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Birds don’t make passes at dudes with bad glasses

April 24, 2008
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Patrick at The Hawk Owl’s Nest started a cool little turn down memory lane when he asked about bird blogger’s first pair of binoculars. I don’t remember my very very first pair, they were likely any of the set of marginal optics that my dad had lying around the house. I know for a fact we had a couple versions of cheap 7x35s that were likely around my neck the first couple trips out. It wasn’t long before I felt the pull that we all do towards a slightly better pair.

My first purchased binoculars were a pair of Bushnell Powerview 10×50 porros that cost about $85, a princely sum for a 13 year old, that I got at the local Bass Pro Shops. Bass Pro is an outdoor supply store, which in the Ozarks means hunting supply, so I had two options, the green or the camo. I went with the green, and those binoculars were with me for many many life birds. They had the teeter-totter focusing mechanism and roll down eyecups, that I didn’t use cause I used to push my glasses up on my forehead to look through the bins. Now I just wear contacts. I still have them, sitting in a closet just in case something happens to my current pair or someone needs to borrow them.

But it wasn’t just the bins that are a trove of memories. I did this incredibly dorky (read: awesome) thing where I purchased patches at the birding locations I visited and sewed (well, my mom did the actual sewing) them on the soft pack that my bins came it. I had one from Ding Darling, and one from the Everglades, and one from Huachuca Canyon in Arizona. Pretty geeky huh? Well, you won’t hear any denial from this end, I proudly let my geek flag fly.

My current pair of bins, some 8×42 Eagle Optics Rangers, are far better constructed. The straight prisms are a bit more sturdy, and definitely less nerdy, then the porros. I got them about 3 years ago and I’m pretty happy. But I only think of them as my second pair, and I’ve already got my eyes on my last pair. I’m saving up for a kick-ass pair of Zeiss, and I should be ready for purchase sometime near the end of the year (but only if the dollar stops tanking…). They’ll be the kind of binoculars I can wear to the grave, and I’d have to, because should I be cremated the fine German optics will probably survive the flames (I can’t be the only one who’s considered this, right?).

The story of my binoculars is indeed, the story of my birding career. It’s certainly another fun thing to think about when considering how far I, and all of us, have come. Thanks to Patrick for the inspiration!

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11 Comments
  1. John permalink
    April 24, 2008 8:06 am

    Regarding Zeiss – I came across an internet discussion somewhere in which people were complaining that Zeiss was manufacturing its binoculars in Hungary rather than Germany. Not complaining about a loss in quality, just that if they were going to spend money, they wanted real German binoculars.

    I purchased patches at the birding locations I visited

    I did something similar by sticking lapel-type pins from various places into a baseball cap.

  2. April 24, 2008 8:49 am

    Thanks for the Zeiss info John. Too bad Zeiss hasn’t lowered the price of the bins any to account for cheaper eastern European labor.

    The reason I prefer that particular brand though, is because they have the longest eye relief of the 3 big brands, and I really like to jam the bins onto my eyesockets when I bird. Swaro and Leica just aren’t comfortable to me.

    If the quality is still high, I’ll probably still go with them.

  3. Ashok permalink
    April 24, 2008 9:55 am

    I love my Zeiss TFL 8x42s. Lightweight, and very bright.

    Recently, my bins fell 2 feet onto a concrete sidewalk. This whacked the eyecup off center. Sent them in last week, and they’ve already been fixed and sent back. My only complaint is that no phone call or email received to let me know status and that they received my bins. I had to really work at it over a period of two days to get status.

    Despite that minor issue, I still love my bins. Apparently, if they need to send your bins back to Germany, it can take 4 months to have them come back due to the issues with German customs? I’ve heard, but not confirmed, that they do offer loaners if needed.

    Swarovski and Leica both have much better repair service centers based on the experience of my friends.

    But all that aside, I’ll stick with my Zeiss bins 🙂

  4. Jochen permalink
    April 25, 2008 2:49 am

    Yes, N8, the Zeiss bins would surely survive the flames, so you won’t be able to take them with you to the eternal birding grounds beyond our world.
    About them producing their bins in Eastern Europe: I’ve heard the same of Leica scopes and the shift of production sites apparently coincides with the scopes easily breaking in half (!!). This seems to be common practise even amongst the top brands: start producing very high quality when you introduce a new scope/pair of bins and when you’ve received a bunch of excellent reviews, shift production to where it’s cheaper.

    I had a small suitcase for my big Novoflex photography lens and put stickers of every country on it that I had visited. I then made the mistake of putting a big flashy Novoflex sticker on it as well and then my dad pointed out that this was a grand invitation for airport thieves to go for it, so I left the suitcase at home, wrapped the lens into towels and transported it in ordinary bags. The suitcase did look cool though…

  5. Ashok permalink
    April 25, 2008 9:42 am

    Jonathan Rosen writes about Zeiss in his book Life of the Skies. Being Jewish, he’s sensitive to the behaviour of various companies’ behavior during the Holocaust. He wears Leicas because they helped Jews during the war. Zeiss is on his verboten list, for the same reason – they helped the Nazis.

  6. April 25, 2008 9:49 am

    Wow, I had no idea about that. Definitely a plus for Leicas as opposed to the other. I have a fair bit of Jewish family, definitely something to think about.

  7. Jochen permalink
    April 25, 2008 10:17 am

    N8, that’s definitely worth taking into account.
    Additionally, it might be interesting to see how Zeiss behaved after Nazi Germany was defeated. How much of Zeiss’ current wealth was unrightfully obtained through helping the Nazis and did they do anything afterwards to pay their victims back?
    If they did so, was it honest or just because they were forced to by the Allies?
    Many, if not most, German companies had ties to the Nazis back then. After all, the Nazis were the government and the vast majority of Germans back then, including those running the companies, were bloddy Nazis themselves (do I have a typo somewhere in that sentence?). So the fact that Zeiss had connections to the Nazis isn’t all that unusual and does not imply they actively helped or profited from the terror regime (although many companies did and I do not know what Zeiss’ role was, so they might well have played an active role in helping the Nazis as ashok mentions).
    Supporting Leica for helping the Jews is brilliant. But you might want to look into the subject a bit further to give Zeiss a fair chance.
    Being German myself, I can wholeheartedly assure you that today’s Germany and Germans don’t have anything to do with that terrible past (except for the undenied fact that they have this past and must/do handle the responsibilities it brings).
    It’s a different world today, and that is probably also the case with Zeiss.

  8. April 25, 2008 10:48 am

    Jochen, I didn’t mean to imply that germans today and germans 50 years ago have any sort of connection other than country of origin.

    Besides, if I were to swear off use of companies because of WWII connections, I couldn’t use IBM products or drive my Mazda.

    It’s certainly something to think about, but ultimately, I think my issues with eye relief will be the overwhelming determiner in my bino purchase.

    Social awareness, even 50 years gone, is nice and all, but if I’m going to spend that much money, I’m getting the best fit for me.

  9. Jochen permalink
    April 25, 2008 10:56 am

    Nathan, you didn’t imply that at all, it’s just a topic that to me as a German is very interesting as I know that quite a few companies still profit today from the money they made through crimes during the Nazi era and that needs to be prosecuted, even 50 years later. Quite a few companies have acted very responsibly but a few still tend to hush up their past. If Zeiss should be one of them: shame!
    I hope not though. Zeiss today is a very good company when it comes to worker’s rights and working standards/conditions as far as I know. That might also be another factor if you are to take social aspects into account.

    But really, as a birder, just get the best bins you can find!

  10. April 25, 2008 12:20 pm

    It’s certainly interesting. Post-war, Zeiss was well known for making planetarium projectors, and at the planetarium I work at we still have and use one of the old Zeiss projectors from the 50s. It’s a cool machine.

    In doing some research about Zeiss and Nazi Germany, it appears that one of their premier lensmakers, an Emmanuel Goldberg, who was Jewish, was captured by the Nazis but he was so valuable to the company that they rescued him and hid him away in France until the war was over.

    While Zeiss optics were certainly integral to the success of the german military, and they didn’t actively oppose and help Jewish people escape as the Leitz (Leica) family did, I don’t know if it can be said that they actively participated in the Holocaust either. They were just a German company that was kinda forced into a bad situation, like many were.

    So if you want a super clean conscious, go with Leica, but you really can’t go wrong with either optically.

  11. Jochen permalink
    April 28, 2008 5:49 am

    That was interesting!
    Thanks N8 and thanks ashok for bringing it up.

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