Monthly Archives: July 2014

“Inexpensive” Comparative 8×32 Binocular Review

A few months ago I was reading a thread on one of the sub-forums here where SteveC mentioned doing a $250 US and under binocular comparative review. I thought it was a great idea for several reasons so I decided to chip in and do one of my own. Steve and I have a few models in common but we also bring some different models to the table.

For those that aren’t “regulars” here on the forums you might question why we would pick this particular configuration and why this price range. I can’t speak for Steve but from my perspective it captures two very common ingredients in many binocular purchases… price and performance. For most consumers that aren’t binocular aficionados $250 is a great deal of money to spend on something that sees relatively limited use. Even suggesting that they spend $100 on a pair of binoculars might create a gasp or two. So why $250? Well, I think it is fairly commonly accepted that the biggest leap in optical performance that most of us experienced was when we went from bargain basement binoculars up to something in the $200-$300 price range. For many years I believe that most folks considered the $300 price point to be the “serious step-up” in performance. In recent years I think that price point has dropped but in an effort to include as many budget models as possible I felt that the $250 price point was reasonable.

With $250 you can get many of the latest features that were once found on binoculars costing $750-$1000 only a decade or so ago. I am referring to things like dielectric coated prisms, good ergonomics, good close focus and all of it in a compact package.

The next question then is why the 8×32 configuration? A similar discussion came up a few months ago on here. The general consensus is that the 8×42 is the most versatile configuration and thus probably the best seller across the entire binocular market. The 10×42 configuration is most likely the second most popular. My experience leads me to believe that the 8×32 configuration would very likely be 3rd. So, why would I pick the third most popular configuration? Well, up until recently the number of high-performing 8x32s in this price class has been relatively scarce. Sure, there were always a few models but it seems that manufacturers have finally taken notice of the popularity of this configuration and at this price point.

An 8×32 binocular provides a wonderful compromise in terms of optical performance and portability. During regular daylight hours it can be practically indistinguishable in overall performance when compared with an 8×42 from the same product line. Sure the slightly larger exit pupil of the 8×42 does allow your eye to roam a bit more around the image but there are so many more advantages to the 8×32 overall. Most 8×32 units are about 1/3rd shorter and a 1/3rd lighter than similar 8x42s. They also typically have wider fields of view. The price is also, normally, a little less. To continue along that line of thinking, our own pupils only dilate to between 2-4 mm during daylight hours. The exit pupil on an 8×32 mm binocular is 4 mm. The exit pupil with an 8×42 mm binocular is 5.25 mm. That extra 1.25 mm gives very little benefit to the consumer unless you are using the binocular in poor lighting conditions (the first few and last few minutes of light or under very heavy tree canopy).

So why did I choose these particular models? Well, both Celestron and Zen Ray have recently introduced dielectric-coated 8x32s at this price point. Celestron also has an even less expensive phase-coated model included in this review. The Leupold is new to the market and their first 8×32, that I am aware, of at this price point. I chose Opticron’s least expensive 8×32 though they offer another, slightly more expensive model that still fits in the review’s price range. SteveC is reviewing that one so I went with the less expensive alternative. Lastly, I am utilizing the Sightron Blue Sky as my baseline unit to compare the others two. The reason for that is fairly obvious. I have owned quite a few binoculars in a variety of configurations. They come and they go. I have now owned the Sightron for 2 years+ and have zero problems with it either optically or mechanically. I consider it to be the benchmark of relatively inexpensive 8×32 binoculars. The others have a tall order to fill if they are going to compete with that model.

The format of this review is going to be slightly different than many of my previous ones. I am going to provide a synopsis of each individual model first and then a comparative piece at the end. I leave it up to you folks to decide what you put priority in to determine which of these models would suit you personally.

comp

Celestron Trailseeker 8×32:

The Celestron Trailseeker is the first model being reviewed. Advertised specs are listed below:

• Field of view: 409 ft (118m) @ 1000 yards (7.8 degrees) • Eye relief: 15.6 mm (0.69 in)
• Exit pupil: 4 mm (0.16 in) • Near focus: 6.5 ft (1.98 m)
• Interpupillary distance: 56-73 mm (2.2-2.83 in)
• Prism type: BaK-4
• Nitrogen purged: Yes
• Size: 4.8 x 4.8 x 1.9 in (123 x 122 x 48 mm)
• Weight: 16 oz (510 g)

The standard advertised features list includes:
Fully Multi-coated Lenses

Phase Correction

Dielectric Prism Coatings

BaK-4 Prisms

The attractiveness of this model for most individuals focuses around its compact size and weight coupled with the introduction of dielectric coatings on the roof prism. Prior to the introduction of this model, and the Zen Ray ZRS, there wasn’t a truly compact “budget” 8×32 model on the market that offered dielectric prism coatings. Yes, the Vixen Foresta 8×32 roof and the Theron Optics Wapiti LT 8×32 both offered these features but they are not quite as light or as compact as the Celestron and Zen Ray.

Optical performance:

As always I would like to start with the optical performance of the Celestron. When placing this binocular to my eyes the one characteristic that immediately jumps out at me is the binoculars’ centerfield performance. The image inside of the sweet spot is tack sharp. I would have a hard time imagining anyone (meaning you Typo ) having an issue with this binocular in this area. Color representation appears very neutral across the entire image and apparent contrast is excellent particularly within the sweet spot.
So, there has to be a catch, right? Not another “$200” 32 mm roof prism binocular that offers all of these features. Well, there is. I did mention “those optical performance areas within the sweet spot”. The sweet spot appears to be the one area where I would find some fault with this particular model. My estimation of the size of the sweet spot would probably hover between 50-60% of the field of view. It is what I would consider smaller than average based on my experiences with a variety of 8×32 models at different price points.

The area outside of the sweet spot is out of focus as would be expected. Most of this appears to be the result of field curvature as I can refocus the next 30% of the image to almost “perfect focus” but not quite. That area that continues to remain out of focus is most likely the result of some astigmatism. The outer 10% can be refocused just as sharp as the sweet spot. Please do keep in mind that the field of view being discussed is 409 feet. I consider that wide for an 8×32 model at this price point when you consider the average to be about 390 feet.

The sweet spot size of this model and subsequent off-axis performance may or may not be acceptable to you personally. It is going to depend entirely on your individual preferences. In practice I did not find a problem optically when using this binocular. There was some flare under difficult lighting situations but I did not find it excessive.

Ergonomics/Functionality:

As you can see in the pictures this binocular offers a traditional, single hinge design. The central hinge is located very close to the true center of the binocular (eyecups collapsed) and is very short in length. This offers two advantages. For one, with typical hand positioning my pinky comfortably rests on the front of the barrel without coming even close to hanging out in front of the objective lens. Second, the focusing knob is positioned farther forward than some other models which not only gives my rather large nose plenty of room but also makes it easier for my index finger to rest naturally and comfortably on it.

The focusing knob itself is average in size and textured with large “ribbing” found on many models. Focusing tension is very good. There isn’t any backlash in the feel. Close focus to infinity occurs in just a little over one full turn of the focusing knob. Focusing direction is counterclockwise. Depth of focus is good in my opinion with perfect sharpness achieved gradually. In other words it is difficult to overshoot it.

The rubber armoring is ever so slightly textured providing a relatively smooth feel to the binocular. Coupling this with the 16 ounce weight makes the model feel potentially lighter than it actually is.

The rotating eyecups have one intermediate position between fully collapsed and fully extended and have the feel of most binoculars at this price point…..functional but not exceptional. Diopter adjustment is located in the common location around the right eyepiece.

Conclusion:
Considering the binocular as a whole I think it is certainly worth consideration. Its light physical weight and compact size coupled with its very good center of field performance will make it an attractive package to many individuals.

Celestron Nature DX 8×32:

Advertised Specs are as follows:
• Field of view: 388 ft @ 1000 yards (7.4 degrees) • Eye relief: 17.5 mm
• Exit pupil: 4 mm • Near focus: 6.5 ft
• Interpupillary distance: 56-72 mm
• Prism type: BaK-4
• Nitrogen purged: Yes
• Size: 5 x 4.9 x 1.8 in (123 x 122 x 48 mm)
• Weight: 18 oz (510 g)

The advertised features list includes:
- Fully-multicoated glass surfaces
- Phase coated prisms
- Bak-4 prisms

The two key features that make this unit attractive on paper are the price, around $120 US and the use of phase coating on the roof prisms. Several years ago a few companies introduced phase coated 8×42 models at this price point but 8x32s with the same features are extremely few and far between. This model is slightly larger and heavier than the previously reviewed Trailseeker model. The field of view is also slightly narrower but with the benefit of slightly longer eye relief.

Optically:

This binocular is not a standout in any one area. Apparent sharpness is acceptable but not “very good” or “great”. Apparent brightness is average. CA control inside the sweet spot is acceptable with a gradual worsening as one moves closer to the edge. The size of the sweet spot hovers around the 60% mark with an exceptionally gradual transition as one moves further out into the field of view. That is actually one of the strong points of this binocular in my opinion. Though just about every other model in this review is as sharp if not sharper than the Nature DX the transition from the sweet spot to the area off axis is only bettered by the Sightron and possibly the Opticron. As a result the image appears very relaxed to my eyes. I actually enjoy using this unit at times despite that it really does not stand out in any area.

Ergonomics/Mechanics

From an ergonomic perspective I enjoy holding and using this model. I have fairly large hands but not overly so. Some of the models being reviewed here are a bit too small for me to call perfect though many other individuals might find them ideal. The size of Nature DX is bigger than all of the others except for the Sightron.

Mechanics/Quality Control:

Close focus is notably better than advertised and falls right around 3 feet. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. Focusing speed is average at just under 1.5 turns. Focusing tension is acceptable in my opinion with just a bit too much “stickiness” to make it ideal.
The eyecups have two intermediate positions between fully collapsed and fully extended. They have a more solid feel than many of the eyecup designs found at or even slightly above this price point.
The Nature DX features rubber armoring over the entire binocular giving it a very solid feel. Green reflective multicoating is evident on both the ocular and objective lenses. I did not note any quality control issues while inspecting the binocular internally or externally.


Conclusion:

Though this model is probably on the bottom of the list for overall optical performance I believe it would still be a solid choice for someone who has budget as a primary concern but who still values the benefits of the 8×32 configuration.

The Opticron Oregon 8×32

Listed specs as per the Opticron USA website:

• Field of view: 423 ft (141 m)@ 1000 yards (8.1 degrees)
• Eye relief: 15 mm
• Exit pupil: 4 mm
• Near focus: 5.9 ft
• Interpupillary distance: 58-73 mm
• Prism type: BaK-4
• Size: 4.3 x 4.6 inches
- Weight : 18.2 ounces

This model attracted me because of its shorter length and its sub-$200 price tag. It is not phase coated and in direct comparison to the more expensive Discovery model the difference in contrast and apparent brightness is fairly obvious.

Optical Performance:

Despite the lack of phase-coating on this model I find the image quality rather appealing. The field of view is notably wide at 423 feet and the transition from the sweet spot (about 65%) to off axis is gradual. Off axis performance appears to be a typical combination of field curvature and astigmatism. I do not find the severity of it to be detrimental to the overall viewing experience provided by this binocular. Some models I have tried have a wonderfully sharp and relatively generous sweet spot but your eyes are almost forced to focus on it because off-axis performance is so poor in comparison. That is not the case with the Oregon. I find the image very relaxed and natural as a result.

Apparent sharpness is good but not great or excellent. The interesting part is I don’t find it objectionable at all. In direct comparison to some other models though the apparent sharpness does not look “as good” as I would prefer. One other issue I would like to mention is color bias. Again, standing on its own, I do not note any color bias. The overall brightness appears a little dimmer than I would prefer which can lead some individuals to reference it as a color bias. On one occasion though, in bright lighting conditions, I did notice a bit of a green-yellow bias to the image. I have not noted it since.

Ergonomics/Mechanics:

As I had mentioned a bit earlier I actually find the shorter body design of the Oregon enjoyable. The width of the barrels gives me enough area to get a solid purchase. The relatively wide, though streamlined focusing knob adds to the desirability of this binoculars’ ergonomics.

The focusing tension is fairly stiff but not unmanageable on this particular unit. Close focusing distance appears to be accurately advertised at 6 feet. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. Focusing speed is fast at just under 2/3rds of a turn from close focus to infinity. With many binoculars I might find this objectionable but since the focusing tension is fairly tight I have not found an issue with overshooting perfect focus.

The eyecup design appears fairly reliable. There is only one intermediate setting between fully collapsed and fully extended but since there is considerable tension in the design I have not run into any issues with the eyecups collapsing unexpectedly. I did not note any issues with un-blackened surfaces internally though stray light may be somewhat of an issue under certain lighting conditions as the objective lenses are situated fairly close to the edge of the barrel. Ocular and objective lens reflections are a combination of purple and green.

Conclusion:

This binocular appeals to me for a variety of reasons. The shape and overall feel of this model are definitely contributing factors. The comfortably sized sweet spot and gradual transition off axis also plays a large part. For the $150 or so price that these sell for I definitely think they are worthy of consideration if budget and size are your primary concerns.

Leupold Acadia 8×32

Listed specs are as follows:

• Field of view: 394 ft @ 1000 yards (7.5 degrees) • Eye relief: 15 mm
• Exit pupil: 4 mm • Near focus: 5 ft
• Interpupillary distance: 57-71 mm
• Prism type: BaK-4
• Nitrogen purged: Yes
• Size: 5 x 4.9 x 1.8 in (123 x 122 x 48 mm)
- Weight: 18 oz

Advertised features include:

Leopold’s Multicoat-4 on all lens surfaces
Phase coated prisms
Waterproof and Nitrogen Purged

There is a specific reason I placed the Leopold’s next in the review. It will be evident shortly. Leupold has had the Acadia model in its lineup for several years. To the best of my knowledge the Acadia is/was Leupold’s least expensive phase-coated roof prism. The 8×32 is the most recent configuration introduced in this model line.

Ergonomics/Mechanics:

I decided to switch the order of evaluation with this particular model. The reason is fairly simple. After receiving it I realized that the body is almost a perfect twin of the Opticron Oregon 8×32 reviewed above. There are slight differences to the texturing and design of the rubber armor but the size, shape and mechanical qualities are all identical. So, everything I mentioned ergonomically and mechanically about the Oregon can be applied here.
Looking down the objective end of each there are some notable differences internally. For one the color of the anti-reflective coatings is different. Where the Opticron was predominantly green with some purple mixed in the Leupold is predominantly amber with a little green highlighted under certain conditions. Second, the Leupold has notably more baffling between the objective lens and prism.

You will also note that there is some difference in terms of the field of view of each model. The Opticron is listed at 8.1 degrees (423 feet) while the Leupold is listed at 7.5 degrees (394 feet). One look at the ocular lenses of each will provide some of the explanation there. The ocular lenses are slightly different. At first glance I almost concluded that one was concave and the other convex slightly. What I realized later was the shape and style of the eyecups was providing a bit of an optical illusion. What I can say is that the Leupold’s ocular lens diameter is slightly wider than that of the Opticron’s.

The close focusing distance is approximately 6 feet. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. Focusing tension is very good with just the right amount of tension to give a sense of control. The focusing speed is fairly fast at approximately ¾ of a turn from close focus to infinity.
The eyecup design is the typical rotate in and out style with one intermediate stop between completely collapsed and completely extended. They have a very solid feel to the mechanism and slide slightly past the intermediate position before sliding back and “locking” in place.

Optical Performance:

As with the ergonomic comparison these two binoculars are more alike than not optically…with some key differences. Those differences are in the areas of apparent brightness, contrast and edge performance. Since the Leupold is phase-coated the image is appreciably brighter and with more contrast. Colors seem to pop a bit more as a result. The difference in ocular lens design does not only affect the field of view, as noted above, but also the center of field and edge performance as well. While I noted a very gradual transition from the sweet spot to off axis in the Opticron the Leupold is slightly more abrupt. Abrupt enough for me to take notice in a side by side comparison. Because of the increased contrast and brightness the apparent sharpness within the sweet spot seems to be a tad better but I have not done any scientific tests with or without a booster to confirm this. It is just an impression. Off axis there seems to be slightly more field curvature and astigmatism which tends to force your eyes to focus more on the center of the image. I do not find it offensive but worth mentioning in comparison to the Oregon. I would estimate the size of the sweet spot to hover around 55-60% of the image.

Conclusion:

From an ergonomic standpoint I find this binocular appealing. The width of the barrels gives my hands enough area to grip despite the fairly short overall length of this model. Optically the binocular is a fair representation of 8×32 binoculars at this price point. I would prefer the sweet spot to be larger with slightly better edge performance but the performance within the sweet spot tends to make up for that to some extent.

Zen Ray ZRS 8×32

Dimension (HxW) 4.7″ (L)x4.4″ (W)
Weatherproofing Waterproof/Fogproof
Magnification 8x
Field of View 409ft/1000yards
Eye Relief 15.6mm
Close Focus 6 ft
Weight 15.5 oz
Interpupilary distance (IPD in mm) 56-73

Listed features include:

Fully-multicoated
Phase Coated
Dielectric Coated
Waterproof/Nitrogen purged

As was discussed on the forums previously this model is very similar to the Celestron Trailseeker mentioned above both externally and optically. The attractiveness of this model for consumers is going to focus around the dielectric prism coating, the physical size of the binocular and its low physical weight.

Optical Performance:

When first placing this binocular up to my eyes I am initially struck by a few optical performance areas. The first is the apparent sharpness. I find it to be above average in this area. I have no difficulty resolving extremely fine details on just about any object that I focus on. Apparent brightness and contrast are also very good. If an individual could look through this binocular without feeling its physical size I have difficulty believing they would note any difference between it and a larger objective model particularly in these two areas. Color bias is ever so slightly warm but not noticeable unless in direct comparison with another model.

The size of the sweet spot appears to be slightly above average compared to the other models so far in this comparison. I would estimate it at being between 70-75%. It is large enough that I don’t feel my eyes being focused on the center of the image. Edge performance appears to be almost entirely field curvature as I can very easily refocus the outer 25-30% of the image with a moderate turn of the focusing knob.

Ergonomics/Mechanics:

Everything noted above ergonomically about the Trailseeker model can be applied here as they are practically identical in every regard. This model is slightly longer than the Opticron/Leupold models but with a narrower barrel. There is plenty of room for my pinky to rest in front of the central hinge with about a half of an inch left over. Focusing knob size and positioning seems close to ideal based on the size of my hand and personal preferences.
Close focusing distance is a little longer than either the Leupold or Opticron at just a little bit under 7 feet. Focusing tension is, again, very good but a little bit “looser” than either of the two models discussed immediately above. Focusing speed is average in my opinion as it takes 1.25 turns to go from close focus to infinity.

The eyecup design is the typical rotate in/out style. There is one intermediate setting between fully collapsed and fully extended. The eyecups are designed in such a way to allow the surface of the ocular lens to sit at very close to the same level as the edge of the eyecup. The result is plenty of usable eye relief.

As mentioned in the introduction of this model one of its key selling points is its low physical weight. The listed weight of the binocular is 16 oz. With the average weight of many 8x32s being around 21-22 ounces this is a noticeable improvement in this area. There are one or two models that are lighter but they can sacrifice features or performance in other areas such as field of view or full rubber armoring.

Conclusion:
This binocular has several unique features that make it attractive to potential consumers. The light physical weight, the dielectric prism coating and the overall design are sure to appeal to many individuals looking for the next step forward in relatively inexpensive 8×32 binoculars.

Sightron Blue Sky SII 8×32

Listed specs are as follows:

Magnification: 8
Object Diameter: 32
Eye Relief: 17.5
Fov: 394 feet at 100 yards (7.5 degrees)
Length: 5 1/2
Weight: 17 ounces
Finish: Grn Rubber
Exit Pupil: 4
Minimum Focus: 7 feet

Listed features include:

Full multicoating
Phase coating
Silver prism coating
Waterproof/nitrogen purged

On paper this binocular does not really stand out particularly in comparison to some of the other more recent offerings on this list. The prisms are phase coated but only silver coated (a step below dielectric prism coating in terms of reflectivity). Their field of view is good but not great and they are physically longer, though not heavier, than the other models on the list.

So why include them?

Well, despite the lack of some of most cutting edge features they still hold their own both optically and ergonomically compared to some of the latest offerings. I have had my pair for a little over two years now and continue to be impressed with them whenever I pick them up.


Ergonomics/Mechanics:

Ergonomically I find this binocular very desirable. The 5 inch+ frame and open bridge design gives my hand plenty of room to get a secure purchase on it. The size and positioning of the focusing knob is close to ideal. Some individuals have mentioned stiffness in the focusing knob tension on some units. I have owned two of these binoculars and have extensively handled a third. Each had slightly different amounts of tension but none of them had what I would call an excessively stiff focus. Yes, the focusing tension does stiffen up noticeably in colder weather but not the point where the binocular becomes unusable. Close focusing distance is just under 7 feet. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. Focusing speed is average and requires about 1.25 turns to go from close focus to infinity.
The eyecup design is the conventional twist-up/twist down design. It has three intermediate settings between fully collapsed and fully extended. The eyecups sit firmly in place at each of these settings. I have not had any issues with the eyecups collapsing unexpectedly though, admittedly, I typically use them in the fully collapsed position.

Internal baffling behind the objective is very good. In regular use I have not run into any pronounced issues with stray light except under the most challenging conditions. Reflections on both the objective and ocular lenses are a deep green.

Optical Performance:

As I had mentioned in my original review this binocular does not stand out in any one particular area optically. What it does do is perform very well in every optical area. Since this binoculars’ introduction the design has been utilized by two other companies. One of these models has received some very favorable reviews by two internet optics review sites. The key area often mentioned in reference to this design is the high level of apparent brightness. That is certainly the case with the Sightron. I have compared it on several occasions with some 42 mm ED glass binoculars. On more than one occasion I forget that I am looking through an 8×32 because it actually appears brighter than the 42 mm models.

Apparent contrast is also well above average in my opinion. The image has a slightly warm (red) color bias which I think enhances the contrast level under certain environmental conditions and on certain objects. Apparent sharpness is also very good and possibly bordering on excellent. It is certainly excellent for the price and is only really bettered, particularly in the center of the field of view by much more expensive 8×32 models. Sweet spot size is better than average and hovers, to my eyes, between 75-80% of the field of view. Edge performance is predominantly field curvature which, for those with eyes that still have good accommodation, provides a very relaxed and natural image. Chromatic aberration is well controlled within the sweet spot and only moderate in the area out of focus off axis.

Conclusion:

The Sightron Blue Sky SII is a very well rounded binocular both optically and ergonomically. It does not excel in any one area but rates very highly in all areas. This binocular has served as my reference standard for inexpensive 8x32s and for good reason. It still needs to be on everyone’s short list when performance and price are your primary concerns.

Comparison of various models

With this many 8×32 models on hand I cannot help but want to make some comparisons in terms of optical performance and ergonomics. Each has a relatively unique feel and combination of optical features.

Ergonomics:

If physical size is your primary concern in a binocular then I don’t see how you can overlook either the Opticron Oregon or the Leupold Acadia. Both are short 32 mm models with relatively wide barrels. They can be snugly placed in a cargo pocket or in the edge of a field bag. They only take up slightly more space than your typical 25 mm compact model. The Zen Ray ZRS and Celestron Trailseeker are just slightly longer than these two with the Celestron Nature DX and Sightron Blue Sky being notably longer than either of the other four.

If weight is your primary concern then both the Zen Ray ZRS and the Celestron Trailseeker have to be high on your list. At 16 oz they are the lightest binoculars in this group and in the top 3 or 4 lightest 8×32 mm binoculars period. The Sightron Blue Sky is just slightly behind at 17 ounces. The Opticron Oregon, Leupold Acadia and Celestron Nature DX are just behind that at approximately 18 ounces.

In terms of overall handling I tend to prefer the longer binoculars as my hands are slightly larger than average. The Sightron with its open bridge design is probably my favorite as a result. The Celestron Nature DX would probably be next and then I am fairly torn between the other four models. I appreciate the fatter barrels of the Leupold Acadia and the Opticron Oregon but also like the central hinge placement of the Zen Ray ZRS and the Celestron Trailseeker.

The focusing knob and its associated characteristics are always an interesting discussion topic because there is such a wide range of preferences for different individuals. In handling all of these models I have to say that I found all of them acceptable in terms of focusing speed and tension. I did not find one notably better than the others. It is the specific combination of focusing tension and focusing speed that gives one the overall impression of the focusing mechanism. If the focusing speed is fast and the focusing tension is “loose” (for lack of a better word) then it is easy to not only overshoot perfect focus but also give one the impression of a shallow depth of field. If focusing speed is very slow and focusing tension is very stiff then it is easy to become frustrated as you can’t focus fast enough to get on a fast moving object. The key is to find the correct combination of each characteristic. I have to say that I think all of these binoculars pulled that off quite nicely.

Before moving into optical performance combinations I wanted to mention a few things. There are some issues that are of high importance for various individuals but not necessarily to me for a variety of reasons. Issues such as focusing direction, stray light control, type of edge distortion, etc… I made an effort to include each of these characteristics when describing the individual models as I know folks have an interest in them. Personally I don’t seem to notice focusing direction unless someone asks me about it. My hands and mind seem to adapt relatively easily. Much the same could be said of edge distortions. I really have to look hard to notice issues such as rolling ball or pincushion distortion. Stray light concerns also tend to fall into this area. Unless the resulting glare or ghosting is extremely obvious I tend to compensate for it intuitively. So, if my comments are lacking a bit in this areas you have an understanding as to why that may be the case.

Optical Performance:

I am guessing that some folks have been eagerly waiting for this section. I know many individuals, myself included, can easily overlook some ergonomic or mechanical concerns if the optical performance is there. So how do these models stack up against one another? I think the answer is going to depend in large part on your personal preferences. Do I think that one model stands out head and shoulders above the others? No, not really. I do feel that one model, the Celestron Nature DX was a little bit behind the others as a collective group. The apparent sharpness on that model was not quite as good as the others and it left me feeling a bit lacking at times. Apparent contrast and apparent brightness were also a little bit less than the others. It is the least expensive of the group though at roughly $120 US.

The apparent external similarity between two different sets of the binoculars in this comparison does carry over a bit into the optical performance arena. I felt that the Zen Ray ZRS and the Celestron Trailseeker were more alike than not optically though the ZRS gave a slightly more relaxed image. I cannot say that this was the result of quality control/alignment issues as I did not experience eyestrain with any of the models in this study. The Zen Ray unit has an ever so slightly larger sweet spot and/or slightly less edge distortion. I seem to gravitate towards binoculars that have less astigmatism and more field curvature in their particular combination of off axis performance. It makes for a more gradual transition from the sweet spot to the edge of the field of view. I am guessing this is partly due to the fact that my eyes still have a great deal of accommodation left in them.

As I mentioned in their individual reviews above the Leupold Acadia and the Opticron Oregon are very much alike externally but the different eyepiece designs lends to different levels of optical performance. I prefer the Opticron for ease of view because of the previously mentioned sweet spot issue and also because the field of view is a bit wider. The more subdued color representation and slightly dimmer image (in comparison to the Leupold) might also be contributing to this. The Leupold is definitely brighter and the centerfield performance offers better apparent sharpness and contrast though the sweet spot isn’t as wide as the Opticron.

So for pure viewing pleasure you might ask which I prefer? I think I could be happy with all but the Celestron Nature DX. The other five are so close overall that I don’t think I would be disappointed using any of them. If I had to go through one at a time and rank them based on my personal preferences then after the Nature DX I would probably place the Opticron Oregon. It is a great all around binocular but the lack of phase coating just places it a step below the other four optically “overall”. If it did have phase coating added to it then I would probably rate it third overall ahead of the Leupold Acadia.

Speaking of which, the Leupold Acadia would be fourth on my list as it offers the same handling benefits of the Opticron but with a slightly brighter and sharper image. Next in line would probably be the Celestron Trailseeker. Very good apparent sharpness in the center of the field. Very good apparent brightness and contrast. Its light physical weight coupled with that level of image quality makes this a difficult binocular not to consider. The Zen Ray has all of the benefits of the Trailseeker with an ever so slightly larger sweet spot and a slightly more relaxed image. Last but not least, the Sightron. I believe it offers the same level of apparent sharpness as either the Celestron or the Zen Ray. It might be just a tad behind either in apparent brightness and contrast but I am really splitting hairs here. The Sightron’s sweet spot is still the largest of the group and it offers competitive levels of optical performance in all areas. It’s only real negative is the physical length and only if you are looking for a compact 8×32 binocular.

I would like to thank the following individuals for providing the various units for this review:

Charles (Zen Ray)
Shane (Leupold)
Brad (Celestron/Optics Camp)
Chip (Opticron)

Zhumell Nova ED 8×42

It has been awhile since I did any reviews. Part of the reason is because I have been busy doing a variety of family activities and the other part is simply because there haven’t been any interesting models in my current price range (note: I have had an order in through binoculars.com for a Zeiss Terra ED 8×42 since early June and they have yet to arrive at the retailer)

A few weeks ago I was surfing Cloudy Nights when I noticed that someone posted a link to these Zhumell Nova EDs. They were/are on clearance for between ($91 and $101). They attraced me for the obvious reasons….price, the use of ED glass, the wide field of view and the relatively compact body design for a 42 mm binocular.

I do remember noticing them a few years ago on the same site and I believe the regular retail price for them then was $229. So, I ordered a pair just to see how they perform/handle.

They arrived a little over a week ago and I have been using them daily in conjunction with several other models I have on hand. Those binoculars are either comparable in price or comparable in optical configuration (Sightron SII Blue Sky 8×32, Bushnell Legend 8×42 (original model) and the Leupold McKinley BX-4 8×42).

The Nova EDs come with functional accessories (carrying case, rainguard, padded neoprene neckstrap and objective covers). The last is of the internal compression variety typically found on many camera lenses.

Ergonomics and design:

The Nova ED is a relatively short 42 mm binocular approximately 1/4 of an inch shorter than the Bushnell Legend and almost identical in this area to the Sightron 8x32s. Advertised weight is 26 ounces which I find to be accurate based on feel. The focusing knob is average in size and comparable to the Sightron in diameter. Minimum close focus is a hair under 6 feet. Close focus to infinity is just under 1 full turn with about an extra 1/4 turn past infinity in travel. Focusing tension is very smooth with no backlash or gaps whatsoever. Diopter adjustment is located directly behind the focusing knob with a small raised bump to indicate specific setting.

The eyecups rotate out in the typical fashion found on most binoculars today. They have one intermittent stop between fully collapsed and fully extended. I find them average in feel and in construction. Both the ocular and objective lenses are coated in the typical purple/green coloration. Internal baffling appears present immediately in front of the prisms but not on the first inch or so behind the objective lenses. I did not note any bright, non-blackened surfaces while looking down each barrel.

Eye relief is listed as 17 mm and most of that is effective eye relief as the ocular lens surface is only recessed ever so slightly from the eyecup surface. Field of view is advertised as 426 feet (8.2 degrees) and comparing that with the McKinleys it seems accurate.

Optical Performance:

Let me start off by mentioning something that almost immediately jumped out at me when using these for the first day or two. They reminded me of some other bins in terms of the overall optical impression….speaking primarily of the level and type of distortion present coupled with the size of the sweet spot. They remind me a bit of the Zen Ray Vista and the Vortex Diamondback. Both of those models always gave me a bit of a relaxed feel simply because the sweet spot appears relatively large and the transition from the sweet spot to the edge is very gradual and not distracting. The same performance applies here except there is very good apparent sharpness inside the true sweet spot. CA is also very well controlled inside that “super sweet spot” with a very gradual transition outside to the very edge of the image.

I would estimate sweet spot size to be between 70-75% with the area outside of it being some field curvature but predominantly astigmatism as I can’t refocus it completely.

Color representation is relatively neutral with an ever so slight green/yellow bias. It is only evident when comparing them directly to the Sightrons (reddish) and the Leupold (neutral to slightly warm). Contrast is good but not very good or excellent. I would rate it slightly behind the Sightron but slightly ahead of the Legend.

Apparent sharpness is very good within the sweetspot. Again I would rate it slightly behind the Sightron but ahead of the Legend. Apparent brightness is average. The image doesn’t appear dim by any stretch of the imagination but when comparing them to the Leupold and the Sightron I get the impression of slightly less brightness. This could be the result of the slightly lower contrast and or a lower light transmission level. If I had to hazard a guess I would say that this is either the result of less effective multicoatings or possibly an aluminum, instead of silver, prism coating. Again, most of these performance characteristics are only evident in direct comparison to the other models. As a stand-alone product none of these issues are particularly evident.

Nitpicks/pet peeves:

I really only have one particularly considering the price. The diopter knob has proved troublesome at times. Once set it doesn’t move on its own but rather is easily bumped from the desired location. Since it is located so close to the focusing knob I have found myself occasionally turning it when attempting to turn the focus.

Summary:

For under $100 I don’t see how you can really go wrong with this model. I think it was competitive at its original price point with many of the other $200-$225 models out there. At the $100 price point it doesn’t really have any competition. Judging by information from over on Cloudy Nights there are approximately 70 pairs of these left so I would suggest grabbing one as a solid backup binocular, good starter binocular or even a car bin.

Pics to follow. Give me some time to upload them.

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Opticron Savanna 8×30

Opticron Savanna 8×30

After reading the last few reviews that I have done of Opticron binoculars some of you may see a bit of a pattern emerging. To save you the trouble of going back and reading through them in an effort to decipher “the pattern” I will simply say that they have all been 8×30-something class binoculars. The reason should be fairly obvious. I am a birder and many birders enjoy the 8×30-32 configuration. It is a good combination of optical performance and overall size.

Now I have a variety of binocular configurations at my disposal for regular use. I do find myself grabbing an 8×32 more often than not for a variety of reasons. The most important reason is size. They are “handy” in the sense of how much physical space they occupy…either on your chest, in your hand or in a backpack. There are times though that I prefer a 42 mm model. One specific situation is hawk watching. I like the convenience of having a larger exit pupil (5 mm+) when scanning the skies. I end up moving my eyes more and my binoculars less when I use a larger exit pupil model.

For several years I used hawk watching as a benchmark for binocular performance as I have found that the conditions a binocular is exposed to in that application can easily illustrate faults in either the optical performance or in the physical design. I then can readily say that many of my binocular purchases and choices over the years keyed in on how well they perform or would perform for that activity.

In hindsight I realize that there was an error in my reasoning. Hawk watching is an extremely enjoyable activity but migration only occurs twice a year over a fairly specific time frame. The vast majority of the year I am engaged in other types of bird watching activities. During that time I do not find the larger exit pupil of 42 mm, or larger, binoculars necessary for the type of birding I do. That then brings us back to my choice of the 8×32 for most of my birding.

The Opticron Savanna 8×30 is the focus of this review. The Savanna is Opticron’s representation of a fairly simple porro design that started with the Leupold Yosemite. The popularity of that model spurred a variety of other companies to include their own version of that design into their respective offerings. I have owned both the 6×30 and the 8×30 Yosemite as well as the 8×30 Celestron Nature. I do remember being extremely impressed with the 6×30 Yosemite for its obvious charms. I then had very high expectations for the 8×30 when Leupold eventually introduced it. Sadly, it did not quite live up to my expectations. Now whether is what a poor unit or just that the first generation of 8×30 Yosemites weren’t quite as good as the 6x30s I cannot say. I know many individuals have been happy with the 8×30 since then so I don’t really have an explanation.

Recent reports of some of the newer versions of this design have been very favorable. I am thinking particularly of Kowa’s version of this design. So, how does the Opticron Savanna fit into the grand scheme of things…..

Optical Performance:

I want to start off by not comparing the Savanna to anything else optically. I just want to relate my impressions of the image as the oculars are placed up to my eyes. The first optical characteristic that strikes me is the apparent brightness. The image provided seems notably brighter than what would expect from a 30 mm binocular. The relative simplicity of the porro prism design, in general, could certainly be the primary reason for this. I have to also give some credit to the choice of anti-reflective coatings that Opticron chose to utilize on this model. It not only contributes to apparent brightness but to the other optical performance areas mentioned below.
The second issue that jumps out at me is how easy to the overall view is when looking through this binocular. Depth perception ( a combination of depth of field and the 3D effect) is very good with this model. As I am sure everyone is aware at this point porro prism binoculars provide more of a three-dimensional to the image because of the wider spaced objective lenses. The Savanna displays this to good effect.

The third optical characteristic is apparent sharpness. Once again it has been my experience that porro prism binocular seem to be able to more easily provide greater detail to my eyes. Given a porro prism binocular and a roof prism binocular of equal quality levels I tend to find porro prism models just seem to be able to resolve the finest details more readily. This could certainly be related to the higher light transmission levels associated with the porro prism itself.

Apparent contrast is good on this model. I don’t get the impression of a “lifeless” image. Colors are very well saturated and overall color representation looks very neutral for my eyes.

Apparent sweet spot size is certainly acceptable with this model. When taken on its own merits I don’t find this particular optical characteristic objectionable. There aren’t any notably annoying edge performance artifacts present. The transition from the sweet spot to the “outer ring” is gradual and predominantly field curvature. My estimation to sweet spot size would be approximately 70% of the field of view.

Chromatic Aberration control is also certainly acceptable. Within the sweet spot my eyes detect practically none and, as it is with most binoculars, it tends to get gradually greater as you move out from the center of the field of view. On the edges I would call it moderate.

Ergonomics:

For my personal needs and preferences I find that the handling of the Savanna is certainly agreeable. I have no problem instantly finding a perfect grip to the binocular as soon as I pick it up. My preferred hand position is for both my pinky and ring finger to slide around the objective barrel while both my middle finger and pointer finger rest across the very wide focusing knob.

The binocular is very light in weight which can be beneficial in situations where “every ounce counts”. Manufacture-advertised weight for this model is 17.3 ounces. On the flip side of this though I have found that, depending on ergonomics, some binoculars can be “too light” in the sense that utilizing two hands can be required to get the steadiest image. This isn’t the case with the Savanna. Because of how securely I can grip this binocular and its position against my face the image is steady enough with just a one-handed grip. The rubber armoring is very smooth to the touch. There isn’t any notable ribbing or dimpling to the armor. This may cause the texture to feel “slick” under certain conditions. There are two raised “areas” on the underside of the prism housing which do have a slightly textured service. I tend to think of them as the opposite to thumb indents. I barely notice they are there when handling the binocular.

Build Quality:

I would rate the overall build quality of this model as very good. After going through my usual checklist of features to review I find almost all of them to be within my range of acceptance. Central hinge tension is firm but adjustable. Eyecup rotation in my opinion is very good. There aren’t any intermediate “click stops” between fully collapsed and fully extended but there is more than sufficient tension to keep the eyecups extended to the exact height you require. The feel of the rotation is very reassuring.

I did say “almost all” though in reference to the checklist. Two issues come to mind if I were to start nitpicking. The first has to do with the eyepiece bridge. Over the years I have owned many externally-focused porro prism binoculars as that is the typical design for the focusing mechanism. Some of those models have had varying degrees of flex in the eyepiece bridge. I don’t necessarily think that is a great concern here but I do feel the need to mention it in one sense. When attempting to adjust the diopter for my eyes I found it difficult at first until I realized what was happening. As I was applying rotational pressure to the diopter I was also pulling the eyepiece away from the binocular itself by flexing the bridge. After I realized it though I compensate for it and did not have any further issues with the eyepiece bridge flexing in regular use.

Second, when looking down the objective end of the binocular I noted two areas of exposed glue around the prism. Thankfully the glue is either clear or black in coloration so I am not concerned with it from a reflected light perspective. In addition to that the prism retention block is exposed metal and silver/gray in coloration. I am not sure if this contributes to light being reflected internally but it could lead to stray light issues under some specific conditions.

Conclusion:

I find that using the Opticron Savanna 8×30 is an enjoyable experience. Its ergonomics and overall image quality make it very comforting and easy to use. Overall image quality is very good for a relatively simple optical design. I have no reservations in saying that I could utilize this binocular on a regular basis for a variety of birding activities without feeling the need for more expensive optics. I think that is probably some of the highest praise that any binocular could receive.

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Bresser Montana 8.5×45

After posting the review of the Bresser Everest model I was contacted by Brad from Optics Camp as to whether or not I would have any interest in reviewing Bresser’s top of the line roof prism model, the Montana. Interest on this model as expressed by various members of this forum lead me to agree to the opportunity despite the fact that there isn’t any way I can currently afford to purchase it. Brad was kind enough to ship the Montana out the same day and I received it a little over a week ago. Published specs for this model are listed below.

The Bresser Montana 8.5×45

Listed specs:

- 26.3 ounce weight

- 6.5 degree (342 feet at 1000 yards) field of view

- 17 mm of eye relief

- Fully-multicoated

- Phase corrected

- Dielectric prism coating

- ED Glass – Hoya material

- 6.5 foot close focus (my eyes)

As you can see from the listed specs above the binocular does not have any particular striking feature on paper other than the use of Hoya glass in the design. The Montana is Bresser’s premium roof prism binocular and typically retails for around $900. That puts it in the same price range as the Zeiss Conquest HD and the Meopta Meostar HD. Bresser is a lesser known name in the optics arena so its appeal really boils down to its performance.

Questions are bound to arise as to the country of manufacturer. My answer is simply that I do not know. Like the Everest there aren’t any markings on either the binocular or any other of the accessories. The similarities of the Everest with other models on the market plus its low price point have led most folks to assume they are Chinese. A fair assumption based on the information on hand.

On the other hand we have the Montana which does bear quite a bit of resemblance to the Minox HG and HG APO line of binoculars. Those are German made models. The price point of the Montana is also significantly higher than the Everest so either this is the most expensive Chinese-made, consumer binocular on the market or it is either of German or Japanese origin. As for me personally, I do not have a preference for country of origin as long as quality control is good and the optical performance is there.

So how does the Bresser Montana perform optically? Well…..

Optical Performance:

Just looking at the specs on paper I wasn’t sure what to expect when looking through this binocular. It is an 8.5x model so I wasn’t sure how that was going to influence my perception. On top of that the true field of view specs are notably narrower than what I prefer and/or am accustomed to. The apparent field of view (easy method versus ISO) of approximately 55 degrees is wider than at least one or two models I have reviewed/owned recently but not necessarily at the 60 degree minimum that I tend to gravitate towards for most of my models.

So what strikes me when I first look through them?

…the apparent brightness. Again, I use the word apparent because what we perceive as brightness is usually the result of the level of contrast and color bias. Still, using the binocular under a variety of lighting conditions I cannot find any situation where I did not feel impressed by the level of light that these binoculars allow to reach your eyes. I am guessing that this is the end result of a combination of factors not limited to the quality of anti-reflective coatings and glass, dielectric prism coating and the 45 mm objective diameter.
The apparent contrast level is excellent. Blacks are truly black and whites are truly white. Objects have that certain sense of “pop” to them that almost makes them appear “3D” in representation. Furthermore, the contrast level when coupled with the apparent brightness and apparent sharpness almost gives the impression that objects “float” within the field of view. It is difficult to describe no matter how I attempt to represent it.

Apparent sharpness is excellent. In fact this is one roof prism binocular whose level of apparent sharpness equals that of any of the porros that I have owned and/or handled. I have always felt that my venerable Nikon 7×35 Widefield Action offered the highest level of apparent sharpness. It does but now I have a second model that is capable of pulling the finest detail no matter what I observe. There are some differences but I am going to leave that part out for the “nitpick” section of the review.

Color bias is neutral to almost “blue-green” in representation. In this area they remind me quite a bit of the Zeiss FLs that I owned for many years. The difference with the Bressers though, is that I don’t get any of the “washed out” effect that I occasionally did with the Zeiss. Contrast levels are very good and don’t change, for my eyes, under any evaluation condition.
Chromatic aberration control is a bit of a difficult situation to describe. The easy answer is that longitudinal color is well-controlled within the sweet spot. I don’t see any of this type of CA. Lateral color is displayed more notably as one moves away from center. I would estimate that it begins approximately half way out from center and becomes readily visible on the edges. The bands are wider and of less intensity on the edges as opposed to the thinner, more intense bands displayed by some models. Overall I would rate this model at “very good” but not quite excellent in CA control over the entire image.

So, I did bring up the sweet spot. How big is it? Pretty large in my opinion. In full daylight, the size of the sweet spot is really impressive. I don’t think that Bresser was going for true “edge to edge” sharpness with this model. What they did attempt to achieve was a very large sweet spot with a very gradual fall-off from the sweet spot into the area out of focus. Furthermore the area out of focus is only slightly out of focus and does not appear bothersome or distracting in regular use. In this area the performance reminds me of the Opticron Verano HD 8×32 that I recently reviewed….a very large sweet spot with only a slight loss in performance outside of the sweet spot. My estimation on sweet spot size would be 80-85%.

So, overall optical impressions are extremely pleasing. When you tie in all of the optical performance areas (contrast, brightness, sharpness, CA control and sweet spot size) you are left with an image that does not fail to impress you.

Ergonomics:

The ergonomics on this model are a bit different than what I am accustomed to. The binocular “feels” long though it isn’t any longer than the Leupold McKinley recently evaluated. I believe this to be the result of the contouring of the barrels. Because of the 45 mm objectives the objective tubes are tapered notably from the objectives to the eyepieces. My hands then tend to gravitate more towards the back end of the binocular since it is of a thinner diameter.

The texture of the rubber armor is extremely smooth and soft with only Brock’s “waffle iron” indents on the top side of the traditional hinge.
The eyepieces appear rather large and measure 25 mm of exposed glass. The eyecup diameter though seems average in use and measures 36 mm in diameter. I have no problem obtaining proper eye placement because of the ocular size and the eye relief level seems more than adequate for eyeglass wearers. The eyecups are tapered and very comfortable across the bridge of my nose.

Build Quality/Fit and Finish:

My impression of overall build quality of this binocular is very good. I am basing this on a few impressions. For one the binocular seems to have a good overall balance for its weight. It feels solid but not heavy. Second, all of the usual quality control areas that I examine are very good. No issues with the eyecup rotation, the diopter adjustment or the rubber armoring. Internally everything is dark black with no exposed areas of bright metal, glue or debris. I will save one nitpick in this area for the next section.

Nitpicks/improvements:

I have a few areas that I have concerns about. We can start with what I just referenced in the previous paragraph. The central hinge tension is too loose for my tastes. Now typically I don’t put too much weight into it beyond the initial quality control observation. It is a simple fix on most binoculars as you can loosen or tighten it via a small groove which is typically placed across the tripod mounting hole. After removing the tripod mounting-hole cover on this binocular though I found that it lacked the groove. Without being able to tighten the central hinge tension I often found myself knocking the IPD setting off repeatedly either when hand-holding the Montana next to another binocular for a quick optical comparison or just setting it down on a hard surface.

Second, eye placement is more critical than I would have expected. This is another area that was a bit of a surprise. I don’t think I have ever experienced “kidney-beaning” in the manner that many individuals reference with binoculars such as the Nikon SE 8×32 but I can induce it if I really push the oculars of some binoculars deep into my eye sockets. The Montana suffers from something like that phenomenon. The “blackouts” only appear if I position my eye slightly below center and then they only intrude in the lower/outer portion on the field of view. This is centered in approximately the 5 o’clock position in the right eyepiece and the 7 o’clock position in the left.

I wonder if this really isn’t a kidney bean effect at all and rather something unique to the prism design. Through email exchanges with one of the Bresser representatives I learned that the Montana utilizes Bk7 prisms instead of Bak-4. Could this somehow be a contributing factor? The effect is more pronounced if I intentionally open up the IPD beyond my preferred setting.

Third, though I don’t find it a deal-breaker the focusing tension is stiff. It has loosened up over the last week but not to the point where I would fail to mention it here. Some folks are going to find it objectionable but I do not. Focusing speed is fairly fast at 1.25 turns but not overly so. This may be partially why I don’t find the focusing tension as objectionable as other s might.

Lastly, though I don’t find the rubber armor coloration objectionable I would prefer something different than the flat gray chosen for this model. From an aesthetic perspective I enjoy the contrasting black with gun metal accents of the Everest as it gives the binocular a bit more character. Just my preferences though.

Comparison with the Everest

Over the last week I have compared the Montana with several different binoculars that I have on hand. I think an interesting comparison is between it and the less expensive Everest model. I have found that there are several key differences that separate these two binoculars beyond their price points. To make it simple to review I will break it down by characteristic and then add a few comments afterwards. Keep in mind that this comparison is based on my personal preferences. In some areas I could easily see how someone else might make a different decision based on their own preferences.

Apparent Sharpness (center of the field): Tie

Apparent Sharpness (off axis): Montana

Apparent Contrast: Montana (but close)

CA control: Tie

Apparent Brightness: Montana

Color Bias: Montana

Color Saturation: Montana

Ergonomics: Everest (I prefer the shorter overall length and open bridge design)

Quality/Fit and Finish: Montana (Though I haven’t run into any issues with the Everest, the Montana seems to have more attention to detail in some of the little issues….the feel of the rotation of the eyecups for example. Internal baffling also seems better on the Montana.)

After evaluating well over two hundred binoculars at this point I have come to some basic understandings. One of the most important, in my opinion, is the issue of apparent sharpness in the center of the field of view. In all but the least expensive models I find myself satisfied with this particular area. Furthermore, I find very little difference between several $200 models and binoculars costing 10x as much. Keep in mind that this is through regular handheld viewing conditions and not strict scientific testing done with boosted magnification. Even in the area of CA control I don’t note drastic differences in the center of the field not only between inexpensive , mid-priced and expensive models but also between ED and non-ED glass binoculars.

The differences I do note are in other areas of performance (apparent contrast, apparent brightness) as well as overall performance (including apparent sharpness and CA control) as one moves farther and farther away from the center of the field. To help clarify this issue, I find myself specifically differentiating between the terms “edge performance” and “sweet spot”. I have found many binoculars that offer adequate or even above average sweet spot size and yet their edge performance can be distracting. I have also found several models that may not have as large of a sweet spot but their transition to the edge is more gradual and their edge performance is not anyone near bothersome.

So that leads me to trying to differentiate between the mid to high priced models and some of their relatively inexpensive counterparts. Off axis performance or how well a given binocular can maintain the center of field performance over a large percentage of the field of view seems to be the predominant factor the separates the various classes of binoculars. In addition, as I mentioned above the level of contrast and apparent brightness also seem to be notable factors separating the different price points…at least as far as roof prism models are concerned.

At this stage you might be asking yourself why I am bringing this point up here. Well, in comparing the Everest to the Montana I often found myself questioning the optical performance differences. I tend to put the most weight in that area (versus quality control or ergonomics) when trying to justify price differences. In the center of the field I think these two binoculars are at about the same performance level with two exceptions. The Montanas have a brighter overall image and the color representation is much more neutral. Away from that center of the field of view the differences become more obvious. The sweet spot is larger on the Montana and the transition outside of the sweet spot is more gradual. Edge performance is also only a small amount less impressive than the center of the field performance with this model as well. In the case of the Everest the sweet spot is notably smaller and the off axis performance difference is much more noticeable.

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Opticron Verano BGA HD WP 8×32

Ergonomics and Design:

The Verano utilizes an “open bridge” design which is different from the traditional bridge design of the Countryman. Each design has its own particular appeal. Some consumers prefer one style over the other unilaterally while others tend to view each version of the two designs on a unit by unit basis. I tend to fall into the latter group. There are some models of each hinge design that feel more comfortable than others. I have found that other factors such as the length of the binocular, the diameter of the barrels and the specific placement of the hinges play a larger role in ergonomics rather than just the style of the hinge itself.

So how does the Verano play out in the grand scheme of things? Well, I find its open bridge design to be fairly unique. Some comments in the past have compared the overall housing to that of the Vixen Foresta roof and/or Theron Optics Wapiti of the same configuration. The three are alike to some extent but I can say that the Verano’s housing is slightly different. For one the binocular is shorter overall. In placing it next to my Sightron Blue Sky it is notably shorter. Going by memory here the Sightron was approximately the same length as the Vixen/Kenko/Theron.
The specific bridge placement is also unique.

Because of the shorter length of the binocular the bridges are slightly closer together than other models. I can still comfortably fit both my middle and ring fingers in between the bridges but it is a bit of a tighter fit than in comparison to something like the Sightron. There is also just a bit of barrel length left over after the second bridge for my pinky finger to rest on. Pointer finger placement on the focus knob is very comfortable and intuitive. There aren’t any thumb indents on the underside of the barrel.

So far we have addressed half of the “Human-binocular” connection in discussing hand placement and ergonomics. The other half of Eitan’s H-B connection is the eyecup design and usable level of eye relief associated with it. This is an interesting point of discussion with this binocular. The oculars are ever so slightly larger than average (an explanation for that will follow in the optics section). The eyecup diameter is slightly larger than average as a result. The edges of the eyecups are contoured though so the feel of them against the bridge of my nose is very comfortable. Eye relief is sufficient enough to allow me to see the full field of view (I don’t wear glasses) despite my larger than average nose.

I would consider this part of the connection acceptable but not perfect. The smaller diameter eyecup design of the Countryman actually allows me to place the eyecups past the bridge of my nose and further into my eye sockets. The feeling of this part of the connection with the Verano is similar to that of the Leupold McKinley I posted about last week but not to quite the same extent.

The focusing knob is of average size. Large enough to get a comfortable purchase but not overly large to the point where it becomes cumbersome. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. It takes approximately 1.5 turns to go from close focus to infinity. Focusing tension is very smooth but fast.

The rubber armoring is typical of what is found on many binoculars at and below this price point. Textured for a secure grip but not overly so to the point where dirt and dust would become trapped on it.

Mechanics:

As I mentioned in several recent reviews I look for a few key issues in a binoculars’ mechanics to get a handle on the mechanical quality of a given model. Issues such as central hinge tension, eyecup ease of use and design and focusing feel are examined. After looking at these issues, and others, with the Verano I was unable to find any fault with the binocular. The eyecup design specifically caught my eye as it appears that particular attention has been given to it. The design itself is not that much different than other conventional designs. It utilizes the typical “multi-stage” adjustment. There are two intermediate settings between fully collapsed and fully extended which should, theoretically, give the consumer the option of fine-tuning the eyecup setting for their individual eye relief requirements. The “feel” of the mechanism is exceptionally precise and it has a specific feel to it. In order to “lock” at each position the eyecup doesn’t just stop in a slot but rather “clicks”, for lack of a better word, back down into the specific distance. It has a very reassuring feel to it.

Optical Performance:

The optical performance of this model has given me a bit of a pause. As I have often mentioned in the past our subjective opinions are just that, subjective. They are dependent on a variety of issues. Not the least of which being other models we have on hand for comparison. When I originally looked at this model back in October I was also looking at several other Opticron models and a variety of other manufacturers’ units as well. In retrospect I don’t think I gave this model enough of a “fair shake”. I was more enamored, at the time, with the Countryman. I will get more into that below. But, for now, let’s just look at my general impressions of the optical performance of this model.

The first issue that strikes me, optically, about this model is the size of the sweet spot and/or its edge performance. Maybe I am looking for it now a bit more after doing the Leupold McKinley review. I cannot say. I don’t think that is the case though as I am still more than happy to use several of my own binoculars that have “less than perfect” edge performance. Still, I certainly cannot ignore this binocular’s performance in this area. So, on to the usual estimation of the size of the sweet spot….

I would estimate the apparent sweet spot to reach to close to 90% of the image. Now, keep in mind that I when I say “sweet spot” I am referring to the area of the image that appears to be in focus with the center of the field of view. I am not referring to issues such pincushion distortion or “rolling ball”. The two issues that typically affect sweet spot size are field curvature and/or astigmatism. Both lead to the edges of the field of view being out of focus in comparison to the center.

Now what makes this even more interesting though is that the last 10% of the image is ever so slightly out of focus with the center….and I do mean “ever so slightly”. Barely touching the focusing knob causes the edges to immediately snap into focus sharply. Using the diopter as a reference I only had to turn it between one and two positions in order for the edges to snap into focus.

I checked this several times because, depending on the circumstances, my eyes do tend to accommodate for this slight difference and the image appears sharp to the very edge. I have included a digi-binned picture through binocular of a tree outside my window to show some type of reference to this. As you could easily be determined at this point the slightly out of focus section of the image is the result of field curvature. I do feel the need to go back to some of my comments in relation to the eyepiece design at this point. The eyepiece is larger than average. As I have often found with binoculars utilizing a field flattener in their eyepiece design the ocular lenses are notably larger than “normal”. I do not know if field flatteners are utilized in the Verano but the large sweet spot and barely perceptible field curvature is most certainly the result of the larger than average ocular lenses.
Other aspects of this binocular’s optical performance are all above average. Apparent sharpness is excellent. I have no issues resolving the finest details on various objects at various distances. Apparent brightness is above average compared to other 8×32 models I have on hand. Apparent contrast is above average but I would not call it exceptional. Color representation appears neutral to my eyes. I see no hints of either a warm or cold color bias.
Chromatic Aberration is well controlled within the sweet spot. Outside of the sweet spot it is noticeable. I would rate it at “medium” in reference to other models I have on hand. The “purple band” that becomes visible on high contrast objects in the upper portion of the image is wider than what I have seen in some similar models. I have not found this distracting at this point but still felt the need to comment on it.

The last optical characteristic that I feel the need to mention is the “depth of focus”. Depth of focus, for discussions sake in this review, refers to how long (in distance and duration) the image retains “perfect focus” for my eyes as the focus knob is rotated in either direction. My eyes want to tell me that the focusing speed of this binocular is fast. The image is either in focus or instantly out of focus which translates into a shallow “depth of focus”. (Apparent depth of field, in comparison, appears no different than any other 8×32 model I have on hand and might actually be slightly above average for my eyes.) I don’t feel as if I can totally write-it-off as the result of fast focusing speed though, as illustrated above, the distance required to go from close focus to infinity is almost 1.5 turns. I don’t consider that “fast” by any stretch of the imagination. I would call it “average” in my experience. I am left to consider what else might then be affecting this issue.

One possible explanation would be the focusing tension of this model. As I commented on above, it is smooth in feel but very fast. I don’t want to call it “loose” because that gives the impression that it isn’t precise. It is precise.
Another possibility, since I ran into a similar concern with the Leupold McKinley, is that the shallower apparent depth of focus is somehow tied into the eyepiece design. Both binoculars have larger oculars with very large sweet spots and very good edge performance. Could the two issues be somehow related? I don’t have an answer and would leave that up to individuals more studied in optical design than I.

Countryman BGA HD versus Verano BGA HD shootout:

I feel the need to do a direct comparison here for a variety of reasons. First and foremost these two models represent some of the highest performing 8×32 roof prism binoculars that Opticron offers. Only the Imagic BGA SE “sits” at roughly the same price level as these two. The listed specifications for both are surprisingly similar. Both are around 21 ounces. Both have 8 degree (420 foot) fields of view. Both utilize Opticron’s “Oasis” prism coating. The only additional characteristics listed for the Verano that I see listed are “PGK prisms”, an “F-type” multi-coating and a polycarbonate body. Advertised eye relief levels are similar with the Countryman listed as having slightly more at 19 mm versus 17 mm for the Verano.

So what are my impressions of the two optically and ergonomically?

Tough call. Let me start off by saying that I enjoy using each. Each has its strong points. From an ergonomic perspective I find myself still preferring the Countryman BGA HD. I think this is for a variety of reasons. Going by Eitan’s “human-binocular” interface points I find that my hands get more of a grip, surprisingly with the traditional hinge design. I believe part of this is the rubber texture as my fingers get a solid grip across the central hinge. I think it is also because more of the barrel extends beyond the traditional hinge design so my pinky feels more secure wrapped around the barrel. The second bridge in the open bridge design of the Verano does not allow for much area to rest my pinky on, not to mention actually grip around the barrel.
The other point of contact between the user and the binocular is the eyecups. The Countryman wins here too, at least for my facial dimensions. Since the eyecups are narrower in design they fit more comfortably with my face. They are also more contoured than the Verano so the contact point is more comfortable.

Optically there are some subtle differences and some not so subtle ones. The sweet spot is larger on the Verano and the edge performance is slightly better. It is hard to put percentages on these impressions but if the Verano is sharp to 90% of the image then the Countryman is sharp to 80%. Field curvature is also the “culprit” with the out of focus area on the Countryman and it is to a slightly worse degree than that of the Verano (maybe 2-3 diopters as opposed to the 1-2 of the Verano).

I can detect no difference in apparent brightness or apparent sharpness. Apparent contrast favors the Verano, again, ever so slightly…possibly the result of the “F-type” multicoating.

Chromatic aberration control, particularly outside of the sweet spot favors the Countryman. I am left wondering if this is the result of the specific eyepiece design. Could it be possible that in an effort to obtain the larger sweet spot and better edge performance the sacrifice is slightly higher CA outside of the sweet spot? This seems likes a plausible explanation.
Another notable difference, at least to my eyes, is the appearance of a larger apparent field of view with the Verano. Notice that I did say “appearance”. The reason I use this term specifically is because in a side by side comparison I see no actual difference in the true field of view. Both binoculars appear similar in the “amount of real estate” they allow the user to see. However, my guess is that the larger sweet spot and better edge performance of the Verano give the impression of a larger apparent field of view.

Lastly, the issue of the focusing speed and tension on both models. I have no reservations in saying that I prefer the Countryman in this area. The focusing speed is actually a hair faster in the Countryman in the sense that it goes from close focus to infinity in about 1 1/3 turns versus the 1 ½ of the Verano. But, there is more tension to the Countryman’s focuser (though it is just as smooth). That extra tension gives the user more of a sense of control. Another potential result of this difference is the perception of better depth of focus with the Countryman.

So, which one would I choose? I think it would depend on the application. From an optical perspective if my intended application allowed me to ignore the focus (thinking of observing distant raptors as they fly along the horizon) then I think I would prefer the Verano. I wouldn’t have to worry about the depth of focus and the larger sweet spot would make spotting and following the bird of prey fairly easy. On the other hand if I was planning to focus more often then I think the Countryman would be my choice as I prefer the focusing tension and depth of focus of that model.

Optically I guess I have to give the Verano the nod. I do that grudgingly because I find myself preferring the Countryman overall both because of the ergonomics and the personal fit of the eyepieces. The slightly better contrast and larger sweetspot of the Verano nudge it just past the Countryman in overall optics score.

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