at a Sensible Price
Well, the Strathspey Marine 10x50 IFs arrived yesterday. Typically, the heavens soon opened and it has been chucking it down with a vengeance ever since, so no astro testing possible, but here are some first impressions. Remember that this is a £65 binocular, so I was not expecting perfection.
Ordering, packaging and delivery:
Excellent. I ordered them online last Wednesday night. They arrived by courier service (Initial City Link) yesterday (just ahead of the rain!). The box was waterproofed in a tape-sealed plastic bag, thickly bubble-wrapped, then the whole was protected by a huge padded envelope.
On the grounds that it is trivially simple to behave well when things are going smoothly, I tend to assess vendors on how they deal with things that go wrong. There was a hiccup with payment processing when I ordered the binocular. In the subsequent email exchange, John enabled it to be sorted it out quickly and efficiently, with a friendly demeanor. On the basis of this experience, I would not hesitate to recommend Strathspey as a vendor.
Out of the Box A real mixture here:
* The binocular comes in a plush-lined hard case, which is covered in what appears to be a plastic-coated fabric faux-leather (it is advertised on Strathspey's and Kunming's (the manufacturer's) site as being leather -- it isn't). It oozes tackiness, although the lid hinge is thoughtfully designed so it can be used as a secure belt-loop (the faux-leather case strap surrounds the case through loops, so is detachable), although I'm not sure how much I'd trust the faux-leather! The case shoulder-strap is sufficiently wide and thick to give a sense of security, but is a tad on the short side -- it's OK when I'm just wearing a shirt, but will be darned tight over a couple of sweaters and a winter coat.
* The binocular itself has a nice solid utilitarian feel to it. On examination, it reveals itself to be of rubber-covered metal construction. It is of the "European" (aka "Zeiss") type.
* The objective caps are of the type that "plug" into the aperture, where they fit securely; they would be nicer if they attached to the body so they cannot be lost -- I might do this with nylon webbing and superglue. The eyepiece caps are of the rainguard type and fit well. The neck-strap loops on the rainguard are poorly positioned on the sides; the binocular neck-strap attachments are in line with the outer extremities of the eyepieces, so the neck-strap immediately pulls out of the split-loop on the RH side when the binocular is hung around the neck.
* With the rainguard on, or with IPD set greater than 63mm (mine is 67 mm) the binocular does not fit in the case, owing to the presence of the usual two blocks that go either side of the eyepieces and support the binocular at the cover plates. My experience is that plush attracts dust, which then transfers to the eyepieces. These plush-lined softwood blocks are each secured by two nails through the case; it is trivial to remove the nails and the blocks. The block could then be remodelled so as to permit the binocular to fit with the rainguard on and the IPD set.
* The supplied neck strap is of the wide variety and is reasonably comfortable. It is also extremely long -- at full extent the binoculars would serve to protect my genitals from ionising radiation! Unfortunately it has no "sliders" to secure dangling strap ends, which are a nuisance when I shorten the strap to what is for me a reasonable length. However, these could provide the nylon webbing to attach the objective caps to the binocular body .
* The instruction sheet (which was carefully concealed between the "skins" of the box, as was the cleaning cloth -- these could easily be missed here -- n the binocular case would be better) is of the type I have come to expect with these Chinese binoculars, i.e. rudimentary at best. It has directions on IDP (sic) Adjustment, Focusing (exclusively for centre-focus binocs, not IFs!), Rubber eyecup use, Care and cleaning of the binocular, and the inevitable Sun warning.
The Binocular itself Again, a bit of a mixed bag:
* Inspection under a bright light shows the coatings to be evenly applied. They are the green colour associated with broadband coating, and the multiple faint-ish green reflections of the light are consistent with the claim of full multicoating, including the prism hypotenuses.
* The prisms are full-sized (as evidenced by the fully circular exit pupil) and are of BAK4 (none of the blue-grey rhomboids of BK7).
* There is considerable vignetting (no part of the exit pupil is fully illuminated by the aperture) but, with the exception of two minuscule "flats" from the prisms, the vignetting is entirely by one of the baffles. The vignetting is only apparent in use if one is actively looking for it.
* The insides of the objective tubes are matte black with no "ridging". Between the objective and the prism, there is one true baffle and one "step" in the objective tube. This seems to be adequate.
* The TFoV looks to be as wide as stated (114m at 1000m -- 6.5º) -- it may actually be a tad wider. I'll measure it properly some time.
* Whilst the eyepieces do not actually "snap" to focus, best focus is consistent, as established by refocusing and noting the focus (diptre) graduations on the eyepiece. The focus is not as sharp as in my best binocular, but is better than any of the other cheap-to-mid-priced 10×50s I own (Zenith, Helios, Swift).
* There is slight barrel distortion noticeable at the edge of field.
* Colour correction is very good across the central half FoV.
* There is some field curvature. It is noticeable outside the central half of the FoV.
* Collimation is excellent. At my IPD, I was unable to visually detect any miscollimation by positioning a distant pylon at various extremities of the FoV.
* There is some "stiction" (static friction) in the hinge and in the eyepieces. I imagine that this is due to Chinese "sticky-grease". Was this not a nitrogen-filled binocular, I might be tempted to dismantle, clean, and re-grease with a decent lithium grease. It is not so severe as to make precise focusing difficult.
* The markings on the IPD scale are a work of imaginative fiction (as, indeed, they are on most binoculars).
* The IPD is variable from about 60 mm to about 70 mm, although with these hefty 45 mm diameter eyepiece tubes, you'd need to have a thin nasal bridge for a 60mm IPD!
* The eye lenses are 22mm diameter.
* Eye relief is cited as 19mm. I measured it as 14mm, using the "exit pupil is the image of the objective formed by the eyepiece" method. However, this seemed curious as I know that 14mm is insufficient for me when I wear my spectacles, yet there is sufficient eye relief for my specs! Further investigation revealed that what frames the FoV is not the field stop at prime focus but a baffle. This is the case in a number of different low-end binocs, e.g my Helios 10×50.
* The eyepiece focusing is marked from +4 to -4 dioptres. 0 corresponds to infinity with corrected eyes. I have not tested to see if the dioptre markings are quantitatively correct.
* The rubber eye-cups are softer than I have previously encountered. This is slightly off-putting at first (they seem quite flimsy), but they seem to mould slightly to the shape of my eye sockets and are thus very comfortable. They fold down easily for spectacle use. They are glued in place.
* The front aperture is the full 50mm; the objectives are recessed 18mm into the front aperture -- nice protection.
* Despite being heavy for modern 10×50, wighing 1.2 kg (42 oz), they are comfortable to hold and seem to be less tiring to hold than some lighter 10×50s I have known.
Overall I'm going to reserve final judgement until I've managed to get them under the stars, after which I will complete this report. However, so far they appear to be pretty good value for money. The niggles are no more than niggles and, if I wasn't critically examining them, I probably wouldn't have noticed a lot of them -- there is nothing in them that definitely turns me off them. I've not tested their water-proofing (stated as 1 m for 1 hour) or their impact resistance (stated as 20 g, or falling 5m onto a hard surface). So far, if one wants an IF 10×50, these seem to be the best return one can get for spending £65 on new binocs in the UK.