Vortex Viper HD 10×42 Binocular Review

Vortex Viper HD 10×42: Short Review

Vortex Viper HD 10X42Pros: Outstanding optical quality, superb bright image with excellent detail and very good edge sharpness. Compact and robust, great build quality, balance and handling. Bordering on an “Alpha” quality view, but only 1/3 the price of the big guns. Awesome close focus, great low light performance for a 10x. Lifetime, transferable, no fault repair or replace warranty is unbeatable.

Cons: Very little to criticise here — Vortex have pretty much hit the nail on the head with this binocular. If I’m being hyper critical colours are skewed ever so slightly on the cool side of neutral, and a wider field of view would be a bonus. In general though it’s hats off to Vortex for an excellent product.

Price: GB£545 (c. €700)

Value: Excellent

Rating: Highly Recommended

If you’re shopping for a quality pair of wildlife watching or birding binoculars that almost rivals the big names for optical performance and build quality at a fraction of the price, then the Viper HD from Vortex needs to be on your short list. This really is an exceptional binocular. 

View the Viper HD 10×42 binocular on the Vortex UK Website

Vortex Viper HD 10×42 Binocular: Full Review

Vortex is a family owned optics company based in Wisconsin in the USA which has earned a solid reputation stateside for bringing great quality optical products  to the market at very competitive prices. They also have what is perhaps the best warranty in the industry… they explain it better than I can:

Our warranty is about you, not us. It’s about taking care of you after the sale. We will repair or replace your Vortex product for any reason at NO CHARGE TO YOU. It doesn’t matter how it happened, whose fault it was, or where you purchased it.

  • Unlimited, unconditional lifetime warranty
  • Fully transferable
  • No warranty card to fill out.
  • No receipt needed to hang on to.

If you ever have a problem, no matter the cost, we promise to take care of you.

That’s a warranty promise that’s second to none… and certainly knocks the socks off anything offered by high-end European rivals. It’s a very compelling proposition, BUT only if the binoculars deliver the goods optically.

I’d read good things about the quality of Vortex’s offerings online… mainly from US birders and wildlife enthusiasts… and was keen to see how they stacked up for myself. How would their “high-mid-range” binocular, the Viper HD, perform?

Vortex Viper HD 10×42 Binocular: What’s in the box?

Vortex Viper... what's in the boxThe Viper HD arrived in a forest green box with the distinctive Vortex branding. The binocular was safely housed inside its soft padded carry case and came with the usual assortment of accessories: tethered objective lens covers, a rain-guard for the eyepieces, a wide, padded neck strap and a lens cleaning cloth.

First impression: Binocular

Every now and then you come across a pair of binocular that just “feels” right. As soon as I pulled the Viper HD out of its case I knew it was one of those binoculars.

The Viper is surprisingly compact and light, and feels solid and well made. Its tough polycarbonate body is covered in substantial rubber armour with ridges on the upper surface to offer better grip, and comfortable thumb indents in just the right place on the underside. The ergonomics are excellent, and everything from the movement of the central hinge to the feel of the textured rubber-coated focus wheel to the reassuringly precise “click” of the twist-up eye-cups has a refined, up-market feel.

Vortex has paid considerable attention to detail in the design and manufacture of this binocular, and it shows.

First impression: Accessories

In general the accessories that come with the Viper match the high-quality feel of the product itself… with the minor exception perhaps of the fairly typical soft padded case (which looks fine, and is very functional, but perhaps lacks the high-end feel of the binocular) and a pretty basic cleaning cloth.

The strap is wide, well padded and holds the binocular very comfortably around your neck or shoulder. The objective lens covers and eyepiece rain guard are made out of a pliable yet strong rubber, and are substantially better than average. The objective covers fit perfectly: they flip open easily when you need them to, but are a tight enough fit to ensure they won’t fall open accidentally. Similarly the sculpted rain cover fits snugly over the eyepieces, and while it doesn’t flick off as easily as some, it is very quick to remove once you get used to it.

Handling and Balance

The Vortex Viper HD is one of the most comfortable binoculars I’ve ever used. It’s weight, balance and compact form factor are perfectly matched and make using the binocular in the field effortless. Like all great tools it fades into the background. You almost forget you have the Viper until you need it, and then it delivers, flawlessly.

The rubber armour affords a secure grip, even when wet, and the twist-up eye cups adjust to offer just the right amount of eye-relief for different users with or without glasses. There are four possible stops (fully up, fully down with two intermediary steps in between), offering a maximum eye relied of 16.5 mm, which should be more than adequate to give a full field of view to most glasses wearers. They twist into position smoothly, with a satisfying “clunk” that suggests they won’t slip unintentionally once set.

When you combine the light weight, superb ergonomics, great balance and compact form of the Viper HD carrying and using it in the field for extended periods is a pleasure rather than a chore.

Focusing

Focusing on the Viper HD is smooth and consistent for the full one-and-a-half anti-clockwise turns from close-focus to infinity, with no  “play” or “wobble” apparent in the focus mechanism. There is a smidgen more resistance than I’m used to — but that’s an observation rather than a criticism… focusing the vipers is quick, easy and precise.

Close focus on the Viper is impressively close. Documented at 1.55 metres or 5.1 ft it’s probably the closest focusing full size binocular I’ve ever used. While I didn’t measure the close focus precisely, I did manage to focus on my own feet… and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever managed that through a binocular.

The dioptre adjustment ring on the Viper HD sits in the usual place just under the right hand eyepiece. It uses a simple locking mechanism to ensure that, once set, there’s no way it can be knocked out of place in the field. Simply lift the ring to unlock, turn to adjust, and push back down to lock. It’s an elegant and effective solution.

Optical Performance

Vortex Viper HD 10X42The optical performance of the Vortex Viper HD is every bit as impressive as its build quality and ergonomics. The image is bright and crisp with excellent contrast and superb detail.

All air to glass surfaces in the Vortex Viper HD are fully multi-coated with Vortex’s proprietary XR anti-reflective lens coatings, improving light transmission, contrast and resolution. The optical system features phase corrected and dielectric coatings on the prism surfaces that further enhance light transmission across the visible spectrum, and improve contrast, colour fidelity and resolution. At the objective end Vortex have used special High Density (HD) extra low dispersion glass elements to reduce the degrading effect of chromatic aberration (colour fringing).

It all adds up to a fabulous viewing experience that hovers very close to the upper echelons of optical excellence. The view may not be quite on a par with top-end binoculars from leading European manufacturers… but compared side-by-side the Vipers come surprisingly close at a fraction of the price.

The sweet spot in the centre of the Viper’s field of view is large, and extremely sharp and detailed. There is very little fall-off in that detail as you move out towards the edges. Thanks to the HD glass chromatic aberration is very well controlled right across the field of view too. I couldn’t find any evidence of colour fringing unless I really pushed things — focusing on really high-contrast subjects  at the very limits of the field of view for example.  In normal viewing conditions it wasn’t noticeable at all, even when I was looking for it.

Colours are vibrant and clear. The view appears completely colour neutral (colours as you’d see them with the naked eye) at first, but if you look really carefully it is possible to discern a very slight “cool” bias to the view. It’s not really an issue, and is only apparent if you look very carefully for it, or compare the view side-by-side with truly colour neutral optics.

Conditions change very quickly on a typical Irish summer’s day. Cloudy one minute, rain the next and then bright directional sunlight. The constantly fluctuating light can quickly highlight the shortcomings of inferior optics. There was no problem with the Viper HD though, which took everything the Irish summer could throw at it in its stride.

As light faded I expected the higher 10x magnification of the Vipers to cause performance to degrade relatively quickly. Surprisingly it didn’t. They kept outperforming quality 8x optics, which you’d generally expect to be brighter than 10x, well into twilight. It’s testament to the excellent light gathering properties of the Vipers, and the quality of the Vortex coatings.

Field of View

Field of view is perhaps the one area where the Viper could be improved a little. At 6.1 degrees (107 m / 1000 m) the field of view through the binoculars doesn’t feel constrained… in fact the excellent edge sharpness gives the view an open, expansive feel, but it does fall a little short of the best in this regard.

It’s not often you’ll need a wider field of view, but it can be handy when scanning large areas (looking for signs of cetaceans from a headland, for example, or scanning large flocks of waders on an estuary) or when trying to follow small, fast moving birds through the foliage of a hedgerow. However, optics are often about compromise and trade off. An extremely wide field of view often comes at a price, and if it means sacrificing optical performance in other areas I’d keep the Vipers exactly as they are.

Excellent performance, whatever the weather

Testing in the midst of the Irish summer meant that there was plenty of wet weather around. I used the Vipers extensively in all sorts of conditions, from the soft drizzle that’s endemic to West Cork, to full on horizontal rain driven by a raging south-westerly gales. They came through it admirably unscathed and delivering constantly pristine views.

The Vipers are fully waterproof, o-ring sealed and filled with the inert gas argon, as opposed to the more familiar nitrogen. The end result is the same though — purging all moisture from inside the binoculars eliminates the possibility of condensation or fogging on internal glass surfaces during damp conditions, or when moving between different temperature extremes. Waterproof also means dust proof — which is great for keeping the internal optics free of foreign particles that could otherwise impair the pristine view.

Special ArmorTek coatings on the objective and eyepiece lenses on the vipers cause water on the lens surface to bead quickly and drop off, which means you can keep using the binoculars even in the worst of weather. I was watching a pair of Irish hares in a field near the house. Wind was blowing drizzle directly at me, yet the Vipers continued to deliver crisp, clear views. When I checked the objective lenses they were covered in tiny water droplets, and yet I was still getting great views of the hares. Very impressive.

The same “ultra-hard, scratch-resistant coating” protects the external lens surfaces from scratches, oil and dirt, and its non-stick effect make the Vipers really easy to  clean. You can actually feel the non-stick surfaces as the cleaning cloth glides across them, and greasy marks and residues wipe off with ease.

Impressing the professionals

While I was testing the Vipers I handed them around to a few friends who work out in the field regularly, and rely on the quality of their optics for a living. They inevitably compared them to their own binoculars of choice, and were universally impressed by how well the Vortex binoculars stacked up to some fairly exacting comparison.

Summary

Vortex has put together a superbly balanced package in the Viper HD — a binocular that ticks all the right boxes at a very compelling price with a warranty that’s simply unbeatable.

Would I choose the Vortex Viper HD over my current binocular? No.

Would I be happy to use the Viper HD as my main binocular if for some reason I found myself without  my current pair? Absolutely yes.

If you’re in the market for a top-notch binocular that offers great value for money then the Vortex Viper HD delivers a whole lot of optical performance for the price. I’d heartily recommend it. With views and good looks like this, backed by an incredible lifetime warranty, I suspect Vortex is going to be a name we’ll hear a lot more of on this side of the pond over the coming years.

Vortex Viper HD 10×42 Product Specification

Taken from the Vortex website

Magnification 10 x
Objective Lens Diameter 42 mm
Eye Relief 16.5 mm
Linear Field of View 319 feet/1000 yards
Angular Field Of View 6.1 degrees
Close Focus 1.55m / 5.1 feet
Interpupillary Distance 59-75 mm
Height 145mm / 5.8 inches
Width 132mm / 5.3 inches
Weight 685g / 24.6 ounces
Product Manual (PDF) Download

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank the folks at Vortex Optics for submitting the Viper HD 10×42 for review on Ireland’s Wildlife.

NB. Ireland’s Wildlife has no specific affiliation to any optics or gear manufacturer and all reviews on the site are completely independent and objective. If you’re an optics or gear manufacturer and would like to submit your product for review on the site please drop us a line using the contact form and we can take things from there.

About Calvin Jones

Calvin Jones is a freelance writer, author, birder and lifelong wildlife enthusiast. He is founder and managing editor of IrelandsWildlife.com. He is also the tour leader and wildlife guide on our West Cork based Discover Wildlife tours.
Calvin is also co-author of bestselling digital marketing titles and offers digital business consulting services and training through Digital Marketing Success

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