Our 2018 Optics Demo at the NW Mountain Challenge 3D Shoot turned out awesome! The weather was great in Tamarack Idaho. And the setting was high mountain timber, perfect for testing out some high end spotting scopes and binoculars from Vortex, Kowa, and Swarovski. We had just under 50 judges who took the time to score our full line up of 10x42 binoculars. After the success of our 2017 Optics Demo and Spotter Shootout, we couldn't wait to line up the best 10x42's we could get our hands on to see who would come out on top!
Before we get into the results, I have to preface this by explaining what we were judging and what we were NOT judging. All binos were mounted to tripods, so specs like weight, ergonomics, and “feel in hand” were not judged. We only looked at overall build quality and optic viewing experience. We did add a scoring target to this years demo, but to be fair to the judges it was wrapped in tape that slightly obscured some of the numbers. I didn’t have anyone say that it hampered their ability to read it, but i want to be clear that it was far from scientific. We had judges who obviously knew what they were looking at, and we had judges who were not shy at all about sharing their lack of experience. This was about as true a crowdsourced event as is possible.
Scores were a rating of 1-5 for Build quality, Resolution, and Brightness. This year we added a target with diminishing sized numbers placed out about 70 yards. We asked the judges to write in the smallest number they could read (higher numbers were smaller in size), this took a lot of the subjectiveness out of the scores, as you could either see the number or you couldn't. We found last year that there seemed to be a lot of brand loyalty going in to some of the responses, and we thought that the numbered target would help see through some of that, so we weighted this score heavily.
As you can see the overall winner was the Swarovski EL’s ($2629). The EL's walked away winning every category except build quality, and tied with the SLC’s ($1799) for brightness. Not a surprise there, nor was the SLC’s coming in a close second place a surprise. The Vortex Razors ($999) came in markedly below the Swarovski binoculars, and Kowa was last. More on the Kowa’s later.
The huge surprise to me and just about everyone was how well the new 2018 Vortex Viper HD’s ($499) performed. They were right behind the Vortex Razors in every category, and tied the Razors on the score target. I am pretty much convinced that if you had both the Razors and the Viper HD’s side by side, I would have a hard time telling them apart. They were really that good. With a street price of under $500, the Viper HD’s are definitely the best bang for your dollar. Look for a detailed review later this summer!
Sadly, due to a miscommunication on my part, Kowa sent us a pair of 8.5x44 Genesis binos instead of their 10.5x44s (Retail cost $1500). With the target score being such a big part of this test, I decided to use the Kowa BD56 10x56 binos (Retail cost $600) that were provided. The 8x Genesis would have scored very poorly against the rest of the fields 10x (after some testing i could barely even see the numbers on the target). Unfortunately the condition of the BD56’s was poor and some of the more experienced guys mentioned that they probably needed to be tuned. I can say that when comparing the Kowa Genesis 10.5x44 binos last year, they were very similar in optical quality to the Razors. I know that doesn’t help much for this comparison, but i felt like it needed to be addressed.
Overall the comments were very consistent. Most of the comments were either impressed with the Vortex Viper HD binos, or remarking on quality of the Kowa spotting scopes. Here are some examples:
"Viper's were surprisingly good"
"Swaro EL's had better edge quality than the SLC's"
"All great glass! I was impressed with the Kowa spotters awesome clarity and brightness!"
We are excited to see a surprise come out of our Optics Demo. Not gonna lie, I was expecting the same ol, same ol this year. But NOPE, Vortex unleashed their new Viper HD binos and impressed everyone! I was also impressed with the image quality out of the new Viper HD spotting scope, however the focus wheel could be smoother.All in all it was another great year, and we are looking to expand our demo to include more brand names and possibly adding a couple more locations.We are so lucky to have awesome partners that support our events, including Vortex, Swarovski, and Kowa. We just want to send a huge thanks to them for providing the awesome glass for this event.
As promised, one of our judges won a brand new pair of Vortex Diamondback 10x42 binoculars! Congrats Brady!!