Another Read - Optics this time.

Discussion in 'The Basics, Starting Out' started by Ian M, Feb 25, 2002.

  1. Ian M

    Ian M Well-Known Member

    May 3, 2001
    Pretty basic optics stuff here. Just my opinions.

    "You get what you pay for."
    That statement is usually one of the facts of life that we all must learn, usually the hard way. Optics are a great case in point. Why would anyone spend fifteen hundred dollars on a pair of binocs when you can buy binocs with the same specs for seventy-nine dollars on sale at "Wally-World'? The same goes for rifle-scopes. What is the difference between a twelve hundred dollar four to twelve variable from Europe and a discount priced four to twelve from the Philipines or Korea? Some folks claim that they can't detect any significant difference in the optics of base-priced glass versus the high-end models. Sometimes the differences are not as glaring as one would expect, but they are there, believe me.

    The truth is, there is a difference, several big differences in fact. First, high-end optics deliver the highest performance possible under any condition. Good optics takes you out there, instead of just showing a magnified picture. We are talking the first and last light of the day, and even when they are pointed near the sun (NOT at the sun, but below it, or near it). Lens flare, big bright circles and highlights that occur when looking at very bright sky or objects, is very difficult to control. Great glass has special coatings that minimize or virtually eliminate flare. The same glass makes pictures sharp as a tack, right out to the edge of the field of view. Colors are true, particularly in poor light conditions.

    Eye relief is another crucial element that must be considered. Non-critical eye relief enables the user to look through the glass for extended periods of time without eyestrain and discomfort. There is no comparing how a hunter will feel after six or seven hours of glassing with good glass versus el-cheapo lenses. Headaches are not going to happen when you use good optics.

    Basic construction is another significant difference. Cheap optics utilize cost-cutting measures to hold lenses in place.. They have lighter, more flimsy internal moving parts and minimal strength material throughout. Top-end optics are usually heavier. They have to be to ensure the strength and performance that is expected. A major difference is the fact that lenses are held in place with adjustable systems so that they can be repaired, whereas cheaper optics usually have their lenses glued in place. When lenses come loose in cheap binocs and scopes they are frequently not fixable, or worth the cost to do so.

    Now lets look at the big difference. Optical performance. Light transmission, sharpness, edge to edge clarity, and techie stuff like the flatness of the image and color fringing. Optical performance is a tough subject, no two individuals have the same degree of acuity or ability to define objects. Therefore some hunters can spot things better than others, regardless of how good their optics are.

    The brighter and sharper the image is, the better we can pick out objects. Really good optics will enable the user to see objects that his partner using cheaper glass cannot define. This is particularly true in poor light conditions.

    Another factor that I have found extremely important is ergonomics, particularly with hunting binocs. Some binocs just handle better than other designs, they fit in the hand better and they come to the eyes easier and stay there. Many factors are involved, including balance, the style of eyecups, location and ease of focusing adjustments, and a key consideration - the carrying strap and protective lens covers and case.

    I have found one disappointing fact regarding binocular carrying straps, regardless of the cost of the unit that they are on. None of them work well, the standard single strap is a pain in the neck. I switch to the excellent shoulder harness style straps and virtually forget that I am toting binocs. Plus I never get any fatigue or sore neck muscles.

    Although this article has a message, I am NOT going to suggest Brand A over Brand B when it comes to selecting the best riflescope, spotter or pair of binocs. Several years ago an optics expert told me something that has proven true time after time. When comparing binocs for instance, there will be one model in a given specification range that will be better than the others. What that means is when you have decided the power and lens specs that you need, lets say 8 by 42mm, then you should check as many 8-42's as possible, looking for the best combination of value and performance. Remember to stay with 8-42's or you will be comparing apples to oranges.

    Unfortunately this is usually not possible in small-town U.S.A or Canada. I have had the opportunity to set out a dozen competitive binocs while visiting large U.S. retailers such as Cabela's, and the differences are incredible. Don't assume that all thousand-dollar binocs offer identical performance. There is always one model that excels, the trick is to find which one is the best in a particular set of specs (eg. 7x35's or 8x42's).

    So why consider buying top-end optics. I mentioned the obvious, but there is one intangible that goes with ownership of the best. Confidence, absolute trust, and pride in ownership. Until you own and use great optics you will never understand what you were missing. High-end optics are not only for the wealthiest sportsmen, they should be considered by all serious hunters. I always suggest saving up for whatever time it takes to be able to purchase the best binocs and scopes. You will never regret doing so.

    In reality, high-end optics are probably more economical to use in the long run, as they will outlast several sets of cheaper models. Which is a better investment, one pair of binocs that cost a thousand dollars and will last for a lifetime, or several pairs of two-hundred dollar binocs that never offer really good optics, gave you headaches and started rattling the first time that you dropped them?

    Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica, Schmidt and Bender, U.S. Optics and Nightforce are the big players in the high-end optics game. Other companies, such as Nikon and Bushnell also offer high-end, big-dollar models that are as good or better than the big guys. After you get over the shock of laying out the hard-earned dollars, you will never regret buying top quality optics.
  2. wmorris

    wmorris Member

    Nov 25, 2001
    Very well said.....
  3. Nate Haler

    Nate Haler Well-Known Member

    Dec 27, 2001
    There's a lot of room between megabuck binoculars and the bargain basement types.

    Value-wise, there are some OUTSTANDING deals to be had in many of the Japanese-made binoculars. Nikon's Venturer LX binocular is regarded by many to be the best there is. Bar none. And you can get it for $850 (U.S.) through a variety of mail-order places.

    Want a glass that is almost as good, at half the cost? Try the Pentax DCF WP.

    For an expert's opinon on all sorts of binos and spotting scopes, see here:

    If you are a value shopper, you will be pleasantly surprised at how good many of the binoculars are for WAY under a kilobuck.

    Most folks can't tell the difference optically between a $400 glass and a $1,200 glass. If the Swarovski hawk emblem makes your chest stick out and helps you hunt better, then have at it. But if you want to spend that extra hard-earned cash on handloads, vehicle fuel, lodging, or another rifle (like a Sendero), then there's definitely some alternatives out there that shouldn't embarrass anybody to wear around their neck or set on a tripod. [​IMG]
  4. rlipson

    rlipson Well-Known Member

    Dec 21, 2001
    Nate, the law of diminishing returns does kick in. the last 10% of performance can be had for a 50% increase in price. Similarly, the true performance gap between a Toyota Camry and a Lexus 300 is not as wide as the price differential. For me, the feel, quality and precision of good glass is magical, and I'm willing to pay for the best.

    I like the content on betterviewdesired, but if you look closesly, it's not a true independent site. They are "powered by Simpson Optics" which is a retailer. Might be completely objective, but as a researcher I've learned to always trace back where the funding comes from...

    Ian, any expereience with the Pentax PF80 ED spotting scope?

    The "betterviewdesired" guy creams over it, and says their variable eyepiece is as good as they get.

  5. Ian M

    Ian M Well-Known Member

    May 3, 2001
    I have not used the Pentax spotter that you mentioned, as a matter of fact I missed seeing it at the SHOT show. Did use several of the new Swarovskis during a show and tell - obviously a superb glass. I will be at another trade show this summer that Pentax attends, will make a point of using it if possible. Problem is the only really valid test would be head-to-head with each scope on the same target in the same light - not easy to do.

    I expect that any of the big 78-80mm spotters are going to give super-sharp images and resolution - maybe about like comparing that Lexus to a Mercedes or Beemer this time, not a Camry.

    I share your appreciation of top-end glass.