As hunters we all want to be successful. We spend countless hours thinking about strategy, shooting techniques, ways to maximize our time spent in the hills, etc. But how much thought do you put into your gear choices, particularly your optics?
The primary purpose for hunting optics is to magnify what you’re looking at, but not all optics are created equal. This topic often leaves people asking, “why should I invest in better glass?” Simply put, if you’ve never looked through a set of premium optics, you don’t know what you’re missing. There’s just no alternative to the benefits from a great set of glass.So what makes the best optics? Overall, high quality optics yield high performance from end-to-end and excel across the board - not just in one or two components. In other words, there isn’t just one part of the optic that is more important than the other. Excellent performance is a result of a quality ocular lens, which is in turn aided by a quality prism assembly, which is further assisted by a quality objective lens. While some mediocre optics may excel at one piece of the puzzle, their overall performance will suffer. This manifests itself as a less clear, softer image, that doesn’t perform well in low light. Subpar optics may function just fine in high contrast, clear light, but they fall apart during low light situations...precisely when we need our optics to perform their best (this idea alone is why it’s important to test optics under differing light conditions, and not only at your sporting goods store where you’re looking through strong, artificial lighting). With high quality optics, the entire optical system works together in aggregate to provide excellent light transmission that performs well in all conditions.
The grade of glass plays a very important role in how clear your binoculars appear. Because there’s a wide variety of glass options on the market, there’s an equal variety of choices to choose from. More expensive ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass and fluorite glass typically have better coatings to help correct and smooth out any imperfections that may occur when compared to traditional glass. Better coatings help correct and smooth out any imperfections. As a result, better grades of glass with their more advanced coatings will yield a clearer optic and a better handling of light waves (i.e., chromatic aberration, glare, etc.). A clearer set of optics ultimately gives you a sharp, high contrast image that produces a crystal clear viewing experience. In short, the clearer the optic, the more likely you’ll be able to pick out those magnified details, which is key to a successful hunt. And as is true for many things in life, you typically have to invest more for high quality materials and a high standard of manufacturing and quality control.
"As is true for many things in life, you typically have to invest more for high quality materials and a high standard of manufacturing and quality control."
As hunters, we often find ourselves glassing during those critical low light periods of the day. Because of this, it pays to consider the type of prism, prism quality, and prism coatings. The prism’s role is to split the light wavelengths that enter the optic, which are then recombined with the lenses. This process can cause phase shift, which hinders light gathering qualities and reduces image contrast. To combat these issues, highest-quality roof prism binoculars are made with top tier glass and have the most advanced coating technology. These include Schmidt-Pechan and Abbe-Koening prisms (the latter being the newer, stream-lined, more-advanced version of the cumbersome, but efficient Porro prism). These ultimately yield a brighter optic, and a brighter optic means you’ll see more - which means you’ll spend more time seeing rather than looking.
Eye fatigue is a common complaint among those who spend longer periods of time behind lesser-quality glass. As mentioned above, the combination of advanced coatings, high quality glass, and improved prisms in a quality optical system greatly improve the clarity, resolution, and contrast of your viewing experience. Without these characteristics, your eyes need to work harder to make up the difference. Even slight aberrations and distortions cause your eyes to compensate, and over time during a glassing session, you'll develop eye strain which leads to sore eyes and in some cases a headache. Conversely, with high end optics, it’s not uncommon to hear people exclaim, “these binos are better than my eyes!” It’s because of the qualities that earn them a place in every serious hunter's arsenal.
To further ensure your comfort and performance, an optic that fits your eyes and facial features is important to consider. Everyone has different ocular and facial characteristics. Higher-quality optics typically provide more freedom to tailor-fit to your particular needs. Whether it’s a narrow inter-pupillary distance, long eye relief, or disparate eye features, having the ability to adjust and fine-tune your optics goes a long way in building a quality glassing experience.
"The combination of advanced coatings, high quality glass, and improved prisms in a quality optical system greatly improve the clarity, resolution, and contrast of your viewing experience. Without these characteristics, your eyes need to work harder to make up the difference."
It’s not just the internal components of a binocular that you should consider. Higher end optics don’t skimp on build quality, so an accidental fall or mishap won’t mean the end of glassing on your hunt. While lesser-quality optics may be adequate for casual users, they likely can’t stand up to the gauntlet that many of us put them through each season. Modern, quality frames are often built with magnesium and/or more rigid polymers that are durable and can withstand bumps and bruises, but are also lightweight.
With build quality in mind, product warranty should also be a consideration. Like any product that experiences heavy field use, there is a high likelihood that accidents will happen. Knowing that you have a solid warranty backing your investment also gives peace of mind. Though many companies offer warranties, not all are created equally. When it comes to higher end optics, a lifetime warranty can go a long way in keeping you glassing comfortably for the entire life of the optic.
While the choices can be daunting, it goes without saying that if you choose to invest wisely in high-quality optics, you’ll be rewarded with a high-quality experience in the field. With the combined benefits of brightness, high resolution, high contrast and clarity you can rest assured that you’re actually seeing what you’re looking at. And, with the added benefit of a solid build, you’ll know your optic can be put through its paces and come out on the other side ready for more.
For a deeper dive into the world of optics, check out the Optics 101 section of our website.
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