasional ID is to you. Would I carry them on my once in a life-time trip to Costa Rica? Probably not. Would I carry them if I were leading what would be a once in a life-time trip for other birders to Costa Rica? Maybe, yes, maybe I would.
By the same token, only you can decide if the slight advantage that 10x glasses give at great distances and in high contrast situations is worth the extra eye and mind fatigue of fighting a jiggly image all day (and the extra body fatigue if you select 10x50s). How do you balance general ease of view and all day comfort against the few times you really do need the higher power glasses? (The one situation where distance and contrast are constantly going to favor 10x glasses is hawk watching...birds wheeling high and wee against the bright and bannered sky!) Considering this round of tests, I am, over the next few months, going to try to carry the 10x42 Superior Es more often into the field to find out just what my own tolerance levels are...where my own balance lies. I'll let you know.
*Finn Stick: a modified unipod or walking stick that supports your binoculars. Very useful for scanning distances and picking out fine detail in birds at or below eye level. Useless for birds in the sky or trees.
When they first came out, the newly redesigned Leica roof prisms were called the Ultras. Leica has apparently dropped the Ultra designation in favor of the older Trinovid name. The 8 and 10 power 50mm glasses are certainly close siblings of the 8x32, 8x42, and 10x42s. General body shape, focus configuration, body covering, and pop-up eye-cups are all but identical. The 50mm glasses are simply scaled up to match their objectives. These are large, heavy glasses. Still, my overall impression is that they fit the hands slightly better than the 42mm models. They feel much more like the 8x32s. While the size and weight of the glasses will undoubtedly contribute to early physical fatigue in the field, the Trinovids are exceptionally well balanced and relatively easy to hold steady. Of course, the Trinovid binoculars are completely waterproof and are among the most durable you can buy.
Optically, the 10x glass matches the highest NEED scores so far recorded, and the 8x glass easily outdistances the best of the 8x42 roof-prism models. Once again (see the extended article on big binoculars), the steadier your grip or mount, the more advantage the 50mm glasses will show in the field. On a tripod, these glasses both offer the highest level of performance currently available in roof prism glasses. Hand held (unless you have the steadiest hands in the west (or east) most often, they offer little to no advantage over more manageable binoculars.
New to the Habicht line, the 50mm Swarovskis are a bit more than up-scaled 8x30 or 7 and 10x42mm glasses. Other improvements are in evidence. For one thing the 50mm glasses have one-piece armor which may be even more durable than the 42mm models. Better yet, they have screw in, screw out eye-cups. That means that you can adjust the eye-cups to exactly match your particular eye-relief needs. That doesn't sound like much, and it just a small innovation (I'm even told that someone tried it before in the 40s), but, with the exceptionally long eye-relief of these models, it translates to a truly easy view for almost any birder. Hurrah! Of course, the new Habichts are fully waterproof and should be rugged enough for any field conditions and years of use.
In size and weight these 50mm glasses are very similar to the 50mm Leicas. They are a definite handful in the field. I have always liked the way the Habichts have fitted my hands though, and these are no exception. They have two little thumb grooves, not too extreme, but enough, taken with the slightly tacky covering of the body, to give a really secure trip. Balance is excellent also.
Optically, both the 8 and 10x models easily outperform 42mm roofs in the NEED test. Their performance in extreme low light (near darkness) is also exceptional. I have a hard time warming up to 7x glasses. They simply don't have enough image size to satisfy me. The 7x50s do have the longest eye-relief I have ever seen. I can use them with the eye-cups in the full up position, with my glasses on, and still see the full field. All three of these glasses have the trademark Swarovski warm view...just slightly yellow when compared to more neutral glasses, but, just possibly, it is that color balance that gives them their extra reach in twilight. Some birders also claim benefits in hazy conditions.
Any comments about steady handed and tripod mounted viewing also apply to the 50mm Swarovskis. To get the most from these glasses, to see the benefit of the larger objectives, you have to hold them still.
If you are shopping for big roofs, 8 or 10x, the choice between the Leicas and the Swarovskis is going to come down to personal preference...to how they fit your hands, how they fit your eyes and face...to whether you like the color or the texture of the armor. These are state-of-the-art roof-prisms, big, rugged, optically excellentmore binocular than anyone can probably use hand-held in the field, but with performance that should never let you down. If you are willing to carry the weight, you can't really go wrong here.
I have been waiting, with baited breath as they say, for an 8 power Superior E ever since Nikon introduced the 10x42. The 10x42 offers what I believe, based on a wide range of comparative tests, is the best view currently available. I have never, despite my best efforts to change my habits, been comfortable carrying 10x glasses.
You can imagine my excitement then, when I did a Nikon School of Birding at L.L. Bean this past fall, and was handed serial #1 of the 8x32 Superior E. I got another chance to use it the next weekend in Wisconsin, and had a production sample for testing two months later (serial #86).
Why 8x32? Nikon has a good deal of success with their 8x30E. It is consistently rated high in European birding circles. Just as important though, is the fact that the 32mm objectives allow Nikon to use the same prism housing and eyepieces that they used in the 10x model. A 42mm would have required a complete redesign. It is, arguably, the eyepiece design of the Superior Es that sets them apart from the rest of the porroprism pack.
In theory, an exceptional 32mm glass should show all of the detail the human eye is capable of seeing. In practice, and hand-held, 32mm glasses equal the performance of larger glasses in all but the most extreme conditions (for more, see the Is Bigger Better piece earlier in this issue). When you factor in the ease of carrying and using the smaller glass, 32mm binoculars begin to make a lot of sense. Would I rather have seen an 8x42 Superior E? Yes. Most of the time these days, I am willing to carry a slightly bigger and heavier glass if I know I might need that smidgen of extra performance. Still, since the 8x32 Superior Es arrived, I have to force myself to carry anything else. They are the glasses I pick out of the pile of waiting optics 9 out of 10 times out the door.
Part of the reason is their wide field of view. At 7.5° (over 390 feet at 1000 yards), they offer a truly wide-angle view. They do it however, without the distortions and edge softness, and without the short eye-relief associated with wide-angle binoculars. The view through the 8x32s is sharp edge to edge, and distortion (bending of straight lines at the edge of the field) is so minimal that you have to look for it to see it at all. These glasses come as close to matching the true field of focused attention of the human eye/brain system as any I have used. In this they are very close to the experience provided by the famous 7x42 Zeiss. Eye-relief is not as long as some of the roof prism glasses, but is more than adequate to allow most birders to see the full field, or something close to it, even with glasses on.
And what a view! The 8x32s provide the same crisp, sharp, effortless view that made the 10x42s so clearly superior. Their NEED score, tripod mounted, equals the score of the best 8x50 binoculars I have yet tested. They come very close to the theoretical promise for 32mm objectives of delivering all the detail the human eye can absorb. Contrast and color fidelity are also exceptional. It is very easy to forget that you are looking through binoculars at all when using the Superior Es...the view is that natural. You might think you just walked 8 times closer.
Of course, the size and weight are a benefit as well. The 8x32s are small without being dainty. They have enough surface to wrap your hands around comfortably, and enough weight to feel solid in the hands and to resist body tremor...but are still compact and light enough to be a joy in the field. They share the 10x42s intelligent body design...one that allows you to keep your elbows in and your forearms under the binoculars for a steady, roof prism-like, hold. Ergonomically, there is little Nikon could have done to improve the 8x32s. They feel as good as any porro can in the hands...and for those of us who like the slightly wider grip of a porro, that is saying a lot!
Finally, I just like these binoculars. Liking goes beyond rational comparison, or an assessment of the various features, strengths and weakness, of any binoculars. Some glasses you just like better than others. The 7x42 Zeiss, the original 7x35 Leitz Trinovid and the new 8x32, the Swift Audubon 8.5x44, the 10x40 Zeiss, the Swarovski 8x30 SLC, the Bausch & Lomb Custom Compacts, the Celestron 9x44 EDs (you could make your own list)...there are some binoculars that are greater than the sum of their parts...they just look good, feel good, give you the sense that they are never going to let you down...they are binoculars that you just want to pick up and use, that you just love to own and carry. The Nikon Superior E 8x32s are, as far as I am concerned, in that class. For me, they currently top that class. These are the binoculars that I like best.
They are not, however, weatherproof. I have yet to get them to fog up, but I did manage to fog the 10x42s recently. I washed the eyepieces before going out, using my very wet method, and evidently did not dry them well enough. After about 90 minutes in 20° weather with a wind chill of about -10, they fogged when I got back into the car and drove from one birding spot to another. In hindsight, though, I consider what I did to them that day close to abuse. They have never fogged since, and the 8x32s didn't fog that day, though they had the same treatment. Still, for extreme birding, or birding over or around water, the Leica 8x32s, with their true waterproofing, definitely have an advantage. If weather protection is an overriding consideration, the Superior Es should not be your choice.
So, how do the Superior Es fit into the BVD Reference Set? Though it feels like hedging (I mean how can there be two Best All Around Birding Binoculars) I have to rate the Nikon Superior E 8x32s co-Best All Around Birding Binoculars with the Leica 8x32s. The Nikons have slightly better optical performance, a slightly sharper and easier view than the Leicas, but the Leicas are completely weatherproof. Some of you are going to like the way the porros feel in the hands, some of you are going to prefer the roof feel. Cost is an issue here too. The Superior Es should be available for something like $300 less than the Leicas, which, you might argue, makes them a Best Buy in high performance binoculars. If I had to make a choice, right now, today, I would buy the Nikons. I would be a bit more careful of how I handled my binoculars in extreme weather, invest some of that $300 in good protective rain gear, and enjoy an unparalleled view of the birds I see in the field.
Most birders will not be familiar with VERNONscope, despite the fact that by now you are likely to have seen their full page ads in some of the birding magazines. A few of you may recognize the Bandon name. Questar equips their scopes with Brandon eyepieces. Brandon eyepieces are made by VERNONscope. In the past, VERNONscope has produced a few small scopes for the astronomy market under their own label. Now they would like to get into the birding market...hence the MasterBirder and the ad campaign.
The MasterBirder has an 80mm objective and comes equipped with an eyepiece that is 35mm across. Picture this. The eyepiece on the MasterBirder is larger than the objective lens on the new 8x32 Nikon Superior E...it is like looking into the wrong end of the binoculars. At 15 power on the MasterBirder, this is not an eyepiece for long-distance birding...but, with an extremely wide field of view, excellent eye-relief, and wonderful ease of use, it gives perhaps the best backyard feeder views you will ever see. The oversized 45° prism keeps the view right side up and right way around just like a conventional scope, so you just walk up to the thing and effortlessly look, not so much through it, as into it. The birds appear to be right there, floating bright and brilliant, inches from your eye.
The scope is a thing of beauty in itself. This is a wonder of precision machining. The focusing tube runs on four rock-solid stainless steal bearings. Every metal surface is smooth, clearly cut, with a deep satin black finish and the engraving is gorgeous. The rubber armor on the front part of the barrel is both functional and attractive. The MasterBirder looks like the precision piece of equipment that it is. If you love good machinery for its own sake, you are going to love the MasterBirder.
For higher power views, a Barlow accessory lens is available that mounts between the scope body and the prism. Barlows are more familiar in the astronomy community, where they are used to increase magnification without sacrificing eye-relief, and while maintaining a generous field of view. The Barlow on the MasterBirder boots the power of the scope to around 34x, and provides acceptably sharp, bright, relatively wide-field views. However, high power views are not this scope's strength. At 34x, conventional scopes easily equal the MasterBirder's performance, and the TeleVue Ranger is both noticeably brighter and sharper. At higher powers yet, the Ranger, with its ED objective, far outperforms the MasterBirder. VERNONscope has an ED model of the MasterBirder in development for spring release.
This scope is at its best set up with its oversized 15x eyepiece, on the deck or porch overlooking feeders...or in the living room looking out over the lawn and the lily pond. The picture window view, the ease of use, the esthetics of the scope itself, make it an ideal permanent (or semipermanent) part of your decor, and will come as close to bringing the birds right inside with you as you are ever likely to get.
For field use, and for birders who carry a scope for distant views, wait for the ED model. If it matches the overall quality of the original MasterBirder, it will be worth the wait.
So, what do you do next, after you produce the state-of-the-art porroprism binoculars? If you are Nikon, you set out to establish a new standard in the roof prism design. Nikon's last high-end roof, the venerable 8x42 Eagle, was simply not in the same class as modern phase coated roofs. The designers went back to the drawing board (or their computers) and started from scratch. The result is the Venturer LX line, so far an 8x42 and a 10x42. These are waterproof, nitrogen purged, phase coated, rubber armored, high-zoot (silver coated prisms), high-priced roofs, obviously intended to compete with the Leicas, Swarovskis, Elites, and Zeisses.
I have an early production model of the 8x42 for testing.
Clearly, a lot of thought went into the ergonomics. Nikon took the best design features from their own lines (and looked carefully at others) and came up with what is almost the perfect exterior for their optics. The body is contoured nicely to fit the hands, without going to the extremes of, say, the Bausch and Lomb Elite, and the armor is among the heaviest I have seen. These should survive almost any impact. From the Diplomat line, the designers took the excellent locking diopter adjustment ring. They added screw-n, screw-out eyecups (similar to the Swarovski 50mm glasses) so that every birder can finally set the eyecups to exactly the height he or she needs. The focus wheel is large, smooth, and nicely placed. While on the heavy side at almost 36 ounces, the glasses are particularly well balanced.
Optically, the 8x42s yield the best NEED score of any 8x roofs yet tested. The image is bright, contrasty, and exceptionaly even across the field. Detail is excellent, color is well balanced and neutral. It is unfortunate that they came out at the same time as the 8x32 Superior Es, since the little porro glasses easily outperform most roofs, even ones considerably larger than the 42mm LXs. For those of you expecting, as I was, the kind of quantum leap in optical quality that the Superior Es represent, the Venturer LXs are a slight disappointment. They are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Better, but not startlingly so.
Still, judged on their own merits, the LXs are a step up in optical quality from anything comparably sized currently on the market. To get a better view in waterproof roofs, you would have to go to 50mm glasses.
None of this, of course, comes cheaply. The LXs are going to be among the most expensive binoculars you can buy, and may well be the most expensive 8x42 roofs for some time to come.
Are they worth it? On optical and ergonomic merits, I will have to give the 8x42 Venturer LXs the Reference Standard for 7-8x full sized glasses. They are, in my opinion, overpriced, but if money is no object, you simply can not buy a better pair of completely weatherproof binoculars. If Nikon was trying for a new standard, they achieved their goal. If it now seems to you, as it does to me, that Nikon has a lot of glass in the Reference Set, we can all hope that the other players in the optics market will take up the challenge and move optics into a new realm of quality altogether.
This is a "double issue," containing the reviews intended for December 1997 and those for February 1998. In order to save space, the Reference Set will return next issue.