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John Riutta - July 2014

John Riutta

Why is it that the for all the different firms now offering binoculars for sale, so many of them seem so similar? Not taking into account the compact models, the selection is virtually all roof prism, 8x or 10x, 32mm or 42mm - done. Why does the range of possibilities have to be so limited? Where are the 6x, 7x, or 9x models? Where are the Porros? As one who spent a decade of his life developing binoculars, I know from experience that there are a wide array of possibilities that could be realized in the design of a binocular - possibilities that would bring spice and flavor to the optics world and free it from the rigid state of Ockhamist simplification into which it has become cornered.

This is not to by any means imply that being different simply for the sake of being different is to be valued. In regard to binoculars, difference must be paired with purpose; it must offer the person using the binocular a benefit not realizable with the more commonly seen models. Which is why I am always so pleased when I discover an optical firm willing to stand apart from the crowd by offering a binocular with noteworthy difference. Most recently such a discovery came in the form of the Opticron BGA Classic 7x36mm.

Smaller than a conventional full sized binocular but larger than both compact and the increasingly ubiquitous 32mm objective "mid-sized" models, the BGA Classic 7x36mm breaks from both the magnification and objective diameter conventions to provide a highly versatile binocular that is well-suited as both a primary a well as a "sidekick" model. Such a magnification-to-objective ration also opened up some interesting possibilities for its designers regarding its optical performance; possibilities of which they quite obviously took full advantage.

With a relatively short chassis length, the 7x magnification allows for a 7.2 degree field of view (378 feet at 1,000 yards  or 126 meters at 1,000 meters) to be realized. The 7x to 36mm ratio also allows for a 5.1mm exit pupil, which when combined with a very eyeglass-friendly 19mm eye relief distance yields a remarkably generous and comfortable-to-use eye relief box (the three-dimensional space behind each eyepiece in which the user's eye must be positioned for the full field of view of the optical channel to be seen; the larger the "box" the more forgiving the optic is to movement or shake by the user).

Of course, for naturalists, a binocular is not just a tool for examining distant objects; it must be capable of providing an up-close look at those nearby as well. As the BGA Classic 7x36mm offers a close focus distance of 6.6 feet (2.0 meters), it is entirely suitable for such use. During my own field testing of it I encountered a much higher than usual number of butterflies - all of which, thanks to the binocular's 7x magnification, wide field of view, and minimum close focus distance when needed, were easily viewed both in flight and at rest.

Having had the opportunity to use the Opticron BGA Classic 7x36mm in the field on many different occasions and for a variety of purposes - from bird watching, to observing both butterflies and dragonflies, to general nature study hikes - I can whole-heartedly attest to its performance, both in regard to its optics as well as its overall handling. The wide field of view allows for easy and rapid acquisition of the subject in the field of view, while the 7x magnification and sharp resolution work together to provide an image that is both bright as possessing of sufficient details for most uses.

As to the physical handling, the BGA Classic 7x36mm is well balance in the hands, comfortably sized to allow for easy manipulation of the center focus dial, and of sufficient weight that it feels solid but not heavy. Indeed, it is entirely possible - thanks again to the 7x magnification, this time paired with the optical system's 5.1mm exit pupil, to use the 7x36mm successfully with only one hand.

For all those seeking a reliable binocular suitable for multiple purposes that offers truly noteworthy performance at a solidly mid-range price, I highly recommend the Opticron BGA Classic 7x36mm. Among the ever-increasing conformity of the contemporary binocular market, it not only stands boldly by itself but fully justifies each and every way in which it does so.

Prior to founding The Well-read Naturalist in 2009, John E. Riutta was head of binocular and spotting scope development for Leupold. Now, as publisher of the world’s only book review wholly dedicated to works of natural history, his opinions about optics are still widely sought and highly regarded.