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Focusing binoculars offer viewers instant, clear vision.


Ever notice how technological advancements run in cycles? A product type can languish for years, with only cosmetic changes or minor improvements. Then, bam! There's a major breakthrough, and everyone in the industry jumps on it.

With binoculars, such revolutions have been few and far between. Coating lenses was one such innovation. Center focusing another. And, of course, the introduction of roof prisms, which led the way for compact and pocket sized binoculars, took the industry by storm.

Until recently, that was it.

Most other binocular "advances" were basically cosmetic. Continuing trends like rubber armoring, camo patterns, and smaller, lighter bodies helped binocular sales, to be sure. But there was nothing there to truly capture large market shares. More importantly, there was little offered that would inspire an end user, happy with the binoculars he already owned, to upgrade. Compacts, perhaps, were the only area where such shifts took place to any large degree, because hunters especially fell in love with the idea of binoculars that were small and lightweight. Spectator sports enthusiasts also jumped on compacts, for the same reasons. For the guy in the stands, they make sense. For hunters, compacts are, at best, a compromise because most of them do not have high enough relative brightness factors to be the best choice during dawn and dusk periods -- the times when hunters most need their field glasses.

In fact, Crosman's Dawn & Dusk binoculars, in the exclusive 5x32 size, doubled its sales volume in one year, because they were a better compromise than the typical compacts.

Be that as it may, it was only the widespread introduction of compact binoculars that ever encouraged consumers to put their current binoculars away for good.

Last year, Jason Empire changed all that, by introducing its Perma Focus 2000 binoculars. These have no focusing mechanism at all. Instead, sophisticated optics work with the human eye's natural focusing ability.

Keep in mind that these are not autofocusing. Some dealers have that erroneous impression. This is understandable, because the Perma-Focus 2000 were introduced during the hoopla surrounding autofocus photographic equipment. And most of the time, binoculars and camera equipment are sold through the same distribution channels. So it's a logical mistake.

What we have, instead, is essentially riflescope technology applied to binoculars. The eye uses the optics to improve its job. The binoculars themselves are always in focus, for anybody with normal or corrected vision. In seven power, the focus distance ranges from 40 feet to infinity.

"What a boon this is to sportsmen." points out Jason president Don Addy. No more fiddling with focus knobs while that trophy animal moves out of range. No more recalibrating as you pass binoculars back and forth in a duck blind. No more fumbling around at all. Just put the binoculars to your eyes, and everything from about 40 feet to infinity is in focus."

In fact, almost all outdoor and spectator sports enthusiasts found these glasses ideal. The primary exception are birders, who need binoculars that will focus much closer than 40 feet. That problem, as we'll see, is being worked on.

Jason initially announced four versions of its always-in-focus glasses: two 7x35s, a 10x50, and a compact model. The compact, due to manufacturing problems which have since been solved, never hit the streets at all. And, despite the fact that sales reps from some other binocular companies bad-mouthed the idea, demand for the other Perma Focus 2000 models far outstripped either Jason's projections or its ability to supply the marketplace. The glasses actually were on allocation.

No slouches when it comes to reacting to market pressures, the optics industry has jumped on this innovation like fleas on a hound.

As you should know, there are only four real players in the popularly priced end of binoculars. They are Bushnell, Jason Empire, Tasco, and K-Mart K-Mart (K-Mart is in there because they are a direct importer of optics, bringing in large numbers of binoculars). Leica, Leupold, Minolta, Nikon, Pentax, Redfield. Simmons, Swarovski, and still others, while offering binoculars, do not have enough sales volume or share of market to be counted among the top players. This does not mean they do not have high quality products. Only that their competitive stance positions them more strongly in other optics areas and/or price ranges.

Three out of the four big boys, however, now offer at least one always focused binocular model. A few other optics marketers already have such binoculars, or are planning them. Chances are, even the smaller guys have to offer this feature soon, or lose significant shares of their markets.

Jason, the leader of the focus free pack, now has 12 models, and is the only company with a complete line of permanently in focus glasses. Included in the line-up are standard binoculars in seven-and ten-power; four compact models--including what the company claims is the world's smallest seven-power binocular; the newer high-style "H" body binocular; and waterproof versions -- including one with a built-in tracking compass, and a 7x42 marine version that actually floats. In addition, many of these designs are available in camo as well as rubber armoring.

Meanwhile, other binocular companies are playing catch-up with permanently focused binoculars of their own; albeit on a smaller scale than Jason.

Bushnell, for instance, is striving for a more contemporary look, has replaced the Sportview line (traditionally its popular priced end) with the new Spectator Series. These binoculars feature more up-to-date body styling, and a charcoal grey non-slip neoprene covering.

The Spectator Series is being offered in 13 models. Included is the 7x35 Spectator-Plus, a focus-free system. Slightly different than Jason's approach, the Spectator-Plus has two focus ranges. In normal position, the binoculars are in "near" focus. Pressing two buttons located under the eyecup shifts the focus range to the "infinity" setting. The buttons are placed in such a way that focus shifting can be done without taking the glasses from your eyes.

Tasco is planning a series of permanent focus binoculars, but will introduce them on a phased basis throughout the year.

First off the line for Tasco, in its "InFocus" line, are two compact models -- a 7x21mm, and a 9x25mm. Sometime prior to Father's Day, Tasco expects to introduce a 7x35mm wide angle, and a 10x50mm wide angle. Then; from mid-June through the end of the year, they'll be bringing out a 7x35mm standard eight-and ten-power compacts, and a 6-12 power zoom. Bob Scott, Tasco's Director of Sales, describes the eight-and ten-power compacts as "roof prism of a different design." Chances are, this means the stylistic "H" body.

Also in the works for Tasco is a dual focus system, similar to Bushnell's, but Tasco doesn't want to release details at this time.

Simmons is offering in their new catalog for '89 a series of Focus-Free binoculars--one set for the Auto Racing crowd; and the other set for the outdoor sportsmen.

Both series are similar except the "Racing Binocs" have a red racing stripe and red "Racing Binocs" logo on the two sizes that are available: 8x40mm and 10x40mm (both are wide-angle and Focus-Free), the sportsmen's models are available in three models: 8x40mm, 10x40mm and 12x50mm (all in wide-angle and Focus-Free).

Finally, there is Steiner's "No Focus" binoculars. These binoculars, according to the company, are in sharp focus from 20 yards to infinity. That makes them the least effective for close-in viewing, as the other entries run from about 30 to 40 feet. The Steiner's minimum focus point is 60 feet -- a full one-third further out.

Tagged "Military Marine" binoculars, Steiner is offering them in 11 models. But at prices ranging to $970, there is little popularly-priced about them. Two models that carry a suggested retail price of just under $300, come closest.

One feature offered by Steiner alone is taken right from riflescope technology. These binoculars can be eyesight calibrated one time. Steiner says this feature is for those with less than perfect eyesight, who can set the binoculars initially for their own eyesight. After that, no more focusing is required. That's exactly what you do with a scope.

While permanent focus binoculars are the hot items so far, as technology is concerned, there is even more important news effecting your business.

The optics industry will be making a more concerted effort to work with sporting goods retailers than ever before. They are realizing, perhaps belatedly, that you are an ideal outlet.

As Tasco's Bob Scott points out, "we see tremendous potential in the sporting goods trade for binocular business. This is something the sporting goods dealer never has concentrated on."

According to Scott, and others in the industry, there is sales and profit opportunities for the dealer that have been seriously overlooked. "The dealer can take a tidy profit from binocular business. Even a market for multiple purchases, with different binoculars being bought for different uses."

Commenting on Bushnell's new Spectator series, David Dess, Vice-President of Marketing, notes that "The outdoor enthusiast, whether an active participant or passive spectator, makes a fashion/lifestyle statement by purchasing quality gear with name brand recognition. A binocular, now part of that statement, continues to serve its primary purpose of vision enhancement, but it has also become an accessory for the outdoor enthusiast."

It is only logical that the outdoor customer looks to the specialty dealer for that quality gear.

Thus, expect to see more optics salesmen this year. They'll be bringing you lots of educational and training materials, new point of purchase displays, and even videos in order to help you understand binoculars, and do a better job selling them.

PHOTO : Jason Empire's Focus 2000 are offered in four camouflage models -- all adapted to meet the

PHOTO : needs of today's hunters.

PHOTO : Ranging's Dawn & Dusk compact binoculars doubled its sales volume in one year, when they

PHOTO : first came out.

PHOTO : Pentax's new UCF 8x24 and 10x24 binoculars use a revolutionary new dual-axis, single-body

PHOTO : housing design, and synchronized movements of the left and right prisms -- but are not

PHOTO : "non-focusing."

PHOTO : Pentax's PCF Binoculars are available in 7x35, 8x40, 7x50, 10x50 and 12x50 (although they

PHOTO : are center-focusing).

PHOTO : Nikon's new 6-12x24 Letour Zoom is the world's first high quality roof prism zoom, with a

PHOTO : smooth 2:1 zoom control (it is not, however, non-focusing).

PHOTO : Bushnell's Spectator Series offers a Focus-Free 7x35mm in a charcoal gray rubber armored

PHOTO : model.

PHOTO : Bushnell's Spectator Series Binoculars

PHOTO : Tasco's first entry into the non-focusing binoculars come in the form of their InFocus

PHOTO : 7x21mm Compact Model.
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Author:Elliott, Barbara; Elliott, Brook
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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