Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rick Hinderer Aluminum Investigator Pen Review

Click on any photo to view the large version
Pens are an every day item in many professions and law enforcement is no exception. I have used just about every type of pen imaginable over the past 20 years. I have broke many of them, ruined many a pocket with leaking ink and pretty much considered them a disposable item. Recently however, I became interested in quality writing instruments and being in the profession that I am, I thought one with a self defense twist to it might not be a bad idea. At first I purchased two different pens; a Smith and Wesson M&P Tactical Pen and a (Tom Anderson Style but Chinese made) Elite Tactical Pen with a Glass Breaker. Well, I couldn't get rid of the Elite Tactical pen fast enough and the while the S&W is a very nice pen for the price, it was a bit big for my tastes. Then I found out that my favorite knife maker; Rick Hinderer made pens as well. I figured if his pens where half as good as his knives, they would be a winner. He sells two sizes; a smaller "Investigator pen" and a larger "Extreme Duty Pen". Being that my only complaint with the S&W was it's size, I decided to go with Hinderer's smaller Investigator pen.


Well, I can happily report that just like my Hinderer XM-18 knife, the investigator pen's fit and finish was first class. No rattles, nice, precisely cut threads and a good green color. While he sells an Investigator pen made of more expensive Titanium, I went with the aluminum model due to my tenancy to loose pens. The aluminum, is Aircraft Grade 6061-T6 Aluminum with a Mil Spec Type 3 Hard Coat Anodize. Roughly translated, this means it's much stronger than your average aluminum, much like the popular Mag lights and stinger flashlights. The groves cut into the body of the pen aid in grip retention. I have to admit, I would have liked the longitudinal groves the whole length of the pen. I've seen several people that put rubber rings between the circular grooves for comfort and I may eventually do the same.


The ink cartridge that comes in the Investigator Pen is a full sized Fisher Space Pen. It fits snugly into the pen with no springs or other parts to fail. People either love or hate fisher pen cartridges. They write in just about any environment and even upside down. They do this by creating pressure within the cartridge "pushing the ink" towards the tip. Unfortunately, this often causes what some people dislike about fisher cartridges; a slight ink blob. Some people find that when using fisher cartridges after long periods of non-use, the first contact with the paper is sometimes is marred with a little extra ink. I do not find this a big issue as (for me at least) it hasn't happened except on a couple of occasions. The pros for me outweigh the cons, mainly because it always works when I need it to. You can also buy these cartridges in a fine tip. I've read that the fine tip hardly ever has this issue.


When I saw the photos of the Investigator pens tactical end, I thought it wouldn't provide much deterrence as it didn't look as "aggressive" as the other aforementioned pens.  In person however, the bullet tip is well executed and would suit it's purpose very well. It threads into the end of the pen making it modular (interchangeable). It also holds the ink cartridge in place. Hinderer plans on offering different tips in the near future.


The pocket clip on the Investigator pen is just about perfect in my book. The main thing I hated about the Elite Tactical pen was that the pocket clip was immovable and just about worthless. The clip on the S&W is just a bit too flexible but not bad. The Hinderer Investigator pen's clip is strong, flexible, not too long, not too short and is as close to perfect as one could expect on a pen. It is threaded into the cap with (what appears to me) a smaller version of the lock bar stabilizer used on his knives; it's not going anywhere. The cap threads on to either end of the pen with three threads. So you don't have to spend forever un-threading your cap but there is enough threads that it won't come undone and lose the cap. To me, this is just another example that Rick actually uses his products and perfects them before selling them to the public.


Like I said before, the S&W tactical pen is just a tad big for my tastes and I'm 6'1", 230. The Elite Tactical was even bigger and clunky. The Investigator Pen is much smaller than either one. The size in a defensive grip allows just enough room for the defensive tip to extend beyond my fist and my thumb over the other end. For writing, it's just about perfect. For defensive purposes, I may have preferred an inch +/- longer, but that might have made it more awkward to write with, who knows?


Price for this aluminum version is around $60.00 on various websites or off of the Hinderer website. It's about twice that of the Smith and Wesson but the Smith and Wesson is Chinese made and doesn't have near the Fit and Finish of the Hinderer. It's cheaper than the Benchmade Tac. Pen but again, the fit and finish of the Hinderer is a winner for me. The Hinderer pen is made right here in the United States by Rick Hinderer and the cool factor has to count for something :)


Like all Hinderer products that I have handled, this pen is overbuilt and the fit and finish is top notch. I love the threaded ends and the fact the cap can thread on to either side. I like the ink cartridge and the fact that I NEVER have to shake the pen to make it work. I like the longitudinal grooves in the body of the pen. I may like the circular grooves more when I put some comfort rings (O-rings) on them. For a last ditch defensive purpose, I think this pen would work. I know I wouldn't want to get thumped on the grape with it. It's small enough to fit comfortably in any pocket and fits snugly in a uniform pocket with the confidence that your $60 pen isn't going to fall out. Everyone that has seen it, wants one. I've had it now for over a month and I've really grown to like this pen and I'm constantly messing with it either sitting at the desk or while stationary in my patrol vehicle. If you like a smaller, comfortable tactical pen, I think you will find the Hinderer Investigator Pen a VERY nice choice. If you like a larger tactical pen, maybe the Hinderer Extreme Duty pen will fit the bill. I don't own one yet but when I get one, rest assured, I'll review it.

COLORS: The investigator pen comes in Green, Black or Blue. I chose green to match the uniform.
Hinderer also makes a Stainless Steel and a Brass Investigator Pen for the same price.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Spyderco Dragonfly 2 FRN review

Spyderco Dragonfly 2 FRN

Click on the photos to view a larger version.

The Spyderco Dragonfly has been around for a long time. You might call the dragonfly the little brother to the Delica and the Endura . As with many Spyderco knives, the Dragonfly2 is a result of Sal Glesser (owner of Spyderco) and Co. constantly listening to and considering feedback from their end users. They call their evolutionary process of refining knives their C.Q.I. (Constant Quality Improvement) process. Sal, his son and their staff are well known in the knife industry and among enthusiasts for their constant interaction via email exchanges and on the various forums around the net (including their very own at One thing is very evident; they listen. The Dragonfly2 is the result of improvements suggested by end users.


The Dragonfly 2 uses FRN (Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon) as it's scales or handle. If' you've ever owned a spyderco, you know what these scales feel like. They are nice and grippy. The Blade is made from one of my favorite steels, VG-10. VG-10 was originally designed for the Japanese cutlery market but was picked up by Spyderco for use in several of their knives. VG-10 lies in the mid range for RC hardness at around 59 or 60. I have found in use that I can (personally) sharpen VG-10 to a sharper edge than any blade material that I own. I can routinely get my VG-10 blades to razor or shaving sharp. Even better, they hold that edge for a long time. Not too hard, not too soft and it's stainless. I really like VG-10 steel.

Spyderco chose to utilize screws to hold everything together rather than the pins they used to use. I think this just exudes more quality than the pins and it allows for repairs or cleaning. 


As stated above, the VG-10 blade is one of my favorite steels. This knife blade is a miniscule 2.25 inches and the cutting edge due to the choil is a mere 1 7/8 inches. In use however, this little blade can accomplish 80% of my every day cutting tasks and does so very well. The blade is available in plain edge or serrated (AKA Spyderedge). Despite the small size of this blade, it is very capable.


The lock is a standard yet capable lockback style. Nothing fancy but it works and works well for a knife in this category as long as it's used for it's intended purposes. I wouldn't do any spine wacking experiments on it though :)


The fit and finish on my knife was very well done. All screws were tight, the clip was tight and the blade was reasonably centered. When open, there is VERY little side to side blade play and zero up and down.


As stated previously, this is a small knife. I ordered this knife online due to so many people recommending it. I was admittedly a little apprehensive about such a small knife and thought it's uses would be limited. Further, I never expected to be able to flick it open like my larger Spyderco's. I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived. While ergonomics are mostly a personal issue, I found this knife to work way better than expected in my hand. I'm a big guy (6'1") and have big hands but this little knife just works. I have found that the choil is very useful when performing small cutting tasks and find myself laying a index finger along the spine during many tasks. The ergonomics are very good in my book.


While I like most all of the clips that come on Spyderco's knives, I like some better than others. On the little Dragonfly2, Spyderco has utilized a tip up (right or left) recessed wire clip. I like this clip better than most because it doesn't have the tenancy to loosen and wiggle back and forth like some of the other clips. It clips very well into the pants (or like I carry it) into a shirt pocket. It is held in place by a single screw and it holds it in place well.
The very nice wire pocket clip on the Dragonfly


This knife weighs in at a feathery 1.2 ounces. Clipped into the pocket, you can honestly easily forget that it is there. I actually had a kydex neck sheath made for mine and it works great as a neck knife and "running knife". It's closed length is only 3 5/16 inches. Below is a photo of the Dragonfly 2 next to it's bigger cousin the Endura 4.
The Spyderco Dragonfly and it's bigger cousin, the Endura

and next to a Casio G-Shock watch:
For size comparison, the dragonfly and my G-Shock watch


I was pleasantly surprised when I received the Dragonfly 2. It opens very smoothly AND I can flick it open just as fast as my other Spyderco's with a snap of the thumb.


If I have to nit pick anything on this knife I guess it would be that because it's small size, there are a few cutting tasks that it cannot handle well. It's not long enough to cut through large onions or tomatoes and would probably be the last knife I would reach for in a life or death situation (although it's better than nothing). Fortunately, it was not made for these purposes so this must be taken into consideration. It does VERY well, opening envelopes, peeling apples, opening boxes, cutting out splinters and scraping off cactus spines. In fact, I  used it on today's date just for that purpose. I think it will handle 80% of cutting tasks that most folks may encounter.

Being a runner, I often run in bad or rural areas. It's always a good idea to carry a last ditch self defense tool with you when you run alone be it for animals or someone wishing to do you harm. Many folks in the country let their dogs run loose and a person running often triggers a dogs "Prey Drive"; or the dog(s) could just be a biter; I have been bit.  While I often carry pepper spray for these dogs, sometimes spray fails to deploy due to expiration or faulty propellant or since most jogger sprays are small one can run out quick. In these cases, a knife makes a good backup. I have found that the Spyderco Dragonfly's weight makes it a perfect joggers knife. I carry it in one of two ways, either clipped to the outside of my shorts or in a custom made kydex neck sheath that I bought off of an ebay vendor. It has worked very well for jogs, hikes and bike rides. I think the FFG Delica would work well/better for the same purpose. The Dragonfly setup I use for Jogging, hiking and biking is below; it works well.
My Dragonfly2 jogging rig / neck knife

Even real Dragonfly's give their approval :)


As long as you consider this little knife within the scope of it's intended use, I don't think you can buy a better little "big" knife. I was a little skeptical reading all the rave reviews thinking I probably wouldn't like such a small knife. This knife however has won me over. I carry it every day in my shirt pocket on my LEO uniform. It is VERY sheeple friendly and can be easily sharpened to a razor edge.  If you are looking for a small bladed knife but want something with a bit more heft and strength than a standard small Swiss army knife and made with very good Japanese VG-10 steel, then I would highly recommend looking at the Spyderco Dragonfly2.

Ergonomics: 8/10 (feels surprisingly good despite it's small size, snaps open like a bigger Spyderco)
Looks: 9/10
Materials: 9/10 (For it's size, I love the materials. Good blade steel and FRN is perfect for a knife of this size)
Fit and Finish: 9/10 (Very good for a knife of this price range)
Camp Use: 6/10 (more suited as a gentleman's folder )
Hard/Military/Police Use: 3/10 (would have to be a last ditch tool)
EDC Use: 9/10 (a sheeple friendly but surprisingly useful blade)
Food Prep: 5/10 (a little small for this purpose but peels apples very well)
Skinning/Game Prep: 4/10 (too small for this purpose for all but very small game such as birds)
Warranty: 8/10
Zombie Usefulness: 3/10 (I guess you could put out their eye)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cold Steel Recon 1 Review (50/50 Tanto point)

NOTE: Click on the photos to see larger versions
I was recently at a gun show and as most gun shows go, there were several knife vendors. While I'm admittedly not usually a big fan of Cold Steel's folding knives, the Cold Steel Recon 1 caught my eye at a vendors table. When I handled the knife and opened it up, I heard a "snap" like I've never heard before on a lock-back/Rocker lock knife (Cold Steel calls theirs the Tri Ad Lock). The smile I developed when I heard that snap immediately told my wife the wallet was coming out. To my chagrin however, the tanto point was the only one they had left. I've never been much of a fan of the tanto point but I had to try out this knife so it went home with me.


The scales of the Recon are made of a nice "grippy" laminated G-10. Inside the scales is a 6061 (hardened aluminum) heat treated spacer. The screws holding the scales together are nice torx head screws. Also visible are the pivot pins from the rocker lock and one the works in conjunction with their Tri Ad Lock. The blade is made of Aus 8A stainless steel. Aus 8A is in the same class of steels as 440c which is commonly found in mid to lower priced knives. RC hardness is usually around 57 to 58 depending on the treatment. From what I've read, Cold Steel treats their Aus 8A with freezing temps so I assume this puts its hardness at the harder end of the RC scale (58 or so). One good thing about Aus 8A and 440C is that it has good rust resistance. While it may not hold an edge as long as D2 or the carpenter steels, it is much easier to sharpen to a razor edge. One of my longest owned EDC knives is a Spyderco Native in Aus8 and I have had nothing but good things to say about it.

The blade is coated with a black teflon (commonly used as a lubricant) coat which in theory should make this knife cut through items smoother. The teflon coat may also aid in rust prevention but as I said earlier, AUS 8A should be fairly rust resistant. Lastly, the Recon comes with a removable/changeable thumb-stud.  As you can see in the below photo, the thumb-stud is threaded and workable with a slot screwdriver.


The blade on this particular model is a 50/50 (plain/serrated)  tanto point. Cold Steel also makes this model in a much nicer (in my opinion) clip point. Out of the box, this blade was hair splitting sharp. The serrations are particularly well done on this blade and I think for any sawing purpose, they would do very well:
As I stated before, I'm not big of a fan of tanto points because for utilitarian purposes, I just think other blade styles work better. For the mall ninja or killing out of control car doors, this is the blade style for you! I think if this was a clip point, I would REALLY like this blade. Cold Steel did a fine job on this blade.


I'm going to have to go along with the hype over this lock. I've owned allot of lock back / rocker lock knives over the years. My Spyderco Chinook 1 held the title for years for my strongest lock back knife. It snaps closed with an authority that leaves no doubt that it would hold under pressure. The Recon 1 snaps closed with the authority of a #15 steel trap. My first impression of their Tri Ad Lock literally made me say, "Wow!".
This is one serious lock! Unfortunately, you have to put a little more effort into disengaging the lock. While it's not bad, it definitely takes more effort to disengage than your standard lock back. In short, I like it! I think the you tube spine wackers will have their hands full with this one.


Fit and finish on the Recon 1 is very impressive. It opens smoothly, locks up as tight as a bank vault and has zero blade play. All screws were tight, it came out of the box very sharp and the contouring and scalloping on the G-10 is very nice. This knife feels good and solid in the hand. Well done Cold Steel!


In the hand, the Recon gives a sense of a hard use tool. You get the impression when holding this knife with it's super lock that it is indestructible. Cutting tasks with this knife were hindered somewhat with the Tanto blade. Again, if this one would have had a clip point, I think I would have rated the ergonomics a 9/10 for every day cutting tasks. With the Tanto point, I would rate it at 5/10. For stabbing to death angry car doors or slaughtering flesh eating zombies... a solid 10/10.


The pocket clip on the Recon 1 makes it sit a little higher in the pocket than I would have liked but that's a personal preference. It's also pretty tight against the G10 scales. While this holds it in the pocket nice and secure, it will also wreak havoc on pocket material over time. I think if the clip were bit longer, it would allow for a bit more flex so it would be easier to get in and out of the pocket without tearing up your pants over time.


The size of the Recon 1 is pretty close to my Spyderco Endura 4 but is slightly heavier. The Recon 1's blade is a big 4 inches in length while the overall length is a substantial 9 3/8 inches. The Endura 4 however does not feel nearly as tough or solid as the Recon 1 by any stretch of the imagination. I don't think the weight of the Recon 1 (5.3 ounces) would be an issue for me for EDC. For reference,  my ZT 0301 was too heavy to carry and I ended up selling it. At the time of this wirting, I only carried the Recon 1 for a week and it carried well.


While the Recon 1 opened very smoothly, I wouldn't call it buttery smooth. I'm a big fan of the spyderco holes in knives for one handed opening but I also have many knives with thumb studs that I like just as well. Thumb studs for me have to be done perfectly to be able to flick blades open as fast as I like. The first thing that goes through my head when playing with a new tactical knife is, "would I be able to snap this blade open easily in a life or death situation?" For this knife unfortunately, my answer was no. It's a big blade and while the position of the thumb stud works fine for one handed opening, it doesn't lend itself to snapping open with authority. For under handed wrist flicks, it works great.


One of the drawbacks of Tanto points in my opinion is they they limit the uses of the knife. This knife was clearly designed for hard military, police, or self defense use. This is one of those knives that if you ever HAD to end up in a knife fight, this one would only be bested by a fixed blade. If you can learn to snap this one open instinctively, it would fit it's intended purpose well.


This is one tough knife; I don't think that point can be argued. The Tri Ad Lock on this knife is probably the strongest lock back style knife I have ever used. The blade steel is very good in my opinion and in a clip point style blade, I would really like it. When open, this knife is SOLID with zero blade play and definitely gives the feeling that is was designed for hard use. For a knife this size, it feels very good in the hand. Unfortunately for me, the short, tight clip, the difficulty snapping it open quickly with the thumb stud and the tanto point are deal killers. If you like the Tanto point style blades in a big, solid, zombie slaughtering, car door killing knife, then you will love this knife.
A word of caution; every non-knife person that I opened this knife around pretty much gasped with, "Whoa!, that thing is evil looking" While I kinda laugh at reactions like these, one must be cognizant of his/her audience when deploying a knife like this. Sheeple will run in fear of this knife. Overall, I think Cold Steel has a winner with the Recon 1 . At a street price of $60 to $70, I think this is probably one of the toughest folders in it's price range. For me, this Tanto point version is going up for sale. I may try one with a clip point later.

Ergonomics: 8/10
Looks: 9/10 (Very tough looking knife)
Materials: 7/10 (nothing fancy but the materials are excellent for what this knife was designed for)
Fit and Finish: 8/10 (very good for a production knife)
Camp Use: 8/10 (Clip point would be better)
EDC Use: 7/10 (a little big and it stands out; sheeple will cower in the fetal position just looking at this knife)
Food Prep: 8/10 (a little big for delicate stuff but a great slicer, more suited for killing food)
Skinning/Game Prep: 6/10 (probably not enough belly for skinning, but good for killing food)
Warranty: 7/10 (Cold Steel seems to have a good reputation but not the top of the heap)
Zombie Usefulness: 9/10 (Zombie's won't have a chance if you can catch them after they see this beast)
Angry Car Doors/Hoods:  10/10 (The ultimate in car door slaughtering design)

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Zen-Ray ZEN ED2 8x43 Binocular Review

NOTE: you can click on any of the photos to view a larger image.
Zen-Ray ZEN ED2 8x43 Binocular

BACKGROUND (Skip this is you want and go to the next section for the actual review)

Binoculars are a vital part of my job and also very important for my wildlife photography hobby ( Over the years I've owned several binoculars, mainly in the mid to lower end of the price range. As my wildlife photography progressed, I became more finicky about the glass/lenses I used. As a result, I have migrated mainly towards using Canon's "L" glass. Canon's "L" series of lenses is their premium line of lenses for professionals and picky hobbyist like me. The resulting photos taken with Canon's "L" series lenses have proven themselves to be superior and the need  for high quality glass became glaringly evident to me. While "L" series glass is the top of the line in Canon lenses, there are some less pricy alternatives (such as the premium line of Tamron, Sigma and Tokina) that come VERY close and cost a fraction of the Canon lenses. As I became used to premium glass in my DSLR lenses, I have over the years started to notice the shortcomings in my "cheap" binoculars as well. Well a few years ago, I began a search for a new set of binoculars by reading reviews, talking to owners I met in the field and using /testing friends binoculars.While I didn't want to spend thousands of dollars for premium bino's, I did want the best I could get for my money. I decided to to apply the same theory of my lenses to my bino search. I knew that the premium binoculars were the Leica's and Swarovski bins but I wondered if I could get the same (or close to it) quality of these premium bino's in a brand with a "lesser name". In my initial search, I had narrowed my search down to three bins; the Nikon Monarch , the Minox BV 8x42 BR or the Vortex Diamondback's. I was fortunate to know someone who owned the Votex's and the Monarch's and they let me use them. I was hard pressed to find much of a difference in the two and they were both good quality bins. I wanted to try the Minox but couldn't find anyone who owned or carried them locally. I was about to buy the Nikon (mainly based on name alone) when someone on bird forums pointed out a very good special on the Minox at Cameraland. I had read some reviews highly recommending them and with the deal at cameraland saving me $100+ dollars, I couldn't pass it up. Well to make a long story short after purchasing the Minox , I WAS NOT disappointed. They have served me well over the last few years and the optical quality in my opinion, surpassed the Monarch's and the Diamondbacks.

As stated previously, I use my binos at work and while off duty doing my wildlife photography. This being the case, I was constantly having to take my binos home and bring them back and vice versa. I would often forget them at work and would be stuck without bins on my outings. So, a few weeks ago I began a second search for new bins that I could keep at home for birding and to aid in my wildlife photography. I again read review after review, browsed through forums, and asked the recommendations of birders I ran into in the field. While at a hunting show, I found a guy selling Vortex binos at a booth and tried a few pair. I immediately fell in love with the Talon HD's and (as I always do) thought I'd do some research on them prior to purchasing them. Well, in no time at all with a little reading, I discovered that the vortex are made by the same factory that makes the Zen Ray (and Promaster & Hawke) line of bino's. Vortex just does a few cosmetic tweaks, tacks on their (great) lifetime warranty and charges a bit more. Vortex is well known for standing behind their products so the decision for me came down to; did I want to spend the extra couple of hundred dollars for a warranty? Well, as it turns out, Zen Ray has developed a reputation for standing behind their products as well. So this made my decision easier. I purchased the equivalent bins to the Vortex that I had seen. I purchased the Zen-Ray ZEN ED2 8x43 bins. NOTE: The current model is the Zen Ray ED3's

When I received the Zen Ray's in the mail, my initial impression was that they were much bigger and a bit heavier than my Minox. While heavier, they felt solid and well built. I liked the case that Zen provides as it provides a bit more protection over the standard soft case that I had received with all of my previous bins. The case also has a nice carrying strap. The binocular neck strap that came with the bins was long enough to tow a boat but with a few adjustments, it was shortened to the length needed; no big deal. The neck strap is also detachable with the provided quick-connect.  In use, the neoprene strap was very comfortable and handles the bin weight nicely.

The Zen Rays also come with covers for the eye cups and the front objectives. The eye (or ocular) covers fit well and thread into the neck strap so you won't loose them. The font/objective covers are tethered to the bins with loose fitting rubber rings. As you can see in the photo, the rings just slide over the front of the bins but they are fairly loose.

Large front element allow in plenty of light

One weak point is the cheap rubber tethering to the lens caps, I'll be replacing these.

I can see me loosing these front objective covers so I'm going to have to come up with an idea to better tether them (I'm thinking para cord).

The rubber coating on these bins seems tough and I think it should provide years of protection.

Hinge: The central hinge is just stiff enough so that it doesn't change angles unless you intentionally do so. It goes through it's range of motion smoothly.
Feel: These Bins feel SOLID. I got the same initial impression when handling the Vortex Talons and Razors.
Eye Cups: Eye relief on these bins is very nice at 16.8mm. The eye cups have three positions; flush (all the way down), half way out and all the way out. As an eye glass wearer, I was pleasantly surprised. I can use these with or without glasses; no issues.
Focus Wheel: The focus wheel is nice and big and easy to turn. It takes allot of turning to go from it closest focus to it's farthest but nothing that bothers me. In fact, due to this, over focusing or under focusing can be less of an issue. The focus wheel however is one point on these bins that tells you these are not Swarovski's or Leica's. There is a slight play or "slop" in the wheel in which the wheel turns and doesn't move focus. It is a minor amount but I can tell its there. I can live with it. For the record, the Vortex bins had the same amount of play. After using these bins in the field for a week now, the very slight amount of play does not effect the bins in use. The Swarovski bins that I've played with had absolutely no play in the wheel.
The focus wheel prominently displays the Zen-Ray model name, power (8x43), the coating info, waterproofing, phase correction, and the Field of View.

The focus wheel emblazoned with a Giant ZEN ED so you won't forget which brand your using :)

 Diopter Adjustment Wheel: The diopter adjustment wheel is well done and provides "clicky" feedback. The clicks also seem to hold the wheel in place once you get it set to your particular setting. I found this to be a nice upgrade over other bins I've used as I always seem to be adjusting the diopter wheel due to my crappy vision without glasses.

The Zen-Ray Diopter adjustment wheel


These bins are bigger than my Minox 8x42 and my friends Nikon Monarchs but due to the open hinge design, they handle ergonomically, very well. I went to my local birding spot the second day I had these bins and after walking about 2-3 miles, I did notice a slight difference in carrying them. Nothing huge mind you; just that these were bigger than the Minox. The cushioned neck strap handles the weight well. Length wise, as you can see in the picture, the Zen-Rays are longer:

Can you tell I like Green bins?

WHY 8x43 OVER 10x43?

One issue in wildlife photography that plagues photographers when using extra long/telephoto lenses is camera shake. It can turn a potentially great photo into a blurry throw away shot. The problem is that the higher the magnification of a lens, the more pronounced/obvious camera shake becomes. This same issue applies to binoculars. The higher power your binoculars, the shakier things become. For most people, an 8x binocular is about the maximum magnification they can use without propping themselves against something after a short period of use. For those extra shaky folks, Zen-Ray provides a handy dandy tripod mount at the front of their hinge. To access it, you simply unscrew the "ZR" cap exposing the female threaded screw seen here.

 With the 8x bins, I've never noticed much shake and thus far never needed to use a mount.

This is an area that these Zen Ray ED series REALLY shines. As I've stated before, I have become accustomed to the very best in optical performance with my various "L" series Canon Lenses. For this type of optical quality unfortunately, you wallet typically takes a severe beating. My Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II cost me over $2000, my Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro cost well over a thousand. Fortunately, Zen Ray has somehow magically squeezed premium optical performance into their bins without draining your wallet. A close look reveals how much quality they've included in their glass.
** First Zen Ray uses a glass known as "ED" or Extra Low Dispersion glass. This is the same type of glass used in premium lenses to properly align/focus all of the colors of the spectrum (RGB) to a single point. Failure to do this causes chromatic aberration or CA. Zen-Ray's glass has covered this well.
** VividBrite Dielectric Prism Coating on their prisms. The prisms in binoculars such as roof prisms like these or porro prisms like the older bins are at their basic level a combination of mirrors. These mirrors or prisims reflect light gathered from the front objective and angle it eventually back to the ocular lens. The better reflectivity of the prism, the more light gets through the bins and thus a brighter view. The Dielectric coating used on Zen-Rays mirrors does this job VERY well. The brightness of these binoculars puts anything I've used thus far to shame in low light conditions.
** CrystalView - From what I understand this is nothing more that a water/oil repellent coating put on the objectives. In my experience, these coating simply fill in the microscopic "pits" naturally found in glass, giving water nothing to cling to. I expect this works much like rain-x does on your windshield. I don't know why more bin manufacturers don't do this. Unfortunately, we are in a very bad drought right now in Texas and I haven't had to opportunity to test the attributes of this coating. One thing that these coatings also offer that has not been pointed out by Zen-Ray is dust resistance. I use a manually applied coating to my glasses that repels water and oils. In use in dusty environments like we have in South Texas, it DRAMATICALLY cuts down on static and the accumulation of dust. I noticed the same effect on these bins. Well Done Zen-Ray!
** Fully multi-coated optics - This basically means that every surface of every element is coated with a substance (usually magnesium fluoride or calcium fluoride) that aids in light transmission by reducing glass' natural tendency to break up light rays. Many manufacturers coat only the front objective or the more expensive brands, the front surfaces of all the glass in the bin. Zen-Ray coats all surfaces within the bins just like Leica, Swarovski, et al. These coatings prevent the break up of light as it passes through the objectives and thus results in a brighter image. In use, I can definitely tell a difference. These bins are bright!
** Sharpness - The sharpness of these bins can't be over stated. When I let my friend and my wife look through them, the resulting, "wow" said it all. I can pick out details on birds, bugs and the like of which I could never do with my other bins.The edge sharpness of these bins is better than my Minox but there is a slight bit of fuzziness right at the edges (maybe the outermost 5%). On a lens this would bother me but in a bin, no issue at all. I don't look at birds with the edges of my bins and I suspect like most people, I use the center 1/3 almost exclusively. Most people call this area the sweet spot and on these bins, it's very good.
** Color - The one thing about my "L" lenses that really stands out is the color they reproduce in the photos. The same can be said about these Zen-Rays. The color is a well rounded neutral with a slight bit of saturation. I don't think you could do any better.
** Edge Distortion - With the wide field of view 426 ft at a 1000 yards, I would expect a slight bit of distortion or curvature. I see very little on these bins.
** Field of View (FOV) - Field of view on these bins is very nice. A wide FOV aids when trying to find something through a bin quickly or finding a moving subject such as a flying bird. The 426ft at 1000 yards works nicely.
** Overall view - I can honestly say I'd give these bins a nine out of ten. If that sounds like glowing praise, it is. For what I paid for these bins, the optical quality is outstanding. Birds look like they are right there and that you could reach out and touch them. I suspect that due to the longer tubes on these over my Minox, there is a more "3-D" view akin to porro prisms. I really like the view through these bins.


I really like these binoculars! While they do not have the overall fit and finish of the $1000+ Swarovski's or Leica's, the F&F is very good. Optically, other than touching up the edge sharpness, I wouldn't expect to find many bins better. I would venture a guess to say that 98% of the binocular viewing public would never notice the difference between the view with these and the so-called alpha bins. They are really that good in my humble opinion. For what you spend on these Zen-Rays, you can't go wrong. If Zen Ray asked me what could be done different or better, I'd say, address the focus wheel issue, the edge sharpness and come up with better objective covers. I also noticed that the close focus was at around 5 ft. 8 inches as opposed to the advertised 6 feet. I wish this could have been a bit closer but that is just a personal preference because I do allot of insect photography. This always helps in identification for me. I love that my Minox has a very close focus of about 4 feet. All in all, if you want alpha bin like optical quality and can't afford the $1000+ price tag, these bins are one example of getting much better than what you paid for. I really think the only thing you will miss is the very tight fit and finish if the alpha's and maybe the, "Oh wow, you have Swarovski's!" reaction you might get from your birder friends. If this happens, just let them look through your Zen Rays and let the bins speak for themselves. You (and them) won't be disappointed.

UPDATE 8-5-2016: Five years in with these bins and after purchasing more bins to compare them to I have some further opinions. I still maintain that the optics are very good for a mid-tier bino but not quite on par with your average $1000+ bino's. There is noticeable CA near the edges and a "sweet spot" of about 60-65%. The rubber around the diopter adjustment has come off leaving it too smooth to operate. My fix was to cut a very thin sliver of non-skid tape and place it where the rubber used to be. I have emailed Zen-Ray twice asking if they have a replacement rubber piece and they have not responded. Which brings me to another point; customer service. Over the past five years after doing this review, I have received several emails from people either asking if I had their email address or phone number or just complaining about their (lack of) customer service. My understanding is that Zen-Ray is operated by just a few (rumor has three) guys which may make answering emails difficult. I bought my daughter a pair of cheap Vortex Diamondback bins three years ago and when she dropped them into salt water, they fogged and the blur never went away. I emailed Vortex one time asking if there was something that could be done. I received an email back the next day asking for my address. In three (3) days, there was a new pair of Diamondbacks sitting on my porch with a return label for the messed up pair. Now THAT is customer service. So the end question remains, are these Zen ED2's (now Zen ED3) worth the $419 price tag? I'd still say yes but with the caveat that you get a good pair and don't need their customer service. Would I pay the $609 for their new Zen-Ray Primes? While I'm sure they're fine binoculars, I'd definitely get the Vortex Viper HD's first if just for their outstanding warranty and customer service. Some other worthwhile bins in this price range are the Vanguard Endeavor ED2's, Eagle optics Golden Eagle HD's, Zeiss Terra ED's, Nikon Monarch 7's, Kowa BD XD's, and of course the Minox BL HD's. Still, if there were a place locally to look at, use and review the Zen Primes, I'd like to give them a try to see. Just my .02