Monday, December 05, 2011

Lots of binoculars and nothing to look at


I’ve had a weakness for binoculars and telescopes for as long as I can remember.

My first binoculars were actually field glasses (binos have prisms and higher magnification, field glasses are straight-through matching telescopes with lower power) that my mom got for me with the S&H Green Stamps she collected for shopping at the local IGA supermarket.

My first real binos were a Christmas present from my parents – a basic 7x50 (7 times magnification with 50mm diameter objective lenses) made by Tasco. I always thought Tasco was a Japanese outfit until I looked them up on Wikipedia and discovered it’s an American company founded in 1954 in Florida. Bushnell bought them and was, in turn, purchased by MidOcean Partners, a private equity firm based in New York and London.

But I digress.

Tasco isn’t in the same league with Leitz or Swarovski or Steiner, but their optics have always been good enough for my purposes. I have a pair of 8x50 rubber armored Tasco binoculars that I bought in the mid-1970s that are still as clear and sharp as they ever were.

I also have a Tasco 34TZ 36x50 spotting scope that is too powerful to use hand-held and has to be tripod mounted.

My most exotic binoculars are a WWII bring-back by my first father-in-law who served as a captain in the U.S. Army’s 144th Field Artillery Group and ended the war in Austria. He brought home a lot of neat stuff, including the most powerful hand-held binoculars ever made by Ernst Leitz of Wetzlar – the 15x60 Campofortit model. The optics are a touch hazy after nearly 70 years, but they’re still impressive.

But I’ve lusted after the Tasco Offshore 36 or 54 binoculars ever since I first saw them because they have a built-in illuminated compass and a reticle for measuring the height or width of an object if the distance is known or the distance if the height or width is known. They’re waterproof and come in the standard marine 7X50 configuration. Steiner makes a compass-equipped bino also, but they can run as high as $1,200, compared with $250 or so for the Tasco. Never mind that the Tasco Offshore binos are out of production. You can still find new and used examples.

I’ve been watching for a decently-priced pair on Ebay for years and finally noticed some a couple of weeks ago with a Buy It Now price of $50. Never mind that the shipping from Virginia was an exorbitant $20. It was still a killer deal.

So I pulled the trigger and they showed up at our post office last Saturday. As advertised, they came without the original case or lens caps and – I discovered yesterday – without the batteries to illuminate the compass at night. But who cares? Fifty dollars, man!

But I quickly realized that living in a wooded subdivision, we have little use for such optics. We have no long views or scenic vistas. If I want to do anything interesting with binoculars, I have to drive someplace where I can see a long distance. And the novelty of having a compass bearing included in your view wears off pretty quickly unless you can use it for navigation. Like on the ocean or a lake.

I guess I’m glad I bought them, but I’m gladder still that I only paid 20 percent of retail. I’d really be pissed off at myself if I’d paid $1,200 or even $250.


My neighbor’s garage as seen from my office window. You can see the very top of the compass inset at the bottom. The 10-foot-high basketball goal is about 220 feet away.


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