Low light bins

Subject: Low light bins
From: Lloyd Nielsen <>
Date: Wed, 09 Mar 2011 10:32:06 +1000
With over 50 years of birding, I have had a variety of bins during that time. Started with a second hand pair of heavy 16x50s (Pentax) when I left school. The most positive thing one could say about these was that they were better than having no bins! After these were dropped on a concrete floor by a birding mate, I went to 8x30s then later to wide angle 8 x 40s which were a big improvement. At that stage, I could only afford cheap bins but these usually only lasted a few years. Over the years, I tried Bausch & Lomb, Pentax, Swift etc. The Swift were 7x42s but they literally fell to pieces after about 5 years. I was always reluctant to pay the big high prices of Leica, Zeis etc when friends seemed to have to send them back for repairs after 8-10 years of birding and often after not doing as much intensive birding as I was. One of the best pairs I had was a pair of Bushnells (8x40s) with the lever focus which gave much quicker focusing than the wheel on all binocs these days.

About 10 years ago, I purchased a pair of Minox 7x42s - $1500 here in Australia, got them from B&H in the US for less than $1,000 including freight, with tracking all the way, and arriving in less time than it usually takes to get goods from Sydney to Nth Qld. Minox were apparently Austrian made but I think now made in Germany – with a 30 year guarantee. They feel great in your hands and have a very close focus. I am 6 feet tall and can almost focus on my feet. Can’t say anything about service – they are going so well even after heavy use from one end of the continent to the other and in some very difficult situations over that time. I should add that I do look after them well though.

I find these just great. Depth of field is excellent as well, helping to make them easy bins to use. They have been compared with top of the line Swavarozki, Leica etc by friends and others. The difference seems negligible. Also, the loss of magnification between 7x compared to 10x is hardly noticeable and not worth worrying about. One big advantage of these is their light gathering capacity. They are superior in rainforest – you can get a clear, bright view of a bird such as a Fernwren in the very low light on the rainforest floor when you can barely make out the bird with the naked eye. (My understanding is that to calculate light value, you divide the exit lens (42) by magnification (7) which equals 6 and square it giving a final figure of 36. 10x40s gives a light value of 16.)

Something which is rarely mentioned when talking bins for birding is that the higher the magnification the more difficult it gets to locate the bird. As an example, I needed to check bill colour of Fuscous Honeyeaters at the tops of tall eucalypts. I bought a pair of 12x50s (Minox) thinking they might be the answer. However, they were very disappointing partly because the depth of field is so narrow in that model which makes them quite difficult to use – but also because the narrow field of view made it difficult to locate the bird. Also the shake from the high magnification made it even more difficult. All in all, they were horrible, especially for general birding and went into the vehicle as a spare pair. Despite this, and even though the field of view was even smaller, I later bought a pair of image stabilized Canon 15x50s. Being image stabilized, these are brilliant for the purpose of determining the bill colour at those heights but still often difficult to locate the bird. They certainly are not for general birding though – back to my 7x 42s for that.

If I ever have to replace the 7 x 42s, it will be with a similar pair of Minox. I have friends with Minox 10x42s though and they are well satisfied with them.

I have never used a harness though have tried them (wide straps). In our heat up here, they were just uncomfortable. I prefer to sling the binocs over my left shoulder and grab them with my right hand from there – which works much better for me than having them around your neck and banging on your chest as you walk.

Lloyd Nielsen,

Mt Molloy, Nth Qld


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