Whilst they manufacture many other optical products and accessories and have been making binoculars for many years, I think that most people on the street will associate the Pentax brand with cameras and camera lenses, especially high end SLR's So for me it is always interesting to see what technologies and innovations companies like Pentax who have a vast amount of expertise in other areas of optics can bring to the table when producing a pair of binos and what better place to showcase these than on your flagship model.
It is for this and many other reasons that I really looked forward to taking a much closer look at their top end model and below you can read my full review and findings on the the Pentax 8x43 DCF ED binoculars after spending a lot of time using and field testing them:
Pentax use what initially looks like a very standard roof prism design for these DCF ED's, but there are a few subtle differences:
The single bridge/hinge is a little thinner than what you commonly find and it is not centrally located and even though I would not describe it as a true top hinge design as found on bins like the Vortex Razor HD's and the Hawke Sapphire ED's, it still leaves a little more of the ends of the barrels exposed, which you can use to wrap your fingers around for a more secure grip when carrying them about one handed.
I was pleased to see that the Pentax DCF ED binocular has a skeleton made from magnesium alloy, this comparatively expensive material is lighter and stronger than the aluminium that is used on some others in this class and whilst it may make for a slightly heavier body than the Polycarbonate ones found on cheaper bins, it is far superior in almost all other areas.
As you would expect for a bin in this class, the body of the Pentax DCF ED 8x43 has been fully sealed and they are fully waterproof to a depth of 1 meter. How they are better than many "waterproof" bins is that they come with a rating of JIS Class 6, which is very good as it means that they are fully watertight and did not have any water enter them after receiving a direct jet of water from any direction during their tests.
As these Pentax binoculars are sealed during the manufacturing process, the also have all the internal air replaced with nitrogen. This dry gas helps to prevent the internal glass surfaces from fogging up and because of the now moistureless environment, it prevents corrosion and stops mould growing on the glass, which is something that you quite often find on older bins.
For more information, take a look at this article on Fogproof and Waterproof Binoculars.
Most of the exterior surface of the Pentax 8x43 DCF ED binocular is covered in a fairly thick dark green colored rubber armour that will do a reasonable job of protecting the body and optics underneath.
This armour is quite hard, but is also quite tactile and the fine texture that is cut into it makes for a very grippy surface to hold onto which is far better on many that I have tested.
This finely textured rubber also ensures that in general, the binocular has a non glossy, matt finish to it that will help reduce the amount of light reflecting off of the body that could frighten away wildlife or give away your position. Likewise the rubber will dampen down sounds which is beneficial in may situations for the same reasons.
On the side of each barrel there is a very sturdy ring that is designed as the point you attach the neck strap to the binocular, but can also be used to connect the bin to a binocular harness if you wish.
The couple of thumb indents on the underside of the body are well positioned and do just enough to make you hold the bins correctly and in the right position to get them nicely balanced, which helps reduce image shake and fatigue during longer periods of use.
At a depth of 9mm, the objective lenses are set deeply enough within the ends of the barrels to offer a good amount of protection from not only marking and scratching, but also from dust and light rain.
The circular dust cap with the Pentax logo on the front of the hinge in between the two barrels can be unscrewed and removed. This will free the two objective lens covers, but also reveals a ¼-inch thread that is the standard size for adding a tripod adapter (not included). One note of caution here is that there is a little less room between the barrels than on most full sized bins I have tested, so if you are looking for an adapter make sure that it is fairly thin. For a better idea of what I mean, take a look at the walk-around video I made below.
On top of this housing, Pentax have added a fairly thick rubber layer to each eye-cup. This combined with the fact that they have an external diameter of 40mm and a flat surface that is about 6mm wide on the top, really helps with comfort when pushing them firmly against your face.
You get an excellent 22mm of eye-relief on these Pentax 8x43 DCF binoculars, which means they are up there with the best long eye-relief binoculars and so makes them perfect for those who wear glasses.
As well as this, you also get two fixed intermediate click-stops as you twist up the eye-cups, which gives you plenty of options to get the distance exactly right for your exact needs and thus ensure that you get the full view when you look through them with your glasses on.
Inter-Pupillary Distances (IPD)
By opening and closing the central pivot, you can adjust the distance between the eyecups (IPD) from a minimum setting of 5.8cm, right up to a maximum of 7.4cm. For a full sized bin, this is a pretty good range and means that they should be able to accommodate most people.
Focus Wheel & Focusing
The central focus wheel is large (33mm diameter) and on the pair I was testing turned very smoothly without any play.
It is covered in a deeply grooved rubber layer that helps with grip, but because it is a little more encased and protected within the body than many other bins that leave them more exposed it just a little more tricky to adjust when you have very thick gloves on.
The gearing of the focus mechanism is nice and balanced as it takes around 1½ rotations (540°) of the wheel to go from one extreme of the focusing plane to the other, meaning that it is reasonably fast to adjust over long distances and reasonably easy to be accurate with your fine focus adjustments.
Located on the right barrel, you have to click it up before you are able to turn it left or right, which then enables you to calibrate the bins to your particular vision.
Whilst they don't have a fine scale, I do like the fact that Pentax Sport Optics have included more reference markings than what you commonly find, which means that you should be able to more easily remember and return to your setting should you move it when sharing your bins for example.
Rating for Body Construction Quality: 9/10
Weighing 25.2oz (743g) this Pentax DCF ED sits around mid table when compared to other higher spec full sized binoculars (see below), which considering that their 43mm objectives are slightly larger than most, it is pretty impressive and I assume the magnesium alloy body helps as it is lighter than the aluminium bodies that is also often used in this class. Note: Cheaper bins will often have polycarbonate bodies which may be lighter, but are not as robust.
|Table showing the weight & dimensions of a selection of other full sized 8x binoculars I have reviewed|
|Celestron Nature DX 8x42||22.2oz (629g)||5.3in (13.5cm)||4.9in (12.4cm)||2in (5.2cm)|
|Vanguard 8x42 Spirit ED||22.6oz (641g)||5.7in (14.5cm)||4.9in (12.4cm)||?|
|Celestron Granite 8x42||24oz (680g)||5.8in (14.7cm)||4.0in (10.3cm)||2.1in (5.3cm)|
|Vortex Viper 8x42 HD||24.2oz (686g)||5.8in (14.7cm)||5.3in (13.5cm)||?|
|Pentax 8x43 DCF ED||25.2oz (715g)||5.7in (14.5cm)||5.0in (12.7cm)||2.1in (5.3cm)|
|Hawke Sapphire 8x42 ED||25.7oz (730g)||5.5in (14cm)||5.1in (13cm)||2.0in (5.1cm)|
|Kowa BD 8x42||25.7oz (729g)||5.7in (14.5cm)||5.0in (12.7cm)||2.0in (5.1cm)|
|Hawke Frontier 8x43 ED||26.2oz (743g)||6.6in (16.7cm)||5.2in (13.2cm)||2.6in (6.6cm)|
|Celestron 8x42 Nature||27 oz (765 g)||5.7in (14.4cm)||4.3in (11cm)||2.1in (5.3cm)|
|Eagle Optics ED Ranger 8x42||27.4oz (777g)||6.7in (17cm)||5.0in (12.7cm)||?|
|Swarovski 8.5x42 EL||28.9oz (819g)||6.5in (16.5cm)||4.8in (12.2cm)||2.5in (6.4cm)|
Pentax list the length of these as being 5.7in (14.5cm), which is achieved without lens covers and with the eye-cups twisted in, which once again makes them fairly typical for a bin with objectives around this size.
For your interest, by fully extending the eye-cups, it extends their length to 15.3cm and by adding the lens covers and the rain-guard, this measurement moves out to 16cm.
Their advertised width (12.7cm) and height/depth (5.3cm) is achieved with the central hinge fully open, which is fairly standard. By closing the hinge, it decreases their width to 11.3cm, but and increases their depth/height to 6.5cm because the focus wheel protrudes up above the body a little more.
BBR Rating for Body Stats: 7/10
Pentax Sport Optics mention that their ocular lenses consist of 3 elements arranged in 2 groups, but other than that they do not go into too much detail. I measured the lenses to be 22mm in diameter which is about average for this size of bin.
The objective lenses on the Pentax 8x43 DCF ED consists of 4 elements in 3 groups and are of a hybrid aspherical design. What this means is that Spherical lenses made of optical glass are converted to make much more complex curved surfaces of aspherical lenses where the radius of curvature changes according to distance from the optical axis. This allows them to concentrate all the light into one point and thus offer improved aberration correction, which in turn provides a better image resolution.
There are a few ways of doing this, for example ground and polished aspherical lenses are made using grindstones turning at at super high speeds, whilst Precision Glass Mold (PGM) aspherical lenses are made by heating the glass and then shaping them in a mould. However the hybrid aspherical lenses on these are produced by injecting a UV-curable resin between the spherical glass and the metal aspherical mold, it is then irradiated with UV light to form a glass-resin hybrid aspherical lens.
As their name suggests, one of the elements in each lens is made from ED (extra-low dispersion) glass. The properties of this glass gives the lens designer better control and more freedom to direct the light as it goes through the lens and so they can potentially reduce or even completely get rid of chromatic aberrations and thus produce a better quality image with less or even no color fringing.
As indicated by the DCF in their name, these Pentax binoculars use the very common roof (Dach) prism design to rectify the inverted images projected by the objective lenses.
The advantage of a roof prism over the porro prism is that because the optical path is straight you can make a more compact and slimmer binocular where the eyepieces are in-line with the objective lenses. However on the down side, a number of coatings are needed on some of the prism surfaces to achieve the best possible image.
As the light passes through the optical system in any binocular it comes into contact with many glass surfaces, all of which have the potential to disturb or reflect the light in an unwanted way. Left unchecked the result is a much lower quality and far less bright image.
To improve this manufacturers add coatings of a special anti-reflection material to some or all of the glass surfaces. This is a specialized process and so costs money and thus to reduce costs, some binos have fewer coatings on less surfaces than others.
Pentax stipulate that their optics in these bins are Fully-Multi-Coated, which is great as it means that ALL air-to-glass surfaces have received multiple layers of anti-reflection material.
One of the disadvantages of the roof prism is that you get some light loss off one of the surfaces as it passes through it. To increase it's reflectivity, manufacturers will often add coatings of a highly reflective material to this prism surface to all but the cheapest bins, but as with the anti-reflection coatings, this is a specialized process, using costly materials and so not all are created equal:
The cheapest method (apart from doing nothing) is to use aluminum coatings which can reflect between 87% to 93% of the light that hits it. Next are silver mirror coatings that have a reflectivity of between 95% and 98%. The best and most expensive method is to add a dielectric coating causing the prism to act as a dielectric mirror which can achieve a reflectivity of more than 99% across the entire visible light spectrum.
In most of their marketing material and information, Pentax don't state exactly what they use to coat the prisms with, but they do say that they add a "full reflection coating" on the prisms that reflects the maximum amount of light through them. To me this suggests that they are using a dielectric or at the very least silver coatings.
Update: A BBR reader kindly sent me a Pentax product brochure that they managed to find on the web that confirms that these do indeed have Dielectric prism coatings. It also goes on further to say that they use over 60 individual layers that maximize the light transmission to a level of up to 98.7% efficiency which is excellent.
Phase Correction Coatings
The other potential problem with the roof prism is something that is called "phase shift" which occurs as the light is reflected from the prism surfaces which results in a lower contrasting, lower resolution image. Better quality roof prism binoculars like these Pentax DCF ED's have special phase correction coatings applied to the surface of the prism to correct this which is another indicator of the high quality optical system used in them.
Pentax have also added a very hard coating onto the exterior lens surfaces, which helps to protect them and the other more delicate coatings.
Optical Components Quality Rating: 9/10
42mm diameter lenses is the most commonly used size on full sized bins, however Pentax have opted to use slightly larger 43mm ones, so I thought I would take a little time to discuss the consequences of this:
Obviously larger lenses are usually more expensive to make and use more glass, so will be heavier and make the binocular bigger. Although in this case the difference is so small that you really cannot notice the difference.
This 8x43 and all others with the same configuration produce a 5.38mm diameter exit pupil (43 ÷ 8 = 5.38), which is slightly larger than the 5.25mm exit pupil produced by an 8x42mm bin. This larger beam of light makes it very marginally easier to line up the pupils in your eyes with them to get the full view without any rings forming on the edges of it.
Assuming that the transmittance levels are the same the image produced by the 8x43 DCF ED should look brighter in poor light when your pupils dilate to a size larger than 5.25mm, but once again the difference will probably be very minimal.
The Field Of View (FOV)
With an angle of view of 6.3 degrees which translates to a view that is 110 meters wide at 1000 meters (330ft @ 1000 yards), it has to be said that this is a little narrow when compared to some of the best 8x binos out there:
According to Pentax, the nearest that you can focus on an object is from 6.6ft (2m) away, however on the pair I was testing I measured it to be far nearer than that at only 4.9ft (1.5m), but at this range you do get some cross over in the view.
Whatever the case, the minimum focus on these is excellent for a full sized in and is ideal for those who occasionally want to view flowers, butterflies or other insects from closer ranges.
The 22mm of eye-relief is excellent and they rank up there with the best long eye-relief binoculars. This combined with the excellent twist-up eyecups that have 2 intermediate stops makes them a perfect choice for those who wear glasses.
Optical Stats Rating: 7/10
My method to judge and thus score the quality of the view of the binoculars that I review is to compare a number of aspects of the view with that of my control binoculars in the same size and magnification category. This I hope enables me to be as impartial and consistent as possible with my scoring. In this case I used my mid ranging 8x42's and my very high end 8x42 controls, and I conducted the comparisons twice, once in good light and again when the light was fading at and after sunset.
The amount of color fringing that I could see along the edges of objects was extremely minimal and I was only really able to spot a very fine blue line when looking at very dark edges against a bright sky in the background.
This is excellent, matching some of the best out there, which considering the quality of the optics and the use of aspherical lenses with ED glass elements which are designed to counter chromatic aberrations that causes color fringing is as you would expect.
The whole image looks nice and flat and there is only an extremely minimal amount of softening of the image, right at the edge of the view. Once again this is excellent and matches the very best.
Image Brightness & Low Light Performance
In good light the brightness between these and all my 8x42 controls was undetectable to my eyes. This is as to be expected as in these conditions, my pupils will have been smaller than the exit pupils and so the bins would be providing my eyes with more light than they need.
In very poor light, I could not detect any difference in the brightness between these and my best quality 8x42 controls, but could notice the slightest improvement against my mid level 8x42's which means that I rate them as excellent in this department.
Colour Reproduction & Image Contrast
I thought that whilst the image was nice and bright, it does not wash out the colors and they look crisp and beautifully vivid, without any unnatural tints that you sometimes see, especially on cheaper bins.
The amount of contrast between dark and light is also very good, helping objects look nice and three dimensional. This along with the sharp image and brilliant colors also helps objects like some birds really stand out from their backgrounds.
Comparing them to my top end controls by swapping to and fro quickly and often, I really could not spot any difference between them both in the colors or their amount of contrast in the images they produce.
Depth of Field
Focusing on an abject about 5 meters away, I then move my view back without adjusting the focus to see how far I can get before the image moves out of focus. Compared to my 8x42mm controls these had about the same depth of field and so rank them as very good in this area.
Image Quality Rating: 9/10
The soft carry bag that you get with these premium binoculars looks to be well made, but is very lightly padded and so offers a lot less impact protection than some of the better ones. The bag is not completely waterproof, but it will offer some good protection against light rain.
The bins fit snugly inside and you can just close and secure the main flap with the eye-cups twisted out and the rain-guard and lens covers on, which is good as this is something that is surprisingly often overlooked. This main flap is held closed with a strip of Velcro, which is secure enough, but there will be times when you need to be careful not to frighten away nearby wildlife when opening it as it makes quite a lot of noise.
It does not come with it's own shoulder strap, instead you use the neck strap on the binoculars, threading them through the sides of the flapped lid, which works well enough.
I was surprised to discover that the bag did not have a belt loop on the rear of it, nor does it have any extra pockets either external or internally. On the whole it is a lightweight and functional, but simple bag, especially when compared to others in this class.
Compared to the vast majority of bins in this price range I would describe the Pentax DCF ED neck strap as being pretty basic. Whilst it works well enough, has a nice Pentax logo sewn into it and seems to be well made, it is completely un-padded and is only 2.5cm wide and 2mm thick. Thus whilst it is much lighter and takes up a lot less room in the case, it is also a lot less comfortable than the best.
Objective Lens Covers
Like many, these come with tethered objective lens covers, but unlike most that use a simple elastic loop that goes around each barrel, these have a cord on each cover that connects it to the dust cap on the front of the central hinge. I really like this as not only does it make them almost impossible to loose, they are always handy, but most importantly when glassing, they hang down under the binocular, well out of the way.
The caps themselves look to make from a soft plastic/hard rubber and they fit nice and tightly INSIDE the ends of the barrels. Once again this is better than many that fit OVER the ends of the barrels, which to me looks a little less appealing as it breaks up the lines of your bin, but it also make it easier for them to become accidentally dislodged.
I say this not only because of the couple of loops located on the ends, but because they fit very loosely over the eyecups and easily come away. So if you often carry your bins in your hand when not in use, they will almost certainly fall away.
Whilst not as flexible as some, the thin bridge that spans the two cups does flex, which allows for the different inter-pupillary distance settings, meaning that you can keep it your bin at your desired position when replacing the rain-guard.
My test sample did not come with a lens cleaning cloth, which is often included and I must say is a little surprising. However I suggest that you should get yourself a proper Lens Cleaning Kit even for those that do come with a cloth as this will ensure that you clean your lenses correctly ensuring that you don't mark or damage the sometimes delicate coatings.
Extras & Attention to Detail Rating: 6/10
Below is a table listing the main specifications & features of this Pentax as well as a number of other similar binoculars:
|Pentax 8x43 DCF ED||Celestron Granite 8x42||Eagle Optics ED Ranger 8x42||Hawke Frontier 8x43 ED||Hawke 8x42 Sapphire ED||Minox HG 8x43||Vortex Viper 8x42 HD|
|Approx Price:||$850 / £770||$345 / £398||$440||$480 / £290||$450 / £340||$1100 / £640||$450|
|Weight:||25.2oz (715g)||24oz (680g)||27.4oz (777g)||26.2oz (743g)||25.7oz (730g)||22.9oz (649g)||24.2oz (686g)|
|Length:||5.7in (14.6cm)||5.8in (14.7cm)||6.7in (17cm)||6.6in (16.7cm)||5.5in (14cm)||6.0in (15.2cm)||5.8in (14.7cm)|
|Width:||5.0in (12.6cm)||4.0in (10.3cm)||5.0in (12.7cm)||5.2in (13.2cm)||5.1in (13cm)||5.1in (13cm)||5.3in (13.5cm)|
|Min Focusing Dist:||6.6ft||6.5ft||6.0ft||6.6ft||6.6ft||8.2ft||5.1ft|
|FOV at 1000yds:||330ft||426ft||425ft||426ft||426ft||379ft||347ft|
|High Reflective Prism Coatings||Full reflection coating?||Dielectric or Silver||Dielectric||?||Dielectric||Silver||?|
|Lens Coatings||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated|
Strong Points: These Pentax DCF ED 8x43 binoculars are well made, using top drawer materials and some of the finest optical coatings available which all contribute to them delivering a superior quality as well as bright image that is a match for any in this price range. On top of this they have the overall feel and look of a genuinely high quality optical instrument, that if looked after should last you a lifetime.
Their 22mm of eye-relief and excellent twist-up eye-cups with four click stops is excellent and far better than the mainstream, which gives you loads of room to customise them to perfectly fit your face making them an excellent choice for those who wear glasses.
With small features like the lockable diopter ring and the way the objective lens covers are tethered to the body, Pentax also show that in many cases they have paid attention to the small details that can elevate a binocular from the crowd.
Weak points? Whilst it is not too bad, I would have preferred it if they had a wider field of view, however to achieve this they would probably have to reduce the eye-relief and so as with most things in optics there are compromises to be made and a loss in one area means a gain in another.
For me the neck strap and the carry case were a little disappointing as they were both nowhere near as good as good as the actual binoculars themselves. Having said that, they both work well enough, covering the basics and whilst they may not be as luxurious as others in this class, if improving them meant that Pentax had to increase the price, I would probably prefer it if they just kept them as is.
Ideal Uses: Whilst the majority of full-sized 8x bins are great general use and a good option for nearly all types of birding and to a point these are no exception. I would like to add though that the slightly narrower view on these may be of slight concern those whose bird watching often involves tracking small, faster moving, unpredictable birds from close distances. However if this is not always the case, they will still make a great choice for many birders as they have many other desirable features including that very high quality as well as bright image produced by the slightly larger objectives and high end coatings that makes them ideal if you often find yourself in poor light, either because of the time of day or because of your location: e.g. a forest.
This brightness and image quality, combined with their fairly lightweight as well as tough fog and waterproof body ensures that they will not only handle most conditions, but will perform well in them, making them ideally suited for many general wildlife observation scenarios as well as being a great choice for many as a hunting binocular.
In terms of size and weight, they are around average for a full sized bin and so may not be the ideal choice if you are looking to travel light and in this case I would suggest looking at mid sized or even compact bins. But if optical performance is more important to you than a little extra bulk, then these will also make a more than decent safari binocular. I would also suggest that you pack them somewhere in your car for all camping trips to not only enjoy all that is around during the day, but also in the evenings, where they can really help you enjoy a closer look at the stars.
During your research you may have come across the many binocular reviews on the web that are little more than adverts written by people who have never even laid eyes on the model they are writing about, but I can assure you that this review is completely my honest opinion of these Pentax binoculars after having researched, used and tested them extensively both in my office and out in the field.
Reviewed by Jason Whitehead
Main Specifications & Features:
Below are similar pairs of Binoculars that you may also want to have a look at:
Oozing quality, the use of the very best quality optical components and coatings contribute to producing an extremely high quality and bright image.
General Price Range: (5/6) High Value Binoculars
Below is a link that will take you to a page with online retailers in both the US and UK that sell Pentax 8x43 DCF ED Binoculars this page makes it easy to compare prices and then to buy from your preferred option:
Buy & Compare Prices for the Pentax 8x43 DCF ED Binoculars
I would love to get your comments and well as your opinions on these optics. Do you want to or do you already own one of these DCF ED Binoculars? If so please let us know what you think of them giving both the good and the bad points: