Vortex Viper and Razor binoculars

 

Originally published in December of 2008 and the review samples were the older versions of Viper and Razor binoculars that still had silver coated prisms.

 

Vortex Viper 8×42, Vortex Razor 8×42 and Vortex Razor 8.5×50

These binoculars have been discussed at length numerous times.  I will skip most of the requisite stuff like accessories, comparison against other brands and stuff like that.

Here I was mostly trying to see how these three stack up both in good light and in bad light.  I also looked at all three with Vortex’ 2x doubler.

For detailed specs, please visit the very informative Vortex website: www.vortexoptics.com

They also have a comparison feature there, so that you could compare the specs of various products side by side:

http://vortexoptics.com/compares

Here is a picture of all three together:

From left to right: Viper 8×42, Razor 8.5×50, Razor 8×42

Here is the Viper with the doubler, making it a 16×42 monocular:

Here is the Razor 8.5×50 with the doubler, making it a 17×50 monocular:

Usability:

Viper is a lot smaller and lighter, so if you are looking for something lightweight, the choice is pretty clear: Viper.   In my hands, Viper was very comfortable.  Strangely enough Razor 8.5×50 was also very comfortable and much more so than the 8×42 Razor.  The latter just did not fit my hands.  Eyecups on the Razor are among the best I have seen on any binocular.  Viper eyecups are a little too thin for my taste.


Focusing knob:

On the sample I had, Viper had a slightly lighter focuser.  None of the three binoculars had any discernible slop in the focuser.  Initially, the Viper seemed to be easier to focus, especially in low light (this will be discussed in more detail further down).  Subjectively, Viper also seemed to have shorter focusing travel.  Objectively, I never bothered to measure it since both Viper and Razor were perfectly comfortable.

 

Optics:

In good light, all three perform well, but apparently espouse somewhat different design philosophies.   Centerfield resolution of the Viper and the 8×42 Razor is about the same. However, it is much easier to achieve razor sharp image focus with the Viper.  The reason is really quite simple: Viper has pretty shallow depth of focus.  Objects a little closer or a little further from what you have focused on move out of focus quite briskly.   Razor has very deep depth of focus, so in order to achieve perfect focus you have to look very carefully. The 8.5×50 Razor, predictably, outresolved both of the 8×42 models.

In terms of field of view, the 8×42 Razor has the widest field of view by a solid margin.  As a matter of fact, wide field of view seemed to have been one of the primary design targets. Because of that the sweetspot appears to be somewhat smaller than with the other binoculars here, but in feet, it is actually larger.

8×42 Viper seemed to have been designed with one purpose: maximum resolution per dollar spent combined with light weight.  The field of view is actually slightly narrower than that of the higher magnification 8.5×50 Razor.  8.5×50 Razor is a reasonable compromise between resolution and field of view while still providing great depth of focus.

As far as contrast goes, I think the Razors were better.  They also had better control of chromatic aberration (with the 8.5×50 being better than the 8×42).

Stray light and flare were reasonably well controlled with all three binoculars.  Once again the 8.5×50 was a bit better in this regard.  8×42 Viper actually edged out the 8×42 Razor by a little bit.

In low light, there was little to differentiate the Viper and Razor 8×42 models.  Interestingly, the greater depth of focus of the 8×42 Razor made achieving good focus in low light a bit challenging.  On the other hand, I did not have to mess with the focusing knob quite as much as with the Viper.

Overall, in low light the 8.5×50 Razor had a clear edge over the other two binoculars: combination of higher magnification and larger exit pupil yielded some concrete results.  I could see things with the 8.5×50 that I could not see with the other two binoculars.

I was asked by several people whether the 8.5×50 Razor is worth the price premium over the 8×42 Razor.  The short answer is that if you need low light performance and do not mind the extra weight, then yes.

Between 8×42 Viper and 8×42 Razor, for a lot of people it can be hard to justify the price difference.  Still, if you are trying to examine something located at a known location, there is little to differentiate the two.  If anything, the greater focusing ease of the Viper is an asset there.  However, if you trying to locate something (i.e. glassing for game), I think I would go for the Razor.  Greater field of view and focus depth make catching a glimpse of something a bit easier.


Vortex Doubler

I have been somewhat intrigued by the concept of carrying around a binocular with a doubler instead of a small spotting scope.  Hence, when I was buying my 8.5×50 Razor, I also bought a doubler to check it out.  Optically it is not quite as good as having good quality spotter with you.  On the other hand, a doubler costs about $130 or so and for that money you are not going to buy a good quality spotter.  If you already have good quality binocular like the Viper or Razor here, a doubler is not a bad way to go.

Interestingly enough, the Razor eyecups that I like so much, did not agree with the doubler all that well.  It was easy to get the doubler slightly misaligned, especially if the eyecups were extended.  After some experimentation, I found than in order to use the doubler effectively with the Razor binoculars, you have to extend the eyecup, sit the doubler on it and then retract the whole thing back onto the body of the binocular as far as it will go. Then the alignment stays consistent.

With the Viper there were no misalignment issues whatsoever.  The eyecup fit the doubler like a glove.

In terms of image quality, all of my comments above pertaining to the binoculars, carry over to the binocular/doubler combination.  Various image artifacts, such as chromatic aberration become more prominent, but that is to be expected with the higher magnification.  There are also more significant edge effects with all three binoculars, but there is enough sweetspot to effectively examine whatever you are looking at.  Handholding the binocular with the doubler was a bit challenging, so I would strongly recommend a tripod of some sort.  I have also experimented a little bit with a monopod (like what the photographers use) and it worked surprisingly well.  I will play with the monopods more going forward.

With magnification that high, you want as much exit pupil as you can get, so the difference between 17×50 and 16×42 is pretty significant.  Still, both combinations would work well if I found something using the binocular and needed a temporary magnification boost to examine it in more detail.

 Posted by at 11:23 pm