I recently took these Vanguard Spirit ED 8×42 Binoculars with me on safari to Zimbabwe and below are my findings and in-depth review of them:
Taking a full sized 8×42 binoculars like these Vanguard Spirit ED’s on safari binoculars is not an obvious choice for everyone as a mid-sized or even compact binocular is easier to pack in with your luggage.
But if you are looking for the best possible performance and are not too fussed about your baggage size, then a quality full sized binocular is the way to go.
- ED glass lenses (extra low dispersion glass)
- Very lightweight full sized 42mm binoculars
- 100% Water proof & Fogproof
- Excellent image quality
The Safari Guide Opinion
The main photo of me above using these Vanguard’s looking at an elephant was taken by my wife whilst on Safari in Zimbabwe. Whilst binoculars may not seem necessary being so close to something like an elephant, but I find it really interesting is to look at all the little details. Things like their eyes and skin are so incredible and a quality pair of optics like the Vanguard 8×42 Spirit ED can really help you to to appreciate them. I must confess however that my heart was in my mouth, but I also knew that from their body language, that we were not really in much danger and it was far safer for us just to remain calm.
42mm Objective Lenses
My usual choice for a safari binocular is to take a fairly compact and tough pair of binoculars, something like the Steiner 10.5×28 Wildlife Pro Binocular or the excellent Minox 8×33 BL Binoculars that won an award for the Best Safari & Travel Binocular in 2010. The main reason I usually take a compact or mid sized binocular is because I like to keep my luggage as light and compact as possible, but for this trip I knew that as well as the big stuff, I would also be doing a lot of birding early in the mornings and so I decided that I wanted to focus more on the binoculars performance and in particular low light performance. Therefore a “full sized” 8×42 binocular would be ideal:
Binoculars with an 8x magnification and 42mm objective lenses like these Vanguard Spirit ED 8420 are a common choice for bird watching, as they often strike a good compromise between magnification, as wide a field of view as possible, their light gathering potential and size of device.
Like all 8×42 binoculars, these have an Exit Pupil of 5.25 and a Twilight Factor of 18.3, which both indicate that they are fine for most low light conditions like what you find early in the morning and early evening when most birds and other wildlife is most active. It is important to keep in mind that these figures do not take into account the quality of the lenses and prisms, but they do make it possible to compare the performance of binoculars and as we have already mentioned these Vanguard’s do have really good quality lenses, prisms and coatings that will produce a brighter image than inferior binoculars of the same configuration.
Carrying full sized binoculars in the Field
I like to carry my camera as well as my binoculars with me in the field and it is for this reason that I usually opt for a compact that I can easily tuck away in my pocket when not in use. The down sides to this are as we have already discussed the fact that compacts don’t produce as high quality images and taking them in and out of your pocket can also become a pain.
A solution to this is to use your full size binoculars with a harness. That way your hands are free to use your camera and with the best ones, your binoculars are still easily accessed. For more, take a look at a review I wrote on the excellent LockDown Optics Deployment System, a binocular harness that I highly recommend especially if you are going to be doing some walking in the bush
The biggest selling point of these Vanguard Spirit ED binoculars is the fact that they use Extra-Low Dispersion glass (ED glass), that is designed to help prevent the blurring you sometimes see around objects.
ED glass helps because it enables the designers to direct the wavelengths of light more effectually onto the focus point. Due to the added cost involved in producing ED glass lenses they were up until very recently reserved for the high end of the market. However with increased competition I have seen it being added to more and more binoculars which is a huge benefit to us the consumers.
The Vanguards use a number of coatings on the lenses as well as the prisms that help with image quality and to deliver as much light to your eyes for a brighter image:
The 8×42 Spirit ED is fully multi-coated, what this means is that all glass surfaces that are in contact with air have more than one layer of an anti-reflection coating. This plays an important role in minimizing the light being reflected away from the lenses, so more light gets through the system (better transmission) and therefore these will produce brighter images than binoculars with none or fewer coatings.
These Vanguard Spirit ED 8×42 Binoculars use good quality BaK-4 glass in their roof prisms instead of the much cheaper and lower quality BK-7 prisms sometimes found on binoculars in this price range.
What is more, Vanguard have also included phase-correction coatings on the prisms which help to produce higher quality images with improved colours by keeping the light that passes through them in the precise color phases. Once again, these coatings are only usually found on far more expensive products.
Also included is Vanguard’s own silver V-Max coating, a very reflective coating that helps to further brighten the image by ensuring as much gets to your eyes as possible.
The objective lenses on the Spirit ED also have an Emerald Coating added to them which Vanguard say helps to enhance the entire green tone color spectrum. These coatings are mostly designed for nature and wildlife observation as they are said to help produce very vibrant but natural green tones.
In order for me to make the most objective judgement on the optical performance as possible and as I do with all my binocular reviews, I spent a lot of time comparing what I could see through these with that of my control 8×42 binoculars before I left on safari with them and below are my findings:
As expected, in good light I was not really able to notice any difference in image brightness. However just after sunset when the light was poor, I thought that the Vanguards performed very well versus my benchmark 8×42’s and so rate them well above average in this area.
To be honest I could not really see what difference the Emerald Coating makes to the image even when quickly comparing the view between the Spirit ED and my controls.
In a way this is good as the image that is produced feels very natural without any huge amounts of tinting. There was also a good amount of contrast, but not so much as to make the image look abnormal.
The ED glass is obviously doing it’s job as no matter how hard I tried to look for it, to me there was no real noticeable colour fringing on the object peripheries that you can often see on cheaper optics.
Looking right at the edges of the image there was only a very minimal amount of blurring of the image, it is only noticeable if you are really looking for it and is not enough to put you off at all. This amount of image softening was about as good as most in this class.
Field of View & Close Focus
The field of view (FOV) of the 8×42 Vanguard Spirit ED is 330ft at 1000 yards (110m at 100m) which equates to an angle of view of 6.3°. This is reasonably good, but is a little shy when compared to the best.
To help put this into some sort of perspective, binocular like the excellent Vortex 8×42 Razor HD has a FOV of 129m at 1,000 meters, which is more, but remember that they cost much, much more than these.
At 2.5 meters (8.2ft), I would describe their minimum close focusing distance as being about average. (under 6ft is excellent).
At 22.6oz (640g) these are very light for an 8×42 and at 14.5 long by 12.5cm wide, they are about average for a full sized binocular.
Like most binoculars produced these days, these come with a rubber covering on the body, but unlike many this armouring is a little softer, making them more tactile for a really secure grip, even when wet.
As well as helping with grip, this rubber covering protects the bins from smaller bumps and knocks, dampens down any sounds if you were to knock them and makes them very unreflective. This may not sound like much, but in this bush this can really help by ensuring that you don’t scare away timid wildlife.
Water & Fog Proof
The body of the 8420 Spirit ED is completely sealed making them fully waterproof. What is more is the inside has had all the air removed and replaced with nitrogen gas which prevents the inside of the lenses from fogging up.
Remember, fully sealed binoculars are not only important in the wet but it will also prevent any small dust particles from entering the system that could ruin your view – which is important if you are going on safari in a dry or dusty area.
The eyecups on these Vanguard binoculars use a twist-up mechanism, which worked well on the pair I was reviewing.
They have an eye relief of 19mm which is excellent and should easily be able to accommodate most eye glass wearers.
With a grippy rubber track and a silver trim, I really like the look and feel of the focussing wheel on the Spirit ED.
To go from near focus to infinity takes only 3/4 of a turn, which makes focussing very fast, but in theory also makes fine tuning the focus just a tad more tricky. I however never really found this to be a problem.
The diopter adjustment that is used to correctly set up the binoculars to accommodate for the differences in your eyes is located near the right eye-cup and consists of an etched hard rubber ring. It worked well and was easy to adjust but not too easy so as to make accidental movement common.
These as with all higher spec Vanguards come with an excellent carry case which are not only great quality, but have a great feature whereby you can quickly remove the padded section neck strap on the binoculars to make a hand strap using quick release buckles.
Then the padded section of the strap can be attached to the carry bag to make for one of the most comfortable traps of any bino bag that I have seen.
The Vanguard Spirit ED’s use a rain-guard made from plastic and softer objective lens caps. All of which were tight enough so as not to easily fall off accidentally.
Also included is a fairly standard lens cleaning cloth.
Priced at around £240 – £300 ($250 – $280), I think that you are getting and extremely good quality pair of optics for your money:
Strong Areas: For me, one of the most impressive aspects of the Spirit ED is just how many high end components and coatings that Vanguard have added to this model, yet have still managed to keep the price down. These higher end features are usually only found on far more expensive bins but which equates to a very good quality image and excellent low light performance.
They are lightweight and reasonably compact for an 8×42 and the quality of the carry bag and neck strap is excellent.
Weak Areas: In a perfect world, I would have liked to have seen a closer minimum focus distance and a field of view that was just a bit wider.
So overall, I would describe these as being a very good low cost, full sized 8×42 binocular that definitely punch well above their price tag in almost all areas including: build quality, quality of components and the image produced.
And so I would highly recommend the Vanguard Spirit ED 8×42 binoculars to any one who is looking for a full sized general use, birding and safari binocular that wont break the bank.
Main Features & Specifications
- 8x Magnification
- 42mm Objective Lenses (Diameter)
- Prism: Roof Prism
- 5.3mm Exit Pupil Diameter
- Twilight Factor = 18.33
- 19mm of Eye Relief
- Weight: 641g (22.6oz)
- Length: 14.5cm (5.7in)
- Width: 12.4cm (4.9in)
- Field of View (FOV): 110m at 1,000 meters / 330ft at 1,000 yards
- Real FOV: 6.3°
- Apparent FOV: 50.4°
- Close Focus Distance: 8.2ft
- Fully Multi-Coated Lenses
- Phase Correction Coatings
- Extra Low Dispersion Glass
- Tripod Adaptable