A Work Commenced July 11 2022
Product: Opticron Aurora BGA VHD 8 x 42
Country of Manufacturer: Japan
Chassis Material: Magnesium Alloy
Exit Pupil: 5.25mm
Eye Relief: 20mm
Field of View: 141mm@1000m(8.1 angular degrees)
Coatings: S-H type multi-coating to all air/glass surfaces, Phase corrected prisms with Oasis prism coating. Hydrophobic coatings applied to outer lenses
Dioptre Compensation: +/- 5
Close Focus: 1.9m advertised, 1.94m measured
Water Proof: Yes
Nitrogen Purged: Yes
ED Glass: Yes, VHD optical system incorporating field flattening technology and high quality ED glass objective system
Tripod Mountable: Yes
Weight: 725g advertised, 711g measured
Dimensions: L/W/H 15.2×13.2×5.2cm
Accessories: Premium quality soft Cordura case with rain guard, neoprene bungee strap and rubber objective lens covers
Warranty: 30 years
If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll be aware that I’ve become quite interested in many of the optical wares offered by Opticron. With over half a century of knowledge and expertise in sports optics, Opticron has robustly established themselves as a company that brings to market excellent products at very attractive prices. Indeed, one of my most used instruments is an excellent SR.GA 8 x 32 Porro prism binocular with its very high quality Japanese optics. This instrument really pushes the envelope in terms of both optics and ergonomics in a wonderful lightweight package.
These experiences made me naturally curious about what their top-tier roof prism models could deliver, and so I took the plunge and ordered up their latest flagship model, launched in the Spring of 2021. Called the Aurora BGA VHD 8 x 42, it knocks their previous flagship model, the DBA HD+ off pole position for an asking price some £200 more than the latter.
The Opticron Aurora BGA VHD 8 x 42 arrived in a very attractively designed black cardboard box, with a magnetic fastener. The instrument itself was found inside a beautifully designed cordura case made in Germany. I later leaned that Swarovski package some of their world class optical wares inside cases made in the same factory. I really like the feel of corduroy, especially in hot clammy weather. The instrument itself was packed with both its rain guard and tethered objective covers on. The package also contained a very high quality padded neoprene neck strap, a logoed microfibre cloth, instruction manual and 30-year warranty card.
Holding the instrument in my hands, I was immediately taken by its very elegant, yet somewhat understated form factor. The magnesium alloy chassis is overlaid by a tough matt black rubber substrate which is very easy to grip. Unlike the DBA HD+, Opticron decided to ditch the open bridge design in favour of a tough single-bridge connecting the two barrels.
Examining the underside of the binocular showed no thumb indents, which came as a relief to me. I rarely find good use for them, as I enjoy the freedom to find my own positions without prompting.
The twist up eye cups have four positions to suit most anyone’s preferred eye relief. They lock into place and hold their position well. The focus wheel is a little over a finger’s width, and moves smoothly and precisely. The dioptre setting is achieved by pulling up the top plate on the focuser and turning it to your ideal setting.
A high performance binocular of this calibre ought to have objectives that are well baffled and recessed deeply enough to shade them from peripheral light, dust and rain. As you can see below, the objectives are indeed recessed by as much as 10mm.
The ocular field lenses are large and easy to engage with. I measured their diameter to be 24mm.
Tipping the scales at just over 700g, the Opticron Aurora BGA VHD 8 x 42 is on the light side for such a high performance instrument. The instrument feels very solid in my medium sized hands. There is plenty of room to grip it either with one hand or two. The instrument has excellent eye relief – something that Opticron seem to be especially adept at achieving. It’s a full 20mm. Keeping the eyecups down, I was able to very comfortably engage with the entire field with my varifocals on.
The hinges on the central bridge are definitely on the rigid side. But that’s a good thing. Once you’ve adjusted the binocular to accommodate one’s optimised IPD, it doesn’t budge without a reasonable degree of effort.
The dioptre adjustment is idiot proof: pop up the plastic plate on the focuser and rotate it to one’s desired setting. While it has no scale, it does not jolt out of position once the plate is pushed back down. This is a better solution than other lockable dioptre designs I’ve previously encountered, such as those seen on the Monarch HG or Vanguard Endeavor ED II, for example.
The centrally-positioned, milled focus wheel moves through about 1.75 anti-clockwise rotations from closest focus to infinity and a little beyond. The gearing is backlash free and near ideal, especially for birders, who often benefit from smooth, accurate but rapid re-focusing.
I’ve learned to never underestimate the value of a comfortable strap when using larger, heavier binoculars. The padded neoprene neck strap supplied with this instrument is excellent; very easy to attach, and very comfortable to wear even after many hours of glassing in the field.
All in all, the Opticron Aurora BGA VHD is a beautifully designed instrument that should meet the approval of the vast majority of individuals who use it.
My optical testing began as usual, by examining how the binocular handled a very bright light source. The results I obtained were excellent. There was no internal reflections, no diffraction spikes and no signs of diffused light around the light source. These results reveal the very high homogeneity of the glass and the excellence of the anti-reflection coatings applied. Turning the binocular on a bright sodium street lamp after dark, I got a very fine image. What was even more impressive was the off axis suppression of stray light. Bringing the sodium street lamp just outside the field showed no ghosting of any description. I also tested this on a bright gibbous Moon in deep twilight. Putting the bright silvery orb just outside the field showed no sign of flaring or ghost images.
Next I examined the exit pupils of the binocular and the results are shown below:
As you can see, the large exit pupils are perfectly round with very little in the way of light leaks in their vicinity.
So far so very good!
As I put the binocular to my eyes I was amazed by the wonderful quality of the image. Indeed, it was, to all intents and purposes, sensibly perfect. The field of view is impressively large at over 8 angular degrees. Scanning the pretty flower beds on a bright sunny day in my next-door neighbour’s garden, the Aurora snapped to an ultra-sharp focus, presenting their variegated hues in beautiful natural colour. Contrast was superlative, as was the edge-to-edge sharpness of the image. The punchiness of the image was extraordinary too, no doubt attributed to the complete lack of glare in the image.
Taking the instrument out on a dull, overcast day stubbornly refused to show up any glare. Usually, looking at the ridge of a hill against a bright, cloudy sky will, more often than not, produce some veiling glare, but this top-tier instrument from Opticron refused to show anything of significance.
Chromatic aberration tests also proved exceptional in this binocular. Carefully examining a telephone pole against a dull overcast sky near sunset showed up none in the centre of the image. What was extraordinary though, is that the same instrument refused to show any lateral colour until the pole was placed right up near the field stop where the merest trace of it was unveiled. The same was true when I examined several layers of leaves on a tree against a bright overcast sky. Only at the edge of the field could I detect a trace. These results were exceptional. But to elaborate, the control of secondary spectrum in the Opticron Aurora BGA VHD was much better than both the Leica Trinovid HD and the GPO Passion HD, as my notes revealed.
Scanning the edge of a forest in bright summer sunshine showed no significant blackouts and very little in the way of a rolling ball effect. This was another genuinely surprising result, as I was expecting both these artefacts to be more pronounced, especially after test driving the Nikon Monarch HG 8 x 30 in the field, which also possessed field flatteners in an even larger field of view( 8.3 degrees). Barrel distortion was very mild in the Aurora, as evidenced by examining a stretch of fencing about 50 yards distant, moving it first to the top and then to the bottom of the field.
Collimation was shown to be just about perfect, as judged by using the dioptre adjustment to deliberately defocus the image of the bright star, Vega. I used the gibbous Moon to test for off axis blurring, chromatic aberration and to assess illumination drop off as it was moved off axis. The results were very impressive here also. The Moon remained razor sharp, with excellent contrast nearly all the way to the field stops. No unwanted colour fringing was in evidence until the orb was swung right out to the edge of the field, when a faint yellow fringe was detected. There was a modest drop off in illumination though, but no more than I’ve seen in other top-rated binoculars. Stars remained stubbornly sharp pinpoints of light across the vast majority of the field, only showing slight distortion at the field stop. This will make a first-rate astronomy binocular, as my extended night tests were to reveal.
The Big Easy
Close focus in the Aurora BGA VHD was measured to be 1.94m, in close agreement with the advertised stats and considerably better than their previous flagship model, the DBA HD+, with its 2.5m close focus. The majority of my targets from about 30 yards right out to over 500 yards were sharply focused simply by rotating the focus wheel a mere quarter of a revolution or so. The instrument is supremely easy on the eye – I call it the Big Easy – very comfortable, immersive and highly engaging. Indeed, I gave it to a number of my family members to test out and everyone agreed that it was a joy to hold and look through. Then I broke out my two main field instruments – the Nikon EII 8 x 30 and the Opticron SR.GA 8 x 32 to compare and contrast the views with the Aurora. The latter are two very high class Porro prism binoculars with smaller objectives than on the Aurora, so not exactly a fair test. Nevertheless, inviting my family to compare the images over a period of about 15 minutes, everyone agreed that the Aurora was superior to the SR.GA 8 x 32 in bright sunny conditions. The biggest difference here was glare, which was present to a minor extent in the SR.GA but conspicuously absent from the Aurora. Edge of field performance was also noticeably better in the Aurora too.
In other tests, we compared and contrasted the Aurora with the Nikon E II 8 x 30 but here the results were much more difficult to differentiate; both instruments produced sublime images free of any residual glare. Apart from the noticeably larger field of view and more pronounced 3D enhancement in the Nikon E II 8 x 30, we all noted their very similar sharpness and contrast. Even colour tone was very similar in both instruments, with a slightly cooler tone residing with the Nikon.
Conducting similar tests at dusk, it was very obvious which instrument pulled noticeably ahead though. The greater light gathering power and larger exit pupil of the Aurora made viewing in low light far more engaging than in the Nikon EII, which was desperately running out of light under the same conditions. As a low light binocular, the Opticron Aurora easily won the show.
These results were quite remarkable in my opinion, especially during bright, daylight conditions, as I was led to believe that no roof prism binocular under £1000 could realistically compare to the top-rated Nikon E II. That the Aurora BGA VHD could keep up favourably with the universally lauded Nikon is a testament to the quality of the optics, even though it retails for only about £200 more than the latter.
I encountered just one niggle while using the Aurora in the field. The eyecups could be a little bit tauter. They rather reminded me of the reports made by users of the first models of the Zeiss Victory SF to hit the market, and especially when comparing them to those found on the GPO Passion HD I test drove, as well as the excellent eyecups(removable) found on the Leica Trinovid HD I enjoyed using a while back. But that’s asking for absolute perfection.
Conclusions & Recommendations
It was a real pleasure testing out Opticron’s flagship roof prism model, the Aurora BGA VHD 8 x 42, which proved itself to be an excellent performer, both optically and ergonomically. I feel it is arguably one of the best buys a prospective buyer can secure for under £1000 in today’s market. This, together with the company’s excellent 30 year warranty, makes it a viable alternative to other high-end models like the Nikon Monarch HG, the Leica Trinovid HD and the GPO Passion HD, and is sure to reward the user with excellent performance in any viewing conditions.
Very highly favoured!
Neil English is currently writing an in-depth buyer’s guide for binocular enthusiasts. Choosing & Using Binoculars – a Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, will be published by Springer Nature in late 2023.