Thursday, 23 April 2009

What is your binocular?

Mine used to Leica Trinovid 10 x 42. Its current price in Adorama is $1,395, but if you shop around you can find cheaper offers.

I paid Rs. 65,000 for mine in April, 2002. It was a slightly used one, but I didn't mind that as a brand new Leica Trinovid was beyond my reach. Before this, I had two binoculars—Bresser "Shark" 7 x 24, and Bresser 7 x 50 "Action"—both received as birthday gifts when I was younger. Sadly, both of these didn't stand my abuse under field conditions for long.

So, I found myself in the market for a pair of binocs again.

For much of my early years as a budding bird watcher—I used no optical aids—for reasons beyond my control. A proof for this is this picture taken on 11 May, 1990 on my first trip to Horton Plains National Park. (I am the sweetest one of the lot.)

My first trip to Horton Plains National Park

This highland trip was led by the bloke in shorts—one Kelum Manamendra-Arachchi—who as this picture testifies shows, was at the prime of his youth.

Kelum (ayya) is a celebrated biologist in Sri Lanka now. He has discovered and described countless number of vetebrates new to science from Sri Lanka, and have gone on to author, and co-author papers such as this, this, this, this and this.

By the way, today marks 19 years since my first trip to the Sinharaja rain forest. It was with the school's nature club from 23-25 April, 1990. I will be making a private trip to Sinharaja to celebrate this special anniversary, later this month.

Coming back to binocs, in late February, 2009, I treated myself for a Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42.
Being a top of the range binocs, it came at a big price tag of $1,660.(It was actually $1,825, but I got this special deal thanks to Ben Allen). However, its superior light gathering power—helpful in low-light conditions, increased depth of field and jaw-dropping overall optical quality amply justified the premium price that I paid for this toy.

As a naturalist guide, I often find myself birding in dense and dimly-lit rain forests conditions. I have experienced that the visual clarity of this binoculars is markedly better in dimly-lit conditions compared to my previous model. This was really evident when I trained my new toy on the cryptically-coloured Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush at the Sinharaja rain forest during a recent tour. The light garthering power was just amazing.

In early this month, having arrived early at Haputale to pick up a few bird watchers to start a tour, I found myself birding in their hotel gardens. There, I picked a pair of Tickell's Blue Flycatchers down a ravine. When I focused on one of them, I was simply blown away by the vivid colours that I was seeing. I have seen this bird for many years; however, it has never occured to me before that this bird has such a gorgeous blue patch in the forehead. Perhaps, I may have overlooked this feature before.

According to the specifications, the Swarovski EL binoculars allows a minimum close focusing distance of 8ft, which is ideal for odonatoholics like me. This excellent review says that you can achieve a minimum focus of 7 feet, which I think is probably right although I have never measured it precisely.

If you are an avid bird watcher who is in the market for a pair of binoculars, prefer nothing but the best, and don't mind paying a little more in exchange of quality optical experiences, go for these.

I like this comment mentioned by a reviewer in Amazon:
"Looking through these things is like ingesting some kind of powerful drug. One is transported into a new reality, one in which even mundane objects become endlessly interesting..."

So, what is your binocular?


Dale Forbes said...

all through my teenage years (and early 20s) I used a small 10x25 roof prism that cost 45 rand (about €3). I used them and abused them until there was no more fancy coating paint on their body, and all that was left was dark gouges where they had been dragged up trees and cliffs, and dropped in streams...

as I set off to start my MSc field work, I knew that I needed an upgrade. So I used the money I had been saving to buy my first car and - much to my friends' disgust and surprise - bought my first pair of Swarovskis (a 2nd hand pair of SLC 10x42). I battered and bruised these on three continents including thousands of hours in tropical rainforest and they still work like an absolute dream.

Congrats on your new ELs, I am sure you will have many years of joy with them.
btw, have you tried the snapshot adaptor yet? If not, I have quite a few blog posts on digibinning on my blog (just click on the digibinning tag on the right).

Katie said...

Blimey. Those are short shorts.

I use a pair of 8x42 Leica Ultravids, which I'm very happy with.

Anonymous said...

And here I thought cameras were expensive. I feel sheepish telling you my wife bought my binoculars are WalMart for about $30.00 and they are big and black and work. LOL

Living in such wonderful places, so different from where I have lived, you might enjoy a look at The Hamlet of Gordon, Ohio. It is where I was born and raised and it is how small hamlets used to be and this one still exists.

The Hamlet of Gordon

Kalusudda said...

Happy 19th Sinharaja B'day! and congrats on your new binoculars. Swarovski's are good binoculars! We have an old pair we carry around.

Birdinggirl said...

Hi Amila,

Congrats on your new binoculars- it must be great to have Swarovskis!

I have a pair of Nikon Action 8x40s that I got about a year ago for $74. They're very simple and don't have much of a range, but I was just looking for a cheap pair to get started.

At $1,660 Swarovskis don't see so out of reach though!

Happy birding

Jason Bugay Reyes a.k.a horukuru said...

Hahaha excellent bino my friend and I have tested it too before buying my new pair of Nikon 8x32 HG L recently.

This particular Swarovski 8.5 x 42 would be in my collection too soon hehehe

mboi said...

grats on your new binos. that first paper on frogs is just amazing. are they writing a field guide for sri lankan amphibians yet?

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Dale,
Thanks! Nice to hear from another abuser!

I am pleased to hear that your Swarovski bins are still going great – with all that world travel. I have got my adapters, but have not tried digibining yet. I checked out your blog dedicated about it. Very interesting! I just added you to my blogroll and decided to follow you!

Hi Katie,
It was still early 90s and fashions from the 80s were still going strong!

I have sampled the Lecia Ultravids. I think optically speaking, there’s hardly any difference from Swarovski. The lightness of 8 x 32 must come in handy for you when you are on photographic forays.

Hi Abe,
Birding and photography are such expensive hobbies. Aren’t they? Sounds like your wife is a good moderator!

I had a look at your hamlet blog. It is very interesting. Nice to see those old photographs. It reminded me that I should scan some of my photographs of field trips done in the past. Some of them are in bad shape.

Hi Kalu,
Thanks! Nice to know that you too are a Swarovski user. I’ve sampled those old Swarovski models and they are are pretty amazing.

Hi BirdingGirl,
Thanks! I know the Nikon Action – it is a good one for that price. I sampled Nikon’s flagship EDG range ones, before my purchase. They are SWEET! I know a British birding colleague who sold his Zeiss to get one of them.

I sampled almost all the top of the range binoculars before my purchase. I would like to suggest you do the same as your ‘mileage may vary’.

Hi Horukuru,
I have a friend who has you’re a Nikon HG L. I am very impressed with its super depth of field and overall optics. Glad to know that you too are thinking of Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42. You will not regret!

Hi mboi,
Thanks! Long time no see. Kelum ayya has done 2 field guides to amphibians – in English and Sinhala. The later is recommended as it is the most up-to-date with all the new ones mentioned in the papers linked.

Stuart Price said...

Wow Swarovski bins and that MPE 65 lens, did you win the lottery last year?!?

I have Nikon Monarch binoculars (10x42).......about $350. Not bad but not great.....but then again I don't do much birding in dark forests.....

Actually I mainly use a crappy old compact pair, Minolta 10x25. They fit in my pocket. Most of the time these days I'm carrying my DSLR with a 400mm lens, I don't need TWO things dangling around my neck.....

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Stu,
As a birder + DSLR photographer, I too run into difficulties in having too many things dangling around my neck. As macro work involve ground hugging postures this is of special concern to me.

I have sorted this for myself by doing one at a time. So, when I am birding, I keep the camera well inside the backpack. This is easier said than done as there are too many macro temptations...

GG said...

Hi Amila,

Thanks for checking up, yes I've been busy like crazy..(doesn't mean that it's over yet) working a 12+ hours a day doesn't leave much time for blogging.

Anyway are these binoculars made out of swarowski crystals or something??

Larry said...

My binocular right now is a Swift Ultralite roof 8x42 that sells fro about $250. They are durble, have a close focus of about 6 feet and work pretty well in good lighting.-The binocular you have now are the ones that I've wanted the most- although I tried Zeiss 7x42 and was pretty blown away by them as well.Strangely, the Leicas I've tried haven't done it for me.-They don't fit my eyes as well and I don't like the view as much.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Sasani,
I figured it out. It's all for a good course - so, you are excused.

Hehe...they are not made out of Swarovski crystals! They are just very good and very expensive.

Hi Larry,
I have not come across the one you use now. Close focusing of 6 feet sounds great. I too think Zeiss Victory FL binoculars are superb. I haven't looked through their 7 x 42 but I bet it must be ultra bright and clear. Between last Dec and now I guided 4 world listers 3 of whom had Leica Ultravids. One of them is in the top 10. I wasn't too impressed with their optics myself as well. With the Swarovski EL binocular, it was love at first sight!

oldcrow61 said...

Sounds like Abe Lincoln and I have the same binocs. And I might add, you definitely are the sweetest one of the lot, lol.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi OC,
Thanks! I still very much look the same!

Anonymous said...

Good for you! You have the bins you deserve. I am using Eagle Rangers. I would love to get some Swarovski, but alas the price is too dear.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Bev,
Thank you! I haven't come across Eagle Rangers. I bet they are good. The prices they ask for these top range ones are crazy, but you will have to view it as a long-term investment.

Wai Yien said...

just what I need to know because I am looking to but a bin soon.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Yen,
Yes, go for it - you will not regret it.

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