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Old Thursday 30th March 2017, 18:52   #1
FrankD
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Opticron Natura ED 8x42 Review

Introduction:

I have been putting off my review of the new Opticron Natura ED models for the last four or five months for a few reasons. For one, as I mentioned in my previous post, life has been busy on my end and I just haven’t had the time to sit down and do the reviews that various binoculars and spotting scopes deserve. Two, I received several other new models to use and review in the mean time. Lastly, I used both the 8x32 and 8x42 extensively once I received them but that was several months ago and I wanted to use them again now so I could fresh impressions instead of relying on memory alone.
This review is going to focus on the 8x42 model as I prefer it to the 8x32. That is a bit of a change of pace as I tend to prefer 8x32s in general with one or two exceptions. Their more compact design and generally wider field of view usually trumps any “low light” advantage or exit pupil “comfort” that an 8x42 can provide. In this case though there were two issues that drew me to the 8x42 instead. First I like the size and handling of this particular 8x42 model. The housing is contoured/tapered from the larger object back to the smaller diameter eyecups. Add to that the “shorter conventional bridge” design and my hands just fit around this very naturally. Second, the focus wheel of the 8x32 is stiffer than I prefer for practical use. It has loosened up slightly over time but not to the point that I consider it acceptable.

The current ED version of the Natura binocular has nothing in common with the original Natura that Opticron introduced a few years ago. The original model had a notably narrower field of view, lacked the ED glass of the current model and had an open bridge design.

Now that the introduction is out of the way let’s look at the advertised specifications/features as per the Opticron website:

Features include;

• Compact, lightweight roof prism design with micro hinge body
• Textured rubber armor
• Nitrogen waterproof construction
• ED, fully multi-coated optical system with ‘PC’ phase corrected prisms and Oasis prism coating
• Long eye relief eyepieces giving full field of view for glasses wearers
• Wide wheel focusing with integrated rhs diopter adjuster
• 3-stage alloy retractable eyecups
• Close focus to 7.2ft (8x32), 8.2ft (8/10x42)
• Tripod adapter socket
• Limited Lifetime Warranty

Field of view in feet: 366
Field of view in meters: 122
Close focus distance feet/meters: 8.2 / 2.5
Eye relief in mm: 23
Interpupilary Range: 56~76
Length and width (inches): 5.6x5.1
Length and width (mm)142x129
Weight (ounces/grams) 22.9 / 648
MSRP: $409.00

Ergonomics/Mechanics:

As I mentioned in the introduction I really like the ergonomics of this binocular, especially for a full-sized 8x42 model. The binocular feels light in the hand without feeling flimsy. I believe this is the result of the combination of the relatively light weight (22.9 ounces) and the texturing of the rubber armor. It has a slightly pebbled or dimpled feel to it. I have found this to be both pleasant to the touch and practical in wet weather.

Also mentioned previously is the shorter, conventional hinge design. This design allows more of my fingers to wrap comfortably around the barrel especially in comparison to a normal, conventional hinge design. This then leads to a more stable grip and subsequently a more stable image.

The focusing knob is well placed for my index finger, large enough for my finger to find it and the ribbing across the focusing knob makes sure my finger does not slip off of it accidentally. The diopter adjustment is located on the focusing knob with this model. It is a straight-forward “pull up to adjust, pop-back-in to lock” arrangement. I have not had issues with the diopter accidentally moving with this design.

Focusing tension started out a bit stiff right out of the box but has loosened up to a more than acceptable level. There is still a bit of “stiction” to the feel of the focusing movement but it seems to get less and less with regular use. I wonder if this is related to the diopter adjustment being placed in this location as several binoculars I have owned with this design displayed this feel to some degree.

The binocular close focuses to about 7 feet with my eyes. Focusing direction is counterclockwise and it takes approximately one and 2/5ths turns to go from close focus to infinity with about a quarter turn of travel past infinity focus.

The metal eyecups twist out to adjust effective eye relief. They have three settings: Fully collapsed, intermediate and fully extended. They stay locked at the intermediate and fully extended position thanks to a nifty little mechanism. You actually twist past the intermediate or fully extended position slightly before twisting back down to a locked one.

There are two thumb indents on the underside of the barrel but, as in the last review, they don’t force you into a specific finger/hand position due to the shallow and broad nature of the design. The pictures will illustrate this nicely.

Optical performance:

This binocular provides an interesting blend of optical performance areas. Strong points include excellent CA control over practically the entire field of view, very good apparent sharpness and very good apparent brightness. The only weak spot I have found is an average field of view (366 feet at 1000 yards or 7 degrees). In addition, the sweet spot size appears to be very generous. I would estimate close to 85% of the field of view is as sharp as the center. The next 7-8% is a transitional zone and the last 7-8% is out of focus but snaps into focus with a slight turn of the focusing knob (field curvature).

To be honest I prefer and am accustomed to using 8x binoculars (32 mm or 42 mm) with a wider field of view than this. Most of the ones that I have been using recently sport 8 degrees (420 feet) + fields of view so I do notice the difference when switching to the Natura ED. The strange part is I don’t find it bothersome in the least. This is curious to me as I would expect to feel more restricted as if I was missing out on something. I think that impression relates to the following characteristics.

One, as I mentioned the apparent sharpness is very good. I would even venture to say excellent. I seem to be able to see the smallest details on either the holly bush outside my window (about 15 feet away) or looking all the way out at birds of prey flying over a local ridge close to a mile away.
Two, apparent brightness appears to be very good. My first inclination of this was using the binocular at dusk recently. I could clearly see better with the binocular than with my own eyes. The image in the binocular, under those conditions, just appeared notably brighter. In a second situation I could readily detect color or shades of color on distant raptors. IDing Black Vultures by the small white patches on the wings seemed relatively easy as I could see them clearly even on a cloudy, dreary day.

Third, I have to say that the CA control on this model is very impressive. For those of you that are binocular aficionados out there you know a good ED glass binocular when you get that clean, sharp, crystalline style image. Everything seems almost hyper-real because the image is so clean and sharp. This model displays that level of performance.

Lastly, as I mentioned, the sweet spot size is very generous as I would hope considering the relatively average field of view. I believe the size of the sweet spot, and also the type of distortion/aberrations outside of the sweet spot can lead directly to how relaxed the image is. The image in the Natura ED feels very relaxed and natural. In addition the binocular displays literally no color bias. I have compared it to binoculars that have a slightly warm (either yellow or red/purple) color bias and to my eyes the Natura ED seems neutral in that regard, not favoring the warm or cold area of the visible spectrum.

Summary:

This binocular utilizes a relatively conservative overall design. It does not break any new ground in terms of optical performance. Yet, I thoroughly enjoy using it. Case in point, the last few days have seen a notable fallout of migrating species at the local lake. I have several binoculars always handy in my vehicle when I go out to survey a “birdy” area. The first one I have been grabbing recently is the Natura ED. Its comforable handling and light weight for a full-sized model coupled with its clean and relaxed image have made it a pure pleasure to use. I plan on keeping this one. 
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Old Friday 31st March 2017, 00:00   #2
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Thank you very much for this review, you have me convinced :o)
Quick question though: As you tried both, do you think the DBA VHD 8×42 model is very superior ?
Many Thanks

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Old Friday 31st March 2017, 00:11   #3
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That's a great review, Frank. Thanks for taking the time and putting in the effort. They do sound like nice binoculars, notwithstanding the relatively narrow field of view. An interesting set of trade-offs.

Eye relief is something I pay particular attention to, and the stated figure seems quite generous. Does that translate into practical, available, relief? How well does the range of eye cup extension match with that eye relief? While I'm not really in the market for 8x42 bins, those are further things I'm thinking on after reading your review.

...Mike
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Old Friday 31st March 2017, 00:50   #4
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Rob,

I will get VHDs out tomorrow and do a direct comparison.

Mike,

The eye relief is very generous on this unit. It does lose some usable eye relief because the lens surface is a few mm recessed from the eyecups. Even with that though I have to twist the eyecups out a few mms or I get blackouts. You can see this setting in the pictures I attached.
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Old Friday 31st March 2017, 01:08   #5
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Fantastic! Thanks so much Frank.
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Old Friday 31st March 2017, 07:32   #6
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Good work again Frank,

While you are comparing, would you mind having a look at how the colour, contrast and detail definition of the Natura ED compares to the Traveller ED as well? I've only tried them separately so far, but I'm wondering if they might be rather more similar than to the Imagic BGA VHD or even the Countryman HD. I've not seen the ED version of the Explorer at all yet. That might be an interesting one to put in the mix?

Cheers,

David

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Old Friday 31st March 2017, 13:11   #7
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David,

I have all three ED models plus the VHD on hand. I will compare them all. I can say that I have already compared the Traveller ED and the Natura ED (8x32 vs 8x42 respectively) just to compare overall image quality.

The Natura is just as sharp, and possibly a hair sharper to my eyes. The sweet spot is larger on the Natura though the Traveller sports a wider field of view. Color rendition is completely neutral with the Natura while the Traveller favors the yellow side of the spectrum by just a tad and only in direct comparison.
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Old Friday 31st March 2017, 15:10   #8
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Wonderful review, Frank! At this price point, these Natura ED's (even with their narrower FOV) should be competitive in the wide mix of available 8x42 instrument choices!

Ted
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Old Friday 31st March 2017, 15:11   #9
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Thanks Ted. I certainly agree. :-)
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Old Saturday 1st April 2017, 06:23   #10
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Franks,

Thanks for that comparison. I was really hoping for a better understanding of where those two sit optically in the Opticron range. Perhaps you can fill in more details when you've had the time with the Explorer ED and BGA VHD?

I'm sure you recall the Natura rather shocked me when I first tried it. It was not what I was anticipating, and it emerged that one of the changes was Opticron had elected to use Chinese glass and coatings for production. I perhaps wouldn't have called the resulting colour balance neutral. My recollection was the blue was fairly good, but they seemed light in the red, and the contrast, particularly in the fine detail, wasn't at the level I'd previously seen. I understand why Opticron chose to do it, the price is now pretty low for a Japanese engineered binocular with a 30 year (UK) warranty.

The Traveller ED looks different again. Yes a bit warmer, but not the depth of colour or contrast of pricier models. A different optical formula to the Natura to my eyes. If the glass and coatings are Chinese, like the Natura (and Nikon M7) then it might suggest a different sourcing, specification, or maybe just batch variation. Is it more Explorer ED like? I've not done a direct comparison as I said, but I'm pretty sure the Natura sample I tried, bescides the obviously narrower view, had a more pronounce field curvature but perhaps less astigmatism at the edges than the Traveller ED. Does that fit with your direct comparisons?

Keep up the good work.

David
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Old Sunday 2nd April 2017, 16:51   #11
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NIce review Frank, thanks for posting.

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Old Monday 3rd April 2017, 15:40   #12
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David, Lee,

Thank you. :-)

I did spend a great deal of time over the weekend comparing the following binoculars (all Opticron in this case):

Explorer WA ED 8x42
VHD 8x42
Natura ED 8x42
Verano HD 8x42
8x32 Traveller ED (briefly)

My reasoning was fairly simple. Three of those models are relatively closely priced (especially with the Verano now discontinued and discounted). The fourth, the VHD was requested in this thread and I am glad I included it.

To give you folks the short answer, the Natura was optically closest to the VHD in terms of optical performance characteristics. Here are the optical characteristics that they shared (or had more in common in comparison to any of the others).

Color representation: The VHD and the Natura ED both had a more neutral color representation. All of the others seemed slightly warm (creamy yellow) in comparison.

Apparent brightness: Both appeared brighter than the others. I do use the word "apparent" here because the neutral color representation could give the impression of better apparent brightness. Still, I used the Natura in low light situations and found it to be quite good.

Sweet spot size: Tough to judge as it varies depending on the environmental conditions and the subject being used to evaluate. I think the two are very similar in this area with a slight nod going to the Natura.

Apparent sharpness: Again a tie in my opinion. I cannot really say one was notably better than the other.

Field of view: A tie once more.

Differences:

The VHD has better contrast than the Natura ED. The increased contrast gives a little more "pop" to the image. More lifelike if you will.

The Natura ED has better CA control. The image looked a bit cleaner than the VHD particularly off axis. It actually was better than any of the others in this area with the most noticeable difference being with the non-ED Verano.

Mechanical/Ergonomic differences of note:

The focusing feel/tension is much better on the VHD. Very smooth, almost buttery which gives you better control. The Natura ED still has a bit more stiction than I would like and it was noticeable compared to the VHD.

Handling was a tossup. I like the short bridge design of the Natura ED but the open bridge of the VHD was equally as good.

All I can think of for now. Let me know if I missed anything.
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Old Monday 3rd April 2017, 20:06   #13
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Frank,

I'm guessing you are talking about the DBA VHD not the BGA VHD. I briefly did a DBA VHD/Natura ED comparison at BirdFair and thought there was a big difference then. It's the Natura ED, Traveller ED and Explorer ED where I'd guess things might be closer.

Cheers,

David
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Old Monday 3rd April 2017, 20:10   #14
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Frank,
Thank you so much to have taken the time to compare them all,
and to have written your impressions in full details.
It will be VHD for me then :o)

Thanks again
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Old Monday 3rd April 2017, 20:36   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RobMorane View Post
Frank,
Thank you so much to have taken the time to compare them all,
and to have written your impressions in full details.
It will be VHD for me then :o)

Thanks again
The DBA VHD is a wonderfully well rounded binocular. I've compared it against the very best on the market and it really holds its own in its own modest way. Such an easy and natural view. I think it excells at CA control, I've yet to see any at all so it's surprising that Frank mentions the Natura ED is better in that department. For some reason the 7 degree FOV seems just right too.
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Old Tuesday 4th April 2017, 13:39   #16
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David,

My comments were directed to the DBA VHD not the new Imagic VHD model. I haven't gotten my hands on new Imagic yet but will by this weekend (Cape May Optics Sale).

I took time again yesterday afternoon/evening to again compare the models in question. There is no doubt in my mind that the Natura ED is more similar to the DBA VHD than it is to any of the other three models with similar prices....in the optical performance areas I listed. I spent about two hours at the local lake using all of them to observe some recent migrants... (including a nice Blue-winged Teal pair that showed up at the lake yesterday).
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Old Tuesday 4th April 2017, 17:27   #17
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Frank,

I can't explain why you found the Natura ED and the DBA VHD so similar and I found them so different.

It will be interesting to hear how you find the Imagic BGA VHD fits in the mix. That was rather more subtle IMO.

Have fun at Cape May.

David
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Old Tuesday 4th April 2017, 18:08   #18
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Will let you know David.

Thanks. :-)
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