Nikon Monarch 5 vs Bushnell Legend Ultra HD vs Leupold BX-2 Cascades vs Carson 3D ED Binoculars — Do we have a winner?


September 2012

Update note: The Monarch 5 in this article was significantly upgraded by Nikon to use extra-low dispersion glass for its objective lenses, additional dielectric reflective coatings for its prisms, etc. We refer to that binocular as the Monarch 5 ED to distinguish it from the previous Monarch 5 model.

After Bushnell and Nikon introduced new models to compete in various price categories, we wondered which binoculars would be better than the others in the same close price range. The Leupold Cascade binoculars have been good optical instruments — how would they compare to the newcomers?

From the conversations we were privy to, we weren't the only ones wondering! To satisfy our curiosity, we decided to compare these four binoculars. It's fair to say that we like each of them and we feel that each one will serve its owner admirably and respectably. We enjoy using each of them. But what are product reviews for if not to help us get the best product for our money? So we set about doing a comparison with the ultimate goal of if we could choose one of them as providing a higher performance to cost ratio.

So… When comparing the Nikon Monarch 5 vs Bushnell Legend Ultra HD or the Leupold BX-2 Cascades binoculars vs Bushnell Ultra Legend HD, which is better? (Remember, outside of the USA the Nikon Monarch 5 is known as the Monarch DCF MK3.)

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD vs Nikon Monarch 5 vs Leupold BX-2 Cascades vs Carson 3D ED

We collected our notes from our initial reviews and then took all four of the binoculars into the field to compare performances. In some instances, we re-tested indoors for the field of view sharpness, distortion, or resolution. As we made progress, we were intrigued as similarities and differences became clear.

To make it more interesting, we included the Carson 3D ED binocular. It's a relatively new entry by the Carson Optical company signaling a change in the company's objectives. Previously, Carson binoculars tended to be sourced from what was available from manufacturers. Beginning with about their XM model, they began charting a course to become a leader in quality binoculars by engineering their own designs and having them manufactured.

Having scanned Carson's binocular offerings in the past, we might not have bought a Carson binocular except for extended conversations with Rich Cameron, president of Carson Optics, at the 2012 Shot Show. You might say the Carson binocular is the wild card in this comparison review.

Bear in mind that some of the factors may go to a particular binocular and yet not be weighted as "make or break" factors. We'll let you know what we consider particularly significant when we get there. Each of the binoculars used for this comparison were 10X42 configurations so that they would be as directly comparable as possible.

Of course, this comparison article is only intended to compare and contrast what we feel are important or critical differences between the binoculars. As such, it does not repeat much of what is included in the individual reviews for these instruments. We urge you to read the individual reviews before making a decision, as there may be something there with particular applicability to your circumstances.

Consideration of the Design and Body

Chassis Comparison

If comparing the Leupold Cascade binoculars vs Bushnell Legend Ultra HD, those companies use magnesium when designing and building the chassis. Magnesium costs a manufacturer more to use than some alternatives and our optical technician friends prefer working with metal frames. It's a point in favor of the Leupold Cascades and Bushnell Legend binoculars.

On the other hand, Nikon has been producing binoculars for years using polycarbonate. If comparing the Nikon Monarch 5 vs Carson 3D ED binoculars, they're both using polycarbonate. We've not had any problems with the polycarbonate binoculars we've owned and used over the years.

Now to Compare the Eyecups and Eye Relief

The main thing that bothers us about eyecups is when they "self-adjust." That is to say that they change settings during use, without our wanting them to do so. We have no complaints against any of the eyecups used on these four binoculars.

The next thing that can be frustrating is if the eyecups don't adjust to provide appropriate eye relief for a user. This can result in not being able to see the entire field of view or having portions of the view "blacked out." While the Monarch 5 had two intermediate settings and the Legend Ultra HD had one for greater individuality, we experienced no problems with the usability of any of the four.

Focus Mechanism Speed

None of the four were faster than a single revolution of the focus wheel to go from close focus to infinity. In our opinion, taking less than a single revolution of the focus wheel is nearly enough to put a binocular out of competition by itself. If you've never missed an important view because you were fiddling with an overly fast focus while trying to achieve a fine focus, we hope you continue to have a sublime life.

So how did our comparison models do in this lineup?

If matching the Nikon Monarch 5 vs Carson 3D ED binoculars, they both come in at just under 1.25 revolutions to go from close focus to infinity.

The Bushnell Legend Ultra HD comes in at 1.5 revolutions from nearest to furthest away.

A direct comparison with the Leupold Cascade binoculars is more difficult unless we're willing to simply consider that they use two full revolutions of the focus wheel from close focus to infinity. In practice, if you seldom use the full revolution for distances between close focus and 20ft (6.1m), you'll probably find Cascades just fine. Otherwise, you'll give your fingers a work out.

In this area, we would give the nod to the Nikon Monarch 5 and Carson 3D ED binoculars. It's a good area to be aware of and it may make a significant difference for an individual.

Optical Configuration and Performance

This is where we felt we were getting into significant performance areas.

Field of View

We look for and prefer a good, usably wide field of view because we can see so much more with it. (We don't go to extremes, however, and go with a super-wide field of view that provides a poor quality image.) You'll never know what you missed if you don't see it because of a narrow field of view.

When using the Leupold Cascade binoculars we felt as though we're looking through a relatively small tube with a restricted view. With a 5.1° angular field of view or 267ft (89m) at 1,000yds (1,000m), they had the smallest field of view of the four. This is a significant factor to us. It can be overcome with enough significant positives, of course.

The Nikon Monarch 5 provided a step up from the Cascades with a 5.5° angular field of view or 288ft (96m) at 1,000yds (1,000m). It's better, certainly, but we don't consider a difference of about 21ft (7m) at 1,000yd (1,000m) to be significant. If you think about it, would you notice that much of a change at such a distance very easily?

The fields of view for the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD (340ft/113m) and the Carson 3D ED (314ft/105m) are similar with only 26ft (8m) difference between them. When we get up over 30ft and around 40-50ft (12-15m) the difference is more apparent at those distances, but we're hesitant to put a lot of emphasis on a 26ft (8m) difference.

Regarding a wider field of view, we see the nod going to the Bushnell Ultra Legend HD and Carson 3D ED binoculars. If all other things were equal, we would ordinarily go with a wider field of view. Let's keep going and see what else we learn….

Nikon Monarch 5, Bushenll Legend Ultra HD, Leupold BX-2 Cascades and Carson 3D ED Comparison

How do the Optical Sweet Spots Compare?

To arrive at comparable usable areas of the field of view, we multiplied the linear field of view measured in feet at 1,000 yards by the percentage of usable area before details began to perceptibly soften and the percentage at which they began to blur or get fuzzy. We feel the area between the two measurements is not optimal for identifying details (typically deteriorating the further one goes from the center), but is still usable for noticing activity to which you may want to shift your focus.

These arithmetic calculations suggested that the Carson 3D ED and Leupold Cascade binoculars provide the greatest usable field of view before images begin to blur. The Bushnell Legend Ultra HD's smaller sweet spot, noted in our review of that binocular, puts it behind the Nikon Monarch 5 for the amount of area before details begin to soften, but ahead of the Monarch 5 for usable area before details begin to blur.

In discussing the sweet spot, however, one needs to consider a binocular's overall resolution of details. We use a device called a doubler to ensure that we get an appropriate understanding of the binocular's abilities without considering any personal eyesight limitations we might have. A doubler typically doubles the magnification power of the binocular one barrel at a time. Because this also magnifies any optical problems (such as chromatic aberration) that a binocular might have, it is excellent for learning about an optic's strengths and weaknesses.

We found that our Carson 3D ED, Bushnell Legend Ultra HD, and Leupold Cascade binoculars were about equal in their ability to resolve details and noticeably better than the Nikon Monarch 5. In this case that doesn't mean that the Monarch 5 is not good at resolving details, it means that it's average and the others are somewhat above average. We consider this to be an important aspect in comparing the optics of these four binoculars.

In a number of respects, the comparison held a fairly tight field of competitors at this point!

How does the Rendering of Colors Compare?

The Bushnell Legend's view seems more white and brighter than the Cascades' or the Monarch 5. The color rendering on each of the three was otherwise neutral with our test units and appeared natural.

The Carson 3D ED appears to have a slightly warm bias — although it doesn't seem as though it is strong enough to be noticeable unless quickly comparing it with a binocular lacking a bias. The warm bias seems to us as though it supports a greater sense of contrast in objects viewed.

We consider the transmission of light to be a significant factor in comparing these binoculars.

We can't leave our consideration of colors without a note about chromatic aberration. In this regard, we were interested to find our Carson 3D ED tested better than any of the other binoculars we've reviewed in its price range and even better than a number which cost more! The Legend and Cascades were about the same and hit the middle ground in this comparison. Our copy of the Monarch 5 showed a noticeably greater amount of chromatic aberration than the other three binoculars.

The contrast and chromatic aberration are significant factors since they enter into the quality of a binocular's view.

Which One was Best for Low Light Viewing?

Testing to see how well binoculars compare in low light is usually one of our favorite processes since we enjoy seeing the wildlife activity as it changes between day and night. This time was no different.

We started out by seeing how these selected binoculars compared with the strong sunlight as it approached the horizon (which we talk about below). After sunset we started comparing the various instruments as darkness settled in on us.

Our Cascades binocular was the first one to be put away when it became obvious that we weren't seeing things with it. We just weren't able to distinguish the deer and other animals at distances for which the other binoculars were still providing views.

As darkness continued to creep in around us, the next binocular to go into the backpack was our Monarch 5.

The next binocular to be put into the pack by the enveloping darkness was our Legend Ultra HD. That left only the Carson 3D ED to use as the deer started coming in to see why we hadn't surrendered the territory for their customary nighttime grazing. The Carson binocular was still giving good, detailed images, too!

This was a strong point in favor of the Carson binocular.

How did they Compare in Viewing Strong Light?

This was a difficult area to test. Not only does the sun change its angle relative to the horizon relatively quickly during sunrish/sunset, but the binoculars were relatively close in their performances. The rapidness of the sun changing its angle from the horizon meant that comparisons needed to be made with a binocular in each hand and quick shifts between them.

Our Monarch 5 seemed to excel in both sunset and sunrise control of strong light as we viewed images along the horizons. Following that was our 3D ED from Carson Optical, followed by our Cascades and finally our Legend Ultra HD.

Performance in Providing a Three-dimensional Effect

This was also a difficult area to assess with many comparisons being made. The idea is to see which set of optics provides the greatest distance over which objects can be viewed clearly and with detail. In other words, we focused on an image and then determined the nearest and furthest objects that were clear (the ones nearer and further than the object for which we had set the focus).

For as much as we like our Legend Ultra HD, it seemed to have the least depth of view in this test. Our Monarch 5 and Cascades binoculars seemed to be very close in their depth of view performance, leading us to settle on their being approximately comparable. Our Carson 3D ED seemed to come out of it with the greatest depth of view.

Having good depth of view can make a difference in what you're able to see and makes a difference in how much of a workout your fingers get in adjusting the focus. Greater depth of view generally translates into a more enjoyable experience.

What Comes With It?

The Carson 3D ED and Bushnell Legend Ultra HD both included a shoulder harness with the binocular. Both are quite serviceable and seem durable. We felt we could enjoy using the Carson design more if the weather were warm and humid.

Each of the binoculars comes with a case and neck strap — you'll want to read the individual reviews to see what else might be included.

Nikon Monarch 5 vs Bushenll Legend Ultra HD


Favoring one of these binoculars over the others is somewhat difficult since we've enjoyed using and feel comfortable recommending each of them. Naturally, each has its different characteristics.

If we had to choose only one to take home at the end of the day, however, we would choose our Carson 3D ED binocular. In our opinion, its strengths in a good field of view with significant, usable sweet spot, very low chromatic aberration, above average resolution of details, depth of view and performance under low light conditions overcome any weaknesses.

If, for whatever reason, we were not able to get a Carson 3D ED, we would grab the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD as the runner-up and thoroughly enjoy it. It's also a very good binocular in our opinion and we feel it will give good service.

The Monarch 5 and Cascades are also good binoculars and some experienced binocular users might reasonably conclude their needs would indicate either of these binoculars to be better for the particular circumstances and priorities they're encountering. Buying a binocular can be a bit like buying a shoe — the more you know about the shoes and what you intend to use them for, the more precisely focused your purchase will be. For the rest of us, the 3D ED and Legend Ultra HD will be money well spent.

You'll find the best prices for the Carson 3D ED at (USA) and

This link will take you directly to the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD at If you live in the UK or South Africa, you'll want to check this direct link to the Legend Ultra HD at

If you're looking for the Nikon Monarch 5, look no further than Amazon's excellent price If you live in South Africa or the UK you'll be able to find its equivalent, the Monarch DCF MK3 at this link.

If the Leupold Cascades caught your eye, you'll want to check them out with this direct link to them at

If you've only read this comparison review so far, you'll want to get the full picture for any specific one of these binoculars by reading the individual reviews for the Carson 3D ED, Bushnell Legend Ultra HD, Nikon Monarch 5, and Leupold Cascades BX-2.

Manufacturer's Specifications for 10X42 Configuration Carson 3D ED Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Leupold BX-2 Cascades Nikon Monarch 5
Prism Coating Dielectric Silver Alloy Silver Alloy Dielectric
Field of View At 1,000yd/m in ft/m 314/105 340/113 267/89 288/96
Close Focus 9.8/3.0 6.5/1.9 9.9/3.0 8.2/2.5
Exit Pupil 4.2 4.2 4.2 4.2
Eye Relief 16.0 15.2 16.0 18.4
Weight in oz/g 23.2/658 22.5/638 23.1/655 21.9/621
Interpupillary Distance 58-72 58.2-75.1 58-72 56-72

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