Sport Optics 2013: Focus on Binoculars

Sport Optics 2013: Focus on Binoculars


Binoculars have long been a natural marketing niche for retailers operating in the photo-imaging space, and opportunities in this high-margin sector may well be expanding. Increasing numbers of retiring baby boomers are getting into travel, birding and other recreational pursuits, and many of these folks are inclined to visit their local camera shop rather than a sporting goods store, hunting emporium or big-box store when it comes to selecting binoculars.

Photo enthusiasts are also prime candidates for acquiring high-performance mid-range and upper tier binoculars since they understand the value of fine optics like those on their cameras. By identifying and targeting customers that identify themselves as travelers, outdoor buffs, hikers, sports and wildlife enthusiasts, bird-watchers or hunters, you can expand their visual observation horizons while enhancing your store’s profitability.

There’s also a high crossover among consumers that purchase high-end binoculars and those that acquire premium, pro-caliber lenses, upgrade their DSLRs or acquire a new compact system camera—a double or triple opportunity that can definitely be incentivized by strategic product placement, demos and, of course, building strong customer relationships.

These days, consumers are sharply focused on lasting value; and unlike cameras, computers and cell phones, binoculars (like lenses) are keepers that are virtually immune from obsolescence. That explains why consumers are gravitating toward high-quality, high-end binoculars they perceive as long-term investments. Indeed, both retailers and manufacturers tell us that high-performance binoculars in the $300–$600 class now move a lot faster than cheapie units in the $100 and under class, which were once the mainstay of this market. Luxury binoculars in the $2,000+ class from iconic companies like Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski have been selling so briskly some models are in short supply. Conversely, some high-end makers are now offering binoculars in the middle and upper middle tiers in an effort to increase their market share.

So how do you get your customers to upgrade their binocular purchases? It may be as simple as having them look though a high-quality binocular and compare it with one of average performance. The difference is usually so obvious, even to nonexperts, that it’s a strong motivator. With recent advances in optical technology, most consumers can actually afford a medium-priced binocular that delivers a level of performance rivaling that of premium-priced models of years past.
There’s also a built-in brand loyalty proposition for photo enthusiasts since so many fine binoculars carry familiar photographic names: Nikon, Canon, Pentax, ProMaster, Leica and Zeiss. However, dealers should not overlook other established brands like Bushnell, Leupold, Carson, Vortex and Swarovski—all favored among the camping, hunting and outdoor set.

For an overview of trends in the binocular sector, we contacted technical and marketing experts in the sport optics field and asked them to give us their views on how things are shaping up for 2013. We follow that up with a selection of the latest, coolest models from major manufacturers picked by longtime binocular aficionado, yours truly.
John Carlson, Senior Manager, Sales & Marketing, Pentax Ricoh
The sport optics market is chugging along without notable upturns or downturns, and nature, hunting, wildlife, events and travel viewing remain popular categories among binocular purchasers.

The photo specialty channel has definite upside potential with increasing numbers of retirees, travelers and bird-watchers who are more likely to visit a camera store than a hunting or sporting goods store. Dealers should leverage their perceived image and knowledge base as optical experts to serve this market. Pentax has responded by offering 9x roof prism binoculars with an open bridge design that are lighter, stronger and better balanced and provide a good compromise between high magnification and steady handheld viewing. Eight years ago we introduced the Papillo line that focuses down to 18 inches for detailed viewing of (you guessed it) butterflies and other insects.

Mark Boardman, Marketing Manager, Vortex Optics

Overall, the sport optics sector is doing really well as people realize they can greatly enhance their outdoor activity experience. Competition continues to drive innovation that benefits consumers, who are more educated than ever and seek products that give them the highest quality and value. They also demand customer service and they know our unconditional lifetime VIP warranty means we stand behind our products. And, 2013 looks to be shaping up as another great year for Vortex and the industry as a whole.

Rich Bright, Director, Marketing, PRO
Binoculars were the first category to take a hit when the recession started in 2007 and were also the first sign that things were starting to improve in 2011–12. The surge in the ProMaster binocular lines is attributable to the success of the new Infinity ELX High-Definition ED series in 8×21 and 8×25 sizes that offer ED glass at an unprecedented price point. They’ve proven to be extremely popular and caused retailers to reexamine this category.

Our introduction into the Canadian market through our partnership with Foto Source and the robust active lifestyle market in Canada have also given us a boost.

Joel Harris, Marketing/Public Relations Manager, Carl Zeiss Sports Optics

The sport optics sector as a whole has rebounded well from the economic downturn of the past few years, and sales are experiencing a healthy growth. The most exciting trend is the availability of higher quality optics at lower price points, as exemplified by our premium Conquest HD line at under $1,000 and our entry-level premium Terra ED line at under $400—both with our legendary handcrafted German optics.

We expect 2013 to be a banner year for Zeiss sport optics since we are the first true premium optics company to attempt to reach such a broad market, and we’re confident that customers at all levels will respond.

Rob Lancellotti, Public Relations, Swarovski Optik North America

There is a growing interest in high-end optics as consumers are now more optically savvy and appreciate value. In terms of marketing, social media is the marketing trend and growing by the day, hour and minute!

Our company philosophy of constant improvement has brought us to our position of leadership in high-end optics, and that philosophy also applies to our marketing strategy. Last year was the best year ever in the history of Swarovski Optik, and we’re introducing amazing new products in 2013 to keep the momentum going. Like everyone else, we’re concerned about how the economy could impact our industry, but that’s just another reason we’re committed to staying ahead of the competition.

Richard Cameron, President, Carson Optical

There were $154 million in binocular imports in 2012, down 6.7% from the year before. That compares to $165 million in 2011 and $164 million in 2002. In other words, the binoculars business has been going sideways for the last 10 years or so, and if someone’s business is growing it basically means another company’s sales are declining. Some high-end companies are selling more mid-range products, but the high-end brands are still holding their own. Binoculars imports from Austria were up 30% (about $4.5M), down about 9.6% from Germany (about $1.5M) and up about 46% from the Czech Republic (about $600k). So overall, the high end of the market probably took away more market share from mid-range products, not the other way around as has been widely suggested.

Jeff Bouton, Marketing Manager, Birding & Naturalist Markets, Leica Sport Optics
At the recent Shot Show in Las Vegas, attended by nearly 63,000, we showed the Geovid HD-B 42 laser rangefinder binocular. Its the first in the world with an integrated ballistics processor that allows hunters to gather and analyze ballistics information by using an online program, downloading specific information on firearms, ammunition, etc., to a microSD card and uploading it to the binoculars. It was widely hailed as the most important optical product at the show.

As for the binocular market in general, the high end is doing very well, and unlike other manufacturers, Leica does not plan to introduce products in the middle tier to gain market share. We feel our brand image is more important.

Nikon Monarch 3 Realtree APG. This new all-terrain binocular is available in 8×42 and 10×42 versions, both featuring multicoated Nikon Eco-Glass lenses and phase-corrected, high-reflectance silver alloy multilayer prism coatings for enhanced light transmission. Other specs include a long eye relief (24.1mm for the 8×42 and 17.4mm for the 10×42) multi-click-and-turn rubber eyecups, fully rubberized waterproof, fogproof bodies with armored construction, and flip-down rubber covers to protect the 42mm objective lenses from scratches and dirt. 8×42, $249.95; 10×42, $269.95.

Pentax 9×42 DCF BR. These sleek, heavy-duty, roof prism binoculars feature high-performance, fully multicoated optics, rugged waterproof, fogproof construction that allows freshwater rinsing, and a compact, ergonomic, lightweight open-bridge design optimized for outdoor applications. Other features include: a dependable internal focus design to enhance balance and handling; a wide-angle field of view; fully multicoated optics; helicoid extendable eyepieces with four click-stop settings; long eye relief for viewing comfort without glasses; and an accessible center diopter ring with click stops. $349.

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10×36. This new compact binocular features wide-angle BaK-4 roof prisms for edge-to-edge sharpness and fully multicoated optics to enhance light transmission. Built on a magnesium chassis and wrapped in a nonslip rubber-armored housing, they’re compact, lightweight and 100% waterproof and fogproof. They feature ED (extra-low dispersion) prime glass, Bushnell’s ultrawide custom-band antireflective lens coating and patented RainGuard HD permanent water-repellant, antifog lens coating. Included is a premium carry case, neck strap and microfiber lens cloth. It’s also available in 8x42mm, 10x42mm and 10x42mm with Realtree AP camo versions. 10×36, $370.95.

Canon 8×25 IS.
This distinctive-looking compact binocular is the smallest, most affordable image-stabilized unit on the market. It features Super Spectra-coated lead-free Canon glass optics and Canon’s ingenious Tilt Mechanism Image-Stabilization technology to counteract shake and provide clearer viewing without eyestrain. Other features include: a textured, rubberized covering; center-mounted focus and stabilizer controls; and a field-flattening lens element. It measures only 4.7×2.4×5.4 inches and weighs in at 17.3 ounces. $399.99.

Leica Geovid HD-B 42 Laser Rangefinder.
Leica’s Geovid binoculars, with built-in laser rangefinders, have been around for decades, but the HD-B contains advanced ballistic technology that enables users, primarily hunters, to input/create their own ballistics info for their specific weapon and ammo on a microSD card and upload it to a ballistic processor built into the binocular to provide the proper aim point, hold over, turret adjustment or drop-down reticle aiming point. Twelve ballistic trajectories are programmed into the unit. Other features include: magnesium body construction; Perger porro prisms; a 4.2mm exit pupil; 20mm eye relief; and a 6.5º angle of view. Plus, they’re waterproof to 16.5 feet. 8×42, $2,945; 10×42, $2,995.

ProMaster Infinity Elite ELX ED 8×21. These binoculars offer an attractive combination of high performance and value. Their notable features include: extra-low dispersion (ED) glass for enhanced color correction and clarity; 100% weatherproof, fogproof nitrogen-filled, magnesium alloy construction; phase-coated BaK-4 prisms; an internal center focus design; Transbright HD (high-definition) optical coatings; Repellamax dust- and element-repellant coatings on outer surfaces; and an eye relief of 15.8mm. $299.95.

Carson 3D 10×42 ED. Designed for exceptional user comfort with thumb grooves, textured surfaces and excellent ergonomics, these new roof prism, full-size 3D binoculars feature ED glass for enhanced color correction, high-definition optical coatings, BaK-4 phase-coated prisms, full multicoatings and nitrogen-filled, O-ring sealed construction for water, shock and fog resistance. Extra long eye relief and twist-down eyecups make them suitable for eyeglass wearers. All Carson 3D/HD models from 8×32 to 10×50 come with shock-resistant BinoArmor deluxe cases. The 10×42 focuses to 9.8 feet and has an eye relief of 16mm. 10×42, $310.

Vortex Razor HD 10×50. The new flagship of the Vortex brand, geared for extreme terrain, this high-end roof prism binocular is aimed at sophisticated hunters and bird-watchers. Its features include: hand-selected HD extra-low dispersion glass; full lens multicoatings with Vortex’s proprietary antireflective XR process to increase light transmission; scratch-resistant ArmorTek coatings on exterior surfaces; O-ring sealed waterproof, fogproof, argon-gas-purged construction; and phase-corrected prisms. Built on an open-hinged lightweight magnesium chassis with rubber armoring, it provides a wide range of positive eye-relief settings, multiposition eyecups and a locking center diopter control. An optional tripod adapter is available. $1,489.

Leupold BX-4 McKinley HD 8×42. Like all members of the Leupold BX line, this newly announced, ruggedly handsome, high-definition roof prism unit is waterproof and built to withstand challenging field conditions. It features extra-low dispersion objective lenses with rare earth element-coated ocular lenses for enhanced color rendition and sharp resolution. Also notable are: a magnesium alloy chassis; Leupold’s second-generation water- and fogproofing; a large, tactile central focus dial; twist-up eyecups for use with or without glasses; and rubber armor. $749.99.

Zeiss Terra ED 8×42.
Offered at an unprecedented price for this legendary brand, this German-engineered unit features Schott ED glass, Zeiss MC multicoated lenses for bright images even in low light, and an impressive close-focus distance of 5.25 feet. Other key specs include: waterproof, fogproof, nitrogen-filled construction; Schmidt-Pechan prisms; an exit pupil of 5.3mm; and an eye relief of 18mm. With their lightweight design (25.4 ounces, a 10×42 model has added magnification without added weight) and comfortable ergonomics, they’re said to be ideal for mobile hunters, birders and wildlife observers. $389.

Swarovski SLC 8×42 HD, 10×42 HD. These premium SLC (slim, light, compact) binoculars have fluoride-containing HD lenses to enhance brightness and color fidelity, SwaroBright coatings on all elements and prisms, and an antistick SwaroClean coating on the outer surfaces to make them easier to clean. Removable twist-in eyecups are individually adjustable in three stages, and a new focusing mechanism ensures fast, precise adjustments. And they offer a wide field of view plus close-range focusing to 6 feet. Thanks to their shorter, more slender construction, ergonomics are noticeably improved, and the new magnesium housing makes these waterproof, fogproof binoculars noticeably lighter than their predecessors at 28.5 and 28.0 ounces, respectively. 8×42, $2,129; 10×42, $2,239.