Sunday, September 8, 2019

Nikon Monarch 5 vs 7: which is best binocular for birding?

If you've been researching mid-priced binoculars you no doubt have the Nikon Monarchs on your list of best birding binoculars. Reading the advertisements does not always make clear the benefits of one model over the other. The Monarch 5 retails just under $300 and the Model 7 just under $500. But, besides the $200 price difference, what really is the difference between the Monarch 5 and Monarch 7 binoculars? And which one is the best for birding?

The Nikon Monarch series of binoculars is very popular for birding. They are all very good to excellent binoculars, especially for the price. Between the Monarch 5 and Monarch 7 binoculars these are the best for birding:
  1. Monarch 7 8x42 
  2. Monarch 5 8x42
  3. Monarch 5 10x42 
  4. Monarch 7 10x42
How did I come to this conclusion? Let's take a look at the specs and compare them to what bird watchers need in a binocular.



What binocular features are important for bird watchers?


Obviously, birders want binoculars that help them see active birds, often against harsh backlighting, frequently in low-light, and in all weather conditions. They want the optics to be light enough to carry all day. They want the view to be bright and the colors accurate. And they want sharp focus. And they need to be rugged.

[I wrote an article on choosing binoculars for beginning birders and discussed all the optical parameters and what they mean (here).]

Bird watching binoculars are typically within the range of 7-10x magnification. Most birding binoculars today are 8x (8 power magnification). Some birders like the increased magnification of 10x binoculars. This higher magnification, comes with some drawbacks. Specifically, 10x binoculars have a narrower field of view, making finding birds in your binoculars more difficult. They are also heavier and are not as bright. And any hand shake is magnified, too.

Because there is always a chance your binoculars could be damaged, lost or stolen, cost is an important feature in case they need to be replaced on short notice.

Photo of Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 binoculars
My recent purchase. Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 binoculars.

Nikon Monarch 5 vs Monarch 7 differences


The Monarch series of binoculars by Nikon is perhaps the most popular birding binoculars. The Monarch 5 series grew out of the Monarch ATB in 2012 and the Monarch 7 series was introduced at about the same time. The Monarch 5 kept getting updated with better glass and coatings to improve the optics. Thus the optical quality and body mechanics of the two models are very similar.

The main difference between the Nikon Monarch 5 and Monarch 7 binoculars is in regard to field of view and eye relief. The Monarch 7 eyepiece was designed with a wider field of view. The field of view is measured both as degrees and the width of view in feet at 1000 yards distance. The field of view for Monarch 5 is 330 feet at 1000 yards, which is a fairly narrow field of view. The Monarch 7 has a field of view of 420 feet at 1000 yards, which is considered a wide field of view. The Monarch 7 has a wider field of view allowing you to locate moving birds more easily.

On the other hand, the wider field of view means less eye relief--the distance between the ocular lens and your eye. If you wear eyeglasses the long eye relief feature comes into play. Eye relief should be greater than 16 millimeters if you wear eyeglasses to look through your binoculars. Eye relief of at least 19 millimeters makes viewing the entire field of view easy for nearly all eyeglass wearers, allowing us to see the full field of view. The Monarch 5 has a longer 19.5 millimeters of eye relief--very good. The Monarch 7 has a shorter eye relief of 17.2 millimeters--average, which may cause some eyeglass wearers not to see both edges of the entire field of view.

Even if some of the edges of the field of view is cut off for some eyeglass wearers because of shorter eye relief on Monarch 7, the field of view they can see is still wider than what they would get on the Monarch 5, even seeing all of it. The wider field of view on Monarch 7 more than makes up for the slightly shorter eye relief.

A quick note here about the field of view and image sharpness. While the center of your field of view should be tack sharp, the view in all binoculars will become slightly fuzzy and even slightly darker toward the edges. On the best binoculars this is barely perceptible. According to some very technical reviews (source), the Monarch 7 has more of its area (71%) than Monarch 5 (64%) sharply focused. So not only does the Monarch 7 have more total field of view to start with, it also has a larger usable field of view.

Each of these Monarch models come in magnifications of 8x and 10x.

The main difference, besides magnification, of the 8x42 and 10x42 is field of view, eye relief, and brightness. The more you magnify without changing the size of the objective lens (the big end) the less light is transmitted to your eyes. 8x42 binoculars are brighter than 10x42 binoculars.

A general idea of brightness can be determined by exit pupil--dividing the magnification into the objective lens size. Thus, 8x42 binoculars have an exit pupil of 5.25 mm. And 10x42 binoculars have an exit pupil of 4.2 mm. Relative brightness is the square of exit pupil. 8x42 binoculars have a relative brightness of 27.5*. 10x42 binoculars have a relative brightness of 17.6.

[* -- Nikon gives a relative brightness for its 8x42 binoculars as 28.1. I think this is wrong. I get 27.5. They give exit pupil as 5.3 mm. But I think that is rounded up from 5.25. Thus the difference. In the table below I use Nikon's printed specs.]

Key differences

If you look at other comparisons on the web you may see different numbers from older versions of these products. I went to Nikon's specification page (source) on 9/6/2019 to get these numbers.


Model Magnif. Field of View
@ 1000 yards
Eye relief Relative
Brightness
Monarch 5
8x42
8x 330 ft 19.5 mm 28.1
Monarch 7
8x42
8x 420 ft 17.1 mm 28.1
Monarch 5
10x42
10x 288 ft 18.4 mm 17.6
Monarch 7
10x42
10x 351 ft 16.4 mm 17.6


Monarch 5 8x42 (#7576)
Magnification: 8x
Field of View: 330 ft @ 1000 yards
Eye Relief: 19.5 mm
Relative Brightness: 28.1

Monarch 7 8x42 (#7548)
Magnification: 8x
Field of View: 420 ft @ 1000 yards
Eye Relief: 17.1 mm
Relative Brightness: 28.1

Monarch 5 10x42 (#7577)
Magnification: 10x
Field of View: 288 ft @ 1000 yards
Eye Relief: 18.4 mm
Relative Brightness: 17.6

Monarch 7 10x42 (#7549)
Magnification: 10x
Field of View: 351 ft @ 1000 yards
Eye Relief: 16.4 mm
Relative Brightness: 17.6

Unimportant differences


There are some other minor differences in the specs between the Monarch 5 and 7. These are so small as to not make a difference. But I present them here for completeness, and explain why these differences aren't important for determining which binocular is best for you.

The Monarch 5 and 7 series are all very light weight binoculars in the full-sized category. Thus, the 2.1 ounce difference between Monarch 5 and Monarch 7 8x42 is negligible. Even the heavier Monarch 7 10x42 is only 23.6 ounces. Some very expensive and desirable binoculars weight over 30 ounces.

Close focus is very important for viewing close birds. Some small birds in trees and bushes can be within 10 feet. Many birders also watch butterflies or dragonflies, sometimes at close distances. And you might have hummingbirds right outside your window. Some of the very best and expensive binoculars close focus to 6 or even 5 feet! The Monarch 5 is listed at 7.8 feet close focus. The close focus distance of the Monarch 7 is listed at 8.2 feet. Monarch 5 wins? Really, that's only 5 inches difference. Not that much. Reviewers who have carefully measured the close focus distance have all discovered that the actual binoculars focus down to 7 feet or less--the rated number should be considered a maximum. 8 feet or less for close focus is good for these binoculars.

Conclusion


Magnification is directly related to brightness. If you want 10x no matter what, you'll sacrifice image quality under low-light conditions. You will also sacrifice field of view. Either of the 8x42 binoculars has better optical qualities than the 10x binoculars.

The wide field of view coupled with the larger useful field of view) on the Monarch 7 8x42 makes it significantly superior to the Monarch 5 8x42, in my opinion. This advantage trumps any slight field of view reduction caused by shorter eye relief on Monarch 7. The Monarch 7 8x42 is worth the $200 difference.

The short eye relief on the Monarch 7 10x42 will cancel out any field of view advantage for eyeglass wearers compared to the Monarch 5 10x42. In my opinion, the Monarch 7 10x42 is NOT worth the extra $200 for eyeglass wearers compared to the Monarch 5 10x42. Eyeglass wearers should probably choose the Monarch 5 10x42 over the Monarch 7 10x42 if you are really set on 10x magnification.

If you don't wear glasses, but you must have the 10x binoculars, then the Monarch 7 10x42 will give you a wider view than the Monarch 5 10x42. Is it worth it? Frankly, I'd still try to sway you to the Monarch 7 8x42 with its wider and brighter field of view. But if you are going to use these binoculars primarily for distant ducks, shorebirds, or hawks under well-lit skies, then the Monarch 7 10x42 may be worth it if you don't wear eyeglasses.

What's the difference between Monarch 5 and Monarch 7 binoculars?

Yes, you are basically paying $200 more for a significantly wider field of view on Monarch 7 versus Monarch 5 8x42. The wider field of view is definitely worth the extra cost of the Monarch 7 8x42. In my opinion. Or, since I recently purchased the Nikon 7 8x42 for myself, maybe I'm trying to justify my decision!

I hope I've given you enough information here to help you make your purchasing decision.


First choice: Nikon Monarch 7 8x42  #7548 (Purchase from Amazon)

Second choice: Nikon Monarch 5 8x42  #7576 (Check price at Amazon)
Third choice: Nikon Monarch 5 10x42  #7577 (Check price at Amazon)
Fourth choice: Nikon Monarch 7 10x42  #7549 (Check price at Amazon)



You may enjoy: Review: 5 best binoculars for bird watching beginners

Check out our in-depth binocular buying guide. Compare all the specs in the handy tables.


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