My all-time favorite binoculars

by Holger Merlitz

During the last decade I have reviewed a vast number of binoculars, eliminated dozens of them because of their poor optical or mechanical qualities, but also identified a lot of gems of very different price ranges. Most of the binoculars which I owned over certain periods of time are meanwhile sold, quite a few of those described on my webpages have been on loan anyway and since long given back to their owners.

But sometimes I have been asked about which of all those binoculars actually remained, which of them are frequently, or occasionally, in use, and why? Well, below are my current all-time favorites, those which are not collecting dust inside a stuffy closet but actually see the sunlight (or: moonlight):

The traveler: Nikon 8x30 EII

The Nikon EII is the binocular I use perhaps 70% of the time, it is with me on most of my shorter excursions. With a huge field of view (154m/1000m), a light and compact body (560g), and an unusually relaxing view, this binocular is my personal overall favorite.

Allrounder with low light qualities: Zeiss 7x42 Dialyt T* P

This binocular is the reason why, so far, I have never bought any high-end 8x42 model: The Zeiss is simply too good, an extremely relaxed view, with a bright and wide image (150m/1000m). For whatever reason it feels better than its successor, the 7x42 Victory FL. I do not carry it too often, though, only whenever I want to keep the option of using it under low light, in which the 8x30 Nikon reaches its limits. I have taken it on some of my longer trips as my allrounder, despite of it being slightly heavy (800g), since it performs perfectly well under every light condition, and its low power guaranties a steady view even after an exhausting climb.

The High Performer: Nikon 10x50 WX IF

Arguably the best hand-held binocular of all times, though 'hand-held' seems a bit stretched at 2.5 kg weight. With a field of 157m/1000m (wider than the 7x42 Dialyt's field!) and being sharp practically to the edges, Nikon has achieved what quite a few experts believed to be technically impossible. This binocular is insanely costly and I have sold a major part of my collection to finance its purchase, but now I regard it worth every penny. The 10x50 WX (serial no. 120) is my high performer for astronomy and retires my Meopta Meostar in this function, though it is also fun to use in daylight, particularly while panning over landscapes from elevated viewpoints.

The High Performer II: Meopta 10x50 Meostar

Prior to the purchase of the Nikon WX, the Meostar has been my first choice whenever I wanted maximum performance. It combines a fairly wide field of view (110m/1000m) with a very rugged, compact and moderately lightweight body (1050g). It is impressive under the night sky, with clean and pinpoint star images over about 70% of the field, and its resistance to stray light competes with the best on the market. The view is relaxed, the image pans smoothly and naturally, and the focuser, though comparably slow and stiff, belongs to the most precise ones I have encountered. During a shootout, which I carried out over a couple of weeks, this binocular has outperformed a Leica 10x50 Trinovid BA. Meanwhile, I use it less frequently (and no longer for astronomy), whenever the 10x50 WX seems too heavy or bulky to be taken out.

Retired favorites

High power: The Canon 12x36 IS II

In recent years, the 12x36 Canon has become a reliable companion whenever I prefer a higher power, for example, when sitting at the seashore and looking at ships passing by, when observing the moon, the phases of Venus or Jupiter's moons. The stabilization makes it easy to observe details without suffering the side effects of handshake. Its field of view (87m/1000m) is somewhat narrow, but the binocular is fairly compact and light (700g including batteries) and has a bright and well corrected image. Update April 2015: Meanwhile this binocular is sold.

Astro powerhouse: The Fujinon 10x50 FMT-SX2

My favorite astro-specialist, with 1.4 kg very heavy. Its wide and very well corrected field compensates for the inconvenience of its individual eyepiece focusing. Stars are pinpoint, and its edge sharpness is simply outstanding. During a shootout, I preferred this binocular over the Nikon 12x50 SE because of its larger exit pupil, its wider field of view (115m/1000m) and its superior steadiness during hand-held observations. Lots of optical performance, which requires physical fitness to be fully exploited. Unfortunately, this specialist is rarely used these days because of the poor viewing conditions in and around my hometown. Update Nov. 2018: With the purchase of the Meopta 10x50 Meostar, this binocular had essentially become jobless and meanwhile it is sold.

The extended eye: United Optics 2.3x40 opera glass

The only opera glass I know of, which offers a reasonably wide angle of view (above 20 degs. objective angle). It is a Galilei-type binocular with a correspondingly poor viewing comfort, and its image quality is just moderate. Yet, it is compact and easily carried along to any event which asks for observations at low magnifications. This includes scientific conferences (ppt-presentations with tiny font-sizes!), but also a quick overview over the night sky, under which this little glass covers many star constellations entirely, while boosting the limiting magnitude by almost two Mag. Update April 2015: I have given this opera glass to a friend, a replacement (Vixen SG 2.1x42 ?) may be purchased some day.

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Last modified: November 2018