Olympus Goes Pro with Two New Binoculars, and I Go Birding

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With the fall season upon us and bird migration going full throttle, bird-watchers and their best friends—their binoculars—are out in force. I took this opportunity to try two new pairs from Olympus, the Pro Series 8x42 and 10x42. At these magnifications and with this objective size, each had the potential to become my new best friend.

The Olympus Pro 8x42 and 10x42 Binoculars.
The Olympus Pro 8x42 and 10x42 Binoculars

After unboxing the 10x42, my first impression was of a nice-sized, easy-to-hold optic. It had a good heft—at 24 ounces, it was not too heavy—and the body had just enough texture to ensure it wouldn't slip out of my hands. Holding it to my eyes, next came the most important test for me—the interpupillary adjustment range: Could I bring the eyepieces close enough together to avoid a double image? The answer was a reassuring yes, and I was set to go. Having a narrow face, this has always been an issue when shopping for binoculars.

Center Lawn, Union Square Park: I’ve found Ovenbirds, Common Yellowthroats, even a Black-throated Blue Warbler all in this little patch of bushes beneath the flag pole.
Center Lawn, Union Square Park: I’ve found Ovenbirds, Common Yellowthroats, even a Black-throated Blue Warbler all in this little patch of bushes beneath the flag pole.

I was so excited to try them after receiving them at the job that I grabbed the 10x and dashed out of my office as the clock struck six, hoping to get to Union Square Park—my local patch—in time to catch a warbler or even the Ovenbird I saw a few days earlier. Alas, the sun had already set, and I could barely see the bushes, let alone what was beneath them. I used the opportunity instead to see how the binocular handled the early evening light. I found that I had a clear view and could discern details and colors at a distance. My one issue was with the focus ring, which seemed loose, but I was testing a pre-production pair, so there was bound to be a bug or two, versus the ones being shipped now. On the plus side, I found I could hold the binocular and focus with one hand.

Even after sunset, the 42mm objectives enabled me to pick out the details on this statue.
Even after sunset, the 42mm objectives enabled me to pick out the details on this statue.

Picking out birds up in the treetops or on the horizon is difficult enough; with traits the size of your pinkie—whether it's an eye ring, leg color, or wing bars—clarity, color, and contrast are key. Features you'd expect to see in a birder's binocular are represented here, such as BAK4 prisms, extra-low dispersion (ED) glass, and anti-reflective multi-coatings. The lens coatings are oil- and water repellent, making the binoculars easier to keep clean even if you've managed to put your thumb directly on the lens. They promised a relatively wide field of view, a close-focus distance of just 5'—letting you get right up there when you have a particularly cooperative bird (it does happen!)—and a long eye relief (ideal for those long days looking through the eyepieces). The exit pupil seemed suitable for low-light situations. If you're not familiar with these terms or are shopping for your first binocular, check out our buying guide. As an eyeglass wearer, I didn't need to adjust the diopter or use the twist-up eyecups, but they're there for those who do.

Inwood Hill Park contains the last natural forest in Manhattan.
Inwood Hill Park contains the last natural forest in Manhattan.
The entrance to Inwood Hill Park
The entrance to Inwood Hill Park

The binoculars finally had their day on a weekend bird walk with New York City Audubon. This one took place in Inwood Hill Park—the last natural forest in Manhattan, and a beautiful site I hadn't birded before. I brought both the 10x and 8x to compare them.

A cold, rainy day with poor light; how would the binoculars respond?
A cold, rainy day with poor light; how would the binoculars respond?

Considering the weather, the binoculars were in for quite the workout. The day began with a steady, chilly drizzle that didn't let up until near the end of the walk. The binoculars are waterproof and fog proof, which was a godsend because the only things that fogged up were my eyeglasses. Droplets beaded and came off the lenses with a quick swipe of a lens tissue.

The trees were dark, and the leaves darker.
The trees were dark, and the leaves darker.
Birds can be hiding in plain sight among the branches or under the brush.
Birds can be hiding in plain sight among the branches or under the brush.

Rainy days mean low light and washed-out color. These photos give you an idea of what I was up against. The trees were dark, the leaves darker, and distinguishing birds between raindrops was tough. Once I spotted a bird, I found the 8x—with its wide viewing angle—to be more helpful for initially getting it in my view. The 10x then got me up close to see the important subtle details I needed to make a positive identification. I fell into a pattern where, after I had one in my sight for a bit, I switched to the 10x for a closer look. I don't normally carry two pairs of binoculars with me, so this was a treat. Switching between the two was a bit tricky but, fortunately, the lens caps were tethered to the body and I'd attached the ocular rain guard to the strap, so I didn't have to keep an eye on where I put all the pieces. The nicely padded straps and relatively light weight meant I felt almost no strain on my neck.

The binoculars performed admirably. Their 42mm objectives let in plenty of light compared to a 32mm, and I was pleased with how much color and detail I was able to make out, such as the bright hind patch of the Yellow-rumped "Myrtle" Warbler, or the orange breast of the American Robin. I could differentiate between White- versus Red-breasted Nuthatches and ID a Ruby-crowned Kinglet for its lack of a yellow cap.

Yellow-rumped “Myrtle” Warbler
Yellow-rumped “Myrtle” Warbler
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet

All in all, it was a good birding day. Yellow-rumps, Ruby-crowned kinglets, and Blue Jays were in abundance, with appearances by six other types of warbler, several sparrows, woodpeckers, and a host of other species.  The group tallied 35 species in all, a respectable number.

Birding on a rainy day is challenging, and a good pair of binoculars makes a big difference.
Birding on a rainy day is challenging, and a good pair of binoculars makes a big difference.
The intrepid birder
The Intrepid Birder

The Wrap-up

Given the conditions under which I tested these binoculars, I was very pleased with the results. They felt good in my hand, with a comfortable weight and a non-slip surface. The color, brightness, and clarity compared well with my top-tier 8x32mm pair. Olympus delivered on the wide field of view and long eye relief; I appreciated the viewing angle on both pairs and was very comfortable using these optics. The close focus was a helpful feature for viewing foliage and my houseplants later—unfortunately the birds weren't as cooperative in approaching us. Maybe next time.

As I mentioned earlier, the pre-production version of the focus mechanism was a little fiddly, but once I got used to it, I could take advantage of how easily they handled. And while Olympus didn't specify the interpupillary range as a selling point, it was clear that these will be great for younger birders, who naturally have narrower faces, as well as most adults. The padded neck strap distributed the weight evenly; it's like the one provided with Olympus's OM-D line of cameras. The included case can be attached to your belt, though I found it to be a bit snug. Again, a nice addition are the tethered lens caps and ocular rain guard; keeping them safe couldn't be easier, and you have the option of removing them. These binoculars are also tripod compatible with an optional mount but, based on their design, I'd recommend finding one with a narrow connection.

Choosing between the 8x and 10x would be a challenge. Since I already have an 8x, I might opt for the 10x for the closer views it provides. If you're first starting out, the wider field of view of the 8x will make it easier to pick out birds in the first place. It's important to get your hands on a pair you're looking to buy—personal preference plays a big role in something that will get heavy use—so maybe go on a walk with other birders and ask to try a few with different combinations of magnification and objective lens size until you find one that fits you and your personal preference.

Where do you go birding and what do you hope to see this season? Are there any special birds you've seen? Where'd you see it? Let us know by sharing your thoughts below!

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2 Comments

Thanks for the insightful review. Do you have any experience with the Olympus Magellan 8x42 EXWP's? I was originally going to pull the trigger on those until these were announced. Secondarily, for someone that is semi-shaky, would the 10x42 be too much handheld?

Thanks for your comment, Jeff. I haven’t used the Magellan, but based on the specs I’d direct you toward the Pro. You’ll have a much wider field of view – 394’ versus 331’ – and newer optics, and the minimum focus distance is closer at 4.9’. Olympus has also discontinued the Magellan, which will make it harder to come by.

As for the 10x magnification, I appreciate your concern about being a bit shaky – I also have that issue. If you’re less experienced with holding binoculars then I’d recommend the 8x.

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