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Reviewed by Joe on 24/10/23
There aren't many sub £100 binoculars that would initially intrigue me personally, but as someone with children who are showing signs of interest in birdwatching, the new Bantam HD 6.5x32 looked on paper to be a great offering. Only available in one size and magnification, they aren't going to suit everyone, but it's likely going to be of great interest to anyone after a lightweight, easy to use, budget binocular.
My initial expectations of a pair of binoculars with a retail price of £89 (correct at the time of writing) aren't sky high, but looking at the specifications, they surprised me with HD glass and Vortex XR™ lens coatings. The HD glass is Vortex's way of saying ED, or extra-low dispersion glass, which reduces chromatic aberration (colour fringing). The XR™ coatings are anti-reflective coatings applied to just the air-to-glass surfaces, which increase light transmission. Coupling these coatings with a 4.92mm exit pupil (derived from the 32mm objective lens divided by 6.5x magnification) means you get a bright, colourful image, which benefits from a very useful 7.6° field of view. The HD glass and relatively low magnification meant I struggled to find any colour fringing, except a little at the edge of the view, but overall chromatic aberration is handled admirably. There is, as to be expected, a fair amount of softening outside of the centre of the view, most notable at the bottom of the pair I am testing, but the middle is pleasantly sharp. Let's be honest, if you're buying a pair of these for kids, I can't imagine getting any complaints of this nature. After all, if the subject is a bird or animal, we want it in the middle of our view, not at the edge! The Bantam HD binoculars have a respectable 3.66m (12ft) close focus, which tallied with my test, but of course these binoculars will mostly be used anywhere between 10m and infinity. Such is the nature of 6.5x magnification, these binoculars have a large depth of field, meaning you don't have to fiddle with the focus wheel too much to ensure a sharp image. Another great benefit of less magnification is the ability to get a steady picture. Naturally, higher magnifications will benefit from a closer view, but many users note that 10x binoculars (or greater) are more difficult to hold still. With 6.5x magnification, both children and adults will find these pleasant to use, without sacrificing too much in the way of reach. Overall, the Bantam HD binoculars pleasantly surprised me with their optical quality.
So it doesn't seem that Vortex cut any corners with the optics, and it also doesn't feel they sacrificed build quality either. I am assuming they are a polycarbonate construction rather than magnesium, but even this isn't necessarily 'cutting a corner', as the material will be stress-tested under much if not the same conditions as magnesium. In fact, Vortex label these binoculars as 'shockproof - designed to withstand the highest levels of recoil and impact'. This isn't a test I was willing to put the binoculars through, but a reassuring claim none-the-less. The Bantam HD binoculars are also gas purged and o-ring sealed, meaning they are fogproof and waterproof too. The central hinge is firm and holds in place well, while the same can be said for the twist up eyecups, which click into place both halfway and all the way out, offering a generous 18.7mm of eye-relief. As I don't wear glasses, I can't test how they work for spectacle wearers, but with the eyecups twisted all the way out, they give me a perfect image with no black-outs. The dioptre adjustment is in the traditional position under the right eyecup and is certainly on the stiff side. As these are really marketed for younger users, this is very much a plus, as this will discourage fiddling with it unnecessarily. Focussing is smooth and relatively fast, with just over 1 full rotation needed from close focus to infinity on the 3cm wide focus wheel. Compared to a pair of true pocket binoculars often popular with a younger audience, the larger focus wheel on these will make adjustments much easier.
At just 410g and under 12.5cm tall, these little binoculars are a perfect companion for a long walk, whether you're 10 years old or 60, or in fact pretty much any age. With a minimum interpupillary distance (IPD) of just 51mm, these should suit children from about 6 years old. There are slight thumb indents on the under side of the barrels, which encourage good handling, and with my average size hands, I find the length of the binoculars perfect; not too small like many pocket binoculars can sometimes feel. Not only are these binoculars lightweight, but they are also very balanced, so are neither front or back heavy. This means they are very comfortable in use, and when holding them up to my eyes, I'm able to keep holding them for long periods without any effort.
In the box you'll find tethered objective lens covers, a rainguard, padded neck strap, cleaning cloth and a soft case with its own (detachable) strap. Everything you need for everyday use, all good quality too. What is always the great benefit of a Vortex binocular is the 'VIP' warranty: an unlimited lifetime guarantee that even covers accidental damage. In the UK, Vortex Optics are distributed by Newpro UK Ltd, so repairs and warranty claims are handled by Newpro. Make sure you buy your binoculars from an Newpro authorised UK stockist, such as Feathers, to be covered by the warranty.
Optical quality: 7/10
Build quality: 8/10
Value for Money: 10/10
It's hard to find faults with these wonderful little binoculars. For under £100 they are really impressive. I expected a slightly wider field of view from the 6.5x magnification, but didn't find it a hindrance in use and greatly enjoyed the bright and stable image provided by the 6.5x magnification. They feel robust and comfortable to use, and are an almost perfect entry pair of binoculars for children and adults alike. If you feel the need for more magnification, the Vortex Triumph HD 10x42 is basically the Bantam's bigger sibling, and also won't break the bank.