Features November 2007 Issue

Nikon and Fujinon go head-to-head in Practical Sailors’ test of image-stabilized binoculars

Nikon matches Fujinon in optics, but lags in accessories and pricing.

We pitted the Nikon 14x40 Stabil-Eyes against the Fujinon TS 1040 Techno-Stabi binocular, which beat out four competitors&emdash;priced from $500 to $1,300 and with magnification factors ranging from 10x to 16x&emdash;for the top pick in December. This time, the two nearly identical binoculars carry the same 14x magnification rating but do vary a couple hundred dollars in price. Performance-wise, testers consider these two units to be equals. We found no advantage to the Nikon for its extra operating mode as it proved to be of little use on the water. We did find significant advantages for Fujinon in two areas: its superior carrying case and its lower price. However, for normal day-to-day use onboard, IS binoculars are no substitute for a quality 7x50 binocular with compass.

                                                ****

This review is an update to our last image-stabilized (IS) binocular evaluation, which ran in the December 2006 issue. This time, Nikon supplied us with a unit with comparable specifications to our 2006 winner, the Fujinon Techno-Stabi, to see whether the new Nikon could unseat our top pick.

What We Tested

We pitted the Nikon 14x40 StabilEyes against the Fujinon TS 1040 Techno-Stabi binocular, which beat out four competitors&emdash;priced from $500 to $1,300 and with magnification factors ranging from 10x to 16x&emdash;for the top pick in December. This time, the two nearly identical binoculars carry the same 14x magnification rating but do vary a couple hundred dollars in price.

Nikon StabilEyes and Techno-Stabi Binoculars
The Nikon StabilEyes (left) and the Fujinon Techno-Stabi binoculars are equals in the performance arena. Our final call on these boiled down to cost: The Nikons are about $200 more than the Fujinons.

Fujinon Techno-Stabi

The Fujinon Techno-Stabi features a magnification factor of 14x, coupled with 40-millimeter objective lenses. They have black rubber armor coating and a polycarbonate case to protect the lenses and image-stabilizing electronics. The rear case panel holds a pair of adjustable eyepieces, the battery case cover release, and in the upper right-hand corner, the focus knob.

The range of interpupillary distance adjustment is not as wide as some of the other binoculars weíve tested; however, for our testers, it was not a problem. Four AA batteries located in a latched compartment on the bottom side of the binocular case supply power for the electronics. Two option kits allow the user to power these binoculars from either shipís AC or DC.

Rubber eyecups extend back from the ocular lenses and must be folded down to accommodate eyeglasses. A removable hand strap fits on either side of the case. Our testers preferred using these binoculars with the hand strap removed and neck strap attached.

Focusing is accomplished using a single diopter on the right eyepiece and a center-focus knob on the top of the case. The diopter scale is marked only with a plus, minus, and an index. No numerical scale is provided. To focus, users must adjust the center-focus knob with the right eye closed, and then with the left eye closed refocus the right eye image with the diopter adjustment. Any further focusing is done only with the center-focus. We found the center-focus knob a bit hard to turn using just one finger.

Fujinon uses a very sophisticated stabilization system that relies on input from two piezo gyro vibration sensors, one for the vertical axis and one for the horizontal axis, to detect cyclical and repetitive motion. In addition, it uses the input from another pair of gyro sensors, again one on the vertical axis and one on the horizontal axis, to detect binocular direction. These four inputs are sent to a microprocessor that sends output signals to a pair of direct-drive motors that instantaneously move a gimbaled erecting prism to correct for any movement. Fujinon, in the ownerís manual, says the system will correct for up to 5 degrees of motion in either direction. Our testers found that the Fujinon image-stabilizing system performed superbly.

Two switches located on the top left-hand side of the housing control the stabilization. Power-up the unit with a momentary press of the power button. A second press activates the system. Youíll know itís working by the electric-motor sound that emanates momentarily from the housing. A brief press of the power-off button shuts down the system.

The Fujinon Techno-Stabi binoculars earned an Excellent rating for viewability. The IS system held the image steady and allowed our testers to read the numbers on the mainsail of the cruiser we spied from a mile away.

Fujinon ships the Techno-Stabi binoculars in a custom fitted Pelican hard case for the ultimate in storage protection. A wide, padded neck strap is also standard. This binocular is not equipped with front lens covers.

Bottom Line:

Superb performance coupled with a tough custom carry case and a reasonable price keep the Fujinons on the top of our IS binocular list.

 

Nikon StabilEyes

We found the construction of the Nikon binocular to be very similar to the Fujinon. It also features a magnification factor of 14x, coupled with 40-millimeter objective lenses and has black rubber armor coating and a polycarbonate case. But itís molded into a slightly different shape.

Protective Binocular Cases
Because IS binos are quite pricey, protecting them from damage is key. The Fujinon has a clear advantage in this area with its standard, custom, hard-plastic Pelican case. Nikon ships its StabilEyes with a padded cloth case.

The rear case panel looks identical to the Fujinon. It holds a pair of adjustable eyepieces, the battery case cover release, and in the upper right-hand corner the focus knob. The interpupillary distance adjustment is the same. Other common features include four AA batteries in a latched compartment on the bottom side of the housing, rubber eyecups extending back from the ocular lenses that must be folded down to accommodate eyeglasses, and a removable hand strap that fits on either side of the case.

Focusing is done in the same manner as it is with the Fujinon. Again, we found the center-focus knob a bit hard to turn with one finger.

Nikon uses the same sophisticated stabilization system as the Fujinon but takes it one step further by adding a second operational mode. Nikon calls its system "VR" for vibration reduction. According to Greg Chevalier, from Nikon Binocular Marketing, "Nikon has a feature that is unique: ... dual stabilizing modes (Land/Onboard)."

Nikon engineered these modes to dampen different types of vibration and other movements. The Land mode reduces hand-shake and other smaller vibrations (to a limit of or &endash; Ĺ degree), while the Onboard mode compensates for larger movements such as experienced on the water, etc. (to a limit of or &endash; up to 5 degrees). Our testers found that the Nikon image-stabilizing system performed on par with the Fujinon when operated in the Onboard mode.

A quick press of the power button turns the binoculars on. A second press activates the VR system. Youíll know itís working by the electric-motor sound that emanates momentarily from the housing. Pressing a separate button turns off the binos. Another, smaller button centered on top toggles between the Land and Onboard modes.

The Nikon earned an Excellent for viewability. The VR system held the image steady, making the view of the distant sailboat comparable to that achieved with the Fujinon.

Nikon ships the StabilEyes with a padded cloth case that we found too small to hold the binoculars and the padded neck strap. The Nikon is not equipped with front lens caps.

Bottom Line:

Though it matched the Fujinon in performance, the Nikon falls behind on pricing and its carrying case.

Conclusions

The Nikon StabilEyes and Fujinon Techno-Stabi are so close in appearance, we decided to ask Nikon about the similarities. Hereís what Chevalier had to say: "I donít know if the Nikon is manufactured by Fujinon, or if they are both manufactured by another contractor. In the Japanese optical manufacturing business, a lot of product comes out of the same few plants&emdash;itís the features, specifications, and proprietary glass and coatings, et cetera, that separate those that might resemble one another."

In our opinion, it really doesnít matter where each was made or what specifics each maker optioned, because, performance-wise, our testers consider these two units to be equals. Since performance was excellent in both units, we focused on the differences in each binocular to pick a winner. We found no advantage to the Nikon for its extra operating mode as it proved to be of little use on the water. We did find significant advantages for Fujinon in two areas: Fujinon ships its binocular with a far superior carry case, and it is about $200 less expensive than the Nikon. The Fujinon Techno-Stabi remains our top pick for an IS binocular.

However, for normal day-to-day use onboard, IS binos are no substitute for a quality 7x50 binocular with compass. In low-light or dusk settings, 7x50s reign as they allow in more light. The image-stabilized products are heavier, less rugged, and require batteries&emdash;not to mention they have no compass. We donít recommend buying them unless there already is a good pair of 7x50s onboard.

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