Inexpensive, light-weight and small, these binoculars do what they were made for really well. After six months of frequent use by several volunteers conducting butterfly surveys, these have proven to be less delicate than feared. My wife (5′ 3″) and I (6’4″) seldom find anything that is the right size for both of us, but these do the trick. Even our nephew (8 years old) liked using them.
Save your receipt; these come with Pentax’s terrific “worry-free” warranty: as long as you buy it in the USA from an authorized dealer AND you are the original owner, PENTAX repairs and replaces it for you!. And they only charge $19.95 for shipping and handling fees. I think these will make outstanding gifts for younger naturalists, who might be expected to make some careless mistakes, like scratching the lenses by cleaning them with them with a dirty t-shirt. Or, anyone who routinely moves from air-conditioning into a moist humid environment (which can cause damage from condensation forming inside binoculars).
Given their low price (widely available from $70 to $100), this is a good gift idea for a young naturalist, or someone who is not too “hard core” to use such inexpensive binoculars.
Most butterfly-watchers use binoculars designed for birdwatching and this creates some issues. Comparing the two activities, birding usually benefits from higher magnification: most birds won’t permit a close approach. Birding binoculars usually feature images magnified at least 7 or 8 times. For some, even this is not enough; birders often use spotting scopes with much greater magnification.
But magnification has its price, and I am not just referring to the cost in dollars. Many “birding” binoculars cannot focus on objects closer than about 3 to 5 yards, and those that can usually cost more. Also, greater magnification narrows your field of view.
By contrast, butterfly-watchers seldom require as much magnification as birders do; most butterflies can be approached within a few yards, often closer. And the “reduced field of view” effect, produced by increasing magnification, is further amplified as you get closer to your subject. This makes it harder to find your target, especially if it is small and flitting from flower to flower.
Another comparison: some of the best birding occurs at dawn and dusk, in low-light best suited for larger (heavier) objective lenses (for decent light-gathering), also helpful in shadows. Butterfly watching is much more “civilized” than birding, seldom requiring observers be out before 9AM. Most butterflies prefer sunny habitats, though there are some woodland species.
I also like the Papilios quick-disconnect neck strap, and (soft) case with belt loop. Keeping the now-strapless Papilios on my hip, I avoid the entanglement issues that come up when I carry both camera and binoculars.
Though I found the Papilios produced a bright, sharp image, many other binoculars will surpass the Papilios for sharpness, brightness, color rendering and durability, especially if your subjects are at least 6 feet away. But most cost at least four times as much ($250 and up). Nothing I tried could match the Papilios ability to focus on butterflies closer that 5 or 6 feet.
Why do you need to get THAT close, you ask. Well, look up species like the cassius blue butterfly, or the gray hairstreak, and you learn that distinguishing between these and similar species requires that you see the number and position of tiny dots, lines, or eyelash-like “hairs” on their wings. So, if you really need to know what you are looking at, close focus is a real advantage when looking at butterflies, or at small insects, flowers or anything else that is just out of reach.
After buying the Pentax Papilios 6 x 21 binoculars, I had an opportunity to compare them to a pair of 8.5×21 Papilios. As I suspected, the greater magnification reduced the field of view even more, making it even harder to find and stay with small butterflies (such as blues, hairstreaks and skippers), especially if they moved. The whole point of having close-focus binoculars is that you expect to get CLOSE to the target, so a narrow field of view can be a handicap. Small butterflies and those with erratic flight habits are hard enough to track with any binoculars, especially at close range. I prefer the lower magnification 6.5 x 21 Papilios, but once a butterfly perches, either of the two Papilios will allow you to examine it in detail without requiring that you risk disturbing it.
These are a decent pair of very compact binoculars, with unmatched close-focus ability, and an awesome warranty, at an unheard of price.