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Q:

What Are the Best Compact Binoculars?

I’m looking for new binoculars for hiking and climbing. I want some optical power, but they can't be too big or heavy. What do you suggest?

Steiner Predator Xtreme binoculars

Steiner Predator Xtreme     Photo: Courtesy of Steiner

A:There's no shortage of good compact binoculars on the market, but the tradeoff is this: to make binoculars compact, manufacturers have to reduce the size of the objective lens, which is the piece of glass at the front end. (Objective size is the second number in the common nomenclature for binoculars, for example 8x42, which is an eight-power binocular with a 42-millimeter objective lens.) Smaller objective lenses limit the amount of light that can pass through the binocular, making the image a bit dimmer and reducing the binocular's effectiveness in poor light.

I carry a pair of razor-sharp, easy-to-handle Steiner binoculars. Take a look at their Predator Xtreme model ($199). If you can get past the testosterone-drenched name, they’re a great pair of glasses. Like most compact binoculars, they’re made with roof-prism design, which means they use mirrors to help amplify the image. That makes them more compact than the porro prisms found in larger binoculars, but you sacrifice light sensitivity.

But for your uses, the Predator Xtremes include a useful waterproof design, rubber armor, and a tough, polycarbonate-plastic chassis. Their 10-power magnification is right on the edge of what you can hand-hold without a lot of jiggle. The objective lens is 26mm, not bad for compact glasses.

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