Alpen Rainier Binoculars
Alpen Optics is a relative newcomer to the market of high quality optics. The company
was begun by two former employees of Bausch and Lomb who each have over 30 years
designing binoculars and scopes. Their first quality line, the Apex, was reviewed
here in early 2004. Late in 2006, Alpen introduced the Rainier, their new premier
quality birding binocular, designed to compete with the best products from other
optics manufacturers. The Rainiers are a roof prism design, O-ring sealed, and nitrogen-purged
to be waterproof, dust proof and internally fogproof. Available in 8x42 and 10x42
configurations, the Rainier is a high-end optic, priced at $1200 or more, but available
on sale for as little as $810 (8x) or $855 (10x). It is also distinctly a cut above
anything ever produced by Alpen before. This raises sort of an interesting question:
if you’re an optics manufacturer trying to produce a premium quality product,
how do you improve on an already solid product like the Apex? We took a close look
at the 8x42 model to see if we could figure it out.
You can’t do it by just doing more of the same. The Rainiers are not just
an extension or a continuance of previous Alpen products; they are a departure,
something different from all other Alpen binoculars. It’s visible as soon
as you see them next to the Apex models. At 6.25 inches long and 5.0 inches wide,
the Rainier is bigger. For the same size of objective lenses (42 mm), the ocular
tubes are wider, and the ocular lenses are bigger as well, at nearly 25 mm across.
That’s the first hint: there’s more glass in these. In fact, there is
more glass in them, relative to their other lines, than you can see: there are several
additional elements in the ocular end alone. Pick them up and you can feel it too.
They have a solid, substantial feel. The Rainiers weighed 33.5 oz. on our postal
scale, well above average for a roof prism binocular. As the Rainiers are very well
balanced, they don’t feel as heavy in the hands as they actually are. Even
with a magnesium frame beneath, more glass weighs more. But it also means more performance.
The Rainiers have extra large prisms made of BaK4 glass for the highest and brightest
resolution and this should sound familiar. Virtually all high-end optics (with a
few notable exceptions) are made of this glass, which is pretty much the industry
standard. The prisms feature more than 60 layers of Alpen’s SHR™ metallic
coating, PXA™ phase coating and UBX™ multi-coating. In case you’re
wondering, phase-coating helps to focus all the different wavelengths of the visible
light spectrum to roughly the same point, improving contrast and clarity, while
multi-coating and metallic coatings enhance light transmission. Every manufacturer
has their own versions of these coatings for their high-end optics. In this case,
the metallic and multi-coatings are what distinguish the Rainier from the next binocular
line down in the Alpen family. It all comes down to light transmission, and the
Rainiers are visibly brighter than Alpen’s other binoculars. In comparison
with other ~$1000 binoculars, the Rainiers are of comparable brightness.
Mag x Obj
Field of view
393 ft/1000 yds
6.25" x 5.0"
341 ft/1000 yds
6.25" x 5.0"
The Rainiers have several other notable properties as well. The 8x model has an
extra wide field of view: 393 feet at 1000 yards (the average 8x roof prism comes
in at about 360 feet) while the 10x model is also impressive at 341 feet (an average
10x roof prism is about 319 feet). So the Rainiers are wider angle than the average
roof prism binocular. Alpen sales literature lists the Rainiers as having a minimum
close focus of 6.5 feet. In our tests, the binocular had no difficulty maintaining
sharp image quality down to about 5.5 feet, though the ocular field began to break
down inside of 6 feet. In this case, as usual in these things, the fields separate
and the dominant eye takes over. This is routine in close focus studies –
it always happens at some point, the only issue being where. In this case, a close
focus of under 6 feet is better than industry standard for a quality roof prism
optic. The 8x Rainier is listed as having long eye relief of 18 mm while the 10x
has 16 mm. Both those values are slightly more than average for the respective magnifications.
Obviously, these binoculars should be just fine for birders who wear glasses. We
measured the interpupilary distance on the 8x model at 55-75 mm, which is interesting.
This is a broader range than most binoculars have, and most importantly, it is a
bit more narrow than many meaning it’s a more comfortable fit for people with
narrow faces, while still opening enough to accommodate wider faces.
Like all other Alpen binoculars we’ve seen, the Rainiers have forest green
rubber armoring with black accents provided by the eyecups, the lens caps, rainguard
and the knurled surface on the metallic portions of the focus knob and the diopter
adjustment. As noted above, the Rainiers have ocular tubes of larger than usual
diameter. The no-slip surface of the armoring provides a great feel and grip, while
shallow thumb grooves in just the right place on the underside improve the comfort.
The focus knob itself is broad and has a very smooth mechanism, even right out of
the box, going from minimum close focus to infinity in 1.5 turns of the knob, which
is exactly average for a modern roof prism binocular.
The Rainiers focus
rapidly and smoothly; we give the focus mechanism high marks for ease of use. The
diopter adjustment mechanism is a twisting ring at the base of the right ocular
lens, which locks fully when flush against the base of the barrel; to unlock it,
pull it towards the ocular lens. A raised triangle in the armoring of the barrel
lines up with a black 0 on the twisting ring to mark the position for equal eyes.
The ring adjusts 4 diopters in either direction, with each diopter broken down into
thirds, marked by hash marks on the ring, which also line up the triangle on the
barrel. Thus, if your eyes aren’t equal, if the position of the ring is lost,
you can return to it directly without having to figure it all over again. The various
positions of the ring are even marked by subtle detent positions of the ring. This
is the most sophisticated and well-executed diopter adjustment system we’ve
seen yet. The eyecups are of slightly harder black rubber, and these adjust positionally
with the now nearly ubiquitous helical twist mechanism. In addition to fully out
and in, there are two very stable positions in between marked with solid detents
that showed no tendency to collapse in the field during extensive testing. Once
again, these are well executed.
The rain guard is a pair of loose-fitting plastic cups joined by a flexible bridge
region that very similar to the mechanism used on many binoculars we've tested.
The strap threads through a bracket on the left side; the right bracket is gapped
so the guard can be slipped onto or off the strap at will. The rain guard fits snugly
on the oculars and does not dislodge easily, while at the same time, it is easy
to put in place. This is basically as good a rain guard system as we've seen. The
lens caps are soft rubber caps that fit snugly into the armored ends of the barrels
with flanges that are long enough so they don’t come out easily, but fit loosely
enough that they are not a struggle to put in place. Each cap is attached to a long
rubber tether that allows it to swing down out of the field of view. The tethers
attach to a screw-in plate on the hinge between the barrels. For once, someone made
the tethers long enough and heavy enough that it takes quite a breeze to blow them
to the point where they occlude the view. Of all the tethered lens caps we’ve
seen, these are about the best executed so far. This aspect of the design was very
well engineered. Unfortunately, Alpen really fell down with the strap, which while
adequately padded, was way too short. We talked with the design team on this and
that was the first thing they apologized for! But seriously, we would strongly recommend
that you substitute a harness-type strap for this binocular anyway, so don’t
take this criticism too seriously. In fact, Alpen is even considering supplying
a harness-type strap with the Rainier as a standard feature, a move we would heartily
applaud. The faux leather case is quite nice, with a Velcro-closing flap, an outer
pocket and enough room in it that the binocular still fits even if the eyecups are
We are favorably impressed with the Alpen Rainiers. At the beginning, we asked how
one designs a brand-new high-end binocular. Alpen’s answer to that is you
give a little bit more of everything than expected: with better than average performance
in almost every category at a price below $1000. The Rainiers are a solid, durable
binocular, backed by Alpen’s lifetime warranty which basically covers all
manufacturing defects for the lifetime of the optic. Officially, that’s as
far as it goes. Unofficially, Alpen is a company that prides itself on customer
service and is willing to work with customers to ensure their satisfaction. If you
have a problem with these, they will strive to help you with them. When we first
started handling these, we were impressed with the image quality, but put off by
the weight. The more we tested them, however, the better we liked them. It will
be interesting to see how birders receive these.
Alpen Rainier Binoculars - current price and