Phillip when his binoculars caught my eye. They had a built-in rangefinder and they were a top brand.
"How much did they cost?" I asked.
"Three thousand," he said. Gasp!
I asked what made them worth that much, and that's when he enlightened me: "Affordable" binoculars are fine for limited use, but when you use them a lot - for example, if you're a hunting guide who scans the land with them all day long, day after day - they'll strain your eyes. A good pair of binoculars doesn't do that.
I took a look through his binoculars. I couldn't see the difference, so I took his word for it.
Yesterday, though, I took a pair of Nikon Monarch 3 binoculars for a test ride at a local wildlife area, and I finally got it.
First, I need to preface my remarks by saying I have never paid for a pair of binoculars. When I first started hunting, I borrowed Hank's binoculars. He couldn't remember how much they cost, but I'm gonna say it was less than $200.
Then another company - one known for respectable quality at an affordable price - sent me a pair of binoculars for review. At the time, they retailed for about $200, but I looked them up yesterday and found the price had dropped to $165. I liked them, and I saw no reason to upgrade.
Then, earlier this fall, a Nikon rep asked if I'd like to review the new Monarch 3, and I said, "Sure!"
I was actually kind of excited about it because I shoot Nikon cameras (for food photography and duck feather photography), and I love Nikon.
At home, I took them out in the back yard to glass the field behind my house. Switching back and forth between the Nikon binos and my other review binos, they seemed pretty similar.
Then I took them on a few duck hunts. I know, I know, we don't generally glass for ducks. But by the time I got these binoculars, I had only a day or two left in my deer hunting season, so I figured I could glass for ducks when things were quiet. Again, I had no problems with them. So far, so good.
Yesterday, though, I put them to a test that finally made the difference clear: About an hour before sunset, I took both pairs of binoculars to a nearby wildlife area that I'm hoping to hunt this season.
I hoisted the older binoculars and scanned the area, picking out landscape features near and far, looking from all different angles, including facing into the impending sunset. Yep, all good.
Then I lifted the Monarch 3s and holy crap! Looking through them was easier, no doubt about it. It was actually the last thing I expected to find, because $250 puts these at the moderate end of the binocular price range (binos at Cabela's range from $30 to $3,000). I thought I'd need a much more expensive pair of binoculars to notice that difference.
Now here's the problem: I can't tell you why they felt better. But it was a familiar feeling.
When I took up serious photography in 2007, I got a Nikon camera body and two "kit" lenses for $1,000, which is definitely cheap in the camera world. The quality of my photos was good - I was getting published in food magazines, and many of the photos you see in Hank's book (Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast) came out of those lenses.
Later, I got a $550 60 mm macro lens for Christmas, and when I upgraded to a better camera body in 2010, I also decided to spring for a new 24-70 mm lens, which cost $1,800. With these lenses, all of my photos now just looked better. More crisp, more clear, more beautiful. More professional.
That's how the Monarch 3 feels compared with my older review binoculars, except it wasn't just the quality of the image, but the ease of looking through them. My eyes just didn't have to work as hard to process the image.
You can read about all the Monarch 3 features and specs by clicking here, and if you can make sense of them, you know far more about binoculars than I do and you're probably laughing at me by now.
But I will single out one more feature I am eminently qualified to discuss: The focus knob on the Monarch 3, as promised on the Nikon website, is really smooth and easy to work - much easier than my other binoculars.
I never had any problem focusing with the other ones, but because I have arthritis in my hands, being able to adjust focus easily is a huge plus. That's actually the main reason I got a Bushnell scope for my .270 a couple years ago, not a Leupold - I found it very difficult to move the Leupold magnification ring.
Upshot: I can wholeheartedly recommend these binoculars. I'm feeling very lucky to have them.
© Holly A. Heyser 2011