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Vanguard’s new flagship binoculars boast high-end extra-low-dispersion glass, plus a host of significant upgrades. We put them to the test to see how well they perform.
Vanguard, based in Whitmore Lake, Michigan, near Detroit, has been designing binoculars, spotting scopes, and other outdoor and hunting accessories since 1986, and the company has established an enviable reputation for delivering high-quality products at attractive prices. Its binoculars are certainly no exception, and the previous Vanguard Endeavor ED series received a number of “Best Value” awards from independent testers. The new ED II series features a number of upgrades, chief among them being the incorporation of premium extra-low-dispersion glass into the optical formula, for enhanced correction of chromatic aberration. The goals were to achieve greater overall sharpness and brilliance in the viewing image, reduce color fringing, and minimize falloff in sharpness and detail at the edges of the field. To find out if Vanguard was able to achieve these goals, we conducted an extensive field test of the new 10x42 ED II in a wide range of lighting conditions, and in typical uses, such as observing birds, wildlife, and sporting events.
The Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10x42 roof prism binoculars bear a close resemblance to their predecessors, but they have a cleaner appearance, since both bridges in the ergonomic open-bridge design are painted black rather than silver. This unifies the overall design and also has the advantage of preventing stray reflections from spooking skittish critters like small birds and animals. As before, the body is clad in a leather-textured, rubber-like material that provides comfort and a secure grip. The underlying magnesium-alloy chassis provides exceptional strength along with a moderate overall weight of 27.2 ounces. As before, the new optics are nitrogen purged, with nitrogen replacing air between the optical elements to prevent fogging and mold formation. They’re claimed to be completely waterproof and shockproof and, after unexpectedly subjecting them to a torrential downpour, I can attest to the veracity of the waterproof and fog-proof claims. While I didn't drop them or smash my review sample into a hard surface, they certainly appear to be ruggedly made and should be able to withstand the occasional impact without any problems. I do like the fact that the front objectives (glass elements) are deeply recessed to prevent physical damage and, although this extends their length to 6.1", they’re certainly not excessively large or unwieldy.
One clever feature carried over from the previous models is the locking eyepiece adjustment system. To adjust the binoculars for your eyesight and compensate for any variation between your eyes, close your right eye, look through the left-hand eyepiece with your left eye, and turn the central focusing wheel to focus sharply on a distant object. Now close your left eye and, as you look through the right-hand eyepiece with your right eye, push the right eyepiece diopter control ring forward to adjust position, turn the textured collar toward the right or left until the image of the object is critically sharp, and then pull the collar back to lock your setting. There’s a graduated scale below the control, too, that lets you reset it to your spec if another user changes the setting. Equally cool is the twist-out adjustable eyepiece that has three click-stopped settings, although as an eyeglasses wearer, I always turned the collar all the way in to view the entire field in a single glance. The rubberized eyecups will not scratch your glasses and the impressively long eye relief spec of 18mm (up from 16.5mm on the previous model) assures that virtually anyone will be able to achieve comfortable viewing of the entire field without vignetting. Incidentally, this unit has a field of view of 340' at 1,000 yards, which is commendably wide for a 10x42 binocular, though down a smidgeon (2' to be exact) compared to the previous model.
Another small but ingenious feature: individual rubber front lens caps that can be left permanently in place or removed at your discretion. When you open them for viewing they hang down, pulled by their own weight―which may not look elegant, but you’ll never lose them this way. There’s also a rear eyepiece cap with an accordion connector that expands and contracts when you change the inter-ocular distance. This cap has eyelets for attaching it to the hefty, very comfortably padded neck strap if you wish, but I found this a bit fiddly and only used the eyepiece cap when storing the unit in its case. Unscrew the round milled cover plate bearing the Vanguard logo between the two front lenses, and you’ll see a nice brass 1/4"-20 thread for mounting the binoculars on a tripod, but you’ll need an optional accessory adapter to accomplish this, and you’d better put that small cover in a safe place!
All the controls on the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10x42 operate with a silky smoothness and well-damped action that are indicative of high-quality mechanical components. These include the inter-ocular distance, which varies from about 60-75mm to accommodate a wide variety of users, and the hefty 1.25" diameter rubber-textured main focusing ring that turns about 270 degrees to cover the entire focusing range—an excellent compromise that allows fast focusing along with precise adjustments. Another upgrade on the ED II is that it can focus on subjects as close as 6.6', a significant improvement from the 8.2' of the previous model. For the record, the ED II uses premium phase-coated BaK-4 high-density barium crown-glass prisms to minimize internal light scatter to yield increased brightness, contrast, and sharper images, and employs Vanguard’s proprietary multicoating on all glass surfaces to enhance light transmission and viewing brightness. Its large (for a 10x42) 4.2mm exit pupil and relatively high twilight factor of 20.49 indicate that this binocular is capable of providing above-average performance in low-light situations, such as viewing at or near twilight, but does not really qualify as a “night glass,” such as a 7x50, which is optimized for that purpose.
Does the real-world performance of the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10x42 live up to its high-tech specs and advanced features? In a word, absolutely! The crispness and brilliance of its viewing image are unsurpassed at this price level, and while the difference between this unit and its predecessor is not staggering, it definitely represents a noticeable improvement. I was particularly impressed with its brightness, clarity, ability to show fine detail and commendable color accuracy in dim light and low-contrast situations; the total lack of color fringing at object edges when viewing brilliant highlights against a darker background; and its ability to show equally fine detail at the center and edges of the viewing field. The close focusing was also a great advantage in examining such things as insects on a tree trunk, and I was able to pick out small dark birds nesting in a tree in late afternoon at a brightness level that seemed to exceed what I could actually see with my naked eyes. Some viewers find 10x too great a magnification to handhold, especially for long periods, without experiencing visible shake due to muscle fatigue, but I had no such problem, and I greatly appreciated the extra magnification when viewing a little league game from the bleachers.
For those who prefer an 8x magnification binocular and a somewhat more compact form factor, take a closer look at the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 8x32 or the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 8x42. Both feature the same high-grade ED glass as the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10x42 featured in this review, similar construction, and comparable performance parameters.