Nikon 8x30 E2 100th anniversary edition - mini review
LOOKS LIKE THEY FINALLY IMPROVED THE CLASSIC! BUT...
First impression: This is now a bright glass with neutral colours!
I reviewed this classic binocular in 2015 and 2017 and came to the conclusion that it was not good enough to keep it. Now with a third sample from the 100th anniversary edition (I only played around with it for two hours over a course of two days) I believe that Nikon has improved this binocular design from 1999 with new coatings again. Something which has happened before over the last 20 years, as the transmission measurements of Gijs van Ginkel suggest (scroll down for the graphs). But it has been a long wait.
I assume the change is not exclusive to the anniversary edition. But where and when did it happen? Nikon fogged this up with an inconsistent serial number system. My sample from 2015 was 810057, the anniversary sample is a 081923 sample, so a different system of numbering (unfortunately I did not make a documentation of my second sample from 2017).
In Germany the last samples of the 100th anniversary edition are now selling for EUR 679.-, and 620.- for the regular version. I remember the last Nikon SEs 8x32 were sold for 699.- in 2015, and those were alpha binoculars. So is the E2 worth the price?
Improved coatings - more transmission, better colour!
Improved coatings mean: The E2 has now a better transmission, is visibly brighter and has a better colour reproduction.
My evidence is both from visual observation and direct comparison with my reference glasses (mainly Habicht 8x30) as well as from memory of my last observations with another E2 sample (granted, that is always problematic). But also from photographic comparison of the coatings of the new and the older sample, see below.
The new coatings are very low intensitiy, with slight magenta and light greenish blue/cyan reflections (don´t believe what you see in the Nikon product shots - a very bright clear blue). A similar amount of magenta and cyan being reflected would mean neutral colour reproduction. The older coatings used to be of higher intensity. Both on the objectives and the oculars. Here are some photos of the objective lenses:
Quite high intensity, classic blue and magenta for artificially boosting contrast. There must be a bit more going on because the result is not a yellowgreen cast but essentially a red one.
On top the Habicht, on the bottom the E2.
Low intensity, almost Leica Ultravid HD Plus like - which are colorwise my favourite bins, so for me it is absolutely great to see similar stuff in a Nikon.
Here the Ultravid 8x42 HD Plus: Low intensity, but more green instead of cyan:
Back to Nikon. With direct sunlight on the objectives, hardly noticeable coloured reflections from the coatings. That means little light is reflected and lost while passing the front lens. I saw two coloured sun reflections, one magenta, one cyan. Hard to photograph and also obscured by the macro lenses chromatic aberration.
This is about the highest intensity reflection I could photograph...
My benchmark for this type of porro is my 8x30 Habicht from 2009, but I also took my Leica 8x32 Ultravid Plus - a glass I appreciate more and more the longer I use it - as a reference.
The E2 is now a bright glass. I have always quarreled about the brightness of Nikon glasses (the 8x30 E2, the 8x32 SE, and even the 8x42 EDG). It is a bit brighter than the Leica, and still a bit darker then the 96% flat transmission wonder glass Swarovski Habicht - something which is for my eyes visible both in bright light and in the shade or twilight. It will be interesting to see Gjis van Ginkels or allbinos` transmission measurements...
I see very neutral colours now, with just a hint of yellow. Gone is the reddish colour reproduction of older versions. And I no longer feel the E2 - just like the 550xxx 8x32 SEs - looks a bit too dark and "muddy" in its images compared to the Habicht 8x30.
So far so very good.
Some impressions of the 100th anniversary version
The finish of the glass itself is for my taste very nice. The rest of the package is nothing to write home about - the pouch is cheap artificial leather and the limited strap - well, what would I need a limited strap for...?
These engravings are now white instead of gold/yellow:
A quick look inside
There is this nasty white patch of glue visible under the objectives... and unblackened metal around the prisms, similar to the Habicht.
Mechanical and optical impressions
Mechanical quality seems very good, as expected, with velvety focusing and a perfect friction of the hinge, and the diopter ring.
But is this a great glass optically?
- One of the widest apparent fields of view (154m, Habicht 8x30 is 136m).
- Now bright enough (but Habicht is visibly brighter)
- Very good control of flares and veiling glare for this type of glass (flares are the Achilles heel of the Habicht 8x30, and quite surprisingly in some situations the Ultravid 8x32 flared much more than the E2).
- Global contrast (absence from flare) is good, but microcontrast (edge contrast) is not in the premium league as my reference glasses. It´s the Nikon typical sharpness with a lot of punch (edge contrast of coarse objects), but cannot match the competition at smaller details, so yes - it SPARKLES much less than my Habicht 8x30, Victory FL 7x42 and also Leica Ultravid 8x32.
- Compared to the latest breed of good 8x30 glasses (Swarovski CL Companion etc.) and my Leica Ultravid 8x32 - which can easily be put in any pocket - this is still a somewhat bulky glass.
- What really annoys me and spoils this sample of the E2 for me is the lack of transparency. Transparency means to be able forget the optical device between you and the world. This sample strains my eyes way more than a great binocular ever should. Habicht, Victory FL and Ultravid blow the E2 out of the water. It is not a subtle thing. Ease of view is really not good enough for me to make this a keeper. I admit I have cherrypicked all my alpha class reference bins and the E2 is still a middle class bin. In this sample it might well be the collimation, which comes in many degrees of accuracy.
- Suboptimal collimation would also explain the problematic performance in close focus. Of course porros with their parallaxe are never ideal for close observations. But in my experience collimation errors also get more pronounced in close focus. I can happily use the Habicht 8x30 from 3.5m on. With the E2, the eyestrain is not at all acceptable at that distance (stereo base i.e. distance between the objectives is the same in both glasses).
- The price difference to the Habicht has further shrunk to the Nikon´s disadvantage. The Habicht is a waterproof alpha bin.
Nikon 8x30 E2 vs Nikon 8x32 SE
The SE is a true premium glass with probably much lower sample variation (I had one sample only). Except for brightness and apparent field of view, the SE remains reference quality. A great binocular.
It beats the E2 in contrast and build quality. But it has a tunnel view and is a MUCH bulkier, heavier glass. The dreaded blackouts in the SE can be avoided by increasing the eye distance to the oculars. I do not consider them a trait of the optical construction of the SE per se - it´s more the fault of those stupid rubber eye cups.
I am again not won over by the E2.
- sample no.1 and no.3 strained my eyes too much, ease of view was simply not sufficient, probably due to suboptimal collimation.
- sample no.2 was easy enough on my eyes, but belonged to the older, darker generation.
- No sample had the outstanding contrast (and probably collimation accuracy) of my reference glasses. And I would dare to generalize that. I would not include the E2 in a list of the greatest binoculars... but Nikon could easily change that I am sure. It is probably just a matter of manufacturing accuracy.
Do not forget this glass started out as a solid middle class bin and prices have since risen to a point that easily lets you forget that origin. To get a good sample will take some effort. Nikon´s margin on this glass must be VERY high.
Any binocular´s price is too high for me if I am straight away unhappy using it. I have not used the Nikon 8x42 HG, but it is not that much more expensive and should be a much more useful glass. As dozens of other roof prism bins.
I think a new batch of 8x32 SEs would have been a worthier project for a 100th anniversary. That´s still a reference glass. But this should not deter friends of the porro binocular from finding a good sample of the E2 and have it as a pleasant, small, and modern porro binocular.
Regarding Nikon, I am glad to use some fascinating Nikkor lenses for my filmmaking. Bread and butter. The totally unique 70-180 Micro Nikkor, a macro zoom and the only modern macro with a truly circular aperture. The simply magical 200mm AF Micro Nikkor, and the surprisingly good, extremely 3D rendering APS-C wideangle 10-24/3.5-4.5 made me retire a whole bunch of other lenses. Once Nikon sells a full frame mirrorless camera with 5 axis image stabilizer, their 28/1.4 and the 100/1.4 will be irresistable... once Nikon innovates, the results can be spectacular.
Wish the EDGs would be renewed.
Even better, a new porro, with the best properties of E2 and SE combined, plus 20 years of technological progress, and adjustable plastic eyecups.
Next anniversary, maybe.