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Nikon Monarch 7 10x42 ED vs Vixen New Foiresta 10x56, vs Helios Lightquest 16x80

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Spurred by the discussion on quality 8x42 ED binoculars here, I went to a local camera store to see if I could get more information on Nikon Monarch 7 binoculars. As luck would have it, they had a pair of 10x42 second-hand, boxed and looking brand new, still with the factory warrantee for a very resonable price. I tested them outside the shop, and was very impressed, so fell for the temptation, and snapped them up.


They are very compact, compared the the binoculars I have, and are very sharp indeed, showing just a little CA, and no field curvature. Last night was clear, so I tested them on various targets, against my Vixen New Foresta 10x56, and the massive Helios LightQuest 16x80. Odd comparison, perhaps, but these were the binoculars at hand. The Helios 16x80 are of course primarily for astronomical use, and the Vixen 10x56 were bought as a compromise between birding and astronomy use: compact enough for to take along birding, but big enough to pick out faint objects. They are pretty successful in that role, but they are a bit clunky to take along, and their astronomical performance leaves a little to be desired in term of edge sharpness, mainly due to a bit of field curvature. The Helios is very clearly better in this respect. My idea when getting the Nikons was to get some more specialized birding bins which would perform OK under the night sky, possibly replacing the Vixens.


A size comparison of the heavy-weight, middle-weight, and light-weight bins

Before testing the new Nikons on the stars, I did a bit of birding in the back garden, and was lucky enough to spot the local kingfisher (briefly, as a flash of blue), and admired a lot of detail showing in the plumage of a pair of wood pigeons. In comparison to the Vixens, CA was clearly better controlled, even though the Vixen isn't particularly bad in that respect, for a 56mm objective. Field curvature seemed all but absent in the Nikons, and all detail was just a little crisper. The Vixens did well, but the Nikons definitely have an edge. I also slightly prefered the handling and viewing comfort of the Nikon.

Next target was the moon. Here, the difference in CA between the Nikons and Vixens was a bit more prominent off axis, although on axis perfomance was roughly equal. The Nikons also edged out the Helios Apollo in that respect, albeit with a slightly smaller margin. On axis, the Helios clearly showed more detail (well, obviously), although it is a bit of a handful to hold still (most people would grab a tripod, or at least a monopod).

Jupiter and moons were next and this gave the Vixens an advantage in terms of brightness, as the moons were much more easily picked out in the evening twilight (77.8 % more light or 0.625 mags deeper). The Helios hit both others for six.

On various star fields and DSOs (mainly globulars, and M27) the same pattern could be seen: in terms of brightness and ease of picking out faint objects, the Vixen had a clear advantage over the Nikons, but the Nikons offered a sharper image over a wider FOV. The Nikon provides very sharp views almost to the edge, where the Vixens clearly show some drop in sharpness at the edges. The Helios equalled the Nikon in image sharpness, and could see much deeper (nearly 4 x more light, so no surprise there). The latter comparison reminded me of a comparison I did years back at Olly Penrice's place, where I compared his Leica Trinovid 8x42 with my Helios Apollo 15x70 bins. I was in some trepidation as I feared looking through the Leicas would make me see all the inadequacies of the Helios Apollo, but I was pleased to notice that while the Leicas had a definite edge in image quality, especially at the edges, the Apollos held up well, and their extra light grasp made up for any (subtle) difference in image quality. When I got my Helios LightQuest I noticed their improved performance, particularly at the edges, with respect to the Apollos, so the fact that they are a very close match in performance to the Nikons (which according to Olly are very, very similar in performance to his Leicas) doesn't perhaps come as such a surprise.

In summary, I really, really like the Nikons, and they will serve really well as birding bins, and perform very nicely indeed under the night sky. The Helios LightQuest is clearly better for astronomy, but not good for birding. The Vixens are a bit of a compromise: really very good, but not excellent at birding, where the Nikon has a clear edge (except perhaps during twilight, when the extra light of the Vixens helps), and really very good at astronomy in terms of light grasp in a reasonably compact package, but not in the same league as the much heavier Helios LightQuest.

For astronomy purposes, I would say the Vixens are clearly better than the Nikons if you want to grab fainter objects, but if you insist on sharpness right to the edge, the Nikons do have an advantage. If I only had a single pair of binoculars, the Vixens would be a great choice, a clear step up from my earlier 10x50s. Having the heavyweight and lightweight bins as well, the middleweight Vixens might well be squeezed out.



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Good comparison. I bought a pair of Nikon 10x42 Monarchs 3 years ago for birding and the occassional astro bino session and I have been well pleased with their performance.

Edited by philj
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