Compact Binoculars

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Woe to those who haven’t been awed by the impact of peering through a good binocular. And double-woe to those who aren’t aware of the fact a good—make that a terrific binocular—need not set you back a king’s ransom. In the case of a compact binocular, woe to those who don’t realize a good binocular needn’t weigh a ton, or feel like a ball and chain if carried all day.

The big challenge in taking a good product design, in this case full-size binoculars, and downsizing it is making sure the attributes that made the full-size product noteworthy in the first place aren’t lost in translation. In the case of compact binoculars, the primary challenge is minimizing loss of light transmission, which is inevitable once you start reducing the size of the lens opening, or as it’s called in binocular parlance, the objective lens. In a nutshell, the smaller the opening, the dimmer the image will appear to your eye. Although a good compact binocular should equal the performance levels of a standard-sized binocular under bright lighting conditions, once the sun starts setting it gets progressively easier to note the shortcomings of some (but not all) of the bargain-basement models.

The degree of tolerances required to maintain proper alignment of the focusing, optical and mechanical components that comprise every pair of binoculars is also part of the equation. The smaller the components, the more precision you need every step of the way to make sure each and every part of the puzzle fits just so.

Other factors that go into determining how much a binocular will make you go “Oooooh" include the quality of the glass (and the manner in which it’s manufactured), the number of aspheric lens surfaces and lens elements the glasses have (or don’t have) and the nature of the lens coatings used on both the individual elements and prisms, each of which impacts the color fidelity, color saturation and contrast levels of the viewed image. The smaller the binocular, the more critical each of these variables becomes.

Lastly, it would be a disservice to not make mention of the aesthetic and tactile attributes that many of these jewel-like devices possess. The following is a roundup of some of the better-selling compact binoculars we carry at B&H.

With few exceptions, most of the binoculars in this product roundup are of the 8x20 and 10x25 varieties, which depending on the make and model, feature objective angles of view of approximately 6.5° and 5.0°, respectively. Depending on how steady you are and whether or not you will be using your binocular on terra firma or from a moving car, boat or other non-stable platform, binoculars 10x and above may not be manageable without having to rely on a tripod, monopod or other stabilizing device. When you think about it, this essentially negates the reason for purchasing pocket-sized binoculars in the first place.

It should also be noted that none of the binoculars mentioned in this roundup has provisions for mounting on a tripod, monopod or other stabilizing device.

Leica Ultravid, Trinovid and Silverline Binoculars

Leica compact binoculars are available in three separate lines: Ultravids, Trinovids and Silverlines, each of which weighs in at between eight and nine ounces and features P40 multicoated roof prisms, double-hinge design, internal focusing with central focus control knobs, six HDC-coated elements per ocular, +/-3.5 diopter adjustment, 32 to 74mm of interpupillary adjustment and weatherproof aluminum housings.

Available in both 20x and 25x configurations, the newest compact binoculars from Leica are its Ultravid-series binoculars. Manufactured in the European Union, Leica Ultravids exhibit high levels of brightness for their class and are dual hinged, making them smaller when folded up. They’re also water- and fogproof and according to Leica, are manufactured to Leica’s toughest binocular-manufacturing standards to date.

Optically speaking, new Leica Ultravids  feature aspheric surfaces that greatly reduce color fringing and further improve edge sharpness. In addition to faithful rendition of color and contrast, other noteworthy features found on Leica Ultravids include close-for-their-class internal focusing distances, P40 and HighLux-System HLS phase-coated roof prisms and generous eye relief for all of the eyeglass wearers among us.

Depending on one’s personal tastes, Ultravids are available covered in a choice of black rubber (BR) or black leather (BL). Those with more demanding needs should consider Leica rubber-armored BR series binoculars, which undergo a vulcanization process that in addition to making the rubber armor all but inseparable from the Ultravid’s aluminum housing, renders the binoculars waterproof down to 16.5’ (5 m). The rubber coatings also make BCR Ultravids more ding proof than their leather-clad BCL counterparts.

Leica compact Ultravid-series binoculars are available in a choice of 8x20 magnifications (Leica Ultravid 8x20 BCR Compact -Black Rubber and Leica Ultravid 8x20 BCL Compact -Black Leather) and 10x25 magnifications (Leica Ultravid 10x25 - Black Rubber and Leica Ultravid 10x25 BCL (Black Leather).

Splash proof though not waterproof, Leica compact BCA Trinovid series binoculars are priced lower than Leica’s compact Ultravids, making them ideal for beginners and anyone seeking Leica quality on a tighter budget. Leica’s compact Trinovids, which are available in 8x20 and 10x25 magnification levels, feature a pocket friendly dual-hinge design, HDC multi-coating for optimized edge-to-edge color and contrast levels, with little, if any, color fringing.

Leica compact BCA Trinovid series binoculars are available in two strengths: the Leica 8x20 BCA Trinovid andLeica 10x25 BCA Trinovid, both of which are finished in black with black leather trim.

Leica top-of-the-line compact binoculars are its Silverline Compacts. Finished in brushed chrome with black leather trim, Leica Silverline Compacts, which are available in 8 x 20 and 10 x 25 configurations, feature a dual hinge, roof-prism design with a centrally located focusing wheel that folds down tightly for easy pocketability. A key reason the optical quality of these glasses really shines is the binoculars' HDC multi-coatings, which are designed to suppress stray light, which in turn helps deliver optimal contrast levels, color saturation and true-to-life color fidelity.

Other top-shelf attributes integral to Leica compact Silverline binoculars include being waterproof (down to 16.5’ / 5 m) and fogproof, with wide fields of view, impressively sharp edge detail, and as Leica describes it, “particularly friendly eyepieces,” which should appeal to the eyeglass wearers among us. 

Carl Zeiss Compact Victory and Compact Conquest Binoculars

Carl Zeiss, another fabled manufacturer of quality optics, offers two lines of T*-coated compact binoculars: Zeiss Conquest Compacts and Zeiss Victory Compacts. Zeiss Compact Conquest binoculars—the less pricey of the two—are Schmidt-Pechan-style roof prism binoculars that not only fold up tightly, but are among the few "ambidextrous" binoculars on the market, in their ability to be easily used by right- or left-handed users by simply flipping them over to peer through the adjacent eyepieces.

Available in both 8x20 and 10x25 strengths, Zeiss Conquest Compacts are robust compact glasses that feature Schmidt-Pechan with phase correction prism coatings and Zeiss T*-coated lens elements for optimal light transmission and uncompromised color and contrast levels.

Zeiss Conquest Compacts also feature a unique Z-fold design that enables you to fold the binoculars noticeably smaller than comparably sized binoculars; individual diopter adjustments for each eye; and adjustable rubber eyecups that enable full field image viewing, even when wearing eyeglasses. Though not waterproof, Zeiss Conquest Compacts are water resistant and sealed against dust and moisture.

Zeiss premium compact binoculars are its Zeiss Victory Compacts. Available in a choice of 8x20 or 10x25, Zeiss Victory Compact binoculars contain a new 5-element optical design that’s complemented by compact Schmidt-Pechan phase-correction-coated prisms and a dielectric mirror for optimal detail and light-transmission qualities. Also unique is the asymmetrical bridge design of the binoculars and its fiberglass-reinforced polyamide housing. Although the asymmetrical bridge design of the Victory Compacts does not fold up as compactly as Zeiss Conquest binoculars, their single-hinge design is quicker and easier to set up and use than double-hinged binoculars.

Another advantage of the Victory Compact’s asymmetrical bridge design is that it encourages the use of different muscle groups depending on whether you’re focusing with your left or right hand, which can reduce the risk of cramping when using the glasses over longer stretches of time.

In addition to close focusing and protective rubber armoring, Zeiss Victory Compacts feature individual diopter adjustments for each eye and sliding/lockable eyecups that are equally suited for use with or without eyeglasses. Zeiss Victory Compacts are also waterproof down to approximately 13’ (4 m), nitrogen-filled to eliminate internal fogging and have a working temperature range of -4° to 104°F (- 20° to +40° C).

Nikon EDG, Trailblazer, ProStaff, Travelite and Premier Compact Binoculars

When a company offers a choice of four styles of compact binoculars, it’s safe to say its design and marketing teams understand the needs of their customer base and want to keep everybody happy. Nikon is that type of company, and its binoculars are dollar-for-dollar (or dinar-for-dinar, euro-for-euro, etc) among the finest.

Nikon EDG-series compact binoculars are among its finest. Starting with a clean overall design and manufactured from rubber armored magnesium-alloy components, the Nikon EDG series binoculars feature a flat-field lens design that delivers crisper edge-to-edge image sharpness. For controlling chromatic aberrations and optimizing color and contrast levels, Nikon EDG-series binoculars make use of ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements, which are complemented by dielectric high-reflective multilayer prism coatings and phase correction coatings that together deliver sharp, true-to-life imagery even in low light.

Nikon EDG-series compact binoculars, in 7x428x328x42 and 10x32 strengths, feature a push-pull style focus and diopter adjustment dial, turn-and-slide adjustable eyeglass-friendly eyecups and waterproof (up to 16.4’ / 5 m for 10 minutes), fog-proof (nitrogen-filledwith O-rings all around) construction.

They may not be the smallest in their category, but Nikon Travelite VI series binoculars (8x2510x25 and 12x25) offer lots of bang for the buck. Beefy in design and constructed from rubber coated carbon fiber housing components, Nikon Travelite VI binoculars feature multicoated, lead-free Eco-glass lens elements with aspheric surfaces, click-stop diopter adjustment and an easy-to-grip form factor.

Similar in design, but waterproof down to 6.6’ (2 m) for up to five minutes are Nikon ProStaff ATB series binoculars, which share almost all of the design and performance attributes as Nikon Travelite VI binoculars  in 8x25, 10x25 and 12x25 magnification factors. The rounded, ergonomic form factor of Nikon ProStaff binoculars make them especially popular among ham-handed users who might have difficulty handling and operating slimmer-profile binoculars.

Also fog- and waterproof, but notably sleeker in design, are Nikon 8x25 Trailblazer ATBs, which with an 8.2-degree angle of view make them ideal for sporting events or for observing the chord phrasings of your favorite guitar player in concert, from the mezzanine seats. Nikon 8x25 Trailblazer ATBs feature turn-and-slide eyecups, a center focusing wheel, nitrogen-filled housings, Eco-glass optics and a minimum focusing distance of a bit more than 8’ (2.5 m). For more powerful magnification, Nikon also offers the Nikon 10x25 Trailblazer ATB, which has a slightly narrower (6.5°) angle of view than its lower-magnification compeer.

Nikon Trailblazer Nikon Premier LX "L" Series

Lastly from Nikon we have the Nikon Premier LX “L” series binoculars, which are available in 8x20 and 10x25 power. Fully water- and fog-proof, Nikon Premier binoculars feature phase correction, silver-coated roof prisms, a central focus wheel, an excellent measure of eye relief for eyeglass wearers and a lightweight, ergonomically designed form factor.

In addition to their great dollar value, Nikon sport optics are covered by a lifetime, no-fault guarantee against anything and everything that can possibly compromise the physical or optical qualities of your investment.

Swarovski Pocket Travelers, B TYROL and Companion Binoculars

Swarovski, an Austrian company known worldwide for its elegantly designed crystal, spotting scopes and binoculars, offers a trio of compact binoculars, each of which is notably special both for design as well as functionality.

Swarovski Pocket Travelers, which are available in a choice of  8x20 and 10x25, are fully dust-, fog- and waterproof. Swarovski Pocket Travelers (black with tan trim) feature a double-hinged design that allows the glasses to be folded extra tightly for easy stowage, and they have individually adjustable diopters with removable, twist-in eyecups that facilitate unimpeded viewing even when you're wearing eyeglasses. For optimized light and image transmission, Swarovski Pocket Travelers feature bright roof prisms and multi-coatings on each of the 16 lens elements per ocular.

For those who appreciate an added touch of elegance, Swarovski also offers the Swarovski 8x20 B TYROL, which in addition to the attributes mentioned above also features soft Italian calf leather trim with a matching leather pouch that like a pair of quality driving gloves, will undoubtedly get even better looking and comfier with time and use.

A bit higher in magnification are Swarovski CL Companion binocular, which is available in 8x30 and 10x30 magnification ratios and in a choice of blackgreen and tan. Featuring a phase-corrected (P-coated) roof prism with Swarobright, Swarodur and Swarotop coated lens elements, Swarovski CL Companions are ergonomically designed with a slender bridge, thumb depressions on the underbelly for a more secure grip, and a non-slip focusing knob. Swarovski CL Companions focus down to 9.8’ (3 m), are waterproof down to 13’ (4 m) and are nitrogen-filled to keep the internal lens elements from fogging. As an extra measure of protection and grip-ability, Swarovski CL Companions are coated in a non slip, shock-absorbing rubber armor.

As icing on the cake, all Swarovski binoculars come with a limited lifetime warranty.

Vortex Viper Binoculars

Vortex is one of the newer kids on the block in the world of sport optics and its compact offerings—the Vortex Viper 8x28Vortex Viper 10x28 and Vortex Viper R/T Tactical 8x28—are also well worth investigating if a good, rugged compact binocular is on your got-to-get-it list.

The Vortex Viper 8x28 and 10x28 both feature extra-low dispersion (XD) glass elements that are coated with Vortex’s priority XR anti-reflective coatings on all air-to-glass surfaces for maximum light transmission and true color fidelity and contrast levels. The Viper’s phase-corrected roof prisms are similarly coated with dielectric prism coatings for maximized viewing clarity and a center focus wheel and adjustable eyecups make for easy, hassle-free viewing, regardless of whether or not you wear eyeglasses.

Vortex Vipers are also waterproof, thoroughly sealed against the elements, and fog proof thanks to Argon-gas-filled lens chambers. For a secure, non-slip grip, Vortex Vipers are coated in rubber armor.

Hunters and law enforcement agents in particular will be interested in the Vortex Viper R/T Tactical 8x28, a compact binocular that in addition to all of the attributes found on the simpler Vortex Viper 8x28, features a ranging reticle containing four silhouettes that serve as secondary ranging aids. You'll also find scratch-resistant Armor Tek coatings on the surfaces of all external lens elements to protect the surfaces from scratches, oily residues and dirt.

As a sign of the company’s trust in the integrity of their products, Vortex binoculars are covered by a fully-transferable, lifetime VIP warranty that covers your glasses from everything except loss, theft and deliberate damage.

Steiner Predator Xtreme and Safari Pro Binoculars

Steiner offers two lines of compact binoculars in a choice of magnification factors. Steiner Predator Xtremes, which are compact roof prism style binoculars, are available in a choice of 8x22 and 10x26 magnification ratios.

Rugged in both looks and construction, the Steiner Predator Xtreme 8x22 and Predator Xtreme 10x26 are unique in that they feature tinted lens coatings that block a select slice of the green/blue portion of the visual spectrum (approximately 530 nm), which makes it easier to spot the red and earth-tone colorations common to most wildlife, especially when they’re hiding in the bush. The Dynamic Coating Technologies used on Steiner Predators also optimize contrast and color to levels at which our eyes are most sensitive.  And yes, Steiner’s Predator Xtremes are also quite suitable for non-hunting and spotting needs.

Steiner Predator Xtreme Steiner Safari Pro

Ruggedly designed for bright outdoor usage, Steiner 8x22 Safari Pro and Steiner 10x26 Safari Pro are built around a tough, impact-resistant fiber reinforced polycarbonate chassis, which is encased in a tough outer armor.

Featuring BAK-4 optics, the glass used in Steiner Safari Pros are coated to block 100% of all UV-A and UV-B light, making them ideal for use near water, in higher altitudes and other UV-heavy environs. To block stray light from entering the sides of the oculars, Safari Pros feature soft-edged winged eyecups.

All Safari Pros are weather and shock resistant and are backed by a 10-year limited warranty.

Pentax Binoculars

No roundup of compact binoculars would be complete without mentioning the Pentax 8x21 UCF R binocular, which features a BAK-4 porro prism, central focusing, super multicoated optics, rubber armoring and dual-axis eye distance adjustment control.

What makes Pentax 8 x 21 UCF R especially enticing is that in spite of its entry level price tag, what you get for your money is a very compact, very bright and very sharp pair of binoculars that you don’t have to think twice about carrying all day. And in this day and age, that’s quite noteworthy.