Nikon Premier LX L 8x20mm Review


Nikon Premier LX L 8x20mm Review


March 31, 2012

by Les (Jim) Fischer (BigJimFish)


It was not surprising to me that the Nikon Premier Compacts were one of the binoculars to catch my eye at Shot. Nikon, in the past, as well as today, has the tendency to emphasize the aspects of optical design that appeal most to my eye. These aspects are contrast and color. Nikon tunes their optics, at least the ones made in Japan, to maximize contrast and color. This emphasis is perceived by the user as if the image is popping out and is, to some extent, more real than reality. I have always found this effect pleasing. Being pleased with the appearance of the Nikon Premier 8×20’s relative to the reference set of binoculars I had brought with me to Shot, I decided to order some up for a review. For comparisons I have Swarovski Pocket 8×20 and Hawke Frontier 8x25mm binoculars, both of which I have for reviews, as well as a number of other binoculars that I own or have local access to. The prices of the comparison optics vary widely but, given the relatively few pocket specimens that exist in the mid to upper price range for compact binoculars, this is somewhat unavoidable. In any case, the wide price range and large number of comparison specimens gives me a big picture viewpoint from which to critique this product.


A month or so ago the Premier 8×20’s arrived. Below is a picture of the packaging and binoculars.




The box is a nice slip-sleeved design with good color and texture. It is a big improvement on the classic Nikon black and gold flimsy box that has been used for many Nikon products for longer than I have been alive. The case that the binoculars came in is lined genuine leather with a magnetic closure. It is also, thankfully, small enough to pack the binoculars in when backpacking or canoeing. Overall, the package seems commensurate with the $430 price point.


The ergonomics of this Nikon are very good in general. It has simple twist-up eye caps that are less attractive than Swarovski’s design, but more comfortable. Their slightly larger size allows for better seating in the eye sockets. This, coupled with the larger focus knob that requires less force to move, made for less jittering when focusing. In short, they were, on balance, the most comfortable pocket binoculars observed when in use; though their beefy weight made them significantly less desirable for carrying around. At this point, it is important to mention that with their 15mm of eye relief, these are the best pocket binoculars I have observed for use with eyeglasses. I think that they may be the best made by anyone for this purpose. They are not perfect, a viewer might still expect to lose 20% of the field of view, but they are much better than any of the other specimens. Pocket binoculars are probably never going to be ideal for the user that has to use eyeglasses with their binoculars, but these are better than most.


Although the ergonomics of these pockets were the most preferred, I have tested the construction had some less than ideal aspects. The joints that facilitate folding for transport are looser than I would like. They are consistent. The left and right joint are equal and they are smooth, so I do not think that this is an accident, but they just seem to me to require less force than they ought to. If you twist the eye cups up or down when holding the opposite barrel instead of the one you are manipulating, the joint will move. This just seems a bit too light. It may be a preference issue, but all of the reviewers were in agreement that we would have preferred more resistance. The other nit I have to pick is with the rubber armoring. It is comfortable and supple, but on the example I have, it was a bit loose on the left barrel. It seems that a stretch of it either escaped gluing or broke free. It bunches a bit when gripped and, I expect, might stretch over time. QC could be a bit better, but at least the problem is a cosmetic one and not functional. I have pictured the loose rubber puckering a bit below.



The optics on this Nikon are excellent. In many ways, they are comparable to, though differently tuned from, the much more expensive Swarovski’s. One of the folks I drafted to help me look through all the binoculars actually preferred this Nikon to the more expensive Swarovski pockets. As I mentioned before, Nikon seems to emphasize color and contrast in their higher end products. Whereas the Swarovski’s tested emphasize a greater depth of field and wider sweet spot, these Nikons focus on making the object at the center of the field appear more dimensional and more colorful. The object you are viewing through these Nikons will actually appear more three-dimensional as well as more colorful than with the Swarovski. If I were to characterize the Swarovski pockets in one word, I would say ‘balanced’. If I were to characterize these, I would say ‘bold’.


I think that it is significant we are speaking about differences in taste regarding this Nikon and the Swarovski Pocket. Often, when observing optics, one is obviously better than another. Not better on balance, but better in totality. That is not the case with these two. The differences in many of their aspects are minor or non-existent. Both resolve detail basically equally. Neither seems to exhibit significantly more chromatic aberration, and in neither case is it problematic. Both binoculars have similar amounts of pincushion distortion. This is not problematic with either pair. Both handle stray light (due to the sun being positioned at difficult angles to the viewer) generally well. It really comes down to a matter of price, weight, ergonomics, and taste.


As has been noted by other reviewers; in the past, the Premier line was designed to be competitive with European optics at a much lower price point. Though I think that today much of the Premier line no longer sits in that position and, consequently, Nikon has released the EDG line (which is by no means less expensive than its competition).  I think that that original goal is still realized by the Premier 8x20mm’s. They are an excellent choice in mid-high ranged pocket binoculars. This is particularly true for eyeglasses users, those less concerned by weight, and individuals who prefer a binocular that emphasizes color and contrast in its design.


The Nikon Premier 8×20’s next to the Swarovski 8×20 Pockets and Hawke 8×25 Frontiers for a size comparison:




The Nikon Premier 8×20’s with one eye cup extended and one retracted:



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