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Reviewed by Joe on 30/07/16
Having added Vortex Optics to our range earlier this year, I have now spent quite some time with each model. Here I will be looking extensively at the 8x and 10x42 Viper HD, retailing around the £600 price point.
I feel I should start by saying this review is coming from a birdwatcher's point of view, not an engineer's, so there's no really techy stuff here. I test binoculars in field conditions, mostly here at Feathers, occasionally at local Nature Reserves too. What you can expect to read is how the Viper HDs fared in use while birding, during good and bad conditions.
None-the-less, for those interested, we'll take a brief look at the optical specs. HD extra-low dispersion glass; XR anti-reflective and dielectric coatings; phase corrected, fully multi coated BAK4 prisms. 6.6° and 6.1° field of view on the 8x and 10x respectively, both with a close focus of 1.55m. To break it down, the HD glass eliminates chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in all but the most testing conditions (I barely ever noticed any fringing during use), the XR anti-reflective and dielectric coatings increase light transmission to ensure as much light as possible reaches your eyes and the phase corrected prisms improve overall sharpness. That's as much as I care to go in to tech specs, my main concern is simply how they perform!
It's early afternoon in late July, the height of summer, and it's currently pouring (and I mean pouring) with rain. The feeders outside the shop and jostling with Blue Tits, Great Tits, Sparrows and Goldfinches, while a male Blackbird enjoys the pickings underneath. With the 8x42 Viper HD in hand, the colours of the Tits and Finches were revealed vibrantly through the bins, with an exceptional level of clarity. Comparing them side by side with lesser 8x42s, I could certainly appreciate the extra level of brightness, colour and contrast provided by the Viper HDs. You may have noted the slightly narrow field of view, well let me assure you that in use it certainly doesn't feel like you're looking down a barrel, helped by the fact the sharpness is retained up to very near the edge of the view. In fact the 10s aren't too bad anyway, 6.1° slightly lesser than other rivals, but again a great level of detail throughout the view. A big plus on both models is the minimum focus, something I found Vortex's specs were accurate on, as I was able to enjoy a marvellous close up view of a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on our lavender during a sunny spell earlier in the week.
Vortex Viper HD binoculars are made in Japan, therefore are considered to be of a superior build quality to Chinese made binoculars. Having tried and tested many pairs, in practice the most important advantage offered by Japanese binoculars is a smoother focus wheel. The Viper HDs are no exception, with just over 1.5 turns from min focus to infinity, the wheel flows smoothly all the way and is gripped nicer than most too. The dioptre is lockable, simply pull out to unlock, adjust, and push back in to lock. No accidental adjustments, but I have never found a 'non-locking' dioptre a problem none-the-less. The eye cups lock in 4 places from all the way in for spectacle wearers to full eye relief at 20mm and 16.5mm for the 8x and 10x respectively. They turn smoothly and resist pressure well when in place. These binoculars are O-ring sealed, ensuring they are fully water and dust proof, as well as being Argon (supposedly better than Nitrogen) gas purged to prevent internal fogging. Most of these features are relatively commonplace amongst Japanese binoculars, but Vortex's ArmorTek coating goes a step further to protect the exterior lenses from dirt and scratches. Now I have to admit I didn't fully test this coating, attempting to scratch the lens seems a step to far for this birdwatcher's review, so we'll have to take Vortex's word on this.
Both models come in marginally under 700g and therefore would be considered relatively light weight for a 42mm objective lens binocular, especially when you consider its very decent build quality. The green rubber armouring not only protects the exterior but provides a good level of grip, which when coupled with the thumb recesses on the bottom of the barrels, provided me with a very comfortable hold. The included lanyard is well padded and comfortable, but I took the opportunity to trial the Vipers with a Vortex Harness. An optional extra, retailing under £20, but a worthwhile one if you ask me. During long days out with the Viper HD 8x42s attached, the weight was barely noticeable and almost more importantly, the binoculars didn't swing around when trekking.
In the box you'll find a rainguard, stay-on objective lens caps, padded neck strap, a soft padded carry case (with its own strap) and a cleaning cloth. A level of accessories certainly fit for purpose and matching the price tag. The Vortex warranty is, however, unparalleled...
You may have already heard of Vortex's VIP Warranty - an unconditional lifetime guarantee, including cover against accidental damage. In the UK, the warranty is provided by Newpro (the UK Distributor of Vortex Optics), and presuming your Vortex binoculars are purchased from an authorised dealer, such as Feathers Optics, the only cost for a repair will be return postage. If your binoculars weren't from an authorised dealer, there is a relatively hefty handling charge on repairs, so watch out for online prices which seem too good to be true.
Optical quality: 9/10
Build quality: 9/10
Value for Money: 9/10
There are a lot of pros to the Vortex Viper HD 8x and 10x42 binoculars and very few cons. I would have liked a wider field of view, though I was rarely left wanting, to the point the 8x42 has now become my primary birdwatching binocular. For the price, you get as near to a top-end pair of bins as can be for a fraction of the cost. Sure, they're still an investment, but for an enthusiastic nature watcher, they'll be the only pair of binoculars you'd ever need to buy, knowing that however they become unusable, you're covered by a very special warranty.
2018: Vortex have released a new model of the Viper HD.