Outdoors / Hands-on Review

How Does Steiner Optic's Newest Binocular Perform? We Found Out!

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Right out of the box, I can tell there’s something… different about these binoculars. Even through the plastic bag in which they’re wrapped for shipping, I can feel the soft armoring and the raised finger ridges that speak to how comfortable they will be to hold. When I pick them up for the first time, there’s a disquieting dissonance in my brain as it tells me that a binocular with large 56mm objective lenses should be heavy and front-loaded, yet they feel light and center-balanced. These are my first impressions of the new Steiner Optics 8x56 ShadowQuest binocular—and I haven’t even taken the caps off yet.

Steiner 8x56 ShadowQuest Binocular

It’s about 30 minutes after sunset when I step onto my back porch. The ShadowQuest is built for the dark and I’m ready to start putting it through its paces. The moderate 8x magnification and large 56mm objective lenses produce an exceptional 7mm exit pupil that completely cover my own pupils when they open and fully dilate in the dark. This allowed me to take full advantage of the ultra-wide 67-degree apparent angle of view without vignetting. The massive objectives also gather the copious amounts of light required for low-light performance, and when those objectives are treated with Steiner’s Diamond Night lens coatings (which uses rare-earth materials to maximize light transmission to greater than 96%), the capabilities of the binocular are further increased.

Raising the binocular to my eyes, I instinctively and awkwardly search for the ubiquitous center focusing wheel, but my fingertips come up empty. That’s when I remember that they have individually focusing eyepieces—what Steiner calls its Sports-Auto-Focusing System. Once each eyepiece is focused, they will remain in focus regardless of where your subject is past its minimum focus distance. Granted, that distance—20 yards (66 feet, 20m)—is a very far close-focus distance for an 8x optic, but it’s the trade-off for setting the focus once and never having to touch the focusing rings ever again.

Nighttime Performance

As I settle in with my perfectly focused optic, I look straight back to my rear fence and look over it into my neighbor’s yard. There are no lights, yet I can see their bench that rings an oak tree and the fence beyond that at better than 100 feet away. After sunset, under the bough of the oak, without any direct light, I can “see” in the dark. I pan up and scan the top of the tree line around my backyard, and clearly pick out the top of a pine tree about a half mile away. I can pick out individual branches against the night sky with the only light coming from the streetlights below and whatever ambient light pollution is around. Hunters looking to pierce a dense canopy in the pre-dawn hours will easily be able to pick out movement and will probably be able to count points.

Iridium Flare

I have an ulterior motive for being out here at this time. My Sky Guide app has recently informed me that there will be an Iridium flare coming up soon. I use the app to determine where it will be and I mentally cross my fingers that the wide field of view will compensate for any errors if I’m a little off from where it will be. Then… it flares into view to my left and I shift to see it. After dinner, I head back outside and the moon—at about 1/4 crescent—has finally come into view over my neighbor’s house. I can clearly make out craters and surface features, as well as the portion of the disk that is in shadow set against the backdrop of space. Viewing the moon this way, for me, was much better than using my telescope, and it was certainly easier and faster. The winged eyecups mold themselves to my face and block the light coming through the window next to me, which not only help me focus my attention better but, more importantly, it blocks light from coming into my eye from the side. This stray light can cause reflection on the eyepiece lens surface, interfering with views and dimming them.

Challenging Light Performance

The next day, I packed my pannier and rode my bike two miles to the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary, in Oyster Bay Cove, New York. The sanctuary, the first Audubon Songbird Sanctuary in the nation, is located next to Youngs Memorial Cemetery, where Theodore Roosevelt is buried. I went there because there is a dense canopy overhead, so I could test the binocular in challenging light, despite it being just around noon. The ShadowQuest easily overcame the troubling light and gave me the ability to make out details clearly within the trees, and pick out flowers and individual leaves right around that minimum focus distance.

Full Daylight Performance

Despite the low-light performance they were built for, I decided to head to the harbor and find out how far I could see. Riding back along Cove Road, I passed the Episcopal church where President Roosevelt’s funeral services were held, and Cove Road turns into East Main Street. I stopped for ice cream across the street from TR’s office, where he worked as President when he was in town, then continued down to TR Memorial Park, and headed to the pier on the west end.

Putting the binocular up to my face, I scanned along West Shore Road and my eyes settled on the Bayville drawbridge, about two miles as the crow flies from where I was standing. I could count the light poles on the bridge. I could see the traffic signal at the end of the bridge and saw that it was green. Following the shoreline into Bayville, I counted the cars in the parking lot at West Harbor Beach (also about two miles across from me) and discerned sedans from SUVs and their colors. I was shocked by the clarity and resolution.

I pulled the binos away from my face and looked farther along the shoreline. I could see across the harbor to Turtle Cove, next to the Center Island Causeway, about 2 ½ miles from me. It was a hazy day, and I only knew that the Long Island Sound was there because I’ve lived most of my life in and around Oyster Bay.

I lifted the binoculars back to my eyes and looked toward Turtle Cove and out to the Sound. The haze partially obscured my vision, so I slowly started to scan the horizon from right to left. Suddenly, a shape popped into view. It was white and large. At first I thought it was a cloud, so I focused my attention on it for several minutes. The edges were too square, the sides too straight. It wasn’t not moving. I put the Steiner’s down and picked up my camera to grab some selfies and other pics, then went back to the white shape. It hadn’t moved. I pulled out my phone and opened a mapping app and determined that I was looking across the Sound to Stamford, Connecticut, 12 miles away. I was blown away. Later, when I consulted a friend who lives in Stamford, we determined that I was most likely seeing a large apartment complex on the waterfront. In the bright daylight, I appreciated the winged eyecups, which blocked the peripheral light and made the views through the eyepieces much sharper and brighter.

My Conclusions

My first thought as I wrapped up my review was one of intense disappointment that I had to give the binocular back. For low-light performance, I’ve rarely seen its equal outside of dedicated astronomical optics, and I chalk that up to the complementary optical coatings, large exit pupil, and objectives. The winged eyecups are a definite plus because they block distracting and interfering peripheral light, help to make views brighter and sharper, and deliver an immersive experience. Even though they were clearly engineered to be optimized for low-light use by hunters and birders, they were exceptional during the day—and would serve boaters well with the exit pupil and wide angle of view, minimizing the disorientation that is common when observing from a deck in rolling seas. For stargazing, I would say that they are best for looking at the moon, spotting satellites or the ISS, and maybe viewing meteor showers, since the relatively low magnification won’t do much to enhance the views of planets or deep-sky objects.

The only “problem” that you might experience when looking at the moon, is that when it’s full, or mostly full, it will probably be too bright to view it comfortably, so I would exercise caution to avoid damaging your eyes. I know—it sounds like a compliment disguised as a criticism, but the ShadowQuest’s superior low-light performance makes hurting your eyes a real danger during a full moon.

Those who want to set them up on a stand or blind will miss the tripod mount, so that’s one of the legit misses, but many (if not most) Steiner binoculars can’t be tripod mounted, so it’s not a real surprise when with the brand, but there are easy workarounds if you really need them on a tripod. It would just require a third-party strap-type adapter. Also, the exceptionally long close focus distance needs to be considered if you like to watch birds or little animals at backyard feeders—the 66-foot distance is pretty accurate, from my experience.

How do you use the ShadowQuest? What have you seen and how far have you looked with them? We’d love to hear your experiences, so comment below and we’ll talk.

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