Sunday, 2 January 2022

Time For an Upgrade

Recently I reread Seventy Years of Birdwatching by H.G. Alexander, and realised I had forgotten that he began his birdwatching career sans binoculars. Can you imagine? The notion of birdwatching without bins seems crazy in 2022, but at the turn of the 20th century I imagine they were both expensive and rare. How different things were when I began birdwatching. Even as a young boy I owned a pair of bins*. They were ancient, ex-military 7x50s with individually-focusing eyepieces, and they weighed roughly 10 kilos. I was still using them in the early 1980s when I started birding properly, but the need for an upgrade was quickly obvious.

With Sandra I visited Opticron, which I think was based in St Albans back then. We came away with brand new Opticron 8x30s for Sandra and second-hand Swift Audubon 8.5x44s for me.

Swift 8.5x44s in action on St Mary's in 1984. I wonder when I last went birding in a collared shirt?

They were great bins. At least, I thought so. Or I did until they started misting up inside after a rainy day in the field. In 1987 I upgraded to what were then considered the best bins on the market: Zeiss Dialyt 10x40 BGAT. This is what they look like...

This photo was taken in October 2015

In 2019 they had become a little hazy internally, so I had them cleaned and serviced. It made a difference, but in 2022 the haziness has returned with a vengeance, the rubber armour has come slightly unstuck by the bridge on one side, the calibration plate has fallen off the dioptre adjusting wheel, and so on. My bins are basically knackered, and need retiring. Which means I am obliged to consider my options...

I have to be realistic. First, I do not have a bottomless wallet. If that were not the case I would have upgraded long ago. Second, I am quite old. It's an unwelcome thought, but at 62 I am not expecting to require the 34+ years I got from my Zeiss Dialyts. Third, I do love a bit of quality. The idea of owning the best bins on the market appealed to me in 1987 and still does today. So where does this lead me?

Research suggests that the best bins right now are Swarovski's NL Pure range, Zeiss' Victory SF and Leica's Noctivid. No offence to Leica but I've never been a fan, so it is actually a two-horse race. Also, I really fancy the idea of diddy little 10x32 bins rather than the usual 10x42, and both brands offer that option. Why lumber myself with weightier bins if optically I don't have to? The only drawback is the two-grand price tag...

Or there is the second-hand route, and maybe an older model. Still amazing optics no doubt, and equally as likely to...er...see me out, but cheaper. I have just sold a couple of bikes, and some careful domestic 'negotiations' have resulted in my being able to convert income gained from one hobby into expenditure on another. Or so I am led to believe. Anyway, the upshot is that I have some money earmarked for new bins. So I'd better hurry up and spend it while the going is good.

PS. If any readers have experience of NL Pure or Victory SF 10x32s I would be glad of your opinions. Likewise any suggestions for second-hand options.


* Note for the screaming pedant: 'pair of bins' is the acceptable - but technically incorrect - name given to a binocular (singular) by the shoulder-shrugging writer of this blog and countless other birders who don't care.

33 comments:

  1. There are always people who require and can afford the latest and greatest, in this case the Pures. Therefore they no longer require what was the latest and greatest last year or the yersr before that. As such the second hand market should be a very happy hunting ground and you'll be able to find something 98% as good for 60% of the outlay. Still a small fortune, but less egregious. I'm using Swaro 8x32 from (I think) three generations back, so about 12 years old, and they're fantastic. The ones that are just one or two generations behind the Pures will be even better. I've heard good things about Steve at SW Optics for second hand bins.

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    1. Your advice is music to my ears Jono, and very sensible. Thank you. My wife would love you!

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    2. for good value if you can track down a pair minox 8x43BR amazing binoculars.

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  2. minox HG 8X43 BR I forgot the HG bit

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    1. Not a brand I had even considered, so many thanks for the recommendation.

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  3. Swarovski 8.5 x 42 el are well worth considering. They are a stunning binocular. Price would be favourable compared to the new NL's.

    Regards
    Ken

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    1. Cheers Ken, thanks for the tip. 😊 👍

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  4. Hi Gav - well worth considering meopta bins as an very good alternative option to the main swaro/zeiss/leica for a lot less outlay - they are tip top!

    You didn't sell the thorn did you?

    What was the scope in your scillies pic? A bushnell spacemaster?

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion Col, I'd not heard of that brand.

      Yes, the Thorn has gone to a new home in London, and the Canyon to Bristol. It's a long story, but my cycling days are over, at least for the foreseeable future. The Orbit will probably go too, eventually. Seems a waste to keep it on a turbo trainer when someone could be riding it. Though I am having trouble letting it go...

      The scope in the photo is a Mirador 20-45x60. Was a great little starter scope.

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  5. Hi again

    Have heard a couple of instances of issues with coatings coming off on the victory - I think this is also an issue with leica sometimes too these days....

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    1. It's funny, even the priciest, most prestigious optics suffer these faults and failures. You'd think the technology ought to be better than that nowadays.

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  6. I use Kowas. 8x33 Prominar, there's a 10x too. £500 when I bought them, a bit more now, I'm not gentle with my bins, they seem tough. Excellent close focus and well designed.

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    1. Many thanks Alistair. My list of 'possibles' is getting longer and longer! Much appreciated. 👍

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  7. Your desire for an upgrade seems mistimed Gav, surly a letter up the chimney last week would have sorted it out. Or have you been a naughty boy?

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    1. Ha ha! I've had no truck with that bloke since I were a lad Dave! The Meccano was always welcome of course, but so many disappointments...

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  8. My latest pair of binoculars are German precision optics they are very good quality at a good price, they have ED & HD, not sure if they do 10x32 but worth looking at

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    1. Well, that made me do a bit of research - I'd never heard of GPO. It looks like they do a 10x32 in the lower-priced ED range, but not the HD. Many thanks for the suggestion Gill. 😊👍

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  9. Gav, I happen to have some Victory SF 8 x 42. The field of view is massive. I checked out the 10 x 42 version but for the sake of stability opted for the 8's.

    Bron had a pension pay out and decided I needed some new optics (she did). Went down the shop. I looked through a few options and declared the Zeiss by far the best. No preamble at all as she said, "Ok, we'll have those then"!

    Naturally I suggested she treat herself as well. However, she said that fixing her bunions didn't quite have the same attraction as the Zeiss. So she'll pass.

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    1. Ooh, Ric! Nice. I have Zeiss envy! 😄

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    2. Happy to loan the things.

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    3. Kind of you Ric, but no need. I've taken the plunge. Watch this space...

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  10. Great book Gav I loved it. Couldn't put it down, I liked that they use to corresponded by letter. Not like nowadays. Anyway I use Hawke Frontier ED X 8x42 which have very good reviews. They do a 8x32 version in the ED X range and also a HD X range, all sub £400 I think and lifetime guarantee. Good luck and happy hunting, Happy New Year to you too.

    All the best

    Tony

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    1. Many thanks Tony. Clearly there are a lot a great value bins out there nowadays. 😊 👍

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  11. Be careful about weight of some of the Swaros. I moved from the same Dailyt as you to 8.5 x42 ELs and although they are great in poor light and with a huge field of view they are almost too heavy for prolonged use. I also have a pair of Optolyth and would recommend that you try them out as well (although no longer from the house in Hatfield Road, St Albans!)

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    1. Thanks Robin. I'm set on 32s I think. Weight might not be much of an issue now, but it surely will be in years to come. 😄

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    2. Yes I am thinking about the future (61now)

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  12. Gav In Focus sell ex demo models at a good price. They are only available as and when mind, but I got my scope there , as new, for a couple of hundred quid off. My Leica Bins are 10x42 but they are dare I say, the BL model! Not rubber armoured but with ye olde worlde leather coating as used by the likes of HG Alexander ;) They were as new still in the bag in the box for 30% of the retail price. Ive had them 16 years and they are as good as the day I got them with a bit of paint wear around the gills....

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    1. Thanks Stew. That was an excellent deal on the Leicas!

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  13. Hi Gav

    I would second looking at South West Optics and speaking to Steve. Nearly all my optics have been 2nd hand from there and side steps the ethical issues re Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica etc.

    I would avoid 2nd hand Zeiss though because of the coatings issue, I got the other half some Swarovski 8 x 32 about 10 years ago, I'd still happily use them as my own now, certainly a great 'back-up' pair.

    I've also a pair for the pocket Pentax Papilio II 8.5 x 21 ideal for insects as well with a close focus to 40cm.

    Cheers
    Kev

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    1. Many thanks Kev. SW Optics has been recommended by a few, which is very reassuring. Your point about sidestepping the ethical issues is something I hadn't twigged, so thank you for that!

      My old Zeiss are so poor when you want to look at butterflies or other insects. Even birds are sometimes too near! A decent close-focus range is something I am really looking forward to! Thanks again for your input. 😊 👍

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    2. PS. I just looked up the Pentax Papilio bins. What a revelation! Cheers Kev.

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