Barr & Stroud kindly sent me one of their compact Sahara 10x25 FMC waterproof binoculars to review, that they describe as "a rugged go anywhere compact binocular", that is "equally at home on the majestic plains of the Serengeti, the beach at Bognor or a day at the races." Well what about a day at Silverstone watching Formula 1 cars zoom past? I decided that because they are compact enough to fit into a jacket pocket that I would take them with me to Fridays practice session and combine a day of "work" with a little pleasure!
The 10x25 Sahara Body
The main reason for choosing any compact binocular over a full or even mid size binocular is down to their small size, so this is where I'll start. The dimensions (116x111x42mm /4.6x4.4x1.7in) of the Barr and Stroud Sahara 10x25 binoculars are fairly standard for a roof prism compact binocular and as you would expect are far more compact than a full size pair.
Their weight of 13.1 oz (370g) is a little heavier than most compacts that I have reviewed, for comparison one of my favorite compacts, the Steiner 10.5x28 Wildlife Pro Binoculars weigh 11ozs (312g) and they have slightly larger 28mm objective lenses. But to be honest we are only talking about 58 grams here!
I like the way the Sahara's feel in your hands both when carrying them and holding them up to your eyes. The rubber armor that covers them has a number of benefits that you may not have thought of: It provides a comfortable gripping surface for making them easier to hold on to, it helps protect the binocular from the bumps and scratches that come with day-to-day use, it's easy to wipe clean after a tough day in the field and it dampens down any noise from bumping them that could frighten away skittish birds and other wildlife as I often do with my wedding ring.
Waterproof & Fogproof
These Sahara 10x25's are O-ring Sealed and therefore fully waterproof and have been immersion tested to a depth of 1.5 meters for three minutes. They have also been "nitrogen purged", which means that the air inside the binocular has been replaced with nitrogen gas, this prevents the interior optical surfaces from fogging up due to rapid temperature changes or in areas that have high humidity.
The Eye Cups
As with all the Barr & Stroud binoculars that I have reviewed, I really like the twist-up eyecups on the Sahara's. They have 3 click stops - flush against the eyepiece, half-way out or fully extended. Non-eyeglass wearers will just use the eyecups in the fully extended position and for people who wear glasses there is 14mm of eye relief, which is pretty good for a compact binocular. In most cases an eye relief of around 14 to 15mm is needed for the average eyeglass wearer to be comfortable.
Focusing is achieved using the central wheel on the binocular that only takes 3/4 of a turn to go from near focus which is an excellent 2m (6.6ft) to infinity, where many binoculars take at least a full turn of the wheel and sometimes many more. You would think that it would make it harder to fine tune your focusing compared to a binocular with a less aggressive focusing mechanism, but I did not have any problems getting correctly in focus and very quickly at that. Whilst this may seem like a small point to some, quick accurate focusing can mean the difference in correctly identifying that once in a live time bird or forever wondering! I would say that on the pair I reviewed, the mechanism was a little tight for my liking, not excessively so, just a little.
The diopter adjustment is located on the right barrel of the binocular. It allows you to adjust the lenses separately to allow for differences in each of your eyes and plays an important part in correctly focusing your binoculars. The ring on the Sahara that I tested was tight enough so as not to be easily accidentally moved, but not so tight that makes it hard to adjust.
Barr & Stroud Sahara Optics
I thought that the image produced by the Barr & Stroud Sahara 10x25 was really good especially when compared to other compacts that I have reviewed. They were bright for a compact as well as sharp and I could not see any colour fringing and there was only the slightest hint of softening of the image on the periphery of the view.
Very carefully comparing them to a pair of Steiner 10x26 Wildlife binoculars, I really could not tell the difference in brightness and if anything I would say that the Steiner's did have a tiny bit more image softening round the edge of the view. You must also remember that the Steiner's have slightly larger objective lens diameter (26mm vs 25mm) and the Steiner's are about 3x the cost of the Barr & Stroud 10x25 Sahara's, making their performance even more impressive.
Lens & Prism Coatings
The 10x25 Sahara comes equipped with quality BaK-4 roof prisms which means that they are made of superior optical glass that will help in ensuring you get a high-contrast and sharp picture over the full field of view.
The optics are also fully multi-coated, so all air to glass surfaces have received multiple layers of antireflection coatings which again will ensure that more light gets to your eyes by reducing the light loss and glare due to reflection for a brighter, higher-contrast image.
The biggest compromise in choosing a compact binocular over one that has larger objective lenses is the brightness of the image produced and whilst the difference is not huge, it is more noticeable in poor light conditions where you can notice it if you compare a compact and full size binocular side by side.
10x25 binoculars like these Barr & Stroud's have an Exit Pupil of 2.5mm and a Twilight Factor of 15.8, both of which point to the fact that they are not ideal for poor light conditions. But remember that they will be better than no binoculars at all and that is what compacts are about - taking them with you where ever you go. I would rather have a pair of binoculars that don't perform that well in poor light conditions, than no binoculars at all because I didn't have the space or didn't want to carry them.
It is also important to remember that whilst these figures do not take into account the quality of the prisms, lenses and their coatings, they do make it possible to compare the performance of different configurations of binoculars in low light conditions.
The apparent field of view for the Barr & Stroud Sahara 10x25 is an excellent 105m at 1000m (314ft @ 1000yds) and beats most compact binoculars in their price range and even beating top of the range binoculars like the Swarovski Pocket 10x25 B Binoculars (95m at 1000m) and Steiner 10.5x28 Wildlife Pro's (264 at 1000 yards).
The close focusing distance is an excellent 2m (6.6ft) making them one of the best compacts I have reviewed in this department.
Overall the Barr & Stroud 10x25 Sahara is a great pair of compact binoculars and considering that they cost far less than £100, they make excellent value for money. I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for an entry level compact that far outperforms their price tag. They are great traveling companions, great for camping if space is a factor and therefore also make ideal compact safari binoculars. They are also perfect to take to any sporting event, including Formula 1! Oh and by the way, Red Bull's Mark Webber finished the day fastest in practice.