If you have been reading the reviews here at BVD for any length of time, you know that I am a strong advocate for mid-sized binoculars, 8x30-32s, as a primary birding glass. In all most all real-life field birding situations, an exceptional 8x32 will provide all the detail and brightness the human eye can use, and without the burden of weight and the bulk of full-sized glasses. My own birding glass of choice, for several years now, has been the extraordinary 8x32 Nikon Superior E. (Despite the fact that serious birders, when they see me in the field with what looks to them like well worn, miniature porros, will still occasionally ask me something like, “With all the binoculars you test, can’t you get someone to give you a good binocular?”. At which point I hand them the Nikons and say, “Take a look through these.” That shuts them up pretty fast. I love to see the look on their faces when they hand the Superior Es back.)
The only major drawback to the Superior Es is that they are not weather or waterproof. It is next to impossible to effectively seal porro glasses. Then too, in extreme close focus situations, when studying butterflies or particularly cooperative birds at point blank range, roofs do outperform porros, since the overlap of the images from the two barrels is larger and the brain does not have to strain so hard to put the image together.
In mid-sized roofs, for many years now, the undisputed performance leader has been the Leica 8x32. The Leica approaches the resolution and the brightness of the Superior E, and has all the advantages of the roof-prism design: fully waterproof, fog-proof, and duarable—with near ideal handling in the field.
The only serious challenge to the Leicas has been the Swarovski 8x30 SLC, a fine little glass, which is, however just noticeably less sharp and bright. (I actually sometimes prefer the SLCs handling over the Leica, but when I need a weatherproof roof I find that I generally pick up the Leica.)
Then too, there are now several mid-priced mid-sized waterproof roofs out there: the Zeiss Diafun, and several glasses which, apparently, are almost the same binocular produced under several different lables—Pentax, Minox, Bushnell Legend, and Kalhes in particular. (Though the Kalhes appear to have began life as the same glass, their parent company, Swarovski, has, they assure me, shifted production one component at a time to Europe, and redesigned them as the came, until the glass is now made entirely in Austria.) The Pentax 8x32 set an early standard for performance in this group. Aside from a larger than average amount of chromatic aberration (color fringing) which bothers some birders, they show a bright, contrasty, satisfyingly sharp view that, while not the equal of the Leicas, and well off the mark of the Superior Es, is still undoubtedly bird-worthy. I have found the Minox (surprisingly since they appear internally identical to the Pentax) and Zeiss glasses somewhat disappointing. (I have not tested the Austrian incarnation of the Kalhes.) The Bushnell Legends are reviewed in this issue.
Suffice it to say that the best of the glasses in the mid-priced, mid-size group do indeed offer an affordable alternative to those who want the advantages of and 8x32 roof-prism glass.
Of course, over the past few years many 8x42 roofs, and mid-priced ones in particular, have shrunk in both size and weight. There are now several that I would consider carrying as my full time glass, and there are even a few 10x50 roofs that are approaching a real field-worthy weight (see the Glimpse of the Leupold 10x50s). With that in mind, a birder might be better served by a lightweight, compact 8x42 roof than by the current crop of 8x32s. Indeed, apart from the increased chromatic aberration, which is rampant in mid-priced roofs, many of the new 8x42s equal the performance of the 8x32 Leicas in the field.
So what is left to be said and done at the mid-sized roof-prism level? Well, until now, Nikon has been conspicuously absent from the field, perhaps counting on converting potential roof-prism customers to the porro Superior Es. The introduction of the 8x32 and 10x32 Venturer LXs changes all that. The full-sized LXs are among the finest roof-prisms glasses produced. The 8x glass is the current BVD Reference Standard for full-sized binoculars.
So, what are the mid-sized LXs like? Shrink the LX body by about half, keeping the flared top to fit the hands, the screw in, screw out eyecups, the elegant locking diopter ring, and the exceptionally responsive focus control—and then pack in LX quality optics, and you have the 8x32 and 10x32s. Both offer exceptionally bright and sharp views, surpassing the Leica and approaching the Superior E. Most obvious, when compared to the Leica, is the evenness of the illumination across the field. The Leicas have always had a hot spot in the center (or a shadowed ring around the center, which ever way you look at it) that is particularly evident when looking at birds against the sky. The Nikons are clear right out to the edge. The LXs also have much less distortion at the edges of the field than the Leicas. Straight lines (tree trunks, telephone poles, etc.) stay much closer to straight than in the Leicas. Even chromatic aberration is kept to a minimum except at the extreme edges of the field. Both mid-sized LXs offer absolutely stunning color fidelity and all the detail you are ever likely to want.
Particularly noteworthy are the fields-of-view. The 10x has a 6.5 field (341 feet at 1000 yards). That would be a generous field in an 8x glass and, along with the LX’s exceptional handling, makes the 10x a much better choice for day-in-day-out birding than most other 10x glasses on the market.
The 8x32 LX
has a field of 7.8 degrees (409.5 feet at 1000 yards), exceptionally wide for
any glass. It is “picture window” view that could easily become
addictive (The Superior Es match the field of the LXs and that is one of their
major attractions as well.)
All in all, the new Nikon Venturer LX 8x32s clearly set a new standard in mid-sized roof-prism glasses, replacing the Leica 8x32s as the BVD Reference Standard in their class.
The 10x LXs earn a BVD “Product of Special Merit” award. While 10x glasses are not for every birder, those who are attracted to the high power view (and can handle the extra care and fatigue inherent in using high power glasses) will find the LXs to be everything they always dreamed of in a compact birding glass.