Aurora BGA Reviews
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Malgorzata Górska - April 2011
When I heard for the first time that Opticron would like to give me a gift, I was completely amazed. My first feeling was that Jacek Betleja, Opticron's representative in Poland, who is known for his sense of humour, was joking with me. When I realised that this might be a real opportunity I still could not believe that soon I would be using my own Opticron!
I had never before owned any ‘good’ binoculars. The only ones I had were a post-military Russian model with a broken lens, bought at a street market from Belorussian smugglers. As you can imagine, I didn't like using them! As an all round nature-lover, I preferred to watch plants and landscape than birds as those things are usually closer and do not escape from view so quickly. There was a pragmatic reason behind this: I suffer with extreme short-sightedness. Birds were always too far away, too fast and often too hard to find. And the Russian binocular was too heavy to carry in the field.
I got my new lightweight Aurora from Jacek when we visited the European Institutions in Brussels in October 2010. As you can see from the picture, it goes very well with my business suit. I was too busy to discover all its benefits at that time but Jacek did manage to find Alexandrine parakeets and carrion crow in the city. Although these are not small birds, the bright and sharp image from the Aurora helped me get a good look at them. These are two species that do not breed, or at least I have never seen breeding, in Poland.
Since coming back home, there were only few days when they stayed in my desk drawer. Usually my binoculars are on the desk, ready for a moment when geese, cranes or lapwings fly over my house, my garden and any other place I can spot them or hear them.
Usually I am patient with the passing of the seasons of the year. I like autumn to come and winter to be quiet at the Biebrza wetlands. This autumn I was watching the migration to the winter habitats with more sadness than usual as it would leave me with less chance to use my new Aurora binoculars.
The severe winter came quickly and I immediately installed bird feeders in front of my study window. This was a busy time for my Aurora. There was a real variety of species to be seen: tens of Great Tits, some Blue Tits, Marsh Tits (to be distinguished from Willow Tits), European Greenfinches, Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Chaffinches, Bramblings, some Redpoll, a Hawfinch and finally numerous Waxwings feeding on the last frozen apples in the orchard. New species and the subtle differences between those that are similar became easy to identify thanks to my new binocular friend.
I can’t wait for spring to come to walk the Biebrza Wetlands and watch Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew, other waders, the huge variety of geese and the ‘flagship’ Aquatic Warblers - they are about to come home!
Polish conservationist, Malgorzata Górska is from Trzcianne and is one of six winners of the prestigious international Goldman Environmental Prize received by environmental heroes from six continental regions. Frequently referred to as the Nobel Prize for the environment, the Goldman Environmental Prize is often awarded to men and women who take great personal risks to safeguard the environment. Ms. Górska was awarded the Prize for leading a successful campaign to stop construction of the controversial Via Baltica Expressway through North Eastern Poland’s Rospuda Valley where vast tracts of primeval forests surround ancient peat bogs and valuable wetlands. This EU designated Natura 2000 site is home to lynx, elk, wolves, orchids, eagles and 20 other endangered bird species – all of which were threatened by the planned road construction.
Ms. Górska is Nature Conservation Policy Officer at the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds (OTOP), the BirdLife International partner in Poland).
Ren Hathway - July 2009
I had started thinking more seriously about investing in a new pair of binoculars. My regular pair was still viable and much loved but now rather tired, having seen a fair amount of action over the years.
I took to trying out colleagues’ optics in the field whenever the occasion arose, with the hope of finding a suitable model.
However, last autumn whilst sat in a friend’s car, I noticed some binoculars he’d left on the side – the Opticron Aurora BGA. Idly picking them up, I looked down the lane ahead and instantly sat back in the seat. The image was breathtaking! So good were my first impressions that I immediately arranged to have a pair of 10xs for trial and I wasn’t disappointed.
As an indispensable necessity for my work as an ornithological artist, a pair of binoculars is the ultimate tool in the observation of the subject, and has to fulfill every personal criterion, most importantly, optically.
From the first view it was clear that the optics were exceptionally bright, and this is no doubt at least partly due to the unbelievably wide field of view. I am unaware of many binoculars of the same magnification that can rival these in this respect, which in these terms are more akin to 8x’s. The resulting performance at low light levels is revealing.
Within a few days of receiving the binoculars, I had the good fortune to be able to use them to view the Scillies’ first red flanked bluetail. The bird generally haunted the lower levels of a row of old elms set atop a raised stone wall amongst a tangle of branches, weeds and dying leaves. Silhouetted against a setting sun, viewing was far from ideal and with dusk fast approaching the Auroras performed superbly; every detail within the shadows was revealed, and the tantalising hints of colour as the bird flicked through were visible in the absence of the expected milky cast.
This brightness allows full appreciation of the incredible range of colour and tone that can be observed in nature, and was immediately apparent. Neither is there any perceptible distortion.
The first day that I took a pair home was dull and wet, and even just watching from the window the optical quality of these binoculars could be appreciated. Despite the drizzly conditions, the wonderfully saturated colours of the damp autumn foliage were glorious but true. All those greens, yellows and browns, subtly blending and then sharply contrasting. The warblers frequenting these trees were enjoyed in the same brilliant resolution, the subtle olives and whites, washes of grey, sharply defined primary edges, silky filaments along the flanks, all rendered with the same beautiful clarity. As a devotee of the subtle, I could not have been more impressed. On every occasion since, this is no less diminished.
On the subject of fine detail, a real bonus is in the close focus, at well under two metres with no loss of image quality or distortion, again better than many 8xs. This is great for watching insects as well as birds but it is a real pleasure to observe creatures close to simply for the sheer enjoyment! I never tire of becoming absorbed with the macro feather details of the tame thrushes and blackbirds in the garden, particularly the intricate patterns of the juveniles in the spring.
The Auroras are not only optically supreme, but are also very ‘user friendly’ in the field. In comparison with most other binoculars that I’ve tried, they are competently lightweight (especially for 10xs) and very easy in the hand. They certainly seem to be very robust and compact, and importantly are apparently 100% waterproof, although I must admit to avoiding getting them soaked, even though this claim is reassuring, particularly with a 30 year guarantee!
It would seem churlish to make a complaint, but if pressed it would have to be the eyecup mechanism, a three point click lock system which has a habit of slipping with a result of one eye being closer to the lens than the other.
Opticron have set the standard for low and mid price range optics, but this quality has obviously been extended to the Auroras which should now seriously compete with higher level brands.
My initial apprehension of the cost was relieved greatly by the sheer quality of the binocular, the optical performance in particular. The fact that I found this to be of a standard equivalent to the top range models and even surpassing them in some aspects was not to be underestimated, and for considerably less cost! That Opticron have managed to produce a model as the Aurora with such fantastic structural and optical integrity, whilst keeping the cost to a minimum is to be applauded.
Ornithological artist Ren Hathway has lived in the Isles of Scilly for the last 17 years and has three children. Since winning Bird Illustrator of the Year in 1994, Ren has had illustrations published in many books (including 'Thrushes' and HBW), various magazines and journals. He regularly contributes illustrations to Birdwatch and many local bird reports, especially in Scilly.He has been heavily involved in the production of the annual 'Isles of Scilly Bird and Natural History Review' and as well as birds he also illustrates other aspects of natural history such as insects and fish.
Martin Collinson - December 2008
I received the Opticron Aurora 8x42 BGA binoculars in September 2008 and used them full-time until the end of the year, including a 10-day visit to China. Previously I had stuck with my Zeiss 7x42 BGA*P since 1991. Although my old Zeiss have seen better days, with an accumulation of scratches that has reduced their contrast and resolution, they retain the three-dimensional 180° walk-in image and unbelievable brightness that characterise that model. I was sceptical that any other binocular could recapitulate the performance of my old bins, or indeed that I could live with any other binocular. Turns out that, in some respects at least, I was wrong.
First, though, the peripherals and logistics. I have to admit that I struggled a little to get the strap and eyepiece cover into some sort of workable ergonomic arrangement, and I am still not happy with it as it twists itself into knots in use. The rainguard fits a little too snugly on the eyepieces – being a speccy, I use the eyepiece cups retracted fully down, but found that that when the rainguard is whipped off in a hurry it pulls the right adjustable cup out to the extended position and makes looking through the binoculars awkward. This was an especially acute problem in the first few days with the binoculars, when I had not worked out the step-like mechanism by which the eyepiece cups are adjusted. The binoculars were pleasingly light in weight, fitting nicely in my gloved hands, with a focus wheel that remains accessible even with your polar army mitts. The dioptre adjustment on the right eyepiece is also stepped and once set, stays set without drifting. Importantly, my Remembird recording device fit securely between the barrels without danger of falling off – a clear advantage over the corrugated barrels of my old bins. The objective lenses are suitably inset to protect them from most accidental damage, and from glare.
When I first used the binoculars in anger I was not surprised to find that they could not really match the rollercoaster image of my old Zeisses, and nor did they have the same light-capture in dull conditions. On the other hand, the image produced was pleasingly flat, pin-sharp and with good resolution maintained towards the edge of the field of view. The colours appeared true and the image was contrasty and strikingly natural. The close focus was impressive, and again was a striking improvement on my old bins. I had 100% confidence in these binoculars in the field. Critical features of plumage were discernable as well as with any other model I have tried – maybe there is a lesson for those of us who have stubbornly clung to the bosom of Zeiss, Swarovski and Leica, that the birds do not go blurry and disappear if other brands of optic are pointed at them.
The bins appear sturdy and were bounced around China without mishap, whilst being small enough to slip into a coat pocket when the PLA starts scowling at you. They also survived hours in the teeth of a wet Scottish autumn and turned out to be completely waterproof. Another bonus, for those of us lucky enough to live somewhere near the North Pole, is that down to -10°C the focussing wheel did not become too stiff to adjust easily. The lens coatings have also survived being wiped with t-shirts, with no obvious deterioration. In use, I got the impression that the depth of field was not the greatest, and I was constantly fiddling with the focus – but this may be me being unnecessarily fussy. Certainly I found no problem getting onto birds in a hurry and focussing without delay. When seawatching in dull conditions, the field of view, light-gathering and quality of the image were all excellent and compared well with any other top-end binocular. After three months of use, the housing and focus wheel have somehow retained the ‘out of the shop’ new look, and are clearly pretty tough. There have been no technical faults at all.
The stuff that doesn’t matter… but does. Non-birding colleagues noticed that I had new bins and remarked that they looked a bit swish and expensive. My non-birding guide in China found that she could use the binoculars without ‘training’, and also just use the one hand to keep the other one free for cigarettes!
Although I had reservations about the binoculars when I first got them, they have since become my main binocular, offering everything I could want, in terms of image, handling, build and weatherproofing in a top-end model. I have no reason to change back, or onwards, to anything else.
Martin Collinson, December 08
A Senior Lecturer at Aberdeen University, Martin ruffled the feathers of USA birders in 2007 when he published a paper which suggested the recent sighting of the extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker was a Pileated Woodpecker. Martin Collinson is on the Editorial Board of British Birds which is THE journal of record for all serious birders in the UK & beyond. A serving member of the British Ornithologists Union Records Committee (BOURC) Martin is also on the BOU Taxonomic Sub-committee.
The New Opticron Auroras
Some comments from Martin Garner
I am a fan of Opticron binoculars. Chiefly because I am also an avid proponent of the notion that the most expensive gear is not essential in becoming a better birder. Opticron binoculars have in the past helped me to find rarities like Thayer’s Gull, Britain’s first Caspian Gulls, Two-barred Crossbill and Pine Bunting. On principle and limited budgets I have also never paid more than £600 for a pair of bins.
So when I discovered Opticron was upping its game with this new range, I was intrigued. I have had a trial pair both 8x42 and 10x42 for several months and have taken them to central Africa, local patch birding, migration watching on Britain’s east coast mixed up with a flirt with the odonata and lepidoptera in the summer months.
They are immediately impressive in terms of style and especially size. Really. They are surprisingly light weight which further emphasises the impressiveness of the image quality when you look through them. I don’t really do binocular tech spec speak much so here are some earthier comments about the bins themselves.
- instant quality feel
- as easy to handle as any of the more expensive models. No kidding.
- image quality is sharp and clear, no fringing and looking pretty focused right to edge of view
- colours look true (spot on)
- focusing easy and a pleasure
- so light weight!
- Best at close and middle distance….amazing close focus!
- I haven’t immersed them in a gold fish bowl but the gas-filled waterproof spec seems to be born out in wet weather
- Eye-cups rotate and ‘lock’ on 3 settings, better in my experience than some more expensive models, especially on the middle setting
- The blurb says a 30 year guarantee…wow I ‘ll be in my seventies!
I showed to several other colleagues whose opinion I respect. Initial response was a clearly positive: “ hmmm nice, Like ‘em” in that kind of affirming birder ‘grunt speak’.
Here are a few ‘neutral’ factors I discovered in their use which may sway you one way or the other, but tend towards personal preferences
- focus goes ‘the other way’ compared to some models. Takes some getting used to, but worked with this fine once my brain had adjusted.
- comes with nice water proofing at both ends and a leather case (though once I start use, my bins never see the leather case again anyway)
- locking eyecups don’t stay in place as well when fully extended out. Though other models suffer from this too
- wish they were marketed at £600 new! I think that’s the target price.
- I would personally go for the 10x42. Very little extra weight and pack a great punch on the image quality
All in all I think Opticron are doing British Birding a great service. It is an admirable start at attacking the middle ground where most birder pockets really live, especially with personal finances under attack in the current season.Good job Opticron!
A birder since the age of 11 Martin is credited as being the first person to positively identify Caspian Gull in the UK and did so using Opticron binoculars. In 1997 he co-wrote a ground breaking two-part paper in British Birds which covered the identification of Yellow-legged Gull & Caspian Gull. Martin is the author of the 2008 published Frontiers in Birding. Martin is also a current serving member of the British Birds Rarities Committee.
Steve Young - Birdwatch August 2008
Whenever I go out to take photographs of birds I always take my binoculars with me. Unless I’m in a tiny portable hide they are always around my neck ready to use to find and identify any bird that I see.
With the price of the top of the range pairs now costing about, or even over, £1,000 I was interested to receive a pair of the new 8x42 Aurora BGA model for review, which are priced at around £300 less. (For those new to binoculars the 8x figure is the magnification and the 42 is the size, in millimetres, of the objective lens that gathers in the light). Opticron have established an enviable reputation as one of the leaders in the production of low to mid priced quality binoculars, which give excellent results. It would be interesting to see how these top priced models fared.
My first immediate impression was of a very “comfortable to hold” pair of binoculars with a solid feel to them, yet still lightweight for the specifications. They felt good in the hand due to the nicely finished rubber protective armouring, looked good (my review pair were the black version), with a well positioned focussing wheel that was easy to use. Rotating click stop eyecups were ideal, and there was a click stop dioptre setting for precise focussing.
According to the Press Release information these binoculars “…achieve the highest possible clarity and colour contrast…stunning resolution…handle like compact 8x32’s…” Now, I’m not a great one for publicity blurbs as no manufacturer is going to say their binoculars are rubbish, so only a lengthy field test would prove to me the binoculars’ worth. However, I must admit that they did appear to look the part and I couldn’t wait to fit the strap (which is a very comfortable wide Bungee make) and get out in the field and test them properly.
On a dull wet day I had a short walk around my local park in January to see if any Redwings were still around. They were, and the colour, contrast and sharpness of the birds through these binoculars were excellent; the raindrops stood out sharp and clear on the bird’s feathers, while colours were bright and true, before I retreated to the comfort of my car as the rain got heavier.
When it rains the first thing I usually do is cover up my binoculars no matter how much they are supposed to be waterproof; I don’t like getting optical equipment wet. But with claims that the “nitrogen gas filled waterproof construction works to a depth of five metres”, I thought a rain test was required, and they were only a review pair after all, not my own! I moved the rainguard out of the way and held the binoculars out of the car window until they were well and truly soaked, droplets of water running everywhere. A quick wipe and they were fine with no damage done, but as I had them on a three month trial I would put them to the rain test again!
Throughout the next two months I used these binoculars constantly leaving my regular pair behind so that I gave them a fair and lengthy test. They were used at dawn, dusk, in sun, in dull conditions and in the pouring rain on a number of occasions. They were used in parks and farmland, out on estuaries and along the beach with sand blowing in gale force winds. They came through all the weather conditions and habitats that I could find and worked perfectly all the time. After being blasted with sand I was glad to see that none had managed to work its way inside the mechanism, and after a wipe with a damp cloth everything looked fine and despite being soaked on a number of occasions no rain seeped inside.
The close focussing of these binoculars is less than two metres, so watching dragonflies at close range to see all the details is not a problem, and the image is beautifully sharp.
In all situations colour rendition was spot on, even in the dullest of light. Light gathering power from the 42mm objective lenses was excellent and at dawn or dusk birds looked at were clear and sharp. Tawny Owl, Ross’s Gull, Grasshopper Warbler and Black-winged Stilt were just a few of the species I enjoyed in differing weather conditions.
Field of view was superb, even wearing spectacles there was no loss when the rotating eyecups were completely down. In the early spring when the first butterflies and dragonflies appeared I was able to get very close views thanks to the excellent close focussing of just under two metres.
All in all these are an impressive pair of binoculars that I don’t think will let you down. At around £700 they are not cheap, but when compared to the others in the same range you could buy a pair of these and still have £300 left for a nice weekend away birdwatching…
Steve Young has been a professional photographer for sixteen years, specialising in birds and has become one of the UK is best known bird photographers.
He writes a regular monthly column for Birdwatch and Outdoor Photography magazines and has written two books on bird photography.
His images have been used in countless books and magazines worldwide.
David Lindo - August 2008
I have a very simple view on binoculars. I liken using them to driving cars; they have to be easy to use, feel good in your hands and enable you to see things in a different light. Oh and of course, they simply have to look good. You want people to be envious of you and wish they too could have a pair of bins like yours.
The first thing that struck me when I took the Aurora BGA 8x42’s out of the box to review was that they felt substantial. They were very comfortable in the hand and looked attractive too. The second thing I noticed was the clarity of the image when I eagerly placed them to my eyes. So, I ran out of the door straight to my beloved local patch Wormwood Scrubs in west London, to try them out. I was pleased with the colour contrast, image clarity and the amazing resolution.
As you can imagine, being The Urban Birder means that a lot of my time is spent in urbanity – namely London and in particular at my local patch. So to my mind, the only way to test the Opticron Aurora BGA 8 x 42 was to take them with me everywhere both day and night for a week. Partially to get a feel for them and partially to see what species of birds I would see with them. I even slung them on my bed-head every night when I went to sleep – well, George Best used to sleep with a football!
Monday – I had a meeting at 10am so that curtailed my daily morning trip to Wormwood Scrubs. Instead, it was a quick scan up my street that resulted in a fleeting glance of my resident Dunnock. I was pleased with the image in the bins. The shuffling Dunnock looked crisp and clear.
Later that afternoon, I stole an hour to twitch a Firecrest that had been reported locally at Kensal Green Cemetery. The light was quite dull due to the impending rain clouds but despite that I was happy with the bright views I had of several of the common tit species, various corvids, an obliging drumming male Great Spotted Woodpecker and of course, the cracking female Firecrest I had sought.
Tuesday – Dawn saw me seated on a bench at The Scrubs scanning the skies for early migrants. Using the Aurora’s was already feeling like second nature. For my troubles I watched a pair of Canada Geese honk by, around 60 Carrion Crows and 3 Stonechats including a couple of gorgeous males.
Wednesday – My little flock of Stonechats had increased to at least 10 roving birds. I struggled to keep them all in vision at the same time as I celebrated the fact that this was the largest gathering of this heathland species I’d ever seen on my patch.
Later in the day, whilst in between meetings in central London, I snuck out into a fairly quiet square where I scanned the skies to count the passing gulls. I became aware of a small passerine dip onto a nearby rooftop. Thinking that I may have seen a Black Redstart, or rarer still a House Sparrow I employed my Aurora’s. When I focussed on it sitting quietly on a TV aerial I quickly realised that I was looking at a Pied Wagtail. Ah well!
Thursday – This was a complete washout thus there wasn’t much action. My Aurora’s and I jumped on a plane later in the evening destined for a long weekend in Valencia, eastern Spain. When I arrived at my B&B outside the city a quick stroll quickly clocked up singing Nightingale and Cetti’s Warbler.
Friday – Got up early and drove down to Albufera de Valencia, an area of wetlands to the south of Valencia, to watch multitudes of egrets and herons leave their roosts to head out to their feeding areas. Scanning the fields in the bright sunlight revealed tens of Gull-billed Terns scouting over the churned soil and Collared Pratincoles swirling around catching insects. It was in this bright light that the Aurora’s really shone as the images were absolutely pristine.
Saturday – I spent the morning back at the wetlands where I discovered migrants in the varying shapes of Garganey, Common Tern, Pied Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and a magnificent Black Stork that drifted overhead. In brilliant sunshine I had blinding views of around 200 nesting Black-headed Gulls and 6 plus Mediterranean Gulls from the hide overlooking the tern island. Best of all, I had incredible close-up views of a pair of obliging Slender-billed Gulls that gave me a great opportunity for some close focussing.
Sunday – I took a 130km drive further south to the ex pat, ex criminal haven known to us as Benidorm to watch Manchester United play Liverpool in a random seaside bar. On the way down I had to pull over to watch a Booted Eagle pass over being mobbed by a crow. United won and I drove back a happy man!
Monday – flight back to Blighty.
The verdict? I was very impressed. They are sleek, attractive and damn good! Go get a pair!
The Urban Birder
David Lindo is The Urban Birder. A lifelong birder, he is broadcaster having appeared on Springwatch and is a presenter on BBC1's popular primetime The One Show. He is also a regular on BBC Radio London and Radio 4. David writes for various website and publications including the RSPB's Birds Magazine and the popular monthly, Bird Watching Magazine. When not flirting with the media, you will find him birding at his west London local patch that he calls his 'garden' - Wormwood Scrubs.