This year I have reviewed more binos than ever before, many of them have been great, a few excellent and some simply outstanding, which means the competition to win one of my awards has never been greater.
Now into it's fourth year, the BBR Awards are a way for me to look back and highlight some of the very best binoculars that I have been lucky enough to test, use and fully review this year.
Over the last few years I have had a few queries from people wondering how I choose my winners and so I thought I would go over the main criteria:
This new version of the Swarovski EL binocular with all it's extremely high end glass and optical coatings that make up their Swarovision label could easily have won or placed highly for many of the individual awards below and so for me it was an obvious choice as the absolute BEST binocular that I reviewed this year.
These Swarovski binoculars use a whole host of the very best components and coatings available, so it is no wonder they scored a chart toping 97% on the BBR Ratings Scale. This score included perfect 10's for their Image Quality, Optical Components Quality, Optical Stats, Body Quality and for their Extras and Attention to Detail, which to me also confirms that it is indeed a worth winner of this years award.
Their main highlights include:
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 - of these Swarovski binoculars.
An ideal all-round birding binocular needs to be good in many areas, but there are a few key aspects that are crucial:
High Quality Image
The better the quality of the image, the more you can enjoy all the beauty of the bird that you are observing and these Hawke Sapphire binoculars scored an outstanding 9/10 for image quality which equals some of the very, very best that I have tested.
This stunning view is made possible with the use of top spec optical components like ED (extra low dispersion glass) elements in their lenses, fully multi-coated optics, phase correction coatings on the BaK-4 roof prisms. These prisms have also have the very best dielectric prism coatings added to them that increases light transmission even further for a brighter image.
As an added protection, Hawke Sport Optics have also applied water repellent coatings to the objective lenses, which not only helps in wet conditions, but also means that water marks are not left behind on the surface. This means they require less rigorous cleaning, which potentially prolongs the perfect view you get through them.
Very Wide Field of View
A wide field of view is important to may birders as it makes it easier to find and track birds, especially the small faster moving ones! With a field of view of 426 feet wide at a distance of 1000 yards (142m @ 1000m) or 8.1°, these Hawke binoculars once again rank right up there with the very best. Indeed they match last years winner in this category, the Celestron 8x42 Granite, which at the time was the widest I had ever tested.
As well as excelling in these three main areas, the Sapphire ED has a beautiful looking and functional top hinge design, which combined with the fully sealed magnesium alloy body makes for a tough, yet lightweight full sized bin that you can be sure will handle any birding situation you find yourself in!
Read my full Review of these Hawke Binoculars.
The 8x43 Pentax DCF ED binoculars are currently the companies most advanced model and with all their features and high level performance, it is easy to see why.
Image Quality & Brightness
With an overall score of 9/10 for image quality, these rank up with the best in this department. The amount of color fringing was extremely minimal which is a testament to their aspherical lenses which includes ED glass elements which are specifically designed to counter chromatic aberrations, the cause color fringing.
I also thought that their image brightness, especially in low light was excellent. Most bins in this class use 42mm objective lenses, but these Pentax binoculars employ very slightly bigger 43mm lenses. This larger surface area captures more light and with the same 8x magnification produces a larger exit pupil, which really helps in bad light. This combined with their quality glass and coatings on their lenses and prisms produce make a real difference.
Image brightness is important in this category because there will often be cases when you are looking for wildlife in sub optimal light, for example in thickly forested areas, at daybreak or late afternoon/evening when a lot of animals become more active.
Other reasons I gave the this award to the Pentax 8x43 DCF ED, is that you can trust their lite weight, but very strong magnesium alloy body, that is 100% water and fog proof to handle every little bit of what you can take when you are out in the wilderness with ease.
Read the full Review of these Pentax binoculars.
The three main qualities that you look for in any binocular that you plan to take travelling with, especially one on safari are:
This Celestron Granite binocular offers you all that and more. For me the somewhat different 9x magnification is perfect as they offer you just a little more reach than an 8x bin for observing distant wildlife, but still offer a wider field of view compared to most 10x binoculars, enabling you to quickly find and follow animals and in particular birds.
High End Features Include:
In an ideal world, your compact would perform optically as well as your full sized bins. This is of course physically impossible, but I have to say that these Swarovski CL Pocket binoculars come pretty close and I had no hesitation in scoring them a 9/10 for image quality when I reviewed them.
To achieve this Swarovski have included many of the very high end optical parts and coatings that they use in their larger models, including Fully Multi-Coated Optics with their Swarobright Coatings, and BaK-4, Phase Coated Roof Prisms.
This incredible level of performance is enhanced by the use of high end materials to make a very high quality outer body and other parts like the full metal twist-up eyecups. These along with a full 17mm of eye-relief, (which for a compact is excellent) make the CL Pocket an ideal choice should you wear glasses.
Another major highlight is their field of view, which at 357ft @ 1000 yards is once again as good as it gets for an 8x compact binocular.
True Pocket Binoculars
As a roof prism compact, the CL Pocket is already smaller than most porro prisms in this class, but the double hinge design ensures that these also fold up into a very compact shape, so much so that they can easily be slipped into most shirt or trouser pocket and easily carried about wherever you go.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Compact Swarovski Pocket binoculars.
For the second year in a row, I am awarding the best value for money binocular to the 10x42 Vanguard Endeavor ED as I still believe that for their money you are getting a cracking pair of optics.
What is more impressive is this year their price has dropped even further and so now you are getting what I believe is a real bargain for a binocular that comes with many high end features that match bins far more expensive than these:
When I reviewed the Endeavor ED 10x42 binoculars, I gave them a score of 85% on the Best Binocular Reviews Ratings scale, which is outstanding. Helping them achieve this overall score was a 9/10 for optical stats, optical components quality and for the quality of build and materials in their body construction.
The main highlights for me included the use of ED (Extra low-dispersion) glass, Phase corrected roof prisms made from high quality BaK-4 glass, they are fully multi-coated and have comfortable and weight saving open bridge body that is both fog and waterproof. Also important to mention is that for a 10x42 binocular, they have a really wide field of view.
Last year they were available for around $350 / £270 which I thought was great value, now depending on where you get them, they cost about $280 / £260 which is stunning value.
At this price, they comfortably sit within my category of mid priced binoculars, which if you consider the quality of the optical elements, coatings and body construction, it is very impressive and so I had no hesitation in re-awarding them this title.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Vanguard Endeavor ED binoculars.
Like the Barr & Stroud Sierra that won in 2010 and 2011, I am going to re-award this Kowa the best low cost or cheap binocular title twice in a row. Not only are the good, but I really did not review what I thought was a better one in this price range this year.
The Vanguard Spirit XF 10x42 was it's equal and could easily have won, but even though it only costs around £110 in the UK, in the US it is a little more than the $130 threshold and so I had to rule it out.
More About the Kowa 8x30 YF:
What really impressed me when I reviewed these is that despite their low cost, they still come with a good amount of great features and impressive specifications.
Kowa have partly been able to do this by reducing their costs through simultaneous product development and instead of being made in Japan like the high end Kowa's, the 8x30 YF is 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 I have reviewed many good and some great "standard" night vision devices that work using intensifier tubes, taking the collected light energy from the objective lens, converting it into electrons and amplifying and/or multiplying them and then sending them flying onto a phosphor screen that changes them back into visible light for you to see, this Night Owl Optics iGen 20/20 was the first digital night vision product I had used.
I was in for a great surprise as not only did it's performance easily match that of many excellent quality Gen1 and Gen2 NV devices that I have used in the past, but the digital aspect throws up a few extra advantages:
The first is price, these cost a lot less than the equivalent intensifier tube night vision monocular or binocular, then because they are digital, you can record images or even video of what you are observing onto an external device. You are also able to adjust the light amplification from 300x to 10000x, depending on your needs.
Described by Vanguard as the most advanced optical device they have produced, the Endeavor HD 82A spotting scope not only competes with, but I feel beats many far more established brands in many areas:
The main features include ED elements in the large 82mm objective lens. This extra low dispersion glass improves the view by minimizing chromatic aberrations, which in turn enables the scope to produce an image that is almost free of color fringing. This not only gives you a better view, but if you are using your scope for digiscoping, it helps you take far better photographs.
The optics are also fully multi-coated and the roof prism is phase corrected and made from high quality BaK-4 glass.
To save weight and improve strength, the main body is constructed from magnesium chassis and it has been sealed and nitrogen charged so is fully fog and waterproof. The two differently geared focus wheels make fine tuning your focus very fast and accurate. You also get a detachable 20x-60x zoom eyepiece that can be used in a wide range of situations.
What is more, the Vanguard brand is known for offering very good value for money and I believe that this high end scope is no different, offering you the same quality of view and components as many far more expensive scopes.
I was given some samples of the Carson C6 Lens cleaners to test out and they impressed me so much, they are what I now use to clean the lenses on all my optics. This includes my cameras, scopes and of course my binoculars.
Available in a range of different sizes with different shaped cleaning pads they can even be used to clean the screens on your mobile devices.
I personally use the Carson C6 CS-10 Lens Cleaner the most (pictured on the right) as it comes with a retractable brush to remove dust and debris before more vigorous cleaning. The soft tip on the other side is safe and easy to use on your lenses.
The compact design also makes it easy to fit into most binocular bags or carry cases.
For a demonstration, take a look at my page on How to clean the lenses on your binoculars.
I would love to get your thoughts and opinions on my awards. Do agree or disagree with any of my choices? Which bins would you recommend for an award?