Monday, February 10, 2014

Vanguard Endeavor ED Binoculars Review

...and now for something completely different! A review of the Vanguard Endeavor ED optics I use in the field all the time. This is a great line for an attainable price.

Documenting birds observed at the SBLC nature preserves and other protected properties is a crucial task. The more we observe, the more we understand about the land, and the better we can steward that land. When I came to the conservation industry, I had no idea how critical my wildlife observation skills would become, and how much I needed to learn. I am a visual learner, so keen observation is the key to my growth as a birder, and as a result, my growth as a conservationist working to protect bird habitat.

Our staff had access to a variety of consumer-grade optics, but nothing approaching an “enthusiast” or “premium” offering. Earlier in 2013, that changed when Vanguard became a sponsor of our Conservancy, and of our project, the Saginaw Bay Birding Trail. As part of their sponsorship, they provided us with pairs of their Endeavor ED 8420 Binocular, which we now use exclusively in the field, both on duty and off. Full disclosure, the equipment being reviewed was provided at no charge from Vanguard to support our charitable conservation work.

Initial Build Quality

The Vanguard EDs are heavy, and feel solid and reliable in hand. The 3-position eye relief cups function smoothly and with a reassuring weight. The textured rubber coating seems secure and grips the metal body without any play. The open-bridge design relies on two hinge points, which seem to have a smooth action and just enough movement to allow for easy adjustment without risking the bins’ pupil-distance adjustments falling out every time you set them down. The large, primary focus wheel is solid and equally as maneuverable without any slop. In all, the 8420 feels like a tool you’ll hand down to your children.

Optical Quality

The key to the 8420 is extra-low-dispersion glass (which give the Endeavors their “ED” name) and a variety of Vanguard’s proprietary treatments. The Bak4 roof prisms do their job well through the anti-reflective outer glass and the bins maintain waterproofness (I have tested that several times, mostly by accident) and resist fog pretty well, too. The clarity and light gathering of these bins seem to far exceed their price point. There is some marginal fringing around the very perimeter of the view, but honestly the entire 7-degree angle of view is very usable.

That 7-degree angle is actually pretty broad for this price point, by the way. Close-focus is usable for butterflies at just under 10 feet, though not competitive with the slightly pricier Nikon Monarch 7 (8.2 feet) or anything from Swarovski of other super-premium brands, which can go as low as 6 feet and below. I rarely look for butterflies, though, so it has not been a hindrance for my regular birding use.

Other stats include:
      8x magnification
      42mm objective lenses
      7-degree (122m at 1000m) field of view
      19mm eye relief
      730 grams weight

Form and Design

I do like the looks of the Endeavor EDs. They look premium and adopt that very pricy-looking open-bridge design. I may have chosen a color other than the lime green ring around the base of the eyepieces, but that is a minor quibble. The titanium/anthracite color of the exposed metal components and the small nameplate give the bins a very upscale but tough look.

Ergonomics

The open-pride design and recessed areas on the bottom of the “tubes” of the 8420s contribute to a highly variable and comfortable, secure feel in-hand. The texture of the rubber armor feels good and reminds me of a premium single-lens-reflex camera. The placement of the focus knob is spot on, and the eye relief cups are comfortable and offer variable depth.

The one ergonomic feature to call out specifically is the lockable diopter adjustment dial. Located just under the left eyepiece, the dial allows for typical diopter correction, but has a neat trick in that when you push it down, it reassuringly clicks into place. Degree hashes show you where your setting is, also, so it is easy to return to the same setting if you share your bins. I like the locking feature, as my bins get a good workout and are always being tossed about (and I don’t care for the case, as you shall see soon) so this feature is appreciated.

Accessories

The weakest point in the 8420 offering is the strap and case situation. While the strap is a high-quality, neoprene-padded version with good-looking Vanguard branding, it falls short in two ways.

First, the strap has buckles that allow it to be detached, which at first blush sounds like a good thing. However, it does limit the adjustability of the strap for length. Second, the buckles are plastic and could prove a vulnerable link for potential breakage. I like simpler strap systems.

The case is not designed with its own strap. Rather, when you disconnect the strap from the binocular, you are supposed to then attach it to the case’s sewn-on receiving clips. The binocular does not fit in the high--quality, zippered nylon case with the strap attached. Thus, you are required to remove the strap every time you want to use the case (further jeopardizing the plastic buckle durability).

Of course, if you want to carry the binocular in its case, you need to then attach the strap (or risk losing it). I just feel like this is a lot of hassle. I prefer to simply pop my bins in the case (Nikon’s case allows the binocular strap to stay outside, and a flay covers the eyepieces, for instance, using Velcro rather than a zipper).

As a result of this design I rarely use the case and I am not entirely sure where it is. Either the case should be big enough to house the bins with strap attached, or close in a way that allows the strap to protrude to carry the unit. While I dislike the design, the comfort and construction of the strap and case are both very high, in keeping with the rest of the product.

The rain guard and lens caps are thankfully built with a very pliable and grippy rubber. They are functional and stay put, while allowing quick removal for when you go to the bins in a hurry,

Summary

The Vanguard Endeavor ED 8420s are a category buster. I would easily put them up against the much more expensive Nikon Monarch 7, and even against bins in the $1,000 category for optical quality, features, build quality, and ergonomics. In setting or rising sun they gather tons of light, provide sharpness that exceeds most amateur birder’s needs, and come in a variety of setups of various levels of magnification and objective lens diameter (larger objective diameters allow more light gathering but you pay a weight penalty usually).

My pair of 8420s is a reliable and enjoyable part of my professional field gear. So far this year I have well over 250 bird species on my annual list, and they have all come through my Vanguard ED glass. I am looking forward to the future of Vanguard, and I am confident that they will continue to evolve their offerings, making small adjustments along the way. I hope they are able to bring in slightly closer focusing and a better case/strap design on future models, and I also hope they maintain this incredible quality for such a great value. At a retail value around $350, there really is not anything in my experience that comes close...a perfect set of bins for the aspirational birder stepping up to some real quality glass!

1 comment:

Anthony said...

Magnificent reviews about Vanguard Endeavors binoculars and whatever reviews have been given in here that's all are very true because as a user I can say that this binocular is the top of the list from any other one. Very good one:)