After 6 years of hard abuse to my binoculars, it was time for an upgrade. I had the Swift Audubon HHS 8.5x44, and loved them until the end when they got too scratched up/foggy to give me a clear image. If you are like me and simply cannot afford a pair of Swarovski binoculars, but still want top performance, keep reading.
After reading many reviews about the Nikon Monarch series, Bushnell Legend Ultra HD's, Swift binoculars, ect., I came across a brand unfamiliar to me... Zen-Ray. Obviously I was skeptical, but after reading a bunch of personal reviews on "BirdForum" and elsewhere, I quickly became interested. Plus, they were coming out with a new model, the Zen-Ray ED3 released on August 1, 2011. After much deliberation and hesitation, I ordered the 8x43 ED3's with a 20% discount that Zen-Ray offered at the time.
I've been using the binoculars for a few days now, and I'm 100% sure I made the right choice. These binoculars blow my Swift Audubon HHS out of the water. To get the ball rolling, here are the specs:
Dielectic Prism Coating
Multi-coated Optics for 99.7% light transmission
After reading all the hype, I was actually nervous to put them to my eyes for the first time. When I mustered up the courage to look through them, it was magical.
These have to be one of the brightest optics I've seen, performing very well in low light and high contrast situations. They are almost too bright... almost. The contrast produces a pleasing, clean, neutral image that will leave you drooling. I never wanted to take them away from my face.
The binoculars are further complimented by a crisp, sharp image that comes into focus quite quickly. Because my old binoculars focused really slow, it has taken me some time to get used to a fast-focus binocular. I often pass the "sweet-spot", but I'm sure that I will get used to them in due time. The sharpness does drop off somewhat at the edges, as it does with most/all binoculars, but it is not bothersome to me. I have to look for it to notice it.
The look and feel work well for me. They are cleaned-up from the ED2 model and seem well built. The tripod mount cover gets loose once in a while, but is a quick screw back into place. The optic covers that come with them do not feel like they will come off by themselves. Overall, they have a good feel to them, for me at least.
I'm not a pro-binocular tester, and haven't used the alpha-glass (Zeiss, Swarovski, Leica) much, but others are already placing these binoculars in the "alpha" category. They certainly produce a better image than my Swifts and my fathers' Nikon Monarchs. And at 1/4 or 1/5 the price of the alphas, you can't go wrong. The warehouse is in the United States, and customer service is very good. I ordered them directly from Zen-Ray and after they shipped, it was only 2 days before they were in my hands.
I have no affiliation with Zen-Ray, and did not get paid to write this review, but it would be nice if I had. I'm only writing this to help binocular-seekers who desire a high quality image on a budget. I'm also kind of bored waiting for my plane to take me back to Alaska...