* Prices may differ from that shown
My girlfriend decided that her current binoculars no longer met her needs, so asked for help selecting a new pair.
After visiting the In Focus shop at Martin Mere Wildfowl Trust reserve, we came away (after much testing) with a pair of Opticron Verano Oasis BGA 10x42 binoculars for £299.99.
The numbers and letters in the name requires some explanation: the 10x42 part indicates a ten times magnification utilising 42 mm objective lenses (the large ones at the front of the binoculars). The BGA suffix shows the binoculars have long eye relief with a rubberised, waterproof coating.
Having both used these binoculars extensively I'm pleased to note that our purchase was a good one. For the price, these perform excellently in a wide range of conditions.
The binoculars are of the 'roof prism' type with two small 'bridges' joining the two lens housings together. The first surprise when picking them up is the weight (or lack of it). They are constructed from magnesium alloy, giving a weight of only 653g: this is light enough to wear around the neck all day without fatigue. Because they are so light, holding them in the hand is no hardship and they can be used for minutes at a time without tiring your arms or wrists. This is an excellent feature for a mid priced binocular.
The rubberised coating is fully waterproofed to 10 feet (although we were advised in the shop not to try this out!). The waterproofing together with nitrogen filled internals means that the binoculars never 'fog up' in wet conditions (non-waterproof binoculars can mist up in heavy rain). The rubber coating has another advantage too: it feels warm, even in very cold weather and is textured to make them easier to hold.
The binoculars have been thoughtfully designed; they fit easily into the hand with room to hold them in whatever position feels most comfortable. The focus wheel is chunky with a positive, weighted action and a nice knurled grip. This is large enough to use easily, even when wearing gloves.
As is usual, the right hand eyepiece has a separate dioptre adjustment (used when the wearer's eyes have a different prescription: this is adjusted to suit the right eye so when the binoculars are focused, both eyes get the best view). Again this is chunky, knurled, with a positive action.
Enhancing the well designed ergonomics of these binoculars, Opticron have supplied an excellent, rubberised neck strap. This is so much better than other straps I've used, being warm, comfortable and non-chafing. There is also an easy to use rain guard that covers the eyepieces. This stays on when needed but is easy to remove (again, not always the case with binoculars).
The Verano Oasis 10x42's are excellent to hold and use, but for binoculars, that is only half the story: what sort of image they give is just as important. Poor optics can ruin even the lightest, most cleverly designed binoculars.
Fortunately, the binoculars score highly here, too. The first impression that is gained is of brightness. These give a very bright image for their size. Excellent optics have resulted in extremely high light transmission (in other words, almost all of the light captured by the lens enters the user's eye). Even in dull, overcast conditions, the optics make the most of the light available giving the user the maximum chance of picking out fine detail in the image.
Sharpness is also noteworthy, at least in the centre of the field of view. The centre of the image is tack sharp, with plenty of detail visible and no sign of blurriness or distortion: again, the binoculars make the most of the available light.
Sharpness falls off, however, near the edge of the field of view. This is not unexpected and is not a problem since the eye requires sharpness only in the centre of the image. Even if not completely sharp, the wide field of view (six degrees) helps the user to find objects. The slight blurriness of the outer images is not noticeable in normal use (only when performing a test, such as for a review like this!).
When viewing high contrast images (such as sky through tree branches or a black and white bird), chromatic aberration does become noticeable. This shows as purple coloured fringes at high contrast edges. Although present, the effect is only really noticeable in strong sunlight, and is never too distracting. Complete elimination of chromatic aberration is the forte of binoculars costing in excess of £1,000, so we should not judge this model too harshly.
As mentioned previously, the binoculars have long eye relief. Eye relief indicates how far away from the eyepiece the wearer's eye can be and still focus. For spectacle wearers, long eye relief is needed due to his or her glasses being between the eye and lens. The Verano Oasis 10x42's eye relief is more than sufficient to be used whilst wearing spectacles.
In summary then, these binoculars are light, comfortable and easy to hold. They produce a bright, sharp image even in dull conditions and are a pleasure to use.
There are cheaper (and more expensive!) binoculars available, but the range of features that Opticron have crammed into these 10x42's (particularly the magnesium alloy construction) means that at £299.00, these are excellent value for money. A 30 year guarantee ensures that these should last a very long time, too so anyone looking for a mid-range pair of binoculars could do far worse than choose these.