Looking for nice binoculars - Swarovski, Leica or Zeiss?


December 9, 2003, 12:04 AM
I'm interesting in finding some nice binoculars. I'm thinking about something like 10x50, 10x56, etc.

Can anyone tell me about the differences in these three brands? Also, I saw a pair of Leicas that were something like 10-16x50. Are these zoom versions good?

(A side note: What about Steiners?)

Thanks for any help,

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December 9, 2003, 01:46 AM
Are you going to be carrying these alot? I ask because 50mm binocs are going to be heavy.

In the past I have owned binoculars from Pentax, Bausch & Lomb, and Zeiss. I now own a pair of Swarovski EL 8.5X42's and a pair of Nikon Super E 8X32's. I find that I use the Nikon's more because they are lighter but the Swaro's get used when it might rain.

The Zeiss bino's that I had were the Victories which had horrible ergonomics. I've heard that they've redesigned them and there now called Victory II's.

Zoom binoculars tend to be less sharp than fixed ones.

Of the three brands you listed I'd get the Swarovski's.

Gary H
December 9, 2003, 02:34 AM
I'm not sure what your going to be doing with your binoculars, but some of the birding sites have a good bit of hands on testing/reviewing. I doubt that many of us have had multiple pairs of expensive binocs..

December 9, 2003, 06:44 PM
Wayward's right. My 10X50 Leitz stay at home - always; they're just too heavy to carry. I, too, have Nikon Superior E 8X32, and their view is superior to any roof prism, including the ones you mention. Roof prisms such as you mention will tend to be better than any other roof prisms, sturdy, and waterproof. They will also cost approximately twice the price of the same image quality in porro prism. Porros tend to be somewhat less sturdy and you really can't make them waterproof, but that generally doesn't bother me - the view is so much better than other more expensive glasses. Steiners aren't in the same class as the others you mentioned.

Before last weekend, I would have said I don't hunt in the rain, but that record's shot. :uhoh:

One thing to keep in mind is that "power" has no relationship with "image discrimination." By that I mean that increasing power does not bring an attendant ability to discriminate smaller or farther items. Within the same quality, greater power merely magnifies errors, giving you a larger, fuzzy, image. Also, zoom binocs will tend to be a little darker than the same binoc without zoom. "Image discrimination" is linked rather to "quality."

Additionally, 10X binocs are a real pain to use as well as to carry. I can't use mine standing, since the image wiggles too much. It's a sitting down or porch binoc for me. It's tiring, both to carry and to use.


December 10, 2003, 02:21 PM
Hey something else I actually know about!!! My 2 cents...
This might get long, sorry.
All the mentioned glass is good! That being said 10x50 are heavy! I have some buddies that are profesional guides here in Wyoming and between the guys there are at least 1 or 2 pair of each you've asked about. With the exception of the variable power glass.

Stiener's are decent glass, not in the league with Leica, Swarovski, Ziess, or upper end Bauch and Lomb (which is what I am stuck with) IMHO the European glass being the better of the 4! Brunton's way upper end stuff is as nice as ANY I have looked thru, but won't save you any coin! Good option if you want to buy American!
Now do not get suckered into thinking you need 10x!(not that you have, I do not know what your uses will be so maybe you do?) but, good glass will allow you to see more clearly at distance. I made this mistake and bought 10x42 wish I had gone with 8x42! Normally you can step down 2x to something like 8x32 or 8x42. If you think 10x is really what ya need, odds are you really are to the point you need a spotting scope, anything above 10x is near imposible to hand hold still enough to really use. As you have picked really good glass to start with we will mostly skip over glass quality. Having used all sorts of glasses I must say Japanese glass is good for the money but no where near the quality of European, you will seldom notice the difference unless you look thru the glass all day, like guides do. The headache you suffer from Jap glass on the ride to camp will make you fully aware of the difference in quality, at least it did for me! Next point being exit pupil 8x32 (objective lens in mm divided by magnification power)has an exit pupil of 4mm this really only comes into play earily in the morning and late in the evening. With light gathering the human eye generally has a max opening of 7mm, when we are younger (<30) as we age this size decreases, at least that is what I was told. So going much bigger than a 7mm exit pupil is pointless. So 6x42 would be a perfect blend... but 8x42 is my personal choice if I were to buy again, as I have never had a problem with light gathering in good glass. With glasses as high end as you are talking about, I'll bet the 8.5x42 Swarovski EL would be worth looking at. A good friend bought a set for his Big Horn sheep hunt and said it was the best money he ever spent! It has a 2x eye piece and tripod mount available and he said they were worth their wieght in gold. Quit carring his spotting scope all together. Leica would be next for me then Ziess, its just personal preferance... Ziess made a series called the Classic I think, borrowed a pair of 10x42 (also available in 8x32 or 42) great glasses, I think Cabella's has them marked down. But...Hey you can not go wrong with any of them! Kahles are supposed to be good too, just never used them. My B&L Elite have served me well, but I would upgrade if I lost or broke them. SWFA has a pairof B&L Elite in the Samplelist 10x42, good price. If you have a Cabela's near by they stock them all and will let you play with them.


December 10, 2003, 02:46 PM
I'll have to politely disagree with Mgraff's conclusions that Euro glass is superior to Japanese glass. It's just not so. Any of the Euro stuff you mentioned is good stuff, but it does not approach the image quality in the matter of detail, color saturation, freedom from chromatic and spherical abberation of the top line Nikons. As I mentioned previously, I do agree that a 10X glass is less than optimal.


December 10, 2003, 03:01 PM
Different strokes to move the world Jaywalker... I have never used Nikon other than one riflescope.. so I can't say. The Nikon scope I have is as good as any of my Leupolds except maybe my MK4s, so I guess anything is possible. I can tell you all day behind a pair of "upper end" Pentaxs can drive you to drink...oh wait most things can do that to me:D They were not of the same quality as what I have now! Most of the info I have gathered was the research I did buying my glass, several years ago, things change so maybe Nikon is that good, hope so spending less for the same quality is nice. I rarely see it though. The differnce to me in high end glass was well worth the money spent. On a side note I can not see spending it on a rifle scope however as I only look thru it for a few minutes at a time. Hard to justify the cash out lay over Leuplod for me. Just my experience. If I get a chance I'll take a look at the Nikons, thanks for the info.


Steve Smith
December 10, 2003, 04:15 PM
Ok, I'm not a binoc expert, but I recently got a pair of Steiner 7x50 mil-specs (with the reticle) and I think they look far better than "similar" binocs of that price range. :confused:

December 10, 2003, 04:31 PM
I have :B&L Discoverer(sp?) 7x42's; B&L Elite 12x 50's and Swarovski 8x56.
The ones that get used the most are the 7x 42's. The others are big and/or heavy. The 12x50's are only 2 years old and only get used at the range to pick up small holes. The Swar's are used if I'm travelling by car and are the best of the 3 but darn heavy. A site I found only the week: www.betterviewdesired evaluate bino's for birding and really likes the Nikon Venture LX 8x32. I'd check out the site.


December 10, 2003, 04:58 PM
Steve Smith,

If it works for you, then good. My discussion was centered on the 99.99% binocs, which Steiner aren't. They also don't cost in the 99.99% range, either.

Try this: look at a telephone pole - center it in the FOV. Then move the pole to the outer edge of the FOV. It'll likely appear to curve - that's "spherical abberation," and all "spherically-ground" lenses exhibit this behavior. A basic property of spherically-ground lenses is that the point of focus changes as you move the image away from the center. If focus changes, you must get a slight blur as you move the image, and that's what's happening.

In order to get a "flatter FOV," you need "aspherically-ground" (not circular) lenses - the telephone pole appears straight near the edge. This also has dramatic advantages when hunting. If you scan/pan with spherically-ground lens binocs, the view appears to shift against the background as the image curves as it departs from the center of the FOV. If you're looking for a twitching deer ear, how can you tell the difference between the twitch and the optical curving? I can't, anyway.

In addition to spherical abberation, there's "chromatic abberation," in which different colors are relected/refracted to different points due to their differences in wavelength. "Fully multicoated" or high-tech lenses, e.g., Extreme low Dispersion glass, is necessary to cancel out this "mudddiness" caused by focus differences.

Porro prisms are simply more accurate at a lower price than roof prisms. The roof prisms have the advantage when sturdiness and waterproof-ness are more important. Neither one is "right," it's just what your needs are.


BetterViewDesired is the basic "Consumer Reports" of the birder optics world, and the guy who writes the reviews has a high impact on the future of of production optics. There's years of articles there to learn from.


Edited to correct to the following: "The roof prisms have the advantage when sturdiness and waterproof-ness are more important." I was typing faster than I could think, and had wrongly originally indicated that porro prisms were sturdier and more waterproof. I wish I could edit mistakes out of my life as easily.

December 10, 2003, 05:31 PM
I have used several different inexpensive brands and then finally decided to treat myself. Ended up looking thru every pair at Galyans, and concluded that the Nikon travellites were as good as it gets.

If you're looking for a deal on Steiners (or some other brands), check out www.sierratradingpost.com

Good luck!


December 11, 2003, 01:05 AM
I had a pair of Steiner Military Marine 8X30s, which was very clear and the auto focus system was very neat. I foolishly sold that pair off, and am now looking to buy some new glass. I am now looking at the Zeiss Victory compact line. BetterViewDesired gave this pair good praise in their review of compact binoculars. Has anyone delt with
www.hotbuysbinoculars.com? Check out the prices on the Zeiss binoculars! $320 for the Victory Compact 10x25 is lowest I have seen.

December 12, 2003, 08:25 PM
Your best bet is find a store that sells all three and compare side by side. I did this several years ago and went with the Swarovski. Outstanding glass and light for it's size.

December 13, 2003, 02:30 AM
Thanks for all the help. I went by Galyans and looked at some Swarovskis:

- 8x32 EL
- 10x42 EL
- 10x42 SLC

The ELs were definitely lighter than the SLCs and I thought they seemed to have just a hair more "pop" to the image. Could have been my imagination, though. They were a LOT more expensive than the SLCs, though.

When looking through the 10x42s, the image danced around a little more than the 8x32s. The 8x32s seemed like a more "pleasant" view to me, because of the steadier image.

Just wondering, though. Is 8x powerful enough for hunting? I already have some 7x Nikons and was really wanting something with more power. I also like that 2x magnifier option. That would really be good on the 10x.

Do you think the 8x32s would have sufficient light-transfer in dimmer lighting? Of course, it's a 4mm exit pupil vs. the 4.2mm of the 10x42s.

Thanks again,

December 13, 2003, 08:14 AM

The ELs are one generation newer than the SLCs, so I believe your observation is accurate. Also, the ELs are color-true, rather than towards the orange, which was a Euro-designer's attempt to use the range of light that pentrates fog better - think yellow fog lights on a car. Yes, they're more expensive than almost anything else. You might want to read the reviews referenced above at BVD - they've tested them and found them to be excellent binocs, but not best-in-class.

Yes, 10X is difficult to use standing - it's what I referred to as the "wiggle" factor. If you want more power and are willing to put up with the wiggle, and are willing to carry the weight, then by all means, buy the more powerful ones. If I were buying 10X, though, I'd definitely opt for 50mm objective lenses; with the same objective lens size, more power merely magnifies the errors so that you get a large fuzzy image. The objective lens size is not merely an "exit pupil" issue; the larger lens intercepts more arc, and therefore more detail available to be magnified, than a smaller lens within the same price class. (A larger, cheaper lens would not be a good idea.)

I have always found 6 - 8X to be ideal for hunting, but that's your call. High quality 6 - 8X binocs are a different world than cheaper models of the same power.

Bino makers do the public a disservice when they market these "2X extenders" as a benefit. Magnification does not equate to "detail resolution" - "quality" does.

As a contrarian, I believe we care entirely too much about "twilight performance." I can see a deer in legal shooting light with any of my binocs or scopes, and indeed with my bare eyes. Under really extreme conditions, light-gathering could be important. Maybe this scenario - under a triple-canopy rain forest, hunting black bear, at sundown plus 29 minutes - I might care about light-gathering. The question in my mind is whether I would have the binocs right then, or whether I would have left them back in camp because they were too clumsy to carry. Again, my opinion only.

Edited to say: redbone, FWIW, I agree that the Nikon Travelite is a great binoc for the money. It uses the "aspherical lenses" I mentioned somewhere above to make a very accurate image at a low price. It's what I'd buy if I were in the market for a $100 binoc.


December 13, 2003, 11:03 AM

Good points. Thanks for the info. Yep, the 10x definitely jittered a little more. The 8x did too, but not as much. (Of course, I had just had a lot of caffiene...)

I agree on the 10x50 point. The only thing is, Swarovski doesn't make the EL in 10x50 (it would probably be 2 grand, if they did). You can only get them in the SLC and they would be pretty heavy.

Do most hunters just use 8x? (That just didn't seem like such a big jump from my Nikon 7x.)

Thanks again,

Brass Balls
December 13, 2003, 12:48 PM
At a good outdoor store I was able to compare the following brands back to back. Swarovski, Kahles, Steiner, Leica, Zeiss. The Swarovski EL was the brightest best resolution of the bunch by a slim margin imo. Of course they cost the most too.

Buying high end binoculars are kinda like buying high end 1911s. At the midrange each incremental increase in quality cost X amount of dollars but at the higher end each incremental increase in quality cost like X times 2 or 5. Generally you get what you pay for but you can't factually make the case that a $1200 binocular is twice as good as a $600 binocular. It will be better but it might only be like 20% better.

What did I end up buying? A pair of Pentax's new 10x43 DCF SP (http://www.pentaxusa.com/products/binoculars/bino_overview.cfm?productID=62616) for $410. They come very highly rated and after using them for 2 seperate week long elk hunting trips I'm very pleased with them.

Brass Balls
December 13, 2003, 01:04 PM
One more thought. Personally I like 10 power for dedicated glassing as from a high vantage point. If I'm sitting I use my knees to steady the glass for long periods of viewing. Another product that helps tremendously, particularly from a standing postion are these:

clic pic
http://birdwatchersdigest.com/shopsite_sc/store/html/media/bino_slide.jpg (http://www.crookedhorn.com/indexbino.htm)

They are now available at Wal-Mart for $15

December 13, 2003, 02:14 PM
Brass Balls,

The Pentax binos that preceeded yours, the Pentax 8X42 WP were of such quality that it took me some time to decide that my Nikon 8X32 Superior E were better for my needs. I haven't seen their replacement, the 8X43 DCF SPs, yet, but if they're an improvement, they should be a killer set. The replacement is lighter and has aspherically-ground lenses to improve the flatness of the image. They'd be the first set I'd look at.

Also, I would agree in general that each marginal increase in quality costs disproportionately more, but I'd submit that that holds only for a given engineering design. Roof prisms, say, improving lens coatings. Ashperical lenses can be a cost reducer, if it reduces by some amount the coatings necessary.

Further, radical change of design can offer marked improvements for less money than incremental improvements in a theoretical base design. Of course, that opens up a whole new set of advantages and disadvantages instead of incremental changes in them, too. I have in mind here the old porro prism technology as an improvement over the roof prism. An excellent set of porros will present a better image than an excellent set of roofs at a cheaper price, so incremental improvement actually is cheaper. That's assuming "improvements" refers only to the image presented, and doesn't include sturdiness and waterproof-ness, which is a general design deficiency in porros.

In case it isn't immediately apparent, I'm in violent agreement. :D

Edited to say: SteveW13, I'm not in a position to know what power most hunters need or use, but most of the ones I know use 8X. These people all know me, however, and as I do have an opinion about it, I may have had an influence on them...


Brass Balls
December 13, 2003, 09:15 PM
By Jaywalker
I have in mind here the old porro prism technology as an improvement over the roof prism. An excellent set of porros will present a better image than an excellent set of roofs at a cheaper price, so incremental improvement actually is cheaper. That's assuming "improvements" refers only to the image presented, and doesn't include sturdiness and waterproof-ness, which is a general design deficiency in porros.

Excellent points, Jaywalker. I'm glad you understood the underlying idea I was trying to present, I feared the numbers would confuse rather than clarify.

I do prefer the compactness and lighter weight of the roof prisms for hunting that requires lots of hiking and glassing. I don't know from experience but have read that roofs are more fragile in comparison to the older porro prism design. No doubt the lower price of the porros often makes them the better choice for rough conditions or a backup pair of binoculars to leave in a vehicle or boat.

On the new Pentax binoculars the only other glass that I've been able to compare them to side by side to date are a pair of Steiner 8x42 Predators. While the Predators are really nice units I do give a slight edge to the Pentaxs for resolution and low light resolution. I was actually pleasantly surprised about the low light resolution because I expected the outcome to different given that the Steiner's are an 8x42 with a larger exit pupil.

Campusninja I have dealt with Hotbuysbinoculars.com and while I didn't get a warm toasty feeling in dealing with them the transaction went well and their prices are very competitive.

Bob I agree with you about www.betterviewdesired.com that's a very informative website for reviews on different optics and to learn more about general optical principles and information.

December 13, 2003, 10:30 PM
Brass Balls,

Most observers believe roofs are more sturdy than porros. I suspect it's the lens attachment methods - in a roof, each barrel is clumped together. In a porro, they're separate, and therefore can't support each other.

Also, I believe you'll find "exit pupil" an outdated explanation for brightness. The more accurate the color presented in the image, the more the eye's rods can be used to discrtiminate fine detail. So brightness is likely a function of coatings and accurate lens/prism focus, which is itself enhanced with the aspherical lenses. I said they were magic.


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