It’s not always practical to tote a pair of full size binoculars around with you. No matter how “ergonomic” and comfortable your regular bins are, there are times when you just have to leave them at home.
Wildlife encounters, however, can happen any time, anywhere. From waxwings dropping in to feast on rowan berries in a supermarket car park, to a stoat loping across a churchyard carrying a kit in its jaws, you never know what nature might throw at you.
Having a small pair of binoculars you can easily and unobtrusively carry on your person is invaluable for those occasions when wildlife crops up unexpectedly and demands a closer look. So, when the Birdwatch Ireland shop announced on their Facebook page they were selling a pair of their €160 Opticron LE Aspheric WP binoculars for the bargain price of €50 I jumped at the chance and bagged a pair of the 10x25s.
That was back in July, and they’ve been in my pocket more or less constantly ever since.
(from the Opticron website)
Min Focus (m)
Price £ inc. VAT
First impressions – unboxing
The binoculars feel solid and well made – they feel like they’re built to last – and that’s backed up by Opticron’s 10 Year guarantee. When folded the binoculars are very compact and slip easily into a fleece pocket, or can be worn on your belt in the provided canvas pouch if you prefer (NB. New optically identical 2012 model now comes with a neoprene pouch). They are small, but crucially, large enough to handle comfortably when unfolded – they feel like a “real” pair of binoculars in your hands – and that’s important.
The focus mechanism is smooth and consistent throughout its range, and the diopter adjustment wheel has a handy thumb lever that makes adjustment easy, but doesn’t get in the way. One quirk: focussing works clockwise for close focus, rotating anticlockwise to infinity, which is the opposite way to my main binoculars. That was a bit weird at first, but not really a problem once I got used to it.
The eyecups are twist-up, and although there is just one step (up or down), they lock into place firmly and work very well. They are a huge step up from the more traditional fold down rubber eyecups found on most binoculars at this price point. The permanently attached lanyard is a bit on the long side, but a swift knot soon sorts that out.
All in all these binoculars feel robust, the finish quality is high, and they are comfortable in the hands… but of course binoculars are all about optical performance… so how do these fare?
My big fear when buying these was that they’d suffer through unfair but inevitable direct comparison with the “alpha class” binoculars I use every day. And it’s true that they simply can’t compete… nor should they.
That said once I readjusted my expectations a bit I found I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the Opticrons. The image delivered through the phase-corrected silver coated prisms and the aspheric lens elements is bright, clear, sharp and colours are true to life. Focus is a little less forgiving than my larger binoculars, but again, it’s something you get used to quickly, and pulling the image into sharp focus is quick and easy. These really are very good little binoculars.
As light fades they do suffer a little due to their relatively high magnification and small objective lens diameter – but that’s a compromise that’s inevitable when you downsize, and I have to say they still surprise me by just how usable they are even in relatively murky conditions.
Phase correction coatings (link to Wikipedia info explaining the technicalities) on the roof prisms makes a big difference to the image quality in roof prism binoculars, improving both contrast and resolution. But they are expensive, and are typically only found in higher end roof prism binoculars. It is unusual to find phase corrected coatings in a pair of compact binoculars at this price point.
The Acid Test – Paris Trip October 2011
Thanks to budget airline travel restrictions space was at a premium on a recent 10 day trip to Paris with the family. I took the reluctant decision to leave my Swarovskis at home, freeing up space and weight in the bag, and slipping the Opticrons into my fleece pocket.
Jays and goldcrests from the queue for the Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris, green and great spotted woodpeckers from the apartment balcony, peregrine falcons from the Eiffel Tower and perched atop Sacre Couer, ring-necked parakeets careering over the gardens of Versailles, crested tits while walking to the supermarket and a hobby and kestrel tussling over Paris city centre… the pocket Opticrons performed admirably.
I won’t say I didn’t miss the Swaros, but I can say with confidence that I didn’t miss any wildlife by choosing to leave them behind. That’s a great testament to the quality and usability of these little Opticrons.
Now, six months in, I still find myself using the Opticrons every day for casual observation in and around the house and garden, when I’m in town, or anywhere else I don’t have the main bins handy. If I’m going out looking for stuff I’ll always grab the full size bins, every other time I’ll reach for the Opticrons that are already in my pocket.
The only concern I have is that the left hand barrel seems to move on it’s hinge more easily than the right hand one. There’s noticeably less resistance there, and while it’s not exactly “loose” I would expect both barrels to be “in balance”. For now it doesn’t really affect the ergonomics or operation of the binoculars, and has absolutely no bearing on their optical performance… and if it gets worse, I guess, there is always that 10-year Opticron guarantee to fall back on.
Getting these for €50 was an absolute steal – but I’d have been very happy even at the full list price – they really do perform well above my expectations, and I’d have no hesitation in recommending them. If you’re looking for a decent pair of pocket binoculars that offer great performance at a price that won’t break the bank give these little Opticrons a whirl. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
NB: Opticron have upgraded this model for 2012 – but as far as I can tell the only difference is a more knobbly focusing wheel, all-white “branding” to replace the green and white logo on the previous model, and a neoprene rather than a canvas case: optically and aesthetically they remain identical.