Product Review: Canon Powershot Zoom Monocular.


The Canon Powershot Zoom Monocular.

A Work Commenced June 25 2024

Product: Cannon Powershot Zoom

Country of Manufacture: Japan

Specifications:

  • 12MP 1/3rd inch sensor
  • 1080 30p video
  • 0.39 dot EVF
  • 60fps when viewing through the viewfinder
  • Autofocus
  • Face tracking
  • Optical image stabilisation
  • Wifi & Bluetooth compatible
  • 100-400mm f5.6-6.3 optical zoom and 800mm digital zoom. No shooting in between the focal lengths
  • Magnification Equivalent: 100mm@1.2x, 400mm@ 4.8x & 800mm@ 9.6x
  • ISO 100 to 3200
  • No manual controls
  • ~1 hour and 20 mins of battery life
  • Microphone included
  • MicroSD: Comes with SD card
  • 10fps
  • USB C charging
  • Not waterproof
  • Weight: 144g
  • Price: £230.00


As you may have gathered, I’m not a big fan of optoelectronic devices, especially when it comes to combining circuitry with sports optics. I’ve always felt that using IS binoculars was more like looking through a camcorder more than anything else. I also don’t like having to rely on battery operated devices in the field. I’m just happy with robust, reliable optics that respond to human muscle power. Having said that I’ve been testing the new Canon Powershot Zoom monocular extensively for over a month now, and I must admit to liking it an awful lot despite its significant limitations

This nifty little device tips the scales at just 144g,  yet is packed full of great features. Let’s take a look ‘round the device.

Settings on the roof of the Canon Powershot Zoom.

The Canon Powershot Zoom is dead easy to operate. Up on top of the device you have the on/off button. The menu button allows you to set the time and date so you can record when an image was taken. And just like a basic digital camera you can adjust exposure by +\- 3 stops depending on your ambient light conditions. The zoom button cycles through three fixed settings: 100mm, 400mm and a 2x digital zoom yielding 800mm. These correspond to real magnifications of  1.2x, 4.6x and 9.2x, respectively.

The underside of the device features the photo, video and screen-focusing knob.

The underside of the device has buttons for taking individual photos, and a video record function(1080/30p) The raised white stalk can be rotated clockwise or anticlockwise to focus sharply on the screen. 

The Canon Powershot Zoom has built-in stabilisation shooting with a maximum aperture between F/5.6 and 6.3. The view finder contains a 2.3 million dot electronic screen for clear and bright framing of images. At its heart is a 12.1MP CMOS sensor. 

The viewfinder.


The internal optics and the optically flat viewfinder appear to be multicoated judging by the reflected colours from the front and back of the device. 

The objective lens.


You can connect the monocular to your smartphone via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, allowing you to transfer and share your photos and videos wirelessly. It also enables remote shooting and control from your mobile device. The Canon Powershot Zoom is powered by an internal lithium ion battery charged using a supplied USC cable. The package also includes an SD card to store your images and video footage.

Demonstrating the Zoom Capability

The following three images show the same target at 100mm, 400mm and 800mm:

100mm.
400mm.
800mm.

Examples of its Imaging Capability

What follows here is a small sample of handheld images I shot using the Canon Powershot Zoom using the 800mm digital zoom setting unless otherwise stated. The device only generates jpeg images and so are inferior to a regular digital camera generating RAW images. The reader will note that only very basic image processing was performed on all of these images.

Black Headed Gulls.
Mute Swan & cygnets.
A soaring Buzzard.
A young Grey Heron.
A male Pheasant.
A juvenile Pied Wagtail.
A small aircraft flying over.
A Tree Sparrow.
A soaring Red Kite at 400mm setting.
A Hare.
A country road. 100mm setting.
Evening sunlight on the Fintry Hills.

Notes from the Field

The Canon Powershot Zoom can capture about 150 shots or 60 minutes of video from a full charge of the lithium ion battery. Charging takes about 40 minutes. Closest focus is a decent 1m at the 100mm setting but extends to about 4.5m at the 400mm setting and above. Using the device is very easy and intuitive. Simply turn it on, look through the viewfinder, frame your photo, and press the photo button half way down to focus. Pushing the button all the way down captures the picture. 

The Canon Powershot Zoom tends to over-expose targets in bright sunlight so it pays to adjust the exposure compensation function to get the right level of brightness. Similarly, during dull evening conditions it pays to over expose by half or one full stop to get the best results. 

The device does not work well in dim light. 

Like any regular digital camera, you can review the images or video recordings while in the field to ensure you’ve captured the right shots on a given target. Alternatively, you can download the images onto your smartphone via bluetooth. 

Since acquiring the Canon Powershot Zoom, it’s been my constant companion in the field. And while it can be used as a stand-alone monocular, the images you see are a lot dimmer than what you see through your binocular. As previously stated, the device will not give you the image quality of a good digital camera equipped with a long lens, but for me that’s superfluous. I use it to catalogue some of the more interesting targets I encounter during a glassing session. I have also tried using the Powershot Zoom as a digi-scoping device using the 100mm setting, where it’s very easy to hold it up to the binocular eyepiece for superior images. Its inbuilt stabilisation technology and handy size makes it much easier to do compared with simply using your smartphone camera.

A quirky little tool.

In summary, as long as you’re aware of the limitations of the device, you can use this little instrument to greatly enhance your birding experiences. It will not replace your binocular but will enable you to capture visual memories of your experiences which you can enjoy at any time. 

Highly recommended!

If you like my work, please support me by buying a copy of my new book on binoculars. Thanks for reading!

De Fideli.

Product Review: Svbony SA 205 8 x 42.

The SvBony SA 205 8 x 42 package.


A Work Commenced June 13 2024

Product: Svbony Svbony SA 205 8 x 42

Country of Manufacture: China

Chassis: Textured rubber armoured Magnesium alloy

Exit Pupil: 5.25mm

Field of View: 134.6m@1000m(7.7angular degrees)

Eye Relief: 20mm

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 5

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 1.34m measured

Coatings: Fully broadband multicoated, dielectric and phase coatings on BAK4 roof prisms

ED Glass: Yes

Field Flattening Optics: Yes

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Waterproof: Yes IP67 rating (1m for 3 min)

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

Weight: 690g advertised, 704g measured

Dimensions: 13.5 x 12.5 cm

Accessories: Padded soft case, logoed neoprene neck strap, ocular and objective covers, microfibre lens cleaning cloth, instruction manual

Warranty: 1 year

Price((UK): £199.00

If you’ve been following my work over the years you’ll no doubt have observed my enthusiasm for Svbony sports optics. Their SV 202 series of binoculars have made a loud splash among consumers looking for a great introduction to the world of modern binoculars at very modest retail prices. Their spotting scopes have also garnered a solid reputation among birders and other naturalists. My recent review of the 20x-60x 85 SA405 ED was a thoroughly delightful experience. But Svbony have not rested on their laurels. They continue to innovate and have now launched their new flagship binoculars in 8 x and 10 x 42: enter the SA 205, which offers an increased level of performance thanks to their advanced optical design. Just like the popular SV 202 series with their magnesium alloy chassis, high-reflectivity dielectric coatings, phase correction coatings and ED glass, the SA 205 features field flattening optics in a completely redesigned platform, with some new ergonomic features that will appeal to a broad church of outdoor enthusiasts. Let’s take a closer look at the 8 x 42 model, which I’ve been field testing over the last few weeks.

The new SA 205 8 x 42 is conveniently small and lightweight.

 Ergonomics

The instrument arrived very well packed in a very small and tidy box. My first thought when I held the binocular in my hands was : “wow this is a very small binocular,” at least an inch shorter than the SV 202 8 x 42( see below):

The SA 205(left) versus the SV 202(right).

Remarkably, the SA 205 8 x 42 tips the scales at just 704g, less than the SV 202. This has got to be the lightest flat field binocular with these specifications on the market.

The matt black rubber armouring is tough and tactile. The sides are ribbed for extra grip.

The antireflection coatings applied to the lenses in the SA 205 are completely different to the SV 202. Gone are those deep purple blooms seen on the SV 202s which are now replaced by more subdued greenish  coatings  as seen in broad daylight. 

The new SA 205 binoculars appear to have entirely different antireflection coatings applied to the lenses.

The twist-up eyecups are decent, having a few intermediate positions. I actually preferred those found on the SV 202 series though, as they seem to be a bit firmer and click into place more resolutely. Eye relief is excellent however. I was able to easily see the entire field wearing eyeglasses. 

The ocular lenses are large and easy to centre one’s eyes in.

The eyepieces are easy to engage with.

The right eye dioptre on the SA 205  8 x 42 is a real treat. Instead of just rotating smoothly, it has click stops that are very easy to adjust and keep the user’s preferred position firmly. I consider this nothing short of a brilliant piece of mechanical engineering. Kudos Svbony!

The dioptre system of the SA 205 is much improved, featuring click stops to hold it firmly in place.

The metal focus wheel is deeply knurled and is easy to engage with. It rotates very smoothly with no free play in either direction. 1.5 revolutions anticlockwise brings you from one end of its focus travel to the other. It’s highly responsive, requiring only a light touch to dial up the best views.

Overall, I’m delighted with the ergonomics of the SA 205 8 x 42. Simple and understated, it’s wonderfully compact and easy to handle, especially when you consider all of the optical goodies packed inside it. 
Optics

As I began my investigation into the SV 202 series, I was struck by how clean the images were when pointed at an intensely bright white light source. In particular, they showed very little internal reflections and no annoying diffraction spikes. I’m pleased to report that the same tests carried out on this SA 205 unit were, if anything, even better. There was no internal reflections – even very slight ones – of any description – and no diffraction spikes. 

Examining the exit pupils while looking at a bright daylight sky also showed excellent dark hinterlands around them as the photo below shows. These are great results for any binocular. And the good results kept on coming. 

The SA 205 8 x 42 shows nice dark regions around the exit pupils.

The view through the SA 205 8 x 42 is excellent: it’s razor sharp across the entire field. Off-axis aberrations such as pincushion distortion are very mild. Field curvature is essentially absent. Contrast is excellent, with a very neutral colour tone. Colour correction is also markedly improved over the SV 202 series. The centre of the field is essentially devoid of secondary spectrum. Only when high-contrast targets are moved significantly off axis could I see some slight lateral colour fringing creeping in. Glare suppression is exemplary: right up there, in fact, with the very best binoculars I’ve tested. Glassing strongly backlit scenes with the SA 205 stubbornly refuses to throw up glare. In addition, I could detect no glare when aiming the instrument at a bright sky after sunset. 

Notes from the Field

The SA 205 presents one of the most relaxed views I’ve witnessed in a flat field binocular. I encountered no blackouts or rolling ball effect while panning. Close focus was yet another surprise: I measured it at just 1.34m or 4.75 feet! This is another exceptional result: great news for those who like studying insects, flowers and other targets close at hand.

I checked the flatness of the field by monitoring the profile of the bright star Vega high up in twilit Summer skies. It remained very tightly focused all the way to the field stops.

I got the distinct impression the SA 205 8 x 42 was delivering a slightly lower magnification than advertised. I made a rough measurement of the size of the exit pupil; about 5.8mm which would yield a working power of 7.2x rather than 8x, and explaining, to some degree, why the view feels so relaxed.

The focus wheel is much more sensitive than that found on the SV 202 series. Slow and careful micro-focusing will reward the viewer with the very best images. This may not be to everyone’s liking though. Personally I would have preferred it to be a bit slower, but like everything else in life, practice makes perfect.

Conclusions & Recommendations

A brilliant, multi-purpose binocular.

Test driving the SA 205 8 x 42 was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It is small and lightweight, yet is tough and durable. It has many endearing characteristics, such as excellent edge-to-edge sharpness thanks to the addition of field flattening optics, exceptional close focus, a brilliant click-stop dioptre system and wonderful glare suppression.

Smaller 8 x or 10 x 32mm SA 205 models would be a great addition to this exciting new series from Svbony. They would undoubtedly prove very popular among birders in particular.

The arrival of this new high-performance binocular represents still more compelling evidence that Chinese-manufactured optics are now rapidly approaching those produced by European manufacturers. Even seasoned binocular users will be hard pressed to see any shortcomings in the images delivered by this high-tech instrument. That these are being offered at such modest retail prices is very good news for the outdoor enthusiast. The days of splashing out large sums of money for excellent optical performance are now well and truly behind us. And that’s a good thing!

Viva La Revolution!

Dr Neil English delights in presenting exceptional binocular bargains to his readers. Read about many more binocular reviews in his new book, Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts.

De Fideli.

Product Review: The Sky Rover Banner Cloud 10 x 50 Part 1.


The Sky Rover Banner Cloud APO 10 x 50 package.

A Work Commenced May 28 2024

Preamble

Product: Sky Rover Banner Cloud 10 x 50

Country of Origin: China

Chassis: Magnesium alloy overlaid by protective rubber

Exit Pupil: 5.0mm

Eye Relief: 18mm

Field of View: 136mm@1000m(7.5 angular degrees)

Dioptre Compensation: +\-4

Coatings: Fully broadband multicoatedPhase 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: 3m advertised2.97m measured

Light Transmission: 90-92%

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Dimensions:17.6 x 13cm

Weight: 1040g advertised, 1020g measured without rain guard and objective covers.

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:$599.00(plus shipping and import duty)

In all my years of reviewing binoculars for the consumer market, I’ve never witnessed such a fever-pitched interest in the new high-performance roof prism wonder glasses manufactured by the United Optics Company, based in Kunming, China: the  Sky Rover Banner Cloud(SRBC).
The 8 x and 10 x 42 models are proving to be incredibly popular, despite a few quality control issues expected of any new product, and especially as more and more favourable user reports emerge.

In this review, I wish to showcase the larger 10 x 50 model, which was purchased via Aliexpress and took a little over 3 weeks to arrive here in Scotland. Let’s take a look ‘round the instrument.

Ergonomics

The 10 x 50 SRBC is a big and powerful binocular.

Just like the 8 x 42 model, everything works perfectly. The twist-up eye cups are robust, clicking into place firmly. These are as good as I’ve seen on the most expensive European brands but most resemble those found on Leica binoculars. And like the 8 x 42, it offers five positions in all. I found the optimal positioning for my eyes was three clicks up as this allowed me to see the field stops clearly. Eye relief is a bit tighter on the 10 x 50 than on the smaller 8 x 42. With the eyecups fully retracted I could comfortably image the majority of the field with ordinary glasses. Only the last five per cent or so remained out of view. I suspect that those who wear flatter/ lower profile glasses should see the entire field easily.

The twist-up eyecups are a real class act: functionally indistinguishable from those found on top European brands.

The focus wheel is exactly the same size on the 10 x 50 as on the smaller 42mm models, yet looks relatively smaller owing to the larger frame of the 50mm model. I personally really like the kinematics of the SRBC focuser. It is smooth as silk and beautifully responsive, with no free play or bumps moving it through its travel from one end to the other. And like the 8 x 42, it rotates through 1.5 revolutions anticlockwise moving from closest focus to infinity and beyond. I was relieved to see that the 10 x 50 SRBC will accommodate those who have severe myopia with its generous beyond infinity focus travel.  

The right eye dioptre ring is nice and stiff, keeping its position firmly while in field use. 

Both the ocular and objective lenses have immaculately applied antireflection coatings with no streaks or holes visible. Seen straight on they almost disappear. 

Check out those immaculately applied coatings on the objectives.

The green rubber armouring on the 10 x 50 is exactly the same as on the 42mm models. It’s undoubtedly tough but I would have liked a little bit more texture to the touch. 

The large ocular lenses are easy to engage with.

Handling is excellent. Despite weighing in at just over a kilogram, it’s easy to hold steady, either scanning a landscape or looking intently at a fixed target. 

The supplied padded neoprene strap works very well with the 42mm models but is just a tad lightweight for the larger 50mm format. I would recommend using a slightly more robust strap with these larger instruments for optimal use. That said, I had no discomfort carrying the instrument on two mile walks over level ground. It hangs very well on my chest. 

Hanging well.

I also really like the supplied case. It’s very nicely made and definitely travel worthy, comfortably protecting the instrument from shocks. It also accommodates the neck strap attached to the binocular which is not that commonly experienced.

Ready to hit the road: the supplied black padded case is an excellent complement to the quality of the instrument.

All in all, this is a very well made instrument with nothing I can see that would fail in field use. What’s to give? I’m more than pleased with the ergonomics in handheld mode too. But it can be mated to a bracket for monopod/ tripod mounting simply by unscrewing the cap at the objective end of the bridge. 
Optics

Examining an intensely bright light beam a few metres away showed excellent results with no internal reflections, diffraction spikes or diffused light around the beam. The same was true when I aimed the instrument at a bright street light after dark. Next, taking a look at the area around the exit pupils (see below) you can see they are very dark with no significant light leaks.

The left and right exit pupils as seen in bright daylight.

The two small circles seen well away from the pupils result from reflections off two screws from light entering from the eyepiece end, as elucidated by Holger Merlitz. They therefore have no effect on the images since your face blocks them off.  To sum up, these results are amongst the best I’ve personally experienced in a binocular and a testimony to the care taken by the staff at the United Optics Company.

As I said before, outstanding optical performance is easy to recognise and this binocular has it in spades.The view through the 10 x 50 SRBC is nothing short of stunning! It presents an enormous, highly immersive 7.5 degree field, with fantastic edge-to edge sharpness. Colours are vibrant, contrast is excellent and the suppression of glare is a real stand-out feature. Even during extensive handling, the extra magnification of 10 x over 8 x is immediately apparent, with finer details popping into view. A 7.5 degree field is much more reminiscent of a typical 8 x birding binocular, so having this size field in a 10 x 50 format is a really delightful visual treat. Just compare that to the Swarovski EL 10 x 50  which presents a mere 6.6 degrees in comparison! Off-axis aberrations are very effectively controlled with only a slight amount of pincushion distortion creeping in near the edge of the field. I did detect a slight rolling ball effect while panning but I considered it fairly mild and hardly noticeable in most  circumstances. Performing tests on some of the brighter stars of the early summer sky, like Vega and Deneb, collimation was spot on with the instrument showing them as tightly focussed pinpoints of light from centre to edge of field. A full assessment of its astronomical capabilities will need to wait until I can get a chance to test it under darker skies. – so watch this space!

Thanks to the ED optical components, longitudinal chromatic aberration is essentially absent from the central 60 per cent of the field, with only a sliver of lateral colour creeping in on very high contrast targets nearer the field stops. Those who are especially sensitive to chromatic aberration will be delighted with the performance of this binocular. To summarise, the 10 x 50 passes all daylight optical tests summa cum laude. I consider these SRBC binoculars to be nothing short of revolutionary, especially when you factor in their retail price.

Notes from the Field:

Getting the right eyecup position took a bit of experimentation. Fully extended, I was unable to engage with the entire field and I noticed a bright arc of whitewashed light at the bottom of the field next to the field stop. Moving the cups two steps down allowed me to see the entire field of view and also removed the glare. 

Whether in dull, overcast conditions or during bright sunshine the views through the SRBC 10 x 50 are incredibly sharp and highly immersive. Details of close up targets and at distance are superb. The silky smooth focus wheel makes it practically effortless to move from targets set only a few metres away all the way out to infinity. Despite its sizeable mass, this feature makes it a surprisingly effective birding glass, which is also facilitated by its huge field of view. I noticed a pronounced enhancement of stereopsis on targets in the middle distance moving from the 8 x 42 to the 10 x 50. Closest focus was measured at 2.97m on my unit: a very good result for a binocular with these specifications. Although a 10 x 50 is not normally my natural choice for exploring forest terrain, the SRBC handled it superbly, much better in fact than an excellent 10 x 35 Porro prism binocular which made me a little nauseous in comparison.  I attribute this its ultra-wide field, comfortable close-focusing distance and its ultra-responsive focus wheel. The extra light garnered by the large objective lenses makes seeing fine detail in poorly illuminated regions of the forest floor very easy. It particularly excels in scanning wide open terrain and observing at distance over water. 

Submersion Tests

In my review of the 8 x 42 SRBC, I demonstrated its cold temperature capability by placing the instrument in my freezer at -20C for one hour which resulted in no loss of functionality of the focus wheel and no ill effects to the optics. To follow on from this, I subjected the larger 10 x 50 SRBC to a water immersion test by plunging the instrument into a basin of cold water and leaving it submerged for 2 minutes. The set up is shown below. Achtung; this is not for the faint of heart!

The 10 x 50 SRBC immersed in a basin of cold tap water for 2 minutes.

After immersion I took it out, dried it down with a towel and let it sit at room temperature for an hour before placing it in a dry box with desiccant as any sensible person ought to do. I then placed it in a warm cupboard where it was stored indefinitely. On five successive days I brought it out into the cool evening air on 2-mile walks for about an hour to see if any water vapour would condense on the optical components inside the barrels. The results were extremely encouraging: I could see no encroach of water and no fogging up of the optics on any of these five days. This result gives me confidence that the SRBC binoculars are rugged and weatherproof. All in all, another hugely impressive result!

Right barrel after immersion.


Left barrel.

Note to the Reader: Please don’t try this at home! I did it so you don’t have to!

Binocular Comparisons

The Nikon EII 10 x 35(left) versus the 10 x 50 SRBC(right).

Most of my optical tests of the SRBC 10 x 50 were conducted alongside the optically excellent Japanese-made Nikon EII 10 x 35 because of its very wide field of view and identical 10x magnification.

A/B testing the Nikon EII 10 x 35 against the 10 x 50 SRBC. Note the difference in exit pupil size.


Carefully comparing the views garnered by both binoculars under different daylight conditions I drew 4 principal conclusions.

  1. The 10 x 50 SRBC has a slightly wider field of view than the Nikon EII(7.2 degree field).
  2. The SRBC has better longitudinal colour correction owing to its APO billing. Lateral chromatic aberration was also much lower in the SRBC than in the Nikon EII.
  3. Contrast and colour saturation was deeper and richer in the SRBC.
  4. Edge of field sharpness was significantly better in the SRBC than in the Nikon EII.

Low Light Comparisons

Culcreuch Pond, 23:00 local time, June 1.

On the evening of June 1 we were presented with a cloudless blue sky. A cool northerly air flow caused the temperatures to drop below 10C. This, together with a light breeze prevented any biting midge flies from getting close. It was a perfect evening to test the low light capability of the 10 x 50 SRBC. At this time of year, we get a permanent twilight as the Sun never sinks low enough below the northeastern horizon to create true darkness. Bringing the 10 x 35 Nikon EII along with me, the first thing I noticed was that as the sky darkened to dusky conditions, my dilated eye pupils were picking up some glare, especially when glassing towards the bright northeastern horizon. The 10 x 50 SRBC, in contrast, was stubbornly refusing to show anything like the same level of glare. I attributed this to the brighter hinterland around the exit pupil of the Nikon glass which was now encroaching on the binocular image. The much darker areas around the SRBC pupils made this a much more pleasant experience. I refer you to pages 191 through 195 of Holger Merlitz’s excellent new book, The Binocular Handbook, for more details on this interesting phenomenon. 

The bright areas just beyond the exit pupil of the Nikon EII 10 x 35 begin to encroach the binocular image observing after sunset.

Naturally, the SRBC with its larger aperture and exit pupil(5mm vs 3.5mm) compared to the smaller 10 x 35 Nikon glass makes seeing details in low light considerably easier. But I was not quite prepared for what I experienced at about 11pm local time on that evening, while glassing the waters of Culcreuch Pond, about a half mile walk from my home. I was comparing the views of the 10 x 35 with the 10 x 50, when my attention was piqued as I moved the instruments just beyond the brightly reflecting water, as seen on the above photo, into the darker, nether regions, where the trees’ shadows extend. The 10 x 35 was really struggling to make out much detail, but I did pick up some rapid, ghostly movements from it – just above the water. Moving to the larger 10 x 50 glass, I was astonished to discover dozens of flying bats, feasting on the teeming insects hovering over the face of the waters! Just like the Swallows I’ve seen many times doing the same thing in broad daylight, these amazing mammals were swooping down and away from the water’s surface with astonishing agility. How on God’s earth could these tiny, and all but blind mammals negotiate such astonishing manoeuvres in almost complete darkness, and even with sonar? I stood there in silent amazement for a good 15 minutes before the deepening chill brought me to my senses, to summon me home. Needless to say, I’ve been up to the pond a few more times since at these late hours, studying the same phenomenon. Pure dead brilliant! 

Having said all that, I must concede that I prefer the 10 x 35 for stargazing under twilit skies. That’s simply because its smaller exit pupil darkens the sky better than a 5mm exit pupil. For me aesthetics is everything under mid-Summer conditions this far north! I shall endeavour to provide an update on the SRBC’s astronomical capabilities after I’ve tested it under truly dark skies later in the season. So stay tuned for Part 2!

Conclusions & Recommendations

A revolutionary product.

To my mind, the arrival of the Sky Rover Banner Cloud series of binoculars represents a giant leap forward in the intelligent design of sports optics for the burgeoning outdoor enthusiast market: whether birding, astronomy, hunting or travel & leisure, and which now enjoys a global reach. Setting completely new standards in optical quality previously only seen in top quality European brands, these new instruments will enable a whole new section of the consumer market to experience world-class optics at prices hitherto unheard of. For me, the more people who can enjoy the wonders of creation, as revealed by these new instruments, the better. It’s all about empowerment. And if you want to call that an ‘agenda,’ then so be it, I’m guilty as charged!

Neil English is the author of 8 books. His latest work, Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, explores the fascinating world of binoculars, ranging from the very large to the very small.

De Fideli.

Product Review: Opticron Adventurer T WP 12 x 50.

The Opticron Adventurer T WP 12 x 50 package.

A Work Commenced May 20 2024

Product: Opticron Adventurer T WP 12 x 50

Country of Manufacture: China

Chassis Material: Rubberised Aluminium & Polycarbonate 

Exit Pupil: 4.17mm

Eye Relief: 15mm

Field of View: 95m1000m(5.4 angular degrees)

Coatings: Fully Multicoated on all glass surfaces

Prisms: Porro BAK4

ED Glass: No

Close Focus: 7m advertised

Dioptre Compensation: +/- 4.0

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: No

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Accessories: tetherable rubber objective lens caps, ocular caps, padded neck strap, soft carrying case, microfibre lens cleaning cloth, warranty card & instruction manual.

Weight: 765g advertised, 751g measured

Warranty: 2 Years

Dimensions: 16.9 x 19cm

Price(UK): £95.00

This is going to be a short review. I purchased this Opticron 12 x 50 Porro from Amazon some time ago and only recently opened the package. Unfortunately, when I began looking through it, I quickly realised that the unit was not collimated properly as I was unable to merge the images satisfactorily. A star test after dark confirmed my suspicions. What I can report is my ‘monocular’ impressions only. Like the several other models in the Adventurer T WP series, it offers up nice, contrasty images with good control of glare. Internal reflections were kept at bay too. I only detected a very minor reflection while observing the full Moon. It has a fairly narrow but well-corrected field of view though at 5.4 degrees. The sweet spot is decently large, with mild field curvature and moderate pincushion distortion creeping in near the field stops. Colour correction is very good for this non-ED 12x model but can be picked up on high contrast targets in poor lighting conditions. 

The Opticron Adventurer T WP 12 x 50 offers good potential as a higb power binocular.

It’s a pity the instrument was received with the optics out of alignment as otherwise it seems to be a very decent performer for the modest price paid. With a two-year warranty from Opticron, I will send it back for either a repair or a replacement.  It does however, serve to illustrate another general trend in binocular optics: higher power models are more difficult to collimate accurately than those employing lower magnifications. 

De Fideli.

Product Review: Opticron Verano BGA VHD 8 x 32.

The Opticron Verano BGA VHD package.

A Work Commenced May 5 2024

Product: Opticron Verano BGA VHD 8 x 32

Country of Manufacture: Japan

Chassis Material: Rubber over Aluminium/ Polycarbonate

Eye Relief: 18mm

Exit Pupil: 4mm

Field of View: 131m@1000m(7.5 angular degrees)

Coatings: Fully Broadband Multicoated, Oasis Phase coatings on Schmidt-Pechan prisms.

ED Glass: Yes

Close Focus: 2m advertised, 2.23m measured

Dioptre Compensation: +\- 3.5

Waterproof: Yes

Nitrogen Purged: Yes

IPD Range: 56-75mm

Weight: 531g advertised, 554g measured

Tripod Mountable: Yes

Accessories: Padded soft case, rubber rain guard and tethered objective caps, padded neckstrap, instruction card with warranty.

Dimensions: 12.4 x 13cm

Warranty: 30 Years

Price(UK): £300-350

If you’ve been following my reviews or reading my new book, you’ll already know that I have cultivated a great admiration for the UK-founded company Opticron. Over the years, the company has brought an excellent selection of compact and full-size binoculars to the market that offer very good optical performance at prices that many consumers can afford. I’ve already highlighted their impressive range of Porro prism binoculars, as well as their most excellent flagship roof prism model, the Japanese-designed Aurora BGA VHD in 8 x 42, which delivers sensibly perfect images across a flat 8.1 degree field. In this review, I’ll be discussing another Japanese-made model from Opticron; the Verano BGA VHD 8 x 32, kindly lent to me by the very experienced binocular enthusiast. Gary Murphy, from Northern Ireland. 

The Opticron Verano BGA VHD 8 x 32 is a neat and tidy binocular.

The name ‘Verano’ derives from the Spanish for ‘Summer,’ and as luck would have it, I received the package right at the end of another academic year, preparing my students for careers in maths and the physical sciences. And though summertime has not quite arrived yet, the longer hours of daylight proved ideal for testing this binocular.

Belly side up.

First Impressions

The instrument arrived safely, well packaged, inside its original box. Tucked away inside the black soft carry case, I was immediately taken by the very small and chunky body of the Verano 8 x 32. It’s almost as wide as it’s long, at just 12.4 x 13cm making it almost as tiny as the Leica Ultravid HD Plus 8 x 32 (11.6 x 11.6cm), the most compact 8 x 32 I have personally experienced. Tipping the scales at just 554g, it’s almost as lightweight as the Leica glass too.  The chassis is overlaid by a thick black rubber armouring which offers excellent grip. The large, central focus wheel rotates very smoothly and easily, taking two full turns clockwise from one end of its focus travel to the other. I detected no backlash in the focus mechanism in either direction of travel.

The objectives on the little Verano are nicely recessed. Check out those smoothly-applied multicoatings

The objective lenses have very evenly applied antireflection coatings which exude a green colour in natural daylight but renders the lenses almost invisible when looking at them head-on. They’re also very decently recessed to protect them from peripheral light and the elements. 

The eyepieces are decently large and easy to engage with, and comfortable to press one’s eyes against during prolonged periods of viewing. The right eye dioptre is adjusted using a subtly protruding lever which has an excellent amount of friction, ensuring that it won’t wander while in field use. The twist-up eyecups are rather large and provide 4 positions. I found my optimal setting by twisting the cups down a few millimetres from fully extended which set them in an intermediate position between two locked settings. It was a minor irritation finding and maintaining these settings, but after some practice it came as second nature to me. 

The eyepieces are large enough to easily engage with even while using spectacles.

Eye relief is generous. I was able to access almost the entire field with my spectacles on and while the cups were fully retracted. 

I personally found no difficulty in handling the instrument stably, although those endowed with larger hands might find the little Verano a little cumbersome to use. 

In summary, the Opticron Verano BGA VHD 8 x 32 is a joy to handle with a sensible, ‘no frills’ body design that the majority of people will find convenient to use. Good job Opticron!

Optics:

The Opticron Verano 8 x 32 displayed excellent control of internal reflections. I detected none of any significance. Nor was there any diffused light around an intensely bright light source. These results are as good as I’ve seen on any quality optic. Examination of the exit pupils showed great results too: nice dark regions surrounding the circular pupils. From these results I fully anticipated better than average control of glare and stray light. And, as I shall shortly divulge, that’s exactly what my field tests revealed too!

Left pupil.


Right pupil.

I took an instant liking to the images served up by this binocular: bright, very sharp within a generously wide sweet spot, very accurate colours and excellent correction of off-axis aberrations, particularly pincushion distortion. Glare suppression is also well above average on this unit.  Qualitatively, I formed the opinion that the Verano images were very similar to the company’s more expensive Aurora model. Looking back on my notes of the latter showed it had an edge over the Verano in getting rid of that last residual of glare against the light, and had a wider, flatter field owing to its built-in field flattening optics. Indeed with its very conservative field size (7.5 degrees), the Verano can dispense of the need for field flattening optics as the view remains quite sharp even near the field stops. I was able to verify this under the stars when the bright stellar luminary, Vega, remained decently sharp even when placed at the edges of the field. I’m certainly confident that the Verano was indeed assembled on a genuine VHD platform like the Aurora, Opticron’s flagship offering.

Notes from the Field

8 x 30/2 is my favourite binocular format, with a strong preference for Porro prism models over their roof prism counterparts. So it took a little bit of getting used to using a compact roof like the Opticron Verano in the field again, learning how best to hold it in my hands, but practice makes perfect.

The Verano has a very smooth and responsive focus wheel but what I found quite remarkable was the amount of travel it exhibited beyond infinity – more than one full revolution(so more than half its focus travel in fact) – allowing users with severe myopia to engage with the instrument without wearing spectacles. Indeed given this fact, I was especially delighted to see that its close focus distance was a little over 2 metres. For the record, if this feature is not required the focuser could be recalibrated to accommodate much closer focusing distances. 

Testing the Verano in a variety of lighting conditions, the quality views  kept coming. Its excellent central sharpness allowed me to view small migrant birds such as Pied and Grey Wagtails, at long distance, foraging in sheep fields or combing the shores of my local river, respectively.

The Opticron Verano 8 x 32 versus the Zeiss Victory Pocket 8 x 25(right).

I conducted some visual comparisons of the Opticron Verano with my Zeiss Victory Pocket 8 x 25( a £650 retail value), sporting the same true field of view. The comparisons were very instructive. The Verano displayed very similar central sharpness to the Zeiss. In good light, I perceived the sweet spot in the latter to be slightly larger and had slightly better optical  performance against the light but the differences were subtle at best. However, in dull evening light, the greater light gathering power of the Verano pulled it noticeably ahead of the Zeiss, giving it distinct advantages over the smaller instrument under these conditions. These observations served only to consolidate my opinion that the 30/32mm format is more versatile than smaller aperture glasses. 

Conclusions & Recommendations

A quality visual experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed test driving the Opticron Verano BGA VHD 8 x 32. I note that this high-quality instrument can be acquired new at values below £300 if you shop around. That represents excellent value for money. What’s more, with Opticron’s 30-year warranty on this product, you can be assured of receiving first class attention should you hit any snags with it. I note also that there are 42mm options from the same series should you prefer this larger format.

Highly Recommended!

My thanks to Gary Murphy for kindly lending me the binocular for field testing.


Read about many more binocular models, from the very large to the very small, in my new book: Choosing and Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts.

De Fideli.

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, 883g measured without rain guard & 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.