Gear Guy

EDT Series Binoculars     Photo: courtesy, Vanguard USA

Q:

How much should I expect to pay for good binoculars?

I recently saw an ad for a pair of $450 Vanguard USA binoculars that claim they are as good as Bushnell Elite, which goes for more than $900. The Vanguard’s even have a lifetime warranty. Is this too good to be true? Jim Grosse Pointe, Michigan

A:Well, that’s a good question. The Vanguard (vanguardusa.com) binoculars certainly look good on paper, with BaK4 prisms (the good ones), fully coated optics, O-ring seals, nitrogen-purged and armored, waterproof magnesium body, and more. Suggested retail on the 8X42 and 10X42 models, among the more useful sizes, is under $500. As you note, the Bushnells you covet go for nearly $1,000. The specs are all but identical between the two makes of binocular.

So what to do? Personally, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to purchase some Vanguards. It’s a good-sized, international company, headquartered in China. Just be sure you buy them from a store or Web store that lets you return them. And that shouldn’t be a big deal.

Of course, it would be better if you could try a pair side by side. Then you could really get a sense of the lens sharpness, the feel in your hands, how smooth the focusing rings are, that sort of thing. Binoculars, to me, are tactile objects as well as optical tools. A good pair of binoculars just “feels" right. But that might be difficult to arrange—at this point, the Vanguard binoculars simply don’t have a wide retail or e-tail presence.

As you probably know, Bushnell (bushnell.com) has made a less-expensive version of its Elite binocular line, called the E2. They sell for about half what the Elites do (in the Vanguard range). But they definitely don’t have the stellar specs of the Bushnell Elite or the Vanguard binoculars.

You might also look into a pair of Steiner Predators (steiner-binoculars.com). They’re an excellent, German-made, armored, waterproof binocular. The 8X42 model can be had for $600 at Sierra Trading Post. I have a small pair of Steiners, and they’re excellent.

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