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Opticron Explorer WA ED 8×42

Time for the third review in this series, the Opticron Explorer WA (wide angle) ED 8×42. This model replaces the non-ED Explorer WA which was only introduced a year or two ago. I don’t have the original on hand for direct comparison but going by past experience the new model seems practically identical with the exception of the introduction of extra low dispersion glass in the design. I enjoyed using the original EX WA and enjoy using the new one even more.

explorerfront

Before proceeding I do have to say that I am genuinely excited to see Opticron finally introducing ED glass in so many of their binoculars over the last year or so. They only had the “ED-X” in their lineup for a few years and it wasn’t that big of a hit from what I am told. With so many models from so many manufacturers utilizing some type of chromatic aberration correction glass in their designs it only made sense for Opticron to follow suit. Of the three new models I have tried in 2017 all of them have improvements in the areas of apparent sharpness and CA control especially within the sweet spot.

So, as always, let us start with the advertised specs for familiarity:

Features include:

  • Nitrogen waterproof construction
  • BAK 4, fully multicoated optical system with ED glass objective lenses
  • PC phase corrected prisms & Oasis-C high light transmission coating
  • Long eyerelief eyepieces for spectacles wearers
  • 3-stage retractable eyecups
  • Close focus to 6.6ft (8×42), 8.2ft (10×42)
  • Tripod adapter socket

Explorer WA ED binoculars come with a comprehensive Limited Lifetime Warranty.

Code
Field ft/1000yd
Field m/1000m
Close Focus ft / m
Eye Relief mm
IPD mm
HxW inches
HxW mm
Weight oz / g
MSRP $
30660
393
131
6.6 / 2
17
55~73
5.5×5.0
140×126
23.6 / 670
345.00

 

As you can see from the advertised specs and features this binocular ticks off all the boxes for a solid performer at this price point….good field of view, decent physical weight, acceptable eye relief and reasonable close focus. Going by specs alone there doesn’t seem to be much of a weak area for this model, especially at this price point (street price right at $299). So lets see if the specs hold up in actual use.

Optical Performance:

I will start out with optical performance as most folks enjoy reading this section first. As you can tell from the introduction I found a couple of important areas very favorable.

Chromatic Aberration control is very good within the sweet spot of the image. It isn’t quite at the level I found in the Natura ED but certainly better than many non-ED models I have owned in the past. Outside of the sweets pot the levels are moderate but still reasonably acceptable. My opinion is that the wider field of view eyepiece (for an Opticron model) makes it more difficult to control CA as well as some of the models with a more conservative field of view design.

Directly related to CA control, again in my opinion, is apparent sharpness. Within the sweets pot the apparent sharpness is very good and similar to both the Natura ED and the Traveller ED that I reviewed previously. I have not found a single situation in practical use where I felt I wasn’t receiving all the detail I wanted or needed in an 8x binocular.

Apparent contrast is slightly better than average for this price point and color rendition is slightly warm. Colors overall are well saturated but there is a slight bias towards the warm side of the spectrum. Apparent brightness is good but not great or excellent. I wouldn’t call it class-leading at this price point but it certainly isn’t an area of weakness.

I mentioned sweet spot size several times already. With this model, as with many others, the conditions you utilize to estimate sweet spot size can play a big part in the impression that it leaves with you. Short of you using a standardized test format it can be difficult to give a fair representation of it. Having said that, I would estimate the “super sweet spot” size to be about 70% of the field of view. There is a very gentle transition out of the sweet spot. It appears to be your typical mixture of astigmatism and field curvature with a nod more towards astigmatism as I can’t refocus the image in the transition area. The image stays this way out to maybe the outer 5% of the image before transitioning to entirely field curvature as I can refocus that small percentage though it is roughly one to two diopters different from the sweet spot itself.

Eye relief is certainly adequate. I don’t wear glasses but typically need longer eye relief models because of my facial features. With the eyecups fully collapsed I can clearly see the full field of view with the expected sharp black edge around the view itself. I wouldn’t call the eye relief generous as I don’t experience any blackouts but it should certainly be adequate for most eyeglass wearers.

exploreroculars

Ergonomics and Mechanics:

Ergonomically this model has a bit more of a chunky feel, in comparison to the Natura ED model I reviewed most recently. I wouldn’t call the barrerls “fat” but they are not contoured as much from the objectives back to the eyepieces. Some individuals might find this desirable when coupled with the conventional bridge design as gives average to large size hands more area to grip before overlapping over the bridge itself. As with the Natura ED and Traveller ED models there are thumb indents on the undersides of the barrels but they are fairly shallow and broad in design so your fingers don’t have to sit squarely in them to be comfortable.

explorerback

The focusing knob is of average size and appropriately placed so your index finger falls naturally onto it. Focusing tension is very smooth with good resistance. There is no “play” when changing direction with the focusing knob but there is a difference in tension in certain areas of rotation. This produces a noticeably different feel when compared with models that have a “play area” that does not change focus and does not have any tension to it. My guess is that the lubricant is not evenly distributed internally at least at this stage of usage.

hand positioning

The binocular close focuses, for my eyes, at a distance of about 5 feet and goes from close focus to infinity in about 1 and 1/3rds rotations counterclockwise.

As mentioned in the product description the metal eyecups have three settings: fully collapsed, an intermediate setting and fully extended. There is enough tension in the eyecup design for the eyecups to remain fully set in whichever position is needed by the user.

Central hinge tension is good with this unit. I cannot accidentally move it from the desired IPD setting without significant pressure.

Looking at the binocular internally through the objective lenses I did not notice any glaring issues, no pun intended. Baffling appears to be well utilized between the objective and prism. I did not note any shiny surfaces nor did I note any dust, fingerprints or exposed glue inside the barrels.

explorerobjectives

Conclusion:

The Explorer WA ED is another new model from Opticron incorporating ED glass in the optical design. If the field of view of some of their other models isn’t wide enough for you and your budget is $300 US or less then this binocular certainly deserves consideration. It doesn’t excel in any one particular area optically, mechanically or ergonomically but it does deliver solid performance in practically every area.

Opticron Natura ED 8×42

Introduction:

I have been putting off my review of the new Opticron Natura ED models for the last four or five months for a few reasons. For one, as I mentioned in my previous post, life has been busy on my end and I just haven’t had the time to sit down and do the reviews that various binoculars and spotting scopes deserve. Two, I received several other new models to use and review in the mean time. Lastly, I used both the 8×32 and 8×42 extensively once I received them but that was several months ago and I wanted to use them again now so I could fresh impressions instead of relying on memory alone.

This review is going to focus on the 8×42 model as I prefer it to the 8×32. That is a bit of a change of pace as I tend to prefer 8x32s in general with one or two exceptions. Their more compact design and generally wider field of view usually trumps any “low light” advantage or exit pupil “comfort” that an 8×42 can provide. In this case though there were two issues that drew me to the 8×42 instead. First I like the size and handling of this particular 8×42 model. The housing is contoured/tapered from the larger object back to the smaller diameter eyecups. Add to that the “shorter conventional bridge” design and my hands just fit around this very naturally.  Second, the focus wheel of the 8×32 is stiffer than I prefer for practical use. It has loosened up slightly over time but not to the point that I consider it acceptable.

The current ED version of the Natura binocular has nothing in common with the original Natura that Opticron introduced a few years ago. The original model had a notably narrower field of view, lacked the ED glass of the current model and had an open bridge design.

Now that the introduction is out of the way let’s look at the advertised specifications/features as per the Opticron website:

Features include;

  • Compact, lightweight roof prism design with micro hinge body
  • Textured rubber armor
  • Nitrogen waterproof construction
  • ED, fully multi-coated optical system with ‘PC’ phase corrected prisms and Oasis prism coating
  • Long eye relief eyepieces giving full field of view for glasses wearers
  • Wide wheel focusing with integrated rhs diopter adjuster
  • 3-stage alloy retractable eyecups
  • Close focus to 7.2ft (8×32), 8.2ft (8/10×42)
  • Tripod adapter socket
  • Limited Lifetime Warranty

Field of view in feet: 366
Field of view in meters: 122
Close focus distance feet/meters: 8.2 / 2.5
Eye relief in mm: 23
Interpupilary Range: 56~76
Length and width (inches): 5.6×5.1
Length and width (mm)142×129
Weight (ounces/grams) 22.9 / 648
MSRP: $409.00

 naturatop

Ergonomics/Mechanics:

As I mentioned in the introduction I really like the ergonomics of this binocular, especially for a full-sized 8×42 model. The binocular feels light in the hand without feeling flimsy. I believe this is the result of the combination of the relatively light weight (22.9 ounces) and the texturing of the rubber armor. It has a slightly pebbled or dimpled feel to it. I have found this to be both pleasant to the touch and practical in wet weather.

Also mentioned previously is the shorter, conventional hinge design. This design allows more of my fingers to wrap comfortably around the barrel especially in comparison to a normal, conventional hinge design. This then leads to a more stable grip and subsequently a more stable image.

The focusing knob is well placed for my index finger, large enough for my finger to find it and the ribbing across the focusing knob makes sure my finger does not slip off of it accidentally. The diopter adjustment is located on the focusing knob with this model. It is a straight-forward “pull up to adjust, pop-back-in to lock” arrangement. I have not had issues with the diopter accidentally moving with this design.

Focusing tension started out a bit stiff right out of the box but has loosened up to a more than acceptable level. There is still a bit of “stiction” to the feel of the focusing movement but it seems to get less and less with regular use. I wonder if this is related to the diopter adjustment being placed in this location as several binoculars I have owned with this design displayed this feel to some degree.

The binocular close focuses to about 7 feet with my eyes. Focusing direction is counterclockwise and it takes approximately one and 2/5ths turns to go from close focus to infinity with about a quarter turn of travel past infinity focus.

The metal eyecups twist out to adjust effective eye relief. They have three settings: Fully collapsed, intermediate and fully extended. They stay locked at the intermediate and fully extended position thanks to a nifty little mechanism. You actually twist past the intermediate or fully extended position slightly before twisting back down to a locked one.

There are two thumb indents on the underside of the barrel but, as in the last review, they don’t force you into a specific finger/hand position due to the shallow and broad nature of the design. The pictures will illustrate this nicely.

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Optical performance:

This binocular provides an interesting blend of optical performance areas. Strong points include excellent CA control over practically the entire field of view, very good apparent sharpness and very good apparent brightness. The only weak spot I have found is an average field of view (366 feet at 1000 yards or 7 degrees). In addition, the sweet spot size appears to be very generous. I would estimate close to 85% of the field of view is as sharp as the center. The next 7-8% is a transitional zone and the last 7-8% is out of focus but snaps into focus with a slight turn of the focusing knob (field curvature).

To be honest I prefer and am accustomed to using 8x binoculars (32 mm or 42 mm) with a wider field of view than this. Most of the ones that I have been using recently sport 8 degrees (420 feet) + fields of view so I do notice the difference when switching to the Natura ED. The strange part is I don’t find it bothersome in the least. This is curious to me as I would expect to feel more restricted as if I was missing out on something. I think that impression relates to the following characteristics.

One, as I mentioned the apparent sharpness is very good. I would even venture to say excellent. I seem to be able to see the smallest details on either the holly bush outside my window (about 15 feet away) or looking all the way out at birds of prey flying over a local ridge close to a mile away.

Two, apparent brightness appears to be very good. My first inclination of this was using the binocular at dusk recently. I could clearly see better with the binocular than with my own eyes. The image in the binocular, under those conditions, just appeared notably brighter. In a second situation I could readily detect color or shades of color on distant raptors. IDing Black Vultures by the small white patches on the wings seemed relatively easy as I could see them clearly even on a cloudy, dreary day.

Third, I have to say that the CA control on this model is very impressive. For those of you that are binocular aficionados out there you know a good ED glass binocular when you get that clean, sharp, crystalline style image. Everything seems almost hyper-real because the image is so clean and sharp. This model displays that level of performance.

Lastly, as I mentioned, the sweet spot size is very generous as I would hope considering the relatively average field of view. I believe the size of the sweet spot, and also the type of distortion/aberrations outside of the sweet spot can lead directly to how relaxed the image is. The image in the Natura ED feels very relaxed and natural. In addition the binocular displays literally no color bias. I have compared it to binoculars that have a slightly warm (either yellow or red/purple) color bias and to my eyes the Natura ED seems neutral in that regard, not favoring the warm or cold area of the visible spectrum.

naturaoculars

Summary:

This binocular utilizes a relatively conservative overall design. It does not break any new ground in terms of optical performance. Yet, I thoroughly enjoy using it. Case in point, the last few days have seen a notable fallout of migrating species at the local lake. I have several binoculars always handy in my vehicle when I go out to survey a “birdy” area. The first one I have been grabbing recently is the Natura ED. Its comforable handling and light weight for a full-sized model coupled with its clean and relaxed image have made it a pure pleasure to use. I plan on keeping this one. J

Opticron Traveller 8×32 ED

Opticron Traveller  ED 8×32

 

Introduction

 

It has been quite some time since I posted an optic review. For that I apologize. As I am sure many of you can relate to, life can sometimes get busy and out of control. Though that hasn’t changed at this point I thought it was time to sit down and put a few reviews together. Part of the reason for this is the recent introduction of the Opticron Traveller series of binoculars. I received my review pair a week or two ago and have been using it daily since then.

To get this out of the way from the start, yes, it is very similar in design to both the Nikon Monarch 7 8×30 and the Maven B3 8×30. To say otherwise would be a bit silly on my part. As they say though, the devil is in the details and the Traveller is loaded with details.

 

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Advertised specs and features from Opticron are listed below:

Specifications 8×32 10×32
Product Code
Field (m)
Min Focus (m)
Eyerelief (mm)
IPD (mm)
HxW (mm)
Weight (g)
Price £ inc. VAT
30648
143
1.8
19
51~73
119×115
451
309.00
30649
113
1.8
17
51~73
119×115
453
319.00

Features include:

  • Lightweight polycarbonate body protected in natural rubber armour
  • Nitrogen waterproof construction (3m depth)
  • ED, fully multi-coated optical system with BAK 4 phase corrected prism units and Oasis prism coating
  • Wide field long eye relief eyepieces giving full field with spectacles
  • 4-stage twist-type retractable eyecups
  • Close focus to 1.8m
  • Tripod adapter socket
  • 30 year guarantee

Ergonomics

I chose to start off with this category first for a reason. At least 8 or 9 years ago there was an inexpensive 7×28 model on the market. I became aware of it only when it was discontinued and discounted significantly. The optics were so-so but the handling was close to ideal in my opinion. Just big enough to get your hands fully around and yet small enough to be considered “compact” compared to a full-sized 42 mm model.

Now you may ask why I am bringing this up? Well, in my opinion, the Traveller falls into that same category in terms of overall size and handling. It is big enough for me to really get my slightly larger-than-average-sized hands around and yet small enough and light enough to make carrying it seem almost unnoticeable.

As you can see in the attached picture, my pinky and ring fingers fit comfortably around the barrel without extending in front of the objective lens. My middle finger sits across the bridge for stability and my index finger fits perfectly over the focusing knob. There are some modest thumb indents underneath the barrel but they aren’t deep enough to really affect thumb positioning in my opinion.

grip

Mechanics/Fit and finish

Just to set the tone for this part of the review, there isn’t anything in this category that I found wanting. The central hinge tension is a tad looser than ideal but that is an easy fix if you have the right tools plus it hasn’t been an issue in actual practice at this point.

The eyecups do have two intermediate click-stops between fully collapsed and fully extended and they do stay in place. Because of the generous eye relief and relatively narrow eyecup diameter I am forced to move the eyecups up to the first intermediate click-stop setting from fully collapsed. As I mentioned in previous reviews I do not wear glasses or contacts but have a high bridged nose and relatively close-set eyes. The result is that I often used most binoculars with the eyecups fully collapsed just as an eyeglass wearer would.

As an interesting side note, I don’t remember needing to extend the eyecups on either of the other two similarly-designed models which, to me, means that the eye relief is slightly longer on the Traveller.

The binocular is completely rubber armored and I detect no issues with the quality, feel or smell of the rubber armoring. It does its job and does not take away from the overall feel or design of the binocular.

The focusing knob is large and easy to find with either bare or gloved hands. Focusing speed is fairly fast at one full turn clockwise from a close focus of about 4 feet (for my eyes) to infinity. Focusing tension on this unit started out fairly stiff but has loosened up slightly. I actually prefer a slightly stiffer focusing tension with a binocular that has a faster focus (1 revolution or less) as it give me more control. The focusing tension does stiffen up noticeably in colder weather but is still usable because of the faster focusing speed.

I did not detect any quality control issues externally or internally as in evidence by the pictures provided.

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Optics

Last but not least, optical performance. There is a great deal to like about this binocular optically. Let us start out with the obviously wide 8.2 degree field of view. That is approximately 430 feet at 1000 yards… field of view which is slightly wider than almost all 8x32s roof prism binoculars at any price point.

The use of extra low dispersion (ED) glass in the objective design does a nice job of reducing chromatic aberration (color fringing) resulting in a clean-looking image. I would consider it very well controlled within the sweet spot and average around the perimeter of the field of view.

Speaking of the sweet spot, it is very large in my experience. I would estimate 75-80% of the field of view. The remaining 20 or so percent appears to be field curvature and only slightly so as I barely need to touch the focusing knob to get the outer edge to snap in focus.

damping

Apparent brightness is very good. As an example, this morning before the work I was using the binocular for just general observation around my home. It was light in the sky but the sun had not yet broken the horizon. I had no problem picking out fine details on a variety of objects in the surrounding area. I usually don’t expect notable low light performance from a 32 mm binocular but the Traveller certainly delivered in this area.

Apparent contrast was certainly good and possibly slightly above average. Colors weren’t oversaturated but appeared very lifelike in representation. Apparent sharpness was above average as I never found myself wanting for more detail at any distance.

I feel the need to mention an overall impression here as I believe this binocular’s optical performance is one of those that is greater than the sum of its parts. The wide field of view, large ocular design and large sweet spot gives one a very immersive experience. The lack of CA in the image, the excellent apparent sharpness and realistic contrast provide a very natural and relaxed image.

oculars

In closing I want to say that this could very well be the ideal binocular for many individuals. It certainly has an excellent combination of size, ergonomics and optical performance. Two big thumbs up from me on this model.

Athlon Optics Cronus 8.5×42

I was given the opportunity to review the new Athlon Optics Cronus 8.5×42 binocular. For those that didn’t read my review of the Argos model, Athlon is a relatively new company staffed by a variety of 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. I was quite satisfied with what they were able to produce with the Argos lineup so I was curious what they could do with their flagship model.

cronus1

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. The Cronus offers all of the latest features. A list of them is below…..

E2ES System- Edge 2 Edge Sharpness system

E2ES System is a field flattening system that produces sharper, clearer images all the way from one lens edge to the other

ED Glass- High definition glass ED glass gives you an image with little or no chromatic fringe so the final result brings a clearer and sharper image to your eyes

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.

Lightweight Magnesium Chassis Magnesium chassis give you the strength of a metal chassis while reducing the weight as much as 35%

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.

Locking Diopter Locking Diopter keeps the diopter adjustment knob from accidentally moving from the optimal setting

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 protects the binocular in the harshest weather conditions or if accidentally submerged underwater

Argon Purged Argon purging gives you better waterproofing and thermal stability

cronus2

Advertised specifications are as follows:

POWER 8.5X

OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER 42 mm

EYE RELIEF 22 mm

FIELD OF VIEW ANGULAR 7.6°

FIELD OF VIEW FEET @1000 Yards 399 ft

FIELD OF VIEW METERS @1000 METERS 133 m

CLOSE FOCUS 2 m /6.6 ft

INTERPUPILLARY DISTANCE 56 mm-73 mm

WEIGHT 33 oz

When reviewing these features what jumped out at me initially was the mention of a field flattening element in the design. For those of you that are familiar with the market the use of field flatteners, typically in the eyepiece, has been utilized for quite some time but only in certain models and never in any great variety. That seems to have changed over the last three or four years.

Several of these most recently introduced models appear to be based off the same basic design as they all sport practically identical performance parameters and specifications (eye relief, field of view, physical weight, etc…). The latest introduction into this market segment is the Athlon Cronus. In many ways it appears to be based off the same base design but with one notable difference. All of the other recent introductions are offered in an 8×42 and a 10×42. Athlon decided to spice things up a bit by offering their Cronus model in both a 10×42 and an 8.5×42.

So you might ask why an 8.5x model? Well, Swarovski, and Swift, have had considerable success with this magnification. 8.5x does provide just a little bit more potential resolution when all else is equal. I have owned the original Swarovski EL 8.5×42, a vintage Swift Audubon of this configuration and a Bresser Montana 8.5×45. In each case I could see just a bit more detail with these 8.5x models than I could with my old standby 8x binoculars. Furthermore, I do not seem to notice much of the negatives of jumping up to a 10x model in the sense of notable decreased depth of field or notably narrower field of view. 8.5x seems like a worthwhile compromise for those looking for just a little more “reach” than an 8x can provide. With that being said, let us take a look at the rest of this binoculars’ optical performance.

cronus3

Optical Performance:

The use of ED glass in the objective design, the field flattener in the eyepiece and the eyepiece design in general produce a very bright, sharp, contrast-filled image that does come very close to edge to edge sharpness. It is better than average in all of these areas plus it has relatively low levels of chromatic aberration (color fringing). So, its performance basically mirrors that of the previous models built on this platform. Where it is slightly better is in the level of apparent sharpness on axis. I believe the extra .5x magnification does provide slightly more detail particularly in the center of the field of view. I can see the smallest details relatively easily with this model.

The only negative aspect of this binoculars’ optical performance is that it does suffer from slightly increased angular magnification distortion and the subsequent rolling ball as a result. The field of view is flat with excellent edge sharpness but the transition zone between the on axis and off axis performance is slightly larger than in the 8x versions and also slightly more pronounced. With a static image the distortion is practically unnoticeable but when panning I pick up on it relatively easily.

Apparent brightness is above average as is the contrast level. Color representation is neutral to ever so slightly warm.

cronus5Phonescoped image with Cronus 8.5×42 via the Iphone 6S and Phone Skope adapter. Edited only by cropping to eliminate vignetting.

Mechanics and Ergonomics:

The build quality on this binocular is very good. I had no concerns with the central hinge tension or eyecup design and function. Internally the binocular is extremely clean, well baffled and blackened. The focusing knob is a little stiffer than I would prefer right out of the box but has loosened up somewhat over the last month. The minimum close focusing distance for my eyes was measured at 5.75 feet. The focusing speed is fairly fast in going from close focus to infinity in just a hair over one full turn of the focus knob. The diopter adjustment is located on the focusing knob and has a small raised extension used for adjustments. It has a locking function that requires you to depress it before it will freely move from its set position.
Probably the only objectionable issue with this model, as it was with similar designs, is the physical weight. The manufacturer lists a 33 oz weight which I tend to believe though I haven’t had a chance to weigh the binocular myself. This is about 5 ounces heavier than the previous model I reviewed and I believe that the increase is the result of thicker rubber armor. Personally, I don’t have an issue with the weight as I have used heavier binoculars in the past (Nikon Venturer LXL 8×42 – 36 oz, Vixen Foresta 7×50 – 31 oz, Leica Trinovid BN – 31 oz, Meopta Meostar 8×42 – 32 oz) but it might be a consideration for some folks looking for a lightweight full-sized design.

cronus4

Conclusion:

All in all this is another excellent introduction at/around $500. You receive all of the latest features available on models at a much more expensive price point. It sets itself apart from similarly designed models by offering an extra .5x magnification and a diopter adjustment on the central focusing knob. Build quality is very good and the binoculars are well balanced. Athlon definitely chose an excellent design to use as their flagship model

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…..

http://www.opticronusa.com/Pages/dba_vhd.html

• 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…..

Ergonomics/Mechanics:

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.

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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.

Conclusion:

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”