As their name suggests, OutdoorGearLab.com specialize in testing and reviewing all gear related to the outdoors. So this includes anything to do with camping, hiking, skiing, climbing, cycling and more.
So as you can imagine even though they have narrowed it down to the "outdoors" there is still a massive range of products to test, thus rather than being specialists, they are more generalist and it looks to me they cater more for the enthusiasts than the professional.
However unlike many of the bogus review websites out there that simply make up an evaluation based on the manufacturers blurb, OutdoorGearLab are independent and do actually physically test the products under review (just like BBR!) with their speciality being "side-by-side comparative reviews".
OutdoorGearLab recently ran a test with thirteen different sets of binoculars where they themselves put each model though what they say was "rigorous hands-on testing" and then also handed them to a group of grad students who were performing wildlife research and then took them out with them on boating as well as hunting trips.
As mentioned earlier 13 binoculars were involved in the test, however they do not mention how or why these particular ones were chosen.
As you can see below, the list seems quite heavily biased to a couple of the larger brands, however apart from that they do cover a wide range of sizes as well as price points so should be something there for most users needs:
Below are the most important details of the binoculars that were given specific awards, along with their specific comments. Note that I have also included my opinions where I thought it appropriate to jump in with my two pennies/cents worth!
These high end Nikon Binoculars cost about $399 in the US and £300 in the UK:
OutdoorGearLab's Opinion: "Tester after tester raved about the compactness and ease of use of this pair, while simultaneously being blown away by its clarity and magnification. The Monarch 7 is made with ED glass, which reduces color aberration and ensures in a crisp and colorful image. Even though it scored slightly lower than the Swarovski EL 10x32, it more then made up for it in price. The Swarovski 10x32 retails for over $1,500 while the Nikon Monarch 7 retails just under $400, making it a steal. With such a significant price difference but such a small difference in performance, the Monarch 7 took the overall prize. This is our recommendation as the most versatile, best all-around product.."
BBR Opinion: Although I have not fully tested and thus have not reviewed the Nikon 7 on BBR yet, I have had a close look and indeed used them at a birding show and I will say that they are indeed a fantastic pair of bins, so I cannot argue with their choice here, especially as they are taking price into consideration.
I have however reviewed the Swarovski EL 10x32 Swarovision Binoculars that they seemed to focus on and compare these Nikon's against. Interestingly these exact Swaro's won my title as the Best Binocular of 2014, where price is not a factor and is an award that simply looks for the ultimate binocular that I tested for that year.
These Nikon compact binoculars have a current retail price of only $80 / £130:
OutdoorGearLab's Opinion: "Weighing just below 10 ounces, the Nikon Trailblazer 8x25 ATB can fit into your palm and not hurt your wallet all at the same time. The Trailblazer scored higher then average in our tests and is small and simple to use. If you are looking to purchase your first pair and do not want to empty your wallet, the Nikon Trailblazer 8x25 will definitely fit the bill. Its small size and light weight makes this the perfect pair for backpackers or hikers who plan to pack their magnifiers with them. It is an all-around quality product for those just starting out and is reasonably priced so is less of a commitment than some higher-end models. For under $100 this pair will allow you to see what you need to without compromise on performance."
BBR Opinion: Whilst these Nikon binoculars are not expensive, don't look to bad at all and I do think they are a reasonably good buy, I am not sure if they offer great value for money.
I say this because there are a lot of similar compact binoculars out there at around the same price, but which have better specifications as well as superior features like FULLY multi-coated optics. For examples, take a look at the following guides:
Their current retial price is around $2000 / £1600 depending on where you look:
OutdoorGearLab's Opinion: "If your passion is birding, and you keep an ongoing ticklist of the creatures you have sighted, then the Swarovski EL 10x32 Swarovision, created by the renown crystal manufacturer, is the magnifier for you! With superior clarity, magnification and ED glass improving the color, this pair allows you to identify birds from 7 feet to 40 feet away. Our testers raved about their ability to see the slightest colorations or markings on any bird, allowing them to easily identify distinguishing characteristics of their perched feather friend. At almost $3000 (now $2000 / £ 1600), the Swarovski pair is a long-term investment that you will not regret, as long as you have your life-list in one pocket and a Sibley's in the other."
BBR Opinion: Winner of the award for the the Best Binocular of 2014 the Swarovski EL 10x32 is one of my favorite all time bins that I know really well as I have used, thoroughly tested and fully reviewed here on BBR (see link below).
So whilst I agree that they are a fantastic pair of optics and obviously agree with them winning an award, I am a little surprised to see that OutdoorGearLab chose the 10x version over the 8x32 for the birding award. Whilst as you can see in this article on 10x42 Binoculars for Bird Watching, there are instances where a higher powered bin is preferable, but for general birding, most experts will usually go for a slightly lower power in exchange for a wider field of view.
I have just checked and their cost around $200 / £185 depending on where you look:
OutdoorGearLab's Opinion: "If the camouflaged barrels don't give it away, then the stellar field of view coupled with a crisp clear image will – the Nikon Prostaff 7 10x42 is designed for a hunter. A magnification power of 10x and a clear image helps when viewing wildlife. A portable size and weight, the Prostaff 7 traveled through the mountains of the North Cascades and on a three day hunting trip into the San Juan Islands of Washington, never disappointing during any of its tests. It even assisted on one testers first kill of the season!"
BBR Opinion: Another Nikon!? Now I am not suggesting that these are not a great pair of mid range binoculars for hunting, but would it not have been nice to see one of the many other brands that also make hunting bins in this range? PS - for those who don't like the cammo finish, these also come in black.
These H2O bins from Bushnell will set you back in the region of $75 / £80:
OutdoorGearLab's Opinion: "With a thick, indestructible, plastic ribbed casing, the Bushnell H20 10x26 is perfect for the high seas or the backyard kiddy pool. At 13.6 ounces, this compact and lightweight model held up while sailing on the Pacific Ocean. Combining clear vision and a high magnifying power, as well as trustworthy durability and waterproofness, this pair fit our needs for the day while being passed around to different people scouting dolphins and identifying markers."
BBR Opinion: This is one award that I find hard to agree with: A low costing binocular, the H2O series is described by Bushnell as being for "on-the-water viewing", although apart from having a non-slip "soft texture grip" and being completely sealed and thus waterproof (which most quality bins are these days anyway), they really don't look like they are specifically designed for marine use.
So unless you are specifically on the lookout for a low cost compact bin that you can take on board with you, I think that you would be far better off with a number of other options. Indeed there are even a number of models within the actual Bushnell H2O series that in my opinion would be more suitable for general marine use than this 10x26 model. The 7x50 porro prism version would be my pick from here as the lower power makes it easier to keep the image still on a moving platform like a yacht or boat.
If however you are after a pair of more serious boating specific bins, then Bushnell themselves also make a higher specification option in the form of the Bushnell 7x50 Marine binoculars that you may wish to take a look at as well, or take a look at the other options and advice in this guide to marine & boating binoculars
If you would like to voice your own opinion as to these awards and their selections please feel free to use the comments section below: