There are a lot of outdoor pursuits for folks to enjoy and explore. You might enjoy hunting, birding, hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, or a whole host of other activities. Also, you just might like having a good solid pack put together that houses what you consider essential gear for the outdoors. One of the items that I picked up not too long ago is one of those essential pieces of gear that I believe every outdoors person should consider. That item is Nikon’s Monarch bincoluars.
I will admit up front that I am not an expert on binoculars. However, I have been a photography buff for the last ten years, so I can appreciate quality glass and can easily tell the difference in image quality between different lenses. There is something to be said for having the best quality glass going. And, there are companies that will provide that ultimate image quality–for a price. Several well known brands out there offer various models of binoculars for a thousand dollars and on up from there. For the well-heeled individual who needs to squeeze every bit of clarity out of their glass, those offerings might be just the trick to solve their problem. But, there are a lot of us out here who either can’t afford that type of glass, or at the very least, can’t justify the price tag. I’ve tried some of the high end products and was absolutely amazed by the image quality, but when it comes down to it, I didn’t feel the image quality was worth $1200 or $1500.00. But, that’s not to say I don’t want quality and that I’m not willing to invest a good amount to get that quality.
That’s where Nikon enteres into the picture. Besides making cameras and lenses, Nikon makes hunting scopes and binoculars that offer a high level of performance at a decent price point. Their Monarch series of scopes and binoculars really do hit that sweet spot between performance and price, and that’s reflected in their popularity in the outdoors market and by their strong sales. So, when I decided to pick up a quality pair of binoculars for my outdoors activities, I read a lot of reviews, did a bunch of research, and then did my own side-by-side comparisons of different brands and models to make sure that I would be happy with my acquisition. When the dust settled, I ended up with the Nikon Monarch ATB 10×36 model and I couldn’t be happier with that decision.
One of the first things I had to decide was what field of view I wanted and what size I was willing to live with when I went on my adventures. Since I spend a lot of time in the mountains of West Virginia and North Carolina, I wanted something with a bit of higher magnification so I could see objects a good way off. Just like longer telephoto lenses in photography, the higher the magnification, the more you have to deal with an unsteady image. Every little move you make is amplified in your binoculars or camera when you’re getting out to the 8X, 10X, or 12X fields of view. That’s just the nature of optics. For a better understanding, these 10X binos will give you a field of view of 314 feet at 1000 yards. But, I decided to go with the 10X model anyway since I’ve learned with my photography endeavors how to hold for a steady field of view. That’s easily accomplished with good personal technique and by using things such as the side of a tree or other object as a brace if you need a rock steady perspective out into the wild.
The next decision was size, and there’s a few things to consider with that as well. First, are you going to be packing the binoculars in your bag for occasional use or are you going to have them on a neck or chest strap all day for easy access? The tradeoff in size is that the larger the objective, the more light you gather for better low light image quality, but that means you’ve got a larger, heavier item to deal with, carry, and take up more room in your pack. Since I was only planning on using the binoculars for occasional glassing wildlife and two legged critters in the wild, I decided to go more compact route. Anyone that spends any time on the trail with a pack will tell you that every ounce and square inch counts when you’re packing the most necessary gear. In fact, size and weight actually played a more important role in the decision making process for me than field of view or ultimate low light image quality. Hence, the 10×36 model seemed to be just the right solution for my needs. If I was a hunter or an outdoors person that has ready access to a vehicle for transporting gear, I probably would have stepped up to the 56mm objective.
Some of the techinical specs of the Monarch 10X36 ATB binoculars include a central focus know, multi-coating on the lenses, phase-correciton prisms, and individually adjustable eyecups for the eyeglass wearer. While the eyecups were technically usable for me once I got them positioned in the right manner, I tended not to use them. I’m a bit anal about getting dirt and smudges on my eyeglass lenses, so I just took my glasses off when using the binoculars. That’s what the focus knob is for. But, if I’ve got to move quickly, having the adjustable eyecups is a bonus for us four-eyed folks.
I know I probably drove the store clerk nuts as I compared several brands and models side by side over and over again. My friend Tim has often accused me of being a gear snob, and he’s probably right more often that not on that point. And, I will ‘fess up to wanting to get the absolute best and most expensive pair on the counter, but it just didn’t make sense. Some of the brands I looked at included Zeiss, Sworski, Steiner, and a couple of others along with the Nikon. I don’t think it’s an insult to Nikon for me to confirm that a couple of these other brands did have better image quality. In fact, I would almost say one or two of them just took my breath away by how clear and crisp the sight picture was when I tried them. But, those models ran from $1,000.00 US up to $2000.00. That’s approximately 4-8 times more expensive than the Monarchs which could be had for around $250.00 U.S. As good as those other models were, they weren’t 4-8 times better than the Nikons. Just like camera lenses, the additional cost of the more expensive lenses don’t give you a proportional increase in quality. You get incremental increases in quality for large jumps in price. That’s really hard to justify. For instance, I took a look through a comparable set of Zeiss binoculars that sold for $1349.00. If I rated those as 100%, then I would put the Nikon Monarchs right at about 87-88%. That’s not bad at all when you consider that the Zeiss set was almost 6 times the price.
But, don’t take all the prologue as me dogging the Nikon’s image quality. That’s not the case at all. I was and still am very impressed with the clarity and vibrant picture provided by the Monarch model. That’s high praise when you consider its $250 price point and the fact that it has a smaller objective which will not offer as high a level of image quality that a larger objective would offer. During the number of times that I’ve used these to spot game and other items out in the field, I’ve never found the 10×36 Monarchs to be lacking in the slightest. Add to that the fact that they are fairly compact and easily tucked away in a pack or a bag, and I’ve got to say that these are just about the perfect binoculars for me. In fact, the image quality is so good, when I compared the different brands side by side, it wasn’t until I got into the $1k price range with other brands that I found any with better image quality. Under $1K, and I’ve got to say the 10×36 Monarchs held their own with any other models I tried.
Some other things I should bring up about the Nikon Monarch 10×36 binoculars is that Nikon offers a lifetime warranty against any problems arising out of normal use. Also, the lenses are waterproof, fogproof, and sports a rubber armor on the body to protect against the normal knocks and dings you always encounter on the trail. Not bad at all…
So, was there anything about the package I didn’t like? You bet! For such a high quality set of binoculars with a ruggedized body and a lifetime warranty, I’ve got to say that the lens covers they provided are absolutely pathetic. The lens covers fall off their resting place very easily and really do nothing to protect that precious glass. They aren’t even a slip-on design. Instead, the covers have a raised portion that fit inside the objective’s body. It takes little more than gravity for these to fall out of their resting place. Given Nikon’s experience in making photography gear, scopes, and other optics, I was sorely disappointed by the lackluster attempt made with their lens covers. Currently, I am exploring a way of my own to protect the glass. My first thought is to pick up a pair of the Butler Creek Scope Covers and jury-rig them a bit to get them to fit snugly. That way, when I pull the binoculars out of their case, I just have to flip the caps open to use the bino’s. Those should offer far more protection than the included plastic do-nothing covers, and I won’t have to worry about losing them since I don’t have to set them down anywhere. The trick there, however, is that the rubber armor on the Monarchs is a little thicker than the typical scope shell, so I’ll have to step up a size or two to find a set that will fit. But, it should be a solution that will work for what I need to protect this investment.
All in all, this is one of the better purchase decisions I’ve made over the past 2-3 years. Instead of focusing on just name and ownership prestige, I found the product that delivered the best performance for the buck, and I haven’t questioned that decision once in the time that I’ve owned them. If you’re looking for a quality set of binoculars and want to get the best value for your money, then I’d highly recommend you give the Nikon Monarch line a very close look. In fact, put them to the test agains those higher priced brands and I think you’ll see what I’m talking about when you consider the price to performance ratio. The nod goes to Nikon, and the contest wasn’t even close!