Kowa SV 8x32 Binoculars Review

Kowa 8 x 32 SV Binoculars
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Buy & Compare Prices for the Kowa SV 8x32 Binoculars
Price Range: (3/6) Mid Price Binoculars       

Ideal Uses:

General Use Rating for General Use Binoculars
Birdwatching Rating as Birdwatching Binoculars
Outdoor Sports Rating asOutdoor Sports Binoculars
Safari & Travel Rating as Safari Binoculars
General Wildlife Rating as Wildlife Observation Binoculars
Hunting Rating as Hunting Binoculars
Marine Use Rating as Marine Binoculars

Mid sized binoculars have become really popular, especially by those looking for a travel or indeed "take anywhere and everywhere" pair of optics. This is because whilst they may be a little larger than a true compact, they usually perform better in poor or low light conditions and therefore make a good compromise between performance and size.

Many manufacturers however get the formula wrong as some are either too bulky to satisfy those looking for a binocular that is very easy to carry about or their optical performance (especially brightness) falls well short of even an average full sized binocular. So keeping this in mind I really looked forward to testing the Kowa SV 8x32 binoculars - Below is my full review:

Kowa SV Series Binoculars
Kowa are probably best known and indeed admired for their top of the range, extremely high quality optics, like the fantastic Kowa Genesis 10.5x44 XD Binoculars that won the Best Binocular Reviews award for the overall best binocular of the year in 2010 or the also excellent Kowa 10x33 Genesis XD Binoculars that won the award for the Best Safari & Travel Binocular in 2011. Both of which are manufactured in Japan and feature the highest quality optical and body components.

So when Kowa first announced that they would be introducing the SV line of more affordable binoculars manufactured in China, I did wonder if that by doing so they may be cheapening their brand. My worries were eased a little after I first had a quick look at them at the British Birdwatching Fair - this was because whilst they may be lower spec than their top of the range Kowa Genesis Binoculars, they still looked to be a reasonably high quality pair of optics and obviously aimed at people who still want a fairly high quality binocular, but can't justify or can't afford to spend the amount needed for one of their flag ship models.

Selected Highlights

  • 100% water & Fog Proof
  • Fully multi-coated lenses
  • Phase Correction Coatings on the prisms
  • BAK-4 Prisms
  • Field of View: 408 feet at 1000 yards
  • Eye Relief: 15.5mm
  • Good quality wide neck strap

The Body

What I first noticed when holding them for the first time was just how light they were, yet they still felt very solid and robust, this added to their styling makes them look and feel far more expensive than their actual price tag, which is always a good thing.

Build Quality
I have not been able to establish exactly what the frame of this SV32-8 is made from, which is a shame as I do wonder what Kowa used to make them so light (see section on weight below). Sometimes a lightweight binocular is only light because it is made of cheap materials, but as mentioned earlier, these feel very solid and robust and whilst I did not test them to destruction (I have to return them!), they do give you the feeling that you have a fairly high quality instrument in your hands that should handle pretty much everything that you would throw at them in normal usage.

Like most binoculars, the frame has been covered with a rubber armoring, which on these SV Binoculars is very hard and so will protect them from scratches as well as small bumps and knocks. Because this armor is so hard, it is not as tactile as some binoculars out there, but will still improve the grip compared to a un-rubberized pair. This rubber coating also has another benefits, like making the bins less reflective and will help dampen down any sounds, if something like your watch or ring strikes against the barrel, which are important if you want to remain unnoticed when observing timid birds and other wildlife.

On the underside of the body there is a wavy depression in the rubber armor on each barrel, which not only adds to the styling, but is placed in such a way as to also help with grip and your thumb placement. It is a little different, but is rather like the thumb indents that you find on many other binoculars and just encourages you to hold the device at the right point so as to get them nicely balanced.

I like the fact that the objective lenses are set fairly far back within the body, this combined with the hard rubber surround from the body armouring gives the objective lenses a lot of protection from the elements in general usage.

Kowa SV 8x32 Binoculars

Waterproof & Fogproof
These Kowa 8x32 SV binoculars are airtight and waterproof which will not only protect them from moisture, but in dry conditions it will also prevent any dust and other small debris from entering them that could lead to your view being spoilt.

During the manufacturing process, the air inside the binocular has also been replaced with dry nitrogen gas which will help prevent internal fogging and thus makes it possible to use the binoculars in places where there are very low temperatures, high humidity levels or rapid temperature changes without the risk of any condensation forming on the inside the optics. Because there is no internal moisture this also protects the inner workings from corrosion.

The Eye Cups
The eyepiece housing looks to be made from a hard plastic or something similar, as do the twist-up eyecups, which have then been covered in a fairly thick and fairly soft rubber coating. They are pretty comfortable even when pushed quite firmly against your face. The ocular lens has a diameter of 19mm, whilst the eyecup has an external diameter of 39mm.

The twist-up (helicoid) mechanism on these SV binoculars is excellent - it is very smooth and has an very good 4 fixed stops (2 intermediate), meaning that eyeglass wearers have a good amount of flexibility when adjusting the eye-relief to suit their exact needs. The maximum of 15.5mm of eye-relief is pretty good and should be enough for most people who wear glasses to be able use these optics without having to remove their glasses and still get the full field of view without any vignetting. Non-eyeglass wearers will just use the eyecups in the fully extended position.

Eyecups and diopter adjustment ring on the Kowa SV 8x32 BinocularsFocusing
Like the eye-cups, the central focussing wheel, looks like it is made from a hard plastic, covered in a soft rubber coating with large indents cut out of it for styling and to help with grip. It has a diameter of 32mm which is large enough to make using them even with thick gloves on, no problem at all.

The focusing mechanism is geared so that it takes about 1 and a half turns of the wheel to go from infinity to it's minimum focusing distance of 2m (6.5 feet). What this means is that focusing from near to far (or vise versa) is not as quick as a binocular that takes less amount of turning (some take as little as half a turn), but they do have the advantage of making fine tuning your focus to get it exactly right a little easier.

Interpupillary Distance
The distance between the centers of the ocular lenses can be adjusted from a minimum of 5.8cm to a maximum of 7.2cm by opening and closing the single central hinge on the bridge. This is usually referred to as the inter-pupillary adjustment and is done to accommodate the differences in the distance between different peoples eyes.

Diopter Adjustment
Like the majority of binoculars, the diopter adjustment ring is located on the right barrel, between the eyecup and the body . The mechanism is not notched/ratcheted and is not as tight as some and so can be moved accidentally. However, there are markings on the barrel and quite a few on the diopter ring and so if you remember your mark, it is simple to return it to your desired setting. For those who don't know, the diopter setting is used to correctly set up and focus the binoculars to your particular eyesight and only needs to be done once.

Best Binoculars Rating for Body Construction Quality: 7/10

Weight
These Kowa 8x32 binoculars weigh just 565g (19.9oz), which for a mid-sized binocular with objective lenses of around 32mm is very good and is one of the lightest that I have ever reviewed. For comparison and to put this into context, take a look at the weights of other similar sized binoculars below:

It is important to remember that weight alone can sometimes be a little misleading. This is because some featherweight binoculars are only light because they have been constructed from cheap, poor quality materials and components that also happen to be light. Whilst I am sure that these don't come with lightweight yet high quality features such as a frame made from magnesium like some of the top o the range optics listed above, they still feel very robust and definitely don't have that cheap plastic feeling that you sometimes find with binoculars in this price range.

Dimensions
Their dimensions of 5.4in (13.8cm) x 4.9in (12.4cm) x 2.0in (5.0cm) - with their eyecups fully extended their length increases to 5.7in (14.5cm) and with the inter-pupillary adjustment set to it's minimum, their width is 4.2 in (10.6cm). This pretty good and they compare well with most other quality mid-sized binoculars. As you would expect this is quite a bit smaller than most full sized 8x42mm optics, yet somewhat larger than most true compacts.

Balance
Whilst the balance of a mid-sized binocular may not be as important as on a full sized or giant binocular, it can still help to ensure that it is simple to keep the binoculars nice and steady when looking through them, especially during longer periods of observation. I thought that the overall balance of these Kowa 8x32 binoculars was excellent and this is where the well placed wavy depression in the rubber armor under each barrel really helps as it just encourages you to get your hands and thumbs into exactly the right position.

Best Binoculars Rating for Body Stats: 8/10

 

Kowa SV32-8 Optics

The Prisms and their coatings
It is good to see that Kowa have used quality BaK-4 glass on these roof prism binoculars as opposed to the inferior BK-7 prisms found on cheaper optics, this superior optical glass helps to produce sharper and clearer images.

On top of this Kowa have also used phase correction coatings on the prism glass. These coatings on not always found on binoculars in this price range and are only common on higher end roof prism binoculars. However they are important as when light waves are reflected at the opposite faces of a roof prism, "phase shift" occurs which means that you get a small amount of deterioration in sharpness. So what these phase correction coatings do is counter this by keeping the light in the correct color phases and therefore produce images that have better contrast, a higher resolution and improved color reproduction.

As well as this, Kowa point out the fact that they use a "High Reflective Prism Coating" on the prisms, but don't state exactly what they are or what their reflectivity is. The best highly reflective prism coatings are dielectric coatings that cause the prism surfaces to act as a dielectric mirror and has the effect of increasing the reflectivity to more than 99% across the visible light spectrum meaning that you get better light transmission (brighter images) and excellent color fidelity. But considering their very competitive price point and the fact that they don't say that they use dielectric coatings, I suspect though that they may be using cheaper high reflectivity coatings like an aluminum mirror coating that has a reflectivity of between 87% to 93%, or possibly a silver mirror coating that increases reflectivity to about 95% to 98%. Either way all these are far better than binoculars that don't have any at all.

Lenses
Lens CoatingsFully multi-coated lenses are used on theses SV binoculars, which means all air-to-glass surfaces have received multiple layers of anti-reflective coatings which increases light transmission to produce a brighter image and therefore better low light performance.

These and high reflective coatings on the prisms can make a really big difference on the brightness of the image produced. I have often seen binoculars with smaller objective lenses, but high quality anti-reflection coatings easily outperforming binoculars with much larger objective lenses, but with fewer or no coatings. Beware of these lower quality optics that will often only add multiple anti-reflection coatings to the outer surfaces of the lenses (Multi-Coated) and cheaper still are optics that only have a single layers of anti-reflection coating added to the outer lenses (Coated). The very cheapest optics have no anti-reflective coatings at all and I highly recommend staying well clear of these.

The table below shows Transmittance by type of lens coating:

  Per Single Lens Surface 10 Lens & Prism Surfaces
No Coating: 96% (0.96) x Power of 10 = 0.66 66%
Single-Layer: 98.5% (0.985) x Power of 10 = 0.86 86%
Multilayer Coating: 99.5% (0.995) x Power of 10 = 0.95 95%

Best Binoculars Rating for Optical Components Quality: 8/10

Optical Stats

Field Of View
Their field of view is 136m at a distance of 1,000 metres (=408 feet at 1,000 yards = 7.8°), is excellent and plenty wide enough to keep most people happy including most birdwatchers, especially those who like to travel a lot. Indeed they make it onto my list of wide angle binoculars and is a real highlight on these Kowa binoculars.

Close Focusing Distance
The minimum close focusing distance is a good 6.5 feet (2.0m). I regard anything under 6ft as being very good, so if you are looking for a mid size binocular that is also reasonably good for viewing objects close up, things like butterflies for example, these will hold their own, but may not be ideal if this is your main intended use for them.

Eye-Relief:
Their maximum eye-relief of 15.5mm is also good and this should be enough for most people who wear glasses.

Best Binoculars Rating for Optical Stats: 9/10

Image Quality

As I do for all my reviews, I compared the view through these Kowa 8x32 SV binoculars with that of my control binoculars of a similar size and magnification.

Brightness
I conducted these tests on a dull overcast morning: In terms of image brightness, these were to my eyes about the same as that of my benchmark 8x32's, and so overall I would rate them as being very good in this area.

Colour Fringing
The amount of color fringing (chromatic aberration) around the edges of objects was extremely minimal and only really noticeable if you are actually looking for it by closely observing the edges of light or white coloured objects sitting in front of a dark background. So once again I would say that they perform well above average in this area and are as good as any non ED glass binocular that I have used.

Softening
Also very good was the amount of softening of the image on the periphery of the view, which was very minimal and almost non existent.

Contrast & Colour Reproduction
The colour reproduction looks and feels natural, unlike the artificial tints that you sometimes find on cheaper binoculars, especially those that come with ruby coatings. I also thought that contrast of the image was also very good and once you have correctly focussed on an object the image is pin sharp.

Overall and to sum up, I would rate the view through these Kowa's as very good and far better than you would expect to find on a mid-sized binocular in this price bracket.

More about Image Brightness and the 8x32 Configuration
Binoculars with 32mm objective lenses are a common choice for mid-sized binoculars. This is because they strike a good balance between light gathering potential and size of the device.

Good light gathering ability is important because quite often you will find yourself in situations where the lighting is sub-optimal, especially in thickly wooded or forested areas, early in the morning just before or at sunrise or late afternoon when most birds and other animals are at their most active. Full sized binoculars with larger 42mm objective lenses will have the ability to let in more light, but will obviously also be bigger and heavier and so harder to carry about in the field and put in with your luggage. To explain how this configuration works, all 8x42 binoculars have an Exit Pupil of 5.25 and a Twilight Factor of 18.3, which if you compare them to this 8x32 binocular, which has an exit pupil of 4 and a twilight factor of 16, it shows that the increased objective lens diameter of a larger binocular will gather more light and make it possible for the binoculars to transmit more light and thus should in theory work better in low light conditions. More compact binoculars with smaller lenses will of course let in even less light, but will be even more compact - so it is all about compromises and that is why a mid-sized binocular like this is a great choice for most uses and make great general use and travel binoculars.

I would also like to add that these exit pupil and twilight figures do not take into account the transmittance or quality of the optical system, which is as important, if not even more so in producing a bright image. This is because the performance of a pair of optics in poor light also depends a lot on the quality of the glass and optical coatings and not just the exit pupil and twilight factor formula. Good coatings on the lenses and the prisms can double the amount of light that gets through the binocular, when compared to those that have none or poor quality coatings and as we have already discovered these Kowa SV binoculars come with some pretty good quality glass and coatings.

Best Binoculars Rating for Image Quality: 8/10

8x32 Kowa SV Comparisons

In the table below I have compared some of the main stats and features of these SV binoculars from Kowa with that of some similar sized binoculars that I have reviewed in the past:

  Kowa 8x32 SV Swarovski 8x32 Traveler EL Kowa Genesis 10x33 XD Nikon EDG 8x32 Minox 8x33 BL Binoculars
Price (approx): $200 (210) $1639 (1360) $1200 (900) $1600 $470 (370)
Weight: 19.9ozs (565g) 21.5oz (610g) 20.8ozs (590g) 23.1ozs (655g) 650g
Length: 5.4in (13.8cm) 5.4in (9.8cm) 5.2in (13.3cm) 5.4in (13.7cm) 5.4in (13.7cm)
Width: 4.9in (12.4cm) 4.5in (11.4cm) 4.1in (10.3cm) 5.5in (14cm) 5.1in (13cm)
Eye Relief: 15.5mm 15mm 15mm 18.5mm 17.5mm
Close Focusing Distance: 6.5ft 2.1m (7ft) 1.5m (4.9ft) 8.2ft 8.2ft
Field of View at 1000yds: 408ft 420ft 357ft 409ft 421ft
Exit Pupil 4 4 3.3 4 4.1
Twilight Factor 16 16 18.2 16 16.2
ED Glass No No Yes Yes No
Phase Correction Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lens Coatings Fully Multi-Coated Fully Multi-Coated Fully Multi-Coated Fully Multi-Coated Fully Multi-Coated
Waterproof Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fogproof Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Whist it may not seem fair to compare these mid priced binoculars with some very top of the range models, it does help to put them into perspective and show that in terms of their main specifications they do compete very well.

Included Extras & Attention to Detail:

Neck Strap
The next strap that comes with the Kowa SV series binoculars is nice and wide and very well padded. It looks to be well made and is of fairly good quality, but is not quite as deluxe as what you get with the Kowa Genesis 10x33 XD Binoculars for example. I like the attention to detail in that the padded section that hangs around your neck is curved to ensure that it hangs more naturally.

Carry Case
The soft carry case is nice and roomy and makes it easy to store the optics with the eyecups fully extended and with the Interpupillary Distance set to maximum - if anything there is just a little too much room. The case does not come with it's own strap, so to carry it on your shoulder, you feed the binocular's neck strap out the sides of the lid when they are in the case. On the back of the case there is a loop which you can thread your belt through to carry it on your waist. The flip up lid is held closed with a strip of Velcro. Unfortunately there are no extra pockets on the outside or inside which are useful for carrying things like lens cleaning cloths, some money, keys or other small personal items.

Lens Covers
The eye-piece cover (rain guard) is made from a very flexible plastic/rubber and fits nicely, if just a little too loosely onto the eye-pieces meaning that it is possible that they could come away accidentally. I like the fact that it has a flexible bridge between the two cups that allow for the different distances between the two eyepieces depending on your inter-pupillary adjustment. This is something that is often overlooked by manufacturers meaning that the eyepiece covers wont fit, unless you store your binoculars fully open, which can be a real pain as you have to adjust them every time you use and replace your binoculars.

The objective lens covers are made from plastic and fit very well into to the ends of the barrels of the binocular and should not easily fall off. Each of them has a loop which can be used to attach them them to the neck strap.

A little surprising is that these Kowa binoculars did not come with a lens cleaning cloth, but I guess to keep the cost down they have to make sacrifices somewhere.

also included is a fairly comprehensive, but generic SV series instruction booklet that includes details on adjusting the eyecups, how to properly attach the neck strap, the inter-pupillary adjustment, how to properly focus your binoculars, lens care and cleaning, and all the SV binocular specifications.

Kowa Guarantee
Kowa provides a limited lifetime warranty for this binocular.

Tripod Adaptable
There is a small cover or cap on the front of the central pivoting point that screws off. This allows you to then screw on a binocular tripod adapter (not included) that uses the standard ¼-inch threading, which you can then attach to your tripod.

Best Binoculars Rating for Extras & Attention to Detail: 6/10

Conclusion

Strong Points: Considering their very competitive price point, I was very pleasantly surprised by the build quality, as well as the really good quality view through them. This is achieved by the use of some good quality optical components and coatings. The very wide field of view and low weight are also a real highlights.

Weak points? Compared to top of the range binoculars, the extras like the carry case and lens covers are not quite as luxurious as they could be. This is also evident in the fact that little details like the focusing wheel are made from plastic whereas Kowa's top of the range Genesis models use metal ones. Having said that, to keep the cost down they had to do something and I would much prefer these sacrifices than if they were to compromise the quality of the view through them by using cheaper prism glass and fewer coatings.

Ideal Uses: As their name suggests and like most mid-sized binoculars, they are ideal binoculars to go travelling or camping with, they also make excellent safari binoculars although some people may prefer the more powerful 10x version.

The 8x magnification, good quality as well as bright image also means that they make ideal birdwatching binoculars.

Their fairly close minimum focussing distance means they will hold their own as a binocular to view things like flowers, butterflies, dragonflies and other insects really close up, but if this is your main intended use for them, you should look for a pair that has a much closer minimum focusing distance.

I would also say that these Kowa 8x32 SV binoculars would be excellent for general wildlife observation and even some types of hunting where size and weight are important. Like most mid-sized binoculars these make a good all-round general use binocular.

Their fairly compact size and wide field of view also make these ideal optics to take to most sporting events where a wide field of view allows you to see more of the action at once without having to look around and a compact binocular is simple to carry in a bag.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Alpha Digital Services Ltd, the UK distributors of Kowa Binoculars for sending this binocular to me to review, but I would also like to point out that all the reviews on this site, including this one are my opinion and are not influenced in any way by manufacturers, distributors or suppliers.

Kowa SV 8x32 Binoculars with neck starp and lens covers

Reviewed by

Best Binocular Reviews Ratings:

Body Construction Quality: 7/10 77%
Excellent
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Components Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 9/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Attention to Detail: 6/10

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Main Specifications & Features:

 

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Mid Size Binoculars | Roof Prism Binoculars | General Use Binoculars | Birdwatching Binoculars | Outdoor Sports Binoculars | Wide Angle Binoculars | Mid Price Binoculars


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Binocular Price Comparison
Where to buy the Kowa 8x32 SV Binoculars

General Price Range: (3/6) Mid Price Binoculars

Below is a link that will take you to a page with online retailers in both the US and UK that sell Kowa 8x32 SV Binoculars this page makes it easy to compare prices and then to buy from your preferred option:

 
 
 
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