From left to right, Minox HG 8.5x42, Vortex Viper 8x42, Minox BD BR 8.5x42
Minox HG 8.5x43 - On paper, the HG is a worldbeater, featuring a long list of features that seem to guarantee premium optical performance. Things like Aspeherical Len Technology, optics utilizing Schott glass (it's good stuff, Schott is affiliated with Zeiss), MinoBright coatings, magnesium housing, quick close focus and zoom, Argon gas filling, carefully designed ergonomics, and 92% light transmission. The HG features a silver knurled focus knob and diopter adjustment, that provide a handsome contrast to the matte black rubber coating. the HGs weighed 23 ounces and featured twist out eyecups. Looking into the objective lens revealed a rich pink-purple color, reminiscent of IOR riflescopes (also Schott glass optics). The country of origin/manufacture was nowhere to be found. Eye relief was a published 18mm, the field of view (FOV) is a published 6.1 degrees, and the exit pupil is 5.1mm. The focus knob was marked with numbers that corresponded with distance, i.e., whenever you focussed on an object, you should be able to look at the number where it indexes on the bino body and give you a fairly good estimate of distance in yards, a nifty feature. The HG came with a nice nylon case and neck strap. They did not come with objective covers (use Butler Creek flip-ups) and the ocular covers were less than impressive.
- First off, I setup 400 yards from 4x8 foot sign that features both white and black letters, the white letters edged in black and set in red. I use this to test resolution, contrast, color fringing, and color rendition. Here's the sign:
- Next was another sign, an illuminated 4x8 foot kiosk that was white with black 6 inch tall letters, with 4 inch tall blue letters on a white background above it. The distance to this sign was 700 yards. The neat thing is the sign would illuminate at night, maiking it a good point source for light testing, as well as light mangement, when reading the black letters. we are looking at simple resolution under 1 MOA here.
Close-up of sign #2, read at 700 yards.
Arrow indicates Sign #2 at 700 yards, at normal vision.Arrow indicates Sign #2, 700 yards, viewed with 10x optical zoom through digital camera.
- For contrast testing, I also used a piece of box cardboard with 3/8" tall faded blue ink lettering stamped on it, to be read at relatively short distances.
- I used the license plate on my truck, which is white with dark brown letters/numbers, for very low light / darkness testing, to see how far I could get before losing the ability to read them .
- I scanned both very long range (e.g., power lines at 1000+ yards, the side of a mountain a mile away) and very short range (e.g., flowering dandelion heads, bugs, etc at 15 feet) to detect sharpness, depth of field, and tiny details.
- I used these binos to look for game at twilight, and tried to evaluate their ability to pick up white-tailed deer as they came out to feed in the hay fields at night, and whether we could indentify antlers at extreme low light.
- I also used a stop sign at 850 yards to see if I could clearly read the white letters on a red background.
- I tried to resolve barb wire fencing against a forested background at 200 yards, starting at dusk until near dark.
Minox HG - The Minox HG fit well in my hand, and the controls were quite nice. The knurled focus knob moved smoothly, and the fast focus feature (1.25 turns from close to infinity) allowed for quick scanning. Diopter adjustment worked just fine. Holding up the binos to my eyes in broad daylight revealed a pleasing sight picture, with rich color rendition and excellent brightness, without any glare. However, it became apparent that the optics yielded a slight yellow tint, which is something I've seen in other Schott glass optics (older IOR scopes and binos, for example) and I much don't like it for the fact it by definition is a lack of clarity in the glass, which isn't natural. Your mileage may vary, and even though it comes in handy for daytime viewing in bright sunny conditions, I would not select for this if I have my druthers.
Optically, these are well made binos, with some spherical abberation in the extreme upper and lower edges of the FOV, and only the slightest hint of barrel/pincushion distortion at the extreme left and right edges of the FOV. Despite the high grade optics, color fringing is evident at times when viewing Sign #2 at night (purple fringes around the point source of light). However, the HGs exhibited the least amount of "scatter" when viewing point sources of light at night, another indication of optical quality.
While the HG performed well during the day, as the sun fell, it adopted a different persona. While the optics were seemingly the brightest of the bunch (able to empirically pick out objects in near total darkness, as deer would be seen as vague, but detectable chestnut colored lumps in the field), the resolution and contrast were the worst (I couldn't make out which end of the deer was which!). The 0.75 MOA letters of sign #1 were not readable a half hour before darkness, and even the 1.5 MOA letters were difficult to read. Sign #2's top row of letters were never readable, and I struggled mightily to make out the black letters on the white background as the sun fell, and when backlit, they were not readable at all. Surprised by this, I got the same results with the cardboard box test, I had to get closer than the other two to make out the tiny letters clearly. I was so taken aback by this, I dug out a pair of 8x33 HG to compare to see if the 8.5x43 were a lemon. I got the same exact results. The optical prescription for the HGs was consistent, and consistently flawed.
One culprit could be the fast focus mechanism, which might not allow the precision focus needed to wring out the optics, but I'm not so sure. One thing evident is the "rangefinding" feature of the focus knob was worthless to me. Even at short distances, the knob did not correlate well with the distance to the target in focus, just like a mis-numbered parallax knob on a riflescope. Targets 25 yards away showed as 50 yards on the focus knob.
Focus knob or not, however, it doesn't matter what the reason is. Convinced the HGs were going to beat the field handily, I was completely underwhelmed by these $899 binos. While probably OK for casual daytime viewing, they weren't up to snuff when it came down to brass tacks. They lacked the resolution, contrast and clarity to be a capable low light performer, which makes them a bad value in my book!
Vortex Viper - Where the Viper cuts corners is in the glass tolerances, as at the top and bottom of the FOV, curvature of field (COF) is noticeable. Unlike its cousin, spherical abberation, COF is not correctable with the focus knob. However, Vortex has figured out like everyone else that distortion at the top and bottom edges is of little consequence to most field users of binos, and specs a clean, flat FOV from horizontal edge to edge where it's needed. Brightness-wise, the Vipers were excellent but played second fiddle to the Minox HG, but were a notch above the Minox BD BR.
Resolution and contrast were excellent, with minimal chromatic abberation, the best of the bunch, which makes for better sharpness. This is very evident when reading Sign #1. I felt the Vipers had the clearest glass and best resolution of the bunch, and it could handle reading all I could throw at it. One thing I noticed is how the little hairs on bugs and flowers would be so much more visible with the Viper than the other two. The focus knob was a joy to work out, smooth, precise, and excellent fine tuning. The broad depth of field made for a "3-D" effect not often seen with roof prism binos, and the FOV was tops too. Staring at point sources of light at night revealed some scatter, and reading a lit up Sign #2 was more difficult, but doable.
Ergonomically, the Vipers have thumb detents in the rubber housing and feel very comfortable in the hand. These are a very friendly design from a human engineering standpoint. Overall, the Vipers continue to demonstrate they are worth the money and then some.
Minox BD BR - The new kid on the Minox block was a fine performer. It had clearer glass then the HG, and better resolution (focus?) too. Where the BD BR really stood out was it's ability to discern contrast. It was simply the best. It performed best when looking at the blue-ink letters on the cardboard, and the black letters on the white background of sign #2 were a snap at 700 yards, both in daylight, low-light, and no-light (backlit). I found the color rendition to be good, but not quite up to the level of the Viper (bright colors really pop on the Viper, just like they did on the old Minox AST BD BRs). The chromatic abberation it exhibited was the worst of the bunch. There was distortion at the top and bottom edges like the others, and some barrel/pincushion distortion at the extreme right and left edges of the FOV. It also wasn't the brightest glass, as I had to walk up closest to my license plate to see the letters in near darkness, but once I was there, they were readable.
Where the BD BR fell down was in its controls. The focus knob didn't feel as consistent as the others, there appeared to be some backlash in the knob, and the the knob did not appear to be perfectly aligned with the focus shaft (it had a wobble to it). After awhile, the knob developed an audible click when direction of focus was changed. I judged this to be defective and I returned the pair to Minox. The focus knob design is similar to the BD BP porro prism model, and has a vagueness and uneveness that is tactile and recognizable. Not what you expect from $500+ binos.
So there you have it. Let's review and summarize:
Minox HG 8.5x43 - The HG had pleasing design, well constructed precision optics, a laundry list of goodies, and fine controls. However, these binos were unsatisfactory for low light viewing, demonstrating either focus issues and/or poor resolution, lack of clarity (yellowing), and weak contrast. I was surprised as anybody, and the 8x33 I briefly examined had the same characteristics. I won't be recommending these in the future.
Minox BD BR 8.5x42 - Nice contrasty optics, but poor controls and feel, and just OK brightness and low light performance (the objectives reflect too much light, IMO). Ours had a FUBAR focus knob right out of the box. Next, please.
Vortex Viper 8x42 - It's official in my book, the Viper slays the Minox clan and needs new challenges. It's optical trade-offs are acceptable for the increased performance elsewhere. Resolution is excellent, precision of focus is top notch, the ergonomics and controls are first rate, FOV and depth of field are superb, clarity is phenomenal, and it works in all conditions excepting near total darkness. The BD BR may have had better contrast, and the HGs better light transmission (subjective) but the Vipers do everything well and simply work in the field like a bino should. I recommend these without hesitation, and when you consider they are less money than the others, they offer superior value in my book.
However, the Viper's title defense begins quickly, as a big, bad bully of a challenger comes to town. Thy name is Leupold Gold Ring 8x42 HD. The fight is scheduled for Wednesday, July 30. I'll post results on Thursday.
Thanks for stopping by.