Andrews 10.5x70 MB Ultra
Submitted: Tuesday, 8th November 2011 by Greg Reilly
These binoculars go under various names/brands:
The previous binoculars I had used for many years – a no-name pair of 7x50s had finally succumbed to fungus and so I began a search for their replacement. Shopping for binoculars can be perilous at times because of collimation issues – you can be lucky or not. My experience was that poor collimation only begins to show up with astronomy work……. Your eye seems to compensate more easily for poor collimation during daytime or in the showroom when you are comparing different units.
I purchased the subject of this review in mid-September 2009 from Andrews Communications in Western Sydney. The price at that time was $449. My choice of them as a vendor was because their pricing had been competitive on the goods I had purchased previously, and also, an old-fashioned part of me likes dealing with someone over a counter rather than exclusively through mail-order. I should mention that an earlier purchase of 12x60s that had collimation issues were returned and taken back without any fuss.
In preparing this review, I, of course, wanted to see what others had written about this model. Curiously, I found only one useful, genuine review (Binomania) of these binoculars and that was in Italian. My Google searching must have been very poor!
Unlike the usual/traditional leather style case that is shaped closely to the shape of the binoculars, these came in a hard-foam lined rigid aluminium case. The outer lining of the case is of quite light construction but the case as a whole gives the binoculars excellent protection from shock, certainly much better than the traditional style leather case. They also came supplied with a mounting bracket for a tripod/monopod etc. This mounts into the usual position, a threaded socket at the end of the central shaft. A screw-in cap keeps the threads clean when not in use.
At 2.5 kg(5.5lb) these binoculars would be heavy even if they used 80mm objectives. For 70mm aperture, they are very heavy indeed. The construction, fully armoured, appears very strong and gives a secure feeling. I have only used these binoculars on the night sky, and while the weight is there, the balance is excellent and the resulting view, hand held, is very steady. In practice, I find using a monopod to be an excellent remedy for the weight. The monopod obviously needs to be able to extend beyond eye height to offer a usefully high angle of view. I am 184cm in height and the model I use in the attached picture, a Manfrotto 685B will do this with ease. They work equally well on a tripod mount, but I have found that tripod mounting only works well up to about 30-40 degrees angle of view. For real observing comfort a reclining ‘banana’ chair and a proper parallelogram style mount takes a lot of beating.
The weight does not seriously adversely affect hand-held astronomical use but I feel they are far too heavy to consider for hiking or nature study.
Individual Dioptre Focusing
A significant aspect of the design of these binoculars is the individual dioptre focusing. This is the first time I had encountered this feature and instead of the usual central focusing control(usually with the right lens possessing independent dioptre focusing to allow the user to synchronise their eyes) each lens barrel eye-lens focuses independently.
I think this feature has both strengths and weaknesses; for astronomy, where the user is almost always focused at infinity, this feature is actually very convenient and if the binoculars are being used exclusively by one user, it has a real 'set & forget' quality to it. Conversely, if you are passing these units around a group of users the individual focussing can be a real pain and people spend more time focussing than they do observing.
The binoculars are advertised as “Waterproof and shockproof, Nitrogen purged....etc.” and certainly after having them outside in cold air I have never seen them fog when brought inside. I think the individual focus design allows a much more robust construction that permits the sealed feature to be real and not just advertising hype. While a boon for individual astronomical use, I suspect the lack of central focusing would be a real issue for nature and hiking where rapid change of focus (for both eyes!) in following a bird or animal would be very important.
The exit pupil on these binoculars is 6.7mm.
There is a tremendous amount written and spoken about this subject...... about matching your maximum dark adapted pupil of your eye to the exit pupil of your binoculars so as not to 'waste light or aperture'. These theoretical assertions are, of course, perfectly valid, but I feel they neglect to take into account basic usability and convenience issues. It assumes (I think rather optimistically) that we all hold our heads and binoculars absolutely steady and aligned to an accuracy of better than one tenth of a millimetre! This might indeed be possible in a fully set up bino-chair where the users head is supported as well as the binoculars, but in all other circumstances, including tripod/monopod or parallelogram mounted binoculars, I think a little bit of leeway will translate into greater tolerance in keeping the viewer's eyes centred in the field of view, leading to a greater ease of use. I am in my mid-fifties now and have no doubt my maximum dark adapted pupil has probably dropped below 6mm in diameter. I find these binoculars very easy to ‘bring to eye’ and begin seeing immediately so I am guessing my pupils enjoy swimming around in the extra exit pupil.
Of greater significance, I think, is the increased amount of sky-glow these binoculars pick up in suburban skies because of the lower magnification and large exit pupil. This has the effect of reducing contrast when they are used under light polluted skies. Logically, these units are at their best under dark skies.
The eye relief on these binoculars is advertised as 23-25mm. I wear glasses which correct for astigmatism (so I must wear them during viewing) and these are the first binoculars I have ever used where I did not have to roll down the eye-cups to see the entire field of view. To be able to do this, the eye relief is obviously very generous. I wondered if this would compromise their use for non-eyeglass wearers and promptly removed my glasses and looked again. I found no issues with blacking out or dark spots when using them without glasses.
Choice of Magnification
The 10.5x magnification version were chosen over the 15x model because of a perceived increased ease of use.
The higher magnification version will certainly help to darken the sky background (in suburban skies) but at the cost of a drop in field of view (~1/2 deg),decreased eye relief and increased difficulty keeping things steady hand-held. Almost certainly, a tripod/monopod or parallelogram etc. would be essential for useful views at 15x magnification.
Field of View
The field of view of these binoculars is 5 degrees. Enough to comfortably include the belt of Orion or nearly all of Crux. This was a very important parameter for me in choosing a binocular. I find the 3 to 4 degree fields of the 80mm models and the higher magnification 60 & 70mm models to be too restrictive. The previous 7x50 model which I had used for so many years had over 7 degrees and this was very convenient for quickly locating objects.
I hesitated here, because in the absence of any optical testing equipment or formal procedure or training, my impressions would be subjective at best. Although being an amateur astronomer for over 40 years I have only looked through perhaps a dozen different pairs of binoculars. The view through these is very sharp and relaxed (good collimation) and in fact I can only remember a view better than these and that was using a pair of 7x42 Leitz Trinovids some years ago. Having said that, I have not had an opportunity to look through Zeiss models or through a pair of 10x70 Fujinon's – a high quality Japanese binocular well known in the astronomical community that these models are often compared to.
While having the binoculars mounted on a tripod I found that stars stayed sharp and without any evidence of coma or colour error right out to very close to the edge of field – certainly better than 90%. Great performance.
One area of concern arose with one nights viewing with a very bright moon. I noticed that in viewing the sky less than 5 degrees from that first quarter moon I seemed to have significant ghosting entering the optical train. I mention it because my friend's 11x80's, although some 20 years older, seemed better at dealing with this bright light source close to the direction/axis of viewing. Inspection of the objective barrels of both units with a torch revealed the presence of baffling in the Japanese 11x80s but the 10.5x70s, although the barrels were grooved/threaded and effectively matted, I could not see any baffling. This was a curious omission given the very high standard set in both the quality of the optics and in construction generally.
Attendance at the IIS Astro-camp at Lostock NSW in Oct 2009 and 2011 gave me an opportunity to use these binoculars in really dark skies. Their performance was excellent and their detection level appeared equal to the 11x80's..... a tribute to the coatings and the quality of the lenses themselves. I intentionally searched out very bright objects like Jupiter or Sirius and found there was definite ghosting of the images.
Whether something is perceived as expensive or not is going to depend on many things; ie. how much we use them, our perception of their quality, and of course, our financial means. For me, the quality of the units both optically and in construction was very obvious. The amount paid was approaching the top end limit that I was willing to spend on a pair of binoculars, no matter how good. While I don't doubt that the view through an equivalent size pair of Fujinon's would be memorable, I do doubt the ability of my (mid 50 years of age) eyes to pick up a measurable difference that would justify the nearly 3x hike in price.
Why did I choose these binoculars? Simply put, they satisfied best, all the features I was looking for:
In going above the 50mm size I was willing to tolerate the resulting loss of handiness and the increased weight.
In the lead-up to purchasing the subject of this review I came within a whisker of buying a pair of 12x80 Vixen Arks. What stopped me was an opportunity to use my friend’s pair of 11x80's a few nights earlier. They were also Japanese made, with great optics but their balance point was quite a long way forward and they seemed to cross some indefinable line of manageability that demanded some kind of support, be it tripod, parallelogram etc. This was strange as they actually turned out to be slightly lighter than the 10.5x70's I purchased.
There is no question that these 10.5x70s are a “no-compromise binocular”. They are excellent when they are the primary instrument being used. You notice 2.5 kg hanging around your neck and I wouldn't recommend them as a “scanning and locating” tool to stay around your neck all night when using a telescope. There is a very good reason why quality 50mm (eg. especially 7 or 10x50 Porro prism) binoculars are so popular. They do nothing badly and nearly everything well. Their weight, usually about 1 kg, makes them hand-holdable for extended periods. If the 7-10x50s are so good, why did I go for the 70mm? Having used 7x50s for so many years, I was probably guilty of lust for aperture and simply wanted the greater reach and wow factor the bigger objectives provided.
I should also make mention of Dennis Simmons and his excellent article (on this site) on Binoculars – A basic guide for Astronomy – it was his mention of these binoculars in his article that led me in that direction, and to make a purchase I have been very happy with.
Thank you for your patience in reading this far! :-)