Optics Workshop report
by John Gerwin
I was delighted to have 13 eager participants at my August 14th workshop. August is a risky time to try and do anything outdoors, in NC! But this day was to be overcast (great optical ambiance actually for comparing binoculars), and with a forecasted high of “only” 88, we stayed cool all morning in the screened-in, covered but outdoor classroom at the Museum’s Prairie Ridge Ecostation. This site is a wonderful place to visit anytime, lying at the “corner” of Reedy Creek and Edwards Mill roads, with ~25 acres of open, plant and animal habitat. I spent a good half an hour or so, on the history, and future plans, for the site. And then it was on to learning about what makes binoculars what they are, inside and out. It always surprises me how much time I can spend talking about binoculars (well, I’ve been told I can spend a lot of time talking about most anything…….). But that object dangling below your neck has a lot going on, and we covered that well, including: parts, light and how it interacts with all those lenses, what all those numbers mean, what goes wrong with images and why, care and cleaning, and the many (I have at least 12) things to consider when buying a pair; and of course, for those fairly new at it, how to use them. Some folks were about to buy a first pair, whereas others were ready to upgrade or needed a second pair. I was able to assemble about 15 pairs of different brands, and models, and had asked folks to bring whatever they had. So, for the last hour, we were able to stand on the back deck, and compare all these different binoculars while enjoying the very busy avian participants at the bird feeders just off the deck, and down below. The pokeberry (pokeweed) and beautyberry are in full fruit, providing other images to “scope” out with the many binoculars on hand. Optics available included things like: a pair of Nikon 7 x 35 Action, that run ~$80; some kid’s varieties: Leupold 6 x 30 and Eagle Optics 6.5 x 32 (both provide such a nice image to me that I keep them around the house for quick feeder watching, and plan to have one in the car); they run ~$110/$130, respectively; various styles of 8 x 40-42 representing a wide range of price options ($200-$1200), and then some crème-de-la-crème, a couple types of Swarovski’s: 8.5 x 42 EL, and 10 x 50 SLC; at ~$2300 new, these are not for mere mortals, but were certainly a delight to have on hand, through which everyone got a chance to watch some birds. In the end, I continue to recommend the Nikon Monarch ATB 8 x 42, as one of the best values on the market. “Last year’s model” can be had now for under $300, a pretty stunning option for something that provides a great image with a 25 year warranty (from Nikon), and is waterproof.
I would urge you to contact Cynthia Fox at the Wild Bird Center in Eastgate Mall in Chapel Hill, if you’re in the market for some new optics, and shop locally. She is loaded with both a great variety of optics to compare, and entertaining, insightful information about the details of each, and what will work best for you and your budget. She has been a big supporter of New Hope Audubon over the years, and she provides great personal service. You can tell her you’re with Audubon and that I sent you, and we’ll keep that Audubon support going. Also, I just got this note from her (Aug. 18th): “for those of you looking to buy/upgrade binoculars or scopes soon, Swarovski is offering a Tax Free sale September 8-11 on all their core products. In NC that is 7.75 unless your county added the extra .25%”.
Finally, if you have questions about optics, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you could not make this event but are interested in attending one, let me know 1) that you are interested and 2) when a good time would be. If I get enough replies, I can repeat this sometime over the winter.