Do high-priced optics really make much difference in a pair of binoculars? Yes. Great optics create a very bright image within a large viewing area, so that if feels as if you are looking through a magic window rather than squinting through a tiny peephole. Your eyes scan the scope easily, as if there were no glass in front of them — except everything is closer. You can watch longer, in dimmer light, without fatigue, which is what you want for birding, sporting, or boating. If great optics are squeezed into a lightweight waterproof small object you can hold this magic window longer without the shakes. In short, superior optics make distance viewing clearer, easier, weather tolerant and all around better. According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab and Birder’s World, the best buy for high-quality optics birding binoculars are the Nikon Monarchs. The go for about $216 on the street.
These are startlingly bright, wide-eyed, and lightweight (21.5 oz), which has made the Monarchs a best seller. Because they are waterproof and shockproof — with an amazing 25-year warranty — they are also very popular with hunters. They can also focus as close as 8 feet — ideal for dragonfly and butterfly viewing (thus the name Monarch).
If you have not examined binoculars recently they are undergoing a performance curve similar to cameras, getting better and cheaper each year. These $250 binocs would have cost $1,000 only 5 years ago. When friends view these Nikon Monarchs, they go “Wow! It’s like a movie screen!” I’ve found the ease of viewing — sort of like watching a flat screen rather than peering through a tube — encourages me to use them more. I also like the fact they are waterproof so I can use them in the rain and mist without worry. I wear prescription sunglasses and these work perfectly fine with them. They also feel well-balanced in my medium hands. I find I can hold them fairly steady for long periods of time with one hand. None of this was true with my inexpensive binoculars in the past.
The very best binoculars today go for $2,000. But for only $216 (what I paid ), or one tenth the price, you can get a pair of these Nikon Monarch binoculars and get 95% of the same performance. Sure, in a one-to-one comparison, a pair of $2,000 binoculars may be a little better, but they are not 10 times better.
Other new models share many of the same features of these 8×42 Monarchs, including sealed optics, waterproofing, coated glass, and bright viewing, but these others cost a minimum of $500-600. There are certainly cheaper binocs (you can get decent ones for $50) but they suffer from dim views, narrow fields, short lives. The Nikon Monarchs make a fantastic tool: You get most of a thousand-dollar view for a bargain price.