Burris Signature Select 8x42 Binoculars

By Randy Wakeman

Burris Signature Select 8x42
Illustration courtesy of Burris Optics.

Redesigned for 2006, the Burris Signature Select binoculars have upped the bar. They will appeal to amateur astronomers, hunters, bird watchers and others looking for a super-bright field optic.

The tested unit was the 8 x 42 model. It is 5.5 inches long and weighs in at a remarkable 22 ounces, nearly 10% weight savings over the previous Burris Signature Select version.

The new Signature Select binoculars retain the popular pop-off objective caps that stay with the unit. You'll not be wondering where these caps were left. Improvements include a twist-up lens cap array and diopter center focus that adjusts quickly and then locks even faster. A silver coated prism (vs. aluminum) boosts image quality. The new prism coating on the Bak4 prisms, coupled with the extremely close-tolerance high polish and lens alignment, seems to be part of what allows these binoculars to excel.

As you might expect from quality field binoculars, they are built to be tough: waterproof, fog proof, and backed by a lifetime warranty. All of the high definition lens elements are fully multi-coated. When it comes to higher-end binoculars, I see no reason these days to accept less than a lifetime warranty, although a few of the most expensive sets have only ten year or so guarantees.

In use the light weight and comfort of these binoculars can be fully appreciated. They feel great in the hands and a comparison of other binoculars' respective weights helps to reveal why. The closest I've found to the Burris Signature in weight, in a similar configuration, is the $978 magnesium chassis Bushnell Elite 8x43 at 23 ounces. All prices used in this comparison are current Spring 2006 street prices, and all from the same source.

Looking at other 8 x 42 binos: $748 Kahles units come in at 26.1 ounces, $1644 Leica Ultravids are 27 ounces, $949 Leupold Golden Rings are 29.5 ounces, $1199 Nikon Premier LXL units are 28 ounces, $739 Steiner Predator Premiers are 24 ounces, $899 Zeiss Conquests (8x40) are 29 ounces, and the $1449 Zeiss Victory FL units are 26.5 ounces. Even the $1499 Swarovski EL (8x32) units, despite the smaller objective lenses, are 21.5 ounces, showing no discernible weight difference.

Weight is mentioned, as that invariably seems to be the very first comment when anyone handles a set of these binoculars. If there is any "vague guideline," weight above about 25 ounces seems to make a noticeable difference after a long day of glassing in the field.

Ergonomics are also important, of course, which is why it is a good idea to handle a set of binoculars before you buy. It is, in fact, requisite. The Burris Signature Select has tapered barrels and an easy to grip semi-pebbled, rubberized chassis covering. This feels great in my hands, particularly when compared to the hard, slick shell materials often found on other binoculars.

Eye relief is an important consideration for eyeglass wearers, with 15mm considered the minimum required. The Burris has a tad over 19mm, so that issue is adroitly addressed. The "close focus" distance is ten feet. That seems to cover all but the insect watchers, and is not relevant to hunting applications.

The exit pupil is 5.25mm. The exit pupil is the "light pencil" that contains our image, the light that reaches our eyes, the thing that we view. An exit pupil of 5mm is the suggested minimum for low light work (7mm for use in full darkness).

Professional guides live through their eyes, and opinions are hardly unanimously held on who makes the "best" field binoculars. Zeiss, Swarovski, and Leica have been consistently very highly rated, perhaps due to a wee tiny bit of snob appeal, but certainly also because they are excellent product as well. The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, said something to the effect that "price is what you pay, value is what you get." That holds true in many things, inclusive of hunting binoculars.

The Burris Signature Select scores big in every conceivable way I can score a binocular. Their light weight makes them a dream to carry and use. The two-position (one stop in the middle) twist up eye caps easily gave me full field of view when wearing glasses and when not. I really liked the attached objective covers, but if you don't they are easily removed. Their tapered barrels and armored exterior combine to make them a joy to handle.

They are as bright as any set of binoculars I've ever looked through, displaying both excellent contrast and accurate color fidelity. The focus is easy, fast, and smooth to use, and instantly locks. Testing at night, the low-light performance was superb. I could see what could not be picked-up at all with other sets.

While testing the Burris Signature Selects, I kept asking myself, "how can it possibly be that I'm not looking through a $1000 set of optics?" They are that good, and street priced at what can only be considered a fabulous value at $429. To call them a "best buy" seems inadequate, for even if they were priced at 50% higher I'd still say the same.

When you get to a certain level in optic quality, it dwarfs the level the human eye can reliably differentiate from. Burris has exceeded that level. That seems to be the case with the best of today's binoculars, and is perhaps why even the very serious binocular students seldom agree.

90% light transmission is the practical limit that has been achieved in binoculars. Most of the better hunting binoculars have light transmission figures in that arena, most all roof prism units feature phase-corrected Bak4 prisms, are shockproof, fog proof and waterproof. Finite optic differences may be documented on the optical bench, but perhaps not by the unaided human eye. The tested Burris Signature Select binocular is even adequate for the demanding purposes of amateur astronomers. The important differences between binoculars, given that the top technical standards have been achieved, are weight, personal fit, feel and handling considerations, smooth controls and ease of use.

If you haven't guessed by now, I feel the new Burris Signature Select units hit on all cylinders. I believe you'll find them to be an outstanding product. After you've tried them for yourself, you'll be a believer as well. Burris is bound to sell boatloads of these new "Selects"; their value is tremendous and they have my congratulations.

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Copyright 2006, 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.