Monthly Archives: January 2016

Opticron DBA VHD 8×42

Do you know how much I love doing optics reviews? I really do. They are so much fun and now is a great time to be involved with the sport optics industry because there are so many new and interesting products. If it isn’t the startup companies with their new designs then it is the longstanding, respected companies producing a new model or two each year. It is a product from the latter type of company that I will be commenting on in this review.

Opticron is a company based out of Great Britain. They have been in business for well over 40 years but have only been in the US market for a little over four. Their binocular line hits just about every price point from around $100 all the way up to just over $800. I have been given the opportunity to review their new flagship binocular, the DBA VHD 8×42. The MSRP for this model is listed at $915 but I see the street price puts it just under $800. I have had this unit for a couple of months now so I have really had an opportunity to use it extensively. So, without further adieu let us get to it…..

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Advertised features and specs via the Opticron USA homepage…..

• Compact, lightweight roof prism design
• Dual hinge, single axis body
• Textured rubber armoring
• Nitrogen gas filled waterproof (16ft depth)
• VHD optical system incorporating a high quality ED glass objective system, phase corrected prisms with Oasis prism coating S-type multi-coating to all air/glass surfaces
• Flat field vision
• Long eyerelief for spectacle wearers
• Multi-stage twist type retractable eyecups
• 500° turn smooth action wide wheel focusing
• Close focus to 8.2ft
• Central diopter adjuster
• Tripod adapter socket

Field ft/1000yd  367
Field m/1000m  122
Close Focus ft / m  8.2/2.5
Eyerelief mm  22
IPD mm  56-74
HxW inches 5.7×5.0
HxW mm 145×126
Weight oz / g  24.6/696
MSRP $ 915.00
Lets mix it up a bit and talk about Ergonomics and Mechanics first…..


The VHD is an open bridge design but it is a relatively short open bridge design compared with many of the open bridge/ED glass binoculars on the market. As you can see from the specs list it measures at 5.7 inches long. I am able to fit both my ring and middle finger in between the two bridges. Most of the binocular is rubber-armored except for a small strip between the bridges. This gives the feel of a bit of an indent for your fingers to rest into.

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The focusing knob is of average size. It focuses counterclockwise from close focus to infinity in approximately 1.5 rotations with an extra half turn beyond infinity. This could be considered a little slow to average by today’s standards. What I have found though is you cannot judge a binoculars’ focusing speed based strictly on the number for rotations. You also have to factor in the amount of tension in the focusing knob. Too much tension coupled with too many rotations and the focus can be painstakingly slow. I can happily report that the focusing tension on the VGA HD is not excessively stiff and as a result the focusing speed/tension combination is not slow. This combination actually has a bit more precise feel to it. Minimum close focus for this model is right at 7.5 feet for my eyes.

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The eyecup design is something I am a little excited about. Though I have seen similar designs in previous years I have to say that this is the most positive feeling design I have encountered recently. The eyecups are of the typical rotate out/in design. Where they differentiate themselves from other designs is in the mechanism that allows them to stay put at the predetermined settings. As you rotate the eyecups out they go a millimeter or two past the preset distance and then rotate forward again to lock into place. You cannot accidentally move the eyecups from the pre-set position. What an awesome feature. For those concerned about needing an eye relief setting between the predetermined ones there is more than enough tension in the eyecups to keep them set in place. For my use I need to have the eyecups moved out to the first setting from completely collapsed. This leads me to believe that eye relief is very generous.

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No issues with the central hinge tension. It isn’t overly stiff but will not accidentally move during regular use. The diopter adjustment is located on the central hinge of the binocular and is of the “pop-out-to-adjust-pop-back-in-to-lock” design. I have not had any issues with it moving accidentally.

Optical Performance:

So the question that most of you should be thinking, at least in my opinion, is “So just how good optically is Opticron’s flagship model?”

I am glad you asked that. ;)

It is good. Very good as a matter of fact. On axis performance is as good as any binocular I have had the privilege to look through in the last year including some of the most expensive consumer binoculars on the market.
So what stands out to me as I look through this binocular?

Well, the first time I used it I was on a pelagic birding trip off the coast of Cape May, NJ. We left the dock around 1 pm and stayed out for 6 hours. I had the opportunity to use the binocular under some very challenging conditions including in low light. In that situation and in every other scenario I have put these bins through I have been struck by their excellent level of apparent brightness, contrast and sharpness. You know that 3D impression that you get when an object is extremely well saturated with color and contrasts beautifully with the background? That is the impression I get with this binocular.

Apparent sharpness, influenced by a variety of factors beyond just resolution, is excellent on axis. The apparent brightness is also first rate. This binocular outperforms everything else I have on hand in low light conditions (assuming a similar configuration). Based on these impressions I am led to believe that Opticron either significantly upgraded the coatings compared to their other models or is using some new type of high transmission glass recently introduced in much more expensive models. Regardless of the origin the effect it has on the image is immediately noticeable. I have compared the VGA to one particular binocular that is advertised as having light transmission numbers in the 90% range and the VGA appears brighter in every condition.


Color representation is completely neutral. I have compared it with two other binoculars I have on hand that display a warm color bias. The VHD looks completely neutral in comparison. I do not have any cool-biased binoculars on hand for comparison.

Chromatic aberration (color fringing) control is excellent on axis….or within the sweet spot if you prefer. I cannot detect it inside the sweet spot. As with most binoculars, as you move away from the centerfield a faint halo begins to appear around high contrast objects.  I would call it moderate at the outer edge of the image.

So, in this day and age where edge performance seems to be as much of a selling point as the centerfield performance how does the VGA perform? Well, if there was one area where I would like to some improvement it is in this area. My estimation of the apparent sweet spot size is in the 70-75% range. That is certainly acceptable and actually quite good compared to many models. Having said that it isn’t at the level where many of the more expensive models are at. I feel that needs to be mentioned simply because this binocular competes with those more expensive models in just about every other optical category.

So what is the off-axis performance like?

Well it isn’t poor by any stretch of the imagination. It is quite good actually but when you are accustomed to the high level of performance within the sweet spot then you start to want to have it across the entire field of view. Off axis degradation seems to be mostly a slight amount of field curvature with a little bit of astigmatism as I can’t quite the outer edge as sharp as the sweet spot no matter how I rotate the focus.

The only other optical area that I feel needs improvement is the field of view. At 7 degrees (367 feet) I would call the field of view conservative. There was a high-end model from a well-known Japanese manufacturer that had a 7 degree field of view that nobody complained about but then it also was sharp from one edge of the image to the other. It was also popular about 12 or 13 years ago when field of view numbers, across the market, were more conservative. In comparison to many of the most expensive consumer binoculars the field of view falls a bit short. Its closest competition has a field of view that is about 20 feet wider at 1000 yards. The good news though in this case is that when used on its own the 7 degree field of view does not feel restrictive. Only when comparing it with much wider field of view binoculars do you begin to see a bit of the limitation.


This model was designed to perform against much more expensive binoculars not only in a variety of optical areas but also in terms of build quality. It falls a little short in one area, field of view but the other optical performance areas make you want to forget about that issue. Ergonomically and mechanically it is a very good Japanese-made binocular. It certainly competes well with anything I have seen priced at or under $1000.

Phonescoped picture out of my office window. Very foggy day so not the best representation in terms of brightness. I will add a better picture at a later day/time.

I did receive a message from the manufacturer addressing my field of view comments in the review. It is copy/pasted below:


“While it is technically possible to deliver a wider FOV, 7 degrees was
decided upon as it gave a what we saw as a good balance between FOV and
resolution with the chosen prism set. A wider FOV with similar resolution
figures would necessitate using a larger prism set with an associated
increase in body size and weight. This change would negate many of the
advantages the compact 42mm format delivers for the VHD”

Athlon Optics Argos 8×34

I haven’t had much time lately to sit down and share my thoughts on a few of the more recent binoculars that have graced my home. Besides all of the usual holiday hustle and bustle I have been intently birding my local patch(es) in search of any new and interesting birds. With the holidays over and a great start to my year list I thought it was time to finally sit down and put something together for the handful of models worthy of review. First on the list is the Athlon Argos.

focusing knob


I am sure your first thought after reading that statement is “who is Athlon” and what is the Argos model. Athlon is relatively new company staffed by a variety of gifted individuals that had worked for Bushnell in recent years. These gentlemen had the idea that they could offer high quality optics directly to consumers at a very reasonable price. It seems they succeeded from what I have seen with the Argos model.

Athlon Optics has 6 binocular lines and 2 spotting scope lines. Each line is geared for a specific level of performance for that particular price point. Their most expensive binocular model, the Cronus, has an MSRP just under $600 but sports an impressive list of features not the least of which being a field flattener element.

So where does the Argos fit into their lineup?

Its price point, around $200 MSRP, puts in the lower middle of their various binocular lines. The inevitable question is why I would request to have one of the lower price models for review instead of one of their higher price and higher performing models. Well, there are a few answers to that question. For one, I look for the best “value” in terms of optics. I would much rather spend $200 on a binocular that performs like the average $400 model rather than spend $400 on an average $400 model.

Second, some of the specs and features of the Argos jumped out at me. For one it is lightweight. Two it is an open bridge design. Three it has an advertised 34 mm objective diameter and, four, it had a listed field of view of over 400 feet. The last point, as it turns out, was a typo on the website. The actual field of view is 7.1 degrees (371 feet)…..a bit of a letdown but not a deal breaker when you handle and look through this model.
Lastly, I did also request their high end Cronus model but it was not available prior to the holidays (hopefully more on that in the near future).


So let us start with the basic advertised specifications and features:

EYE RELIEF  17.4 mm
FIELD OF VIEW FEET @1000 Yards 407 ft
CLOSE FOCUS  4 m /13 ft
WEIGHT 16.3 oz

ESP Dielectric Coating- Enhanced Spectral Prism Dielectric Coating ESP Dielectric Coating is a multi layer prism coating that reflects over 99% of the light to your eyes bringing you a clear, bright image that displays accurate color reproduction.

XPL Coating- Xtra Protective Layer coating XPL Coating gives you an extra protection on the exterior lenses from dirt, oil and scratches

Phase Corrected prisms  Phase corrected prisms produce images that have better contrast, a higher resolution and better color reproduction

BaK4 prisms  Bak-4 glass prisms reflect more light to your eyes which will give you brighter and sharper image.

Advanced FMC  Advanced Fully Multi-Coated lenses gives you better light transmission to bring optimum brightness and true color across the entire light spectrum.

Long Eye Relief  Long eye relief can be particularly important for eyeglass wearers because longer eye relief allows them to still see the entire field of view.

Close Focus  Close focus is important for those who are nature observers and especially important if you are going to watch butterflies or insects

Twist Up Eyecups  Twist up eyecups with intermediate stops allow you to set the eyecups to the ideal eye relief for you eyes

Waterproof  Waterproof to protect the binocular in the harshest weather conditions or if accidentally submerged underwater

That information is a direct copy/paste from the Athlon website. So, as you can see, the only two features that it does not offer are ED glass and a field flattening element in the eyepiece design. Keep in mind this model does have a regular “street price” of around $170.

Optical Performance:

Optical performance is always my first place to start. Don’t get me wrong. I think ergonomics and mechanics can play an equally important role but optical performance is the foundation to which the other two build upon (in my opinion).

As mentioned above the field of view should be considered average for a 30-something class binocular. Typically as you move up in objective size with a particular binocular line you lose field of view (assuming all else is equal). Your normal 8×30 or 8×32 model has an average field of view around 393 feet (7.5 degrees) with some of the more impressive models approaching and exceeding 420 feet. The 34 mm objective brings that field of view down a bit but not objectionably so.

So what strikes me about the optical performance of this model?

Good question. I think, optically, the size of the sweet spot and the overall transition from the sweet spot out to the field stop is what I like most. The apparent sweet spot size is approximately 80% of the field with a very gradual transition to the out of focus edge of the field of view. Image deterioration at the edge seems to be entirely field curvature. The out of focus area is only just out of focus as a slight bump of the focusing knob brings it into focus.

How about the other optical performance areas such as apparent brightness, sharpness, contrast, etc…?

My experience with this and other models at this price point leads me to believe that it is slightly above average in most areas. Apparent sharpness within the sweet spot is more than acceptable. The contrast level is good but not very good or excellent. CA control is surprisingly better than expected within the sweet spot. Apparent brightness is above average. The image also has a neutral to ever so slightly warm color representation.

So what do I think about the overall image representation?

I like it. The combination of sweet spot size, color representation and apparent sharpness all make the image seem very natural to my eyes. There isn’t any eyestrain either because of alignment issues or excessive distortions or aberrations. So, in other words, the binocular is a solid little performer at the $200 price point. I definitely prefer its optical performance over some other recently introduced models reviewed previously at this price point.

The minimum close focusing distance for my eyes is approximately 7 feet.



No optical performance pun intended but I think this is where this model really shines. I genuinely love the ergonomics of this model. The barrels are long and without bumps or extrusions. As a result there is plenty of room for your fingers to fit in between the barrels. In addition the eyecups are nicely contoured along the rim so the eyecups fit comfortably in/around my eye sockets.

The binoculars feel even more lightweight than their listed 16.3 ounce weight which is most likely the result of open bridge design coupled with the fairly long , for a 30 mm class, barrels (5.25 inches). The focusing knob is large and the positioning of the open bridge design easily allows my index finger to rest comfortably across it during regular use.


The ocular diameter appears fairly large in relation to the diameter of the eyecups. In my experience this makes for easy eye placement especially when coupled with the 4.25 mm exit pupil (and as opposed to the 3.75 mm exit pupil of an 8×30 model).


In regular use I have no major objections to the mechanical performance of this model. I do have some nitpicks though that I will get into shortly. Central hinge tension is good with the IPD setting not moving during regular use. Focusing direction is counterclockwise from close focus to infinity. It takes approximately 1.5 turns of the focusing knob to cover that distance with a little (1/4 of a turn) remaining beyond infinity for my eyes. Focusing tension is smooth with slightly less than average tension. I do not find this objectionable since the focusing speed is average to slightly slow.


There is a small amount of play in the focusing knob at one point in the focusing range. It is not large, maybe 1/8th of an inch but I do notice it on occasion during regular use.

The eyecups rotate out for non-eyeglass wearing individuals. I don’t wear glasses but typically have to use a binocular with the eyecups fully collapsed to see the full field of view. Blame my big nose and close-set eyes for that situation. The eyecups work very well either fully collapsed or fully extended. There feels like there should be an intermediate setting but the eyecups do not stay set in any position other than the two mentioned.



So what are my final thoughts on this model?

In general I like it. It fits a useful niche. The binocular is smaller than a full-sized 40 mm model and light enough for you to wear around your neck all day and not even notice that it is there. The ergonomics are excellent in my opinion. I love holding and using this model. Optically it punches slightly above its price point. If only the field of view was closer to its advertised 407 feet I think I might be more enthusiastic  about its overall optical performance. Still, even with that small nitpick I could easily see myself using this little model as a regular day to day binocular….and let us not forget one of its more appealing overall characteristics….its price. 