Features April 2009 Issue

7x50 Marine Binoculars Update

Testers rate Steinerís latest Compass-equipped Commander boating binoculars with 12-year-old Fujinons.

A pair of top-quality 7x50 marine binoculars can be pretty pricey, but itís an essential piece of gear on a cruising boat. Good binoculars offer superior optics, enhanced durability, and a long warranty. This binocular test update compares Steinerís latest premium marine optics offering, the Steiner Commander XP, with the Commander V from Steiner, and the Fujinon FMTRC-SX. The Fujinon binoculars were the favorite in Practical Sailorís 2006 test. All three marine binoculars in this test are waterproof and have a compass, a focus adjustment for each eye with a range of 5 to ¨5, 7x magnification, 500-millimeter objective lenses, and a rangefinder.

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Steiner Commander XP
The Steiner Commander XP comes with multiple eyecups to accommodate glasses- and non-glasses-wearers.

Atop-quality 7x50 marine binocular can be pricey, but itís essential gear on a cruising boatóand itís usually money well spent. Primo binos offer superior optics, enhanced durability, and a long warranty. Buyers should expect gear of this caliber to last a decade or longer, without breaking a sweat. Case in point: Our 12-year-old Fujinon FMTRC-SX binocular bested the field in our last test of pricey binos (November 2006) and was the measuring stick for this test update.

Check out that past test and the 2006 report on binos under $300 for free at www.practical-sailor.com, in the "Tools and Techniques" section.

What We Tested

In Practical Sailorís 2006 look at this category of marine binoculars (with and without internal compass), we compared products from Steiner, Swarovski, and West Marine with the Fujinon old-timers. Since then, Steiner has released the Commander XP, the companyís latest premium marine optics offering.

This test update compares the XP with the compass-equipped Fujinon, the reigning PS

Best Choice in this category, and the Steiner Commander V with compass, which we recommended in the 2006 test.

All three marine binos in this test are waterproof and have a compass, a focus adjustment for each eye with a range of 5 to -5, 7x magnification, 500 millimeter objective lenses, and a rangefinder.

How We Tested

Each of the binoculars faced land-based testing and sea trials in the Florida Keys. Testers rated visual acuity (sharpness), handling, focusing, eyecup comfort, and compass.

Aboard a test boat, we used the binoculars to sight nearby objects and view day beacons, houses, trees, and other boats during daylight and twilight hours. After sunset, testers viewed lit navigation markers and a long shoreline with a mix of well-lit houses and mangrove forest. Also, one tester, with a known value for his myopia, tested the binocularsí diopter scales for accuracy.

The Value Guide on page 27 offers manufacturer specifications and our testersí combined ratings. The focus rating includes the use of the individual eye focus, the usefulness of the diopter adjustment, and the comfort and effectiveness of the eyecups (with and without eyeglasses). If a particular binocular performed well in all areas, it was rated Excellent. Deficiencies in one or more areas resulted in a lower rating.

Steiner Commander V, Fujinon FMTRC-SX, Steiner Commander XP
Steiner Commander V, Fujinon FMTRC-SX, Steiner Commander XP

 

Handling ratings take into account the quality of the supplied case, comfort of the neck strap, weight, lens caps ease of use, and the binoís shape and grip.

Our day/night view rating includes visual acuity, ease of compass use, and any reduction in field of view when using glasses.

Makersí claims of waterproofness were confirmed by dunking the products in salt water. None showed evidence of water intrusion.

In the final analysis, we considered the ratings, price, and warranty of each binocular.

Fujinon FMTRC-SX

The FMTRC-SX is more bulky and heavier by far than the Steiners. The Fujinon has thick, black rubber for grip and protective armor. Two testers preferred the grip and heft of the 55-ounce Fujinons, but another tester found them too heavy.

Steiner Commander XP
The Steiner Commander XP comes with interchangeable eyecups: two sets of round eyecups for eyeglass wearers.

 

Testers found focusing to be a breeze with the Fujinon. The individual-eye diopter adjustments were accurate, easy to use, and easy to read. Glasses-wearers with a known correction can simply set it into the diopters, then use the binos without glasses and theyíll be focused.

The silver-dollar-sized compass was well dampened and easy to read in daylight. In low light, testers found getting a bearing easier with one eye closed.

Fujinon does not supply a case with the FMTRC-SX. The strap has a large neck pad that offers flotation, and the front lens caps fit well and were easy to use. They are hinged individually on the bottom of each front lens and fall out of view easily as soon as they were opened.

Bottom line: The FMTRC-SX has superior optics and top-quality construction, and carries the only lifetime warranty in the field. It remains our top pick.

Steiner Commander V

In 2006, we tested and recommended the Steiner Commander V (model 392, with compass), and took a second look at for this test update. Steiner has updated the Commander V since the 2006 test, but the changes are minor.

The compact Commander V is lighter than the Fujinons and features high-definition optics and synthetic nitrile rubber coating for armor. One tester noted that the fluid-damped compassó2Ĺ inches in diameter and about an inch talló
interfered with his grip.

When we set the diopter to the known correction of the myopic tester, the Commander V required further adjustment to gain sharp focus. Both Steiners have lockable memory oculars that can be set to a particular correction. This feature will

A contoured version with light-blocking wings that roll down. A horseshoe shaped tool to change the eyecups comes standard.
come in handy on night watches.

When testers unpacked the Commander V from its box, the right eyecup and base became detached from the ocular. Steiner has seen redesigned the eyecups to keep this from happening.

The Commander V compass is well dampened, but testers found that a rapid swing would stop it for a few seconds before it swung the last 20 degrees to the final bearing. The compass was easy to read and its battery-operated light improved night readings; the light requires two watch-style alkaline batteries.

The Commander V comes with a hard-sided case and a 1-inch wide web nylon strap.

Bottom line: The Commander V is a high-quality option for a compact bino. Itís pricier than the Fujinon, but we still recommend it.

Steiner Commander XP C

The XP (model 395) is Steinerís latest addition to the Commander lineup. According to the company, the XP features the same high-definition optics of earlier Commander binos but has a new outer lens coating that further enhances optical performance. The XP also has a new rubber armor designed for a longer service life than previous Commander products.

"The new exterior lens coatings on the objective and ocular lenses are hydrophobic and cause water, fresh or salt, to bead and virtually fall off of the lens surface, reducing distortion from water droplets sticking to the surface," explained a Steiner marketing representative.

Testers dunked each of the binoculars to test this effect and found that the water drained off every one almost immediately. When we tested with a spray bottle to reduce the size of the water droplets, none of the bino lenses shed the water. (See photo, below left.) Steiner maintains that their spray tests showed that the coating allowed the water to shed easily.

The XP binos appear very similar to the Commander V with only a few minor cosmetic changes. The XP uses the same compass and compass light as the

Commander XP’s hydrophobic and Fujinon
Testers sprayed water on the lenses to test the Commander XPís hydrophobic coating (left) against the coatings of the other binoculars, like the Fujinon (right).
Commander V and weighs in at 39 ounces, a smidge lighter than the Commander V.

Testers found the focus diopter index and marks to be accurate. The memory ocular on the XP is silver with chartreuse tabs (see photo at left) and operates in the same manner as the all-black units on the Commander V. The focusing rings operated smoothly and held their position when set.

The XP ships with three different sets of eyecups: One is contoured with wings that roll down nicely, and the others are for eyeglass-wearers. We found changing the eyecups easy with the supplied tool, just snap one off and snap the other one on.

Steiner provides a hard-sided case with the XP and a yellow, 2-inch-wide floatable neck strap.

Steiner says Commander housings are purged and pressurized with nitrogen, making water intrusion virtually impossible. Our tests supported this.

Bottom line: Another well-built, compact bino from Steiner featuring top-quality optics. The one downside is the unitís high purchase price.

Conclusion

Our testers had trouble detecting even minor differences in visual acuity of any of the three binoculars tested. They were all superb and rated Excellent for day/night viewing.

Testers liked the variety of eyecups available with the XP and the quality of the mid-priced Commander V. We would prefer that the Fujinons came with a case, but they remain the top pick in this category because of their rugged construction, quality optics, lower price, and lifetime warranty.

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