Review: Nikon 8x32 SE
28-2-2014 last revision 8-12-2014
These are legendary binoculars with an outstanding price-performance ratio. They seem to be optimized for high contrast and look almost oversharp sometimes. Sadly, their last batch was sold off in 2014. I review these binos after having compared them with a Swarovski Habicht 8x30W and a Swarovski El 8x32 SV for more than a year. They are the last generation with 550 xxx serial numbers.
ESSENTIAL CUSTOM MODIFICATION: EYECUPS. The SEs have been criticized for their eyepiece design with too much "spherical aberration of the exit pupil", for black outs and kidney beaning. This means they are not very tolerant where you put them as their exit pupil should really fall into your pupil. But this can easily be achieved by folding back the rubber eyecups completely and building your own rubber foam distance holders (about 7mm thick in my case). This modification gave me a superbly performing binocular with NO blackouts, and a viewing not inferior in comfort to the Habicht or the Swarovision (except in very close-up)!
! ADJUSTMENT OF INTERPUPILLARY DISTANCE
It is absolutely necessary - as with all porros - to adjust the interpupillary distance according to focusing distance, I have about 60mm from about 2-8 meters, 61mm 8-20 meters and 62mm from 20 meters to infinity. It soon becomes a routine, but it has to be done properly, and everytime you really change focusing distance from far to closer or back. For me this is the main draw back of porro binoculars.
Extreme sharpness - right into the edges
This is the big asset of the Nikon, it just gives this glass its reputation and WOW effect: It is extremely sharp with open or closed pupil. Sometimes, as crazy as it might seem, I find it almost oversharp (see also my review of the Habicht 8x30). I think what happens here is that the extreme edge contrast at big structures (more technically precise: high MTF values at low frequencies) together with the contrast increasing mechanisms of the visual system make the image look almost digitally oversharpened. The 8x30/8x32 Swaros look more pleasing to my eye, just naturally sharp, and the Habicht looks a bit sharper in fine details than the Nikon.
The SEs edge performance is excellent, and stargazers or tripod users will especially love this feature, as it lets you explore the frame of the image without moving the binocular to the central sweet spot. I´m quite impressed by this flat field. In edge performance the Habicht cannot compare at all, at open pupil it is only sharp at maybe 50% of the image circle. In some respect, the Swarovision cannot compare either: Although it impresses with a much wider field of view, it also has a weird distortion and steep drop in resolution at about 90% of the image circle which the Nikon has not. Chromatic aberration is sometimes visible, identical to the Habicht and perfectly acceptable to me. Coma is low.
Ghosting and flare is very well controlled
For me almost a unique plus point of the Nikon: The SE is much better in that department than many other glasses, and much better than the Habicht 8x30. The SEs bigger size probably helps in this.
No rolling globe effect
- very unlike the Swarovision! It´s really perfect for panning, no matter how fast.
The focusing is absolutely velvety smooth - much better than both Swarovskis - and 100% PINPOINT EXACT. I was never ever one second in doubt where my focus is. Never the slightest issue with out of sync oculars or a faulty focusing mechanism. This is not a small achievement! The ocular adjustment is stiff enough to keep in position, and the axis angle adjustment is also just as it should be: Very smooth with perfect friction. APPLAUSE! BRAVO, NIKON!
The 8x32 has a very muscular, modern shape which suits my hands perfectly.
Transmission not up to Swarovski standard
The Nikon to my eyes looks darker than the Habicht 8x30 and the Swarovision 8x32, and its colours do not have the extreme clarity of the Austrian competitors. It really has to be seen in direct comparison because the Nikon does look very good on its own. For me this is obvious and my main quarrel with the Nikon - I do miss that magic of the Habicht´s 96% transmission. Both the SE and the Swarovski 8x42 SLC have a very good contrast transfer, and both definitely look darker than expected, as if the clean shadows and high contrast make the midtones look darker. This is a phenomenon I´d like to understand.
Rubber eyecups and black-outs
Given the problematic ocular construction (see above), we should have been given rigid eyecup lockable in 3 or 4 positions like a modern roof. That would have helped most users to avoid the dreaded black-outs. The cheap rubber eyecups spoil the excellent rest - quite a shame.
It does not stay flat on my chest.
The SE always tilts and feels a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately, with sunshades this problem can be solved.
The field of view is a bit narrow
I´d prefer a wider field of view and accept a worse edge performance instead. The Swarovision 8x32 EL offers a truly astonishing 141m wideangle with extreme edge sharpness, and even the Habicht yields 136 meters, and it is a visible difference.
It is big
The Habicht is much smaller and about 100 grams lighter. Check the image gallery at the bottom of this page. 100g make a difference in the field. I tend to forget the Habicht under my left arm when I don´t need it, which is not the case with the Nikon. Compared with the Swarovision 8x32, even die hard porro fans like me have to admit the roof at least looks slimmer than the SE (weight is the same though - you just cannot beat the laws of physics). The payoff though might be better flare resistance, here bigger is often better.
It is not waterproof
I would not worry about this, though. I generally do not use binoculars in pouring rain, why should I? The bears and birds hide in the bushes, the marmots underground.
It is a grey workhorse
One glance at the Habicht tells it all - the Swarovski is a classic minimalist design combined with luxury surfaces. It not only has a great build quality, but looks and feels like a jewel. The Nikon is very japanese and pragmatic instead, its grey "protein compound" rubber finish feels cheap against the Swarovski.
The Nikon 8x32 SE is an excellent glass very good mechanics and a superb optical system that just lacks a little bit of the magic and beauty the Swarovski Habicht 8x30 W yields. As a porro, it beats the Swarovision 8x32 in 3D viewing experience, and otherwise it is close to the Swarovisions qualities, too, surpassing it in contrast transfer. The SE yields the Swarovisions analytical power for 1000.- less and a nice 3D aesthetics. It is probably the best porro to use with spectacles.
I´d definitely recommend building your own eyecups to avoid black-outs.
The last batch of SEs was sold off in 2014. My speculation is this: Nikon made two grave mistakes with these binos. Firstly, their finish was not attractive enough to seduce prospective buyers. Imagine the SEs in Habicht design, black in black, no cheap plastic knobs, no strange grey protein rubber... the SE has a nice, modern, very ergonomic shape, but somewhat ugly textures and colours. Secondly, the problematic eyepiece design together with rubber eyecups have given the SEs a notoriety of producing black-outs. But this problem can be solved by simple custom made foam pads as eyecup substitutes.
The SEs will probably remain legendary. They are great binoculars with an excellent price-performance ratio.
I would love to see Nikon take a new try and merge the good qualities of the SE and E2, go for the smaller size of the 8x30 and the 154m classic field of view, add Swarovski transmission and sex appeal, plus an EDG ocular... the perfect porro.
Here an image gallery together with the Habicht 8x30 W. See what I mean?