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Reviewed by Joe on 23/03/18
At the start of 2018, Viking's range of binoculars had a bit of a shake up. A few of their older models were discontinued and a new selection introduced, including the Kestrel ED range. Available in 8x32, 8x42 and 10x42, my first impressions were positive and having now spent some good birding hours with them I'm ready to write down my thoughts.
It's a typical spring day: grey clouds, some light showers and the sun is trying (not too hard) to break through. I started with the 8x42, looking at a pair of jackdaws in the oak tree some way away. I'm immediately surprised by the clarity and brightness of the image, with no colour fringing in the centre of the picture but some noticeable at the edges. This weather is a real test for the extra low dispersion (ED) glass and given the price of the binoculars, I was pleased with how they handled the scenario. As the jackdaws take off and fly to my left, I'm able to follow them easily thanks to the wide 8.1° field of view. Their grey heads are contrasted well against the darker body until they disappear behind the barn, leading me perfectly on to a pair of pied wagtails feeding on the corrugated roof. The striking contrast between the wagtail's black and white plumage is very pleasing and once again the incredible level of detail is a joy. There is, as expected, some softening at the edge of the field of view, but sharpness is retained very well for most of the image. At this point, I took the opportunity to change to the 10x42, with the extra magnification bringing me closer to the action. A drumming male great spotted woodpecker distracted me away from the barn to another oak tree, this one a bit closer than the other. Finding the woodpecker was none-the-less a challenge, only after changing my perspective did I spot him. Benefiting from dielectric coatings and fully multi-coated BAK4 prisms, the Kestrel ED 10x42 were (in these conditions) as bright as the 8x42. The woody's red nape and belly were magnificently vivid and I stayed watching him drumming until a nuthatch shot past whilst calling. I quickly changed focus and had a very brief view before it darted away. Back to swap for the 8x32, I started again looking at the distant oak tree and found the colour fringing probably handled the most admirably out of the 3 models. Moving on to the feeders which are around 5 metres away from the front of the shop, I picked up on no less than 4 dunnocks 'behaving badly' as they do at this time of year. I was drawn to the intense colour of their legs, having never really noticed before how pinky-red they are. The rich chestnut brown back, grey front and brown eyes could be seen in superb detail thanks to the phase correction. A quick test back in the shop for close focus (each model is quoted at 2m), I found I could get near to 1.5m for the 8x32, 1.9m for the 8x42 and 2.2m for the 10x42.
The rubber armoured polycarbonate body gives a rugged feel to the binoculars whilst keeping the weight to under 700g for the 42mm models and just a fraction over 500g for the 8x32. The focus wheel and dioptre are of a ribbed metal construction, adding an extra element of class to the overall build quality and appearance. The focus wheel takes 1 ½ turns from close focus to infinity and is very smooth, in fact, one of the best I've used on a binocular in this price range. The dioptre turns in one motion, without any click stops, and isn't lockable. The eye-cups feel very well made, twisting in to place with a pleasing click and staying firmly where you want them. Eye relief figures are 15.6mm, 17.2 and 15.2mm for the 8x32, 8x42 and 10x42 respectively. As a non-glasses wearer, I can't speak for how they fare with spectacles but they work perfect for me with the eye-cups twisted up all the way. Viking Kestrel ED binoculars are waterproof tested at 1.5m for 3 minutes and are nitrogen gas filled, so although I don't suggest you go out of your way to get them wet, you can rest assured that if the weather takes a turn for the worse when you're out, the binoculars will be fine...
The Kestrel EDs feature thumb indents under each barrel, although my personal preference doesn't sway either way whether binoculars have thumb rests or not. None-the-less they are positioned well and when handling the binoculars are well balanced and don't feel too heavy in use. The loops for the lanyard to thread through are positioned such that they don't get in the way of your hands. The classic style single hinge again comes down to personal preference, as some prefer a double hinge like that found on a Swarovski EL or Zeiss Victory SF. For me, all the sizes are comfortable to use with either one or two hands.
The accessories don't make the same first impression the binoculars do, but are perfectly adequate. Viking have updated their presentation box which is nice, inside you will find a soft case with it's own strap already attached, a padded lanyard and a basic cleaning cloth. The case doesn't offer as much protection as some others may do, but this shouldn't be a problem so long as you don't throw it about with the bins inside. The lanyard provides a decent level of comfort in use. I'd suggest a Viking Lens Cleaning Kit may make a good addition to these binoculars, a better cleaning cloth for one will help and the brush and lens cleaning fluid will help keep your optics in good condition.
Optical quality: 9/10
Build quality: 8/10
Value for Money: 9/10
My scores have changed slightly over time, as some of the older models reviewed a number of years ago will have the same or similar ratings to the latest models. I'm not going to go back and lower the ratings of older binoculars, so I'll be clear when I say these scores are relative to the current market selection and without a shadow of doubt the Kestrel ED binoculars are far superior to similarly priced binoculars from just a few years ago. Somehow, manufacturers are able to make increasingly better optics for less money, and these latest Viking models are of a quality I would have expected from a £400 binocular of 4/5 years back. To find ED glass and dielectric coatings in a sub £250 binocular is amazing, so these Kestrel EDs are incredibly good value for money. Viking have hit the nail on the head with this one.