Home on the range
Steiner LRF binos add new dimension, says Chris Redlich
In order to stay in touch with a modern-day hunter’s needs is a requirement to provide a product which not only possesses the latest technology but is reliable and competitively priced. German firm Steiner have been producing quality optics for military and civilian use for decades and recently added new laser rangefinder (LRF) binoculars to their stable. Rangefinder binoculars aren’t new to Steiner and 12 years ago I had the fortune of using a pair of their military binoculars overseas, ranging distances of mountain features out to 6km.
Unlike many other European brands Steiner’s civilian binocular line-up looked to be deficient in comparative LRFs, then last year while browsing this magazine I was pleasantly surprised to see an ad for their new roof prism-design Predator LRFs. I was keen to find out more and as if struck by fate or coincidence an invitation to review them arrived by email so I eagerly accepted the opportunity offered by Australian distributor Beretta.
As it turned out the review binoculars were hot property and once a pair became available I wasted no time in putting them through their paces. From the box they come supplied with a practical padded nylon carry case and comfort neck strap, lens cleaning cloth and user manual. Noticeable at first glance was the longer length of these new binos compared with other 10x42s I’ve reviewed recently. With total length of 180mm (caps off) they’re not the shortest around but what was immediately apparent was the streamlined lens barrels, free from the lumps and bumps found on other rangefinding binoculars.
It was obvious the Steiner engineers had taken into consideration the compact allocation of electronic components providing a new ergonomic package. The aircraft-grade aluminium lens barrels include integral, heavy-duty loops for the neck strap or shoulder harness mounting and all external surfaces are finished in a durable and grippy rubber coating in Steiner’s signature non-reflective dark olive colour.
Weighing in at a solid 1kg isn’t unusual for quality glass and consistent when compared to most other high-end European RF binoculars. The centre bridge is a semi-open hinge design offering interpupillary adjustment of 55-76 degrees, allowing enough movement to suit the eyes of many a hunter. The bridge hinge moves easily but is firm enough to stay put during regular insertion and removal from a harness and housed within the hinge is a large rubber coated fast-focus wheel, enabling rapid adjustment by either index finger in inclement weather.
For something that by all appearances looks quite sterile there’s a lot going on in the centre bridge and located in front of the focus wheel is a watertight battery compartment. It houses a three-volt CR2 battery which provides at least 2500 range calculations before a battery status symbol in the display lets you know its remaining power. Interestingly, cold weather in particular and prolonged ‘scan’ mode will chew up more power than normal use. The ocular lenses each have a dioptre adjustment providing a clear customisation to the individual’s eyes and both eyecups twist out to varying positions of eye relief from 10-15mm. The rubber eyecups include glare protectors (standard on Steiner binoculars) which help reduce penetrable sunlight between the binoculars and operator’s eyes in bright conditions.
At the business end are the 42mm HD (high definition) objective lenses treated with Predator diamond coating and combined with the 10x magnification they provide a clear 112m field of view (FOV) at 1000m. Importantly, the lenses were fine to look through and although having marginal peripheral blurring were consistent with other high-end binoculars I’ve used. Protecting the objective are rubber lens caps, integrally attached to the binoculars’ armour and while I’m generally not a fan of fiddly lens caps I grew used to them after a few outings.
Reviewing a pair of RF binoculars wouldn’t be complete without a rundown on what some may describe as the boring part (breakdown of electronic components) but for the potential buyer who’d like to know more, read on. I don’t claim to be an expert but my general knowledge on these electronics is translated directly from the supplied user manual.
The Predator LRF binoculars are basic on the outside but brimming with features, all functions easily accessed by pressing the menu select button with the alternate trigger finger on the left of the bridge. Housed within the right-hand lens is the display, six brightness levels enabling a visible view in all light (I chose Level 3 which suited all conditions experienced during testing).
The reticle consists of a centre circle flanked by broken cross-hairs at all four quarters with the verticals slightly smaller in length. To operate the rangefinder simply apply light pressure with the trigger finger to the power on/measure button marked with an arrow on the right of the bridge. A single press opens the display to standby and subsequent depressions while viewing the focused target allows for fast and easy rangefinding from 4m out to 1800m. The centre reticle is supported by diagonal flashing lines during the rangefinding process and disappears once the range is calculated. This arrangement, while appearing to resemble an annoying flashing star, works well once you’re used to it.
By holding down the range button while scanning, ranges are updated at a fast pace of around two calculations per second, this continuous scan feature particularly important for ranging moving objects, updating the hunter on any quarry until it stops for a clear shot. As with most rangefinding devices the Predator LRFs have an integrated inclinometer which calculates the angle of viewing, translating the line of sight (LOS) or angular measurement to horizontal. This is located directly below the reticle and horizontal distance (HD) for angle range compensation, below the LOS reading. Crucially the word ‘End’ is displayed when trying to range an object beyond the binoculars’ capability.
Enhancing the features further is the inclusion of a game setting indicated by a deer’s head which prioritises ranging a game animal instead of a tree or rock in close proximity to the target, a welcome feature particularly for long-range targets and from my experience during field testing wasn’t just a gimmick.
Whenever I field test a product of particular technology, sometimes acquainting myself with a new piece of electronic optical equipment can be a challenge due to manufacturers’ varying designs and features though I can say without any hesitation that familiarising with the new LRFs was a breeze.
Armed with knowledge from the user manual, those electronic features were immediately apparent from the moment I raised the binos to my eyes, clarity of the HD lens providing a crystal-clear image in all conditions and rangefinding capabilities available at the touch of button. Using my non-master index finger to control the menu, I settled on the desired features including metre/yard, display brightness, angle compensation and animal (buck) priority setting, my trigger finger easily working the rangefinding button as I scanned numerous hills and vegetation in search of game.
I had the fortune of viewing a lone fallow deer grazing the hills for a late afternoon feed. The wet conditions were dismal but I easily ranged the deer at 600m and the quality Steiner lenses enabled clear identification in the low light, confirming a young buck with small antlers. He hung around for me to enjoy watching his undisturbed feeding time and long enough to take photos with my spotting scope adapter.
Some may prefer regular binoculars for hunting but once you’ve tried a pair of rangefinders it’s hard to argue against that in-built convenience. LRF may mean laser rangefinder but for these Steiner Predators I suggest LRF also stands for ‘Long Range Find’. These are the best long-distance rangefinders I’ve used so far, due to the ease at which they calculate distances freehand to almost 1800m in poor conditions.
I believe Steiner have raised the bar for hunting binocular design and their Predator 10×42 LRFs are the real deal for those after high-quality binos with the added convenience of a built-in laser rangefinder all combined in a sleek design. Backed by Steiner’s ‘heritage warranty’ and competitively priced at $2099 (at time of writing), the Predator LRF 10x42s are absolute value for money. More at www.berettaaustralia.com.au.