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Choosing Military Binoculars for Ukraine

A few days back I saw an image of a soldier off home to fight for his country, for Ukraine. So far over sixty thousand (!) Ukrainians have taken this step and not a few foreigners too. Brave – I salute you.

But I was troubled. The photo showed some great gear, including a fancy looking (SIG Sauer?) assault rifle. But zooming in I saw a box for the cheapest pair of bino’s. I think this is a mistake, so I thought I’d briefly explain why and give a few ideas for alternatives.

A pair of cheapo birding bino’s might appear armoured and claim waterproofing, but they just won’t be rugged enough. A small knock will send them unusably out of collimation. Protracted cold or wet conditions will cause them to fog. The focusing mechanism won’t survive knocks or grit. Their view won’t be good enough either – you need to see the maximum detail, even in low light.

If I could choose a pair of bino’s for the harshest situations, of all those I’ve tested it, would be the ones shown: a pair of simple 7x50 porro-prism bino’s built just as well and as tough as possible, to every mil-spec. These are Fujinon’s 7x50 FMTR-SX.

The Fuji’s exemplify the characteristics I’d look for in a military bino’:

·        Low power: makes them steady and easy to use in bad conditions, with good depth of field (less focusing)

·        Bright optics and big objectives so they work in low light

·        Good eye relief for use with glasses, goggles or a mask

·        A very sharp and detailed view centre field

·        Tough, well armoured and sealed, their prisms held down with straps to resist knocks and vibes

·        Individual eyepiece focusing – simple but tough and in a 7x50 not a problem

·        Porro prism (the type with ‘shoulders’) design that’s simple and repairable

The Fujis are expensive (about £250 used, £550 new) but are currently available, though not widely. They are big and heavy though. You can read my full review here.

Many armed forces use similar binoculars but in the smaller and more portable 8x30 size. Fuji did make 8x30 FMTRs and they’re amongst the very best, but they’re rare used. So what alternatives are there?

A safe option is just go with the choice of a European army. Surplus Bundeswehr Hensoldt D16 8x30s are good and available. The Romanian army had something similar made by IOR. The NVA meanwhile used the Zeiss Jena 7x40 EDF that is still made (too expensively) by Noblex. These surplus bino’s may have mil-specific features like laser filters or some kind of reticle.

Please don’t pay more than £300-400 for these mil surplus bino’s: they’re just not that good, but can attract collector’s prices these days. If you want to take a deeper dive into ex-military binoculars, Holger Merlitz is an acknowledged expert. You can read his reviews here.

One way to get a good ex-military pair is just take them from a Russian soldier (taken prisoner, or...) – their KOMZ bino’s aren’t bad!

If you’re prepared to spend £400 or more, consider Swarovski’s 7x42 Habichts (the rubber – ‘gummi’ - armoured version) which have a narrow field but are ideal in many other ways. Nikon’s otherwise-excellent 8x30 EIIs aren’t waterproof.

If you must have a pair of roof prism birding-type bino’s and are prepared to spend big, then Zeiss’ Conquest 8x42s or 8x32s are excellent and have a reputation for ruggedness. But understand these are less likely to be fixable in a war zone than good simple porros.

At a lower price, Nikon’s Monarchs 8x42s will likely survive (and work) much better than cheapo’ no-brands.

For specialized uses like sniping, you might want the absolute maximum power for the most detailed, close-up view. If you don’t need range-finding, then Canon’s stabilised 15x50 or 18x50 IS binoculars are an obvious (if costly) choice, but will need some care to stay functional.

Stay safe.