Annual Binocular Awards 2014

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Annual Binocular Awards 2014About the BBR Awards

Welcome to the 5th Annual BBR Awards.

2014 really seems to have flown past for me, having spent a good part of it in Southern Africa and the rest in Southern France.

Both of which are really great locations to test as well as use optics to enjoy the beauty of nature and it's wildlife. Indeed along the way I have managed to use, test and review a whole bunch of cracking binoculars, scopes and night vision devices in an assortment of exciting situations and locations.

However without some sort of reflection many of them seem to either merge into one or the details become a little blurred, so I find these awards are not only a great way for me to remind myself of the highlights, but they are the best way to emphasize and put the spotlight back onto those optics that really stood out from the pack and deserve to be noticed.

How the BBR Awards Work

Unlike some so called "awards" that I have come across that to me seem little more than advertisements or badges that manufacturers get by paying for, I can assure you that the BBR Annual Binocular Awards are exactly like my reviews: 100% completely independent and totally unbiased.

However there are a few points to keep in mind:

  • To have had any chance of winning, I have had to reviewed the device on BBR. What this means is that an award winner has NOT been compared to ALL the binoculars out there, but only to those that I have fully tested. Whilst this obviously means the contenders pool is relatively small, you can be assured that the winners have been thoroughly tested, not just based on manufacturers specifications or a "thumb-suck" and are in my opinion truly deserving of an award.
  • Award winners are chosen by myself. There is no panel of experts or users. Thus those that win are in my opinion the best in that category, not that of anyone else. I guess this is both good and bad, but for now it is just the way it is.
  • Very important to emphasise that I do not offer an award to any device purely because I have a specific category to fill. To win, I must feel that they deserve to and in that particular category. So if there has been no standout for me in a particular category, there will be no winner for this year in that section and the award will go to the previous years winner. This is the reason you will see that in some categories there are devices that have won the award for more than one year in a row.
  • I choose the winners by going back over all the binoculars I reviewed this year and then placed all the best ones into a pool. Then I placed each into a category that they were most suited and from there and after studying them again, made a choice of the best of the best.
  • As it is for most people, price is a factor, however what is more important to me is the value for money within a particular price bracket. So for example a high end binocular is almost always going to be a fairly expensive product, but within this high value price bracket, I look out for ones that offer more for your money than others with a similar price tag by their build quality, quality of their components and just how well they perform both optically and physically.
  • Once again remember and as with all my reviews, these awards are in no way biased towards any product or manufacturer, I have given the award because I honestly feel that they deserve it.

The 2014 Section Winners:

Binocular of the Year 2014

Swarovski EL 10x32 Swarovision Binoculars

Whilst as you will see below, I have been lucky enough to test some fantastic optics this year, however I do feel none quite matched that of these Swarovski binoculars that I believe are truly superb and thus I have decided to confirm theses as being the very best binoculars that I have tested for the second year running:

Indeed this latest incarnation of the Swarovski EL binocular with all it's extremely high end glass and optical coatings that make up the so called "Swarovision" label could easily have won or placed highly for many of the individual awards below.

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:

  • Lightweight Magnesium alloy housing
  • Fog & Waterproof (4m / 13ft)
  • Field flattener lenses to correct field curvature
  • Phase correction and dielectric prism coatings
  • FOV of 360ft @ 1000yds - excellent for 10x bin
  • Eye-Relief: 20mm
  • Swarobright & Swaroclean lens coatings
  • Includes the Swarovski Snap Shot Camera Adapter

Price Range
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.

Past Winners:

 
 

Best Value For Money Binocular 2014

Celestron Trailseeker 8x42 Binoculars

For the best value for money binocular, I look for a product that delivers far more than you would normally expect to find within a price range. This must include both it's optical performance and it's features.

This year this was most noticeably achieved by these mid-priced Celestron Trail Seeker binoculars:

At this price level you would expect to have a fully water & fogproof body, but one that is made from lightweight magnesium is totally unexpected.

Likewise I would expect to see that the optics have been fully multi-coated within this class, but to have both dielectric & phase correction coatings on the BaK-4 Roof Prisms is something you rarely see at this level.

These and other optical features combine to produce a fantastically clear and crisp image, with true, yet vivid colours.

What is more, these 8x42 binoculars have a very wide field of view (426ft @ 1000yds) that is substantially wider than the majority and thus will bring a smile to most birders, hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts faces.

It is for these as well as many other reasons that I have no hesitation in awarding these the best value for money binocular I reviewed in 2014 and indeed on of the best ever.

Price Range
At the time of writing these were available for around $240 / £200 and thus they easily nestle within my mid priced binoculars category, which if you consider the quality of the optical elements, coatings and body construction, is super impressive:

Read full Review - Read my full review of these Celestron Trailseeker binoculars.

Past Winners:


 
 

Best Birding Binocular 2014

Minox BL 8x44 HD Binoculars

Whilst the best all-round birding binoculars need to be strong in a whole range of areas, image brightness and quality are probably more important for birding than just about any other use for binocular.

This is because the main reasons for their intended use is to ether identify a bird where image accuracy and color reproduction are super important or it is just about enjoying the beauty of the bird in your view where a superior image is obviously paramount.

Highest Quality
In order to produce the brightest and highest possible quality image is not easy and usually requires a whole lot of expertise as well as some very specialized optical glass and coatings, all of which I am sure you will appreciate are not cheap or easy to manufacture or integrate into the instrument.

So whilst it is always tempting to give the award for the best bird watching binocular to a very expensive "alpha" type instrument that uses all the very best components, I also feel strongly that bird watching should not be elitist and so I like to give some credence to those that still manage to produce an exceptional image, but are priced at a level that more of use can afford and thus enjoy.

In this regard, the Minox BL HD 8x44 binoculars really stood out for me. As with the best Minox binoculars, you are presented with a product that is entirely designed and manufactured in Germany using top end components and their second to none expertise and quality controls.

Apart from a stunning exterior finish, optical highlights include fully multi-coated optics, ED lens elements and phase corrected BaK-4 roof prisms.

44mm Objectives
Most full-sized bins, especially those designed for general use will incorporate 42mm objectives and for good reasons too, as they offer a good compromise between size and light gathering potential.

However with the addition of a couple of extra millimeters, you get more area with which to gather light, which if used correctly can not only produce a better quality image, but as can be explained by the larger exit pupil, they potentially present a brighter image in poor light. For birding, especially those that go out in dense forests, early in the morning or late into the afternoon, having this additional brightness and quality is perhaps more important than with most other general uses.

What is more the extra 2mm of glass makes almost no detectable difference to the size of the bin, so everyone is a winner.

Very Wide Field of View
Another key attribute that a good all-round birding bin has to display is a wide (or high) view. A wide field of view (FOV) makes it much easier to firstly locate and then track objects like birds ... especially the smaller faster and erratically moving ones!

Whilst there are some 8x bins that have slightly wider FOV's, at 409 feet wide at a distance of 1000 yards (136m @ 1000m) or 7.8°, these Minox BL HD binoculars rank right up there with the best.

Read my full Review of these Minox Binoculars.

Past Winners:


 
 

Best Wildlife Observation Binocular 2014

Vanguard Endeavor ED II 8x42 Binoculars

Whilst almost all of the attributes that I look for in a great birding binocular (see above) are also essential in a great general wildlife binocular (especially those pertaining to image quality), they differ slightly in that I feel that whist it is still important, having a super wide field of view is perhaps not quite as critical.

Other attributes like being lightweight and extra tough will also come to the fore for many wildlife enthusiasts and indeed hunters.

Vanguard Sport Optics have up until now largely focussed on mid ranging bins, which they have done very successfully as can be seen by the multiple best value for money awards they have won with models like the Endeavor ED.

However with the introduction of the Endeavor ED II, they have stepped it up a level, producing a bin which has just that little better quality components, which is perfectly demonstrated by their use of ED lenses made in Japan, rather than the Chinese ones used on all their and indeed most other brands within the mid-range class.

Image Brightness & Quality
One of the real highlights of the Endeavor ED II for me was the image: Scoring 9/10 in this area, it was no doubt superb. Not only does it look super bright in low light, but is vibrant, completely sharp, flat right to the edges and with almost no perceptible color fringing. This is one area where these Vanguard bins truly excel and even though they now sit within the mid-high value category, I feel they easily match bins that are significantly more expensive.

Main Highlights

  • Water & Fog Proof Magnesium Body
  • Lockable Diopter Adjustment Ring
  • Tripod Adaptable
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
  • ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) glass Lens Elements
  • Phase Coated Roof Prisms
  • FOV: 378m wide at 1000m
  • 19.5mm of Eye-Relief
  • Minimum focus distance of 6.6ft

Read the full Vanguard Endeavor ED II Review

Past Winners:


 
 

Best Safari & Travel Binocular 2014

Snypex Knight ED 10x32 Binoculars

For most people, the most important qualities to look for in a binocular to take travelling with, especially on a safari adventure are:

  • The bin must be small and lightweight making it easy to pack away in your luggage and preferably compact enough to take in your hand luggage so as to ensure their safety.
  • It should be tough as well as completely sealed from the elements to ensure that they can easily handle travelling as well as any conditions you may find yourself in whilst on safari - as well as moisture, this includes dust.
  • Remember the main reason for taking any binocular on holiday is to get a better view of whatever you are looking at so it is essential that they produce a very high quality and bright image, no matter what time of day or light conditions.

I chose these Snypex Knight ED binoculars for this award because I feel that they offer you all these qualities and much more:

Size & Image Quality
True, there are much smaller and more compact binoculars out there, but I feel that these mid-sized Snypex Knight ED 10x32 bins offer the ideal compromise between the size of the device and the quality of the image that they produce:

They are still easily small enough to stow away in your carry bag, yet their 32mm objective lenses ensure that they collect enough light to be able to deliver a high quality as well as bright image, even in pretty bad light. Remember on Safari you will probably be going out at or before sunrise as well as at or after sunset to view game as this is when many species are at their most active, so low light performance is important.

Other Highlights Include:

  • Lightweight (13.4ozs / 380g), Fog and Waterproof Magnesium Open Bridge Body Design
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
  • APO (apochromatic) Lens with ED Glass Elements
  • Phase Coated, Bak4 Roof Prisms
  • Silver Mirror Prism Coatings
  • Field of View of 288ft @ 1000yds

Read my full Snypex Knight ED 10x32 Review

Please note: Snypex binoculars are to my knowledge only currently available in north America, so if you are in the UK, rest of Europe or Australia etc, take a look at these alternatives instead:

UK: Celestron Granite 9x33 Binoculars or the Kite Lynx HD 8x30 Binoculars

Past Winners:


 
 

Best Compact Binocular 2014

Kite Lynx HD 8x30 Binoculars

Whilst I agree that these Kite binoculars would not win an award for the MOST compact binocular out there, I would say they are still just small enough to be classified as either a large compact or perhaps a small mid-sized bin.

However what I can't argue with is that their reasonably large 30mm objective lenses, combined with a quality of glass and coatings that surpass the quality used in many high end full sized bins, these easily outperform almost all others in their size class and indeed many mid and even full sized bins I have used.

Fully multi-coated optics, with ED glass lenses and phase corrected, dielectrically coated, BAK-4 roof prisms combine to deliver a stunning quality image that if you also consider the field of view that is a whopping 453ft wide at a distance of 1000 yards, there is plenty to like on these.

For those who have not come across the Kite Optics brand before, they are a small company located in Belgium, but have been producing really high end optics for over thirty years. True they are harder to find in the US than in Europe, so if you cannot locate a pair, perhaps take a look at last years winner below.

Read full Review - Read my full review of these Kite Lynx HD binoculars.

True Compact Binoculars
If you are after one of the very best true and very compact binoculars, I would highly recommend that you take a look at last years winner in this category, the Swarovski CL Pocket that is simply outstanding:

Past Winners:


 
 

Best Long Distance / Astronomy Binocular 2014

Celestron Echelon 20x70 Binoculars

Using very high end Japanese glass, Celestron Echelon binoculars are put together by hand in their plant back in the US where the focus is very much on precision and quality.

Designed for long range terrestrial use as well as astronomy, they feature very large 70mm objective lenses as well as fully multicoated optics that ensure as much available light as possible gets to your eyes for the brightest images and really do excel compared to many of their competitors in low light conditions.

As you would expect with a large instrument like these, they are tripod adaptable as well as fully water and fog proof and come with an included and very high quality hard carry case.

Main Features:

  • Japanese Optics, Hand-assembled in the USA
  • Large 70mm Objective Lenses
  • Powerful 20x Magnification
  • Fully Multi-Coated
  • BaK-4 Porro Prisms
  • Fog & Waterproof
  • Included Waterproof Hard Case
  • Tripod Adaptable
  • Field of view: 157ft @ 1000yds
  • 19.5mm Eye-Relief

Read my full Celestron Echelon 20x70 Binocular Review

 
 

Best Low Cost Binocular 2014 (Under $130 / £130)

Hawke Nature-Trek 8x42 Binoculars

These Hawke Nature-Trek binoculars are very deserving of this award as I feel that not only are they excellent within their price range but I would still consider them really good within the price bracket above them and thus they also make fantastic value for money bins.

Not only does this newer version of the Nature-Trek quite a bit different to the original open-bridged version, but Hawke Sport Optics have improved on it in a number of areas, yet all the time managed to keep the cost down.

Firstly they weigh less, indeed for a full sized 8x42mm binocular they are very lightweight. However the body still not only looks and feels tough, but they also don't have that cheap plastic feel that I often get with lightweight, lower cost bins like these. Indeed with these really do look and feel far more expensive than what their price tag suggests.

Secondly Hawke have used some good quality optics that have been fully multi-coated, which is most certainly not always the case in this price range and which go a long way to ensuring that these transmit as much of the available light to your eyes as possible for a better quality and brighter image.

The optical stats on these are also very good and once again far better than I would have expected with in this range:

  • Field of View: 388ft at 1,000 yards - nice and wide, makes it easier to quickly locate and follow small or fast moving objects. Scanning large areas, looking for something is also easier
  • Close Focus Distance: 6.6ft - Great for the occasional viewing of nearby birds, flowers, butterflies and other insects etc.
  • Eye Relief: 18mm - A very good amount of eye-relief, combined with their click-stop, twist-up eyecups mean that everyone, including eye-glass wearers should be able to adjust them to get your eyes at the right distance to get a whole uninterrupted view.

Read full Review - Read my full review of these Hawke binoculars.


Best Cheap Binocular (Under $50 / £50)

Tom Lock 'Series 1' 10x42 BinocularsI would like to make a quick special mention to the Tom Lock 'Series 1' 10x42 Binoculars. It is not often that I recommend a pair of really cheap binoculars as for the most part they really disappoint and to be hones you are better off without them!

However, these Tom Lock binoculars, which are currently only available in the UK, where they now cost only £40 did surprise me and whilst they don't quite match those above, if you really are on a very tight budget these are well worth taking a look at.

Past Winners:


 
 

Best Night Vision Device 2014

Luna Optics LN-DM50-HRSD Digital Night Vision Viewer & Recorder

In the old days it was and indeed it still is an incredible feeling to effectively be able to "see" in the dark. However now with digital devices getting better all the time (as well as cheaper), you can not only see every bit as well as those that use traditional intensifier tubes, but you can record what you see as well.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to use the latest offering from Luna Optics - the LN-DM50-HRSD Digital Night Vision Viewer & Recorder and whilst it would never win an award for the most catchy or easily remembered name, it is truly one of the best night vision devices in its class that I have ever seen:

Highlights Include:

  • You can record both still images & video of what you are looking at
  • Variable and high powered magnification from 5x to 20x
  • Large 40mm Objective Lens
  • Built in Infrared illuminator for use in total darkness
  • Tripod Mountable
  • High-Resolution - Compares well to expensive standard NV devices
  • Max Viewable Distance: 250m (820ft)
  • Manually adjustable brightness/exposure

Past Winners:


 
 

Best Spotting Scope 2014

Hawke Endurance ED 20-60x85 Spotting Scope

Make no mistake, this Hawke Spotting Scope is a very high quality optical instrument, but rather incredibly also comes at a price that is much more affordable than what you first might have anticipated.

Top spec features include a very lightweight magnesium body that is also fully waterproof. The Endurance ED has dual focus knobs and is boxed with a 20-60x zoom eyepiece included, but which can also be removed and exchanges for others should you need to.

Optics are fully multi-coated, which along with the large 85mm objective lens and a dielectric mirror coated BaK-4 prism, ensure that not only is plenty of light captured, but the transmission levels are extremely high making for one of the best quality and brightest images I have ever seen.

Also included is an extendible sunshield, adjustable collar for body rotation and a very well made stay-on soft scope cover for complete protection, even when using the scope.

Past Winners:


 
 

Best Binocular Accessory 2014

Celestron Binocular Harness

Celestron binocular harness strapFor those who take out their optics on longer walks and hikes, or who also want to carry other equipment like a camera and who don't want to sacrifice image quality by getting a compact bin, probably the most useful accessory you can get is a harness.

Back in 2011 I gave the award in this category to another harness, the LockDown Optics Deployment System, mostly because of how well it works, but also because of just how innovative the product is.

This year I have decided to give it to the Celestron harness, not because of any innovations, but just because of how simple it is, yet it still manages to do exactly what it says on the tin!

This binocular harness in my opinion a great choice for those looking for an inexpensive solution for carrying your bins more securely and comfortably.

Past Winners:


 
 

Further Reading

 

Comments & Opinions

As always, I really appreciate getting your particular thoughts and opinions. Do agree or disagree with any of my choices? Which bins would you recommend for an award?

 
 
 

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