Brand new garbage: binoculars test 2012 - under 200.- and around 300.-

2013 - last modified 14-5-2014

In August 2012 I was doing a test of affordable binoculars up to 350.-. I was looking for a decent glass to sponsor nature conservancy projects.

The results were devastating.

I ordered 7 different models below 200.- in 8 samples. 6 were unusable with a more or less pronounced double image. A bad bino just makes you feel sick. I´m sure that all these glasses are made in China.

I ordered 4 models around 300.- in 4 samples, two were good, two were unusable.

There are two main reasons why a binocular is faulty:

1. The optical systems are not properly collimated (both axes must be parallel and focus in the same plane perpendicular to both of them, and of course all the single glass elements must be aligned properly).

2. The focusing mechanics has some tolerance and therefore both optical systems have a different focus. With Porro designs it is often the oculars which are not connected rigidly  enough so they move slightly differently.

For an absolutely transparent image, a binocular which is usable with pleasure for long observations, there has to be a lot of precision in the lens making, the alignment of the glass elements and the mechanics. IT CANNOT BE ACHIEVED EASILY AND CHEAPLY.

All binoculars, even the more expensive ones, have a small to very small field of view. Except the Nikon 8x42, which is a very bad wideangle design.

Binoculars new below 200.-

Minox BV 8x42 (roof) 199.-

The very attractive looking glass in "Volkswagendesign" feels mechanically ok. Unfortunately there was a slight double image - inacceptable. It is a promising glass if you are willing to search for a good sample, it even has a phase coating of the prisms and some think this is the reference below 200.- . It is small and would fit into childrens´hands.

Nikon 8x42 Action EX (Porro) 145.-

Mechanically it seems to be more solid than most others. But the optics is bad. The wideangle design - 145m field of view! - is a big cheat, because only the center of the image is acceptably sharp. The rest is very soft. Moreover, there is extreme and disturbing barrel distortion.

Olympus EXPS1 10x42
(Porro) 140.-
Double image, inacceptable. Interoculardistance is too big for my eyes to use it without the eyecups. There is diffuse flare and ghosting (plus some brightly shining white glue inside!). Very small field of view.

Pentax 8x40
(Porro) 145.-
Mechanics ok, waterproof, 30 years guarantee. Double image, inacceptable. Bulky.

Pentax 10x50 (Porro) 180.-

Mechanically ok, but very bulky - only usable stationary. This glass was at least well collimated and usable! When using it with open pupil in darker situations the image becomes soft.

Steiner Safari Ultrasharp 8x30
(Porro) - 170.-
This was clearly the best cheap bino! It had a strong plastic smell for three days. Unfortunately there is one big fault: The focusing wheel turns very rough and dry. Moreover, the glass is quite bulky and heavy compared to a Swarovski Habicht 8x30, for example. The field of view is small, but it is a sharp image far into the corners and even used with open pupil. Good, natural colours. Some ghosting and flare, especially with bright lights in the frame. Assymmetric rubber eyecups, a good thing! The glass has a lot of eyestrain in close-up though, completely different from a Habicht. I had a second sample which was inacceptable due to double image.


Binoculars new 270.- - 350.-

Minox BL 8x42 LE - roof - 345.-

Limited "Made in Germany" Edition. Very attractive design and good mechanics. Focussing is very easy both mechanically and optically which is a good sign. Collimation was good, the image was very easy on the eyes with good center sharpness in daylight. Open pupil image is a bit softer though. The eyecups cannot block stray light from behind. I´d prefer an asymmetric design. About some doubts please read my review "made in germany?..."

Olympus 8x42 EXWP1 - roof - 270.-

"Made in Japan". I am sure it uses the same components as the Minox above, please check the same review. The mechanical quality seems good, but the focusing has more friction than the minox. Optically similar good quality, see the Minox above, maybe even a bit more central sharpness, but less corner sharpness.

Both glasses are a bit soft with open pupil. I´d say the Steiner Ultra Sharp 8x30 is sharper wide open. The Swarovski Habicht definitely is. I would not be happy with the Minox or the Olympus, but many people could be. Both are good value. A Habicht is more expensive but great value.

Pentax 10x42 DCF - 315.-

Very strong double image, inacceptable! This was the biggest disappointment in the test.

Steiner Wildlife Pro 8x30 (Porro) 290.-

This one is 100.- more expensive than its little brother, the Safari Ultra Sharp. You can feel it in the decent mechanics - the focussing is without fault - and see it in the better coatings. There is less ghosting ("spikes"), but a similar amount of flare. Unfortunately, a narrow field of view, too, and a much worse corner performance! Collimation was inadequate.

Used binoculars

Carl Zeiss Jena 8x32 MC - Porro

My sample was very yellow and the glass was hazy. It is a wide angle design but edge performance is bad. I did not care to find a better sample because of that. The Habicht 8x30 is available for little more money and is in a completely different quality class.

Optolyth Alpin 10x42 - Porro
My personal one from 1993. Very light with a magnesium housing. Very threedimensional image, very sharp in the center and good resistance to flare. Field of view is rather narrow and edge sharpness is weak. The Alpin has a severe construction flaw: The ocular bridge is not solid enough. There is grease between the eyepiece tubes and the inner body which seals the optics, but the friction that occurs when focusing lets the oculars go "out of sync" because the bridge is not stiff and deforms - especially when the grease becomes old and sticky. Some slight back and forth focusing often brings the eyepieces back into the right plane and the image becomes very sharp in the center.


Take home message

If you are serious about using a binocular, better avoid all the binoculars below 200.- described above.

Others came to a similar conclusion: "Most cheap binoculars are shipped out from the factory with collimation problems."

Brand new garbage.