Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Binoculars

Eagle Optics Ranger ED
Just before the Midwest Birding Symposium, I had come across an advertisement for the new Eagle Optics Ranger ED's.  Knowing that Ben Lizdas of Eagle Optics would be at the symposium manning their booth, I figured I drop by and test out these new generation Rangers.  Friday afternoon, I got to meet Ben and try 'em out.  These Rangers with ED glass are really cool binoculars.  They are a great quality step up from what I've been used to.  This step up in quality is a great value for the small step up in price.  They are a bit heavier than the SRT's and I found that turning the focus wheel took me just a tiny bit longer than I was accustomed to, but barely worth mentioning here. I tried to work out a trade-in and upgrade deal and maybe a little internet marketing deal, but they don't have a program for that.  Darn!

Saturday morning at the Midwest Birding Symposium found me at Meadowbrook Marsh with a group of eager birdwatchers.  Clay Taylor and Bruce Webb of Swarovski Optik were also there and passed out demo binoculars to any in the group interested in trying them out.  I opted to test out two pairs, EL 8.5x42 Swarovison and the CL Companion 8x30, while at the same time I had my Eagle Optics Ranger SRT 8x42's harnessed to my chest for comparison. 

We started scanning the open marsh and pond in the twilight; perfect conditions to put these binoculars through their paces. A Black-crowned Night Heron was seen perched on a snag across the pond.  I took the opportunity to glass the heron alternating between all three binoculars.  A Swamp Sparrow and a Marsh Wren flitted in the reeds nearby.  Again I switched back and forth between binoculars.  As the sun rose higher and the light conditions improved, we enjoyed a Caspian Tern repeatedly diving and eating fish.  I think I saw the tern catch three fish, each time viewed through a different pair of binoculars.  Wood Ducks and graceful Great Egrets flew over the pond giving us great looks.

The CL Companion 8x30's were exceptional optics.  They surpassed the image quality of my trusty and beloved Eagle Optics Ranger SRT 8x42's in spite of the Ranger's larger objective lens and light gathering potential.  To be honest, I was really bummed out by this observation.  I have been a huge advocate for this particular binocular from Eagle Optics and had proclaimed them to be almost as good as Swarovski and for much less money.  Eagle Optics Ranger SRT's are still dang good binoculars for the budget price a guy like me can afford, but after a side-by-side comparison with Swarovski in the field, I can no longer make the claim that they are almost as good.  Swarovski optics are simply better...much better even!  So if you are ready to make the jump from the $300 optics, the relatively affordable Swarovski CL Companion may be right for you and is now available for purchase thru Eagle Optics for $929. 

By the time we had finished birdwatching from the Meadowbrook Marsh deck, and determined that it was light enough to find us some warblers in the woods, I had decided that I absolutely loved the EL 42 Swarovision and handed back the CL Companion.  The EL 42's with the larger objective lens and higher quality parts were all the more superior to the CL Companion, especially in the low-light conditions.  I pretty much used the EL 42's the rest of the day and racked up seven life birds using them.  Wave after wave of autumn warbler came into the little corner of the woods and I was grinning from ear to ear enjoying everyone of them through the crisp image coming through this amazing glass.  

Now the EL 42's run $2,349 at Eagle Optics, but they are worth saving up for.  Although it pains me to say this, I think these high-end binoculars actually helped me enjoying birding more and even helped me to be a better birder.  I can say this honestly because it happened before when I first upgraded from $50 optics to my beloved Ranger SRT's.  Now I've been spoiled and exposed to a bird viewing pleasure beyond my current means.  While I save up my pennies for high-end optics like Swarovision, I'll just keep on enjoying my Ranger SRT's.


  1. Give the man some Swaros for his review!! --(who knows maybe a Swaro Person wiill see this) :) Great Post--You are right about the Rangers- Great bins for the price! They were my first bins until my new Swaros EL. I recommend the EAgle Optic Rangers to those. Who aren't ready to stretch their budget. Hope it doesn't take you long to save your pennies!

  2. Great review Robert. I have Eagle Optics also but can't tell you what kid. (sorry, my husband researched them and bought them for me!)However, I do love them.

    It'll be a long time before I can afford $2000 optics. Oh well, keep dreaming. I want a spotting scope next!

  3. This is something I would have to do one day. buy a real binocular pair, but as you know we are in a kind aof recession in the world (and particularly in cieland9, so I'll have to find a good deal ;-) Thanks for this nice review thought, it was quite interesting...

  4. why i never look through other's high end stuff, i would itch to get the next step up. amazing what good optics does for birding.

    nice review


  5. @Dawn - I actually went birding with Clay Taylor of Swarovski again yesterday. He says he appreciated this review and that I couched it nicely.

    @Kathie - Eagle Optics Rangers are the perfect binocular for the person who cannot splurge on the high-end optics. I love mine!

    @Chris - You got me thinkin'...is their a resale market for Swarovski's or do people keep them to their death and pass them along in their wills, or more likely are buried with them strapped to their chests.

    @Dan - looking through high-end optics is dangerous like playing with fire. That jump in viewing quality and bird identification from cheap junk binoculars to my Eagle Optics Ranger SRT's was incredbile...and the next big step up is pretty amazing...it'll just have to wait until I can afford it...maybe when the kids are done with college in 20 years. By then, who knows, maybe we won't need the type of binoculars we have now. Perhaps we'll have computer chips in our brains connected to the web (fount of all knowledge) and bird identification will be automated in our brains.

  6. I live with a pretty low income. But Once I looked through swarovski's it was over. I don't regret buying the ELs or the Swaro Spotting scope. Totally worth getting.