I've been fortunate to hunt big game in the Western US, Alaska and my home state of Wisconsin for over 20 years, and during that time I've also been fortunate to generally use rather high end optics. When the opportunity arose to test and review Nikon's Monarch 3 binoculars I was excited to see how binos in their lower (and more accessible for the average hunter) price range would compare to what I was used to. I had heard nothing but good things about the Monarch 3's and I had a feeling I would be impressed.
In fact, because of what I had heard about the Monarch 3's, I was confident enough to take them along as my main optics on a multi-state mule deer rifle hunt in mid-October. My hunt began in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming where several snow storms had preceded me and caused much of the game to head down to lower elevations. With a lack of game encounters, I had ample time to focus on the performance of the Monarch 3's.
One of my very first impressions of the Monarch 3's was how comfortable and well balanced they were in my hands. They immediately felt as comfortable to me as my oldest and most trusted German binocs.
I also found the Monarch 3's eye cups to be very comfortable. They feature a rubber exterior wrapped around a hard plastic turn-and-slide adjustable cup. This combination feels solid yet soft and appears to be extremely durable. I would expect them to hold their shape and last. The eye cups rested around my eye sockets solidly and comfortably providing excellent stability. I rely on this type of solid anchor to help hold my binos steady. On a hunt like this, I spend hours glassing with those eye cups pressed firmly up against my face and the Monarch 3's were always extremely comfortable. One slight negative of the adjustable eye cups revealed itself on the second leg of my hunt when the dusty conditions in Northeastern Montana caused dust and grit to work their way into the moving parts of the cups causing them to be a little sticky.
The next feature that caught my attention was the buttery smooth focus. The focus wheel has fairly aggressive raised rubber ribs that my index finger "grabbed" easily whether bare or gloved. The focus itself in my opinion is - perfect. Extremely smooth , it rotates easily while still feeling solid. I personally do a ton of what I'll call "scrolling" where I constantly move the focus back and forth to ensure that I'm always getting the sharpest image possible, and the Monarch 3's are now my personal favorite in that regard. Between the the Monarch 3's excellent balance and smooth focus, I found them easy to operate one-handed when necessary.
When I committed to bringing only the Monarch 3's on my hunt, my biggest concern was that there would be a noticeable difference in image brightness from the high end glass I was accustomed to. The first evening's hunt I didn't feel I was missing anything compared to what I was used to. The next morning and evening I compared the Monarch 3's to my Father's German binos and really struggled to notice much difference in brightness. Throughout my two state hunt I hunted in dark timber, high mountain peaks above timber line, vast crp fields, brushy river bottoms and deep valleys and I never once felt that I was missing out on brightness. The Nikon 3's fully coated lenses delivered a bright high-contrast image and I never experienced any eye strain.
I spent a fair amount of time switching back and forth between the high-end German binos and the Monarch 3's to make a true head-to-head glass comparison. There was a noticeable difference in edge-to-edge sharpness, but I actually never felt that it affected my ability to spot game in any of the conditions I encountered. I also noticed a bit more flare when glassing directly East as the sun rose over a distant mountain peek one morning. Since this can be a fairly typical occurrence while hunting, it is worth noting.
I've read that the Monarch 3's are built to be extremely solid and waterproof. I'm quite hard on all of my optics on hunts like these and I didn't baby the Monarch 3's this time. They seem very solid and all the fit and finish is nice and tight. Their rubber armor coating is similar to that of the high-end German glasses. I would guess they will age quite gracefully. I nearly tested just how waterproof they are this October while duck hunting when they almost slipped into several feet of cold lake water. I've actually read that they would have survived such a plunge.
In conclusion, I expected to be impressed by Nikon's new Monarch 3 binoculars and they certainly did not disappoint. I would highly recommend them to any hunter as a solid, bright, all-around hunting bino, especially to the hunter shopping in the $200-300 range.