Monday, June 1, 2020

Best mid-priced birding binoculars: Nikon Monarch 7

My Review: Nikon Monarch 7 for birding

Is the Nikon Monarch 7 ATB 8x42 any good for bird watching? I'm going to start with the conclusion. Here is my opinion after owning and using this binocular for a full year and doing additional research:

The Nikon Monarch 7 ATB 8x42 binocular is the best bird watching binocular under $500. In fact, it may match or have advantages over binoculars costing twice as much.

For this reason, I believe these binoculars are also perhaps the best value for the money.

Compare prices at these affiliate links
(links will take you off my page):

Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 at Amazon

Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 at Adorama



Photo of Greg Gillson
Here I am using my Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 binoculars. May 25, 2020.

Binocular specs (the numbers that matter)


Model
Size
Price
MSRP
FOV @
1000 yds
Close
Focus
Exit
Pupil
Eye
Relief
Weight
Nikon Monarch 7
8x42
$479.95 420 ft 8.2 ft 5.25 mm 17.1 mm 22.9 oz

The table above shows the important specifications that need to be considered before you even look at a bird through a potential pair of binoculars. Binoculars with specs outside of certain ranges will not be good for bird watching, even if they are otherwise excellent binoculars.

I realize that these terms and specs can be confusing. But they are important to understand when deciding which binocular to purchase.

The magnification of 8x and the objective lens size of 42 mm is ideal. Dividing the magnification into the lens size gives the value of 5.25 mm exit pupil. This is great for a bright view in low light conditions. It is also more than enough in bright conditions. Increasing the magnification to 10x would reduce the exit pupil and makes them less bright at dawn and dusk or cloudy days. So this 8x42 size is best for bird watching in dim or shadowed conditions.

The 420 feet field of view (FOV) at 1000 yards is amazing! Not many binoculars do better. I have an older pair of binoculars that only have 330 feet FOV. In comparison, they are like looking through a straw! I was looking at a nearby brick wall yesterday to compare the two. With the older pair of binoculars I could only see 5-1/2 cap bricks across the top width of the wall. With the Monarch 7's I could see almost 8 bricks wide! Okay, so what does this mean for birding? It means you will be able to follow the warbler hopping from branch to branch in the tree top. With less field of view the bird may hop out of view. You'll have to put your binoculars down to re-spot the bird with your eyes. Wide field of view is very important for woodland birding. It is also beneficial for scanning in open country or viewing out to sea from shore. More magnification reduces field of view, this is why 8x is better than 10x.

The close focus of 8.2 feet is good, but not great. You should be able to focus on birds close to you in the bushes without having to back up. However, if you do butterfly watching you may want a binocular with closer focus--perhaps down to 5 feet.

The eye relief of 17.1 mm is just adequate for eyeglass wearers. To see all of that huge field of view I actually push my binoculars against my eyeglasses a bit sliding them closer to my eyes. Otherwise, if the eye relief is 15.5-16.5 mm the view may vignette--you won't see the entire field edge-to-edge. Eye relief on some binoculars goes all the way up to 20 mm--more than enough for all eyeglass wearers. Binoculars with eye relief of less than 15.5, perhaps all the way down to 14 mm or even 12 mm are unusable if you wear eyeglasses.

These are very light-weight binoculars for their size, at 22.9 ounces. That is due to their construction. They will put less strain on your neck and arms using them all day in the field.

Photo of Nikon Monarch 7 8x42

The optical and physical binocular properties


No other group demands more of its binoculars than do birders. What do bird watchers want in a binocular?
  • Sharp, bright image with accurate color
  • Wide angle field of view
  • Good magnification
  • Ruggedly built, waterproof and fog proof
Does this binocular deliver? Oh, yes.

Sharp, bright image with accurate color


This binocular is built with all the best optical glass and prisms and all the best coatings that one would expect at this price range.

The lenses are made of Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass. All lens surfaces are fully multi-coated. The prisms have dielectric coatings. Together these provide a bright and contrastingly sharp view.

The prisms are also phase coated. These give accurate color reproduction.

All these terms may sound like meaningless buzz words. But these exact terms are what you want to have for the best optical qualities. These Nikon Monarch binoculars have all the right terms and are missing none. Nikon manufacturing page is here.

I've tried to see the imperfections in the Nikon Monarch 7 that makes these a $500 binocular and not a $2000 binocular. Toward the edge of the image I do note that the image focus may be a bit softer. I do not notice the supposed darkening toward the edge. Nor do I notice the straight lines curve slightly at the edge of the field of view. I'm looking for it and can't see it, though it is supposed to be there.

Actually, I do note some chromatic aberration at the edge of the field. Realize that you center your binoculars on the bird under observation and don't intentionally place the bird on the very edge of view. But when I look at dark branches against a bright overcast sky, right at the outer edge of the binocular field of view, I see it. The side of the branch toward the center of the field of view has a faint greenish edge. The side of the branch to the outside of the field of view has a thin purple fringe. It's hard to notice, even when you're looking for it (I've looked before and not seen it). This is normal for binoculars in this price range.

Wide angle field of view


We already discussed the very wide field of view of 420 feet at 1000 yards. This gives you a very spacious view. You'll be able to see what's happening next to the bird you're looking at. When scanning a distant shoreline you're not going to miss a duck swimming off to the side or hawk perched up in a shoreline tree.

The field of view really takes a hit when increasing magnification from 8x to 10x. That's for all binoculars. For instance the Nikon Monarch 7 10x42 has a field of view of only 351 feet. That's rather narrow and far below average for 8x binoculars, but slightly better than average for a 10x binocular. Wide field of view is another reason I prefer 8x binoculars over 10x.

Good magnification


The 8 power magnification is the best for general purpose bird watching. I started out with 7x. And I've owned 10x binoculars. It is nicer to have more magnification without sacrificing field of view or introducing shakiness from hand movement. Thus, 8x is best. If you do mostly mid-day open range birding (hawk watching or ducks or sea watching) then 10x is perhaps better.

Ruggedly built, waterproof and fog proof


These Monarch binoculars are light-weight but strong. That is because they are made with polycarbonate resin reinforced with fiberglass. But that is under a rubber armor coating. This rubber is slightly tacky, that is, gripping your hands but without being sticky. It almost feels like soft leather covering the harder under binocular body. It's very nice. They will not easily slip out of your hand as some other harder plastics.

The binocular is sealed with O-rings to keep water out to a depth of about 3 feet. That means you don't need fear getting caught in a rain storm. You may even clean off ocean salt spray from your binoculars under a gentle trickle of water from your sink (not a powerful spray, though, just in case).

Inside they are filled with dry nitrogen gas. The lenses will not fog up on the inside on a cold day.

I bought a wide comfortable neckband a few years back and transferred it to my Nikon Monarch 7's as soon as I bought them.

The accessories aren't useful. I threw away the lens covers. I'm not going to fiddle with ill-fitting lens covers in the field. They just get in the way of seeing birds. The soft carrying case I kept, but not for carrying the binoculars. I kept it for carrying lens cleaners and spare batteries and memory cards for my camera!

Similar Species (binocular comparisons)


There are some other binoculars similar in performance and price to the Nikon Monarch 7 8x42. Namely, these are the Vortex Viper HD, Zeiss Terra ED, the Hawke Frontier ED X, and the Bushnell Forge, all 8x42 binoculars.

I don't think you'll have buyers remorse if you purchase any of these, except maybe the Bushnell Forge, which I'll explain below. You could probably find someone to argue that one of these other binoculars is their favorite. They are all very close. Even comparing side-by-side you may not readily notice the difference.

Nikon Monarch 7 vs Vortex Viper HD


This is a close call. The Vortex Viper might be slightly brighter. The manufacturers suggested retail price for the Viper is $150 more than the Monarch 7. That said, sometimes you can find the Vortex online for less than the Monarch 7.

The Vortex comes with a chest harness for easy carrying and protection. It also has a transferrable no-fault warranty. You break them, Vortex replaces them for shipping cost only. That might be part of the reason these are more expensive.

A Bird Guides reviewer (source) found that their Vortex Viper test binocular did not close focus to 6.5 feet as it was supposed to, but was more than 10 feet. That is probably an aberration. They have an excellent warranty; they should have been returned to the manufacturer for repair. They did note that the image on the Vortex Viper was not as sharp edge-to-edge as the Nikon Monarch 7. Other reviewers said they were very sharp.

A review on Optics Observer (source) said that they preferred the Nikons (barely) over the Vortex. They listed 3 reasons: The Nikons have a slightly wider field of view, appeared to have a bit more depth of field (more forgiving focus), and were generally less costly.

Nikon Monarch 7 vs Bushnell Forge


This one is easier. A review by All Binos (source) showed that these Bushnell Forge binoculars have a low 85% light transmission. They will be dimmer in low-light conditions than the other binoculars here. These binoculars also give an image that is slightly more yellow-green than true color hue.

The specs show a close focus of 10 feet, which is a bit long for woodland birding. They are also heavier, at 30.8 ounces.

On the good side, they have excellent wide field of view, have good eye relief for eyeglass wearers, and have very low chromatic aberrations from center to edge.

Nikon Monarch 7 vs Zeiss Terra ED


The Zeiss Terra ED was designed to compete directly with the Nikon Monarch 7. The Nikons are a mere 10 feet better in field of view, and are 2.7 ounces lighter. In the Zeiss's favor, they focus almost 3 feet closer, down to 5.25 feet. They also have an additional 0.9 mm of eye relief, so they are a bit easier to use with eyeglasses.

A review by All Binos (source) says that the Zeiss binoculars have a "moderate" amount of chromatic aberrations in the center of view. That's not good.

The Zeiss barrels are straight with no thumb indents that most binoculars have. They may be more uncomfortable to hold.

Nikon Monarch 7 vs Hawke Frontier ED X


These Hawke Frontier binoculars were reviewed directly with the Vortex Viper by Better Binocular Reviews (source) and compared nearly identically. Thus, they must be very similar to the Nikons in performance.

Bird Guides (source) reviewed the Hawkes and found a slight curvature in the field of view to mention.

Conclusion


The Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 binoculars are an excellent birding tool. I feel confident recommending them as the best binoculars for bird watching under $500.

Strengths
  • Very wide field of view of 420 feet
  • Excellent bright and sharp optical image
  • Light weight


Weaknesses
  • Narrow neck strap
  • Nothing special about the accessories (carrying case and lens covers)

The other contenders for best bird watching binoculars in this price range are all excellent binoculars with wide field of view and good for eyeglass wearers.

The Bushnell Forge are heavier, slightly dimmer, and don't focus as closely.

The Zeiss Terra are better for butterfly watching, because they do focus more closely, but the alleged chromatic aberration in the center is unfortunate.

The Vortex Viper and Hawke Frontier ED X may or may not be better than the Nikon Monarch 7, depending upon who you ask. The three of them are all very close. The Vortex has the best warranty, but is also the most expensive.




Purchase Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 through Adorama

Purchase Nikon Monarch 7 8x42 through Amazon




Read my related article:

How to adjust your binoculars and how to use them to better spot birds: How to use binoculars for bird watching

If this price range is a bit high for you, please check out my in-depth review of the Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42. It is a budget binocular with excellent optics for under $200.


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