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What are the most underrated vintage binoculars?

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#1 Scrumpymanjack

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Posted 07 November 2019 - 05:33 PM

Hi all, 

 

Fascinated to dip into your extensive knowledge. Title says it all. Would love to hear your thoughts and opinions of those vintage binoculars that are still somehow underrated (and therefore undervalued). 

 

Thank you in advance (and thanks for such an incredible community). 



#2 Yarddog

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Posted 07 November 2019 - 06:01 PM

I am not as knowledgeable as many on this forum but have had some experience.

 

Some of the non brand name Japanese binoculars which appear to be copies of the WWII B&L's are surprisingly inexpensive and  are very near some high end ones in quality.

 

I have a Nikon 7X50 which I was told was Australian Navy surplus. It may be the sharpest binocular I own. A few years later I got a Summatech (J-B21) which appears to be identical including the Rangefinder. It is also just about as sharp. It cost well under a hundred on ebay.



#3 mdowns

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Posted 07 November 2019 - 06:33 PM

I have had countless 'vintage' binos and still have several around the house.One brand that instantly comes to mind ,that many don't recognize,is Mirador.One of the oldies that I kept is my Mirador 7x40s.Very well made with excellent views across nearly the entire fov.If you find a pair in fair to good condition you might be surprised.


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#4 asphericalaberration

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Posted 07 November 2019 - 06:42 PM

Your question doesn't have an answer.

  • In vintage, original quality and current condition are so variable that each bin is (by now) unique. You have to know how to evaluate whatever bin you're holding in your hand. You have to know which problems you can fix--and vintage almost always needs internal cleaning and new lubricants, for example--and which problems are beyond repair. No two alike.
  • The most common brands were importers, not manufacturers. They usually bought from many suppliers. A model name may have had a long history, with many variations in source, quality, and performance. Even then, you don't often find two copies of the same model.
  • There are hundreds of forgotten brands from the "Made in Japan" era. Good examples can be fun. They're obscure, however, and have little or no financial value. Sleepers? Sort of.
  • The market tends to be efficient--so there aren't many sleepers that sell for less than value.
  • Pricing is extremely erratic. I've picked up some nice bins for less than $5.00. I've seen comparable bins priced as if they were Sotheby's-grade antiques. Knowing when something is under or overpriced at the source is specialty knowledge not easily taught.
  • If collectors have a secret favorite, they'll keep it to themselves, especially if they're concerned that they're teaching a for-profit picker to compete with them.

Suggestions: read the vintage thread here, get in the habit of following your local thrift shops, and learn how to repair common problems. You'll find nice items from time to time. You'll make inexpensive mistakes. There's no royal road. Arcane hobby; tough way to make a buck.


Edited by asphericalaberration, 07 November 2019 - 07:52 PM.

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#5 Scrumpymanjack

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Posted 07 November 2019 - 10:43 PM

Your question doesn't have an answer.

  • In vintage, original quality and current condition are so variable that each bin is (by now) unique. You have to know how to evaluate whatever bin you're holding in your hand. You have to know which problems you can fix--and vintage almost always needs internal cleaning and new lubricants, for example--and which problems are beyond repair. No two alike.
  • The most common brands were importers, not manufacturers. They usually bought from many suppliers. A model name may have had a long history, with many variations in source, quality, and performance. Even then, you don't often find two copies of the same model.
  • There are hundreds of forgotten brands from the "Made in Japan" era. Good examples can be fun. They're obscure, however, and have little or no financial value. Sleepers? Sort of.
  • The market tends to be efficient--so there aren't many sleepers that sell for less than value.
  • Pricing is extremely erratic. I've picked up some nice bins for less than $5.00. I've seen comparable bins priced as if they were Sotheby's-grade antiques. Knowing when something is under or overpriced at the source is specialty knowledge not easily taught.
  • If collectors have a secret favorite, they'll keep it to themselves, especially if they're concerned that they're teaching a for-profit picker to compete with them.

Suggestions: read the vintage thread here, get in the habit of following your local thrift shops, and learn how to repair common problems. You'll find nice items from time to time. You'll make inexpensive mistakes. There's no royal road. Arcane hobby; tough way to make a buck.

Except that you just provided an excellent answer...thanks! 



#6 asphericalaberration

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Posted 07 November 2019 - 11:39 PM

Some things to look for:

  • When you shake them, is there a rattling noise?
  • Are all the parts there? Missing plastic eyecaps might not matter much.
  • Where were they made? What's the brand? Who actually made them?
  • How clean are they inside? Looking into the objectives, shine a small flashlight into the oculars. Hazy? Can you clean them?
  • Are they sharp? How big is the sweet spot?
  • Are they aligned (collimated)? If not, can you fix them?
  • Do they show signs of cost reduction, e.g., plastic prism covers?
  • Bak4 or Bk7 prisms? (it usually doesn't matter).
  • Is the hinge smooth or stuck? Is the focus smooth or stuck? Does the diopter work or is it frozen?
  • How good are the coatings? Have they been damaged?
  • Do they focus to infinity? What's the close-focus distance?

If you're shopping for personal use, you're likely better off buying one new bin in the best quality you're comfortable with. If you're shopping for resale, good luck, best wishes.


Edited by asphericalaberration, 07 November 2019 - 11:45 PM.

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#7 Grimnir

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Posted 08 November 2019 - 05:49 AM

A (the?) major virtue of vintage binos is that their field of view is typically greater than that of modern glass.

 

In that respect my vote goes to the Swift Holiday/Panoramic 7x35 which typically command significantly lower prices than other quality wide angle glass such as the Bushnell FPO and Tamron Rangemasters.

 

Hope this helps,

 

Graham


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#8 skoro

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Posted 08 November 2019 - 05:42 PM

Would early 90s be considered vintage?

 

If so, then the Vixen-made Celestron Ultima line is one I'd put in that category. They were also sold in Canada as Adlerblicks.



#9 MartinPond

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Posted 09 November 2019 - 02:32 PM

Obviously, a matter of opinion(s),

some held strongly.  But the some

surprisingly great ones I have run across:

 

7x35 , 10 degree "Town & Country",

  sometimes made for "King Korn" (!),

when made by JB3/JB4 (on the hinge, means "Toei Kogaku")

Of all the 7x35 10ds, these are the richest contrast

and highest contrast I have found.  The propietary

70-deg afov eyepieces varied a lot, but Toei K. had the best..

I actually prefer these to my 8x32  Diamondbacks...

The contrast is finer.

 

Tasco "World Class Plus", in 7x50 or 10x50...

wow.....a few cuts above the rest.

A modern revisiting (multicoated, BAK4, etc)

of the Mirador line (made at JB4)...

There is a catch: sticky coating on the shoulders of

 the binoculars. I knocked that off by de-polymerizing

 with lye oven cleaner (and gloves/rags!)...

 

Adams Precision  7x35s:

There many clones of the B&L Zephyr / 

Bushnell Featherweight / 

7x35 "Lightweight" clones, but these top them all.

Very rare though.

 

Stellar <KOC> 8x30s..

Very sharp, even when the image is blown up.

Very fine polish on optics.

We're getting pretty far back in time, though..

   ...more likely to need a thorough cleaning.

 

7x50 "Valiant", 

  prime contractor JB7, Nippon Kogaku

  (became Nikon)

 

"High Power" binocs...(even named on 7x50s)..

...very high detail+polish, but very old

 

Limer 7x35s, 393ft (7.5 deg)

...another stand-out JB4..

 

 

The supreme ones are peppered among many others....

There are some better makers (JB4 Toei Kogaku is my favorite)..

  JB65 can be remarkable in ordinary-looking binocs.  

Most Japanese makers produced high, medium, and low grade..

Mid-50s was the best, but often the binocs are pretty beat and need attention.

  60s were still great, with brands at photo shops being special,

   like Scope, Kassnar...

 

 Over the years, Bushnell drifted from best to really mixed quality,

    as US inflation kicked in, 70s--80s.  Even today,  the "Falcon"

    continues the lots-of-plastic and/or uncoated innards scheme that

    began with the "Ensign". 


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#10 mtminnesota

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Posted 09 November 2019 - 06:35 PM

I had a pair of 1970-ish Asahi Pentax 8x40 wide view that were excellent.  I suspect other models from them were just as good, and a well-maintained pair would be very cheap.



#11 Gumball

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Posted 09 November 2019 - 06:49 PM

Occasionally one can find underpriced binoculars on ebay, search under:

 

- "beh binoculars" that being the late WW2 designation for E.Leitz Wetzlar

- "blc binoculars" which was Karl Zeiss Jena

- "bmj binoculars" which was Hensoldt Wetzlar

 

 

Again, buying anything "sight unseen" has its risks, one must check the seller's history and read the description carefully.


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#12 asphericalaberration

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 01:49 AM

A good example of anything listed above is no doubt a good bin. But after 50 years, randomness and entropy control what you find. For instance, I just found a battered FPO Rangemaster for a few dollars. By reputation, it should be terrific. I doubt it can be put in functional condition at a reasonable cost (if at all). It was worth a few dollars. You can't recommend vintage based on model name. No two alike, or priced alike, if you can even find two.


Edited by asphericalaberration, 10 November 2019 - 02:04 AM.


#13 Foss

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 10:48 AM

Are you a starting out collector or do you have a specific need to fill?


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#14 edwincjones

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 05:36 PM

If one excludes the cheap junk, then I would say all of them.

Any pair of decent binoculars are better than naked eye only.

 

 

edj



#15 SMark

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 07:20 PM

While there are certain vintage Japanese brands that do stand out among the others (Fuji, Kowa, Nikon, Tamron, Katsuma...,) it is also true that most of them also made binoculars to spec for other companies. Sometimes the spec was full-up (i.e. the Bushnell Rangemaster) and sometimes the spec was pretty much on-the-cheap, or somewhere in-between. So the challenge is to identify the models that are made to the higher specs and then search those out. It's a tall order. And as mentioned above, they are often found in less than usable condition. In most cases, a visit to Dr. Suddarth fixes all that, but other times one needs to then also search out replacement glass from another sample. It can be a lot of bother for some, but I find it quite an enjoyable adventure! laugh.gif


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#16 Scrumpymanjack

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 10:45 PM

Are you a starting out collector or do you have a specific need to fill?

Absolutely a starting-out collector. Not interested in resale or business. I just like good-quality old things for the way they were put together as well as thinking about all the previous owners and what they may have seen through those lenses. 



#17 Scrumpymanjack

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 10:47 PM

Thanks to all of these amazing posts. Super interesting. Really appreciate sharing your thoughts and knowledge. 



#18 jimb1001

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 11:41 PM

I found it helpful to follow a manufacturer or time period. For example I collect featherlights, compacts, Custom compacts, compact elites and rangemasters. I also have a few odds and ends I've found interesting along the way.

 

If you buy without a physical inspection, plan to send them to Cory Sudddarth for cleaning and repair. Usually $100or so.


Edited by jimb1001, 12 November 2019 - 11:47 PM.


#19 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 13 November 2019 - 08:15 AM

Absolutely a starting-out collector. Not interested in resale or business. I just like good-quality old things for the way they were put together as well as thinking about all the previous owners and what they may have seen through those lenses. 

 

:waytogo:

 

And a belated :welcome: to Cloudy Nights.

 

What binoculars do  now have?  What do you like to look at through binoculars?

 

I am not a binocular collector but I do like old things and older binoculars in particular.  Besides being an amateur astronomer, I am an inverterate bargain hunter so just finding an older binocular at garage sale or thrift store is fun. 

 

I agree with Edwin: 

 

If one excludes the cheap junk, then I would say all of them.

Any pair of decent binoculars are better than naked eye only.

 

One tip:  If you find a pair of binoculars that interest you but you are unsure about, either ask your questions directly in this forum or send a PM to one of the knowledgeable members of this forum (not me).  I think Smark has owned just about every classic binocular ever made and then some. 

 

Jon


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#20 Foss

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Posted 13 November 2019 - 10:20 AM

Absolutely a starting-out collector. Not interested in resale or business. I just like good-quality old things for the way they were put together as well as thinking about all the previous owners and what they may have seen through those lenses. 

One indicator of quality in older Japanese-manufactured binoculars is the presence of an oval JTII sticker.

The late Peter Abrahams wrote:

Checkup On Quality -  JAPANESE BINOCULAR INSPECTION INSTITUTE

Binoculars from Japan are rigidly inspected to make sure that every
component is of top quality and that all mechanisms are in perfect working
order. All optical products that have passed these rigorous standards are
tagged “PASSED” by the Government’s Japan Telescopes Inspection Institute.


Edited by Foss, 13 November 2019 - 10:23 AM.

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#21 MartinPond

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Posted 14 November 2019 - 05:37 PM

I got a real diamond in the rough yesterday..

It was called a

"Burton Dura-Test featherweight"

"Space King"

at 7x35 and 10 degrees.

Turns out, it's a Kowa...the maker's mark.

 

Same chassis as the 7x35--11deg ones,

but sharp right to the edge..that's rare..

 better than even cutting a degree off the 11...

Checking the EP on a scope, it looks like the 

EP is tuned to the binoculars..that is only done on

maybe 5% of binoculars.  Very big, comfortable view.

It's a 1,2,1 Konig like the other extra-wides, 

but tweeked with the binocs for a clean 70 degrees afov.

 

I cleaned up the outside glass,

then saw some internal grease smudges on the

objectives.  Kowa made it easy to unscrew  the whole

objective assembly without disturbing the alignment

of the eccentric rings.....very nice indeed!

Just needed some WD40 on the hinges and focuser.

Really well built and designed.

 

It's really nice to have a completely sharp and pretty wide view at  night!


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#22 harbinjer

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Posted 14 November 2019 - 11:01 PM

Kowa made it easy to unscrew  the whole

objective assembly without disturbing the alignment

of the eccentric rings.....very nice indeed!

Just needed some WD40 on the hinges and focuser.

Really well built and designed.

 

It's really nice to have a completely sharp and pretty wide view at  night!

Did you happen to get a picture of how that looks?  I have never come across a Burton. 

 

To answer the question:  There are underrated ones out there, but it will take a while to find. SMark's signature is a good starting point. He has a lot of the best vintage bins out there. Whether you think its underrated or overrated will also depend on what you're looking for and your tastes.  A lot of vintage collectors and especially users are interested in the extra wide fields, partly because they don't make them anymore.  But that's not a given, and doesn't have to be you.  

 

Now to undervalued: the best know vintage bins are rarely undervalued. But there are many regular ones that are. That is: good, high quality binoculars that sell for very cheap. That's a reasonable place to start. If you start at the top, everything else will disappoint by comparison.



#23 hallelujah

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Posted 15 November 2019 - 12:50 AM

Did you happen to get a picture of how that looks?  I have never come across a Burton.

https://www.auctionz...lars_A3648FA8E5



#24 PEterW

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Posted 15 November 2019 - 02:17 AM

The pics in the link note a field width of 395ft, you’re claiming it’s in the 568ft category?? I know they sometimes over estimate, but that’s quite an under statement!

Peter

#25 SMark

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Posted 15 November 2019 - 05:46 AM

The standard Kowa featherweight is 7.5° and the wide angle is 10°. The wide angle model can be supplied with either Bk7 or BaK4 prisms, with BaK4 being the brighter binocular. Really outstanding. 

 

What prisms are in that Burton?




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