Kowa’s BD binocular range are aimed at serious birders and outdoor enthusiasts. These are a considerable investment for anyone, but they earn their five-star rating in this test for a number of reasons. Most importantly is the quality and brightness of the image that nudged the Kowa BD32-8XD ahead of their nearest rival. On top of that you get a beautifully engineered pair of binoculars that are exceptionally easy to use and adjust in the field. And in addition to being perfect for bird watching and general outdoor use, they offer the closest focus in our test and this is going to be an important selling point for some people. Light, compact and great looks round off a really impressive package.
Exceptionally close focus: ideal for butterflies
The brightest image on offer in this test
Not ideal for general adventure use
Casual users may not notice a big difference in general conditions
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Straight out of the box, the Kowa BD32-8XD binoculars have a rather distinctive design aesthetic that sets them apart from others in our reviews. The carry case is simple and functional, but out of the bag they feel exceptionally good to hold. The central hinge makes them easy to adjust and the focus wheel glides beautifully.
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• RRP: $399 (US)/£369 (UK)
• Size: 122mm length; 118.5mm width 4.8in length; 4.6in width
• Weight: 560g/19.75oz
• Magnification: 8
• Objective diameter: 32mm
• Field of view at 1000m: 131m
• Close focusing distance: 1.5m/4.9ft
In the field
The month that I spent using this pair of binoculars offered some real highlights, not least a small flock of goldcrests foraging high in a tree as I was walking alongside the River Frome. I heard them first: their contact call that keeps the flock together – a sound reminiscent of a number of squeaky bicycle wheels.
I trained the Kowa BD32-8XD binoculars on the higher branches of a riverside ash to see them flitting around the branches. It was an overcast day and while I saw little more than silhouettes, these Kowas made it easy for me to focus quickly and keep this active little flock in view.
I’d taken them along the banks of the River Avon a few weeks before on a miserably rainy day to test them against the similarly-priced Zeiss Terras. Training each pair on a group of gulls on the opposite bank – in the company of with a very experienced bird-watching friend – we both agreed that the Kowas delivered a brighter and clearer image in those conditions.
A lot of my summer cycling, running and walking is punctuated with breaks to chase butterflies or sets out on a mission to watch birds. These binoculars would tick all my requirements. The exceptionally close focus to around 1.5m is just what I need to get a better view of butterflies and invertebrates. The fact they are relatively light and compact makes it easy to add them to a bike pack or even my sturdy mountain marathon running belt. And on top of that, the smooth focus wheel and excellent engineering makes them a joy to use.
In our test Japanese optics just nudge ahead of German engineering to make Kowa’s binoculars our best in test. They are most definitely worth adding to your shortlist and trying out.
Former Editorial Development Director for Lonely Planet, editor of Trail and BBC Wildlife magazine, and editor-in-chief of Trail Running magazine, Matt got the outdoor bug as a teen on gruelling UK Ten Tors events around Dartmoor. He has hitch-hiked to Egypt, cycled through India, enjoyed the delights of the High Atlas, slept on volcanoes while living in Central America, climbed in the Alps and tackled some of Scotland’s really big routes, from Tower Ridge and the Cuillin to the Aonach Eagach. He’s got a passion for butterflies and ukuleles. If you see him in a campfire situation… approach with caution.