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.
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.
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.