Two years ago, I bought a pair of
Alpen Wings 8x42 ED
binoculars. These are one of the least expensive mid-range birding
binoculars, but a big step up from my earlier
Nikon Trailblazer 8x42 at
three times the price.
Even so, I didn't expect them to be so much better than
anything I had used before. The view is addictively bright and clear,
and I use the 2.5m close-focus capabilities much more than I thought I
would. The build quality is excellent, the adjustments are smooth and
precise, and these binoculars feel reassuringly solid in the hand. The
hard carrying case is also welcome.
On paper, the specifications are very similar to the Trailblazer: same
magnification, similar field of view, waterproof and fogproof, slightly
less eye relief, a bit smaller but a few grams heavier. I expected only
a modest improvement in optics and better build quality, but they're in
an altogether different league. Two years later, I'm still as happy and
impressed with them as I was in the first five minutes.
(I also use an Alpen spotting scope, which I will review someday;
suffice it to say that Alpen optics deserve their excellent reputation.)
I'm often asked about my binoculars, a pair of Nikon Trailblazer ATB
8x42s. (They are most often mistaken for the Monarch 8x42, but are a
lower-end model.) Here's what I usually tell people about them.
A quick summary of the specifications: the Trailblazer ATB 8x42 is a
waterproof, fogproof roof-prism model that measures 154x131mm, weighs
670g, and offers a generous 19.7mm of eye relief. The minimum focusing
distance is 5m, and the field of view at a distance of 1km is 122m. It
has dark green rubber "armour", twist-up plastic eyecups, a focusing
wheel in the centre, and dioptre correction for the right eye.
I bought a pair in April 2008 after my earlier binoculars suffered
irreparable damage in a fall. I chose them because they were (much!)
smaller and lighter than my old pair, had better optics (BaK4 prisms
instead of BK7) and better eye-relief; and they seemed the best value
all round within my budget (<US$150).
After a year and a half of use, I am very happy with them. I adore the
long eye relief (I wear spectacles) and large exit pupil. The focusing
wheel is accurate and responsive. The build quality is excellent. The
fog-proofing actually works as advertised. I didn't mind the extra size
and weight of my old binoculars while I was using them, but I would find
it hard to give up on this pair now (especially when I am hiking in the
mountains). I do sometimes wish, however, that they could be mounted on
a tripod, but the construction offers no convenient place for a threaded
I can't comment on the Trailblazer's optical quality as compared to
higher-end models, such as Nikon's Monarch series. I have only stolen
glances through other people's Leica, Swarovski, and Monarch binoculars,
not used any of them long enough to appreciate a difference. The optics
are, however, noticeably better than any of the other binoculars I have
used extensively (notably a Konica-Minolta 8–20x50 and Bushnell 8x40).
I have not noticed any obtrusive distortion or chromatic aberration. The
5m minimum focus distance occasionally annoys me, but I wouldn't want to
trade the much longer eye relief for the close-focus capabilities of the
Monarch 8x42 (despite its lighter weight… but much heavier price).
In summary: I would recommend the Nikon Trailblazer ATB 8x42 without
I think the Trailblazer ATB series is a USA-specific one. The official
Nikon dealer in India denied that such a model existed when I asked in
mid-2008, and I can find it described only on the
USA web site. Online stores based in the USA, such as
offer the Trailblazer ATB 8x42 for ~US$130–150. The recently-introduced
8x42 model looks identical and has the same specifications, and it seems
to be available at least in Europe (albeit at a much higher price).
I am often asked to recommend a field guide, usually by beginners, or
people who have just started to get interested in serious bird-watching.
There aren't many available; and since I've used all of them at one time
or another, here are some notes about the ones I like best.
more extensive annotated bibliography, albeit very dated; and here
are some brief
reviews of field guides.)
A Field Guide to the Birds of India
By Krys Kazmierczak, illustrated by Ber van Perlo.
Published in 2000 by Pica Press (UK).
Reprinted in 2006 by Om Book Service (India).
If you have to pick just one book, this is the one I recommend.