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Best Binoculars Under $500
Get the maximum bang for your binocs-buying buck!by J.T. Kozak
I've always had mixed feelings about published binocular field tests. On the one hand, I love to read them, if for no other reason than to compare notes with other so-called experts like myself. And, of course, field tests are also a great way to take the pulse of the binocular market. I'm an optics nut anyway, so anything on birding and optics gets my attention.
On the other hand, I'm a science teacher, and well versed on the protocols of the scientific method and scientific research. So I instinctively recoil at binocular field tests that present themselves as scientific or objective. Get real. Any binocular test, short of a professional optical laboratory test, is subjective by nature. Anyone who claims otherwise is being misleading.
This test was certainly subjective. What you see here are opinions--backed up with data--but opinions nonetheless. By our very nature, we tend to give printed numbers a life of their own and forget that each number represents a decision on a field tester's part. So the bottom line here is to regard these data as useful feedback, rather than a lab report. In fact, you should regard all field tests in this light.
The purpose of these tests was to rate 33 binoculars as to their performance for birding. Scoring was kept as simple as possible, and no attempt was made to assign a final "winning" score as a birding glass. Why? Some people choose a glass based primarily on optical performance, others based on handling, and still others based on size or weight or color or brand and on and on and on. This was reflected in our three testers.
Mark Urwiller of Kearney, Nebraska, is a physics teacher and true optics expert who built Seven Hill Observatory in Kearney with his own hands. He is a superb amateur astronomer and birder with a near encyclopedic recall of details. Mark cuts no slack when it comes to optical performance, and has little patience for faulty designs or equipment. For him, optical quality is always the dominant consideration. To Mark, binoculars are a tool that must meet stringent optical standards. His personal birding glass is a Nikon 10x42 Superior E.
John Murphy of Kearney is also an excellent birder who approaches birding and optics from a holistic, rather than a purely technical point of view. John expects his binoculars to be more than a tool; they must be a friend, and they earn his trust only after hard use. Optical quality is important of course, but feel, handling, and durability are just as important, because he does more birding in a week than many birders do in a season. His personal glass is the Leica 8x42.
I'm a blend of both of these good friends. These days I am probably closer to John in my approach to optics and birding, though I am still very much the optics nut. As for my personal glass, I have always loved the midsize and compact stuff. I carry a Leica 8x32 or a Leica 8x20.
Author: Bird Watcher's Digest
Copyright2010 Bird Watcher's Digest