A Work Commenced August 21 2023
Product: Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42
Country of Manufacture: China
Exit Pupil: 5.25mm
Chassis: Rubber Armoured Magnesium Alloy
Field of View: 142m@1000m(8.1 angular degrees)
Close Focus: 2m advertised, 2.36m measured
Eye Relief: 15mm(Useable)
IPD Range: 57-74mm
Coatings: Full Broadband Multicoated, Dielectric coatings on BaK4 prisms
ED Glass: Yes FK-61
Nitrogen Purged: Yes
Dimensions: L/W: 14/12.5cm
Weight: 671g advertised, 728g measured
Warranty: 2 years
In previous reviews I expressed my great admiration for the new Oberwerk SE Porro prism binoculars, which offer exceptional optical performance for their modest price tags. These experiences got me very intrigued about the company’s Sport ED roof prism binoculars, offered in the popular formats of 8 x 42 and 10 x 42. Could these deliver the ‘Wow Factor’ I had experienced while using the SE Porros?
Admittedly, this was going to be a tall order to pull off, especially in light of the many similarly priced models now available to the consumer offering many of the same features, at least on paper. Moreover, my love of high-quality Porro prism binoculars had somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for roof prism binoculars in general. But after putting the 8 x 42 Sport ED model through its paces in a variety of favourable and adverse lighting conditions, I think the answer is a confident Yes!
I contacted Oberwerk owner, Kevin Busarow, who agreed to send me a unit for review. The instrument arrived well packed and double-boxed together with its standard accessories. My first impressions were certainly very favourable. While I’m not a fan of garish colours, I have to make an exception for this binocular. This is one handsome instrument, with its very fetching dark green rubber armouring and black, twist-up eyecups complemented by the cherry apple red anodized aluminium focus wheel and right eye dioptre ring.
The textured rubber armouring is exceptionally grippy without being overly thick, keeping its overall weight down. Even in wet weather, your fingers will not slip up. The focus wheel is truly excellent. The deeply knurled edges make it exceptionally easy to turn with one finger, rotating smoothly in both directions with zero free play. Indeed, this is probably the very best focus wheel I’ve personally encountered in a roof prism binocular! 1.75 turns anticlockwise takes you from closest focus to beyond infinity.
Ditto for the right eye dioptre ring. It’s very hard to rotate but you get there in the end. Once set it will stay in place!
The rubber-clad metal eye cups have two intermediate positions between fully retracted and fully extended. Moreover, after clicking into place, they hold their positions very firmly indeed. And there’s plenty of eye relief for the bespectacled among us too. I was easily able to engage with the entire field while wearing ordinary eyeglasses.
The objective lenses are unusually well recessed(~12mm) from the end of the barrels, helping to protect the coatings from the vagaries of the weather as well as acting as a protective barrier against stray light. The large(23mm) eye lenses make centring your eyes child’s play.
Being very compact at just 14.5cm long and 11cm wide, the Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42 feels great in my medium sized hands. My right-hand fingers comfortably fall on the bridge and can wrap around the right barrel, while my left index finger naturally rests on the large focus wheel rendering an exceptionally secure handling experience. All-in-all I would rate the ergonomic features of the Oberwerk Sport ED as superb; easily as good as anything I’ve seen from the top European manufacturers.
I began my optical testing by looking for internal reflections and diffused light around an intensely bright light source. Setting my iPhone torch to its brightest output, and examining the image from across a room, I got an excellent result. I detected only a couple of very feeble reflections, no diffused light around the light source and no diffraction spikes. The same was true when I turned the binocular on a bright sodium streetlamp after dark.
Next, I photographed the images of the exit pupils. As you can see below, the results are very good; perfectly circular with plenty of darkness immediately around them. There is some light leakage set well away from the pupils but even with fully dilated eye pupils, you’re unlikely to be affected by it.
Now for the juicy bits. When I first set the Sport ED 8 x 42 to my eyes, I assumed the optimal position of the eye cups was in their fully extended position, as they usually are. But that yielded a slight tunnelling effect which prevented me from viewing the field stops clearly, but I quickly found my ideal setting by retracting the eyecups one notch down.
How are the views? In a word; excellent! But to elaborate, the Sport ED served up tack sharp images from centre to edge. Indeed, testing the binocular alongside my Svbony SV 202 8 x 42 ED ‘control’ I was able to resolve finer grain detail on the wooden beams on a climbing frame located about 80 metres in the distance. This instrument has a remarkably large sweet spot, and while the field of view is already generously large(8.1 degrees), it feels even more expansive by virtue of the sharp field edges. This is a remarkable result given that the instrument does not employ field flattening optics! Pin cushion distortion is also very well controlled in this instrument being noticeably milder than that observed in the Svbony control instrument. Colours are bright and true to life with a slightly warm tone which I very much enjoyed.
Glare control is decent in the Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42. Only in the more severe lighting situations did I detect some. Colour correction is also WAY above average, even for its ‘ED’ billing. Indeed, after conducting many hours of testing on a variety of high-contrast targets, I could only detect the merest trace of off-axis chromatic aberration, and only at the extreme edges of the field of view. Those who find colour fringing annoying will find the Oberwerk Sport ED to be a refreshing break from the norm!
Notes from the Field
One of the first tests I performed was to check collimation under the stars. This is easily done by turning the right eye dioptre so that it defocuses a bright star in the right barrel while the left barrel keeps the star tightly focused. The focused star stayed in the centre of the defocused anulus, not only in the centre of the field, but also when the star was moved around the field, checking as I did for possible detachment. The star remained centrally placed, irrespective of where the anulus was positioned inside the field. This confirmed that the instrument was very accurately collimated.
Excellent collimation also explains why I’ve been able to enjoy prolonged panning activities with this binocular, its soft eyecups being very comfortable to place your eyes against. The view is very immersive, almost as if you’re sitting in the image. Contrast and resolution are excellent, especially over longer distances. For example, I could easily pick off the variegated colours of a Goldfinch in flight over 150 metres away. The Sport ED 8x 42 has that crystal clear clarity reminiscent of high-end European binoculars like the Zeiss Conquest HD but with a significantly larger field of view.
Just a half a turn of the ultra-smooth focus wheel covers the vast majority of targets from about 8 metres out to infinity. Closest focus was measured at 2.36m, a little longer than advertised but plenty close enough for viewing insects or other targets at proximity.
The excellent sharpness of the image was abundantly in evidence when I turned the Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42 on the stars. Aiming the binocular on the Alpha Persei star cluster, I immediately noticed the very fine pinpoints of starlight served up by the instrument. The stars making up this celebrated cluster were incredibly fine, with the subtle colour differences among its members easily discernible. The fineness of the stellar images were unquestionably better than any roof prism binocular I’ve tested in this price class.
My subjective impressions of a large sweet spot were also confirmed under the stars. In a sense, the eye can deceive during daylight hours. The ‘trickery’ of visual accommodation and all that….. Centring Altair and moving it across the field, I noted that the image of the star stayed tight and pinpointed most of the way to the field stop. To my eye, it only showed noticeably bloating in the outer 15 per cent of the field, where slight refocusing restored the image to a tight pinpoint of white light. Conventional wisdom has it that field flattening optics are necessary for observing pristine star fields right out to the edges but the very mild field curvature in the Sport ED show that excellent results can be achieved without such optics.
Conclusions & Recommendations
Test driving the Oberwerk Sport ED 8 x 42 has been nothing short of a revelation. Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, along comes an instrument like this that upsets the apple cart. Oberwerk has really hit the ground running with the Sport ED roof prism binoculars, as the many other reviews also attest. This is a seriously good piece of kit. For a very reasonable price you get an extremely well-made instrument that functions beautifully in field use. It has superb resolution, contrast, ergonomics, and engineering, and in my opinion, there’s nothing to touch it in this price class with a fit and finish more reminiscent of a £1k instrument. But that seems to be the siren call of Oberwerk in general. Not only has it made its name in high quality large aperture binoculars, the company’s new lines of compact binoculars are also making heads turn. And that’s great news for the consumer and the hobby in general.
Dr Neil English explores the fascinating world of binoculars in his up-and-coming book, Choosing and Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts due out in late 2023/early 2024.