High-Magnification Binoculars for Hunters

Forum regular Aaron H. (aka “6BR”) has been having great success in the California varmint fields with “Orange Crush”, his super-accurate 6BR rifle. Aaron recently posted his experiences with various laser rangefinder (LRF) types, and field binoculars. While there’s plenty of information available on LRFs, including our own Laser Rangefinder Comparison, it’s harder to find good info on binoculars from the perspective of a varmint hunter. Aaron looked at a variety of premium binoculars, and ended up choosing the 15×45 Zeiss Conquest, after careful consideration.

6BR rifle

Choosing the Right Binoculars for Long-Range Varmint Hunting
Aaron writes: “[It] was a hard undertaking to pick the right pair. I decided I wanted a high magnification pair of binos in the 10x to 15x range. I narrowed my choices down to Zeiss, Swarovski, Leica, or Nikon. I was sure I was going to buy the Swarovskis when I started comparison shopping. However, I was wrong… I ended up getting a pair of the Zeiss 15×45 Conquests.”

Zeiss binocularsZeiss binoculars

Aaron reports: “The clarity of the Zeiss binos is awesome. I am glad I took the time to look through each and every pair before I bought. I was also impressed with the Nikon Monarch ATB; for the price, they are impressive. The Swarovskis were awesome too. However, through my eyes, the Zeiss clarity was better.”

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The Zeiss 15×45 Binoculars are fairly expensive. At most places they go for about $1100.00 (see chart below), but you can find some better deals. Aaron tells us: “I had to sell other firearms to be able to afford the Zeiss binos and a Swaro 8×30 LRF. If you decide to shoot varmints, at long range, you’ll find out very quickly how important it is to have quality optics. When you spend a bunch of time looking through binoculars, it can become very hard on the eyes. So the better quality binoculars you have, the more comfortable you’ll be during your varmint hunt. I learned the hard way during the beginning years of long range varminting, and I realized how important it is to have quality optics.”

Zeiss Conquest 15×45 B T — Price Comparison
B&H Photo
Night Vision Planet
Eagle Optics
Optics Planet

Nikon Monarch ATB Offers Great Performance for the Price
Aaron was impressed with the Nikon ATBs, given their low cost. But Aaron cautions: “It’s very important to go look through the binos before you buy a pair. Had the Zeiss 15×45 Conquests not been so remarkably clear, I probably would have bought a pair of the Nikon Monarch ATBs. If you need a pair of binoculars and you can’t afford the higher end binoculars, I would highly recommend the Nikon Monarch ATBs, offered in both 10-power and 12-power. I would have to say, and I am not making this up, they were close to the clarity of the higher-end binos. I also looked through a pair of the Leupold Golden Ring binos. They are nice, however, I felt the clarity of Nikons were much better and the price was much cheaper.” [Editor: The Nikon 10x42mm and 12x42mm Monarch ATBs retail for about $290.00 and $330.00 respectively at discount vendors such as B&H Photo.]

Zeiss binoculars

Aaron added: “One more thing, I am stating my own opinion on what I think works best for me. Another brand of optics might work better for someone else. I don’t want to offend anybody or imply that other brands are bad, I just wanted to give my experience with what I use and have had success with.”

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Tips for Holding Binoculars Steady
Nate Haler, another Forum member, offered this advice about high-magnification binoculars: “Unless you are using a tripod or other mechanical support for a binocular, 15x magnification is too much. Image tremble will be much more problematic when trying to hand-hold a binocular of such high magnification. Furthermore, the exit pupil (i.e. the little circle of light transmitted to the ocular lens) will be only 3mm in a 15×45 binocular, which means 15x magnification and a 45mm objective lens. Exit pupil enables you to see the image better or worse in low light. 7mm exit pupil is about as big as a healthy human eye in a young adult can dilate. Smaller than that, and the image is dimmer.”

Editor’s Comment: Nate makes some very good points, but we would add that you can rest your binoculars on a pack or sandbag, or use an inexpensive tripod or bracket to hold the binoculars steady. Zeiss also makes a 12-power version of the binoculars Aaron favored. This editor has used 12x binoculars in the field without difficulty, but you definitely have to learn to “hold steady”. One technological solution is built-in image stabilization. Canon has a series of image-stabilized binoculars (8x, 10x, 12x, 15x, and 18x), and they work very well. The 15×50 is shown below. Regarding the 3mm exit pupil, yes a bigger exit pupil is better in low light, but 3mm should be adequate for daytime hunting. Keep in mind that a shooter using a 25-power riflescope will be looking through an exit pupil that’s 2mm or smaller.

Canon IS biniculars

Geovid All-in-One Option (Rangefinding Binoculars)
The Leica Geovid binoculars are another option for hunters. These combine great glass with a built-in Laser Rangefinder. That way you only need one optic for both game spotting and rangefinding. Aaron considered the Geovid option, but it didn’t offer any money savings compared to purchasing binoculars and LRF separately. Additionally, he felt that his Swaro 8×30 rangefinder out-performed the LRF in the Geovids. “The Leica Geovids are excellent. They are just so darn expensive. I think they start around $2600 for the 8×42 and go up to $3300 for the 15×56 pair. I would still choose the Swaro 8×30 LRF over the Geovids. Why? Because the Swaro out-ranges the Geovids by 300 yards and the Swaro is $1600 cheaper. That leaves a lot of cash left over for good binoculars.”

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