The Barr & Stroud ‘Savannah ED’ binoculars are a blend of superb ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) optical quality, advanced mechanical design and rugged refinement. A further refinement is the position of the individual diopter eyepiece control just behind the main focus adjustment wheel, instead of the traditional adjustment ring placed in front of the right eyepiece. This makes balancing the binocular for the individual user’s eyesight a simple operation that does not require the user to take the binoculars away from their eyes. They are waterproof to a depth of 1m of water for 60 seconds, plenty of time to retrieve them if you have dropped them in a stream or puddle. Further enhanced by the binoculars’ rubber armoured body which protects it from shocks and knocks. Fully Multi-Coated ‘Extra-Low Dispersion’ optics are standard features of the ‘Savannah’ as are BaK-4 prisms. This results in a super bright contrast rich image for the user even in low light conditions. Supplied with twist up rubber eyecups for use with or without glasses. The rapid focus mechanism goes from close focus to infinity in less than one turn of the focus knob. All ‘Savannah ED’ binoculars are supplied with carrying case, rain guards, tethered lens caps, deluxe strap and lens cleaning cloth.
In most ways, including the way they look, these Barr & Stroud Savannah 8x56 ED binoculars and the "standard" 8x56 Savannah version are identical apart from one big feature: the superb Extra Low Dispersion Glass (ED) that is used in the lenses of this new version.
So what is so special about ED glass? Well these high-quality, high-precision lenses have less air bubbles and glass deformities in them that are more likely to cause image distortion, compared to lower quality or even standard quality glass used in most binoculars. So basically what the extra low dispersion glass does is to prevent chromatic aberration because it concentrates and directs the wavelength of light more effectively onto your eyes.
As I mentioned earlier, apart from the badge on the focusing wheel that displays the fact that these are the ED version, you would not know the difference between this and the standard Savannah, that is until you hold them up to your eyes. Whilst the difference may not be immediately apparent as the standard 8x56 Savannah still produces a really good image, if you check very carefully, you can notice the slight improvement of the image on the ED version. So if ED lenses are better, why don't they use them in all their optics? The answer comes down to price, ED glass is difficult and therefore expensive to produce and that is why you only really find it in higher spec binoculars.
Barr & Stroud
For those of you who are new to the brand, Barr & Stroud binoculars come with some great heritage. The British company started making optics for the Royal Navy over 100 years ago and since then Barr and Stroud have played a leading role in the development of modern optics. For more about the company and their wide range of binoculars: Barr & Stroud Binoculars.
The 8x56 Savannah Body
Compared to the more common full size 42mm binocular, a 56mm binocular is quite a bit bigger and heavier: The dimensions (167x148x66mm / 6.6x5.8x2.6in) of the Barr and Stroud 8x56 Savannah ED binocular is fairly standard for a 56mm binocular, but compare it to the Barr & Stroud 8x42 Savannah Binoculars that are 5.9in (150mm) long, 5.1in (130mm) wide and 2.2in (56mm) and you can see the difference.
Their weight of 37.2oz (1056g) is pretty good for a binocular this size, for example the Swarovski SLC 8x56 Binoculars weigh 43.7oz (1240g), but again comparing them to the Barr & Stroud 8x42 Savannah Binoculars that weigh 28.9ozs (819g) you can see that this is a far more "substantial" binocular.
Despite their larger size and heavier weight (compared to a 42mm binocular), they feel surprisingly good in the hands and I think this has a lot to do with the fact that they are really well balanced. The underside of these larger barrels sat nicely in the palms of my hands, with my fingers wrapping around them for a comfortable and secure grip. This may all sound a little trivial but I feel that for any longer observation periods it is important especially with these larger and heavier binoculars.
The rubber armor covering that you find on many binoculars including these Savannah's have a number of benefits that you may not have thought of:
- It provides a secure and comfortable 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
- 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
Like all of the Barr and Stroud Savannah range, these 8x56's are O-ring sealed and are therefore fully waterproof and have been immersion tested at 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, they have twist-up eyecups. The ones on these however are even better quality than most as they are made of metal with a rubber coating for comfort. The twist up action has 3 click stops - flush against the eyepiece, half-way out or fully extended. Non-eyeglass wearers will use the eyecups in the fully extended position. There is an excellent 23mm of eye relief, easily putting them in the category of long eye relief binoculars, where an eye relief of 14 to 15mm is usually adequate for most people who wear glasses to be comfortable.
Focusing is achieved using the central wheel on the binocular that takes two full turns to go from near focus which is 3m (9.8ft) to infinity and on the binoculars that I tested, the mechanism was smooth and achieving a sharp focus was really simple.
The diopter adjustment is located behind the focusing wheel in the center of the binocular, which is different to the majority of binoculars, but becoming more and more common. 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 is notched which makes it easy to change and keep at the correct position. Where it is located does make adjusting it simpler than if it were located on the barrel, but it could also mean that you accidentally move it when focusing your binocular although this did not happen during my full day of testing.
Barr & Stroud Savannah Optics
If it is a field binocular with maximum light gathering capabilities that you are after then you have to be looking at optics with larger objective lenses. The problem with this is the larger you go, the larger and more heavier the binoculars get until you get to a point where it is only feasible to use them with a tripod or some other form of support.
The Barr & Stroud Savannah ED 8x56 roof prism binocular and others like it strikes an good balance between excellent low light performance and portability: Whilst you would never call these compact, far from it, they are not so big and heavy that carrying it about becomes a real mission and with their large 56mm objective lenses you have the potential for excellent low light performance. It is also the combination of the 8x magnification which makes it interesting as they should be relatively easy to hold steady without the need for additional support, such as a tripod, monopod or hide-clamp, in most conditions.
Very similar to the 8x42 Savannah ED, which I reviewed at the same time as these and so making it easy to compare, I thought that the image produced by both were excellent. I just so happened that the day was overcast and raining, ideal poorer light conditions and you can spot that the 8x56's are brighter, as you would expect. I also thought the image was sharp. 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.
So if you are looking for low light performance over size, I would definitely choose the larger 8x56 binoculars although a point to mention is that the 8x42's have a much wider field of view (430ft at 1,000 yards) than these 8x56 ED's (320ft at 1,000 yards), which is very noticeable when comparing the view between the two.
Apart from just the physical size of the objective lenses and the ED glass already mentioned, these Barr and Stroud binoculars have a number of other features that help produce the excellent quality image:
Lens & Prism Coatings
The 8x56 Savannah ED 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. These binoculars also have a set of phase correction coatings on the prism glass, this is an expensive process that keeps light in correct color phases, yielding brighter images and higher edge-to-edge sharpness. According to the manufacturers the "high-tech phase coatings alone increase prism reflectivity by 8% and it give you on average an extra hour of visibility at dawn and dusk compared to standard binoculars."
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 Savannah 8x56 ED comes supplied with a good quality semi hard carrying case, that give your optics much more protection than the soft cases found on cheaper binoculars.
I also like the quality and feel of the neck strap that is padded an important feature on these larger optics. A lens cleaning cloth is also supplied.
The lens caps fit well onto the binoculars and should not fall off accidentally. I especially like the tethered objective lens caps, that make misplacing them much harder and don't get in the way when using your optics. If you don't like them attached to your binocular, they can also be removed (see video below).
This binocular is also compatible with a tripod adapter, allowing you to use it on a tripod or car window mount. Adapter sold separately.
8x56 binoculars like these Barr & Stroud's have an Exit Pupil of 7mm and a Twilight Factor of 21.16, both of which point to the fact that they will work really well in poor light conditions such as dawn and dusk when most birds and other wildlife is on the move, or for observation in dense foliage where light is restricted.
It is 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. Features like their ED Glass, phase coated Bak-4 prisms and fully multi-coated lenses mean that they will outperform cheaper 8x56 binoculars including the standard Savannah that have lower quality lenses, coatings and prisms.
The apparent field of view for the Barr & Stroud Savannah 8x56ED is 107m at 1000m (320ft at 1,000 yards) that does fall a little short of the very best like the Swarovski SLC 8x56 Binoculars (115m at 1000m), but it must be remembered that the Swarovski's are also more than 10x the cost of these Savannah's! If the field of view does concern you, I would highly recommend the 8x42 Savannah ED, that has a very impressive field of view of 430ft at 1,000 yards and easily makes it into my list of wide angle binoculars.
The close focusing distance is 3m (9.8ft) which beats even the most expensive 8x56 binoculars on the market, like the Swarovski SLC 8x56's.
Like all of the Savannah range, you are definitely getting really good value for money and these binoculars far outperform their price tag. I would recommend them to anyone looking for a mid level full size binocular that performs really well in low light conditions especially if you rate low light performance above size and weight. They make great wildlife observation and birdwatching binoculars. Highlights include the excellent addition of the ED glass and the even brighter image that is produced enhanced by the use of quality phase coated Bak-4 prisms.