Nikon Trailblazer Binoculars

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

2009-11-30

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.

Availability

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).