Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review of the Stokes Talon 8x42 binoculars

I have owned the Stokes Talon 8x42 binoculars for just over three years now. They were given to me as a gift by my aunt, and I have enjoyed using them on all of my birding trips since then. The following is a short review of this integral birding equipment and I hope you find it useful.
It was January 2008. The Mumbai BirdRace was about to be held soon and my binoculars (Bushnell 7x35 Falcon porro-prism) were literally on their last objectives (pun intended). With the alignment between the barrels badly screwed, they were barely usable. The optics were worn with scratches too and only gave very dim and low contrast views of birds; it was time to get new ones.

As with any purchase, I began looking at reviews of binoculars online and began my research for choosing good birding optics. After much online reading, I concluded that I needed the following qualities in my new binoculars:
  1. They should have fully multi-coated optics (on all glass-to-air surfaces) for bright and contrasty views.
  2. They should have a wide field of view, 8 degrees being ideal.
  3. They should be waterproof, not only to enable using them in the rain, but also to prevent the insides from fogging in the early hours of the day.
  4. They should be able to close-focus to less than 10 feet, so that watching butterflies is possible.
  5. They should be durable (shouldn't go out of alignment).
I also read that in the world of optics, you generally get what you pay for and that zoom binoculars aren't as good optically as fixed magnification ones and they also have a severely reduced field-of-view. Moreover, most of the binoculars costing upward of $150 were roof-prism rather than porro-prism, partly because it is much easier to make waterproof binoculars in such a design.

Deciding the magnification is quite a personal decision. I chose to get 8x bins instead of 10x since my hands aren't very steady and they would also allow me to get a brighter exit-pupil for the same objective size. In theory, this meant that they would be better for low-light situations and also for astronomy.

The Talons satisfied all of my requirements and I chose to bite the bullet. I was certainly not disappointed. Vortex, which is the company that manufactures them, produce another line of binoculars called "Diamondback" and these are essentially the same as the Talons except for the exterior rubber grip. They feel quite solid and are a tad bit heavy. This can become a strain on the neck if used for long hours, but a good quality shoulder harness is very useful in taking the strain off your neck.

The Talons (and the Diamondbacks) have excellent coatings on their optics. Vortex calls them phase-corrected (whatever that means) and these provide superb bright and contrasty views of birds that I had never seen before. Compared to entry-level models like the Olympus DPS I 10x50 or 8x40, these are way superior (much brighter and contrasty) and the difference is very much apparent when looking for illusive field-marks on birds or enhancing low contrast details / colours.

The 8x42 Talons also have an 8 degree field of view which is plenty large to follow small birds as they move around. The focusing ring is nice and smooth and is quite different from the one on the Bushnell. They are waterproof and can focus as close as 4.5 feet!

The Talons cost about $200 at the time (early 2008) and sell for around the same price even today. If you are willing to spend $200, then look no further than the Talons. I have used them alongside the Nikon Monarch 8x42, which are priced about $100 more than the Talons, but optically I do not see any difference at all. The Nikon's focusing ring though looks superior to the Talons. One drawback with the Talons is that they do not focus well to infinity and this is somewhat of a pain when used for astronomy. The stars are just at the end of the focusing range of the bins and it is somewhat tricky to keep them in focus.

I highly recommend these binoculars to anyone who wants to upgrade from entry-level models like the Olympus DPS I series or Bushnell Falcons. The cost is significant compared to these models which sell for around $50, but if you are serious about birding, then the investment in the Talons or any good birding optic is definitely worth it.