Nikon’s EDG range have been around for a few years and don’t seem to get much attention from the birding crowd, yet on paper they look like a flat-field competitor to Swarovski’s ELs and Zeiss’ SFs. In this review I find out if that also-ran status is justified.
Nikon EDG 8x42 Review
Nikon are a slightly strange player in the premium binocular market. They must have some of the biggest resources – optical expertise, glass fabrication, R&D funding - in the industry. And indeed from time to time they produce the best binoculars in the world – the original HGs and SEs for example. Then they seem to lose focus and let those market leaders languish whilst everyone else overtakes them again. They don’t seem to do product evolution. These EDGs are a case in point.
The HG was a real break-out product when it appeared fifteen years ago. But instead of updating it and producing an HG HD or whatever, they waited a decade and then brought out a completely new model, the EDG. For years I ignored them because I didn’t understand where they fitted in Nikon’s range and, frankly, because they looked ugly and mass-market. So was I right to ignore the EDG? Let’s find out …
At A Glance
Actual Field of View
7.7 degrees (135m at 1000m)
Apparent field of view
Data from Nikon Europe
What’s in the Box?
Design and Build
The first thing to understand is that, though they may not look it, these are effectively that hypothetical ‘HG HD’ I talked about at the start. As we will see, their characteristics closely mirror the HGs’.
There is no doubt the EDG range are a premium binocular. Their list price is very similar to other high-end models from the top brands. I may not like their looks, but Nikon have thrown every premium feature you can think of into the EDGs, including a magnesium body, HD optics, field flatteners and very long eye relief.
The model range comprises the usual birding sizes, i.e. 8x32, 10x32, 8x42 and 10x42 – just like the HG in fact. But oddly, just as Zeiss has given up on 7x binoculars, Nikon has also included a 7x42.
Body and Ergonomics
Nikon has given the EDG the same type of highly contoured body that the HG have. In part this has to do with accommodating the large oculars, but it also allows them to create a very comfy hold.
The original EDG, only available briefly in North America, had an open bridge format like the Swarovski EL. Then, for reasons undiscoverable by me, they reverted to a more conventional bridge.
Nikon have gone for a magnesium alloy body in the EDG and there is very little plastic anywhere. Ironically, that goldy-sparklin’ shiny finish in various places is actually coated metal. In the hand these feel like a very rugged and solid binocular; pity they look a bit flashy in photos.
Despite that very rugged and heavy duty feel, the EDG are not a heavy binocular. Their weight of 785g is pretty standard amongst premium models of this size and is a bit lighter than Zeiss’ HTs.
If weight is typical, length isn’t: the EDGs are an unusually compact 42mm binocular. At 148mm long, they are slightly more compact than Zeiss’ old Victory FLs and much more so than the newer HTs. As we will see, given their optical performance, this is remarkable. Why? Because things like false colour correction and good eye relief get a lot harder with short focal length objectives.
I loved the HGs’ focuser; if anything these EDGs’ is even better. Make no mistake, the EDGs’ focuser is superior (in my view) to anything produced by Swarovski, Leica or Zeiss. And before you start accusing me of bias, I own a pair of Swarovski ELs and Zeiss Victorys.
The word that comes to mind is ‘fluid’. This focuser is light, fast (one turn from close-focus to infinity), super-smooth and ultra-precise. There are none of the usual sticky spots, no resistance to getting moving. There is no free play. Like the HGs’, this focuser is addictively intuitive – you find yourself twirling to focus on different depths in the view just for the hell of it.
The dioptre mechanism is just plain odd if you are used to alpha brands. Like a Swarovski EL or Zeiss Victory, you pull the focuser knob to reveal a dioptre scale. So far so normal. Then you try twirling the focuser to adjust the dioptre. It spins much too easily; nothing happens and you think it’s broken. But it turns out you have to turn the scale itself, not the focuser knob, to adjust dioptre. It has the same smooth action as the focuser, but I prefer Swarovski’s click stops.
To adjust dioptre, pull out the focuser wheel, then turn the dioptre scale itself.
Optics - Prisms
The EDG range have Schmidt-Pechan prisms, not the high-transmission Abbe-König prisms found in Zeiss Victory FLs and HTs. This means the prisms need mirror coatings and the EDGs have the now-standard multi-layer dielectric coatings for a maximum transmission of over 90%, which is top-drawer for this type of prism.
Optics - Objectives
As we will see, the EDG has top-line optical performance; it’s also very short. Given that some recent binoculars (e.g. Zeiss’ HTs) have six elements in their objectives alone, you’d think these Nikons were similarly packed with slivers of glass to achieve that combination. Not so. In fact the EDGs are a bit sparse on glass generally: whereas the HTs have no less than 14 optical elements per side, the EDG have just 9.
You might ask how is this possible? Well part of the answer seems to be that although the main objective in the EDG is a doublet (with a further focusing element), it is an unusual design with a very thick rear element. This reminds me of a design of apochromatic telescope much discussed on the astro’ forums a few years ago and called, rather unglamorously, ‘The Brick’. I am completely guessing here, but I wonder if Nikon’s ability to make its own glasses allows a design not feasible with off-the-shelf blanks from the likes of Ohara that the other makers have to use.
Independent tests prove that the EDG has some of the finest broadband coatings out there, with a very flat transmission across a wide range of wavelengths (i.e. colours). The coatings are almost colourless – tobacco tinted olive.
The body interiors behind the objectives are flat black everywhere. This is unusual. Most premium binoculars I’ve seen don’t bother with painting the interior flat black, trusting to baffles to cut stray light instead.
Coatings are broadband and have a very neutral colour.
Barrel interiors are so well blackened it’s impossible to photograph them.
Optics - Eyepieces
Almost all modern binoculars use complex, multi-element eyepieces with five to as many as nine (Zeiss SF) elements. From the cutaway I’ve seen, these EDGs make do with just four. Again, we’re left scratching our heads. Somehow Nikon have persuaded those four chunks of glass to deliver a wide, flat field and loads of eye relief. This is almost certainly down to using aspheric surfaces on the lenses.
Eye relief was a strong point of the HG range and it is with the EDGs too. Nikon claim 19.3mm and for once that’s about what it measures from the eye cup (to the ~1mm precision I can manage with my ruler). Consequently, these are hugely comfortable for use with spectacles and I can see the whole field easily.
Swarovski’s brochure might suggest that their EL models have more eye relief than these Nikon EDGs; they don’t. In fact, the Nikons have a significant few millimetres more than the ELs.
Long eye relief sometimes comes with spherical aberration of the exit pupil that causes ‘kidney bean’ blackouts as you move your eye around. Thankfully, unlike Nikon’s SEs, these are completely free of blackouts, with glasses or without.
The Nikon EDGs have some of the finest quality, most positive twist-and-click eye cups you’ll find. They have three twist-out positions, but unlike some they are all clustered around the most likely extended setting for most people, so it’s easy to get a really perfect position.
As they do with the Prostars, Nikon provide alternative horn-shaped eye cups to cut stray light. Most birders laugh at these oddities, but they can be very useful for astronomy where there are lots of street and security lights around (i.e. most peoples’ back gardens at night).
Big eye lenses, lots of eye relief and a flat field, but just four elements in the eyepieces.
EDGs’ click-stop eye cups are the very best.
In the introduction, I moaned about Nikon’s unwillingness to evolve their product. The EDGs’ case is an example. The HGs have a lovely thick case all made of real leather. It’s a pretty thing, but mine has proved very durable too. The EDGs’ case is (to my eyes) a hideously tawdry confection of leatherette and cordura, neither attractive nor likely to wear well.
The caps are similarly poor. The band-on objective covers fall right back out when you push them in, then flop uselessly. It’s a strangely shoddy bit of design, because meanwhile Nikon have taken the trouble to add little ‘horns’ on the armour to keep the cap bands in place.
The strap is Nikon’s version of the Swarovski ‘Lift’ premium strap – you can quickly and easily adjust the length via buckles on the strap ends. It’s a good system and the strap is well padded and the webbing extra wide too.
Cordura and leatherette case is not the EDGs’ best asset.
Those objective caps just won’t stay pushed in, not even long enough to take a photo!
In Use – Daytime
Ergonomics and Handling
Most Nikon binoculars have a more moulded shape than other brands and these EDGs are no exception. For me it makes them extremely comfortable and secure to hold, noticeably more so than the type of simple flared barrel favoured by Leica and Zeiss.
The armour has a leather-like texture and it is warm and grippy to hold without being sticky and fluff-attracting like Zeiss’.
That big focusing wheel falls very naturally under the forefinger. I’ve discussed the focuser already, but suffice to repeat that it’s the very best for me: wonderfully fluid and intuitive, really enhancing comfort and ease of use.
The two barrels merge better than in almost any other binocular, suggesting very precise collimation and aiding that supreme comfort. I didn’t get much rolling ball effect when panning, unlike some flat-field designs.
All that eye relief, for once at no expense to those without glasses because it doesn’t cause blackouts, again adds to peerless comfort and relaxation in use. The dioptre adjustment seems strange but works precisely and can’t get knocked out by accident.
I don’t much like the styling – too much piano black and glittery powder coat for my personal taste – but they look unobtrusive enough when wearing them.
Did I mention how I love that super-smooth focuser?
The Nikon EDG 8x42s are amongst the most comfortable binoculars I have ever used, they encourage you to just keep viewing.
EDGs’ sculpted body is compact and comfortable.
The EDGs’ styling isn’t to my taste, but they look discreet enough hanging around the neck.
On first sight the view is very similar to a pair of Swarovski ELs’. That means bright, wide, flat, detailed and free from false colour with lots of on-axis resolution. I have been reviewing a mid-market 8x binocular and immediately noticed the greater clarity and resolution on offer here. Make no mistake, centre field these are the equal of any, bringing out every detail of pinkish-grey feather on a pair of Doves loafing lazily on my lawn in the afternoon sun.
Focus snap is extremely sharp, confirming a very high quality of optical fabrication.
Colour rendition is pleasingly neutral too, just a bit warmer than typical Zeiss and Swarovski, but no worse for it.
Like the HG before it, the depth of field isn’t the very best, but with that superb focuser it hardly matters. Think and they’re already refocused.
Overall, though, extended use makes you suspect there is something slightly inferior about the view compared to the ELs. The reason is covered in the next section.
The EDGs have a very flat field that again looks at first much like a Swarovski EL’s. Closer inspection reveals otherwise. Indeed the focal surface is flat. But from perhaps 70% field width a slight softness creeps into the field that you can’t focus away. This softness peaks at about 80% and the edge is then sharper again. It’s quite a subtle effect, but it’s there. What’s going on? The answer is that these have other off-axis aberrations that the ELs don’t – mainly a bit of astigmatism, as star-testing shows.
To put this in context, the field is perfectly usable across the whole width, but detail blurs a little off-axis in a way it doesn’t with the ELs until closer to the edge.
Correction for false colour fringing is unusually good, amongst the best two or three binoculars I’ve tested. In most normal use you just won’t see any nasty purple or green fringes at all. Given their apparently simple optical configuration and short stature, that’s remarkable.
In Use – Dusk
8x42 is a useful size for low light and these Nikon EDGs don’t disappoint. They cut deep into twilight shadow, where the high light throughput and high-contrast optics help them pull out detail. These are amongst the brightest binoculars with Schmidt-Pechan prisms that I have seen and perhaps that’s not surprising: they have six optical surfaces per barrel fewer to scatter light than a pair of ELs.
In Use – The Night Sky
Nikon’s EDG 8x42 are quite well suited to astronomy, despite their low power and modest aperture. Brightness and contrast are excellent and stars are very sharp on-axis. Veiling flare around streetlights is well controlled and the Moon produces no spikes or flares or ghosts. Even a bright artificial light in-field generates just the faintest trace of a ghost.
The field flatness is good, but stars do start to distort and spike mildly after about 70% field width. This is not simple field curvature, you can’t focus it away. Focusing through causes a star in the outer field to turn into a line in one plane and then a line at right angles on the other side of focus – all a sure sign of astigmatism. A trace of astigmatism is common in binoculars, but it’s worth noting that the Swarovski ELs models I have tested have almost none by comparison.
Given the low power of 8x, the Moon looks fabulous through these Nikon EDGs: sharp and full of detail, but with no false colour fringing on the limb, even focusing through. There is no trace of flare or spiking either, to leave the Moon just as it looks at low power through a fine astronomical telescope.
As you would expect of a premium design, the EDGs passed the Jupiter test as well as the very best. Jupiter appears as a well-defined disk with no spikes or flares. The Galilean moons are easily picked out as perfect stars around the planet, even in murky, light-polluted skies.
Deep sky performance from an 8x42 is always modest. This isn’t the binocular you would choose to pluck small, faint fuzzies from a bright sky. Nevertheless, you can certainly enjoy the highlights: Orion’s nebula, the star clusters from M35 up through Auriga, the Double Cluster, the O-B association in Perseus, the bright core and extended nebulosity of M31. In all cases, the flat field delivers a good view, if not quite as nice as the best corrected fields because the trace of astigmatism smears faint stars a little towards (ironically) the edge.
Nikon EDG 8x42 vs Swarovski EL 8.5x42
I haven’t reviewed the EL 8.5x42, but I have used a pair on several occasions and I’ve reviewed various other models in the range, so I know their general characteristics. They are perhaps the closest competition to these Nikons and so a point-by-point comparison is in order.
· The Nikons are shorter and no heavier.
· The Nikons are just as well, if not better, made.
· The Nikons have a better focuser – smoother, less inclined to occasional stickiness, more intuitive.
· The click-stop, numbered dioptre adjustment on the Swarovskis is more useful.
· The Nikons have more real-world eye relief (though not in the brochure) and so greater comfort for those who observe with glasses.
· Correction for false colour is too close to call. Both are outstanding.
· The apparent field of the Nikons is a little narrower.
· Overall, the view is similarly superb through both.
· The Nikons’ field shows slightly more off-axis aberrations, i.e. the view isn’t quite as sharp away from the centre. This makes the Swarovskis a little better for astronomy because they don’t blur stars off-axis and give the best view of extended objects.
· The Nikons have much better blacking of the barrel interiors, but don’t seem any better for it.
· Neither has quite the best stray light performance, but both work fine in most challengingly lit conditions.
· The Swarovskis have the better case and more functional caps.
· Prices are similar, but the Nikons can often be had for a bit less with discounts.
· I suspect that long-term service and repair prospects will be superior with the Swarovskis (a recent warranty experience with Swarovski was very positive; with Nikon it wasn’t).
A well-known binocular reviewer has stated that all high-end binoculars are so perfect that reviews like this one aren’t necessary. I think these Nikon EDGs demonstrate just how wrong that is. They are a truly excellent binocular and I really like them. But they’re not perfect and are distinctly different in measurable ways from their competition.
They do appear similar to their most obvious competitor, Swarovski’s ELs, but closer inspection reveals that’s not so. These Nikons are more compact than the ELs and perhaps even better made. They have more real-world eye relief and a much smoother, more intuitive focuser. Both binoculars have a similarly bright and flat field, but in fact the Swarovskis have less off-axis aberrations that give a sharper overall view and a definite advantage for astronomy. The ELs have a few degrees extra apparent field width too.
That reviewer was right about one thing, though – in the end the choice may come down to personal preference. Does that wonderful EDG focuser swing it over the Swarovskis’ better corrected field for you? Is the greater eye relief of the Nikons worth more to you than a bit of extra field width? The Nikons can be bought for less, but will you have to replace them if you wear them out when you could have just got the Swarovskis serviced?
Whatever your answers to those questions, Nikon have unquestionably created a contender for ‘World’s Best Binocular’ with the EDG. Perhaps Nikon’s real weakness isn’t their products, but their unwillingness to improve and evolve them. You see, with some gradual developmental tweaking –a bit more field width, less astigmatism and better accessories - these EDGs really could become the very best binoculars in the world and then stay that way.
Nikon’s EDG 8x42s are highly recommended. They’re not really inferior to Swarovski’s ELs overall and are more comfortable for use with glasses, but for the optical purist, the Swarovskis do have a slightly better view.