It was not that long ago that I reviewed the 10x42 version of this binocular, the Vanguard 10x42 Spirit ED and so as far as things like optical components and build quality, much of this review will be similar. But there are quite a few differences apart from the obvious between an 8x and 10x binocular and so I thought this would make a great opportunity to explore them a little more closely. I have highlighted these main differences in Orange below.
As far as I could tell the body is exactly the same as the 10x version, which is a good thing as not only are they extremely comfortable to hold and well balanced, but their weight of 640g (22.6) makes them one of the lightest full sized binoculars on the market and when compared to others with similar high quality optics, they are the lightest that I have reviewed. The only thing that comes close are the Minox 8x43 HG's - 649g (22.9ozs ).
Their dimensions (145x125mm) are fairly standard for a full sized binocular and as with the 10x version I really liked the very tactile hard rubber armoring on the binocular with the comfy thumb indents on the underside of the barrels.
This armor will not only help to protect your optics from most "normal" knocks and bumps, but helps with grip in wet conditions and has the added benefit of dampening down any sounds from objects hitting them - I am thinking of things like watches or a wedding ring - something that often happens to me when I grab hold of a pair of binoculars. This sound on exposed metal binoculars can frighten away easily spooked birds and other wildlife.
The Spirit ED 8420 is 100% waterproof and because they are filled with dry nitrogen gas, they are resistant to internal fogging which can happen in places where there is high humidity or when you get rapid temperature variations. Having the air replaced with a dry gas like nitrogen also has the added benefit of protecting the internal workings on a pair of optics from any corrosion that could occur.
The Eye Cups
Often overlooked by many people are the eye-cups, but for me this is the point at which your instrument meets your face and so can make the difference between a good and a bad pair. The ones on the new Spirit ED's are great. Their rubber covering is softer and more tactile than what you find on most other binoculars and as such are very comfortable, meaning that you can push them more firmly against your face which has the benefit of blocking out more external light from the sides for a better overall view.
Excellent Long Eye Relief
The twist-up mechanism on the eyecups work well, they do however only have one fixed intermediate stop although you can stop them at any other point, but you will have to take more care to prevent them accidentally moving. Non-eyeglass wearers just use the eyecups in the fully extended position. But if you do wear glasses, you can adjust them to the exact distance that works best for you to ensure that you view the full field of view.
The maximum eye relief is an excellent 19mm, and they easily make it onto my list of long eye relief binoculars and so should be more than enough for most people who wear glasses.
This is one area where the 8x42's Spirit ED's are quite a bit different than the 10x42 version which have a eye relief of 16mm - something that you may consider if you are really looking for a binocular with a very long eye-relief, although having said that 16mm should still be easily enough for most people.
The focussing wheel on the 8x42 Spirit ED not only looks good, with it's silver trim and the grooved rubber track on it to make focusing even better than before. But it only takes about 3/4 of a turn to go from infinity to it's closest focusing distance of 2.5 meters (8.2ft).
This means that focusing from near to far (or vise versa) is very quick as many binoculars take a full turn of the wheel or more. Such an aggressive mechanism can however make it a little trickier to fine tune your focus as any small movement of the wheel moves the focusing plane a bigger distance, than on less aggressive mechanisms. During the time that I used them, I never had any problems with this and I personally would opt for this over a binocular where you have to rotate the wheel a number of times to get to where you want.
The diopter adjustment consists of an etched hard rubber ring on the right barrel, near the eyecup. It allows you to adjust the lenses separately to allow for differences in each of your eyes and plays an important part in correctly focusing your binoculars. On the pair that I was using, it was smooth and easy to adjust, whilst tight enough to ensure that it will not move to easily accidentally.
Compared to the "standard" Vanguard's Spirit Plus binoculars, the biggest improvement to these ED versions is that these have ED glass lenses (extra low dispersion glass) that prevents chromatic aberration (color fringing). They do this by better directing and concentrating the wavelength of light more effectively onto your eyes. Lenses made from extra low dispersion glass have less air bubbles and glass deformities that are more likely to cause image distortion. Because of the costs involved and precision needed to make them, they are only found on high end cameras, telescopes, microscopes and binoculars.
Lens & Prism Coatings
As well as the ED glass, Vanguard use a whole host of coatings to ensure a bright and high quality image is produced. So good in fact, that Vanguard themselves say that the Spirit ED has a light transmission of up to 90% which "results in a near-perfect viewing experience."
To start with and as you would expect in any quality roof prism binocular, these use BaK-4 prisms as opposed to the far inferior (and cheaper to make) BK-7 prisms. On top of this Vanguard have gone a step further and added a set of phase correction coatings on the prism glass that keeps light in correct color phases with the result of producing clearer images and better color reproduction.
The optics on the Vanguard Spirit ED binoculars are also fully multi-coated, which means that all air to glass surfaces have received multiple layers of antireflection and other coatings meaning that more light gets to your eyes. Some of these coatings include Vanguard's own V-Max coating, a silver coating that is applied to the lenses that they say is amongst the "most cutting-edge lens treatments in optics" that provides near perfect light reflection and will result in a brighter as well as sharper contrasting image.
All air-to-surface lenses also have an AR (Anti-reflection) coating that reduces the amount of light reflected away from the lenses that again will improve image brightness, even on the sunniest days.
Vanguard have also added their own Emerald Coating to the objective lenses that they say has been specifically designed to bring you the full spectrum of color within the band of green tones. This idea is specifically aimed at the nature observer as it is said to ensure the "most vivid and natural shades of green."
The brightness of the image produced was excellent compared to my benchmark 8x42's and I therefore rate them very highly. As well as bright, the image like the 10x42 version is very sharp and is their contrast.
One of the coatings that Vanguard use on the lenses (see above) is their own Emerald Coating which they say helps to provide the full spectrum of color within the band of green tones for more vivid and natural shades of green. To be honest with my eyes, I could not notice any differences in the greens when looking at things like trees compared to my benchmark. What I will say however is that when looking through the binoculars, the image does feel very natural and you cant see any tinting of the image that is sometimes noticeable on cheaper pairs of binoculars, especially those with ruby coatings that often have an unnatural greenish tint.
There was no noticeable color fringing (chromatic aberration) around the edges of objects that you find with cheaper optics, meaning that the ED glass is obviously working well. The amount of softening of the image on the periphery of the view was pretty much non existent which is very impressive.
Overall I would say that in terms of image quality and compared to other binoculars in their price range these are easily some of the best that you can get. I would also go as far as to say that they are also as good as many binoculars that are much, much more expensive than these.
Binoculars with an 8x magnification and 42mm objective lenses are a common choice for bird watching, as they often strike a good compromise between magnification, as wide a field of view as possible, their light gathering potential and size of device.
Like all 8x42 binoculars, these have an Exit Pupil of 5.25 and a Twilight Factor of 18.3, which indicate that they are fine for most low light conditions like what you find early in the morning and early evening when most birds and other wildlife is most active. Whilst these figures do not take into account the quality of the lenses and prisms, they do make it possible to compare the performance of binoculars in low light conditions and as we have already mentioned these Vanguard's do have really good quality lenses, prisms and coatings that will produce a brighter image than inferior binoculars of the same configuration.
Whilst the field of view for the Vanguard Spirit ED 8x42 is 110m at 100m / 330ft at 1000 yards (6.3°) is wider than the 10x42 version (105m at 1000m / 315ft @ 1000 yards (6°) ) it must be said that they do fall short of the very best. For example the Leica 8x42 Ultravid HD (389ft at 1,000 yards) and the Minox 8x43 HG Binoculars (379ft at 1,000 yards) both offer a much wider field of view, but it must be remembered that these Vanguard's are literally only a fraction of the cost of them.
Close focusing distance is on these Vanguard 8x42 binoculars is 2.5 meters (8.2ft), which is about average, with anything under 6ft being very good.
Here again is a difference between these and the 10x42 Vanguard Spirit ED's which have a near focus of 9.2ft - something you may take into consideration if you like observing things like butterflies at close range.
8x42 Vanguard Spirit ED Comparisons
Whilst it may not be fair to compare a mid priced binocular like this Vanguard Spirit ED with the very top of the range, it does throw up a few interesting points. Below is a table comparing some of the main specifications of these with some other 8x binoculars. The Leica 8x42 Ultravid HD, the Minox 8x43 HG Binoculars, the Kowa 8x42 BD and I have also included the 10x42 Spirit ED as well.
|Vanguard 8x42 Spirit ED||Leica 8x42 Ultravid HD||Minox 8x43 HG||Kowa 8x42 BD||Vanguard 10x42 Spirit ED|
|Price (approx):||$250 (£300)||$2100 (£1500)||$1100 (£640)||$550 (£590)||$300 (£350)|
|Weight:||22.6oz (640g)||27.9ozs (791g)||22.9ozs (649g)||25.7ozs (729g)||22.6oz (640g)|
|Length:||5.7in (14.5cm)||5.63in (14.3cm)||6.0in (15.2cm)||5.7in (14.5cm)||5.7in (14.5cm)|
|Width:||4.9in (12.5cm)||4.72in (12cm)||5.1in (13cm)||5.0in (12.7cm)||4.9in (12.5cm)|
|Close Focusing Distance:||8.2ft||10.2ft||8.2ft||6.5ft||9.2ft|
|Field of View at 1000yds:||330ft||389ft||379ft||330ft||315ft|
|Lens Coatings||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated|
What this does show is that even though these Vanguard binoculars are a fraction of the cost compared to some of the very best 8x42's that money can buy, they can compete and even beat them in some areas. As you can see strong points for the Vanguard 8x42 Spirit ED is it's low weight and the fact that they use high quality lenses with ED glass. Weak points are it's field of view and close focusing distance.
There is a small cover or cap on the front of the central pivoting point that screws off. This allows you to then screw on a binocular tripod adapter (not included) that uses the standard ¼-inch threading, which you can then attach to your tripod.
I do like the soft black carry case that is of good quality as is the very good quality as well as comfortable neck strap. A nice feature of these binoculars is that you can convert the neck strap to the carry bag strap using the clips. This allows you to have a very comfortable and longer carry bag strap if you are not going to be using your binoculars and then to quickly move the strap onto the binoculars when using them. I also liked carrying the binoculars in my hands using the "short" version of the strap which makes for a very secure way of holding onto them.
The plastic lens caps fit well and should not accidentally fall off they also have fittings that enable you to loop them through the neck strap. A lens cleaning cloth is also supplied.
Strong Points: The fact that Vanguard have managed to include so many top quality features including ED glass into a binocular and keep it down to the price that they have, is very impressive. The view through them is excellent as is their low weight and I just love the quality of the extras like the nicely padded neck strap that doubles as the carry strap for it's case.
Weak points? Due to their very competitive price that was around $250 (£300) at the time of writing, I find it hard to be too critical of them, but it would have been nice if they had a slightly wider field of view and possibly a closer minimum focusing distance.
Overall if you are looking for a binocular with very high quality optics that translates to an extremely good view, but don't fancy spending the large sums of money that the "top end" brand names sell for, then I highly recommend these Vanguard 8x42 Spirit ED's.
I was due to leave on a safari holiday shortly after doing this review and that meant choosing what equipment I should take with me. My usual choice and my general advice for a good safari binocular is to take a fairly compact and tough pair of binoculars, something like the Steiner 10.5x28 Wildlife Pro Binocular or the excellent Minox 8x33 BL Binoculars that won my award for the Best Safari & Travel Binocular in 2010. The main reason I usually take a compact or mid sized binocular is because I like to keep my luggage as light and compact as possible. When walking in the bush, I also usually take my camera as well as a pair of binoculars with me and so in this situation, the more compact a pair of binoculars is, the better.
For this trip however, I knew that as well as the big stuff, I would also be doing a lot of birding early in the mornings and so I decided that I wanted to focus more on the binoculars performance and in particular low light performance. Therefore a "full sized" 8x42 binocular would be ideal and I was so impressed after I finished the review of these Vanguard binoculars, I decided that these would be my choice to take with me.
As with my initial review, I was really impressed with the 8x42 Vanguard Spirit ED and they performed really well for me: As mentioned earlier, as far as full sized binoculars go they are about as light as as you can get, this combined with the very good neck strap made carrying them in the field as hassle free as possible. It also felt really good to know that the view I was getting through them whilst looking at wildlife was just that much better than what you get from a fully compact binocular.
Not always for looking at things in the distance
My wife took the photo of me below using these Vanguards as a small herd of elephants approached us. Being so close to an elephant, binoculars may not seem necessary, but what is really interesting is to look at all the details. Things like the eyes and the skin of an elephant are so incredible and a quality pair of optics like the Vanguard 8x42 Spirit ED can really help you to to appreciate them. I must confess however that my heart was in my mouth, but I knew that from their body language, we were not really in that much danger and it was far safer for us just to remain calm, moving slowly away.
Reviewed by Jason Whitehead
Main Specifications & Features:
Below are similar pairs of Binoculars that you may also want to have a look at:
Quality features like ED Glass & phase corrected Bak-4 prisims ensure that this Vanguard binocular has an excellent performance to price ratio
General Price Range: (3/6) Mid Price Binoculars
Below is a link that will take you to a page with online retailers in both the US and UK that sell Vanguard 8x42 Spirit ED Binoculars this page makes it easy to compare prices and then to buy from your preferred option:
Buy & Compare Prices for the Vanguard 8x42 Spirit 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 Spirit ED Binoculars? If so please let us know what you think of them giving both the good and the bad points: