When Nikon introduced the Venturer LX in 1998, they set a new standard for brightness and resolution in birding binoculars. At that time it had been several years since the introduction a significant new birding binocular, and the Venturer was named as areference standard by my colleague, Steve Ingraham, at Better View Desired. The Venturer should have captured a huge portion of the high end binocular market. They never achieved their deserved market share because they were too heavy, because the timing wasnt right (many of us were still in love with our Zeiss 10x40s and 7x42s, our Leica Trinovids, and our B&L Elites), and because Nikon didnt get enough recognized birding leaders to hang a pair of Venturers around their necks.
Nikon has steadily improved the Venturers over the years, re-naming them the Venturer LX, and then the Premier LX. In 2005 Nikon released a re-tooled and re-named version called the LX L. I have admired these binocs since the introduction of the Venturer, and was pleased to have an opportunity to review the new LX L 8x42. Nikon also offers a ten power version. I chose to review the eight because I feel that larger field of view, increased brightness, and lower susceptibility to hand motion are more important than extra magnification.
Comfort, Focus, and Handling:
The first thing I noticed was that the LX L is 6 ounces lighter than the Venturer. Weighing in at 28 ounces, they are within a few ounces of the Leica Ultravid, Swarovski EL, and Zeiss Victory FL. The LX Ls are, for my hands, one of the two (the other being the Zeiss Victory FL) most comfortable and best handling binoculars on the market. The front to rear balance is outstanding, which makes them very comfortable to use, even with one hand. Front to rear balance is extremely important. You may not notice a well-balanced binocular. That's the point. You will, however, notice one which is too heavily weighted toward the objective lens because it will be very tiring to use. Poor balance will make you want to move your grip down the barrel, where you will have to strain to reach the focus knob. I predict that you will never really bond with a poorly balanced binocular no matter how good the image. Nikons designers deserve a pat on the back for their thoughtfulness in balancing the LX L so well.
Thankfully, Nikon has avoided the dreaded thumb rests. The barrels are nicely shaped to fit comfortably in the hand. The focus knob falls comfortably under the index finger. Nikon has extended the rubber armor to cover the strap lugs, which I like because it prevents the strap lugs from chafing your hands. Incorporating the strap lugs into the shape of the barrel contributes to the overall comfort of the grip. I like the firmness and texture of the rubber armoring, and appreciate that it doesnt bond with dirt and food. Those of you who eat on the run will appreciate this.
Relief, Focus, and Field of View:
The LX L provides 20 mm of eye relief, which I usually think is too much, but I found that they worked well with eyeglasses. Even while wearing glasses with very thin lenses, I had no trouble seeing the edges of the field. The diopter adjustment is located on the right barrel. The adjustment is made by raising the ring to unlock it, and then lowering it to lock the adjustment in place.
The eyecups in the original Venturer felt flimsy to me, but Nikon has significantly improved them in the LX L, by making them more robust, and providing several click stops to allow the user to tailor the amount of eye relief. I would like to see Nikon add one additional click stop closer to the fully retracted position of the eyecup so that a user could adjust the eye relief to 17 or 18 mm. The field of view is 367 feet at 1,000 yards, which is not as generous as I would like. I would like to have a wider field even at the sacrifice of some image quality at the edges.
The LX L has the fastest, most precise focus of any binocular I have used. The knob rotates only one turn, which is a growing trend. More significantly, the focus is extremely precise. The LX Ls seem to just snap into focus. The close focus is a bit over 8 feet which makes the LX Ls only marginally acceptable for butterflies and dragonflies.
When the Venturers were introduced, they were the brightest binocular on the market. Since that time, other binoculars (like the Swarovski EL, the Leica Ultravid, and the Zeiss Victory FL) have caught up, but the LX L is still among the industry leaders in brightness. The color rendition appears to be very neutral and natural. I had no trouble separating the finely graded shades of blue on a Pantone color chip at a distance of 75 feet. Contrast is also excellent.
Like all binoculars I have tested, the LX L suffers from some chromatic aberration, but certainly no more than the its competitors. The image is among the flattest that I have tested. Straight lines remain straight almost to the outermost edges of the field.
After critical examination, I took the LX L with me for a weekend at Cape May, NJ where I had two days of great fall birding. The LX Ls outstanding balance and handling really come into play when the birding is this good, and you are constantly switching between warblers at 10 feet, to raptors and shorebirds at 500 feet. Using a binocular should be second nature. You should be barely aware that you are using them because they work so effortlessly. This criteria certainly fits the LX L, which is probably the best compliment that I could pay to any binocular. Another attraction is that the LX L costs a few hundred dollars less than other alpha binoculars.