Binoculars of specification 8x30 have frequently been reviewed on these web-sites, namely here (Zeiss 8x30, Hensoldt DF (old), Steiner DF, here (Nikon SE, Fujinon FMTR-SX, Hensoldt DF (new), here (Kern/Leica, IOR, Hensoldt DF (new), and here (Ares 8x30). They are useful since they offer a reasonable compromise between compactness and performance. There exist more compact and less heavy binoculars, but these usually display a narrow field of view and very poor low light performance.
This review compares two currently produced military binoculars with a most interesting civilian model made by Nikon. All three of them have got a comparable price tag of roughly 300 US Dollars, placing them into the middle class far below the high end (currently the Zeiss 8x32 FL with a price above 1000 Dollars).
Fig. 1: The Nikon 8x30 EII
Nikon was among the last manufacturers who kept on designing new top-class Porro-type binoculars for the civilian market until the late 1990s. According to this page on Nikon history, the Nikon 8x30 EII was introduced in 1999 along with the 10x35 EII, as a successor of the Nikon E (which was around as early as 1978). Just one year before, in 1998, another excellent Porro glass of similar specification, the Nikon 8x32 SE, had been launched, so one may ask whether this redundancy on a shrinking market of Porro binoculars was not a bit too ambitious. The Nikon EII is of very compact design, similar to the old Zeiss 8x30, and it comes with a precious magnesium body and a durable covering, but it is not waterproof. Among its most outstanding features is the wide field of view of 8.8 degs. There exists an excellent review by Henry Link. Its MRP was announced as 450 US Dollars, but its street price is often enough placed between 300 and 350 Dollars.
Fig. 2: The EO System EBR 8x30
While on the civilian market Porro-type binoculars have become out of fashion, they are still common in military or similar professional applications. One reason for that may be the lower production and maintenance costs compared to roof prism binoculars of similar performance, but the improved stereoscopic effect, a result of the wide separation of both objective lenses, may be an important factor as well, because it helps a lot to estimate the distance of objects. EO System is a Korea based manufacturer for optical and opto-electronic equipment, mostly for defence applications, although the EBR 8x30 is also classified for commercial use. It represents a recent development and comes in various versions, with or without reticle and compass. The sample I received for testing had got a reticle inside the left eyepiece. The eye-relief of 18mm is unusually long for a 8x30, and should be fine for a comfortable use with eye-glasses, but strangely the eye-cups do not fold down. So far I have not received information about the intended retail price, but it may be roughly 300-350 Dollars US.
Fig. 3: The IOR B/GA 8x30
Quality binoculars for the Romanian army are produced by IOR-Bucuresti, founded in 1936 and from 1937 to 1945 part of the war industry of the occupying Germany. IOR stands for 'Industry Optic Romania'. According to their web-page, they are in collaboration with German manufacturers and employ glass made by Schott for their lenses. Apart from the 8x30, they produce devices of 7x40 specification, which once were exported to the Soviet army, as well as 10x40 and 10x50 binoculars. The IOR 8x30 to be tested was produced in 2004 and comes with a new rubber armor, covering the entire body (in earlier versions only the prism housings were covered). As is the case with all IOR binoculars, it can be ordered with or without reticle (this one is without). The eye-cups look down-foldable, but are actually not! Unless they are cut down, they are not at all usable with spectacles on. This binocular has already been tested here and can be purchased from US or British Internet dealers and sells for around 280 Euro.
Fig. 4: The EO System EBR, Nikon EII and IOR B/GA
The following table summarizes some of the specifications of the contenders.
|of view (deg)
|of view (deg)
|EO System EBR
Image sharpness: In the central area all 3 binoculars are very sharp and crisp. The star test reveals that around 60% towards the edge both the IOR and the EBR begin to show some aberrations. This is a typical performance level for binoculars of the middle class, which are not especially designed for astronomical applications. The Nikon is somewhat better: Here until almost 70% the stars remain point-like, and this is quite a good performance, considering its wide field. All 3 glasses show moderate-to-high aberrations close to the edge.
Image color: The images seem to be perfectly neutral. These binoculars also deliver a nicely bright image until close to the edge.
Rectilinear distortion: All three binoculars show a moderate amount of pincushion distortion as it is commonly employed to compensate for the globe effect and to provide a smooth panning of the image.
Stray light: Under difficult viewing conditions, especially at twilight, light from sources outside the field can enter the objective lenses through a large angle to illuminate the tube walls and is, partially, scattered into the optical path. The prevention of this diffuse stray light is mandatory for military applications, where a high image contrast under difficult light conditions could become a matter of survival. The IOR has some problems here. There is a wedge-shaped prism leak just outside the exit pupil. The EBR behaves better, but some illuminated patches just outside the exit pupil at about 4:30 (left ocular) or 7:30 (right ocular) can show up and reduce the image contrast under low light, when the eye-pupils expand and start touching these areas. The Nikon is nicely protected against any stray light, and its contrast remains close to perfect under most viewing conditions. Only if a bright object is placed just outside the field, the Nikon may show some response, depending on distance and angle of the light source.
Ghost images: If, at night, a bright object (street lantern, moon) is positioned into the field, reflections on the air-to-glass surfaces take place, which can lead to multiple 'ghost' images of the light source. All 3 binoculars are properly coated to avoid the reflexes of bright objects which cause ghost (secondary) images. A street lantern in the night, at some distance (200 to 300 m) produces a few very dim point like ghosts in the Nikon. They are very faint so that the contrast of image remains unaffected. The IOR produces one diffuse spot of low intensity. The same is true for the EBR. On the left side, where the reticle is placed, another reflex of low-to-moderate intensity appears, but this one remains well localized and does hardly affect the optical performance (the IOR is a version without reticle). The coating of the reticle in the EBR appears to be reasonably good, but I have seen better: The East German 7x40 EDF shows even less intense ghosting on the reticle.
Low light performance: With 3.75mm exit pupils, 8x30 binoculars are clearly designed for daylight use. Equipped with modern coatings, which deliver a high level of light transmission (90% to 95% with up to date multi-coated binoculars, compared to 75% of singly-coated binoculars), the application spectrum of these glasses has been extended towards low light conditions as well. All three binoculars have shown a bright image with high level of contrast during daylight, and under low light conditions there were also no significant differences in performance discernible. These 8x30 binoculars are as good as a 8x30 can be under such conditions. If, however, the low light situation comes along with isolated light sources, the Nikon wins because of its superior stray light suppression.
The 'final score' is the sum of the individual scores and is intended to serve as an orientation only.
In summary, the Nikon EII was clearly dominating in terms of optical performance. With a price tag of the middle class, its optics is actually touching the high end level. There are a few features that separate this binocular from the absolute top, namely the shortage of eye-relief, the lacking of twist-up eye-cups, the lacking of water resistance, and, well, an unprofessional level of marketing. Whenever I heard experienced binoculars users talking of the Nikon EII, they were praising its outstanding optics. But these glasses are hardly seen anywhere and seem to be rarely advertised. I have never found either the 8x30 or the 10x35 binocular in any store in Germany. This is a pity since I would regard it as the perfect 8x30 binocular below 500 Euro, as long as one can live with the limitations mentioned above. This is the kind of binocular Zeiss should have produced as a successor of its 8x30 Oberkochen model, but never did. Since one year, the Nikon EII has become my favorite binocular for traveling.
I would regard the EBR and the IOR as being on identical level in terms of optical and mechanical performance. Although of the same price class as the Nikon, it were surely unfair to blame their comparably inferior optics, since, being designed for military use, they had to focus much more on mechanical ruggedness than merely optical performance. In this sense, these binoculars exhibit a well balanced design. It is not possible to construct a rugged binocular with high end optics for 300 Euro, and ruggedness cannot be compromised, so it is natural to find the optics on medium range performance. If anything should be improved then it is the stray light protection, since this is among the most essential features in military applications. The Hensoldt 8x30 DF demonstrates how well stray light could be controlled in a binocular, even as small as an 8x30.
Holger Merlitz: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: Feb. 2005