Upgrading my 8x42 Birdwatching Binoculars – what to get?

The questions below come from Paul who is looking to upgrade their cheap 8x42 birdwatching binoculars and has asked me for some help in what to choose:

Have A Question For Me?Question:

First of all, many thanks for a superb resource on your website – until I discovered this and all the brilliant reviews, I was really struggling!

I am after (I think!) 8x42 binoculars mainly for birdwatching. I have only ever had really cheap binoculars so far but have been fairly happy with them. I use Hanimex porro 8x42s most often at the moment for birdwatching but assume that something better quality will give me a worthwhile improvement in clarity.

If possible, I am keen to buy locally where I can try out some different binoculars as long as prices are not TOO much higher than those available online. So far I have researched online but have only been to one retail outlet to look through bins.

Based on my research, I had come up with a shortlist of:

  • Nikon – Monarch 5 or possibly Prostaff 7
  • Hawke – Endurance ED or maybe Sapphire ED

My requirements are

  • 18+ mm eye relief (varifocals)
  • 2m (6.6ft) or less close focus
  • not too heavy
  • cost less than £400 (unless I can really see fantastic improvement for more)

The only shop I have been to so far is RSPB where I tried a couple of pairs against my Hanimexs and was rather under whelmed as I could see no real difference – tried WPGs & HDs I think (c200/300 GBP).

There is a London Camera Exchange who have Hawke Endurance and I will try there next.

One option I am considering is Hawke Sapphire 8x43 with different hinge which some places seem to be selling off – are these an older model than the 8x42 version do you know? Are they likely to be equivalent optical quality to the 8x42? There also seem to be some discounted 8x42 Sapphires that look slightly different and have model no 39201 vs HA3767 (green) – are these likely to be an older version do you know?

I also assume I should be able to see significant improvements in image quality if I compare my Hanimexs to any of these possible purchases – i.e. clarity / sharpness, less colour fringing (esp on bright / dark transitions), brightness in poorer light. I have just had eye test and new glasses so the fact that I couldn’t see any improvement with the RSPB bins worried me rather.

Is there anything in particular you think I should look for when comparing possible new bins?

Many thanks in anticipation of any guidance you can offer.


BinoWizard Answer

Hi Paul, firstly thanks very much for the kind words regarding my site and for sending your questions into the BinoWizard. Hopefully I can help you by answering all of them sufficiently. There are quite a few, so what I think what I will do is answer them all first and then take it from there:

Mid Level vs Really Cheap Binoculars

You mention a couple of times in your enquiry to me about the fact that you are quite happy with your current pair and that you are worried that you may not notice the difference when you upgrade, which is what I think we should consider and explore first:

Hanimex 8x42 Porro Prism Binoculars
I have not personally come across the Hanimex brand before so I can’t comment on their build quality and the image that they produce specifically. There is also not too much about them on the web, but from what I have seen, I think they are imported from Korea as I did find a couple for sale on Ebay with the place of manufacture stamped on them.

As you say they are very cheap, however the fact that they use porro prisms is most probably a good thing because this design makes it far easier and cheaper for them to produce a reasonably good quality image when compared to roof prisms. I won’t go into that now as you are looking to move up into the next level, but it is generally good advice for anyone looking to buy cheap binoculars. More on that here: Cheap Binoculars – Is a Roof or Porro Prism Best?

I also have written a number of articles going over the main differences between very cheap and more costly binoculars. These mostly deal with the component and coating differences and not the actual view you see through them, but may be worth looking at if you have not done so already:

So whilst I cannot say with 100% certainty that you will see a noticeable difference, what is for definite is that all of the binoculars on your shortlist and most other "good quality" ones within your desired budget will be made using much better components, glass and coatings.

Feel Good
I know this may seem a little ‘airy-fairy’, but apart from the practical, this for me has a definite ‘feel good’ element to it and I always appreciate the feeling that I get when holding onto a higher quality bin that has been well designed. This in turn adds to the overall enjoyment that I get out of my wildlife/birdwatching hobby.

Hanimex BinocularsErgonomic Improvements
Then there is the practical side to it. For example if the pictures of the Hanimex binoculars that I have seen on the web are anything to go buy (see image right), I assume that they resemble many vintage porro prism binoculars with either no padding or a very thin fake leather covering on the barrels.

Whilst this is not bad, there are definite advantages to having a good rubber exterior coating on your device: improved comfort and grip, lower noise levels, less reflectivity and improved camouflaging all of which are tiny improvements and things that you could easily do without, but at the same time they could also become an important factor in certain situations.

Image Quality
This is the hardest one for me to be as assured on as everyone ‘sees’ things differently and I cannot say for certain what I see is what you will. But in my experience compared to very cheap binoculars, the improvements in the quality of the glass and coatings that you get with mid level and even well built "low costing" devices really does add up to a better quality view:

  • Colours & Tinting: The view through cheap binoculars is often slightly tinted (usually yellow) and in my experience the colours you see are often far less vivid because of the lower quality glass used in the optics
  • Softening: Compare the amount of softening of the image right at the edges of the view. Superior instruments will stay sharp much closer to the edges
  • Brightness – differences are most easily noticeable in poor or low light conditions. More expensive binos will have more and better quality anti-reflection coatings that really do make an observable difference
  • Colour Fringing – where you really notice a large difference is on higher magnifications and with high end optics that use the best quality ED glass, however unless your Hanimex is particularly good in this area, I would most definitely still expect to see less fringing on a good mid mid level bin.

Buy Local vs Online

A good optics store offers the customer many things that includes advice and the chance to try out different models before you buy which is the ideal situation and if you are lucky enough to have access to one, that is the way to go every time.

However in my experience these are few and far between these days. On top of this, the smaller ones where the assistant (usually the owner) that you get to speak to is a genuine expert. Also just be careful as they obviously are biased towards the stock they carry and usually only carry a small selection brands that are easily found on the web. Also the limited amount of stock that they carry and the costs of owning a bricks and mortar business often makes them nowhere near as competitive as that which you can get online when comparing like for like.

What is more, any reputable online retailer will accept returns without question and so whilst it is still not possible to compare a bunch of different bins, if for any reason you are not happy with your purchase, you can simply return and exchange it for another.

As I say ideally it is nice to be able to try out different models and brands, but it is also not the end of the world if you can’t as this is where "good review sites" like BBR really help 🙂

Binocular Comparisons

For me the hands down best way to begin when going through your shortlist is to create a table to compare the features that you most care about – I go through how to do it in this article: how to choose between different binoculars and I have done so with your selections and added a few others that I feel are worth looking into:

Highlighted in green are the features or specifications that I feel are their strong points.

Highlighted in red are weaker aspects when compared to others on the list. Note this does necessarily mean that it is bad, only that it is not quite as good as the rest.

BinoWizard Top Pick

Hawke Endurance ED 8x42

Winner Best Value Binocular 2016, the Hawke Endurance ED 8x42 BinocularsCurrently available for around £200 ($220), this 8x42 Hawke Endurance ED is a little cheaper than the Nikon Monarch 5 and a lot cheaper than the Sapphire’s. It was my pick as the Best Value For Money Binocular of 2016 and is in my opinion one of the best that I have ever used in this sort of price range.

The only slight question mark I have is the fact that I am not sure what reflective coatings are used on the prisms. My suspicion is that they are Dielectric, but I cannot be 100% certain without confirmation. Whatever the case, I found the view through them to be as good as any in this class.

Without being able to compare the view between the Monarch 5 and these Hawke’s side-by-side, you can never be certain, but I would expect it to be very close.

What I can say is that the 8x42 Endurance ED has a higher spec Magnesium chassis than the Monarch 5 (although this does contribute to them being heavier than the very lightweight Monarch 5) and a wider field of view. They do however have less eye-relief, but at 18mm it does meet with your requirements.

As I have actually tested and used these, I can recommend them with confidence and it is why they are my top choice. But I will also say that the Nikon Monarch 5 also looks to be an excellent option and am sure it won’t turn out to be a bad choice at all if you were to go for it.

Shopping BaketBuy & Compare Prices: Hawke Endurance ED Binoculars

 
 

Nikon Monarch 5

Nikon Monarch 5 BinocularsThese do look like a great pair of binoculars. At around £245 ($250), they have some really impressive components and great specifications to match.

These are really lightweight and as you mentioned that "not too heavy" was one of your criteria, these certainly live up to that.

However the reason that these are so much lighter than the rest will partly be down to the fact that they use a much lighter and cheaper polycarbonate chassis. Certainly most high end bins these days use magnesium and whilst magnesium is said to be stronger, good polycarbonate shells are more than strong enough. They just lack a little when it comes to that feeling of quality.

They also have a very long eye-relief, which as you wear glasses is important and so if you think/know 18mm is not enough for you, then this will be the choice to go for.

The close focus and field of view do however fall short of the Hawke Endurance ED above, which is why ultimately for general birding, I personally would lean towards that option.


Hawke Sapphire Binoculars

There is no doubting that the newer 8x42 Hawke Sapphire and the older open bridged 8x43 version are really great pairs of optics and as you can see both the newer and older versions are very evenly matched. Although I do worry that the publicized specifications are so similar and hope that there has not been an error somewhere?

What you do get with these above the others is a very wide field of view, which if is critical to you and your needs may make the much higher price tag worth it.

8x42 vs 8x43
This is very close and so whilst the 8x43 does have a slightly larger exit pupil because of it and so will potentially seem brighter (especially in low light) the difference will be very small and so unless you get a great deal on the older 8x43 version, I would probably just go for the current model. – you can read more about this here:

Exit Pupil – The Complete Guide

You also asked: There also seem to be some discounted 8x42 Sapphires that look slightly different and have model no 39201 vs HA3767 (green) – are these likely to be an older version do you know? – I know Hawke make these in both green and black, but the model numbers are 39201 (green) and 39200 (Black) – I don’t know anything about a model HA3767 sorry.

BinoWizard Cheaper Option

The Celestron Trailseeker 8x42 binocular is my selection from the three cheaper options in the shortlist above and here is why:

Celestron Trailseeker 8x42

At around £170 / $195 (see where to buy below), I think the Celestron 8x42 Trailseeker offers excellent value for money and matches the more expensive bins on this list close in a number of key areas which includes it’s magnesium chassis and phase corrected, dielectrically coated prisms. A combination of high end features that are very rare to find at this price point.

These features along with it’s much wider field of view (great for birding) and much better close focus are the reasons why I would pick it over the Nikon Prostaff 7 and the Hawke Nature-Trek in the shortlist above.

No ED Glass
Where the Celestron Trailseeker does potentially fall back against the more expensive options is in that it does not contain ED elements in the lenses. However I have highlighted the word potentially because time and again I have seen well made non ED glass binoculars show no more color fringing than many mid to high range ED glass binoculars.

Looking back on my review on these Celestron binoculars I noted: "Like most bins (including many who use ED glass) I could see some fringing, but only by looking really hard for it. The amount is minimal and to be honest unless you are actually looking for it, for the most part it is not at all easily seen. Whilst it is true to say that my high end benchmarks were better and the thin halo that you see was smaller, it was only by a small amount. Thus I would say that the fringing on these is very minimal and no worse than I would expect to see within this class…. So for me this is a consideration, but not a major concern."

Just for interest, I also decided to add Celestron’s higher specification Granite ED to the shortlist which does contain ED glass. As you can see, in terms of specifications and optical components they are very similar, but are a lot more expensive. Are they better? sure a little, but as to weather this is worth it? This is largely up to how much you value the extra cash you have to pay for them.

Shopping BaketBuy & Compare Prices for Celestron Trailseeker Binoculars

 
 

RSPB Binoculars

Unfortunately I have not yet fully tested or reviewed any RSPB branded instruments so I can’t comment too much, but I will say that from their listed features and specifications, their newer offerings like the RSPB WPG or RSPB HD Binoculars listed above do look more than decent.

However I do have some reservations as if my past experiences with their bins is anything to go buy, I was never very impressed by their products. Although I have read that these are made for them by Viking, who do make some pretty decent optics, so it would be really interesting to try them out one day.

However for me the RSPB HD 8x42 looks expensive so unless the view through them is spectacular, I would probably go for another option.

More Alternatives & Further Reading:

I hope that at least some of my advice is of help to you in making your decision. If you need or want some more info, below are some links to relevant content on BBR:

 

BinoWizard Feedback

Below is the great feedback that I recieved from Paul that I think is worth sharing as it rounds off this article nicely. I am now interested to see which binocular he eventually goes for:

WOW! Many thanks for your great information and really helpful advice,

As you suggest, I had made a table of key data, but not as comprehensive (or as neat) as yours!

You are right about the Hanimex’s being unpadded – also hard eyecups that mean that I always have to lift my glasses to use the bins.

I can now detect some colour fringing with them too – although I am (clearly) naive as far as binoculars are concerned, I am quite experienced with cameras and photographic lenses – there it is much easier as a large print or on-screen magnification shows chromatic aberration clearly!

I did try a pair of Endurances yesterday and they were nice to handle. As a comparison also tried Opticron DBA VHD at almost 3x the price but could see little difference in image. I will try your ‘softening at the edge’ technique with my next demo though.

With the 8x43 Sapphires, some places seem to have them for about 299 instead of 399 for the 8x42s which may make them worth a look? – I might try to see some later today as although they are slightly longer and heavier than alternative Hawkes, that price would make them less than 100 GBP more than Endurances.

Many thanks again for your help – before I found the links to ‘Binowizard’, I was already intending to make a donation towards your website costs based on the great content there so I will add something to the payment for the bespoke advice.

Regards, Paul


 

Have A Question For Me?Need Some Help or Advice?

Ask the BinoWizard Here – If you are undecided between two or more binoculars, or are confused by all the options available and don’t have the time (or don’t want to) read through my reviews, then please feel free to contact me for some personal optics advice.

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