Alpen Shasta Ridge Binoculars

Alpen Shasta Ridge Binoculars Frequent readers of these pages will note the increasing number of reviews of Alpen Optics products. Alpen is an American optics company located in southern California. Alpen strives to provide high-quality optics at affordable prices. Having already seen several of Alpen’s higher end offerings (Apex and Rainier binoculars, and see the Wings ED review), we were interested to get a look at one of their much lower priced offerings, the Shasta Ridge 42-mm line. Alpen Shasta Ridge 42-mm binoculars are roof prism designs that come in 8x42 and 10x42 configurations as well as 8.5x50 and 10x50 models. The 10x42 model is also offered with camouflage rubber armoring, but does not differ optically from the regular 10x42. All Shasta Ridge binoculars are phase-coated and fully multi-coated. To clarify where these fall in the spectrum of things, the 8x42 sells for $179.95, the 10x42 for $189.95. For the sake of completeness, we should note that the 10x50 models are available for $193.95. This puts them all well down in the lowest price segment of the binocular market. We received copies of the two 8x42 and 10x42 Shasta Ridge binoculars for review and put them to the test.

The Alpen Shasta Ridge 42-mm binoculars look innocuous enough, just your garden-variety roof prism binocular, clad in dark olive green rubber armoring with black accents on the focus knob and ocular lens housings. They are average in size at 5.75 inches tall by 4.9 inches wide and slightly lighter than average in weight, at 26.3 oz. for the 8x model and 25.7 oz. for the 10x version. The surprise comes when you pick them up and look through them. You tend to forget that this is only a $150 binocular, because the performance of the Shasta Ridge binoculars is often every bit as good as that of some binoculars costing twice as much. The view is bright and sharp, with excellent color fidelity, yielding bright whites and vibrant hues. Which raises a question: how is Alpen doing this at this price? Well, answering that is kind of the rest of the review! For starters, they haven’t skimped on the glass and coatings. The glass is BaK4, still the most common glass for quality optics worldwide. As noted above, these two models are fully multi-coated and phase coated, to maximize light throughput and minimize distortion. The only issue we had with these was with the flat field performance. Shasta Ridge binoculars show a fair bit of pin-cushioning, the tendency for straight lines to bow inward at the field edges. In this case, it seems to stem from the fact that the edges are just not quite in the same focal plane. Additionally, there is a bit of color aberration at the field edge. How problematic is this? Not very. First of all, virtually every binocular made does this at least a bit, so it’s really a question of degree, not the fact that you see it. Second, most of the time, the user is interested in how things look through the center of the viewing field since this is where they look most of the time. That being said, this is one aspect of performance in which Shasta Ridge binoculars actually act like the price class they belong to. We had trouble finding many other ways.

Mag x Obj Eye relief Field of view Close focus Prism Weight Dimensions
8x42 17 mm 393 ft/1000 yds 5.0 ft BaK-4 26.3 oz. 5.75" x 4.9"
10x42 16 mm 330 ft/1000 yds 5.5 ft BaK-4 25.7 oz. 5.75" x 4.9"

The Alpen Shasta Ridge binoculars have an excellent field of view at 1000 yards, yielding 393 feet on the 8x model and 330 feet on the 10x, well above average in the 8x and above average in the 10x. The minimum close focus is listed at 7 feet for both models in the Alpen sales literature. We had little trouble getting them down under this, with the 8x model easily focusing down to 5.0 feet, while the 10x model lagged a bit behind at 5.5 feet. The bottom line is that this is better than average performance. Moreover, both did this without significant field collapse (where the single field of view disintegrates to two overlapping circles of view), which makes it more impressive. The focus mechanism is pretty smooth though there is just a bit too much resistance, though it’s possible that this may get a bit easier with use. Shasta Ridge binoculars go from minimum close focus to infinity with in 1.7 turns of the focus knob, which we think is a bit too much (average is a little less than 1.5 turns). This is a plus and minus sort of trait: being slower makes the mechanism feel more precise because the user is less apt to go over, so it feels as though it snaps right onto focus, but because it is slower, you may have trouble staying in sharp focus on a moving object, particularly a bird flying straight at you or away from you. Eye relief in the Shasta Ridge binoculars is 17 mm for the 8x and 16 mm on the 10x, which is just a hair below average on both versions. Both versions had an interpupilary range of 56-73 mm, a bit narrower than usual, meaning these binoculars will be particularly comfortable for people with smaller or narrower faces.

Alpen Shasta Ridge Binoculars Diopter AdjustmentThe eyecups adjust with a helical twist mechanism: twisting counter-clockwise opens them up, and clockwise closes them down. There are three fully stable positions: completely out and completely in with one intermediate position between those. We see the helical twist adjustment all the time as it is pretty much industry standard in roof prism binoculars. Often, it’s not nearly as well executed as it is in the Shasta Ridge binoculars. The diopter adjustment mechanism is fairly rudimentary: a rubber twist ring under the right eyecup. Raised plus and minus markings on the rubber armoring indicate which direction to move the ring, and an arrow point lines up with a white mark on the ring to mark the position for equal eyes. The resistance on the ring is sufficient to prevent accidental shifting of the diopter. Additionally, close examination on the ring reveals little indentations at regular intervals to assist in marking the position for unequal settings. The only minor quibble would be that the position for equal eyes would be hard to find if the white paint comes off, so maybe a physical marking would have been better. Still, short of a locking diopter mechanism, a refinement still lacking in many much more expensive optics, this is a well-executed system.

The rain guard is a pair of deep, pliable rubber cups joined by a flexible bridge region, very similar to what most binocular manufacturers offer these days. The rain guard fits snugly enough that it is not dislodged by inverting and shaking the optic, but is loose enough that it is easily put in place. The rain guard has a full bracket on the right side through which the strap is supposed to be threaded, and a gapped bracket on the right, so the rain guard can be fixed to or dislodged from the strap at the user’s discretion. This works as well as a rain guard can be expected to work. The lens caps are soft rubber caps that fit snugly over the armored barrels. Each cap is attached by a rubber tether to a ring that fits over the barrels. The tethers are flexible enough and the lens caps are heavy enough that they hang down well and do not occlude the view through the binoculars. The caps fit easily over the barrels so putting them in place isn’t a struggle, and they stay put once they’ve been put! Basically, this is a very sound lens cap design as well. The strap is a fairly typical hybrid of neoprene-like foam and cordura nylon, which is adequately comfortable on an optic of this size and weight. The strap threads through brackets on the sides of the barrel that are well-placed to avoid coming into contact with the sensitive bit of webbing between the thumb and forefinger. Alpen really did an excellent job with the little bits of design that improve user comfort, so they get an A for the ergonomics of the Shasta Ridge binoculars. Lastly, the case is minimally padded green cordura with black accents. It is long enough to accommodate the binocular with the eyecups fully extended, which is good, but it’s just a tad too snug so that getting the binocular in and out of it is a bit more struggle than it should be. Nonetheless, this is not a bad case, nor is it a major objection.

Overall, we are really quite impressed with the Alpen Shasta Ridge binoculars. These are remarkably high quality binoculars for the price at which they are offered, and worthy competitors for many more expensive optics. At the beginning, we asked the question how Alpen was managing to offer this much quality at this low a price, figuring that we’d be able to puzzle out where they cut costs to hold the overhead down. Frankly, we can’t figure that out, based on what we’ve seen, and we’re betting you won’t be able to either. As far as we can tell, the Alpen Shasta Ridge binoculars are an extraordinary value. We think you’ll be impressed with them too.

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