Now into it's third year, the competition to win an award was tougher than ever as the pool of binoculars that I have reviewed continues to grow.
One of the main intentions of this website is to help you to find the best optics for your particular needs as easily as possible. However as the amount of binoculars I review increases, it makes it harder and harder for the very best binoculars to stand out from the rest.
So whilst choice is ultimately a good thing, it can at times make your decision on which binocular to choose even harder. So the idea of the Annual Binocular Awards is to highlight the binoculars that for me really stood out from the crowd in a number of key areas and thus hopefully bring them to your attention.
To be eligible for an award, I have to have personally reviewed the binocular. They then must have excelled in a particular area or areas to be eligible for a particular category. Value for money was also taken into account.
Awards are also not just handed out to any binocular and so to win an award, the binocular has to have really impressed in that particular category. So if no binocular has really stood out for me in a particular category, there will be no winner in this category for this year and the award will go to the previous years winner.
I would also like to make it clear that just like my reviews, these awards have in no way been influenced by any manufacturer and are purely based on my experience with the binocular during the review.
Of all the binoculars that I reviewed in 2012, the Vortex Razor HD Binoculars were for me the most impressive. I would even go as far as to say they are easily one of the best binoculars I have ever used.
I scored them a perfect 10 for their Optical Quality and 9's for Image Quality, Body Stats, Body Quality and for their Extras & Attention to Detail, which helped them attain a score of 90% overall on the Best Binocular Reviews Ratings scale, which confirms them as being one of the very best.
These Vortex binoculars ooze quality and the view through them is stunning and as good as any that I have ever used. This is largely down to their use of the highest quality optical components and coatings.
For example, Vortex have used an apochromatic lens design on these Razor binoculars that includes high density ED glass elements and which brings light of three different frequencies to a common focus. Thus they can reduce chromatic aberration as well as improve the correction of spherical aberration much more than the achromatic doublet lens design used in most bins can.
The quality does not end with the lens design as these Vortex Razors also come with the very best quality coatings including fully multi-coated anti-reflection coatings, as well as dielectric and phase correction coatings on the roof prisms.
Whilst these may not be cheap by any stretch of the imagination, for a very high end binocular that uses the very best materials and coatings and which ranks with the very best, I consider their price is very reasonable.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Vortex binoculars.
To be a really good all round bird watching binocular, you need a binocular that produces a very high quality image to enable you to enjoy all the beauty of the bird that you are observing and you also need a nice wide field of view to make locating and following your birds as easy as possible.
These Celestron binoculars deliver in both areas. Featuring a whole host of quality optical components and coatings that include BaK-4 Prisms, with high reflectivity and phase correction coatings as well as fully multi-coated optics and extra low dispersion glass (ED) - that scored a very impressive 9/10 on the Best Binocular Reviews Scale for Optical Components.
Their quality coatings as well as the full sized 42mm objective lenses help to "capture" as much light as possible, which translates to a nice and bright image that really impressed me when I reviewed them. This is another very important aspect to look out for in a great birding binocular as a binocular that produces a bright image that will perform better in poor light conditions like in thickly forested areas, at daybreak or late afternoon/evening when most birds are at their most active.
Very Wide Field of View
For general birding, another really important feature to look out for is a wide field of view. This will make it easier to find and track birds, especially small fast moving ones. With a field of view of 426 feet@1000 yards (142m @ 1000m) or 8.1°, these Celestron binoculars have one of the widest fields of view that I have ever tested and they therefore easily make it onto my list of wide angle binoculars.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Celestron Binoculars.
Winner in 2011 and once again in 2012, the Minox 8x43 HG scored a hugely impressive 87% overall on the Best Binocular Reviews Ratings scale, that included a 10/10 for body construction quality. So you just know that these water and fog proof binoculars are extremely well made and easily tough enough to handle pretty much whatever you throw at them whilst you are out there in the wild.
As well as this, at only 650g (22.9oz), these are one of THE lightest full sized binoculars that I have ever reviewed, this combined with their well made and well padded neck strap will make them as comfortable as possible even if you have to carry them with you all day.
These Minox binoculars also scored an Outstanding 9/10 for both Image Quality and Optical Components Quality which means you can be sure that you will get a very high quality image to enable you to enjoy all the beauty and all the details of the wildlife you are observing. During the testing of these binoculars, one area where I could really notice the difference between these and the benchmarks that I comparing them with was the contrast of the image, which was especially noticeable in low light conditions. This may seem like a small thing, but it does really make objects stand out that much better and they feel more three dimensional. This really helps with being able to spot things like a deer in a thickly forested area, or even a small bird within the dark canopy of the trees.
Most full sized binoculars come with 42mm objective lenses, these have slightly larger 43mm ones, which will capture more light. This combined with their excellent optics and coatings produce a really bright image that really impressed me when I reviewed them. A binocular that produces a bright image that will perform better in poor light conditions like in thickly forested areas, at daybreak or late afternoon/evening when most wildlife is at their most active.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Minox HG binoculars.
Whilst these Mid-Priced Carson binoculars can't compete against the very high end Minox HG Binoculars above, I thought that they were good enough to be worth a mention and would appeal to those who are looking for something far less taxing on their wallet.
The Carson 10x42 3D Series binocular has a tough but very lightweight and waterproof body that protects some really high quality optical components including the use of ED glass elements in the lenses and phase-coated BaK-4 roof prisms that produce a bright and high quality image.
Extras like an included binocular harness and the fantastic wrap around BinoArmor carry case add extra value to this already excellent pair of optics and also make them ideal for tracking wildlife in all weather conditions and through difficult terrain.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Carson binoculars.
These mid-sized Swarovski binoculars won my award for the best overall binocular in 2011 and so it was always going to be really hard for any binocular to impress me enough to convince me that they were better as a safari and travel binocular than these especially as they have been specifically designed for traveling.
They scored a perfect 10 for their Body Construction Quality, Image Quality and for their Extras & Attention to Detail helped them attain a chart topping 93% overall on the Best Binocular Reviews Ratings scale, which at the time of writing is the highest score ever achieved by any binocular - these really are special binoculars.
What really stood out for me on these Swarovski binoculars was just how excellent the view through them is and I would almost describe them as optically impeccable. This is achieved by the use of top quality optical components and coatings. The quality of the workmanship and the attention to detail is also very impressive and I love the quality of all the extras like the carry case, neck strap, lens cleaning cloth and the fact that you get the snap shop adapter is a real bonus.
With a field of view of 140m at a distance of 1,000 metres (=420 feet at 1,000 yards = 8°), these are really some of the very best out there and they easily make it onto my list of wide angle binoculars. This is a real highlight for me and is a major reason as to why these binoculars are so popular amongst birders, especially those who like to travel a lot.
As with any binoculars with such high quality components and build quality these Swarovski EL's don't come cheap, but as they say, in life you get what you pay for and in this case you really do get one of, if not the best mid-sized binocular on the market. So if you are the type of person that demands or needs uncompromising quality and performance then these Swarovski EL 8x32 W B Traveler binoculars may be the optics for you.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Swarovski binoculars.
Whilst these Pentax binoculars don't win the award for the best Travel and Safari Binocular, I thought that they were good enough to be worth a mention and would appeal to those who are looking for something less pricey than the Swarovski's above.
I liked the 9x magnification that gave you just that bit more power than an 8x, yet not such a reduced field of view as you get with most 10x binoculars. This makes them great as a general use all round birding and wildlife observation binocular. Combine this with the compact design and 32mm objective lenses and you have a great little travel and safari binocular that will also perform well on most nature and bird walks.
High quality features include a lightweight & compact open-hinge body that is fog and waterproof to 1m, fully multi-coated lenses, phase Correction Coatings on the BAK-4 roof prisms.
These 9x32 Pentax DCF BC binoculars are really good value for money:
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Mid-Sized Pentax binoculars.
As I did last year, I have decided to also give a special mention to a pair of travel and safari binoculars specifically designed for women:
Nikon Sport Optics and SHE Outdoor Apparel collaborated together to produce this mid-sized 10x36 Safari binocular designed with women in mind. Technically there is actually no difference between the standard Nikon Monarch ATB binoculars and the women's binoculars, the difference is all in the styling and the extras like the excellent quality and very stylish carry bag that you get with them as well.
The main features that you are looking for in any Safari or Travel binocular is one that is compact and light enough to easily carry in your luggage, tough enough to withstand the rigors of travel and high quality bright optics that will perform well in low light conditions like early morning or late afternoon/evening when wildlife is at it's most active and when you will be going on safari. These Nikon Monarch binoculars tick all the boxes and more:
Even though they have slightly larger objective lenses than most mid-size roof prism binoculars that I have reviewed, their dimensions of (12.2x12.9cm /4.8x5.0in) means these Nikon SHE 10x36 Safari binoculars compare pretty well with most others in this class. For comparison, the top of the range travel binoculars, and this years winner of binocular of the year, the Swarovski EL 8x32 W B Traveler Binoculars that have dimensions of 13.8 x 11.4cm (5.4 x 4.5in)
At 19.9 ounces (575g), they are also fairly lightweight, compare this once again to the to the top of the range the Swarovski Traveler Binoculars that weigh 21.5ozs (610g).
The 10x36 Nikon SHE Safari Monarch Binoculars are O-ring Sealed and therefore fully waterproof. This not only protects them from moisture, but will prevent dust from entering them that could lead to your view being spoiled, an important consideration when choosing binoculars that you will take on safari or other adventures where it can get very dry and dusty.
They have also been "nitrogen purged", which means that the air inside the binocular has been replaced with nitrogen gas, this prevents the interior optical surfaces from fogging up due to rapid temperature changes or in areas that have high humidity.
36mm Diameter Objective Lenses - In many ways mid-size binoculars like these with 36mm objective lenses are ideal safari binoculars. Small enough to easily fit in with your luggage, yet they still have large enough objective lenses to gather enough light to work well in poorer light conditions. Which is exactly what you find in the early mornings and late afternoons when you will mostly going out on safari as this is the time when the game is most active.
Quality optical components and coatings like Fully Multi-coated Lenses, Bak-4 prisms that have Phase-correction coatings on them also help to ensure that the image produced is pin-sharp and as bright as possible.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Mid-Sized Nikon SHE binoculars.
If you are not female, or don't like the styling on the SHE Safari Monarch Binoculars, you could always get the standard Nikon 10x36 Monarch ATB DCF Binoculars or take a look at some other binoculars that I also highly recommend as a Safari and Travel companion:
When it comes to the best birding, wildlife observation or travel binocular, Vanguard may not deliver the outright winner, but what they really excel at is in producing an excellent binocular, with features and a performance that way outperforms it's price tag.
So for the third year in a row, I have no hesitation in awarding a Vanguard binocular the best value for money binocular prize for 2012.
The 10x42 Endeavor ED binoculars slightly improve on last years winner, the 10x42 Spirit ED as they are just that bit better, scoring an outstanding 87% on the Best Binocular Reviews Ratings scale, which for mid priced binoculars is very impressive and beats many that cost far more than these.
This score included a 9/10 for Image quality, optical stats, optical components quality and for body construction quality. So it is for these reasons as well as their very competitive price tag of around $350 /£270 which excludes a $50/£40 manufacturer rebate that you can also get on them this year, which makes them incredibly good value and is why I think this Vanguard Endeavor ED binocular is a very worthy winner of the Best Value for Money Binocular for 2012.
Highlights include a really wide field of view for a 10x42 binocular, Extra low-dispersion, ED glass, Phase Coated BaK4 roof prisms, Fully Multi-Coated Anti-Reflection coatings on the lenses, all wrapped in a tough water and fog proof exterior.
Their price tag means that they sit in my category of mid priced binoculars, which if you take into account that the highest quality optical elements and coatings are used as well as the lightweight and excellent quality body it is very impressive and must surely be one of the best value for money binoculars out there:
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Vanguard Endeavor ED binoculars.
The words "Kowa" and "Low Cost" are not often used in the same sentence. This is because up until recently this Japanese company focused all their attention on the top end of the market producing some of the very best binoculars and scopes available - Indeed their excellent Kowa 10.5x44 Genesis XD Binoculars won my award for Binocular of the year in 2010.
However this has changed with the announcement of two new ranges of much more affordable binoculars - the SV roof prism binoculars and the YF Porro Prisms which includes this 8x30 model.
What really impressed me when I reviewed these is that despite their low cost, they still come with a whole host of quality features and impressive specifications.
Kowa have partly achieved this by reducing their costs through simultaneous product development and instead of being made in Japan, the 8x30 YF binoculars are manufactured in China.
In the cheap to medium price range, porro prism binoculars are also quite often optically superior and perform better than roof prism ones because they don't require expensive phase correction and high reflective coatings on the prism glass as you do with the roof prism design.
Porro prism binoculars generally offer a better depth of field, a wider field of view and because the objective lenses are often spaced wider than roof prisms, they often produce a slightly better stereoscopic image.
Apart from their more than reasonable price tag, highlights for me included their wide field of view, very low weight and compact size. The quality and brightness of the view through them was also well above what you would expect in their class and the name, build quality and styling make them look far more expensive than they really are, which is always a good thing.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Kowa binoculars.
Whilst the Luna Optics LN-EM1-MS was the only night vision device that I reviewed this year, I do think that they were well worthy of the award and a vast improvement on all night vision monoculars that I have used in the past decade.
The Gen2+ Luna Optics LN-EM1-MS night vision monocular, is light and compact enough to be comfortably carried anywhere. The unit features all-glass multi-coated optics providing bright image and a very wide Field Of View and a built-in 2-power level IR illuminator allowing for short distance observation even in complete darkness.
It operates on just one AA type battery, and can also be accessorized with optional head-mask, large magnification lenses and extended range IR illuminators.
The build quality was very high and their very compact and lightweight design makes them not only really easy to carry about in your hands, but also very easy to pack away in you bag and take wherever you are going.
The Gen 2+ tube and low magnification produce an incredibly bright image which is even more incredible when you consider the relatively small 26mm objective lens.
I loved using the Luna Optics LN-EM1-MS Night Vision Monoculars, their compact size and very bright image that they produce means that, I for one will definitely be taking them with me on my safari holiday later on in the year. As well as safaris I would say that these monoculars are ideal for most other night time wildlife observation as well as home, farm or even industrial security needs.
Read my full Review of these LN-EM1-MS Night Vision Monoculars.
When I reviewed the excellent Carson 10x42 3D Series Binoculars, one of their features that really struck me during the time I was out testing them was just how innovative and useful their carry case was - they were like nothing I have ever used before.
The design is so simple and yet it just works so well. The biggest advantage of these over a standard case is just how quick it is to go from having your binoculars fully protected to using them and vise versa. Ensuring that you never miss the action, yet your binoculars remain fully protected in between these moments.
From the outside, the case looks pretty much like any other, but unlike most cases where you put your binoculars inside them, the Carson BinoArmor wraps around your binoculars. Because of this simple but very clever design, the Carson BinoArmor Deluxe eliminates the need for using lens caps and a rain guard, which as you probably know can be awkward, easily lost as well as time consuming to remove and replace when out in the field.
It is very well made from neoprene that is lightweight, pretty well cushioned and will protect your binoculars from rain and most other bad weather conditions. It has a magnetic closure system that works well and I love the fact that you can keep your binocular protected from the elements even when using a binocular harness.
It is for these and all the other reasons that I have already mentioned that I have no hesitation in highly recommending the Carson BinoArmor as a better alternative to all other standard carry cases that I have ever seen and they are a worthy winner of the Best Binocular Accessory for 2012.
Note: Whilst you get the case with the Carson 3D Series binoculars, the BinoArmor Deluxe Case (BA-07) can also be purchased as a stand alone product, which is great news for everyone who already owns a pair of binoculars.
Read my full Review for a complete Demonstration & Where to Buy the Carson BinoArmor Deluxe.
As with last year, I have given the award for the best online optics retailer to Eagle Optics.
To make my decision, I looked at a number of key areas, to see which online shop has the edge:
Informed Advice - This for me was the most important consideration. Larger internet retailers that sell everything from aardvarks to zebras are great as one stop shops, but it would be impossible for you to get some informed advice from them and lets be honest they don't really want you to contact them anyway. What I really like about Eagle Optics and other smaller specialised optical retailers like them is that their staff is made up of experienced birders, hikers, butterfly watchers, kyackers, travelers, hunters, and sports fans and they welcome you to contact them for advice on comparisons, technical information and specifications as well as with help in choosing the right binoculars to meet your needs.
Competitive Prices - When researching a binocular that I am reviewing, I always also take a look at where those binoculars are available for purchase and what prices they are set at. For the most part Amazon tend to offer the best deals, but in my experience Eagle Optics also usually have them at pretty much the same price, which considering the size of Amazon and their obvious buying power this is really impressive. What is more Eagle Optics have a Price Match Promise, where they state that id you find a lower price on an identical product from a legitimate competitor, you can contact them and they will match it for you.
Deals - Everyone likes a good deal. Eagle Optics have a dedicated section on their site that displays all their best deals in one place. They also often offer factory refurbished, second hand or ex-display models for sale at substantially reduced prices.
Shipping Costs - Finding a great deal and then discovering that you have to pay a huge amount on shipping when you have already entered all your contact and payment details is really annoying. That is why I really like the fact that Eagle Optics clearly advertise that they offer free ground shipping on most orders as well as a whole host of other Priority options.
Many Payment Options - It is always very annoying when you get to the checkout section of the shop and they won't accept your preferred payment method. Eagle Optics will accept most U.S and Canadian-billed Credit Cards, Checks, Money Orders, Electronic Funds Transfers as well as with Paypal. What is more if you have a problem or if you don't want to pay on-line there is a phone number for you to call.
Returns Policy - Knowing that if you buy a binocular and if it is defective, not right for your needs or if you're not satisfied with your purchase for any reason and then being able to return it is important. That is why I like Eagle Optics who offer a comprehensive 30 day return policy that enables you to return the product for a full exchange or product refund. Note: you will have to pay for or return shipping costs.
I would love to get your comments and well as your opinions on my awards. Do agree or disagree with any of my choices? (Just remember only binoculars that I have actually reviewed were eligible)