Vortex Razor HD Binoculars

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Review Highlights

  • The latest version of Vortex’s flagship binocular
  • HD glass elements and significantly upgraded coatings
  • Smaller, lighter and sleeker for more comfortable use
  • >Excellent optics for way less than most high-end binoculars

For several years, Vortex Optics has tried to come up with a worthy successor for their top-of-the-line binocular (the DLS), and frankly, it’s been a bit of a struggle. Vortex Razor binoculars have been through at least two previous versions, and while the optics were always good, the earlier binoculars had radically different designs and features, as though there really wasn’t a fixed idea in mind of what their flagship optic should be. Well, it looks like the third time was the charm! With the release of the Razor HD binoculars, we think Vortex has finally found their stride with this line. Currently, Vortex Razor HD binoculars are offered in 8×42, 10×42, 10×50 and 12×50 versions, but this review covers only the 42-mm models. Vortex Razor HD binoculars cost $979.99 for the 8×42 model and $999.99 for the 10×42 model. Knowing Vortex, further expansion of this line to include a 32-mm line is a virtual certainty.

Structure and Design

Structurally, the new Razor HDs are a throwback to a simpler roof prism design – gone is the open bridge look of the last version. The new ones are smaller, sleeker and more appealing. For example, instead of weighing over 30 oz., despite using heavier denser glass (that’s what HD is, after all!) the new Razor HDs tip the scale at 26.1 oz. and 26.7 oz. for the for the 8×42 and 10×42 models respectively. Due to their inherently better ergonomics, the new ones feel even lighter than that. Note too that we weigh them with rainguard and objective lens covers in place to reflect what a user’s field weight is likely to be. Removing those lightens them by another 1.5 to 2 oz. Another feature that contributes to the lower weight of the new Razors is the magnesium chassis. Compared to traditional aluminum frames, magnesium offers a great combination of less weight and greater strength and durability. Many high end optics companies are substituting magnesium for aluminum in their binocular frames. Unlike the black rubber armoring of the previous version, Razor HD binoculars are clad in a thinner, natural green armoring with gray and black accents and a knubbled texture that imparts a good, secure grip. The barrels are notably more slender, and have well-placed, shallow thumb pads on the underside. The result is these binoculars don’t require large hands to comfortably hold. Razor HD binoculars are 6.25 inches tall (eyecups fully extended) and 4.9 inches wide (hinge fully open). As with all high-end roof prism binoculars, Razor HDs are vacuum-sealed and purged with argon to be waterproof and internally fog proof.

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Optical Properties

Vortex Razor HD binoculars feature a field of view of 388 feet at 1000 yards on the 8x model and 362 feet on the 10x version. That’s about an average field on the 8×42, but it’s really very good on the 10×42. Eye relief on the 8x model is 17.5 mm, perfectly adequate for most people’s needs; that of the 10x model is 16.5 mm. It’s worth noting that the 10x eye relief is quite typical for high end binoculars of that magnification. As noted above, we were very pleased with the overall optical performance of the 42-mm Razor HDs. One area in which the Razors really excel is minimum close focus. We measured the minimum close focus on both Razor HD models at just 5 feet, fully a foot better than Vortex literature claims. Both Razor models go from minimum close focus to infinity in a zippy 1.5 turns of the focus knob. Focusing action was smooth, aided by a large focus knob with raised ridges in the armoring for better purchase. With these binoculars, focusing is a snap. In terms of the field curvature and edge performance, the Razors match up pretty well with even the most expensive binoculars out there. Chromatic aberration, as expected with an HD glass binocular, was minimal. The sweet spot of crisp focus in the visual field center is quite large. The one optical property in which the Razors are not exceptional is their depth of field, which is merely average. Though not an optical property per se, it’s worth noting that the Razor HD binoculars have a pretty broad interpupillary distance range of 53-74 mm. This should be enough to provide a comfortable setting for virtually any user.

Glass and Coatings

As noted above, one of the big improvements is to the glass and coatings. We noted that the new Razor HDs showed a substantial improvement in the already good image quality of the old Razors. Since the old Razors were made with HD glass lens elements and we have no information saying it’s not the same glass, the obvious inference is that Vortex improved the coatings of the new ones. The problem is, coatings really don’t translate well in an article, so all we can do is name them and tell you what they’re supposed to do! Like all high-end roof prism binoculars, the Razors are fully multicoated and phase-coated. The multi-coating is Vortex’s proprietary XR lens coating which increases light transmission, reduces image-degrading reflections and improves overall image brightness. The prisms are BaK-4 glass, which is industry-standard for all high-end binoculars. To these, Vortex adds a dielectric coating to the prism faces for the most vivid image color. The prism faces are phase-coated to ensure that all the various different wavelengths of visible light are focused to the same plane. You cannot really “see” the effect of phase-coating – what your brain perceives is a difference that manifests as sharper images and more vibrant colors. Lastly, there is the ArmorTek coating on the lenses that repels oil and salts and even reduces the tendency for dust to adhere to the lens, making them easier to clean.

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User Adjustments

The eyecups on the Razor HDs adjust by the now standard helical twist mechanism. A counter-clockwise twist extends them; a clockwise twist collapses them. There are two fully-stable positions marked by fair firm detents between fully up and fully down, and none showed any tendency to collapse inadvertently during field use. The eyecups feature a slightly-tapered rim of very soft rubber, making them very comfortable against the face. Dioptric adjustment is achieved with a twist ring on the upper right barrel. This ring locks in position when not in use, in which case it is flush against the top of the right ocular tube. Pull the ring up away from the tube to allow it to twist freely. When the adjustment is complete, snap it firmly down to re-lock it. There is a scale of relative adjustment on the ring and ocular tube that clearly shows the position for equal eyes and provides an indication of where your particular settings are. The mechanism is a little stiff, but in our opinion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We think this is a great diopter adjustment mechanism.

Strap, Caps and Case

The rainguard on the Vortex Razor HD binoculars is well designed; it is comprised of two, inch-deep, pliable rubber cups joined by a flexible bridge. A standard strap loops through a fixed bracket on one side (prevents dropping it in the field) and a gapped (detachable) bracket on the other. The rainguard is easily seated in place, and once in place, simply does not dislodge accidentally. It’s hard to imagine how this could be any better, really. Both objective lenses have soft rubber caps that fit snugly over the ends of the barrels and are attached to the barrels by flexible rings and short tethers so they can’t be lost, meaning you always have them when you need them. The weight of these lens caps means that except under hurricane conditions, they hang straight down and don’t blow up to occlude the view. The tether rings are wide, so they maintain their position on the barrel ends quite well and don’t slide around or drop off. By angling them just slightly off vertical, you can dramatically reduce the tendency for them to inadvertently close when the binocular bumps against your chest. Again, these show fundamentally good design. The strap is broad, well-padded and contoured to fit the curve of your neck, length being adjustable by standard means. For a very basic strap, it is actually quite comfortable. The case is well padded and made of water-resistant/ waterproof cordura. It closes with a broad folding flap and a double-toothed clasp. It is roomy enough to easily accommodate the binocular even with eyecups fully extended. There is a nice zipping net compartment on the underside of the flap closure for storing things like an optical cloth or a small bottle of lens cleaner. By the way, Vortex provides a nice lens cloth with the binocular. The case has lugs for attachment of a strap of its own, which is included with the purchase. Basically, this is an excellent case.

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Options and Accessories

Vortex offers a number of interesting accessories for the Razors. If you wish, you can replace the strap with a binocular harness that helps distribute the weight of the binocular over the shoulders and back rather than concentrating it at the top of the neck. This can greatly increase the comfort of wearing them over a long day in the field (see it here). For long periods of field observation of a relatively fixed point, Vortex offers a tripod mount , which screws into the objective end of the hinge. Simply unscrew the Vortex logo cap and replace it with the mount screw, which fastens to the plate of a standard tripod head on the bottom. Lastly, Vortex also offers a 2x-doubler lens (see it here). To deploy this, you must unscrew the left eyecup and replace it with the doubler. This is probably most useful in combination with the tripod mount. Although it is neither an accessory nor an option, it is worth mentioning Vortex’s VIP warranty. Should they ever require service, Vortex will repair or replace the Razor HDs absolutely free, except for deliberate damage, theft or loss. The warranty has no time limit and is completely transferable.

Conclusions

In summation, there is an awful lot to like in the Vortex Razor HD binoculars. The combination of optical excellence, ergonomic comfort, styling and features is a great value relative to the high-end binoculars offered by many big name optics companies, which can easily cost twice as much. We think that once people become aware of just how good they are, we will start to see a lot of these in the field.

Vortex Razor HD Binoculars – current price and availability

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>