History of the SkyHawk binocular
We’re sometimes asked about the SkyHawk 9600 binocular, which SkyHawk claims to be a competitor to the Oberwerk BT-100-45. So here is a brief history for those that are curious.
Oberwerk entered the optics business in 1999, SkyHawk Optics was founded in 2002. At that time, a number of companies, including SkyHawk, were importing what is now known as the Oberwerk 25/40×100 Long-Range Observation binocular. SkyHawk called their binocular the model 9401.
In 2003, Oberwerk was offered a smaller and lighter 20/40×100 by another Chinese optics manufacturer. This new model was an unabashed clone of the highly-regarded Japanese-made Miyauchi Bj-100iB, but had a retail price that was less than half that of the Miyauchi, and also much less than our 25/40×100 Long-Range Observation binocular. From an optical-quality standpoint, it was quite good considering the low price, but not in any way a competitive threat to our higher-end products. So we proceeded with a small order of 12 units to fill a price gap in our product line. Shortly after adding this new binocular to the Oberwerk website, we were approached by Miyauchi, who was understandably “not flattered” that a Chinese company had copied the design of their binocular. They asked us not to carry this product, and in exchange, they would give Oberwerk lowest-possible dealer pricing on Miyauchi products. We accepted Miyauchi’s offer, and removed it from our product line. It was a fortuitous decision- within a year we became the largest Miyauchi dealer in the USA, out-selling all other dealers combined for 7 straight years, until Miyauchi ceased production in 2010.
A few years after the Miyauchi agreement, Oberwerk formed a joint-venture with Yunnan Opto-Electronics, and obtained exclusive rights to the 25/40×100 Long-Range Observation Binocular for North America. This left SkyHawk in a dilemma, as they could no longer obtain the model 9401. So they introduced the “new and improved“ model 9600, which- you guessed it- was the Miyauchi clone that we discontinued at Miyauchi’s request. Some minor cosmetic changes were made, and 25x eyepieces were supplied instead of 20x. But the big change was the price- which was now at same level as the higher-end Oberwerk products! To justify this, SkyHawk created a wildly-inaccurate comparison between the 9600 and the Oberwerk BT-100-45 on their website.
First of all, most people considering the SkyHawk are looking for a binocular for terrestrial viewing, typically those that own a home with a great view. For that customer, we normally recommend the Oberwerk 25/40×100 Long-Range Observation Binocular, as most people prefer the convenience of its dual-magnification eyepiece turrets. If you are interested in binocular astronomy as well as terrestrial observation, we’d recommend our BT-100-45, as it utilizes industry-standard 1.25″ telescope eyepieces and accessories, plus the 45-degree viewing makes looking up easier on the neck. A Google search for reviews of the Oberwerk BT-100-45 will return numerous favorable reviews on astronomy-oriented websites. The same search for the SkyHawk returns zero reviews on astronomy-oriented websites- draw your own conclusions. So for those looking at the SkyHawk, a better comparison would be to our 25/40×100 Long-Range Observation binocular.
SkyHawk 9600 vs. Oberwerk 25/40×100 Long-Range Observation binocular
Let’s start with the one advantage the SkyHawk has over the Oberwerk- it’s smaller and lighter. The Skyhawk weighs 17 lbs., the Oberwerk weighs 28 lbs. The Oberwerk, with built-in glare shield, is 24″ long, the SkyHawk, with glare shields extended, is 20″. But there are very good reasons why the Oberwerk is heavier and longer. First of all, the optical glass used in the Oberwerk’s massive prisms and triplet objectives weighs twice as much as the glass used in the SkyHawk, which has doublet objectives and much smaller prisms (prisms are the costliest components of a binocular). The Oberwerk has a 24% greater focal length (f/6.2 vs. f/5.0), which combined with triplet objectives, minimizes chromatic aberration, especially so at higher magnifications. At 40x, the Oberwerk shows a well-corrected image, while false-color fringing is very evident in the SkyHawk’s 40x view.
Some of the Oberwerk’s extra weight is due to the eyepiece turret system, which allows switching between 25x and 40x simply by rotating the eyepiece turrets. With the SkyHawk, the 25x and 40x eyepieces must be removed and exchanged, which then requires refocusing. With the Oberwerk, because each eyepiece contains its own helical focuser, magnification can be switched back and forth without refocusing.
Another reason the Oberwerk is heavier is because the altitude (tilt up/down) bearing is built into the binocular. This mount, combined with the azimuth (left/right) bearing built into the tripod, allows for very smooth fluid movement of the binocular simply by grasping the large prisms housings and steering it in any direction.
SkyHawk claims that “Oberwerk charges $354 extra for a pan-head”? We’ve never offered a pan-head for our 25/40×100 Long-Range or BT-100-45 models, nor would you want one, as our included mounts are simple and effective.
We also include a 7×50 finder-scope, which helps to quickly get the binocular pointed at your target. A finder is not included (or available) with the SkyHawk.
Speaking of mounts, consider the tripod. Oberwerk includes the American-made TR3 hardwood tripod, available in 3 hardwood choices and 4 stain colors. It’s exceptionally sturdy and simply gorgeous- yet occupies no more floor space than the SkyHawk tripod. While we don’t include an inexpensive dolly, the Italian-made Manfrotto Auto-Dolly is available an option. The black low-profile Auto-Dolly doesn’t noticeably detract from the tripod’s beauty, and the single foot-pedal locking mechanism is pretty slick.
Look closely at the SkyHawk tripod, and you’ll see that it actually is the Oberwerk 5000 Series tripod/head (which we pair with our lower-priced binoculars). However the 5000 is customized for us with longer leg sections for more height range and also greater strength (with more leg section overlap). Our 5000 is also black-anodized (instead of silver) and comes with two quick-release plates and dual panning handles. SkyHawk charges $475 for their tripod, while our improved 5000 tripod is $279.
While we’re comparing prices, check out the SkyHawk 4600 7×50 binocular, with built-in compass, which sells for $495. If it also looks familiar, that’s because it’s the 7x version of the Oberwerk 10×50 Ultra. While Oberwerk declined the compass, the more powerful Ultra sells for just $289. Noticing a pattern?
With all that said, the 9600 is not a bad binocular- after all, it was briefly in our product line. In fact it could be a compelling choice- at the right price. But comparing features, ease-of-use, performance, appearance and value- which would you rather have in your living room?
Finally, consider service and support. When you place an order with Oberwerk, either online or by phone, your binocular will be set up, tested and tuned to perfection, including alignment on our collimator, and your custom hardwood tripod will be assembled- all at our facility in Dayton, Ohio, typically within 24 hours. If something happens to your binocular long after it’s out of warranty, only Oberwerk has the knowledge, experience, specialized tools and complete parts inventory, to handle any type of repair or rebuild.