For the past 15 years, I had been using a pair of 8×40 porro prism binoculars that were waterproof and had multi-coated lenses. They had been my first step up from the $30 beginner’s pair that had served me well when I was a teenager, before I got serious about travelling around North America to prime birding locations.
That second pair had been ordered over the phone from a well-known internet retailer that carries a variety of brands. I was very pleased with the customer service. The rep had helped me weigh all my priorities, including the fact that I don’t like lugging around heavy bins, and wanted the best possible value for the $200 I had to spend.
Those binoculars have served me very well, but this year I decided to upgrade; I was looking to spend between $500 and $900. During the 2011 Festival of Birds at Point Pelee, we stopped in at the Optics Expo hosted by Pelee Wings. I got to try out the low, medium and high end options on display from Leica, Zeiss, Swarovski, Eagle Optics, Vortex and Kowa. Analysis paralysis! The only conclusion I was able to come to was that I had more homework to do.
Although this review by the ornithologists at Cornell Lab is six years old, it piqued my interest in Nikon’s Monarch series. They touted the Monarch 8×42 as performing as well or better than many binoculars costing twice or three times as much.
While I could have gone back to Pelee Wings to test drive and possibly purchase the Monarchs, I chose not to give them my business due to the way they have handled our inquiries into their wheelchair accessibility–or lack thereof.
At Henry’s I was able to take binoculars out into the parking lot to test them. This was not an ideal setting for comparing them to my old ones, so my eventual purchase of the Nikon Monarch DCF was done almost more on faith in the Cornell Lab’s review and a pinch of gut instinct than on how they performed that day in the parking lot.
This week I took the Monarchs into the field for one evening outing and one morning outing. Wow! I never knew what I was missing. Keep in mind that these binoculars have the same magnification (8) as my old pair. The differences lie primarily in type of prism (I went from porro to roof), 2 additional milimetres of objective lens diameter (light gathering capacity) and quality of lens and coatings.
The folks at Cornell were not kidding when they bragged about the crispness of image and faithful colour. I feel like that day in grade seven when Mom took me for my first pair of eye glasses. Coming out of the optometrist’s office, I had said, “MOM! The trees have LEAVES!”
This morning in the field I found myself remarking, “The squirrels have hairs! That Flicker has two feathers out of alignment on its right wing! I can now see detail and subtle colour shading on the breasts and bellies of birds at great distances. Birding has suddenly become a whole new experience.
The next thing I immediately noticed was how quickly I can go from close focus (2.5 m for the Mourning Cloak butterfly in front of my feet) to distant focus (like a raptor overhead) without sacrificing the ability to fine-tune down to a razor sharp image once I have my target in view. I am not sure how they’ve managed to put both capacities into one product, but they have.
So yes, I highly recommend the Nikon Monarch 8×42 DCFs, especially considering value for dollar. I paid $369.99 CAD at Henry’s in Canada.