Monday, January 29, 2018

The most cost-effective binoculars I've ever owned

A few years ago I wrote about the usefulness of binoculars in emergency situations, following that article with another on how to choose the right low-cost binoculars for your needs.  I stand by most of my recommendations in those articles;  but technology has improved to the point that many of my earlier criteria are about to be overturned.

I have on my desk, as I write these words, an example of that.  It's the Costin Ultimate HD 8-24x50 Zoom Binoculars.

Yes, you read that right:  they're an 8x50 pair of binoculars, with a zoom feature that lets you increase that magnification by up to three times, to 24x.  They're quite lightweight, much more so than conventional 8x50's, so I presume the lens barrels and other features are plastic rather than metal.  They're not the world's best glass, and they don't gather light as well as more expensive units, and they're not as clear and sharp as others I've tested:  but at their price - including a discount currently being offered, I paid only $26.59 for them - they're unbeatable value for money.  Even at their list price of $37.99, they're a bargain.

A price like that changes the whole cost-benefit analysis.  Smaller, cheaper binoculars can be had - for example, small 8x25 units can be found for under $10 - but the larger, lightweight Costin units are so much easier to hold on to, carry, and focus, and offer so much more light gathering power, that there's really no comparison.  As I said earlier, these Costins are not great binoculars;  they're no better than adequate, optically speaking.  However, at this price point, comparisons become rather pointless.  They're simply outstanding value for money.  The zoom feature even gives them the same power as low-end telescopes, adequate for looking at the Moon or something like that.  What's more, if you should drop one and break it, or lose it overboard from a boat, or give it to kids to play with and they lose it . . . so what?  You haven't lost a lot of money.  That changes the whole ownership equation.

These are the first binoculars I've seen with so many features at this price point, but I'm sure they won't be the last.  I'll be watching with interest to see what emerges over the next year or two.  I don't intend to dispose of my Vanguard or Nikon or Bushnell units, because I value their higher optical quality and sharpness;  but I'll be carrying them a lot less than I will this Costin unit, because I can afford to lose it if I have to.  I can even leave it in the car, not worrying about whether it may be stolen or not.  I can now have relatively high-performance optics with me at all times, irrespective of risks.  That's a game-changer.  How I wish I'd had something like this during my African adventures!  It might have made some of them less adventurous, if you know what I mean.

I've ordered several more of the Costins.  They'll be gifts for friends, whom I'm sure will find them just as useful as I'm doing.

(Mandatory disclaimer:  no, I'm not being paid or compensated in any way to advertise these things, and I bought my review unit with my own funds.  I simply like to tell my friends and readers when I find a bargain.)



Old NFO said...

Technology DOES move things around doesn't it... As you've indicated, you DO get what you pay for, but as 'disposable' binocs, these are definitely a good deal!

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for binocs I can use with my glasses on.


donumvitae said...

My wife and I have been favorably impressed with Kowa's YF 6x30 binoculars. They are a porro prism design for about $100. They also seem to have pretty darn good glass. Interestingly, they are small partially because they were designed to be usable by child sized hands. They have enough eye relief for me to use just fine with glasses.

Not quite disposable, but also not in the price range of ... nicer ... glass.

Anonymous said...

I'm legally blind in one eye and have been essentially from birth. Doesn't really even enter my mind with a few exceptions one of them being binoculars. I obviously just see through one side. I just can't justify spending big money on binoculars when I can only use half of them. I settled on the Nikon Action series several years ago. Tried some cheaper models (barska simmons tasco etc) and even looking through one side gave me headaches. These might be just the thing to keep in the truck. The Nikons are doing other duty and I really need some for the truck. I needed some this AM as a matter of fact to check something on a far treeline on my farm. Had to go home and ride back there when glassing would've sufficed. Thanks for the tip!

Alphonse said...

So-called "compact" binoculars are made to a price point and are throughly infested with plastic parts, including lenses, which are very visibly (pun intended) of lower quality.

That said, a small pair of 7X or 8X in one's pocket can be invaluable, but a warning - when you find the cheapies on sale buy in quantity because they won't hold up well. I keep one in a pocket of my shoot-me-first-vest (summer) and my lightweight M-65 copy (spring/fall), and there's one in the center console of the truck. I often get more than a year's use out of a pair before something on them fails.

Almost as handy, and harder to find in real quality, is a monocular. "Compact" 7X ones abound, with all the same failings as the cheapie binocs; I have a 10X-40 from Nikon - with real glass lenses - but that's not part of my EDC because it's too valuable (not all that expensive, around $100 "back then," but apparently discontinued).

I do have real binoculars - 2 Steiners (both 8X-50) and a Swarovski (10X-50) but they're expensive enough to infrequently see the light of day; for "casual" use I've found the Vanguards to be acceptable; not Steiners or Swarovski's to be sure, but putting a few hundred dollars at risk is frequently a better choice than doing so with thousands (speaking of light, it always surprises people when they discover that large, really clear glass lenses allow much greater perception in the dark; very, very good glass isn't NVGs by any means, but the light gathering ability of a very, very good 50MM lens (or larger) is substantial. So is the price.....). Pro tip: Rule #1 with binoculars,and cameras of any value, is to never use them without the strap around your neck, and the prudent investor (one doesn't buy really good optics, they're expensive enough to be investments) of either binocs or cameras never keeps the straps that come with even the expensive ones; a good camera store will carry high quality and quite secure neck straps as aftermarket items for expensive cameras. Get one for each pair of good binocs, paying special attention to how they're attached, and use the strap religiously; glass is glass, and while falling overboard is final, so is a 4-5 ft drop to concrete.

shugyosha said...

Hmm... Regarding being cheap enough to afford having them stolen... remember to add in the cost of car repairs.


Just a shot in the dark, but wouldn't scopes be good for you?

Take care.

Anonymous said...

What I like about full size units are that they are easier to keep steady, vs. the smaller models as the OP wrote. I have a pair of Bushnell Custom Compacts, 1960s - 70's binoculars that work very well for the field. Any glass over 10x for me HANDHELD have major 'shake' in the viewing. I grasp the barrels with only my pinky and ring fingers, using the other three to rest on my temple, just behind my eyes, thumbs on the cheekbones. Much steadier for me.

But the price - Wow, very good. I'm assuming Far East product, those clever Chinese.

Thanks for the post sir, I will check these out.

Aesop said...

Zeiss, Steiner, etc, are spiffy gadgets, but a Bushnell 16X50 model for about $40 retail was what I banged around with on the Mexican border for five years of rough duty, worked fantastically well for what I needed, and they still sit in a gas mask pouch on the MOLLE vest ready for the next mission.
And they're selling new for $36.07 on Amazon now.

Same reason I'll buy ten Casio G-shocks and/or Timex watches before I'll buy one Brietling or Heuer fly/drive pilot watch.
Don't care if the cheaper ones get lost or broken.
And the former will outlive the latter, in my purely anecdotal experience.

Hutch said...

This now seems to be a moot point. They are not in stock at the link given, not known when (I will add:IF) they will be available again.

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice. I regularly carry mine in my pickup.

Here's a link to an web page I can't recommend enough for those wanting well qualified reviews and recommendations on optics.


greendiver said...

Thanks for the heads up on the binocs, hit the link and ordered, received 2 days later. Now I can see how many points the bucks I have visiting have. Thanks again.