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Nikon 8x20 HG L Review

 

I owned two pairs of the original 8x20 HGs, which look very similar to these. The first pair developed a fault with the dioptre adjustment and the second got left behind when we moved back from abroad. So a few years ago, just before a holiday where I knew I would need some small binos, I went off looking to replace them (again). The two pairs of original 8x20 HGs had been Ok, but not up to the level of the larger Binos in the HG line, so I thought I would buy the best, really treat myself and get a pair of the latest Leica 8x20s instead.

So, with time to spare, I went into my local photo store and tried out the Leicas. They were bright and elegant and nicely made, small and light too. I was sold. I was already waving my credit card when the sales assistant said “Don’t you want to try out the competition?”

So out of the display cabinet came a pair of Swarovskis. This was easy. Even the quickest look said they weren’t a match for the Leicas: dimmer and less sharp, with a faintly yellow cast to the view. “You should try the new Nikon HGLs.” said the guy. Well, I didn’t have anything else to do ...

When he handed me the Nikons, I realised that they were slightly different from the original HGs. Handling them next to the Leicas and Swaros, the new Nikons felt more finely crafted to me. And when I looked through them ... well the view was just plain better; better than my previous pairs, just slightly better even than the Leicas. They were cheaper too and come with a nice leather case. I was soon the proud owner of yet another pair of Nikons 8x20s.

At A Glance

Magnification

8x

Objective Size

20mm

Eye Relief

15mm

Actual Field of View

6.8°

Apparent field of view

~55°

Close focus

2.4m

Transmissivity

~90% (estimated)

Length

96mm

Weight

270g

 

Nikon supply a quality real-leather case for free.

Design and Build

The HGLs look very similar to the original HGs, However, there are physical differences. For one thing, I think they are slightly shorter and the body has a little flare that wasn’t there before. The only other difference I can see is the focuser knob, which is larger and smoother operating.

The 10x25s are identical, but with larger objectives units stuck onto the tube ends. These smaller designs are completely different from the bigger HGs and HGLs, having the kind of double-hinged body common to most compact roofs. Unlike Leica, Nikon don’t give you the option of rubber armour: these come in a sort of bronze anodising and leatherette that is attractive, but may not be as hard wearing as rubber.

These are tiny, jewel-like binoculars at just 270g and 109x96 mm. They fold up super-small and fit in a very small case for travelling or walking. The eye cups are the twist-up type that are especially convenient if you share with people who don’t wear spec’s.

Optically, they have a similar design of wide-field, high eye relief eyepieces as the bigger Nikon HGs. However, the eye relief is slightly tighter at 15mm and the field a little less at 6.8 degrees than the 8x32 HGs, which measure 17mm and 7.2 deg respectively. The multi-coatings look identical to the larger HGs (i.e. they are first rate).

 

Nikon’s 8x20 HGLs have good eye relief and twist-up eye cups. They fold very small.

In Use – Daytime

These are a small binocular, limited by the size of objectives and eyepieces. Even so, the view is remarkable. Not as wide as the larger HGs’, it is nonetheless very flat and extremely sharp with minimal chromatic aberration and excellent suppression of ghosting. For such a small objective, the view is also surprisingly bright and they work well, even in quite low light, though as dusk falls they run out of steam sooner than a larger pair of similar quality.

I reckon these give a similar dusk view to the naked eye in terms of density of shadows and facility to pick detail out of the murk. In other words, they don’t have the “light intensifying” quality of larger binoculars at dusk. That really, is their only serious limitation.

In normal daylight conditions, the detail in the view makes them able to pick out details in birds and landscape features that leave you with little need for a larger pair. Focusing is smooth and very accurate, with that real “snap” that fine optics have. Colour rendition is particularly vivid and faithful.

The only nit-pick I can find is that the eye relief is just slightly less than the larger HGs’ and a bit less than I would prefer for maximum spec’s-on comfort – but it’s still good as virtually any recent German binocular I’ve tried.

In Use – Astronomy

You wouldn’t expect these to be of any use for astronomy with their tiny objectives and it’s true they are not too good at showing more than the brightest DSOs and clusters. BUT... they do give really excellent detail on the Moon! Perhaps it is the very high optical quality and sharpness, but in any case it’s easy to pick out the main craters and features, even in bright daylight; the contrast delivery is that good. There is none of the softness and CA and ghosting that besets many binoculars when pointed at Luna. 

Because I hike a lot, I often get opportunities to look at the Moon, especially early in a cycle, that I wouldn’t otherwise. By the time I get home, the clouds have rolled in again, or it’s already too low to get onto with a telescope. So this feature is important to me.

I recall many early evenings in Switzerland, whilst out snow shoeing or hiking, with sublime views of the Moon nestling amongst the mountains. I remember one especially lovely evening in late Autumn, yomping down from Sonloup into Les Avants to catch the train home. With a frost in the air, leaves crunching under foot and the peak of Rocher de Naye gradually darkening ahead, I stopped every hundred metres or so to enjoy the Moon with the 8X20s, which added hugely to the beauty and enjoyment of the walk.

Winter walks can offer great opportunities to enjoy Luna with compact binos like Nikon’s 8x20 HGLs

Summary

For the last few years, these binos have been with me on every holiday and most walks. I’ve used them to watch snow banners off mount Ritter from the Pacific Crest Trail; a seal playing in the surf off Vik in Iceland; Plumes of steam rising from Avacha Volcano in Kamchatka; vistas of Florence from the top of the Duomo; and of course countless deer, buzzards and Egrets nearer home. They are so much lighter and smaller, even than my Zeiss 8x32s, that in practice I rarely hike with anything else. I have even used them at the opera, where their small size and elegant looks don’t seem out of place.

I can find almost nothing to criticise, apart from the slightly tight eye relief (compared to other Nikons, but quite generous by Leica, Swaro, Zeiss standards) and the low-light limitations of any small binocular.

The Nikon 8x20 HGLs get my highest recommendation.

You can buy the Nikon 8x20 HGLs here: