The Steiner Merlin 8×42 Binoculars were designed with birdwatchers in mind with the help from Steiner Optics’ championship birding team as well as experts from the American Birding Association, but they are in fact an excellent option as a versatile binocular in general.
They have all the requirements of an excellent binocular designed for bird watching: Excellent optics, true to the Steiner tradition and the viewer can expect excellent clarity, resolution and color fidelity. The roof prisms are made from BaK-4 optical glass and ground to perfection. The optical surfaces are fully multi-coated and the prisms phase-corrected, as can be expected from a binocular of good quality.
An 8×42 is regarded as the best combination for versatile binoculars and birding in particular, rendering good light gathering ability in low light conditions, as expressed in the Twilight factor of 18.33 and the relative brightness of 27.6. Obviously, an 8×56 or a 9×63 will outperform the 8×42 in this regard, but this comes at a price: The bigger the aperture, the heavier the instrument.
Since birders usually spend long ours out in the great outdoors, birding binoculars should also be quite compact and lightweight, which is the case with the Merlin 8×42: Its weight of 737 gm./26 oz. is slightly above par, but with dimensions of 6.4 x 2.2 x 5.2 inches (16 x 6 x 13 cm.) (folded) it is quite compact for a full size binocular.
Ruggedness has always been a feature of all Steiner binoculars and the Merlin is no exception. Its rubber armored exterior makes them very robust and durable, able to withstand the abuses associated with the great outdoors; it also provides a good non-slip grip.
The unique earth-tone dark brown color exterior was especially formulated to not reflect light, which is what is needed when viewing wildlife in general and birds in particular.
Birding binoculars have to be 100% weatherproof, which means fully water- and fogproof. This is the Merlin indeed – guaranteed.
Focusing with the Merlin is a pleasure. It uses Steiner’s “fast-focus”-system, which is smooth, quick and precise. You need two full turns of the focus wheel to go from close focus to infinity.
Its close focus distance of 2.1 m./6.9 ft. is very handy and also better than the average of full size binoculars.
The Merlin comes with a carry case, rainguard (lids for lenses) and a neck strap and is tripod adapted, but the tripod is not included.
The eye relief of 19 mm. is above average, so wearers of eyeglasses won’t have a problem using the Merlin 8×42. The soft rubber eyecup can be folded down completely for wearers of eyeglasses.
The eyecups are shaped so as prevent distracting sidelight.
Finally, Steiner’s trust in this product is confirmed by the 10 years limited warranty going with it.
(An interesting feature of all Steiner binoculars is the fact that the adjustable diopter is on the left eyepiece, whereas most other makes prefer to use the right eyepiece for this.)
The Steiner 8×42 Merlin has to compete with other excellent binoculars in the same price range, but it is indeed up to the challenge.