Kowa High Lander Prominar 32×82 Observation Binocular
High quality observation binocular from Kowa with top quality fluorite “Prominar” lenses. Features include large 82mm objective lens with built in sliding lens hood, individual eyepiece focusing and full nitrogen waterproofing. This binocular delivers an extremely bright sharp image and performs exceptionally well in low light conditions. Supplied with two 32x wide angle eyepieces with the option to purchase additional eyepieces (21x and 50x)
Read the comments by Norfolk birder Steve Harris
I first looked through the Kowa Prominar (fluorite) High Lander 32×82 binoculars at a Birdfair some 15 years ago. It was one of those ‘Wow’ moments, and there and then I decided that one day I would have a pair. At that time, however, even though I was the optics partner in CleySpy, the c.£6,000 price tag was way out of reach. Fast-forward to Birdfair 2015, and in a chance conversation with a friend who is now the Kowa UK sales manager, I learned that he could do a pair at a ‘good price’. This price was half what it had been 15 years ago and I was sure he was mistaken and quoting for the non-flourite, standard version! It wasn’t until October 1st 2015 when I removed my purchase from its packaging and saw the tell-tale red line around the objective lens housing, that I really believed I was the owner of a pair of these near-mythical bins. Since then I have enjoyed looking through them so much that I’ve hardly used a ‘scope at all (to be fair, I don’t get out much and have a wonderful view from home).
Sharpness. As for general acuity, being able to discern the bands on Jupiter, the sub-moustachial stripe on a male reed bunting at 375m and white collar on a male stonechat at over half a kilometre, are pretty good indicators. I have compared a single barrel of a High Lander with an ATX 95, set at 32x, on a test chart and concluded that you would need a bench test to find any difference!
Sharpness is well-maintained across the entire field and drop off at the extreme edge of the field of view is very slight.
Brightness. I am often surprised when I take my eyes away from the bins, that the view in reality seems distinctly duller. They are bright.
Colour Fringing. One of the main attributes that set the High Landers apart from all other birding optics is that the objective lens has a lens of pure fluorite crystal. This material has optical characteristics that make it superior to glass in several ways. One of its most obvious benefits to my eye is the very good control of colour fringing. As with even the very best of optics, it can just be made out in extreme situations of dark objects against very light backgrounds.
Field of View. I think that the width of field is a major contributor to the ‘wow’ response when you first look through these bins. The apparent field of view of 70⁰ is significantly wider than that of even a ATS/STS series with a fixed 30x, which, at 65⁰, is regarded as respectably wide.
Colour Fidelity. Experience has taught me that this is a bit of a subjective factor, but for my money it seems neutral, though, as with all the very bright optics I’ve looked through, the colours are a shade less intense.
Distortion: When panning, barrel distortion is non-existent, but a ‘wrap around’ (I don’t know a technical term for this phenomenon) distortion does occur at the very edge of the field if you look for it. A similar distortion at the top and bottom edge of the field when tilting seems rather more pronounced but is not distracting and is not really an issue when scanning a scene left to right which in birding terms is the dominant action. In any event the need to keep the eyes looking close to the optical axis (see below) means that what happens on the periphery isn’t seen.
Ease of Use/Mechanics. A feature that may be perceived as an ‘issue’ is independent eyepiece focussing. The eyepieces focus in opposite directions, and adjusting them seems to me to be fairly intuitive and I found focussing far less problematic than I expected. In practice, with a good fluid head, the bins are well balanced, and can be panned left and right with the hands holding the prism housings with fingers and thumbs on the focussing rings around the base of each eyepiece. The friction in the focussing mechanism seems ideal, such that holding the knurled rings doesn’t disturb the focus, while intentional focussing is very smooth.
The only other moving parts are the ‘arms’ by which inter-pupillary distance is adjusted. These too seem to me to be spot on: not so stiff that they are hard to move, but with sufficient friction that they don’t get moved inadvertently. One detail to note is that people with relatively close-set eyes may need to ensure
that their face is at right angles to the plane of the eyepieces to keep the nose out of the gap between the eyecups. If the nose is preventing the viewer lining their pupils up with the optical axis, ‘shadows’ can prevent a clear view. Another thing I have found is that I can’t look around the full width of the image without it partially blacking out, rather I have to keep my eyes looking more or less in the centre of the view. This means that in order to follow a flying bird I have to pan with the bins rather than follow it with my eyes across the field. I imagine that this is a result of not being able to tilt the head sideways as you can with a ‘scope’s single eyepiece. Once you get the knack it’s not a problem at all, and of course the best optical quality is obtained at the centre of the view.
Snags and Accessories: So much for the pros, are there any cons? Yes, the weight precludes hanging them round your neck! Having said that, their weight at 6.5kg is not far off that of a top camera with a big lens, and a camera rucksack makes carrying the Kowas on foot entirely feasible However, ideally you do need a good, solid, fluid head on a relatively sturdy tripod for smooth, vibration-free viewing.
One mild irritation, particularly when an interesting bird is passing by and you’re not set up, is that the objective lens caps are screw fit and require 2 and a half turns to remove them (at least a dozen hand movements for me!). Not screwing them home fully does risk the possibility of cross-threading them. I believe the OG caps of the 88 series Kowa ‘scopes that clip inside the lens surround, do fit the High Landers. The eye lens caps are slightly tight on the 5-position eye cups, but sit nicely in the recess under the carrying handle when not in use. The eyepieces are interchangeable with 21x and 50x options, and are simply (but with some effort) push-fit. Removing them requires quite a pull and they come out with a pop, like a cork out of a bottle. The 32x eyepieces come with the bins as standard and seem to me to be optimal, while the relatively high price of the 50x is not going to encourage many to have a second set. I believe the 50s are available singly so the High Landers could be used as a telescope at the higher magnification. Oddly, there is another reason to remove the eyepieces and that is to fit the bins in the optional carry case. The price of this case would buy a top-of-the-range photographer’s rucksack which would provide more flexibility and much more than a few pence change! For anyone using High Landers for sea-watching, protective 95mm filters for the objective lenses, with water and oil repellent coatings, are available.
This is a stunning binocular. Half of it would be a very, very good ‘scope; but having the equivalent of two, top-quality ‘scopes aligned side by side, takes the viewing experience to a completely different level. I think that the ‘Wow’ factor is principally the combination of the particularly wide field and the 3D image that arises from using both eyes, and which somehow makes the image seem more ‘spacious’. Furthermore, the lack of any eyestrain, makes prolonged viewing entirely possible, indeed pleasurable. Also, from personal experience, a slight defect in one eye, that can be off-putting when looking through a ‘scope, seems to be compensated for by the other eye, when both are being used.
Optically I have never experienced anything like these bins, except in much lower magnifications. As yet I haven’t met anyone who has looked through them and not been impressed, and, as stated earlier, they really are more affordable than they ever have been. But practically, how useful are they?
Experience tells me that a surprising amount of birding is done from one spot, and can often involve prolonged viewing. This is the very scenario where High Landers come into their own, for example at raptor watch points, on sea-watching promontories, at roost sites, from hides or elevated watch points overlooking estuaries or goose grazings and last, but by no means least, at twitches which often seem to require a lot of waiting in one place for the rarity to appear.
In summary, for me, enjoying our view at home, a ‘scope doesn’t get a look in now and I’m really looking forward to 2016 as a year of ‘Big Bin Birding’!