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Are 12 power binoculars the ultimate glassing setup?

12 power Vortex Razor HD binoculars on tripod

All photo credits: Brady Miller

Last year, I outlined why carrying multiple optics are essential for locating more mule deer. In that article, I outlined the pros and cons of certain optic setups while, at the same time, staying consistent with the importance of carrying at least two or, even, three pairs of optics. If you need a refresher, you can check out that article here.

A few things have changed in my glassing setup since that article. Those optic systems worked great for me—phenomenal actually—and I’m sure you know by now that I’m a gear junkie through and through. But, at the same time, I’m always looking to gain an edge on a hunt. Prior to 2017, I had become accustomed to carrying everything and the kitchen sink when it came to optics (after all, I was cutting severe ounces in other areas to accommodate my optics).

Fast forward to 2018, after a full season of experimenting. I was hesitant on this new setup at first because, in the past, the more optics seemed better for the type of hunts I was doing. After more than one season of testing, I truly believe that I have finally found the system that minimizes weight, yet doesn’t sacrifice on power and clarity.

The ultimate backcountry binocular power

After more than a full season behind this new setup, I feel like 12 power binoculars are the way to go for any backcountry type hunt. By backcountry, I’m referring to any hunt where you are looking to save weight. This could be a grueling weekend hunt where you’re planning on leaving work at 5 p.m. on a Friday, driving through the night and then hiking at 2 a.m. to beat the morning sunrise, to a hunt that encompasses seven to nine days in the mountains of Colorado.

Then at the same time, I feel like these are a huge advantage on more relaxing hunts like day trips from a hotel.

The pros of 12 power binoculars

Glassing for deer with Vortex 12 power binoculars

By running this setup, I’ve been able to cut roughly 3.25 pounds (53.06 oz) from my backpack. I switched from running my 15x56 binos, 10x42 binos and a spotting scope to just the 12x50 binos and spotting scope. These weight savings are definitely felt after a few days of hiking.

Hand holding with the 12s

Vortex binoculars in Marsupial bino pack

12s are still a great binocular for hand holding. During the 2017 season, I ran my 12s in a medium size Marsupial Bino Harness. They fit just fine and actually are even a little lighter than the Zeiss Victory SF 10x42s I had been running in the past. The Vortex Razor HD 12x50s are 29.20 oz compared to 34.23 oz of the Zeiss.

When hand holding these binoculars I enjoyed the extra magnification over the 10s I normally carried in my bino harness. I use the binos in my chest harness systems for a multitude of situations when making a stalk or quickly trying to assess stalking routes, animal movements while making a stalk, etc.

Glassing off a tripod with the 12s

12s are still a game changer while glassing off a tripod. Yes, you are giving up some magnification when compared to 15s and, trust me, I loved glassing all day with my 15s. However, I had to ask myself if the weight and bulk were necessary when I carried 10s, 15s, and a spotter and if it made sense to drop down in bino power. Would it make me miss seeing any animals?

Running 12s can lead to finding more deer

Glassing for deer with 12 power binoculars off a tripod

I actually believe that running 12s has lead to me spotting more deer. Crazy, right? Let me explain. When I ran 15s, I got really stubborn and decided to sit in glassing positions for a longer period of time and not move. I would just sit there and glass away with my 15s and spotting scope from that one position. By running 12s, I have found myself moving glassing locations more often. This was due to the slightly lower magnification in the 12s.

However, what this enabled me to do is to get better angles on the terrain I was glassing. I could sit in one spot for two hours and see some deer, but, after you have picked over the terrain for a while, moving a few hundred yards made all the difference in getting a new angle—a new view through the shadows where a big buck might be hiding. It was that moment where I realized that when I had 15s and a giant spotter, I started to rely on them too much like a crutch.

Having the 12s gave me that middle ground power that forced me to move around, which then lead to me spotting way more deer.

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The cons of 12 power binoculars

With all the pros I just listed, you might be asking yourself what cons could these binoculars actually have. Well, the only downfall that I can think of—and while that downfall is very minor— is the extra power at extremely close distances. This could become a burden if you are under 40 yards from an animal and you are trying to quickly locate them in some brush.

Would more power be nice if you’re glassing large landscapes and/or Coues deer hunting?

Sure. More can be better. But like everything, you might just have to personally try out both. 15s can be great if you’re hunting Coues deer and driving from glassing spot to glassing spot with an ATV and have minimum hiking, but again, could you get by with 12s and a spotter?

Are they worth the switch?

Vortex Razor HD 12x50 binoculars

The answer to that question lies in your future needs and what you currently own. If I was to do it all over again, I would purchase a pair of 12s and I would love carrying them in mountain situations when weight is of the essence. Then, at the same time, I would still enjoy running these on weekend hunts or even situations when I am hunting close to my truck or out of a hotel.

The extra power doesn’t impede glassing with just your hands and maybe if you owned a pair of 12s you would finally see what you might have been missing after you mount them to a tripod.

Whatever brand of optic you select, I know you will be one step closer to having an incredible hunt. And remember…you can’t hunt, what you can’t see.

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Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 7 months ago on 07-01-2019 12:21:16 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Hey Bill. Honestly, I personally don't think there is a substitute for a spotting scope. There's nothing more frustrating than glassing up an animal with binos, and then hiking all the way over to the animal and it was not what you expected. Which is why I will always carry a spotter with me.

Antelope are very hard to judge in my opinion, if you're looking for any antelope, you could get by using just binoculars. Your 10x42 binoculars will easily be able to pick up antelope.

In regards to a ewe tag...having a ewe tag is a very nervous thing. I've been on three different ewe bighorn hunts in Nevada and I'm always the one who is on my spotter constantly checking over the sheep to make sure it isn't an immature ram. This is a hunt where I feel a spotter is a necessity!

Now, with all that said, because you already have 10x42 binoculars, I think that having Vortex 12s or 15s on a tripod is a game changer! If you are not concerned with weight, having 12s or 15s with you will open the door to some serious glassing techniques. I'm personally still in love with my 12s, but I do take my 15s out occasionally and I really enjoy looking through them off a tripod for long periods of time.

At the end of the day, if you do pick up 12s, I do feel that you will soon use them so much that they will replace your 10x42s. The extra magnification has grown on me.

Hope that helps to some degree. Happy to answer any other questions. Congrats on pulling the Nevada tags!

Bill D. - posted 8 months ago on 06-27-2019 04:18:49 pm
OK and CO

Do you thoughts on this change any, Brady et al, if one is already using 10x42 binos in a harness and would like a higher power pair of binos to use off a tripod instead of carrying a spotter away from the truck? I have Buck antelope and ewe desert sheep hunts this Fall, both in Nevada, and I’m thinking the extra weight of a spotter, especially for a ewe hunt, might not be worth it. Since I already have 10x42 Vortex as my main binoculars, I’m considering a larger pair of 12x or 15x Vortex for use on a tripod. A good idea, or I’ll-advised?

jeremy a. - posted 1 year ago on 06-18-2018 02:17:29 pm
Albuquerque/Grants, NM

Great article! I went to the 12x50 swaro el’s Just because I too felt like I get the best of both worlds of a 15 and a 10.

Nicholas K. - posted 1 year ago on 06-18-2018 09:30:03 am
Quarryville, PA

Great article. Justification for me to keep buying new things. Have a pair of 10×50 BX3's. Now I need the 12's.

John B. - posted 1 year ago on 06-18-2018 09:06:02 am

12X binoculars are the most powerful binos that most guys can hand hold. After you focus them, slide your hands to the ends of the objective barrels and pull your elbows in toward your chest... you just formed a "mini-tripod". Try it... It works! A quality pair of 12's are a joy to use... Leica, Zeiss or Swaro are my favorites!

Frank C. - posted 1 year ago on 06-18-2018 06:33:32 am

Nice article! It validates an opinion I've had for a long time. I've been using 12x50's for all most 20 years. A few years back I upgraded to a Loupuld bx3. There is no weight penalty any more over 10x40. I've also never had a issue with them fitting into a bino harness. I started using them on my tripod and since that trip a few years back I've never carried my spotter backpacking again. In fact my spotter never leaves my truck! Glassing hand held in thick timber takes some getting used to but is really no big deal. The worst thing about 12x50's is glassing up a deer shed. You think you found a giant untill you walk up to it and it's just another average deer shed!

Chris S. - posted 1 year ago on 06-16-2018 05:35:25 pm

I just went through all this last week trying to decide between getting a good set of 10x42s or 12x50s since I have a decent set of 8x's but don't have a spotting scope. Decided I was better off taking my 8x's, 12x50s, and a tripod to the field. Can use the 8xs on stalks and 12x's the rest of the time.

Vance W. - posted 1 year ago on 06-15-2018 01:35:40 pm
Anthem AZ

I went through the same exercise last year to trim some optics weight. Kind'a came up with the same result as the article. I went from a pair of 15x56, 10x42 and a 20-60x65 spotter down to a 12x50 bino and a 12-40x60 spotter. I dropped 2.9lbs out of my pack and I don't feel like I lost any fidelity in my glassing setup. I used this setup last year for Coues deer in AZ and felt like I saw more deer more quickly with my 12s versus my 15s. I think for my eyes the brighter 12s work better. Now, if I was hunting tight country in trees or brush I think I'd swap the binos and spotter for a good set of 8x42s.

Also, to answer Clint below, mounting any bino on a tripod is going to give you a lot of advantages over just hand holding. A lot of Coues hunters will use 8x42s early in the AM on tripods to spot moving deer quickly. I've used 10s on a tripod and its pretty good.

SETH D. - posted 1 year ago on 06-14-2018 11:08:07 am
Sunny New Mexico

@Kenneth B. Waidmannsheil! I will do just that. I guess I thought at $500ish with a good guarantee it was worth trying.

I had forgot that I had a pair of Pentax porro-prisms in 20x60 or something like that a long time ago. Of course Porros are generally easy to make well (unless you are Steiner), and they were great on a big Bogen tripod for backyard astronomy, and looking for mule deer on the mountain behind my house. I really think it is a good solution. One of my Swiss hunting buddies has a pair of 10x42 Leica Geovids the new double hinge model. I wish someone would make a 12x42 with really high end glass. His Geovids are as heavier than my Minox 8x56, and my Vortex 1500 yard LRF. That and the bino chest pack hasn't really caught on here so that weight is hanging from his neck. He's a 35 year 6'6 farmer, so I doubt it is killing him.

I have been looking for a pair of used 20x60 Zeiss image stabilized binos for a steal forever. I looked a couple of months ago and most of them new are 7000 Euros, and about the same US. I am kind of scared of buying used ones, because I think there is a huge knock off market for them.

Canon also makes a 15x and maybe 20x IS, but the IS is electronic and not mechanical. The Zeiss rep told me they still make them because they actually sell quite a few every year.

Kenneth B. - posted 1 year ago on 06-14-2018 09:15:35 am

Wie geht's Seth? I will be interested to hear how you get on with you Vortex 15x56s, as I am giving a lot of thought to whether I get a spotting scope to accompany my Swaro 10x42s OR I get apair of 'tripod glassing' binos to go with my 'regular' binos.
Thanks in advance.
Good luck and good hunting!

michael w. - posted 1 year ago on 06-14-2018 07:07:53 am
Benton, AR

Great article. I debated last year between 10 and 12 knockers as I was purchasing new ones and could only afford 1 pair at the time. I went with 10 for checking out things up close in lots of trees and brush. I hunt the south mostly and only get out west maybe twice a year. The 10 still gets the job done for me in the west in open country.

SETH D. - posted 1 year ago on 06-14-2018 05:38:12 am
Sunny New Mexico

So here I am a few weeks ago sitting in my little German tree stand as 2 roe bucks fed about 180 yards away. 8x56 is the traditional German optic for all hunting outside of the Alps. So I have a pair, the newest Minox 8x56, and they are decent glass.

Bottom line, I can't discern a really good buck from an average buck at much over 200 yards. So I ordered a pair of 10x50's that still haven't showed up from my German dealer, and then ordered a pair of 15x56 Vortex Vultures last week that I expect to have in the morning.

More glass is more glass. 12 is great, and I think the option of not carrying a pair of big eyes for a lot of Western hunting is ideal. Maybe not on sheep or coues deer, but I would agree for mule deer.

These 15x56 Vortex are my first foray into big eyes. I once had a pair of Steiner Senators in 20x60 or something like that they were optically brilliant but not collumnated and sucked. So they got give as a gift to my professional hunter in Namibia.

If I like these I am going to buy a pair of Meopta, Swarovski or Vortex 15-18x56's.

Clint S. - posted 1 year ago on 06-14-2018 03:46:56 am

Can the same case be for 10x's on a tripod?