Opticron HR 80 GA ED/45 telescope with SDLv2 24-72x zoom eyepiece


Having been impressed with Opticron’s HR 66 GA ED/45 when it first appeared back in 2008, I recently had the opportunity to test its big sister model, the HR 80 GA ED/45 – now fitted with the manufacturer’s newly launched SDLv2 zoom eyepiece. I very quickly discovered this combination was a force to be reckoned with in almost all aspects of handling and optical performance.

While the scope itself remains unchanged since its debut three years ago, the new v2 eyepiece has been designed specifically to match the HR 80 and HR 66 optics. So why the fuss over what may initially be perceived as just an upgraded eyepiece? Well, in most instances, the eyepiece – with its integral multi-lens configuration – is the limiting factor in the performance of a telescope, so getting the business end right should be number one on any manufacturer’s list of priorities. Any improvement in eyepiece design, construction and optical quality therefore has to be a boon.

In this case, the eyepiece has been completely redesigned with a different optical system, retaining only the eyecup from the original SDL. Physically, the v2 is slightly longer and weighs approximately 10 per cent (25 g) more than its predecessor, principally as a result of having to accommodate an additional glass element.

There are three key functional differences from the original SDL: an improved field of view (37-23 m compared to 36-20 m, equating to an approximately 10 per cent wider field at high magnifications), better resolution and an improved eye relief profile, meaning that the optimal eye position does not vary as much across the zoom range.

Putting it all together, my initial impression was that the scope feels heavy (just a few grams short of 2 kg with the eyepiece), despite the body being constructed from lightweight magnesium. When compared with more expensive competitors’ models, however, it is not the heaviest, and the ‘apparent’ weight may just be a function of its compact design. The more than adequately padded stay-on case also contributes weight, of course.

The telescope’s tripod mount sits on a rotating ring featuring a five-point click-stopping mechanism, allowing the scope to be rotated through +/- 90° on the tripod. The body is generously covered in protective rubber armour and both the scope and the eyepiece are fully waterproof. A retractable rubber-covered lens hood combines with an integrated heavy duty rubber objective lens cap, with the latter neatly tethered to the scope’s body, although it can be removed if desired.

The wide-milled, rubber-covered focusing wheel turns very smoothly, although as with many scopes, it requires a considerable amount of turning between close up and infinity. Once set for mid- to long-range viewing, however, there is no further requirement for significant adjustment and I found the focusing wheel not to be overly sensitive when attempting to obtain a sharp image. As the magnification was ramped up on the zoom, the sensitivity kicked in, but even at the highest magnification of 72x it was still possible to obtain a reasonably sharp image.

Approximately 120° clockwise rotation zooms between low (24x) and high magnification settings. The eyecup does not click-stop in any fixed positions; instead it twists smoothly out to stay put at any extent desired by the user. In experimenting with eyecup positioning I found the full field of view was visible at the lowest magnification with the eyecup fully extended, but to obtain a full field on the highest magnification setting I needed to have the eyecup at least 75 per cent retracted.

Put under pressure during a dull, damp, drizzly late winter’s afternoon this scope, with the ‘v2’ eyepiece, delivered image clarity and brightness across the full range of magnification, with practically uniform edge-to-edge sharpness. There is a very minor curvature of field evident only when tilting the scope vertically over, say, a horizontal land-water interface, and chromatic aberration only becomes noticeable in the outer 5 per cent or so of the image, although if you look hard enough, it is detectable in the centre too. Even here, however, it was negligible when I viewed dark birds against light backgrounds – for instance Coots on water, and Cormorants against a cloudy sky.

While there appears to be no discernible colour cast and the image seems ‘cold’ and neutral, I liked the scope’s delivery of colour which, to my eyes, was a perfect reflection of reality.

Opticron told me both versions of the SDL eyepiece will be available for the foreseeable future. The ‘v2’ will fit all current and many previous models, although some will require an adaptor or collar, and it’s worth noting that the magnification range delivered varies according to the scope it is combined with – for example, the range is 18x to 54x when connected to the smaller HR 66 GA ED. Accessories include the padded, stay-on case, which can be purchased as an extra for £69, and it’s worth mentioning that, at the time of compiling this review, Opticron is offering a free tripod fitted with a Manfrotto 701HDV head with every purchase of an HR scope with an SDL eyepiece.

In summary, I can only state that the scope and eyepiece combination was a pleasure to use and, as such, is the best Opticron product I have tested and reviewed. Try it for yourself.

Tech spec

Price: body £849; eyepiece £259
Length: body 405 mm; eyepiece 77 mm
Weight: body 1,703 g; eyepiece 270 g
Field of view: 37-23m at 1,000 m
Close focus: 8 m
Gas-filled: yes
Waterproof: yes
Guarantee: 30 years