The Advisory Boar

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <>

Alpen Wings ED binoculars


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.)

Nikon Trailblazer Binoculars


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 socket.

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 hesitation.


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 Nikon USA web site. Online stores based in the USA, such as Eagle Optics, Optics4Birding, and OpticsPlanet offer the Trailblazer ATB 8x42 for ~US$130–150. The recently-introduced Sporter EX 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).

Books about Indian birds


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.

(Here's a 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.

Read more…