With the superb quality of high-end binoculars steadily improving, the cost of owning the latest models has also crept steadily higher—putting the best optics outside the budget of many birders. With their completely redesigned Razor HD binoculars, however, Vortex seriously challenges this trend by offering highest-quality optics at roughly half the cost of the most expensive models. (The online price for this model runs about $1,180.) I was pleased to receive a pair of 8x42 Razor HDs to review, just in time for peak spring bird migration in Ithaca, New York.
These sleek, open-hinge-design roof-prisms immediately lived up to their name, because the image was truly razor sharp and very bright from edge to edge. In fact, after repeated side-by-side comparisons with my own top-of-the-line binoculars, my eyes could not discern a difference in overall image quality. Colors appeared vivid and true as I gawked at my first male Blackburnian Warbler of the season and marveled at the soft yellows on a Philadelphia Vireo. Crisp details were easily resolved, as in the subtle face pattern of a Lincoln’s Sparrow, and the very wide field of view (widest of any comparable model) and excellent depth of field made it easier to spot these migrants among the dense new foliage. Focusing down to 8 feet allowed me to study the eye of an incubating Blue Jay nesting just off my back deck. In addition to the excellent optics, Vortex guarantees these binoculars to be completely waterproof and fog-proof.
The new Razor HDs had a very solid feel, but at nearly 30 ounces they seemed a bit forward-heavy in my hands. The large focus wheel had a nice gripping surface, but on the pair I was testing was very stiff and slow—the five partial turns required to move from Blue Jay nest to treetop warblers gave my index finger quite a workout. My biggest criticism, though, was that these binoculars seemed to have too much eye relief; turning the eyecups all the way down produced noticeable black vignetting with my eyeglasses on. In fact, the correct spot for my eyes was somewhere between the first and second (of four) click-stop points, so I just was never able to get rid of those black circles and enjoy a perfect view. Other people, of course (even other eyeglass-wearers), may not experience this annoyance.
So, although they may not be perfect, the Vortex Razor HDs are well worth a look for birders in the market for excellent yet moderately priced binoculars. They also come in a 10x42 model at roughly the same size, weight, and price, as well as larger and heavier 8.5x50, 10x50, and even 12x50 models. I applaud Vortex for challenging the top manufacturers, while bucking the trend toward absurdly high prices. The unconditional lifetime warranty offers an additional incentive, because even accidental, user-induced damage will be repaired or replaced at no cost to the owner. Seems hard to go wrong with that kind of deal, and I look forward to even greater innovation from this newcomer to the high-end optics field.