I may have mentioned in a previous post that I had set my sights on some compact binoculars. Well the last couple of weeks have seen me on training courses, ensconced quite firmly in the centre of Holborn. While Holborn has many good qualities birds are not one of them, so it's a quiet couple of weeks on the weekday birding front. However, among the aforementioned good qualities are a few little optics shops tucked away down side roads, so last week I went exploring and came back with a pair of these for just shy of a hundred pounds. This was not a whim - I've been considering getting some compacts ever since I started Tower Birding and the cost is pretty much exactly the overall cost of taking another driving test, so it's in the book as my treat for passing.
The better half was down over the weekend and wanted to have a look round this Rainham place I keep going on about, so we headed over there using my shiny new driving licence. She hadn't bought any bins of her own, so I gave over the new compacts for their first outing and she seemed most impressed with the reserve, the binoculars and the bacon sandwich. Score one for the compacts.
I was back in the office on Monday and took the chance to give the binoculars a run out myself. First test was a success - even in their case they fitted into my jacket pocket. Just.
The sun was quite regularly diving behind clouds, which made for good light conditions for testing. The image was astoundingly bright given the size of the lenses, remained clear at all times and, being used to heavier stuff myself, was very stable. Tests in my slightly darkened living room at home have showed them to be less effective in low light conditions, but with the best prism in the world you'll struggle in low light with a 25mm objective lens. This is not a showstopping issue. Field of view was sufficient to pick up and track flying gulls even quite close to the near bank, and the focus was smooth and easy to apply. The image is clear right to the edge of the lenses - very important with such a small objective lens. They even have the little screw-tops rather than the fold-back rubber rings, which makes me happy. Despite the lack of weight they feel perfectly solid in the hand, mostly due to the aluminium casing.
For those who are interested, the man in the shop informs me that Minox are an offshoot of Leica. Apparently a couple of their engineers, plus one of their senior managers, were feeling stifled at Leica and broke away to form a company of their own where they could properly innovate. The result is Leica quality lenses and prisms, but at a much reduced price. I can only vouch for their performance, but it has been impressive.
Most importantly, they almost immediately proved their usefulness. Here are my notes, taken while viewing the very first bird I looked at with the binoculars [for reference, the bird was sitting on a security camera above one of the riverbuses, so far enough out that bins were definitely required for a positive ID]:
Tower Bridge 02/03/09 Mon
Gull alone - Yellow legs + bill (small black spot), bill not big. Pale grey back. Common? Black wingtips.
Definitely no red on the bill, and it wasn't big enough to be a Yellow Leg. I'm pretty confident of taking this one as a young Common Gull :-) A site tick on the first outing left me feeling quite justified with my purchase.
I'm stuck in Holborn for the rest of the week, but will be travelling to Liss this weekend (three years with the girlfriend on Friday, w00t! :-)) and the smaller bins should prove ideal for travelling - less space taken up in the bag, and I won't feel such a twat if I sneak the occasional glimpse out of the train window.
While I wouldn't recommend to anyone that they buy a pair of long-term bins without trying them first, I'd definitely throw in a suggestion to anyone looking for some new binoculars that they take a look at some Minox bins and see what they think. I'm very satisfied with mine.