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Bitterroot Bulls
06-02-2011, 10:07 PM
I thought I would add some thoughts to the “Optics Value” debate.

As I noted in another thread, I am an optics addict. It seems I am always trying, comparing, trading, buying, or selling some optical instrument. I particularly like binoculars, because like most hunters, I use them so often.

There are a ton of optics available. Every serious Western hunter will tell new hunters how critical optics are to being successful. There just is no real debate about it. It is a fact. So, new hunters often ask What is the best, $100, $200, $400, $1000, money is no object binocular? Without fail two major types of answers come up:

1) The buyer should save and save until they can afford the BEST. AKA: Buy once, cry once. By the BEST they mean one of the “Big Three” or “Euro” or “Alpha” binoculars: Swarovski, Zeiss, or Leica.

2) The buyer should buy bargain brand X because they are “almost as good” as the Alphas. This answer is especially popular behind the counter at the local sportsmart, where the salespeople work on commission and the buyer came in planning to spend money.

In my opinion both answers are partly right. The truth is the Alphas still make the best of the best, and they should. If you spend $2000 or more on a pair of binoculars, it should not have weaknesses. Also, other companies like Nikon with their EDG binoculars, Minox with their ED series, and others have products that compete with the Alphas in every way.

However, the binoculars market is one of diminishing returns. When you pay $2000, you get the best, but you do not get 5 times the performance of the $400 binocular. In the last few years, American companies have been marketing high-performance binoculars that are manufactured by giant optical companies in China. These binoculars typically perform way above their price point, and make those returns diminish all the more.

One of these companies is Zen Ray Optics out of Beaverton, OR. Zen Ray works with a major Chinese manufacturer to produce several lines of binoculars and spotting scopes. Their top-of-the-line binocular series is the Zen Ray ED2 series. These binoculars have all of the features of the Alpha binoculars including a lifetime warranty, magnesium alloy housings, rubber armoring, multi-position eyecups, BAK4 prisms, ED (extra low dispersion) objective glass, phase coating, water-repellant coatings, and dialectric prism coatings.

Several years ago, birders got pretty excited about the Zen Ray ED1, and I decided to check a pair out to keep in my pickup. I ordered the 10X43 ED1, and it arrived in a couple of days. I took them over to the local waterfowl refuge, and took them out of the box. I found myself looking at a well-made, but not polished pair of binoculars. Everything seemed sturdy enough, but didn’t exude quality like an alpha binocular. The focus wheel was OK, but had a little play, and wasn’t super smooth. Then I put them up to my eyes, and I was stunned …

The image was wide, bright, and sharp. I couldn’t see any real Chromatic Aberration (CA), even at the edges. Very impressive. I also had my Meopta Meostar 10X42s and put them up side by side. Sharpness was similar, but the Meoptas had the edge on depth of field. The Zens clearly controlled CA better than my Meoptas, and I loved my Meoptas! The Zens did have a strange halo glare around the field if I pushed the eyecups against my eye brow for stability. The focus was a tad slow, but certainly useable.

Well, I found myself taking the Zens from the truck and into the hunting fields. I didn’t quit using the Meoptas, but found the Zens were more than up to the task of serious hunting.

Two years later, after hard use, the Zen image was still spectacular, but I had a couple of cosmetic issues including the focus wheel’s logo badge had loosened and one eyecup was losing purchase on the underlying metal structure. Minor problems, but I e-mailed Zen Ray anyway, and mentioned my annoyance with the glare issue. Charles from Zen Ray emailed me back, and said to send them in, and they would fix the cosmetic issues immediately, and free of charge. Charles then offered to exchange my ED1s for the new ED2s, for a small fee. Charles stated the glare issue had been noted, and they worked with the manufacturer to fix the issue in the ED2. I went for the exchange, and thought it was a more than fair offer.

The ED2s arrived within a few days, and I took a look at the new ED2s. Literally every gripe I had about the ED1s had been addressed. The shiny logo badges were changed to more hunter-friendly matte badges. The focus was buttery smooth with a better finger purchase. And the glare was G … O … N …E. They also added the dialectric prism coatings and water-repellant coatings I mentioned above. The Zen Ray water-repellant coating is really effective.

I also have a pair of the most recent version of the Swarovski SLCneu (not SLC HD). The SLCneu is a true Alpha, nearly perfect in every way. The SLC’s image is nearly perfect with only a hint of CA on high contrast objects. They are extremely bright. The have just enough pincushion distortion to make panning comfortable. They are built like a tank with nice armor, eyecups, focus wheel, and accessories.

I have used the Zens next to the SLCs many, many times, I have mounted them on tripods and looked over deer at a couple hundred yards, deer at two miles, and elk at 5 miles. The quality of images is very, very close. The SLCs have better depth of field. The SLCs have a wider “sweet spot”. The SLCs have a little sharper edge. The SLCs are a hair brighter. The Zens control CA a little better than the SLCs. The end comparison is what the SLCs show me, the Zens show me.

While image differences are small, the build quality differences are more apparent. The SLC looks and feels like a $1600 binocular. The Zens look and feel like a $400 binocular. They are certainly comparable in build to other $400 binoculars. The accessories are not best, and Zen Ray definitely needs to improve the fit of the objective covers, they fall off easily. It is the image that separates them from the competition.

Now, the same basic binocular is sold by a lot of different companies, but the manufacturer tailors them to the individual company. Promaster, Hawke, Atlas, and others have been marketing versions for years. Now some bigger companies are releasing models that are likely versions including Vortex (Talon HD). Other companies, like Kruger Optical (also out of Oregon), have their own factories in China where they are making quality ED binoculars. I plan on getting my hands on a Kruger Caldera in the near future.

I was impressed with Charles and Zen Ray in taking feedback from their customers and quickly addressing their concerns in their products.

My conclusion is that I still love my SLCneus. They are awesome in every way. The Alphas are still the best of the best. However, I would not feel handicapped hunting anywhere or anytime with my Zen Ray ED2s.

Some people won’t ever be able to afford $1500-$2000 binoculars no matter how long they save. There are a lot of expensive things to buy for effective Western hunting, especially for a new hunter. My recommendation would be to go ahead and try one of these high-performing mid-priced binoculars, like the Zen Ray ED2, even if you are going to save for a few years for an Alpha. I think most people would be shocked with the performance and value they get.

801archer
06-03-2011, 12:26 AM
Great article thanks. How did they do in extreme cold weather? I understand most bino's fog up but some are much better than others. I have been looking at the vortex db's, would it be worth it to spend the extra $200?

Bitterroot Bulls
06-03-2011, 07:00 AM
Great article thanks. How did they do in extreme cold weather? I understand most bino's fog up but some are much better than others. I have been looking at the vortex db's, would it be worth it to spend the extra $200?

801archer,

I think the Vortex DBs are one of the best $200 bins available, but they show significantly more CA than the ED2s. The Zens are also alpha-sharp in the center of the field.

The Zens are fully waterproof, so internal fogging is not an issue. I haven't had any trouble with them fogging externally either. The water-repellant coatings should help in that area. I would feel comfortable taking them out in any weather. I did alter some butler creek blizzard covers for the objectives, because the other ones just wouldn't stay on during hard hiking or horseback riding.

Whether they are worth the extra $200 to you, I can't say, but they certainly would be worth it to me.

Reflex
06-03-2011, 07:37 AM
Awesome write-up. Thanks Bitterroot!

JNDEER
06-03-2011, 11:05 AM
great write up, thanks.

Have you compared the vortex Razor vs Viper (non-HD versions)?

Bitterroot Bulls
06-03-2011, 11:21 AM
great write up, thanks.

Have you compared the vortex Razor vs Viper (non-HD versions)?

JNDEER,

I had the 8x42 razors until I found the deal on the SLCs. The razors were a nice overall binocular, but I didn't like how the pop-up diopter would pop out unexpectedly. The eye cups also had too many positions, and were always clicking in or out. The Razors did have a remarkably deep depth of field. I never owned the Vipers, but used them a time or two. The 10x42 I saw had a pretty shallow depth of field, so you end up fiddling with the focus a lot. It also had a little narrower field of view.

Hope that helps.

801archer
06-03-2011, 11:56 AM
Awesome i'll save up then! Thanks for the input and the reply.

JNDEER
06-03-2011, 12:12 PM
JNDEER,

I had the 8x42 razors until I found the deal on the SLCs. The razors were a nice overall binocular, but I didn't like how the pop-up diopter would pop out unexpectedly. The eye cups also had too many positions, and were always clicking in or out. The Razors did have a remarkably deep depth of field. I never owned the Vipers, but used them a time or two. The 10x42 I saw had a pretty shallow depth of field, so you end up fiddling with the focus a lot. It also had a little narrower field of view.

Hope that helps.

Yep, thanks. I have the Razor 10's now, but read a lot after I purchased them that the Viper's were actually better!
I wear glasses so I got a rubber o-ring and put it under the eye cup so that it would stay up just the right amount. I loved the DB cause the cup was up just the right height to wear glasses and still be perfect.

*******
06-03-2011, 03:20 PM
Good info, thanks.

Bitterroot Bulls
06-03-2011, 08:46 PM
I thought you guys might want to see what they look like.

Here they are with the SLCneus and an 80's vintage 8X30 Zeiss Jenoptem for reference:

http://i262.photobucket.com/albums/ii95/mcashell/013.jpg

Stacked with the Swaros:

http://i262.photobucket.com/albums/ii95/mcashell/014.jpg

Mounted on the tripod:

http://i262.photobucket.com/albums/ii95/mcashell/015.jpg

And this last pic was handheld through the Zens with my Sony WX1 held up to the left eyepiece:

http://i262.photobucket.com/albums/ii95/mcashell/018.jpg

Big Sky
06-03-2011, 09:53 PM
Bitterroot I have all the beer that you can drink if you ever come through Bozeman and let me try all of your awesome optics, and just pick you brain about what all of us broke hunters should buy.

Bitterroot Bulls
06-04-2011, 01:49 PM
Big Sky,

I make it over to the Bozone often, I have family there. Maybe I'll see you at Aleworks sometime, and we can swap some stories.

Jon Boy
06-06-2011, 10:36 PM
Well your complete confidence in these binoculars made me finally decide on the pair I wanted. Ive been debating on so many diff binos in this price range for the longest time and I have yet to hear any negative comments that would effect me to much on the ed2s. I also hear their starting to build a great reputation for customer service and they send very quickly. Thank you

dead river
06-11-2011, 01:31 PM
Thanks for the great post. This is very, very helpful to those of us who have to make decisions on something less than Alphas, or at least are looking for an option to coughing up that much dough along with a spotting scope, and other western gear.

Bitterroot Bulls
06-11-2011, 03:11 PM
Thanks for the great post. This is very, very helpful to those of us who have to make decisions on something less than Alphas, or at least are looking for an option to coughing up that much dough along with a spotting scope, and other western gear.

You are welcome. My post was aimed right at someone in your situation. There really are some great binocular values available right now.

dead river
06-11-2011, 04:27 PM
Yep. Now that I have decided on binos, i am moving on to my decision in a spotting scope. I think i am going to stick with 60ish mm objective due to weight and I may get the wife a lower magnification 50ish mm scope..

This NM trip as my wife's graduation promise is adding up but I can use most of this stuff on my prarie trips too...

Bitterroot Bulls
06-12-2011, 01:05 PM
dead river,

Start a thread asking for recommendations for a spotter. Include your budget (low to high), typical glassing ranges, species, terrain, and a percentage of backpacking vs. vehicle-based spotting (e.g. 30% backpacking, 70% vehicle). You should get some good recommendations. Then try to get your hands on a few of the recommended to see for yourself.

I am a proponent of 50mm scopes if you mostly backpack and 80mm class scopes for mostly vehicle-based spotting. I have found that although 60mm class scopes have impressive performance, they tend to have a lot of compromises for both backpacking and vehicle-based spotting. I backpack my Vortex Razor 85HD, because the extra weight is worth it to me for the performance, especially when digiscoping or videoscoping during my hunts. Your mileage may vary.

dead river
06-12-2011, 08:29 PM
Will do BB. I have enough questions floating around on here for the time being. I can work it out over a few weeks or even the next few months..

B

fatrooster
07-06-2011, 05:46 AM
A very good review. I also have the Zen ED2's that I keep in my truck but my Swaro's are EL 10x42's. While I don't like the Zens as much as you do, I find that everything you say about them is right on the money. I think that I notice the ca a little more than you do and still notice some glare in the middle of the day in the brightest and most sunny conditions. But I have suggested them to several friends who have purchased them and fell in love. I feel that they are the best pair of $400.00 binoculars on the market at this time. Thanks for the review. fatrooster.

Bitterroot Bulls
07-06-2011, 12:46 PM
fatrooster,

Thanks for the feedback. It is interesting to hear that you see CA in your Zens, as they have a reputation for correcting CA very well. The two examples I had took extreme circumstances to see any at all. If yours shows a lot of CA, I would suggest having Zen Ray take a look at it.

I am glad you brought up glare. I have noticed "veiling" glare (like someone shutting a drape across the image) with my Zens when looking at a light source at a sharp angle. It only occurs during certain circumstances, and is not much of a bother in the field. It can be mitigated by shielding the objectives with your hand, if it does occur. Many binocular designs show veiling glare (even some of the Euros), but Swarovski designs are particularly resistant to veiling glare, in my experience.

I agree the ED2 can't be beat at their price point right now. Of course, the ED3 will be shipping in August, and reportedly improves on the already great ED2.

fatrooster
07-06-2011, 10:57 PM
Bitterroot, I had bought my wife a pair of ED2's so that she wouldn't keep stealing my swaro EL's.(And I wanted a bino that I could keep in my truck)After a few months of using the Zen Rays I saw a deal on the internet for a pair of Meostars so I sold the ED2's to help me buy the Meostars. But I wasn't quick enough and the Meostars got sold before I could get them. But then I saw a pair of ED2's for sale for $300.00 and decided to get them because I felt it was a good deal. They were in great shape but The CA was in there just like the new pair that I had sold. At this time I still have that second pair and do keep them in the truck. I think they are a great bino and would not hesitate to use them hunting and the CA is not bad or a great deterrent. I will admit that when using the Zen Rays I miss my swaro's dearly. My eyesight is not the best so I might be seeing a flaw that you don't see because my eyes are already flawed. Nevertheless, I will agree with you that the value of this bino exceeds its price. Its good to see the lower priced bino companies bring the quality up closer to the standard of the high end bino's. I can't understand why the big three keep taking the price higher and higher to astranomical levels. Soon they will be so high priced that nobody will be able to afford them. Zen Ray and Vortex are getting a lot of bussiness and deserve it considering the quality and low price and warranty. I hope the big 3 will wake up one day and quit raising thier prices at such great rapidness. Ooops, kinda got off the subject. Sorry, fatrooster.

Jon Boy
07-09-2011, 09:49 PM
What do you think of the ed3s? im debating on pre-ordering them but they have no track record yet and only one review

Jon Boy
07-21-2011, 12:13 PM
I just ordered them ill let you guys know how they are. They have a 30 day return policy so if I dont like them ill just return them. Couldn't pass up the 20 percent off :)

westernwannabe
08-03-2011, 09:51 AM
I took bitteroot's advice and got the ED3. They are very clear and bright excellent binos. Thanks for the advice bitteroot! Great binos and I can still afford to make the trip to Idaho elk hunting this year, instead of setting back east looking threw my German binos. Lol

Jon Boy
08-09-2011, 09:53 PM
yup i just got the ed3s and very good binos for the money

Scott S
08-10-2011, 11:38 AM
I am still going back and forth on the ED3 and the Meostars! I just wish I could look through the ZR's before buying them.

GrantMan
08-11-2011, 03:50 PM
I got myself a pair of 7x36 ED2 a couple of months ago based on the reviews I have read. I have to say the hype is true. I am very satisfied with the wide FOV and optical sharpness of these bins. I will be very tempted when the 7x43 ED3 come out.

magnum12
08-18-2011, 10:11 AM
Just got my pair of 10X43 ED3's in the mail yesterday and I do have to say I'm really impressed with them. They are clear, bright, and comfortable to hold. They were well worth the upgrade from my Monarchs.

Scott S
08-18-2011, 04:17 PM
I went ahead and bought the ED3 and they are scheduled to arrive this Saturday. I am just a regular hunter and have no professional optics background so my observations of them, once received this weekend, will be from someone who is not an expert in the least bit. I also bought the S4 Gear bino harness that Guy covered in this months EHJ. Can't wait to try them both out at the same time.

fatrooster
08-27-2011, 05:45 PM
Congrats and goodluck witjh your new bino. Let us know how you like them. fatrooster.

Jon Boy
08-27-2011, 06:04 PM
I used them all weekend on my scouting trip. Like said before, I dont have any professional optics back ground either but I will say that I think there well worth the money. I had no eye fatigue after glassing for long periods of time and the light gathering ability in low light was awesome. After it was nearly entirely dark all I could see were elk silhouettes, I put the binos up and could pick up a spike bull and a rag horn 4x5. Other wise I had no idea if there were any bulls in the group

Scott S
08-28-2011, 05:13 PM
I don't have elk or any such magnificent animals to look at here but I have used my new ED3's at dusk a couple of times over the last week and they really are worth the money! They are the brightest bins I've ever owned and I can't wait to use them this year whitetail hunting here in Alabama and watching Mississippi State football games. :)

The S4 Gear harness is just too cool and perfect!! No bouncing and no falling away from my body/chest like my other elastic harnesses have all done in the past. This was the best $40 I think I've spent in a long time!

MOHunter
01-04-2012, 12:05 PM
Bitterroot,

I have a couple of questions for you.

1. How do you think the Zens compare to Vortex? I was looking seriously at the Vortex in large part because of their warranty. It appears Zen has a very similar warranty. Thoughts?

2. In the Vortex line how do the old Vipers (non-HD) compare with the newer HD versions? I am looking at the Vipers rather than the Talons because I like the 6x32 for hunting here in MO. I've read that the HD really only adds noticeable improvement at higher magnifications/further distance. Thanks for your input.

Bitterroot Bulls
01-04-2012, 12:46 PM
Bitterroot,

I have a couple of questions for you.

1. How do you think the Zens compare to Vortex? I was looking seriously at the Vortex in large part because of their warranty. It appears Zen has a very similar warranty. Thoughts?

2. In the Vortex line how do the old Vipers (non-HD) compare with the newer HD versions? I am looking at the Vipers rather than the Talons because I like the 6x32 for hunting here in MO. I've read that the HD really only adds noticeable improvement at higher magnifications/further distance. Thanks for your input.

MOHunter:

1. The Zen Ray ED2 is a brother of the Vortex Talon HD. They have the same specs, same feel, same size, same view. Although neither Zen Ray or Vortex would probably tell you, I would be shocked if they didn't come from the same OEM manufacturer in China. They have minor differences in armor, eye cups, etc., but for practical purposes they are equivalents. The ED3 is the next version of the same design with some changes in tripod socket, dialectric coating, and focus knob speed. I haven't heard a bad word about either Zen Ray or Vortex in regards to customer service. Both have lifetime, fully transferrable warranties with no registration or warranty card required.

2. The Vipers (Both HD and non-HD) perform at a very high level. Their image is similar to the ED2/Talons, but the Vipers have a bit less field of view and show a little more Chromatic Aberration at the edge. However, the Vipers do have a little sharper edge performance, as you might expect with a smaller field of view. the Viper is a little shorter, but the weights are about the same.

The views are similar enough that the decision could be made based on whether you like an open bridge or piano hinge design better.

Hope that helps.