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Exclusive Interview: Rob Laughton from Opticron

Exclusive Interview: Rob Laughton from Opticron

In this exclusive interview, Rob Laughton from Opticron sits down with Russell Welton to delve into the world of binocular quality and optics craftsmanship. Rob shares insights on Opticron's dedication to Japanese-made products, emphasizing their superior build quality and innovative features like field flattener lenses. Towards the end of this blog, there is an informative Question and Answer section covering all the information you need at a glance. Discover why Opticron remains at the forefront of optics technology, offering high-quality binoculars and spotting scopes tailored for beginners and seasoned birdwatchers alike.

South West Optics and Opticron

RW: One question I always like to ask is “What do people never ask you, that you wish people did ask, which is most insightful about using binoculars?”

RL: I think people tend not to ask about what the quality is like of the binocular and in particular the build quality, which frustrates me a bit sometimes, because we all know there is a lot of cheap Chinese product out there. For a lot of brands, sometimes it’s all that they've got in their offering, is Chinese product. But, Opticron takes a step up, as in our range we've got Japanese made products.

RW: Yes, Opticron has always maintained Japanese lenses as a major part of the product line-up.

RL: Yes, it comes with high quality in the eye cup’s design and things like that and so, you get a better quality user experience and all-round binocular. Sometimes, you just don't get asked about that when you're selling it. You'll see what other European brands are offering, which again are up there with the best quality optics and ergonomics that you can buy, so yeah it does become frustrating sometimes that people are not always as aware of our high quality Japanese items within our comprehensive range.

RW: There doesn't seem to be much research on this topic by some buying customers. Some manufactures even appear to shy away from showing that message about quality Japanese optics. It’s a bit of a funny thing, because in the camera world, most well researched individuals recognize that the Japanese are designing some cream of the crop lenses that world produces. They offer specific refinements for personal choice when it comes to coatings, accommodating for individuals that specialise in black and white photography. As an example, they'll do a single coating lens for that part of the market in Japan because they are so highly discerning. The Japanese know what they want to get out of the product and the lens designers respond accordingly because yeah they've got the knowledge, they've got the technical skills and they use those specific coatings to deliver a specific ‘look’.

RL: Yes. They do deliver. I don't think we recognize the calibre of Japanese optics as much in the binocular world. In our range of Japanese optics, we offer the Aurora. As you know, it’s our flagship model which retails for around £799 to £829 and going up from a DBA model which is currently around about £500 pound, (normally six hundred) as it’s on offer at the moment. So there is a price difference there. This is because of our field flattener in the Aurora which offers the wider field of view. So you've got 7 degree field on the DBA as opposed to 8.1 on the Aurora. It’s such a big difference, it’s like night and day really. The calibre of technology used is still at such an affordable and unprecedented price. You don’t have to spend £1,500 or £2,000 pounds for it and they're not heavy either. And that's what we're all about at Opticron, being able to deliver premium optical quality, a light weight item, one which is affordable. Something that doesn’t break the bank too much.

Opticron Aurora Binoculars- South West Optics

RW: How long has Opticron been going?

RL: The design and optics has been going since the 1970s. So, it started with the current boss, his dad is a Hungarian who came over to the UK and started a binocular repair business in the Brighton area.

Later, then realizing he could also start selling some, as an example the High Resolution HR Porros we spoke about earlier, and so then onwards from there. After his retirement, Garin the current boss, took over from his son and we have a base in Luton which has been established there for about about 25 years now.

Ever since since we started in 1970’s, we have always tried to deliver innovative optics in the market. From the early Porro prism design days, right through to today. One example is that we were really the first company to pioneer, popularise and delivering travel scopes. It started with the Mighty Midget model right back in the 90s and it has now evolved into today’s range where we have the MM4 which is the current one. Now you can get a 50 or 60 or 77 millimetre objective to choose from. In particular, the 50 and 60 models are specifically designed to be small and lightweight.  You can put it in your camera bag if you’re going abroad, take it with you in the car and mount it to the car window or simply mount it on a monopods if you are out hiking with it in your back pack. It’s a great approach if you want to reduce weight and perhaps you don’t want to carry a heavy tripod with you.

Opticron MM4 - South West Optics

Another innovation is our image stabilized binoculars which have been designed to appeal to our audience at a good price point, size and weight. There are other brands out there such as the Canon image stabilised range of binoculars, but we know ours have taken the initiative to be different and they are good looking pieces too! One of our most popular models is the 14x30mm model which is less than £600 and weighs less than 450g.

RW: Do you have any ideas or new innovations on the horizon that you're at liberty to talk about?

RL: We have a new scope eyepiece coming out pretty much as this goes to ‘press’. It is an upgrade of our top end one. We currently produce the SDL V3 at the moment and this will change to the SDL V4 with the idea that it will deliver a brighter and sharper image due to improved coatings. It will have a recommended retail price of £349. The magnification it will produce is as follows: If you've got 50 60 or 77 on the 50 is going to be 12 to 36 times magnification, on the 60mm it will be 15 to 45 and then our 77mm produces 18 to 54 time mag.

Opticron SLD v4 Eyepiece - South West Optics

They are on different scales, so more magnification on the bigger scope as you’d expect.

Our latest spotting scope is our MM3 80 model. This newest offering is there to deliver a more affordable 80 mil telescope. Our 77 is our top of the line Japanese made product.

RW: I wanted to ask you about that because there is a very close objective between the 77 and the 80. What was thinking behind making that distinction?

RL: Really, it’s market led and it’s our answer to the competition at those respective price points.

Where the MM3 80 sits is along side the other 80-85mm models. In some cases you've got to offer a product for people to compare known specification figures. We like to be progressive in offering improved coatings and glass.

The MM3 80 is a more affordable Chinese made version of the 77 and comes with a HR3 eyepiece and the MM4 77 has the new SDL which is a Japanese one. The M4 series is always Japanese made and then MM3 are Chinese made. So we set them apart just to be able to deliverer a more affordable version for everybody.

Opticron MM3 80 GA ED Spotting Scope - South West Optics

RW: Do you anticipate that there will be bigger objectives in the MM4 range as well can move forward or not the moment?

RL: No not at the moment, because we are all about size and weight. One of reasons we designed a 77 as well is to keep the weight down. It is designed to be the smallest and lightest weight scope in the market which also feels good in use. Again, with the 80, it's only 30 centimetres long and so, it too is very small when you compare it to what else is out there. These are still compact models, but the moment you start getting into the territory of 95 or 99mm objective lenses, well then, you are entering into a different ethos and category of telescope altogether. Obviously, there are the Kowa 99 and Swarovski 115mm models.

RW: What do you recommend to somebody who is starting out and what would you recommend to somebody who is a bit more of a well-seasoned birder?

For someone starting out, it depends where you go birding first of all I think. If you're out on estuaries and that type of landscape, binocular wise our Explorer ranges really competitive. They have ED glass in an 8x42, 10x42, 8x32 and 10x32 for those wanting something of a lighter weight, affordable, entry level binocular.

Opticron Explorer binoculars - South West Optics

Then if you wanted a telescope, the MM3 80 would be good because that's you could get that kit for under a thousand pounds for both your binoculars and a telescope. So, that would be good for a beginner, but of course you don't have to start out with a scope because, in my experience, (again it depends where you go) but most of the time when your bird watching you're using your binoculars 80 to 90% of the time anyway. A telescope is there to get you a bit closer, as in our scenario where you may be looking out across an estuary where you a viewing over a few hundred meters across mud and you just can’t physically get any closer to the subject.

In terms of higher end or more experienced user, I'd say use Auroras if you wanted to get that extra wide field of view and you still wanted to have a good quality edge to edge sharpness with the field flattener in it. They are not too heavy or expensive. They have been dubbed the best binoculars for under £1,000 in the market- and for good reason because they are of stunning quality. Again, you get the Japanese quality of that model. We have found that a lot of more experienced birders now go abroad for their birding nowadays. They may visit Costa Rica or Turkey or Georgia looking for Wall Creepers and Caspian Snow Cock and stuff like that so you you want something small light weight. So the MM4 60 is a good one for that because you've got again, Japanese quality in a travel scope.

Opticron Aurora Binoculars - South West Optics

RW: There's been a real increase in interest, it seems in general, where people are wanting to have a good light-gathering travel portable scope. There’s an increased consciousness of enjoying nature, perhaps even more since the Covid period. For a lot of people, they may be new to bird watching and for others that already have been doing so for years, some are spending more time and have been enjoying more by investing in there interests.

RL: Yes! Exactly. It's been the case that people have discovered nature, as it were, during the Covid period because all you could do was walk locally and then be able to say, ‘Oh! I’ve seen a deer, or a fox or a woodpecker’ at the beginning level. Then they think, ‘I might buy a pair of binoculars’ and the seed is there then and it grows into a lifetime hobby really. And, sometimes it does and so this is where you get new entrants into the market.

Like you said earlier, that's what our Porro binoculars are there for really. Good quality affordable optics and then you can get people started into the whole world of enjoying observing the natural world.

RW: Would you say there are any mistakes to watch out for that people easily make? Or general advise for beginners and pros alike. Maybe don't take too much kit with you…

RL: It always makes sense to work out what you are prepared to carry around with you. If your equipment is just too big and too heavy, you’re not going to end up using it. Make sure it’s what you really want.  I suppose another thing that is important with optics in general, whether it be telescopes or binoculars, is to try before you buy.

So, a lot of people obviously are tempted nowadays to go on Amazon and buy a pair of binoculars or they’ve seen an advert on Facebook and they read ‘this item is as good as a £3,000 telescope’ or ‘you can see for up to 60 miles with this binocular’ Ultimately, when asked, as one person asked me, ‘Is it to too good to be true?’ The answer is, yes they are. You've got to try it before you buy it. There’s no substitute to trying them out at an event or your showroom here. Trying different brand at different magnifications for example.

Opticron cabinet at South West Optics Showroom

There is also a common misconception a lot of the time that the higher and magnification the better the binocular is, when really it is the complete opposite. Someone will go into a shop and say, ‘I want your highest magnification binocular. What have you got?’. ‘I’ve got a 16 by 50. Oh, they're much better than the eight by 40s.’ No, no, they’re not. And so, it’s a challenge to to re-educate them to think in that way, that the lower magnification is going to be brighter and sharper especially in low light. Generally, you can’t hold more than 12 times magnification steady enough to see any detail on what you're looking at anyway. So, whether it be a ship on the horizon or a bird in the bush, 16s are far too much unless you've got image stabilization built in to steady it up.

RW: You've got Image stabilisation built into the Opticron IS 16x42. Significantly, it’s under a thousand pounds.

RL:  Yes. It’s a different kettle of fish then, because when you when you're introducing image stabilization into it, it’s not a problem because you know it's steadying the whole optical system. So probably the best advice is definitely try before you buy and that the highest magnification is not always the best.

Opticron Imagic IS 16x42 binoculars - South West Optics

RW: I think, yeah, that's really interesting because I know for me, one of the things I learned later in life that I wished I'd learnt earlier was that increased depth of field you gain with lower magnification.

RL: Yes, because you're not using the Focus wheel as much.

RW: I think it’s is not shouted about enough. If you want to look at a Merlin, that just went through your view or a large flock of pigeons or peregrine zipping overhead or maybe coastal bird watching. Not necessarily looking out to see but you’re just looking at the fulmar as it's whipping past and you’re getting that depth. Your catching that movement.

RL: And that's why if you go to a marine chandlery, all their binoculars are seven by 50 because you've got the depth of field. A lot of the time, they’re marketing auto focussing binoculars but they're not auto focusing electronically or anything. Their depth of field is so good that you don't need a focus wheel on there. So, you're looking closer or over the horizon and everything is in focus.

RW: There are challenges for engineers to overcome with making a higher magnification optics in general. They've got a job to ‘jump’ through more hoops to deliver the same standards we've come to expect as normal whereas with an 8 or 10 (particularly an eight), you'll get more of what is readily there to be enjoyed which is the purity of the light transmission without having to be corrected so much.

RL: Light transmission is a big and important part of it because you just see so much more detail on your subjects when you know you’ve got that light there. So whether it be birds or planes or whatever you are using them for, especially bird’s plumage, if you have good light transmission there, you know you’ve got the most clear view of what your looking at for identification and features of that bird.

RW: The Aurora’s are available in two configurations as well so again you've got that in an eight or a ten power.

RL: Yes, they’re available in 8x42 and 10x42. Me personally, I prefer the 8x42's because you've got the wide field of view and it suits where I do my birding, you know farmland or woodland locally to me, so you don't really need that power. But out of all the 10 power models we’ve ever produced, the Aurora is probably one I like the most and I'm happy to use as well because you are 6.6 degree field of view still says relatively good for a 10. Again you've got that field flattening lens and the brightness and clarity so it’s a nice binocular that one.

RW: I often illustrate it to customers by saying to them that if you imagine when you squint your eyes and you let less like in, you're actually having less diffraction issues. It's not so much that you're letting insufficient light, in but you're reducing the diffraction. Coming down from a 50 to a 42 you're saving weight, you're getting less diffraction, you're getting that higher quality of image as similar to physically squinting your eyes to look at something in the distance. You can start to read it and see if the object. Otherwise, sometimes, it can actually be too bright.

Questions and Answers

What sets Opticron's Japanese-made products apart from others?
Opticron's Japanese-made products are known for their superior build quality, innovative features like field flattener lenses, and high-quality eye cup design. This results in a better user experience and overall higher-quality binoculars.

What are the main differences between the Aurora and DBA binocular models?
The Aurora model features a wider field of view (8.1 degrees) compared to the DBA model (7 degrees) due to its field flattener technology. The Aurora is positioned as a flagship model with superior optical quality at an affordable price point, typically retailing between £799 and £829.

How long has Opticron been in business?
Opticron has been designing and producing optics since the 1970s. The company was started by the father of the current boss in the Brighton area and has been based in Luton for about 25 years.

What are some of Opticron's notable innovations?
Opticron pioneered the travel scope market with the Mighty Midget model in the 90s, which has evolved into the current MM4 range. They also offer image-stabilized binoculars like the 14x30mm model, which is lightweight and affordable.

What should beginners consider when buying binoculars or scopes?
Beginners should consider where they will be using the equipment. For estuaries, the Explorer range with ED glass in 8x42 or 10x42 configurations is a good start. The MM3 80 telescope is recommended for those who want both binoculars and a telescope under a thousand pounds. It's also important to try before you buy and understand that higher magnification is not always better.

What is the difference between the MM3 and MM4 series of spotting scopes?
The MM3 series is a more affordable Chinese-made version, whereas the MM4 series is Japanese-made and offers higher quality. The MM3 80 is an affordable 80mm telescope designed to compete with other 80-85mm models on the market.

Why is lower magnification often better for binoculars?
Lower magnification provides a brighter and sharper image, especially in low light, and offers greater depth of field, reducing the need to frequently adjust the focus. Higher magnification can make the image harder to steady and less practical for handheld use.

Are there any new products or innovations from Opticron?
Opticron is releasing an upgraded scope eyepiece, the SDL V4, which will deliver a brighter and sharper image due to improved coatings. They have also introduced the MM3 80 model, an affordable 80mm telescope.

What advice is there for experienced birders regarding Opticron products?
Experienced birders might prefer the Aurora binoculars for their wide field of view and edge-to-edge sharpness, making them suitable for international birding trips. The MM4 60 travel scope is also recommended for its high-quality optics in a compact design.

What common mistakes should people avoid when choosing optics?
Avoid choosing the highest magnification without considering practical use, as higher magnification can result in a less steady image. It's crucial to try optics before purchasing and to recognize that the highest magnification is not always the best option.

Shop Opticron at South West Optics by clicking HERE.

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