This binocular is exported by Xi'an Vision as 'Ares 8x30' and distributed in Europe by General Hi-T under the name 'Mil 8x30' (see links below). Insiders tell about the Ares series being developed after a government's request to equip the People's Liberation Army with a new set of high quality binoculars, but the contract was never established when the production costs exceeded initial plans. They look similar to the Fujinon 8x30 FMTR-SX, and both are actually sharing a couple of features, but they are no exact clones. This glass is sold in Europe for 290 Euro.
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The 8x30 Mil is a fully waterproof, nitrogen purged and rubber armored military grade binocular. Its mechanical touch appears very solid, all moving parts are precisely machined and turn smoothly but stiff enough to stay where they are unless intentionally operated. The soft-rubber eye-cups fold down for use with spectacles, which should be comfortably possible at 19mm eye-relief. The objective lenses appear to be air-spaced doublets, and are protected with covers that are attached to the body, a nice feature to avoid misplacement and loss. When closed, they snap in, but not tight enough, and they easily open up to expose the lenses to rain or dust. The weight is, with 680g, tolerable for a military grade binocular. These binoculars are delivered with a cute and very rugged quality leather case. The rain guard to protect the oculars is of the typical Chinese type: Two hard-plastic caps joined with a flexible bridge. It looks somewhat cheap on top of this binocular, and does not fit when the eye-cups are folded down. For the first time I found a serial number on a Chinese binocular. This might indicate Xi'an Vision getting serious in terms of long term quality tracking and control.
This binocular shows a wide field of view of 66 degs. apparent angle with a nice sharp field stop. Xi'an Vision claims a light transmission of 95%. This sounds optimistic since it would require high-end coatings as they come with the top brands, unseen so far with Chinese optics. Anyway, the image is very bright and of neutral color rendition, with a trace of vignetting close to the edge. Sharpness is excellent in the central part and persists up to 2/3 radial distance towards the edge, where star images begin to display a gradually increasing blur. At the edge, stars are strongly deformed, not unusual for a wide angle binocular. In daylight application, 80% of the field are usable without compromising sharpness. The oculars display a rather low amount of pincushion distortion. As a consequence, a slight globe effect is visible when the glass is used for panning large areas during surveillance observations.
Under twilight conditions, stray light produced by residual illumination of the sky remains on a low-to-moderate level, causing a loss of contrast just in the lowermost part of the field. Quite generally, the stray light protection is able to ensure a proper contrast within most parts of the image and under almost any conditions, except when a bright light source is located just outside the field. When shifted inside the field, such a bright street lantern or full moon are able to initiate a ghost image, but a well localized one of surprisingly low intensity. This is in fact an indicator for a quality multi-coating of all glass surfaces. I was using a Nikon 8x30 E2 for comparison and found its ghosting features to be only marginally superior to the Ares'. China's coating technique has gone a long way during the last five years and thereby established a firm position on medium range level.
In summary, the Mil 8x30 is a versatile binocular of quite impressive performance. I would rate it above the Romanian IOR 8x30 and Kern/Leica, and below the Fujinon FMTR-SX, Nikon SE or Nikon E2. No doubt this is the best binocular made in China I have tested so far, followed by the 8x40 BM2-0840 and the TS 10x42. Compared to the BM2-0840, it has got a slightly better off-center sharpness and improved stray light suppression. Its overall performance is well balanced, with some weak points but none of them annoyingly pointing out. Mechanically it feels like the Fujinon, but its edge sharpness and ghost image suppression are both inferior to the FMTR-SX. On the plus side, it has got a wider field and is a bit less heavy than its Japanese competitor. With individual focuser and a specified close focus distance of 5m it may not be the first choice for birding, but for general outdoor use under any weather conditions this compact and rugged binocular will be a reliable companion.
I would like Xi'an Vision to deliver a rain guard that looks as precious as does the leather case. A single-piece cover made of leather, as they come with Russian military grade 8x30 binoculars, were a suitable accessory for this instrument. The objective covers could also be improved to fit more tightly. If Xi'an Vision and General Hi-T are able to maintain a consistent level of quality, then the Mil 8x30 might be an excellent alternative for those who were aiming at the upper middle class like Fujinon FMTR-SX or Nikon E2, but found the former too expensive and the Nikon too fragile. The Mil 8x30 is not far behind them, optically, but more rugged than the Nikon.
Mil 8x30 at General Hi-T
Xi'an Vision Opto-Electronic Co.
Last updated: Feb. 2006