Vortex Viper HD 42-mm Binoculars
excellent, mid-level binocular, now with HD glass!
minimum close focus of just 5 feet!
ergonomics and accessories
Vortex VIP warranty
When the original Vortex Vipers
were released some years ago, they quickly became a favorite of ours.
Their excellent optical performance at a mid-price range ($400-$800 is
“mid-priced”) made them a great value. When Vortex began shipping
the new HD version of the Vipers, we were very interested to see how much
improvement they offered over the originals. We finally got a chance to
play with them and found that they are notably better than the originals,
well worth the additional $70 in cost. Let’s back up and define exactly
what we are looking at here. The new Viper HD line includes 6x32, 8x32,
8x42, 10x42, 10x50 and 15x50 models as well as 8x28 and 10x28 compact
versions. This review concerns only the 8x42 and 10x42 models. The bottom
line is, where the old Vipers were good, these are better – a lot better.
Since the big difference is
the glass, that’s where we’ll start. The new Vipers are made with
HD (high-density) glass, which is extra-low dispersion, meaning it separates
light into its component wavelengths less than normal glass, thus delivering
a sharper image. In part, this performance is due to the presence of heavy
rare-earth elements in the glass, which gives it the greater density.
If you measure the mass of the same volume of HD and normal glass, the
HD glass is heavier. The lenses are fully multi-coated with Vortex’s
proprietary XR coating to provide increased light transmission for greater
brightness. To this, Vortex adds their ArmorTek coating, which renders
the lenses more scratch resistant and reduces the ability of dirt and
oil to adhere to the lens, making them easier to clean. Naturally, the
Viper HDs are phase-coated as well.
The 42-mm HD Vipers are of typical size for a roof prism binocular: 6
inches long with the eyecups fully extended, by 5.0 inches wide. The 10x
Viper HD is slightly heavier at 25.8 oz. than the 8x weighs at 25.4 oz
(weights include the tethered objective lens caps). Viper HD binoculars
are about 1.5 to 1.7 ounces heavier than the old Vipers, though that difference
may also reflect design changes elsewhere on the binocular. Visually,
you’d be hard put to distinguish between the old and new Vipers. Both
feature the same ribbed, pale olive green rubber armoring with black accents.
The shallow thumb grooves seem to be placed a bit too close to the ocular
lenses for optimum balance, but the feel in the hands is still comfortable
A number of optical performance
traits remain unchanged between the old Vipers and the new HD version,
but since those were very good before, no change is a good thing! Overall,
the optical performance of the 42-mm Vipers is quite impressive. Both
Viper HD binoculars have fairly average fields of view with the 8x model
yielding 347 feet at 1000 yards while the 10x has a 319-foot field. We
measured the minimum close focus of both models at 5.1 feet, which is
way better than average for 42-mm binoculars. We also liked the knurled
surface of the focus knob and the diopter adjustment ring (see below),
which provide great purchase to the fingers. On the 8x model, the eye
relief is excellent at 20 mm, while the 16.5 mm of eye relief on the 10x
version is more average. Both models require 1.7 turns of the focus knob
to go from minimum close focus to infinity. Focusing is very smooth and
precise, which, combined with the excellent image quality of the Viper
HDs, means things just snap sharply into focus with ease. In our field
tests, the Viper HDs were at least slightly brighter than anything else
in the mid-priced bracket, including some optics that cost quite a bit
more. Field curvature at the edges was minimal, meaning that the image
stays sharp almost all the way to the field edge; there was no ring of
mushy focus at the outer edge. Chromatic aberration was minimal and mostly
confined to the outer edges. Overall, the optical performance of these
new HD Vipers was exceptional, and field testing them was a pleasure.
image with mouse
Most binoculars have at least
two user-adjustable features: the eyecups and the diopter. Getting both
adjusted correctly is critical to binocular performance and user comfort.
In both cases, Vortex Viper HDs handle it quite well. The eyecups adjust
with a twisting mechanism through four positions, fully in and out, and
two intermediate positions marked by solid detents that don’t collapse
readily. Most manufacturers make eyecups that adjust this way, but few
of them have the smooth operation or solid feel of these. These eyecups
are metal-reinforced so they won’t fall apart like some we’ve seen.
The diopter adjustment is a fully locking twist-ring on the upper right
barrel, just below the eyecup. Pull the ring toward the ocular to unlock
it. A triangle on the ring lines up with a vertical hash mark between
the plus and minus signs to denote the position of equal focal length
for both oculars. Push the ring back down to lock it in place. The only
place for improvement here would have been some markings to help denote
positions for unequal eyes, but Vortex is way ahead of many more expensive
optics in these adjustable features.
Strap and Case
The Viper HD rainguard is the standard one we see often: two pliable rubber
cups about an inch deep, joined by a flexible tether. The strap loops
through a fixed bracket on one side and a gapped (detachable) bracket
on the other. It’s a fine system though attaching it to a harness type
strap is problematic. In this case, that’s no problem as the rainguard
fits so firmly over the eyecups that you can’t dislodge it even by inverting
the binocular and shaking it. Both objective lenses have soft rubber caps
that fit snugly over the ends of the barrels and are attached to the barrels
by flexible rings and short tethers so they can’t be lost. Thus, you
always have them in the field when you need them. The rubber is pliable
enough that they don’t spring up and block the view. They don’t show
much tendency to close by themselves as the binocular rested against the
chest. As tethered caps go, these are really very good. The included neck
strap is a fairly standard design of neoprene-like material welded to
soft leather, and it’s comfortable enough without being particularly
cushy. The Viper HD carrying case is the same great one from the old Vipers.
This well-padded cordura bag features a zipper-closing net pouch on the
underside of the flap, and is big enough to fit the binocular and folded
strap. The case is at least water-resistant if not waterproof. It has
loops on the back for belt attachment if the included shoulder strap isn’t
what you want. You could carry a field guide in it when you have the binocular
out. This is a great case!
The VIP warranty policy on
the Vortex Viper HD binoculars is worthy of note too. Should they ever
require service, Vortex will repair or replace the Vipers absolutely free
except for deliberate damage, theft or loss. The warranty has no time
limit and is completely transferable. We billed the original Vipers as
delivering high-priced binocular performance in a medium-priced binocular.
That statement is truer now than it was then, as the improvements to the
optical performance more than compensate for the slight additional cost.
The 8x42 Vortex Viper HD sells for
and the 10x42 model is
are already responding to them with enthusiasm. There’s that “Wow!”
reaction when people pick them up for the first time, and we are already
seeing quite a few of them in the field. If you are ready to upgrade for
your binoculars, the 42-mm Viper HDs are a binocular you must seriously
Viper HD Binoculars