Enter the ever competitive world of optics. With optics, namely binoculars, the most versatile and important piece of hunting equipment, optic companies dive into research, field testing, and marketing to develop what they feel is the best of the best. This article compares the 6 top optics makers in the business and how a mid to high level 10 x ~50mm binocular stands up to the competition.
Make & Models
We will be taking a look at the Vortex Viper HD, Leica Ultravid HD, Bushnell Trophy Extreme, Swarovski EL 50, Zeiss Conquest HD (10×56) and Leupold BX-2 Tioga HD. All models except the Zeiss are 10×50. The Zeiss did not have an exact 10x50mm. All have great reputations in the hunting industry, but who will be crowned the winner?
When looking strictly at price, the Bushnell Trophy Extreme jumps out as the obvious option. Cheaper isn’t always better, but usually it counts for something. Quality of materials used, design research, and manufacturing cost all go into how something is priced. Now the Swarovski EL 50 is on the other end being priced at $3110 on their website. The history and reputation behind their brand definitely dictates their price, but if you’ve ever used a pair they are as clear as day. In the middle we have the Vortex Viper HD, Zeiss Consquest HD (upper middle price) and the Leupold BX-2 Tioga HD. I tend to be a middle of the pack kind of person as it usually sticks within my budget and I don’t feel like I’m being cheap to sacrifice good quality. I would probably go with the Vortex because of their pioneering lifetime, no questions asked VIP warranty. For that price you can’t beat it.
Field of View and Focus
The field of view is fairly consistent across the board. Vortex has the smallest linear field of view at 278 feet and Leica narrowly beating out Swarovski and Zeiss for the highest field of view at 352 feet. Now a difference of 74 feet out at 1000 yards is probably not going to make the difference on counting the rings on a sheep, but it may help you cover a little bit more ground when glassing an area. This or that, it wouldn’t be a high priority deciding factor for me when I’m looking at a difference of $1,650 for an extra 74 feet of area coverage. If it was a deciding factor I would probably go with the Bushnell Trophy Extreme at 315 feet at 1000 yards for only $170. So if this is a big deal to you, I’d go strictly with the cheaper option in the Bushnell. The close focus category, Vortex took the win on this at 8.2 feet while Leupold posted a 12 foot close focus. This would just give you a little extra dial movement when increasing and decreasing zoom.
Weight of anything, when packing in the mountains or just doing a day trip, is largely important. Glass can be heavy and cumbersome, so saving where you can, can make all the difference. Vortex Viper HD came in the lightest at 28.4 oz (1.77 lbs) and the Zeiss came in a blistering 44.9 oz (2.8 lbs). That’s over a pound of weight difference! For something that small, that’s a big deal. I would stick with the Vortex and bring an extra pound of food. The Leupold came in a close second at 29.2 oz (1.82 lbs).
All models came in as fog proof and waterproof due to their internal gas purging techniques. Although my chart says N/A on a few of them, it was because they didn’t particularly advertise it. But I’m someone you likes those little side charts where it lays out the specifications so I can short read if I’m flipping through. I may not want to read the whole long description. And if I don’t see it in the short chart, I may assume it doesn’t have that feature, which can make or break my decision for purchasing that item. Vortex, Bushnell, and Leupold all clearly stated fog proof and waterproofing.
Nitrogen or Argon?
I spent a good amount of research on what the actual properties of each gas was and what is better for optics. Argon seems to be the better choice as it is heavier than Nitrogen and therefore seals around the o-rings better to prevent leaking. Argon is also more expensive that Nitrogen to use. Bushnell did not clearly state in their description what gas was used to purge the Trophy Extreme model with. Vortex, although cheaper
in price than some others, used Argon over Nitrogen, now the only reason to do that and offer it at a cheaper price would be that they want to deliver the highest quality no matter what. And when it comes to waterproofing and fog proofing, that’s a pretty big deal for me out in the field. Clarity and durability are huge in my books, especially when it comes to those cold and wet October moose hunting mornings. Vortex takes this one hands down.
I know this was wasn’t in my chart, but it takes more than a yes or no to dive into this one. There are so many different types of warranty out there. Plus when it comes to your most used piece of glass out in the field, warranty should hold a big priority when it comes to laying down your hard earned cash. Warranties usually come with a bunch of terms and conditions as with Zeiss, Leupold, and Swarovski. Leica has an interesting 3 year unlimited warranty plan, but then switches to a limited lifetime warranty. Then there’s Vortex and Bushnell that have adopted a lifetime unconditional warranty. But Bushnell only applies it to certain models, where Vortex is across the board. If you look at Vortex’s website, their VIP warranty page is probably the shortest page on their website, not hiding anything from you.
I recently experienced Vortex’s warranty in full effect when a pair of 8×42 binoculars I had at the time could not focus properly in the left lens. After much use and abuse out in the field, climbing mountains, and being dropped in the numerous times, I figured I would be in a for a new pair soon anyways. But with Vortex’s warranty policy, I sent them in knowing at the very least, I wouldn’t be charged for any repairs. I received an email back stating that instead of repairing them, they were sending me a brand new replacement of the same model at no charge. They didn’t even charge me for shipping.
So who’s the best and why? Vortex Optics is my pick. First, is the price. A high quality optic that’s reasonably priced to sell to a large population of people, either just getting into hunting or sight seeing that don’t want to spend mega bucks for great glass, is a huge up sell not to mention repeat and referral customers. Second, is the weight. I know a few ounces isn’t a big deal, but because it’s one of my priorities when hunting, I have to stick with the lightest. Third, is that Vortex uses Argon instead of Nitrogen. This increases durability in waterproofing and fog proofing and less leak probability for a lower cost than the other models, it’s kind of a no brainer. Last, is the warranty. All models, no questions, transferable, repair or replace at no extra cost. I mean come on, I could have chosen Vortex just on this one feature alone, but it beat the other models in other categories so I didn’t have to.
I’m not saying the other models wouldn’t do the job, but when it comes to durability, clarity and warranty for that price, it’s tough to argue.