Q&A with Ben: Upgrading Your Optics

Ben Lizdas

Posted on December 17 2018

A shopper recently wrote in with questions about upgrading his optics. Ben replied with a robust list of options and considerations, which we thought would be useful for other optics-buying birders as well. Enjoy!

I love your podcast and have never purchased anything from you but thought you would be the guys to go to for new stuff. I have a younger brother that I am trying to get interested in nature and birdwatching specifically. He broke a cheap pair of binoculars I got him. I was thinking of getting him a new pair for Christmas....or I could possibly give him mine and upgrade myself. I have been birding for a couple years and I have a pair of 10x42 Vortex. I don’t know the exact model but they were around $250 I think. They were a gift. From what I have heard, 8x sound like they are a more versatile option. I live in West Virginia, so most of my birding is either at my backyard or in the woods. Not much long raptor or shorebird watching but when I travel I will do that too. I also have a trip to Costa Rica coming up in March. Spending over $1000 for a pair of binoculars sounds a little daunting, so I wanted to get some opinions. I do want a pair that will last me forever, so I would rather buy a great pair now if the price is worth what I’ll be getting, rather than skimp because of price and wish I had spent a little more. I like to travel so weight/size is a consideration but I don’t want to skimp just for those reasons and wish I had something with longer reach or more light-gathering capabilities. I am also a photographer so I do understand what goes into the glass and larger diameter glass and why they are more expensive, but I don’t know as much about the bino side of it. Hopefully, you could give me a couple good options to look at that might be good options for me. Thanks for the help!

Thanks for your inquiry and for checking out our podcast! Was it your 10x42 Vortex that your brother broke? If so, you can get them replaced/repaired under warranty with Vortex. That model, based on the price you mentioned, would be the Vortex Diamondback. It's a nicer entry-level binocular, but one that a lot of birders like yourself eventually upgrade from as you're looking to see more detail easier. First on the size binoculars for you, I would suggest an 8x42. 8x really does everything you need it to and is a more versatile, easier to use power. You'll find the wider field of view will make it easier to find birds with and then follow them while in flight, and the lower power will make for a larger exit pupil, or the shaft of light that exits the binocular and hits your eye. This will mean more light getting to your eyes at dawn and dusk.

Speaking of more light, you can also expect to get a brighter image and better color contrast by upgrading to a model that has better glass and lens coatings. In addition to being brighter and more contrasty, you'll also notice better resolution, particularly at distances, with an upgraded glass. There are two general price points you'll want to choose from. You can get a modest but detectable upgrade with something like the Vortex Viper HD 8x42.This binocular costs under $500 and is one of the nicest binoculars in its class. I wouldn't necessarily consider it a binocular that wouldn't leave you wanting for a bit more performance, however.

The next step up in performance brings you to the entry level of the high-end models, and is where I would suggest you consider shopping. The Zeiss Conquest HD is my favorite in this price range and is the least expensive, German-made binocular on the market.
 
Another option in this price range, that comes in a little lighter weight, is the Vortex Razor HD. It's comparable to the Conquest in many ways, though I find the Conquest to have a bit better edge-to-edge clarity, and the Conquest feels nicer in the hands to me. That's where I'd be going if this were a purchase for myself.

Lastly, if you wanted to go all out and get the ultimate binocular, we've got a great deal going on a demonstration model 8x32 Swarovski EL. I own a pair of these and absolutely love them. It's the binocular equivalent of having your cake and eating it too (pretty expensive cake, though). These will be small, light-weight, and extremely sharp and bright. The demo model was used for an event we hosted and you can expect it to be in brand new condition, with a full warranty still in place. I wouldn't hesitate in the least to recommend saving 15% with the demo model. Imagine a new binocular that's been out of the box for 12 hours and passed around at an indoor trade-show. This would be an example of a binocular that you couldn't really upgrade from as they are the best of the best. These are available as long as supplies last, and once your eyes get used to using a pair of binoculars like this, even something like the Conquest comes across as lacking a bit of performance. Warning with the Swarovski's: Your eyes would be forever spoiled by these optics.

If you have questions about finding the right birding optics to suit your needs, feel free to contact us at 833-262-1568, or at [email protected].

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