Product Review: Sky Rover Banner Cloud APO 8 x 42.

The Sky Rover Banner Cloud APO 8 x 42 package.


A Work Commenced April 11 2024


Preamble

Product: Sky Rover Banner Cloud APO 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Chassis: Magnesium alloy overlaid by protective rubber

Exit Pupil: 5.4mm

Eye Relief: 18mm

Field of View: 159m@1000m(9.1 angular degrees)

Dioptre Compensation: +\-4

Coatings: Fully broadband multicoated, Phase corrected Schmidt Pechan prisms, hydrophobic coatings on ocular and objective lenses

ED glass: Yes(2 elements)

Field Flatteners: Yes

Waterproof: Yes, 1m/30 mins

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 2.09m measured

Light Transmission: 90-92%

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Dimensions:15.6 x 12.3cm

Weight: 860g advertised, 913g measured with objective covers on.

Accessories: Soft padded carry case, objective covers, ocular rain guard, padded neck strap, microfibre cloth, instruction manual

Warranty: 3 Years( to be possibly negotiated)

Price: £419.00(minus 19%import tax)

Over the last few years I’ve had the immense good pleasure to buy in and test some remarkable binoculars. I’ve been especially interested in bringing the greatest bang for buck instruments to the community and have identified a number of excellent Chinese-made instruments that have inched ever closer to the kind of quality images garnered by long-established European brands. In this capacity, some have come frighteningly close to the very best in their aperture class. That being said, I now have the opportunity of presenting an instrument that, I believe, completes that evolutionary journey: enter the SkyRover Banner Cloud series of high-performance roof prism binoculars which are every bit as good as the current crop of so-called ‘alpha’ binoculars made by Zeiss, Swarovski and Leica, but without their enormous price tags. Currently the Banner Clouds are offered in two configurations: 42 and 50mm. I test drove the popular 8 x 42 model, the subject of this present review.

The SkyRover Banner Cloud Apo 8 x 42 is a chunky and handsome binocular.

The United Optics SkyRover Banner Cloud Apo binoculars are manufactured in Kunming, China, and are packed full of high-end features. Let’s take a look around the instrument. First off, the binocular has a fair heft to it, tipping the scales at 913g with its objective covers on. But that’s just the kind of heft you see with all the alpha 8 x 42s in current production. Maybe it’s just psychological, but it seems right that top performing roofs ought to have this kind of gravitas

The magnesium alloy chassis is covered in a fairly smooth- textured green rubber armouring. It’s perfectly fine but I’d have preferred to see a more rough textured substrate like that exhibited by my Swarovski Habicht 8 x 30 W. 

The metal focus wheel is well engineered. Two fingers wide, it is gloriously twirly: moving with absolutely no bumps or free play. The wheel rotates through 1.5 revolutions anti-clockwise from closest focus to infinity. 

Two-fingers wide, the central focus wheel is tactile, twirly and great fun to use.

The rubber-clad metal eyecups are of the twist-up variety and provide five positions from fully retracted to fully extended. Eye relief is generous. I was able to view practically the entire field with my spectacles on with the eyecups fully pushed down. The ocular lenses are positively enormous(27mm in diameter), making eye placement very easy. One very neat feature of the Banner Cloud eyecups is that they can be screwed off to better access the ocular lenses for cleaning. It also raises the possibility that should one malfunction, a replacement could be shipped out if need be. With only a few exceptions, these kinds of features are almost invariably found on only the best European made instruments.

The rubber-0ver metal twist up eyecups offer five positions, and can be unscrewed for cleaning the lenses.

The dioptre compensation mechanism is traditional, located under the right ocular lens. To keep costs down, SkyRover avoided the design of a lockable dioptre mechanism: an eminently sensible move as these really are a solution waiting for a problem. Then slap on another $500 for the “convenience.”Totally unnecessary and not conducive to sharing! The ring rotates with a fair amount of inertia, stable enough to hold its position well during field use. The objective lenses are quite deeply recessed and are further protected by snugly fitting rubber covers that clip into the base of the instrument. They can easily be removed however, if they’re not to your liking.

The objective lenses are decently recessed. Check out those snugly fitting objective covers!

Both the objective and ocular lenses are treated with the company’s proprietary hydrophobic coatings, which I tested against a suitable control (Nikon EII 10 x 35). I can report that they work very well indeed, removing condensation rapidly and in real time.

Even though the Banner Cloud has larger objectives, it was clearly able to disperse condensation within a few seconds compared with the 35mm EII objective. The image shows the result after 10 seconds.

The supplied neoprene neck strap is wide and padded, offering  very decent support for this hefty instrument. I also liked the quality of the rubber rain guard which fits over the eyecups snugly. I also really like the padded case with its pretty red logo. Where have I seen that before? Hmm. It locks securely and is a perfect match for the size of the instrument even with the neck strap remaining attached. A very nice touch!

All in all, the instrument handles superbly, feeling very solid and secure in my medium sized hands. 

Cold Weather Testing

One of the concerns some folk have levelled against the Banner Cloud binoculars is that they won’t cope in extreme temperatures unlike the top European brands which are typically reliable between say -25C to about + 60C. Less reliable models struggle particularly at very low temperatures when the focus wheel stiffens up or stops moving altogether. After performing some star tests on the SkyRover over a couple of hours at +4C, the focus wheel remained just as buttery smooth to turn under these conditions as it did at room temperature. This is unusual, as I invariably notice some tightening up of the focus wheel on many other instruments under these conditions. Immediately after this I brought the instrument inside and placed it in my freezer( yes, you read that right) at -20C where it remained for a further hour. I’m delighted to report that even after this ultra-low temperature plunge, the Banner Cloud 8 x 42 focus wheel was still turning smoothly with no apparent loss of functionality! Very impressive! The outer lenses fogged up as expected as it struggled to warm up to room temperature but it remained bone dry in its interior. I’m therefore confident that these instruments will cope admirably in whatever conditions nature throws at them.

Dr Merlitz provided some useful information in his preamble linked to above. It was indeed designed to operate at -20C all the way to +55C thus covering most any realistic environmental situation. Neat huh?

How did they pull that off? A little research quickly revealed a new generation of cryogenic greases that have been especially designed for use in ultra-low temperatures. Perhaps the focus wheels on the Banner Clouds are lubricated with some such grease? I can only guess!

Optical Tests

My first test involved the examination of the image the instrument through up when pointed at an intensely bright white light source. The results were excellent. I detected no internal reflections or diffused light around the source. I did pick up a very small and faint diffraction spike however, but deemed it largely non-injurious. 

Next I photographed the view around the exit pupils of the instrument. As you can see below, the result was very good indeed. 

Left pupil.


Right pupil.

The instrument arrived on a dull, overcast day and I took myself off around Culcreuch Castle Estate for some preliminary testing. One often hears that it takes many weeks to garner an accurate assessment of an instrument’s optical and mechanical quality. While there is some truth in this, the reality is that once you’re used to looking through first-rate optical instruments one can easily come to firm conclusions after just a few minutes of use. In this capacity, I was immediately taken by the superb performance of the Banner Cloud 8 x 42: the view is outstanding in many ways: razor sharp from edge to edge, wonderful contrast, and vibrant true-to-life colours. The field flatteners all but eliminates field curvature and pincushion distortion is refreshingly mild, only becoming slightly apparent in the outer 20 per cent of its enormous field. The instrument instantly reminded me of the Swarovski 8.5 x 42 EL only with a much larger field of view. During brighter spells, I could see that it performs admirably against the light. Glare suppression is well above average in this unit.

Testing the SkyRover Banner Cloud Apo 8 x 42 against the optically superb Swarovski Habicht 8 x 30W.

I spent a few days comparing the view in the Banner Cloud with my reference binocular, the venerable Swarovski Habicht 8 x 30W: an instrument of unimpeachable optical quality. I call it ‘reality through the looking glass.’ This instrument has a flat transmission curve across the visible spectrum, delivering 96 per cent of the light it gathers to my eyes.  As a result its colour tone is absolutely neutral. Compared with the Habicht, the Banner Cloud delivers slightly warmer colours, with a slight bias towards the red and orange region of the visible spectrum. Placing the instruments on my tripods and carefully comparing the views, I judged the central sharpness of the Banner Cloud to be every bit as good as the Habicht. Indeed I came away with the distinct impression that the Banner Cloud was revealing slightly finer details at distance, an impression I attribute to its larger objectives. 

Chromatic aberration is very well corrected in the Banner Cloud. I detected none in most lighting situations. Only in the most critical conditions, like looking through several layers of tree branches against a uniformly grey sky, did I detect traces of lateral colour in the outer 10 per cent of the field. More on this a little later. 

Stray light is much better controlled in the Banner Cloud Apo 8 x 42 too. While observing the bright star. Vega,  rising in the northeast with a bright sodium street lamp just outside the field of view, the difference between the Habicht and the Banner Cloud was like night and day. The Habicht all too easily showed its weakness in manifesting off-axis glare, with the bigger Banner Cloud stubbornly refusing to reveal any in the same test.

Notes from the Field

A robust field companion.

Close focus was measured to be just over 2m, in accordance with the published specifications. Although 1.5 revolutions of the focus wheel takes you from one end of its focus travel to the other, focusing anywhere from about 10m to infinity only requires about a quarter of a turn of the wheel. There is quite a generous focus travel beyond infinity however: good news if you suffer from severe myopia. 

The instrument excels in all terrains, whether it be wide open hills, valleys, observing out at sea and forest exploration. The Banner Cloud 8 x 42 Apo also impressed me with its very decent stereopsis when viewing complex targets in the middle distance. 

I found the best eyecup positions to be two clicks down from fully extended. This allowed me to better engage with the entire field, as well as clearly accessing the field stops. The eyecups hold their positions very well. I experienced little in the way of blackouts and only very occasionally a ‘rolling ball effect’ whilst panning the edge of a forest at distance.

The enormous field of view (9.1 degrees) and its excellent sharpness from edge to edge made it a particular joy to watch a group of newly arrived Swallows feasting on the insects hovering just above or on the surface of the water at my local pond.  Tracking their complex aerial displays becomes a lot easier when this size of field is open to you. 

Another highlight was observing the playful antics of the newly arrived lambs in the fields round my home. The gorgeous micro-crystalline details served up by the Banner Cloud made picking off small birds like the Pied Wagtail in the distance very easy to do. Focusing is crisp and unambiguous, with none of the focus chasing you see all too often on lesser instruments: a sure testament to the optical excellence of this test unit. 

Turning to the night sky I was fortunate enough to observe a glorious crescent Moon riding in the western sky after dark on the evening of April 12. A wealth of high resolution details of the battered southern highlands was a joy to behold, as was the wonderful earthshine from its dark face as best presented during March and April. I detected no chromatic aberration within the central 60 per cent of the field but began to notice a sliver of yellow on the lunar edge when moved towards the field stops. Tests like this on brighter light sources fool the eye a lot less. Drop off in illumination is very mild in the outer ten per cent of the field.

I enjoyed a few hours observing the showpieces of the Spring sky. For this kind of work it pays to mount the instrument on a sturdy monopod such as the excellent Oberwerk Series 2000 withs its nicely engineered trigger release ball head.  Auriga now sinking into the western sky revealed the ghostly wisps of its three Messier open clusters peppering its mid-section, the generous binocular field easily framing all three members with lots of room to spare. Praesepe and the celebrated  Beehive Cluster were spell binding, as was the sprawling Coma Cluster further off to its east. 

Star images remain nice pin points across the entire field. Indeed this binocular will delight stargazers who enjoy flat fields to monitor the heavens.

Conclusions & Recommendations

This is a very exciting development for sure! While the West is busy going woke and de-industrialising, China is powering ahead, offering ever more sophisticated technologies for the consumer market. This new series of binoculars by Sky Rover represents the most highly advanced binocular that competes favourably with European brands costing several times their modest price tags. Those wanting a little more power would do well to consider the 10 x 42 with its class-leading 7.8 degree field. As the acknowledged expert, Holger Merlitz, astutely announced in his assessment of the larger 12 x 50 model(see the preamble link above) and subsequently the 10 x 50 model also, these really do perform at a phenomenal level. But long-term success will require maintaining good quality control and the offering of a decent warranty period. I also believe there will be a vibrant market for smaller 8x and 10 x 32 models if they can successfully scale down the technology. All in all, this is very encouraging news for consumers who want new levels of sophistication for their hard-earned cash, and will surely help to break the ugly, pretentious, elitist “pay to play” cycle all too often seen on our vulgar forums. 

Very highly favoured!

Explore many more binocular models across all genres in my new book, Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts.

De Fideli.

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