I've been seriously birding for the last four years or so. During that time, I've been using a pair of Nikon Action 8X40 binoculars (or bins, as some folks refer to them). For a pair of bins I acquired for about $85 (on sale), they've been pretty good starter bins. However, they've taken a few hits over the years, and the right side has sprung its seal, so that the eye piece fogs on me. Also, I've grown more unsatisfied with the brightness of the bins and the constant readjustment of the diopter is annoying (it tends to move all the way to the left as I walk).
So, now I am in the market for the next step up in binoculars. I have narrowed it to three contenders (all 8x42 bins): The Nikon Monarch ATB, The Stokes Talon, and the Stokes Broadwing.
The Nikon Monarch has been in production much longer than the Stokes series (produced by Vortex), and has a reputation of providing optics near the quality of bins 3x the price. It has a pretty good reputation and is very affordable at $290. It does have some drawbacks, as apparently the focus gets fuzzy at the edges of teh field of view and there's a tendency for prismatic effects when viewing high-contrast objects in bright light. Like my current Nikons, it has a rubber rain guard that you can attach to the strap, and hard plastic objective lens caps that you can easily lose (I think I lost my Nikon Action lens caps within two months of buying them).
The Stokes Talon is billed as a great entry-level set of bins, and are the cheapest in price of the three at $200. They have a good reputation as well, but from what I've read, may not perform as well as the Nikons in terms of brightness and flat field. Like the Nikon Monarchs, there is some prismatic effects, and there's some distortion at the edges of the field of view. The rain cap and lens caps are better than the Nikons, in that the lens caps are attached to the bins so you don't lose them immediately.
Now, from my limited research (only internet searches and no actual testing myself), it seems like the Stokes Broadwing offers a pretty attractive set of bins for not a whole lot more than the Nikons, at $350. What I really like about these is that the optics quality seems pretty good for what is still in the lower mid range for decent bins. Optics4birding.com notes that the focus stays sharp pretty much all the way across the field, with minimal distortion of straight lines right at the edges. Also, there is no prismatic effect when viewing high contrast objects in bright light. The eyecup and objective lens covers are similar to the Talon's, although Optics4birding noted that the rain guard cover seemed too loose. Otherwise, they thought the bins offered mid-price range quality at the high end of the low-price range.
I'm leaning pretty heavily to the Broadwing, but as I have said, I have not tried any of these bins out, and I'm not sure I will be able to compare them before I make a purchase.
If anyone reads this blog and has an opinion, feel free to comment.
and definitely check out optics4birding.com!