Re: Bino's choices?
I did my own review comparing an 8x30 SLCneu vs the 7x36 Zen Ray ED2 at another forum. I am a big Swaro fan, but really like the image from the ED2. Please bear with me during the review since it references this forum and another. It might seem confusing/annoying but you'll get the info if you take the time to read it all.
Swaro 8x30 SLC-neu vs Zen Ray 7x36 ED2
Background (skip to REVIEW if you don't want to wait)
I thought some fellow iFishers might find this review helpful or at least interesting, especially for those shopping for new glass. I bought one pair of 8x30 SLC-neu from Wholesale Sports in Portland, and one pair of 7x36 ED2 direct from Zen Ray.
First, let me disclose my optics qualifications and background... I don't have any! Seriously though, I am a big fan of quality glass and would be an optics snob owning Swaro, Schmidt & Bender, Hensholdt, Nightforce, etc. exclusively, if I could afford them. I can't, at least not for every piece of optical gear. I do work as a product evaluation engineer and test things for a living.
Like most guys with a family, I need to maintain a balance between the budget for toys and everything else. But I have been lucky enough to own some decent glass. To give you an idea, I currently own or have owned: Nikon Monarch scope, Bushnell 3200 scope, Bushnell 4200 scope, Kahles CL (probably one of the nicest images of any hunting scope made), Vortex Sandpiper spotter, Nikon ED50 spotter, Swarovski Laser Guide. Plus some budget optics like Nikon Action Extreme binos, Mueller APV scope, and others I can't remember. This gives you an idea of what I am familiar with and my price range. I've spent a decent amount of time looking at Nightforce scopes and Swaro EL binos as well, but have never owned either (i.e. have never spent days in the field with them although I've literally spent hours outside Sportsmans/Wholesale Sports!).
Why write this review? Someone at another forum (longrangehunting) asked about Vortex binos so I mentioned the Zen Ray and posted the review there. I have been somewhat reluctant to post my review anywhere since many would think its hype, plus I wanted to spend more time with the Zen Ray before I posted my evaluation. Since I decided to post it at longrangehunting, I thought I should share it here as well.
Intro (actually my post at the other forum, edited):
I compared the 8x42 Vipers to the 8x30 Swaro SLCneu and Nikon Monarch ATB 8x42. I also compared those 3 to the Swaro 8x32 EL. For my eyes, the EL was easily sharper than the rest, but they were $1700. I was willing to spend up to $1200, but not a dime more.
If the EL were in my price range I would have bought them and never looked back. At the same time I wanted to see what I could get in the $300 to $500 range. The Vipers are really nice and appeared fairly close to the SLC and noticeably better than the ATB.
The SLCneu was on sale for $900 and I bought them. I owned them for ~2 weeks, but wasn't that impressed for $900. Part of the reason was that I already owned the Swaro Laser Guide so my right eye was already familiar with SLC glass (the Swaro LRF is basically one half of an 8x30 SLC bino, but possibly different coatings). I was so excited to have new binos that I wanted the image to 'pop', but it didn't since it was the same image I had seen for the past few years!
I then remembered some talk about Zen Ray and the unbelievable claims made about them. The company is here in Portland, with the binos made in China. Once I found out that they had a local office, I arranged a visit. The Zen Ray vs SLCneu comparison started the day I got a pair of 7x36 ED2 for $400. I spent days comparing the 2 side-by-side.
REVIEW (PM sent to Charles at Zen Ray after my comparison):
Below is the message I mentioned in my post above comparing the Zen Ray to the SLCneu. I have been reluctant to post this info anywhere since people might take it as Swaro bashing. I love my Swaro LRF and have nothing against them. I think the EL is the best bino for my eyes, but not my wallet. Anyway, someone might find this info useful.
I should point out that the first pair of ED2 got returned for a barrel out of focus. The replacement has been perfect. Charles is the owner of Zen Ray, and went out of his way to make sure I was happy with my purchase. Very honest and a great guy.
Message edited to remove unrelated topics:
...I also wanted to let you know that I spent a few hours this afternoon and evening comparing the 7x36 ED2 vs the 8x30 SLC. I know its not fair to compare different magnifictions, or different objective sizes but still the differences were remarkable, at least with the samples I have. I thought you might be interested in my findings. I apologize if I don't use the proper optical terms, but here are my impressions.
In the late afternoon with bright sun I compared the two binos by looking at a tree that was backlit with bright sunshine. Glare, flare, stray light, whatever its called is one of my major concerns with any optic... bino, spotter, or riflescope. The Swaro produced very noticeable crescent shaped glare/flare in the lower 1/8-1/4 of the FOV. I tried to re-position my eyes with respect to the exit pupils, but this only made the glare shift to another area. I was not able to get a 100% glare/flare free view.
At first glance, the ED2 seemed to also have this glare, but I was able to reposition and eliminate the problem completely. While test driving the ED2 at your office, the first thing I looked towards was the sun and I did notice the glare. But, when I raised the SLC, it also had the same problem. For some reason it appears more noticeble with the SLC. Not necessarily bigger, but it stands out more. It was not until I got home that I noticed that the issue can be completely resolved with very minor repositioning on the ED2. Its actually quite easy. The same cannot be said for the SLC, at least for my eyeballs and the SLC sample I had.
I did notice that the ED2 seemed hazy with the intense light coming from behind and above the tree. I will need to re-test after cleaning the lenses in case there were some smears or smudges. Perhaps it has something to do with the large FOV which makes it appear as though its hazy, I don't know. Even so, the absence of the glare is a huge advantage for the ED2 in my opinion and there were no haziness issues noticed at any other time.
I was not able to test the binos with sunlight reflected off of water or snow and into the objective. This is something I would definitely like to compare.
I did position myself so that the sun cast bright sunshine over my right shoulder from behind me. The SLC had a very bright red star in the image. This was simply a reflection of the sun in the ocular, but the red star was fairly intense. Of course, one could reposition their body to block the sun or use their hand to provide shade but this still gave me an idea of how the ocular glass would handle reflections off of snow or water. The ED2 also had a star, but it was blue and not nearly as intense as the red star seen in the SLC. I could easily continue to use the ED2 with this reflection from the sun, but there was absolutely no way I could continue to use the SLC. I had to shade the ocular or rotate my body.
Depth of field seemed very similar between the SLC and ED2. There might be a difference, but since both seemed very good to me I didn't bother to compare them in great detail. In the mid to upper price range the DOF is generally very good. If they were lower priced binos, I would have compared DOF more.
The FOV is definitely larger with the ED2 but that is no surprise and one of the reasons I chose to buy one. Even at close distances, the huge FOV is impressive with the ED2.
In the evening the differences in light transmission were apparent in the very last minutes of light. For this test I used the shingles on the roof of a nearby house as a test grid pattern. The roof had several shades of grey shingles in fairly large block patterns. The edges of the blocks and different shades of grey could be easily seen with the ED2, but they appeared as grey blobs with little distinction between the shades with the SLC. The image was clearly brighter with the ED2, but it does have 36mm objectives (but is also much less expensive than the SLC).
I also looked at a pair of street lamps and found that the SLC produced more pronounced halos compared to the ED2.
Overall I would say that the 7x36 ED2 is simply a better bino vs the 8x30 SLC, at least in terms of what matters to me most... flare/glare control and low light capability. I also value DOF and FOV, but both seem very good at these. I was also impressed with the edge-to-edge sharpness, and sweet-spots for both models but tend to not focus on analyzing these things too much so long as they look good while I use the binos. I don't have a critical eye for CA or fringing and didn't set out to specifically look for it but I didn't notice it either. Someone else could probably do a better job of comparing color rendition. I thought the ED2 and SLC were equal and quite nice.
One thing that was consistent throughout my test was the fact that the ED2 was easier to focus. While the SLC seemed to take some fiddling to get the focus just right, the ED2 was a snap to focus. I think this may translate into less user fatigue with the ED2. Maybe the lower magnification helps the ED2 with focusing since its easier to maintain a steady image. I did not use a tripod, but did brace my arms and body for much of the test.
For me the ED2 is simply a more useful binocular especially under those tough light conditions. Of course this is a small test sample size, but still the differences are meaningful to me since I only want one pair of 7x or 8x right now. I would be very interested in seeing how the 7x36 ED2 compares to the 8x32 EL or a 7x Swaro/Leica/Zeiss.
So the bino harness came off of the SLC and is going on the ED2. I think the SLC will be returned to the dealer. I'm not keeping the ED2 because its just as good as the SLC for less money. That's not the case. The ED2 is simply a better binocular, at least to my eyes. I tried for several hours to find something that pointed in favor of the SLC. I couldn't find a single thing that the SLC did better. When you factor in the cost, it became a very easy decision. I was ready to keep the SLC, but not anymore. And I have money left over for something else.