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chops

10x50 Binocular comparison: review of Helios Fieldmaster v Weathersport-III v Naturesport Plus

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I thought that a Helios 10x50 review may be useful to others and I had occasion to buy 3 pairs of budget astro binos (two as gifts), so took the opportunity to run a comparison for the benefit of others tonight, after they arrived from FLO and there were finally clear skies tonight. I've done no daylight terrestrial testing.

I tried to run a 'Semi-blind' comparison by unboxing in a dimly lit room, ignoring packaging and immediately taking all three binoculars outside, to compare in the dark as objectively as possible, noting and ranking as I went.

There was initially mediocre seeing, with intermittent to heavy high cloud cover, followed by full cover and then clear, good seeing for a while (Kemble's cluster, M52, NGC7789 etc) and then heavy cloud cover again. Obscured, low 1st quarter moon, which rose and later outcompeted stars in the south Sky.

During the first minute of observing, it was a fairly quick process to separate the three instruments into order of my own preference. I tested and noted usage individually and then compared against each other, finally coming inside to identify which model was which, in the light.

Initially, early evening, the quarter moon was the obvious target, partially shrouded by cloud. Then a greater number of stars, in between high cloud, followed by terrestrial tests on distant streetlights across the town, and hills with isolated houses on the horizon. I followed this with a close focus test on a garden led solar lamp and later returned to a clear sky for slightly deeper observation, before it clouded over.

Final Rank (my preference):

1: Helios Naturesport-Plus

2: Helios Weathermaster III

3: Helios Fieldmaster

Specifications are from FLO and, apart from what I paid, plus weight (an interesting comparison of manufacturer's quoted weights v actual), I've not checked other specs, but simply repeated what's on FLO's site. For info, I weighed without eyecaps etc and the manufacturers seemed well off (I checked my scales).

3: Helios Fieldmaster (£49.90)

Quoted: 5.5°, 180mm, 825g (I weighed these at an accurate 845g)

Small and light, making them very easy to handhold. Really good high friction rubberised texture over the entire binocular. Push on tripod bush cover. Overly heavy central focuser (moving 'backwards' to me: clockwise to get closer), with a tiny 'slop', it felt a little difficult to get diopter and focus right in the dark. Eye relief ok (although, unusually, I folded the eye cups down to get my eyes a little closer - I believe I got a better image this way) . Noticeably high internal reflections, especially terrestrial lights or lunar viewing. Not particularly sharp or defined at edges. Easiest to hold, but least rewarding night time viewing, not quite so robust feeling as the other pair, however great value for money (considering it's £30 or 60% cheaper than the Naturesport).

2: Helios Weathermaster-III (£69)

Quoted 6.5°, 190mm, 890g (I weighed these at 960g), "waterproof/fogproof, nitrogen filled")

Larger and a little heavier, but still relatively light. Again, fully rubberised body but much less nice grippy texture than the cheaper Fieldmaster. Central focus not as stiff as with the Fieldmaster - and easier to operate and find focus (but 'backwards' to me: clockwise to get closer). Right eye dioptre adjust smooth and just the right resistance. Tripod bush cover (labelled 'Bak4') stiff to begin with.

On use, feels larger in the hand, less stable than Fieldmaster, but with better image quality: a noticeably wider field of view, with better light transmission and greater contest. Better edge to edge viewing with a overall good 'feel' to the image.

1: Helios Naturesport-Plus (£79)

Quoted 6.5°, 170mm, 790g (I weighed these at 930g - significantly different).

Small, feeling solid & robust, a rubberised body; not as grippy as Fieldmaster, but more than made up for with a very grippy thick rubber ridged band across the centre, knurled central focus knob with a medium action. Dioptre adjustment is a strange twist ring, which I'm not convinced has a fell range on the model I received, I may check this with FLO, but i's fine for now. It has Twist-up eyecups, although I prefer deep eyecups for astro to block out stray light, they work fine and I'll get used to them. They were on a par with the Fieldmaster for their size / feel, but felt easier to hand hold because of the rubber banding. On viewing, they were immediately and obviously the most rewarding binoculars: a crisp, clean, immersive view of star fields, with best light gathering / transmission, contrast etc. I don't know the eye relief or exit pupil figures for these, compared with the Weathermaster, but they felt easier on the eye. Image was sharp (sharp enough for me) to the edges. I'd like to compare against the Apollo 15x70 another night).

Back to night sky viewing examples:

The Moon looked good in the Fieldmaster, through passing cloud there were occasional good patches and it was overall a nice view, with insignificant Chomatic Abberation (I thought less than my Apollo 15x70, but I didn't have them to hand to compare just then. The Weathermaster was better again, brighter and showing clearer views of the terminator and higher relief on the mare. Naturesport pipped the Weathermaster again, with an even brighter image, with best contrast. By far the brightest, clearest image of the three.

Kemble's cascade (follow from Beta Cassiopeia > Epsilon Cass for same distance): fair viewing in the Fieldmaster, although a little dim. Good in the Weathermaster, brighter. Much crisper and illuminating in the Naturesport.

NGC7789 - off beta Cassiopeia. I found it in the Weathersports as a clearly visible light nebulous patch, but which was dimmer and less obvious in the Fieldmaster (which also lacked the FOV to see this in best context), but clearer again in the Naturesport, which provided the best view.

M52 - a dimmer version of NGC7789 in this sky tonight (find it by following on from A>B Cass). I saw an indistinct smudge in the Fieldsport, noticeably brighter in the Weathermaster and, again, best in the Naturesport with a milky 'cloudy patch' against a deeper contrast of dark sky with a greater number of pricks of light in higher relief. Plus the Naturesports were better to edge with a significantly wider, richer, star field than the Fm, marginally better than the Wm.

By contrast, all of these (I know from experience but didn't compare on the night), are better viewed in the heavy Apollo 15x70. However, it's extremely difficult to handhold the heavy Apollo's but quite possible to handhold any of these 3 models of 10x50s. This portability is their joy.

Close up tests (I didn't test closest focus as I'm not interested - plus it was dark)

1) distant streetlights 1/2 mile to 1 mile: again, it was easiest to find focus in the Naturesport, plus it's clearest to the edges and with better resolution. The Fieldmaster had less contrast and a significant distracting glare / reflections from. The Weathermaster have a solid performance only marginally less good than the Naturesport .

2) Garden solar led 15 metres away: even more polarised with the internal reflections from the Fieldmaster. The other two had less to separate them.

Naturesport are easier to use, feel significantly better built, plus with a better optical performance than the other two models. On a relative level, they're 60% more expensive than the Fieldmaster. On an absolute level, there's only £30 difference… and it's easily worth it. However I'd buy a rigid carry case for all models. Only choose the Weathersports if you need their weatherproofing / ingress protection.

All pairs appear to be well collimated (certainly closely enough for me not to notice any imperfection or eye strain in this short time).

Only after coming back in did I look at boxes, cases and accessories and, as could be expected, they varied a little in quality with the extremely inexpensive Fieldmaster and more expensive Naturesport having slim neckstraps, the Weathermaster's was padded, wider, more comfortable, but (although the only one branded Helios) both this and the Fieldmaster had thinner carry bags than the Naturesport. Irrelevant at this stage anyway, because I would fairly quickly find a protective case for any of them. I was surprised that there was so much variation in their boxes, packaging etc. The Weathermaster reminded me of a Swarovski Optic box and the Naturesport looked less impressive than the 'premium' branding on the box (until you use them).

Conclusion: unless you also need it to be weatherproof, or longer life for some reason, I don't see a reason to bother with the Weathermaster-III because only a £10 difference separates the, from the £79 Naturesport. However, at £49, the Fieldmasters are certainly worth considering as a budget bino. If you don't own any binoculars and want to spend very little, go for the Fieldmasters… or upgrade to the Naturesport for significantly better optical performance and night sky views.

As assumed, I'll keep the Naturesports and give the other two, perfectly capable, pairs away to friends as presents, along with a tripod and Binocular Astronomy book each. I know that they will both get a great starter set of collimated Astro Binos.

I do have some photographs of them all together which others may find useful in future. I'll do that tomorrow. For nnow, apart from going to bed, I'd like to compare agInst the Helios Stellar II 10x50 (£149, 6.5°, 185mm, 1150, "waterproof, nitrogen filled")… that's definitely for another day. Night all.

Edited by chops
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Great write up Chops. It is a rare treat to get structured a dispassionate review of three options.

It is amazing the difference that spending an extra £10-£30 can make!

Paul

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Thank you all for the encouraging comments. Adding to the above, I wrote the review it to help others and so, if I were to revisit my findings in the morning, it's worth noting that - at the £50 scale - on the basis of the ever-superb Steve Tonkin's reviews: http://www.binocularsky.com/binoc_reviews.php, I would seriously consider the Opticron Adventurer 10x50. Quote: " A stunningly good binocular for fifty quid!"; something I probably wouldn't say about the Helios Fieldmaster.

Daytime Comparison: looking through them again at hills (2-5 miles+) across the the town (14-1/2 mile) - yes, the differences are still there and obvious:

  • the Fieldmaster is dimmer, with a more yellow tinge and noticeable, annoying, CA on contrast objects such as, for example, a horizon. Indistinct, narrower more restricted feel and noticeable blurring less than 50% (possible only 'sweet' in the middle 30-40% of the image) towards the edges from the centre (is this what people mean by 'off-axis'?). It feels 'stopped down'; possibly it's not true a 50mm and prisms are smaller (Steve could probably tell us)?
  • the Weathermaster-III is brighter than the Fm, dimmer than the Ns but it has the least CA of the three and is much better than the Fs. I think I prefer to use the Wm's focus & dioptre adjust for daylight terrestrial viewing. Image is clearer than the Fm - blurring again noticeable after around 50% - half way between centre and edge - i.e. sweet spot of 50% of the image. Given the waterproofing, it's the best compromise 'do it all' if you need it for something other than dry astronomy use.
  • the Naturesport-Plus is, undeniably, brighter and clearer than the other two. The Field Of View feels wider than both. However it has more CA than the Weathermaster. Wider clear 'sweet spot' with blurring noticeable around 75% of the radius (moving from centre to edge of image) - meaning it feels 'sweet' for the majority of the FOV - certainly 60-70%. However, I still feel the dioptre adjust isn't quite right - it appears not to give an even correction over the view, as though the lens isn't flat and I get an uneven 'bias'.

Daytime viewing comparison with my 20 year old Swarovski 10x25B Habicht? I'll take the 25mm extremely high quality glass, with clearer images, over any of these for sheer portability, usability and stunning views. Only the Naturesports are brighter (if lacking in edge to edge clarity and immersive views), but at 50mm, they're double the aperture, so they really ought to be. The Naturesport would (should!) beat the Swarovski in a night sky (although I've had surprisingly good bright DSO viewing with the Swarovski - really!).

In summary (again, for daytime terrestrial viewing at £50-£80?): Naturesport every time. Worth checking Steve's reviews on the £30 cheaper Opticron though.

Field Of View
I've just noticed that the specs say Fieldmaster has 5.5 degree FOV, but the bino body has 6 degrees written on them.

Therefore I compared the three - including looking a fixed distance point to see area covered: There is a significant difference at distance.

- I also found the Wm significantly better with eyecups rolled down - does this mean my eyes are ageing or is it just a symptom of its lowish eye relief?).

  • Fieldmaster FOV: spec says 5.5°, body says 6. It's narrowest of the three, by some way, but this could be partly explained by the lack of clarity towards the edges. Maybe it is 6 Degrees.
  • Weathermaster-III FOV: spec and body say 6.5°. At first I thought that either the Wm was wrong or the Ns is simply so much clearer, but they are very similar on inspection (just not as bright to the edge like the Ns).
  • Naturesport-Plus FOV: spec and body say 6.5° feels wider FOV than either the Fm or Wm, but isn't actually significant. Maybe the Wm is vignetting in some way, or dimmer towards the edges that it feels narrower.
  • for comparison, the 1990s Swarovski Habicht 10x25B is narrower: based on the 5.5 Fm's FOV, I guessed 4.5 to 5°. It's significantly narrower than the Fm, but much sharper to the edges which makes it feel more usable than them. The Ns have a much wider FOV and this is why larger aperture binos are better, note that I have no problem with the exit pupil / eye relief  on the 10x25B).

Other

If it helps anyone, I read elsewhere that 'Plus' model has the twist up eyecups (if you're wondering).

Again, only the Weathermaster is advertised as waterproof and nitrogen filled, which may be important to you as a 'do it all' bino - it's great for that.

Pictures attached too to help compare.

Apollo 15x70 compared to the Naturesport Plus, Weathermaster-III, and, closest to us, the Fieldmaster.

Note differing eyepiece lens diameters

post-40258-0-67599000-1445332287_thumb.j

Apollo 15x70 (right) compared to the Naturesport Plus, Weathermaster-III, and (on far left), the Fieldmaster

post-40258-0-20909900-1445332408_thumb.j

Apollo 15x70 (furthest), compared with the Naturesport Plus, Weathermaster-III, and (closest), the Fieldmaster

post-40258-0-74107700-1445332413_thumb.j

Naturesport Plus (left), Weathermaster-III, and Fieldmaster (right) in daylight

post-40258-0-16479300-1445332419_thumb.j

Daytime outlines of Naturesport Plus (left), Weathermaster-III, and Fieldmaster (right) for comparison.
Naturesport's twist up eyecaps are only 1/4 up.

post-40258-0-41673300-1445333242_thumb.j

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A great report Chops. Very detailed, but very much to the point. I many ways I am glad the Naturesport came out tops as I have recommended them to a few newbies on here recently.

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Just an addendum to this - I wanted to give the binos in a usable condition - I'm amazed at the Amazon Basics monopods for £2.50, paired with a £10 ball head and a tripod binocular adapter, they're a great way to get friends to start observing.

post-40258-0-07126900-1447001523_thumb.j

post-40258-0-93024800-1447001561_thumb.j

post-40258-0-61989200-1447001602_thumb.j

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.......took me ages to make up my mind on my selection for some 10x50's but  was fortunate enough to purchase from FLO last Year the Helios 8x40s for under £50  if I remember correctly, will need to check the bill?

Based on the 8x40s, I've no doubt the 10x50s will be just as good, although a little less field of view.

My Helios 8x40s with their +8° field are my  firm favourites, and for my 10x50s, I settled on the Strathspey Marines.

Edited by Charic
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