Having conducted more tests and reviews on more optical brands than ever before, 2015 has been a really busy year for me here at BBR.
This has meant that I have used a wider selection of great and also some not so great bins than ever which is great. However this has also meant that this years awards had to be delayed a little until all the reviews that I had lined up were completed.
The good news is this is now done and I am proud to introduce you to the full list of winners.
Unlike many of the so called "awards" that I have come across that 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. These winners are genuinely binoculars that I honestly feel deserve to win an award in a given category.
However there are a few points to keep in mind:
I have been mega fortunate to use and test some truly cracking binoculars over the course of 2015, but the one that sticks in my mind the most is the SLC 10x42 from Swarovski Optik.
With a mind blowing BBR score of 90%, it comfortably sits aside the very best binoculars that I have ever used.
The list of highlights and high end components and coatings on these bins is almost endless and as you would expect, the result is a sensational view.
But for me what really stands out is the general build quality and the acute attention to all the small details and it is all these marginal gains that when added together lifts the Swarovski SLC above the others.
With Aquaphobic and anti-scratch protective coatings added to the exterior lens surfaces, a tough yet lightweight fog and waterproof magnesium housing, lockable diopter ring and masses of eye-relief on the high quality and tough rubber coated metal eye-pieces you can be sure that the 8x43 Pentax ZD ED binoculars will easily handle even the toughest conditions when out in the field.
Add to this a fully multi-coated optical system using the highest quality glass and coatings that includes aspherical designed lenses with ED glass elements, phase corrected and dielectric coated BaK-4 roof prisms that combine to not only deliver the brightest image possible, but one with less distortions than ever for a higher resolution image with less color fringing and other defects.
Then you literally have an outstanding binocular (their BBR score is 80% = Outstanding), which is exactly what the Pentax ZD 8x42 ED is and is for these and many other reasons that I can, without hesitation endorse it as an excellent choice for general wildlife observation and hunting.
This year the list of contenders for the Best binocular for birdwatching was larger than ever with many coming very close, but I just felt that none matched the all-round strengths of the outstanding 8x42 Snypex Knight ED Binoculars:
Probably more than just about any other use, a superb image is a critical feature on a good birding binocular. This is so that you can enjoy the beauty of the birds in all their glory and also because this is an area where sometimes minute differences in plumage colorations can mean being able to positively identify a sub-species or not.
Wide Field of View
As most of us know, having a wide field of view is another very important feature to most birders as it enables you to more easily find and then follow birds, especially the small faster moving ones! At 393ft wide at 1,000 yards these Snypex binoculars may not have the widest FOV, but they are up there with some of the best birding bins in this area.
As well as these critical strengths, one of the main reasons I opted for the 8x42 Knight ED over the other contenders was due to their all-round quality and ability in every area. Indeed they literally have no particular weaknesses. This makes them a very versatile instrument that will not only stand out in most types of birding situations, but many other areas as well.
Still Going Strong...
I would also just to make a quick mention of the Hawke Sapphire ED 8x42 Binoculars, that won this same award in 2013 and is still one of the very best birding bins that I have been lucky to come across.
Whilst it has many strong points, the 426ft @ 1000 yards field of view really stands out and makes this a great choice if this is a critical feature to your birding.
To be eligible for this award, a binocular has to achieve a very BBR high score within their particular price range when I test it. You can read more about the exact criteria required here: Best Value Binoculars.
Usually only one or two instruments achieve this minimum requirement a year, but as you can see by the number of contenders below, the competition to win this particular award was really tough this year and for me it made it extremely difficult to pick only one as all are actually deserving to be recognized as being great value products.
However I decided that the 10x50 LandScout from Celestron Sport Optics was the most deserving of this award for the following main reasons:
As a low cost bino (Approx. $85 / £80) these rise well above expectations and indeed their direct competition (in terms of price) in many/most areas. But for me the most important is the combination of the large 50mm objectives, good quality glass, anti-reflection coatings and porro prism design which all combine together to deliver a level of image quality and brightness (even in low light) that at this level is really hard to find.
At 346ft @ 1000 yards, for a 10x binoculars have a very wide field of view (FOV). Indeed it beats most with the same magnification and many 8x instruments as well. So with the 10x50 LandScout, you get a more detailed view, but without having to sacrifice on the width of the image. Perfect for many uses, but especially scouting large areas, following faster moving objects and being able to quickly locate your intended subject.
Add to this a good build quality, tough water & fogproof aluminium chassis, plenty of eye-relief, twist-up eye-cups as well as a bunch of other features then you really do have a very versatile, but low cost set of optics that will excel for those interested in wildlife observation, bird watching, hunting, scanning large areas like the ocean, or mountains.
Way back in 2010, I awarded this prize for the best Safari and Travel binocular to the older version of these Minox binoculars, which at the time were by far and away my favorite mid-sized bin that I had used.
Now they have returned with a number of important improvements to make them even better.
The headline being the inclusion of an even higher quality optical system with ED glass for an more improved view of the world and the beautiful wildlife that surrounds you.
One aspect that has not changed is their incredibly wide view. At 421ft wide at a distance of 1000 yards, they are up there with the very, very best in this area. - Perfect not only for scanning the savannah looking for that lion hidden in the grass, but also making it much easier to follow that erratic and fast moving bird in the tree right next to your lodge.
Add to this the unsurpassed quality you get with each instrument being finished by hand in their German factory then you have a pair of seriously good optics on your hands and a perfect companion on a safari or any other travel adventure.
As with last years winner of this award, the 32mm Opticron Discovery WP PC is not in the strictest terms a true compact and would admittedly not win the award for the most compact binocular.
However all in all it is still a very small binocular:
By utilizing a really condensed optical design this incredible Opticron Discovery has the same outer dimensions as many of the larger true compacts yet is way smaller than most other mid-sized binoculars with similar sized objectives.
Thus the real beauty of this is that the combination of the larger 32mm objectives and the really high quality glass and coatings means that you still get the same higher performance of high end, mid-sized optics (when compared to a true compact), but in a package that does not look out of place in a line-up of these true compacts! Unless size is critical, it is a definite win-win situation.
In fact if you compare the Discovery's dimensions (LxHxW) of 4.3in (10.9cm) x 1.8in (4.6cm) x 4.6in (11.7cm) with that of a genuine and excellent compact like the Swarovski 8x25 CL Pocket Binoculars (winner of this award in 2013), with it's dimensions of 4.3in (10.9cm) x 1.8in (4.6cm) x 3.9in (9.9cm) you can see that it is only the width where the Swarovski has the advantage in terms of size!
Add to this 17mm of eye-relief, a very wide field of view (393ft @ 1000yds) and a minimum focussing distance of only 3.9ft then you have a go anywhere, take anywhere binocular that excels in most situations, but is great for birding, wildlife, travel, outdoor sports and butterfly, flowers and other close range observation! Superb.
Low Cost Option
Without doubt the best low costing and true compact binocular that I tested and reviewed in 2015 was the Levenhuk Energy PLUS 8x25.
However it has to be said that for what ever the reason, the only true compacts that I reviewed this year all happened to be all low cost devices!
So whilst I have no hesitation in saying that the 8x35 Energy Plus offers exceptional value for money within it's class and as a cheap compact it is one of the very best, it understandably cannot compete in all areas against higher end and more costly devices.
So whilst I could not in good faith award it the overall title as the Best Compact Binocular, especially with how good the Opticron is, I will honestly say that if you are on a tight budget (it costs less than $80 / £80), then you won't go far wrong with this Levenhuk.
In this "Low Cost" price bracket you do not expect to find a binocular that has as many features so as to match most mid to high end instruments and on top of this you'd never expect to find one that can compete with them in pretty much every area, including build quality and performance.... But this year I found two!
The 8x42 Rain Forest Pro was the first time I had used a Meade Instruments product and it was a complete revelation to me. The list of highlights just goes on and on, but most importantly these are fully multi-coated, have phase corrected BaK-4 roof prisms, lifetime warranty, long eye relief and a very wide field of view (395ft @ 1000yds) that is certainly going to please most birders, wildlife observers and general users looking for a bargain.
Sometimes it is a real pity that there can only be one winner as the Tom Lock Series 2 8x42 ran the Meade Rainforest Pro very, very close.
Incredibly at this price level, both instruments have the same large set of features and indeed both finished with an identical overall and excellent score of 72% after I had tested and reviewed them. The main reason the Mead's just pipped it was due to their slightly wider FOV. Unfortunately these Series 2's are not yet available in the US, but if you are in the UK, at only £100 these are also well worth considering.
On the whole these Levenhuk Atom 10x50 binoculars are in my opinion better than what their very low price tag would suggest and so from that point of view, I think you are getting some good value for money.
Highlights included a good quality and bright image, wide view for a 10x binocular and a good build quality.
The fact that they use porro prisms helps with the image quality and brightness as they do not require a number of expensive treatments in order for them to deliver the same performance as a roof prism made from the same glass. However I think it is important to keep your expectations to a realistic level and thus mind that there are a number of areas where these and indeed every bin in this price range dol fall short when compared to more expensive products.
However if this is your maximum budget, then these Levenhuk Optics are not at all bad and far better than having not optics at all.
If you prefer a roof prism binocular, take a look at last years winner below, the Tom Lock Series 1 really surprised me when I tested them and still make a great choice for 2015/16:
I was lucky enough to review some great scopes this year, so this was always going to be a difficult choice to make. But for me the one that I wanted to take with me on most occasions and for the most uses was the very versatile, compact, yet still manages to deliver a stunning quality image was the 60mm MM3 Travel Scope from Opticron.
This fantastically small and lightweight travel scope is not only in my opinion one of the very best within it's size and price class, but because of it's high quality optical system, it even competes with many mid range full sized scopes as well. Thus you get the best of both worlds - transportability and performance.
In my review, I made no apologies for admitting that I really loved testing this scope and I was really take aback by the quality of the view.
I would also like to make a quick mention to a couple of other scopes that I also feel deserve to get a mention and could easily have won an award had there been more specialist scope categories:
With the massive rise in the use of smart phones over the last decade, they have improved almost beyond recognition from the first rather simple devices in the early days. This improvement also includes their built in camera, which now can take photos every bit as good as many compact cameras on most models.
Thus if you are going to carry your phone about with you anyway, why not use it to take pictures of whatever it is that you are looking at though your scope or bins.
All you need is an adapter to fix the camera in place. Over the years, I have used a number of these and without doubt, one of the very best is the X-Wing from Snypex Optics that I have had with me since the start of summer and which I have tested on a number of devices.
With a metal base plate and secure rubber post fastening system, it is robust, holds the phone securely and it's unique design means it will work with almost any camera and binocular or spotting scope combination.
It is for these and indeed many other reasons why I have no hesitation in awarding it the award as the best Binocular & Scope Accessory that I have used in 2015. For more read the full BBR: Snypex X-Wing Universal Smartphone Adapter Review
As I did not have a chance to review any new products in this category, this award stays with the still very relevant and indeed still excellent 20x70 Echelon Binoculars from Celestron:
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.
This year I have not tested a night vision device that in my opinion is better than the Luna Optics LN-DM50 that won last year and so it is for this reason that I have decided to reward it again for 2015:
The snappy named LN-DM50-HRSD Digital Night Vision Viewer & Recorder from Luna Optics would never win an award for the most catchy or easily remembered name, but it is truly one of the best night vision devices in its class that I have ever seen:
Feedback is always good, it helps me understand what I'm doing right and what I'm not. Do agree or disagree with any of my choices? Which pair of optics would you have like to have seen win or perhaps nominate to get reviewed and thus have a chance of winning next year?