LocaCarnivore Test and Review: Nikon ACULON A211 Zoom Binoculars

Without warning, I could no longer focus or zoom my Nikon binoculars.  Under most circumstances, this wouldn't amount to a major crisis.  On an elk hunt, it is a crisis.  A big one.  I jerked the optics away from my face and uttered a few (okay, a few hundred) colorful metaphors and set about to diagnose and fix the problem.  No such luck.  Done--stick fork in them.

This particular pair had been a steadfast companion for decades.  Hunt after hunt, through heat, sub-zero cold, rain, and snow, they had done yeoman's work.  The variable magnification, which had seemed a good idea when I bought them, proved a bit fiddly over the years, but in the main they had always worked.  Until they didn't.

Two is One, One is None

I tend to carry spares for critical equipment on hunts.  In this case, my wife and I had to share a compact, 8 power Bushnell pair.  Older than the Nikons, they had been the reason why I bought the larger, 10-22x50 full-size ones in the first place.  We limped through the hunt with the tiny, blurry back-ups.  Never saw an elk (nothing new, there).

Nikon Steps Up

The next day, I called Nikon customer service.  I thought it a long shot given my bino's age.  They probably had been discontinued long ago, but perhaps Nikon could steer me to an affordable replacement.  The cheerful person on the phone's other end didn't hesitate to give me the news.  Yes, Nikon still made this model.  Yes, it had been updated and improved.  Yes, my old ones had Nikon's standard life-time warranty.  Yes, they'd either repair or replace mine free if I sent them in.

Going Postal

I boxed them with care and rushed to the local post office.  Then things got weird.  Five days later, with fabled Kafka-esque efficiency, the U.S. Postal Service assured me the binos were secure in the central Los Angeles USPS facility.  The carrier had dropped by Nikon's repair depot--on a Saturday.  Turns out, Nikon takes the weekends off, so the the stalwart courier, with neither sleet not dark of night to contend with, took them back to the distribution center and plopped them with little concern into the dead letter bin.  Well, tanks fer nuttin', strong letter follows.

If it hadn't been for our local postal clerk going above and beyond, the binos wouldn't have made the three block (THREE BLOCK!) journey from the LA depot to their final destination after a week of hair pulling.

Rising From the Ashes

As Ron White might say, I had to tell you one story to tell you this one.  Once in Nikon's possession, they proclaimed the old pair unfit for service and express shipped ed the latest version back to me (Fed Ex this time, no worries).

Nikon calls this model the ACULON A211.  I guess the all-caps title is to make sure you hear them better over the internet (wink).  I had to admit, these new ones had upped Nikon's game.  The binos are now armored with a rubber-like shell which is gives a much improved grip, wet or dry.  They are conventional poro-prism binoculars so they are on the large side.  Poro-prisms are the best configuration for image clarity and light transmission, though.  The main reason full-sized binos are a bit better than their compact cousins.

Zoom-Zoom and Glass Stuff

The zoom adjustment is still the same tab which juts from beneath the right-hand eye-piece.  It's still as loose as the original version, but it does work.  If you want to use them to scan a general area on the lowest setting (10x), you must always double check the tab hasn't slid further up the power scale while the binos were at your side or in a case.
Problematic "Why-Tech" zoom control and power indicator.

The glass, like on every other Nikon optic I've ever examined, is top notch.  These A211s will transit every last photon available at dawn or dusk to your eye.  They have no distortion or nagging black lines around the perimeter.

The focus wheel is snug and precise.  The power zoom feature does work as advertised.  You can use these on the lowest setting for general observation--what I do 98% of the time.  Set on their max magnification, 22 power, they become an ersatz spotting scope.  Just make sure you have them well braced if you do, because the slightest disturbance will jiggle the image worse than a Cessna in severe turbulence.

Accessorize 'Till You Drop

Unlike the previous version, these new ones came with a modest, yet serviceable, padded case.  It has a wide belt loop on the back, but lacks a critical shoulder strap or top mounted carry handle (strong letter follows).

Nikon includes a web nylon carry strap which attaches with some motor coordination challenges to the binos.  It's better than nothing, but if you carry them on the hunt the way I do, slung over one shoulder with the strap across your chest which hangs the binos below the off-side arm, you'll want a longer one made from leather.  I'm still searching for one.  The nylon web material drags on clothing, especially polar fleece, and makes a loud rubbing noise when you move the binos up to you face.  Not the best when you want a quick, quiet look through thick cover at a paranoid whitetail fifty yards away.

Another nice touch is Nikon now includes a tripod adapter.  Important, if you use the maximum power setting.

We Have Reached A Verdict, Your Honor

Over-all, the Nikon ACULON A211 binocular is best reserved for use in your truck or in a ground blind where their size and weight are a minor concern.  If you're hunting on foot, a compact, fixed 10 power bino would do much better.  Although, if you bring along a light tripod, you can leave the spotting scope at home and just crank the A211s up to 22 power.

These binos try to do too many things at once, in my opinion.  The variable zoom is more "Why-Tech" than high-tech.  It answers a question no one asked, and is this model's Achilles heel.  LocaCarnivore recommends them, but with the above reservations.  You can do better, but you can do far worse.

What We Liked

  • Excellent glass quality
  • Massive light transmission
  • Rubber armor exterior
  • Wide field of view
  • Light for their size
  • Included accessories
  • Wide focus range

What We Didn't Like

  • Why-Tech zoom magnification
  • Carry strap
  • Carry case needs a shoulder strap or handle 

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