Thursday, September 06, 2018

Opticron DBA VHD+ 8x42. review

My previous pair of bird watching binoculars were Opticrom Imagic BGA 8x42s bought in February 2000. During a trip to the Spanish Pyrenees in May, we had a couple of very wet days during which my bins got well rained on and subsequently developed internal condensation. Not good! On subsequent investigation, it turns out that one of the barrels has been bashed at some time and was a bit bent - and that had broken the waterproof sealing. I got a quote from Opticron to fix this - £125.
My old Opticron Imagic 8x42
The bent barrel
So, time for a new pair of binoculars. I did lots of research on the Internet and then went to the Bird Fair to try out a wide range of optics. Since the old pair of Opticrons have done me well for 18 years and I don't feel like paying the crazy prices for the likes of Leica, my research had inclined me towards the latest offerings from Opticron.

Before I go any further, I should say that my eyesight is decidedly not of the best! I am 64 and, in 2003 suffered a rather quickly forming and severe cataract in my right eye. This was operated on and I have had an artificial lens since. More recently, a cataract has been steadily forming in my other eye and it is now quite perceptible - putting a slightly yellowish, foggy cast over my vision on that side - although not yet severe enough to operate. So someone younger with perfect vision may definitely be able to perceive differences between optics that are lost on me!

The optics pavilion at the Bird Fair allowed me to try out a range of high end bins: Leica, Zeiss, Swarvoski, Kowa and Opticron (at the In Focus stand) next to each other and on the same subjects - a couple of Little Egrets fishing in Lagoon 1. I found that the current, top end binoculars clearly gave a better image than my old Opticron Imagics - brighter, more contrasty - but I could not see any difference between the top brands costing well over £1000 (or over £2000 in a few cases!) and the top end Opticrons costing £300-600. There is not a lot to distinguish them on things like weight, field of view (pretty much identical in all the ones I looked at) or closes focus distance (1.8-2m in all of them with the Opticrons at the low end of this range). So the upshot was - I bought a pair of Opticron DBA VHD+ 8x42. I did also look at the 10x option, but my hands are too shaky these days and I cannot hold them steady enough.

Opticron DBA VHD+ 8x42
I have now had two trips using the new bins - a three day trip round North Norfolk and a week in the Black Isle, northern Scotland plus the local birding in between. So, this review is based on a couple of weeks of intensive, daily use. I have found the new bins extremely good. Physically, they are no different in size or weight from my old ones, but the clarity and brightness of the image is perceptibly better. They focus down to about 1.8m - which is useful for dragonflies, and about the same as the old pair. However, I am less happy with the case and strap supplied with them.

Fist, let us consider the case. The old Opticron case was a soft leather affair with a zip and its own strap. It has survived 18 years of use with no problems. About the only sign of wear is that the gold-coloured lettering of the Opticron logo has worn off!
Old case
The new case is a soft Cordura affair with no strap. The idea is that there are cut-outs so that the binocular strap acts as the case strap as well.

New case
This might be OK, except that the fastener on the case is pretty useless. It is a sort of metal button, over which you are supposed to press a slit in the leather tab on the lid.
The fastener
It turns out that it is very difficult to fasten this properly. The case is soft and the fastener falls over the gap between the barrels of the binoculars, so when you try to press the flap over the stud, it just sags into the gap and it is quite a struggle to get it on satisfactorily. Then, if you try and pick up the binoculars in their case by the strap, and the flap is not fully fastened, all that happens is that you pull the bins out of the case! This has happened repeatedly!

Secondly, consider the strap. The old strap was simple - just a broad neck strap with two narrower, nylon webbing pieces at each end to loop through the lugs on the binoculars. The new "neoprene bungee strap" is more complicated. It has a broad neoprene neck strap with narrow nylon webbing pieces at each end as before, but these are terminated in quick release buckles. The other end of the quick release has another narrow nylon webbing strap which goes through the binocular lugs.
Fastening the "Neoprene bungee strap" to the binoculars
The problem with this is that, either side of the quick release, there is a bar-buckle that fasten the loop of webbing that goes through the loops on the quick release buckle on one side , so that its lengths can be adjusted, and a second one to fasten the loop that goes through the binocular lugs on the other side. These bar-buckles tend to slip - especially the one nearest to the binocular lugs. Normally, I would put the strap through the buckle an extra time, but the bits of strap nearest to the lugs are too short to allow this. This has been a real problem - I have had the strap come undone almost daily because the fastening of the loop that goes through the binocular lugs has slipped. This despite my best attempts to thread it back through the bar-buckles an extra time to stop it slipping.

I really do not understand why Opticron decided to put the quick release buckle in this strap! What function does it serve? All it does it make three points of failure into each end of the strap instead of just one in the old style strap. Opticron do a harness which has a quick release system. It seemed logical to assume that the quick-release on the bungee strap would be compatible with that on the harness so the bins can be quickly switched between them. But this is not so! The quick release buckle on the harness is much wider than that on the bungee strap. So why they put a quick release system on the bungee strap remains a mystery!

Opticron Harness quick-release on the left and bungee strap quick-release on the right
In conclusion, the new binoculars are great and I would thoroughly recommend them, but the case and strap they are supplied with are not so good. In particular, the strap has been a right pain so far - it keeps coming undone. For that reason, and also because it might help holding the bins still with my shaky hands, I have decided to replace the neck strap and try out the harness. Once I have had some experience with the new harness, I will write a review of that too.