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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gear Review: Steiner 10x50 Military/Marine and a bino harness.

For about three years now I've been using a set of Steiner 10x50 Military/Marine binoculars while hunting. I thought I'd share my thoughts on them.

You can read the specs and see that they are fairly heavy at 36oz. and rubber armored like a lot of binos these days. That helps keep things quiet when you bump them while hunting.

They have a fairly high magnification and a reasonable sized exit pupil. The exit pupil is the objective lens diameter divided by the magnification and it gives a measure of how much light it is possible to pass through the binocular. The higher the number the better the bino will perform in low light if all else is equal. All else is never equal and good quality lenses with good coatings make a lot of difference. The pupil in the human eye can open up to about 6mm maximum and this generally goes down with age, so if the exit pupil is much over 6mm then it doesn't help. The 10x50 has an exit pupil of 5mm which isn't bad. BTW rifle scopes can be compared using the same method.

As far as I'm concerned these binos have good clarity but I haven't taken the time to do any sort of technical focus test. I also don't have really top end binos to compare them with.

More interesting is what Steiner describes as "high depth of field". That means that when they are focused at a distant object you don't have to adjust the focus from about 25 yards out to infinity. Every object you look at will be in focus at the same time.

There is no center adjustment on these binos. Both eyepiece lenses have an individual focus on them. Close one eye, focus the other, then repeat with the other eye closed. You will probably have to adjust them from time to time because the adjustment will sometimes move due to contact with your face or glasses.

The great depth of focus is good because if you adjusted them for your eyes you can pick them up and look at any object past about 25 yards and it will be in focus. You can study every limb, leaf, rock, bush, and whatever without having to mess with focusing.

However, there is a disadvantage to that as well. There always is. The disadvantage is that you can't really use them to look through brush like you can with a center focus bino that has a shorter depth of focus. With a shorter depth you can start focusing in close and gradually move the focus out. Objects will be blurry when you are focused too close, then they will become crisp, then they will get blurry again and more distant objects will come into focus. You can look at brush and move the focus from near to far and back and a lot of times if there is a deer in the brush you can pick it out easily as it comes into clear focus while the brush in front of and behind it is blurry. This helps you determine the relative distance to different objects and give you some idea of where the animal went when it moved. The Steiner takes a little getting used to in this regard. It's a compromise, like everything else. What did you expect?

The Military/Marine binos come with covers for the objective and eyepiece lenses which you can attach to the bino body so you won't lose them. The eyepiece covers fit on the neck strap. They don't fit tightly so dust could get under the covers. I didn't like the way the covers fit on the strap because you couldn't get the cover far enough out of the way and if you let the binos hang from the strap for a second the covers would fall back over the eyepieces and you would have to move them out of the way again. I took the cover off the neck strap and attached it to one side of the strap with a shoe lace to get a little extra clearance between the cover and the bino. It looks white in the pick due to the flash, but in reality it is far more tactical being approximately Flat Dark Earth (FDE) in color. While I was at it I attached a small red LED Inova Microlight to the strap. It costs about $5 at Academy and is great for use inside a blind.

Here you can see the extra clearance.

The objective covers fit snuggly and they attach to the front of the center pivot. They aren't perfect either. Of course nothing is. I'm not beating up on Steiner. They provided covers that are attached to the binos so you can't lose them. I just want them to be a little different. When you pull the objective lens covers off the bino they covers hang down in front. If you then hang the binos from the neck strap then the covers will sometimes get pushed up in front of the lenses when the bino rests against your chest. The next time you look through the binos one cover will hang up in front of the lens and you will have to move it out of the way. One solution is to remove the covers, which I don't like. I think what I'll try is to pull the covers off the body and then tie them back to that center anchor point with some paracord so the covers will hang down an extra inch or so and won't get pushed back onto the lenses accidently.

(Sorry for the hole in the couch cover. That piece of furniture is a real veteran.)

Overall I like the 10x50 Military/Marine.

My biggest complaintwith the 10x50 is the weight. I actually saw it advertised on a website as being "light weight"!! I'd hate to see their idea of heavy!

My solution was to buy a bino harness like this. Overall it works pretty well. It is comfortable and holds heavy binos securely while allowing you to raise them easily to look through them. You can wear heavy binos like the 10x50s all day witout getting tired.

The harness comes with two little metal rings like tiny keyrings that you attach to the binos. Then the harness has little locking hooks that go through the rings and lock in place to attach the binos to the harness. Due to the design of the Military/Marine body I couldn't attach the rings directly to the body. My solution was to leave the Steiner neck strap attached to the binos and thread the little rings onto the strap. This way when I unhook the harness I still have the neck strap holding the binos. The little rings seem sturdy enough but the locking hooks look flimsy. They haven't broken if 3 years of use so they must be tougher than they look. I recommend a bino harness for your binos. They are especially useful with heavy binos but I would want something like them even on compact binos to keep them from swinging around and knocking against my rifle or other objects.

However, like everything else in life it is a compromise.

Most of the downsides to it revolve around the fact that it is a harness. You have to put it on and take it off. When you are bundled up in 14 layers of clothes it can be a hassle to get it on and get the straps straight. If you hunt or hike with someone that is perpetually leaving their gear somewhere and wants to borrow yours it is a hassle to let anyone else use them. That can be good or bad depending on who it is.

When you are layering your clothes you have to decide at what point to put it on. I put at least one layer over the harness so that if it gets warm I can take the outer layer off without having to take off the harness while I'm out in the woods. In cold weather I put on my inner layers, then my insulated coveralls, then the harness, then my heavy outer coat. The disadvantage to this is that the harness prevents me from zipping my heavy outer coat up all the way to the top. A scarf helps take care of that problem.

The harness doens't interfere with using a rifle for the most part although it can get in the way if you are using a cramped or improvised position in the field. Squatting or "rice paddy prone" can cause problems. When you sling your rifle sometimes you will get the sling over the bino strap and you'll have to move it to lift the binos. That isn't a big problem but it can happen. Using the harness with a handgun in a belt holster is no problem, but a bandoleer or shoulder holster can be another matter. If you put the bandoleer holster on first and the bino harness over it then you may restrict your access to your handgun. If you put the bino harness on first and the bandoleer holster over it then you will probably interfere the bino straps. I found that I could use a bandoleer holster by putting it on first and lengthening the shoulder strap on the holster so that it would ride down lower than normal. This put the holster below all the bino harness straps and kept it out of the way.

The Steiner Military/Marine 10x50 is a good set of binoculars and I like having a harness to carry them.


theotherryan said...

I used a pair of those not to long ago when we where calling fire missions. Yours probably don't have the mil reticules in them but you do not need them. Seem like good binoculars which I will remember when I need to pick up a pair.

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