Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Opticron Discovery 8x32 and 8x42 Review

Being a huge Opticron fan, I am delighted to write this short review of the Discovery 8x42 and 8x32 which sit just below the Explorer at the top of the Chinese range (the more expensive models being made in Japan).

The Opticron Discovery 8x42 has a light weight magnesium alloy body and weighs in at 703g. It feels solid and well built. As you would expect, it is waterproof and fogproof. The rubber armouring is quite grippy, but soft to touch at the same time. It has a very comfortable feel in the hand.

It's smaller brother, the 8x32, has a Super lightweight ABS plastic body and weighs in at a tiny 391g.  This model is almost an exact, though smaller, replica of the 8x42.  It is small enough, and light enough, to fit into a coat pocket.  In fact, it could easily be mistaken for a compact binocular.  Having said that, it feels surprisingly good in my large hands and is much more substantial than your average compact.

The focussing knob is well positioned on both models and is quite grippy too. The grooves are just about right. It focusses from right to left, from close focus to infinity in about one and a half rotations. The focussing is smooth, but the 8x42 unit that I have has a little bit of "play". However, I find it very easy to obtain a sharp image on both the 8x42 and the 8x32.

The eye pieces are large. Eye relief on the 8x42, at 22mm, is excellent for those who wear glasses.  However, the 8x32 has eye relief of just 17mm.  This should be fine for most people who wear glasses, but I find I do have to press them against my glasses ever so slightly.  For those who don't wear glasses, the eye pieces extend out smoothly. There are intermediate stops and when fully extended they stay in place well.

The field of view is an impressive 131m at 1000m on both models. For the 8x42 model, close focus is an outstanding 1.5m although I could focus to about 1m which is really quite phenomenal. The 8x32 has a listed close focus of 1.2m but I managed to focus just under 1m - again this is outstanding.  What's more, the image at close focus is very sharp and is really the outstanding feature of these binoculars.

The image provided by the Discovery is just about right for the price point. It's bright and sharp. It's certainly not the sharpest binocular around and I have my doubts as to the sharpness at distance, but as I said, I think it's more than acceptable. I estimate the sweet spot is around 75% on both models, after which the sharpness deteriorates quite rapidly. The outer 15% is unusable.

The Discovery is listed as Fully Multicoated and it is phase corrected. The colour seems quite neutral but perhaps a little "washed out" due to the aluminium coatings. Chromatic Aberration appears to be well controlled. It's good in the centre but is noticeable at the edges. Stray light management is very good.

I think if the Opticron Discovery provides a good value binocular for someone on a tight budget. Given the excellent close focus ability this is also a good butterfly or insect binocular. I searched high and low for a compact binocular that would provide a very good image in a small package.  The Opticron Discovery 8x32 is the binocular I've been looking for.   The 8x32 has an RRP of £169 whilst the 8x42 has an RRP of 8x42. My experience with the 8x42 and 8x32 has made me keen to try others in the Discovery range. 

Monday, 29 September 2014

RSPB Lochwinnoch

Today I visited my "local patch" - RSPB Lochwinnoch.  It was a fine and dry day, so perfect conditions to test out my loan pair of Minox BL HD 8x44 (review to follow soon).  This wetland reserve is ideal for all the family as the trails, birdwatching hides and visitor centre are all easily accessible.  There is also a well stocked shop selling books, DVDS, gifts, bird seed and a variety of optics.

The reserve is looking great following extensive regeneration last year.  New channels have been added, bringing the wetland birds closer to the visitor centre. 

As usual, the Mallards were providing lots of entertainment near the visitor centre.  Provided below is a picture of two posing Mallards taken by me earlier on this year.

Of course, the star species of this reserve is the Great Spotted Woodpecker.  This attractive bird can usually be seen from the visitor centre.  The following pictures have been taken by me over the last year or so.

RSPB Lochwinnoch is well worth a visit and only 25 minutes from Glasgow by train.  There is also ample parking outside the visitor centre and entry is free for RSPB members.  The reserve is open 7 days a week 10am - 5pm. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Zeiss Terra ED 8x42

The Zeiss Terra ED has been available for a while now. It is Zeiss' entry into the world of chinese made binoculars and offers purchasers the chance to own a Zeiss binocular for around £350. It is a model that has intriuged me, having previously owned the Zeiss Conquest HD 8x42.

At first glance when viewing the binocular online, the Zeiss Terra ED 8x42 looks quite similar to the more expensive, German made Conquest HD. However, once I took it out of the plastic box it was quite clear this was a cheaper binocular. It feels solid enough and has a good weight to it, although at 690g it is certainly not too heavy. I couldn't help noticing that it just doesn't have the same quality about it that other Zeiss models do have. To be honest, it is completely unfair to expect that same quality given the difference in price.

Zeiss describes the Terra as "an eye-catcher. The modern and attractive up-to-the-minute ZEISS design is available in the colours deep blue and cool grey." I chose the "cool grey" as the lesser of the too evils. I didn't particularly find either colour "eye catching". The armouring on the binocular seems thick enough, but it doesn't feel all that comfortable to me. The body is fibre glass reinforced. They are waterproof and fogproof.

The focussing knob is large and well positioned and has a plastic feel to it. It is wide enough to use with two fingers. I find the grooves to be too spaced out and found it difficult to grip. As a result, my fingers slip off quite often. It focusses from left to right, from close focus to infinity in just under one full rotation. The focussing is very light and smooth. I normally like a fast and smooth focusser but I find it quite difficult to get a sharp picture. One tiny touch of the focussing wheel and the view is out of focus.

Eye relief, at 18mm is excellent for those who wear glasses. For those who don't, the eye pieces extend out rather stiffly. There are intermediate stops but I find it quite difficult to tell where the stops should be. However, when fully extended they stay in place well.

The field of view is nothing special at 125m at 1000m although I don't get the impression that the view is claustrophobic. Close focus is an impressive 1.6m although I could focus to about 1.4m which is excellent. More on this later.

The Terra has thus far received mixed reviews and there has been suggestions that there is a lot of sample variation. The sharpness on my model appear excellent from 20m to infinity. I don't do any formal type of resolution testing but I haven't seen anything that would match this sharpness at this price point. There is a good dose of pincushion and a bit of field curvature. I estimate the sweet spot is around 70%, after which the sharpness deteriorates quite rapidly. The out 10% is unusable, but can be focussed out.

However, I have to say that I find it really difficult to get a sharp image at the close focus end of the spectrum. Maybe it is the fast focusser, but I found it very difficult and two of my much cheaper 8x42 models easily outperformed the Terra in this regard. This was a big disappointment for me as I do a bit of insect watching.

I found the view very contrasty. Chromatic Abberation appears to be very well controlled. It's very good in the centre and still quite modest out to the edges. Stray light management is a real strength. I detest stray light but the Terra is one of the best I have seen in this regard. The colour balance is slightly warm, which I like, and there's a real vibrancy about the colours.

I found the low light performance of the Terra fantastic. I used them in early evening and they really sparkled. I could easily get a sharp image even past sunset. I would say this is a real strength and fantastic considering the price.

In many respects this is probably one of the best £300 models I've tried in terms of the optical performance in the centre of the view. It really is a joy to use. However, as mentioned about the close focus ability was a disappointment. The outer components are a bit of a let down too. I can't escape the feeling that this is a "cheap binocular" with a really plastic feel to it - it even has a plastic/chemical smell to it. It is also a bit of a disappointment that a case is not provided. However, in general terms the Terra is very good value for money.

Hogganfield Loch

Yesterday I visited Hogganfield Loch in the east end of Glasgow, the main attraction of Hogganfield Park LNR. 

The loch is a large and shallow with a wooded island situated in its centre.  It is surrounded by marshes, woodland, ponds and grassland.  The loch is home to a large variety of wild birds, including flocks of whooper swans who make the journey every winter from Iceland.  The surrounding habitats are home to various insects, small mammals and pond life. 

I arrived around midday and the loch was very busy with walkers, joggers, families, as well as several nature enthusiasts, some of whom were feeding the wildfowl.  The two children's playparks were also very popular.

I spent a good few hours scanning the loch and noted many wild birds including, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Lesser Black Back Gull, Herring Gull, Black Headed Gull, circa 20 Cormorants perched in the trees and 3 buzzards circling overhead. 

I then took one of the footpaths through the marshland and woodland towards Avenue End Road.  This led me to Cardowan Moss LNR.  Here I saw several garden and woodland birds, including Wood Pigeon, Carrion Crow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Chaffinch, as well as a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly.  A catalogue picture is provided below.

A very good day with lots of fantastic wildlife - and just 10 minutes from Glasgow City Centre!