Quite similar to the case of Swarovski with its Habicht and CL Companion, Nikon as well is offering two 8x30 binoculars of similar specifications of almost the same price range. While the Nikon EII has been introduced two decades ago and may by now be regarded a classical binocular, the Monarch HG is a new introduction. Let us see how these binoculars compare in the field!
Fig. 1: Nikon 8x30 EII (No. 500463)
The Nikon 8x30 EII is a remarkable wide angle Porro-prism binocular that was introduced in 1999. The sample shown here has been with me since almost 15 years and was bought second hand - probably manufactured about 2000. The binocular is currently still in production and meanwhile coming with improved coatings - this should be kept in mind when its performance, particularly in low light, is evaluated. The EII can be purchased for 620 Euro (in Germany).
Fig. 2: Nikon 8x30 Monarch HG (No. 2000573); right panel: exit pupil
In 2018, Nikon has introduced a new member of its Monarch HG line. This 8x30 roof-prism binocular is a wide-angle design, very compact and of low weight. It comes with all the modern features such as high eye-relief, twist-up eye-cups and a short focus distance that allows for insect studies. At the time of writing, the 8x30 Monarch HG is not yet widely available so that street prices have not been settled so far. Its official price is 1049 Euro (Germany), but street prices about 800 Euro may soon become reality.
Fig. 3: The E2 and the Monarch HG
The following table summarizes some of the specifications of the two contenders.
|Real angle||Field of view||Eye relief||Exit pupil||Close focus||Waterproof||Weight|
| ||of view (deg)||(m/1000m)||(mm)||diam. (mm)||(m)||(m)||(gram)|
|8x30 Monarch HG||8.3||145||16.2||3.75||2||5||460|
Angle of view: With 154m/1000m, the 8x30 EII is still the champion of its class, but the 145m/1000m of the Monarch HG are also very wide. In fact, the HG is wider than currently available high-end binoculars (example: Swarovski 8x32 EL WB: 141m/1000m, Zeiss 8x32 Victory FL: 140m/1000m), and at the same time it is considerably lighter.
Image sharpness: Both binoculars offer a perfect sharpness near the central part of the image. The star test delivers almost point-like stars within the innermost 70% of the angle. There is no significant difference between both contenders. However, I have observed an unsymmetry of sharpness in the right tube of the Monarch HG: The area of maximum sharpness is shifted a bit toward the lower half of the image, the blur is thus worse near the upper edge than close to the bottom. Since this distribution looks symmetric through the left tube, I suspect that the observed shift may be the result of a collimation procedure of this individual sample. It doesn't affect observations in daylight much, but under the stars the asymmetry through the right tube is obvious.
Image color: Both binoculars show an almost neutral image. The white paper test yields a very slight hue that leans toward the warm side (a trace of magenta in case of the EII, of yellow in case of the Monarch HG). This is only visible when being compared side by side and of no relevance in real life applications. The Monarch HG is visibly brighter than the EII, but - as mentioned above - that may not be the case with an EII sample of current production.
Rectilinear distortion: Both binoculars display a certain amount of pincushion distortion, the EII more so than the HG. In fact, the distortion of the Monarch HG is sufficiently low that a slight globe-effect is visible during panning. The amount of pincushion distortion is always a designer's choice who has to balance straight lines vs. globe-effect, and in both binoculars this choice appears well made: A bit toward bending of edges (EII) or toward globe-effect (Monarch HG).
Stray light: The Monarch HG is suffering a side-pupil (Fig. 2, right panel, to the left just outside the exit pupil) which causes stray-light contamination in some situations, notably during twilight or on fairly dark, gloomy days, when the eye-pupils are expanded and easily getting in contact with the side-pupil. If in these conditions the binocular is panning, then flashes of whiteout are disturbing the view. I suspect that this side-pupil is generated inside the prism (it appears to be identical with a problem also found inside Swarovski's 8x32 EL WB). The 8x30 EII is less prone to stray light, though not perfectly free of this phenomenon, which reduces the overall contrast of the image in certain light conditions.
Ghost images: If, at night, a bright object (street lantern, moon) is positioned into the field, reflections on the air-to-glass surfaces take place, which can lead to multiple 'ghost' images of the light source. A successful suppression of these ghosts indicates a high quality of the anti-reflection coating. Both binoculars are performing perfectly well in this test, even the EII with its not quite state of the art coatings; any reflections of potentially practical relevance remain absent.
Chromatic aberration (CA): Both binoculars display some color fringes of similar quantity along edges of high contrast. Although these color fringes are reasonably well suppressed, the market does certainly offer better examples for CA correction (such as the Kowa 8x33 Genesis or the Zeiss 8x32 Victory FL).
Low light performance: In low light, the Monarch HG clearly shows a brighter image when compared to the Nikon EII. Note again that my EII sample is an old one (about 2000) and that current samples do have improved coatings and higher transmission.
Mechanical robustness: An advantage for the Monarch HG which is fully waterproof (while the EII is not). It is difficult to judge whether there exist differences in terms of mechanical shock resistance: Neither of these binoculars is likely to have a military-like ruggedness, but they are well built and should survive many years of intensive use.
Usage/features: A clear advantage for the Monarch HG. Its eye-relief is sufficiently long so that the binocular can be used with eye-glasses (while the 13.8mm of the EII are somewhat tight and do not yield the full field of view for some observers). The close focus distance is shorter, the weight lower than the EII. The latter offers a superior ease of view to my eyes (without spectacles), but here as well the Monarch HG is scoring reasonably high. The modern design of the Monarch HG is clearly improving the versatility of the binocular.
|Angle of||Image (edge-)||Stray||Ghost||Color||Low||Usage/||Mechanical||Final|
| ||view||sharpness||light||image||fringing||light (*)||features||robustness||score|
|8x30 Monarch HG||1||1.5||1||1.5||1.5||2||2||2||12.5|
(*) The Nikon EII sample used here is not of current production and still equipped with old coatings
The 'final score' is the sum of the individual scores and is intended to serve as an orientation only.
When summarizing the features of these two contenders, we arrive at practically identical overall performances with a slight advantage for the Monarch HG. This advantage is mostly on mechanical aspects (such as water resistance) and features (such as close-focus and eye-relief), while in terms of optical performance the Nikon EII turns out to be fully competitive (and probably a tad superior with state of the art coatings which are implemented in current production samples). Thus, the EII, the wide-field champion, does not need to step behind his younger (and also somewhat costlier) brother. The EII remains one of the last representatives of outstanding Porro-prism designs that are still on the market. As such, it delivers a superior 3D-stereoscopic image that cannot be generated with any roof-prism binocular. On the other hand, the Monarch HG is outstanding on its own: It combines a very wide field with a very compact design - a combination that is not found a second time on the market, including its high-end sector. The Monarch HG could be further improved if its side-pupils (Fig. 2) were eliminated.
Last modified: October 2018