The Nikon Action EX 12x50 are binoculars with a long heritage. Manufactured for most of the century, Nikon's Action Extreme (or EX) Series consists of six porro prism models, of which the Nikon Action EX 12x50 are one of the standouts. Designed to offer bright images and a relatively wide field of view, their large 50mm objective lenses that help them make them as versatile as possible. However, the killer feature here is that 12x magnification, which delivers something different when compared to most pairs of large binoculars. Add a waterproof design and a tough build and the Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars are some of the best binoculars for birdwatching, and to some extent, astronomy, too.
So how do they compare to the rest of today's best binoculars? Here's our Nikon Action EX 12x50 review.
Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars review: price and release date
The Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars cost around UK£179 / US$190 / AU$254 and originally went on sale in 2004. It's one of six models in Nikon's Action EX range, the others being Action EX 10X50, Action EX 16X50, Action EX 7X35, Action EX 7X50 and Action EX 8X40.
Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars review: design and features
The Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars use the porro prism optical design. This tried and tested optical technique uses two glass prisms to direct the light through an L-shaped optical engine.
Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars specs
Objective diameter: 50mm
Field of view at 1000m: 96 metres
Closest focusing distance: 7m / 23 ft
Eye relief: 16.1mm / 0.63"
Weight: 1kg / 36.8oz
Dimensions: 179 x 196 x 68mm
It creates a clear, bright image and, crucially, is affordable to manufacture – hence the relatively low price of the Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars when compared to other binoculars offering lots of magnification. However, the porro prism design does mean that these binoculars are bigger and heavier than a lot of rivals. In the world of binoculars it's always a trade-off between magnification and weight.
Nikon uses high quality BaK4 glass prisms to maximise light transmission, multilayer-coated lenses and aspherical eyepiece lenses are there to lessen image distortion. The rubber eyecups can be clicked into three separate positions, with plenty of eye relief on offer for users wearing spectacles.
Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars review: build and handling
The Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars have as tough a build quality as you're likely to find for the money. Wider and longer than most all-round binoculars because of their porro prism design and their 12x magnification, the Nikon Action EX 12x50's barrels and optical engine have a black rubber covering that's textured, so easy to hold in all kinds of weather. It also adds a degree of shock-proofing should you bump or even drop them.
Crucially, that tough covering also helps add waterproofing. You can actually submerse the Nikon Action EX 12x50 in up to 1 m / 3.3ft. of water for about five minutes. The barrels themselves are nitrogen-purged, which makes them fog-proof as well as waterproof. That's going to be helpful in avoiding condensation, which can easily happen when moving them between indoors and outdoors.
Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars review: performance
The Nikon Action EX 12x50 is powerful. 12x might not seem much of a difference to standard 10x magnification, but not only does it make them a much better option for long distance observations, but it also adds significantly to their weight. At 1kg / 36.8oz it's a significant weight to hold for long periods. Consequently we did have to employ a few tricks of the trade to get the most out of them. The easiest way to keep the Nikon Action EX 12x50 completely stable is to use them with a tripod.
With a metal L-type tripod adapter fixed to the Nikon Action EX 12x50 we were able to keep the view super-steady while studying a few double clusters and galaxies, though it's obviously a bit of a pain to use binoculars in this way. You can lessen the stooping by employing a very tall tripod that you can stand underneath. It's also worth bearing in mind that the closest objects you can focus on when using the Nikon Action EX 12x50 is 7m / 23 ft., so they're clearly designed for long distance observations.
Image-wise they consistently impress, with one caveat. Extra power means less light transmission, but I found images to be bright enough both during the day and also in low light conditions. There's plenty of depth of field, with images crisp, colourful and contrasty. There is a slight drop off of detail towards the edge of the field of view, though it's only something we noticed when stargazing, during which the Nikon Action EX 12x50's brightness and clarity impressed within an immersive night sky.
Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars review: alternatives to consider
The Nikon Action EX 12x50 porro prism binoculars are a relatively rare example of a 12x50 product, but there are others to choose from. The Celestron Nature DX ED 12x50 binoculars may seem virtually identical, but they use the more compact roof prism design that also allows a closer focus – just 2m / 6.5ft distant. For a slightly different specification, which is also more affordable and ideal for all-round use, consider the Celestron UpClose G2 10x50 porro prism binoculars.
Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars review: verdict
Slightly more powerful than most large binoculars and nicely priced, the Nikon Action EX 12x50 are impressive and good value. We had a lot of success with these binoculars during the night and day, but they are more substantial than most rivals. Their extra bulk may put a lot of potential users off, but the 12x magnification is worth it if you want to get closer-in to distant objects and animals.
Be prepared for the fact that you may need to use them on a tripod to get steady views (and note you will also need to purchase an L-shaped tripod adaptor). Either way, the Nikon Action EX 12x50's rugged design, waterproofing and extra power appear to come with no significant extra financial outlay compared to similar 10x50 binoculars.