Well, thats 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.
Vanguard EDT Series Binoculars
EDT Series Binoculars
So what to do? Personally, I probably wouldnt hesitate to purchase some Vanguards. Its 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 shouldnt 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 arrangeat this point, the Vanguard binoculars simply dont 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 dont 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). Theyre 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 theyre excellent.
Check out the new 2007-2008 Winter Outside Buyers Guide, packed with reviews of more than 300 new gear must-haves. Its available on newsstands now.