Even with all the options available to the sporting optics shopper, one major question persists: Which is better, Euro optics or Asian-made optics?
What are some defining features between European and Asian optics:
- Most European optics are engineered to be the best product possible, regardless of cost.
- Asian manufacturers have the opposite approach, starting with price-point and building to meet that particular criterion.
- Overall, you generally get what you pay for, regardless of what region the optics originate.
The conundrum expands when you know there are some very good “hybrid” binoculars and riflescopes — products designed in Europe and manufactured in mainland China.
Euro optics have set the standard for generations. World-class glass and meticulous engineering made for high performance and big price tags, and they continue to blaze the trail of optics innovation. But optics technologies in Asia have advanced by leaps and bounds as of recent, so asking which continent produces the best optics is a legitimate question.
It’s an apples vs. oranges comparison of sorts. While manufacturers on the two continents both make awesome sports optics, each comes at the market from an entirely different perspective. To accurately resolve an answer, you first have to understand how the various brands approach the manufacturing process.
Worth Every Penney
The famous European brands start with a list of specifications and performance benchmarks they want in a specific product, and they leave little room for compromise. The engineers do the math on what it will cost. The cost is the cost, and they cipher the retail price from there. Their goal is to build the best product possible — damn the cost.
Brands sourcing optics in Asia approach product development from the other direction: They start with a price-point and build from there, and their list of specifications and performance standards are subject to hacking once the engineers plug in the numbers. Ultimately, they come up with a binocular or scope that reaches the desired price-point, but it might be something slightly less from a performance perspective.
So, the answer is: You get what you pay for. If you demand the absolute best of everything in your optics, the Europeans have it locked. You will pay accordingly, however, but they will be worth every penny.
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Consider, for example, Leica’s spectacular HD-B 10X42 Geovid 3000 range-finding binoculars. They feel good in your hands and their profile is downright sexy. The majority of big game guides in the West carry one permutation of the Geovid or the other. The fluoride glass is as sharp as a pin and delivers superb color fidelity. The integrated laser rangefinder provides dead-on distance measurement out to 3,000 yards with the stroke of a button.
Shooting long range? Another stroke of the button and you get ballistic measurements in three output formats: holdover, click adjustment and equivalent horizontal range. Barometric pressure, temperature and angle are also included in the measurements and calculate the correct point of aim with the highest precision. With a microSD memory card and the Leica ballistic calculator, users can import individual ballistic data to their Geovid HD-B 3000 to receive data perfectly adjusted to load and caliber.
The German-made binocular might be best you can buy, and with a suggested retail price of $2,949, they should be.
Swarovski Optik’s new ds riflescope takes state-of-the-art to a whole new level. The amazing design combines the optical features of a conventional riflescope with digital targeting technology, meaning the 5-25x52mm scope requires integration with a smartphone. Exchanging data is simple and straightforward via a Bluetooth, and the personal data supplied when sighting in the target are input directly into the app and transmitted to the scope.
What exactly does that mean? When you look through the dS, the correct aiming point is displayed automatically in the riflescope. With the press of a button, the dS measures the exact distance to the target, having factored in the magnification setting, air pressure, temperature and angle. This takes into account the personal ballistic data for your firearm/ammunition combination you’ve uploaded via your smart phone.
Important ballistic data — distance, bullet energy and other information — shows in the heads-up display. The windage mark intervals are calculated based on the distance measured, the wind speeds set, and the ballistic data. All that with the push of a button.
There’s virtually nothing that compares to the Austrian-made dS, but prepare yourself: This wonderful slice of optic and ballistic technology will set your trust fund back about $4,400.
Finding Middle Ground
Asian-made optics, however, are no slouches. In fact, with some of them you will be hard-pressed to detect a performance difference between them and comparable European products — and you will spend a fraction as much to acquire them. Lower labor rates and more favorable exchange rates allow manufacturers in the Far East to excel in producing volumes of high-quality products at modest prices.
Once upon a time, Bushnell was a mid- to low-level sports optics brand. Today, they are a major player in the industry’s upper tier with scopes and binoculars sourced in Asia.
The new Forge 10×42 binocular is as sharp, bright and color correct as almost anything comparable. The coatings on Forge glass repel water, oil, dust and debris. Sure, the Forge lacks some of the bells and whistles of the Euro binoculars, but you might not need all that technology — or, honestly, you might not be able to detect the difference in terms of optical performance. Street price on the Bushnell 10x40mm Forge binocular is just over $400. The difference between that and the price of the high-end glasses will pay for a lot a taxidermy.
The scopes in the Forge line trade on much of the same technology. Designed for a variety of precision shooting applications with 21 variations on the theme, the line ranges from a versatile 2.5-15x50mm to a 1,000-yard gong-ringing 4.5-27x50mm. And none of them break the $1,000 mark at the sales counter.
The European manufacturers can rightfully claim the high ground when it comes to innovation and performance, budgets be damned. Optics manufactured in China, Japan and Korea have mastered techniques and technologies to produce high-performance binoculars and scopes that most shooters will be happy with because, for most people, cost must be a consideration.
As another example, ponder Weaver’s Class K Series scopes. No digital displays or smart phone interfaces here: Just fabulous glass and a crisp crosshair in a lasts-forever tube. Available in two fixed focal lengths (4x and 6x) for well over a half-century, Asian-sourced Class Ks are as efficient and effective as they’ve ever been. Mount one on just about any modern rifle and you will never feel under equipped — which is pretty amazing because they both come with street prices of well under $200.
And don’t overlook American-made glass. Leupold keeps 500 people busy in their Oregon factory kicking out some amazing scopes and binos, and they’ve been doing it for a very long time. Their performance-to-price ratios are very good, sometimes great, and their commitment to customer service has been as steadfast as their product quality. If you insist on buying American, you would not sacrifice performance even slightly and would probably save a few bucks.
Manufacturers east, west and here at home have been very responsive to trends in the optics marketplace. They’ve engineered all kinds of precision bells and whistles — which is good, if that’s your thing. But simplicity has a nice ring to it, too. Keep in mind that you don’t have to pay for features you will never use. There’s enough variety in the market that you can locate binoculars and scopes to match your needs precisely with little effort.
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