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Audubon Equinox HP Binoculars

Since we last reviewed the Audubon Equinox binoculars in late 2004, Sheltered Wings Inc., the manufacturer, has released a new upgraded version of this binocular, called the Equinox HP, for “high performance.” The Equinoxes were designed and marketed as a low-cost roof-prism binocular with solid optical performance. It should be noted that the new Equinox HP models are available in addition to the regular Equinox models. The good news for Sheltered Wings Inc. and the National Audubon Society is that we think they did a really good job with the upgrade. The rest of this review will focus on telling you why.

If you have both an Equinox and an Equinox HP in hand, you can see some of the differences right away. A lot of them are more ergonomic in nature than optical. For starters, they radically remodeled the eye cups. In the Equinox, this was a large, non-tapered tube made of semi-soft rubber. The eye cup would twist up through a click-stop mechanism to reach its full extension, marked by another click-stop. But it was all or nothing: you either had it all the way out or all the way in. The Equinox HP has a similar twisting mechanism, but it has an intermediate position halfway out, permitting greater use flexibility. The Equinox HP eye cups are tapered on the end, so they fit much more comfortably, deeper into the eye socket of the user. This has the desirable effect of minimizing stray light and back reflection from the ocular lens surface when source light is from the side relative to the direction you are looking, and translates to a clearer view. It sounds trivial, but it isn’t. This is a significant improvement to two phases of the design.

Mag x Obj
Eye relief
Field of view
Close focus
19.5 mm
336 ft/1000 yds
5.0 ft
23.6 oz.
5.75" x 5.1"
16 mm
315 ft/1000 yds
5.0 ft
23.4 oz.
5.75" x 5.1"

The rest of the barrel design of the new Equinox HP differs little from the old ones. The overall shape is the same, and both have the same non-slip textured surface for a comfortable secure grip. The diopter adjustment mechanism remains on the right ocular, and it is still a simple twist ring with somewhat high resistance to movement to keep it from slipping easily. The problem is, such a mechanism still slips, and without any markings to denote anything but the position for equal eyes, if your eyes require an unequal setting, it’s very easily lost unless you make your own markings. This is a feature they should consider upgrading next time around. The size remains identical to the previous version: 5.75 inches high by 5.1 inches wide, and the new Equinox HP binoculars are just as feather light: our calibrated scale measured them at 23.8 ounces for the 8x model and 23.5 ounces for the 10x. These binoculars were never going to strain anyone’s neck, but just to be doubly sure, they replaced the old nylon cord strap with an even wider padded neoprene strap that is very comfortable indeed. Another small improvement was substitution of tethered objective lens caps for the old removable kind. The tethered caps are of soft rubber which fit better on the lenses than the old hard plastic caps did.

Optically, it’s kind of mixed as to what was improved and what was left alone. The sales literature lists the minimum close focal distance at 5 feet. In our hands, you can actually get sharp focus at as little as 4 feet, but, the issue is that you can only get one ocular tube at a time in focus. From about 6 feet in or closer, the field collapses and your dominant eye takes over. This is still an improvement over the old Equinox, where the field collapsed at about 7 feet. And it should be noted that 6 feet is a very good minimum close focus, even in today’s competitive binocular market. The total field of view remains the same in the Equinox HP as it was on the old Equinox: 336 feet and 315 feet at 1000 yards for the 8x and 10x models respectively. Unfortunately, another feature that did not change was the focus mechanism, which still requires a full 2.25 turns of the knob to go from minimum close focus to infinity. Eye relief is also unchanged from the old Equinox at 19.5 mm for the 8x model and 16 mm for the 10x model which makes them very worthy for birders who use eyeglasses.

It’s hard to quantify brightness, but in our hands, direct comparison of the Equinox HP models with the corresponding old Equinox models suggests that the HP versions are just a tad brighter. Every manufacturer of high-quality optics writes sales literature that talks about the “finest” coatings, multi-coatings and phase coatings. And if the company has been around long enough to re-model a binocular, they then claim that these “finest” coatings are now “improved!” Really, even with the binocular in hand, it’s difficult to prove this one way or another. The only way is to directly compare a new improved version to an old one, and even then you have to be careful, because, inevitably, the old one has been used, and it may be dirty, or even scratched, or has been significantly redesigned, which makes the test invalid. In this case, it’s not. These binoculars haven’t been altered that much, and we have examples of each type that are basically new out of the box. Under these circumstances, the only explanation we can find is that these coatings really are improved. Not only are the Equinox HP binoculars detectably brighter, they seem to be slightly sharper.

So here’s the summary. You’re relatively new to birding and not sure you want to spend $800+ on a fine binocular. You’re looking for a decent roof-prism with good optical performance that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You want something light-weight, durable and comfortable. We recommend you to take a close look at the Audubon Equinox HP. They’re available at an MSRP of about $270 for the 8x42 and $280 for the 10x42, and both can be found about $20 less than those prices. You’ll get a solid introduction to birding optics, you’ll start seeing the world around you more clearly, and you’ll be on your way.

Audubon Equinox HP Binoculars - current price and availability