Last Christmas, I bought my girlfriend a really romantic gift: a pair of binoculars (actually, she got the usual flowers and chocs too)! We go out walking every weekend and usually see animals and birds, and binoculars give a much better view whilst staying far enough away to avoid scaring these shy creatures.
We have been sharing my binoculars since we started going out together, which has resulted in several near-strangling episodes as I try to get the strap from around my neck! I therefore decided, in the interest of safety, to buy her a pair of binoculars of her very own.
Purchasing a pair of binoculars can be a bit confusing, as there are many things to consider; size, weight, aperture, waterproofing, magnification, and lens coatings. I use a pair of 10 x 42 binoculars, but decided that my girlfriends pair should be lighter and give a larger field of view than mine (she often complains, when using mine, that she can't find the bird in the binoculars despite seeing it with the naked eye. The 10 times magnification of my pair results in quite a narrow field of view).
Searching one of my favourite websites, warehouseexpress.com, I found the Nikon Sporter I 8x36. These ticked all the right boxes, and best of all were on special offer at just over £100. I received the binoculars and subjected them to a week's field testing before handing them over.
The design of the binoculars is quite pleasing to the eye, appearing very slim but nicely curved. The lenses appear violet/black, indicating a good coating on the lens. The coating ensures that all available light enters the lens, rather than being reflected away, resulting in a brighter image.
The binoculars are nice to hold, the part rubberised coating feeling warm (important on a cold winter's day) and secure in the hands. The Nikon logo and designation appear in attractive gold lettering along the length of the body.
The 8x36 designation indicates that the binoculars have a magnification of eight times, and an objective lens (the large one) diameter of 36mm. The field of view was a generous 7 degrees and the binoculars weighed only 725g, feeling quite light to hold. Close focus is excellent at only 3 metres (allowing close views of butterflies and other small creatures).
Waterproofing was important as we are out in all weathers, and the Nikon's were reported to be fully waterproofed. Fortunately(?), I was able to test this out on my very first outing; it poured down and the binoculars got drenched. The waterproofing worked; the lenses did not 'fog up' and examination at home showed no sign of water ingress.
The focus control knob is large (always a good idea if you wear gloves at times) and easy to turn but with enough resistance to stay in place once focused. There's a very large dioptre adjustment (used if your eyes have a different prescription from each other), which is easy to find and use.
The design of the binoculars' eyecups is quite impressive. They 'twist up' and away from the eyepiece, allowing the binoculars to be moved away from the eyes. These work brilliantly, but show up the one bad point of the binoculars.
Spectacle wearers, like me, usually use the binoculars with the eyecups close to the lens so that the eye is as close as possible to the lens. This works well, but if the user tries to use the binoculars without spectacles, with the eyecups close to the lens, the image blacks out; the eye relief of these binoculars is too low to allow the eyes to get close to the lens.
The user finds that he or she has to twist up the eyecups so that the lens moves a reasonable distance from the eye (my girlfriend finds them most comfortable to use with the eyecups at their maximum position).
With the objective lens diameter being only 36mm, I was not expecting a really bright image from the Sporters, but I was wrong. The 8 times magnification, together with the high quality coatings meant that the image produced was very bright for this class of binoculars. Even in dim light, enough light is collected to be able to see well. An excellent performance. There was no obvious colour cast that I could detect.
Most binoculars exhibit some degree of chromatic aberration, where high contrast edges show a coloured fringe. Sure enough, a purple line was present around high contrast edges on occasion, but it was not excessive (quite impressive for the price).
The supplied strap and rain guard are of reasonable quality; the strap is light, but strong, and the rain guard fits securely over the top of the binoculars without any risk of it falling off whilst walking.
Overall, I was really impressed with the Nikon Sporter I binoculars. I realised that I'd bought a real bargain. More important, however, was what my girlfriend thought of them. Well, she was thrilled. She liked that they were lighter than mine and that they had a wider field of view.
With the eyecups and dioptre adjustment moved to suit her eyes, she proclaimed that she preferred them to mine. She was able to find objects quicker, and loved the feel of the binoculars in her hand, which suited her smaller hands better than my chunkier binoculars.
She's now had the binoculars for seven months, and uses them every weekend. We can often be found wandering together, around local nature reserves, or the mountains of North Wales, enjoying long walks in each other's company. Who says binoculars aren't a romantic gift?