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…..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”