Monday, 20 October 2014

East Coast Magic!

On Tuesday 14th October I travelled through to East Lothian with a friend.  My first ever birding trip with the RSPB Glasgow group was to East Lothian and it sticks in my mind as being memorable.  It was the first time I saw whooper swans, turnstones, curlews, bramblings etc.  Therefore I was excited to return to the scene of such an exciting trip. 

We started off at Torness Power Station, where a small group of birdwatchers had gathered looking for the very rare Booted Warbler.  It wasn't long before it made an appearance in the field next to the visitor car park, along with a Siberian Stonechat.  A record shot of the Stonechat is provided below.

From here we headed to Barns Ness, where we got great views of a kestrel hunting.

The weather had now turned very wet and windy which clearly had an impact on the birds.  However we did get good views of this stonechat.

Other sightings at Barns Ness included cormorant, shag, dozens of gannets feeding out at sea, curlew, oystercatcher, raven, buzzard, rock pipit, tree sparrow, and grey heron. 

We finished the day with a lovely fish tea in Dunbar.  East coast magic!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Minox BL 8x44 HD Review

The Minox BL 8x44 HD is the latest incarnation of the well established BL range, but has significant improvements over its predeccessors.   Not only is this model now made in Germany, but it boasts extra low dispersion glass and dielectric coatings to the prisms.  Each binocular is hand made in the Minox factory at Wetzlar and undergoes rigorous quality control tests.  The 8x44 model retails at £399 in the UK.  It is a model I have been keen to review for a while and the nice people at Minox were very obliging in providing a unit to review. 

The Minox BL 8x44 HD is an open bridge binocular, made with a lightweight polycarbonate body.  It weighs in at 740g, which is impressive for a binocular with an aperture of 44mm.  The binocular is covered in black rubber armouring which gives it a very slick and stylish look. The images on the Minox advertising photos give the impression that the focussing wheel and rings just below the eye cups are silver - they are not, they are black. Make no mistake about it, this looks and feels like a high quality piece of equipment.   As you would expect with a binocular in this price range, it is waterproof and fogproof. 

The focussing knob is large and well positioned.  It is wide enough to use with two fingers. I find the grooves to be too spaced out and found it difficult to grip. As a result, my fingers slip off quite often. It focusses from right to left, from close focus to infinity in just over one and a half rotations.  My personal preference is for focussing to be a little quicker.  The focussing is smooth, with just the right amount of resistance. I find it very easy to obtain a sharp image with these binoculars. 

Eye relief, at 19.5mm is excellent for those who wear glasses, although for my tight fitting glasses I found I had to twist the eye cups out ever so slightly. For those who don't wear glasses, the eye pieces extend out very smoothly and have two intermediate stops. The eye pieces stay in place very well at each stop and when fully extended. 

The field of view is a very impressive 136m at 1000m.  I find the apparent field of view to be very good indeed – the view has a “walk in” feel to it. Close focus is listed as 2.5m, although I find I can focus down to 2m.  This is good, but it is not great.  I do a lot of butterfly and insect watching and whilst these binoculars would be perfectly adequate for this type of observation, I would probably choose another binocular if I wanted to go out for specifically this purpose. 

Image quality is impressive for the price point. The sharpness on the unit I used for this review was very good and just about right for the price point.  It is more than a match for other binoculars around this price point and appears to be  a little better than some Japanese models costing slightly more.  There is a little pincushion and a bit of field curvature, but this, along with the wide field of view and very good level of sharpness, makes for a very relaxing and pleasant view. I estimate the sweet spot to be around 75-80%.

I found the contrast on the Minox impressive.  Colours appear vibrant.  The colour balance is slightly warm, which I like, although whites can sometimes appear to be quite creamy.   Chromatic Abberation appears to be very well controlled. It's almost non-existent in the centre and still quite negligible out to the edges. I looked at crows and gulls against a bright blue sky and soaring Buzzards against white clouds and could not notice any whatsoever.  Stray light management is a real strength. However, on occasions I did see a very faint outer circle on the image, but I have never found this to be distracting.

I found the low light performance of the Minox to be very good, no doubt a result of the larger aperture and exit pupils. When using them in early evening light they performed well. I could easily get a sharp image past sunset.

I have been impressed with the Minox BL 8x44 HD.  It is a good looking binocular and its optical performance is impressive, as is the fit, finish and build quality.  It comes with a well padded lanyard, case and micro fibre cloth.  Owners of this unit will benefit from Minox’s “Comfort Service” warranty.  From the date of registration, your product will be protected against manufacturing defects and functional failures for a duration of 30 years.  I have no hesitation recommending these binoculars.  If you are looking for a good looking pair of binoculars with excellent build quality and very good optics for just under £400, the Minox BL 8x44 HD may just be the binocular for you.