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Old Saturday 10th October 2015, 13:36   #1
henry link
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Encounters with Zeiss 8x42 HT and SF

I recently spent a week birding on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. While there I ran into a birder who uses nothing but Zeiss optics for birding. She has a very nice collection of Zeiss binoculars going back to the Dialyts, including an 8x42 HT and an 8x42 SF. I was able to spend a little time with the SF and she was kind enough to lend me her HT for a day.

My time with the SF was so short that I decided to limit myself to evaluating its distortion profile since there has been some disagreement here about how much ďrolling ballĒ it displays compared to the Swarovski SV. I donít want to make too big an issue of distortion since most people can probably adjust to a wide range of possible distortions, but if the subject is going to be discussed at all the first thing up should be to accurately establish what kind of distortion is there. For that purpose I used two targets that happened to be handy: a tall antenna that allowed me to see the behavior of a straight vertical line as it moves across the FOV and a small circular object that allowed me to observe how shapes change as they move from the center to the edge.

When I panned those objects through the FOV what I saw was pronounced ďmustacheĒ distortion. Approximately the inner 75% of the field developed strong pincushion distortion. In the outer 25% the pincushion straightened out and to my eyes actually reversed to slight barrel distortion in the last few degrees of apparent field. That distortion pattern caused the vertical line to curved back and forth several times as it moved from edge to center to edge. When the small circle was moved from the center to 3:00 on the edge it first stretched into a horizontal oval at about 65-75% (indicating pincushion so strong that it overcorrects angular magnification distortion). Then it became a circle again over a narrow angle. Then it compressed into a vertical oval at the very edge. Swarovski SVs do something similar, but the SVs Iíve seen have milder pincushion in the inner field (about enough to correct AMD), which then transitions to something like zero rectilinear distortion at the edge, not quite reaching barrel distortion. Given the pattern I observed in the SF Iím not at all surprised to read opinions here that it has stronger ďrolling ballĒ than the SV. Other reports here of higher pincushion in the SF compared to the SV and implying lower rolling ball also appear to be correct at far as they go, but left out is the essential information that the distortion reverses in the outer part of the field. From what Iíve seen I think, for those who are susceptible, the complex distortions in the SV and SF are more likely to cause some kind of visual disturbance when panning than the simple solution of applying a small amount of straightforward pincushion, just enough so that both pincushion and angular magnification distortion are unobtrusive.

I didnít have time for a close look at other qualities and besides I doubted that the optics were completely clean (tough to keep optics clean in the salt spray and wind of the Outer Banks), so I didnít form any other opinions about the SF.

Now on to the HT.

Since I was away from home I had to improvise some test set-ups. I used the glitter point of the sun from a small metal ball on top of a pepper grinder as an artificial star and I had to fall back on Steven Ingrahamís ďDollar Bill TestĒ to roughly compare the HTís unboosted resolution in sunlight to my 8x56 FL. I couldnít do any tests with reduced apertures and color bias was the only thing I could photograph.

First I compared the reflection patterns returning from the HT lens elements to the reflections coming from my wifeís 8x42 FL. The patterns appeared to be more or less identical, so I would say there has been little if any change to the basic optical formula between these two 8x42 models. Further evidence for no change came from star-tests (at 64x) showing the axial aberrations of the FL and HT to be as similar as I would expect to see between two samples of the same model. Both showed spherical overcorrection. Overcorrection is unusual in binoculars, which are typically undercorrected. The right side of the HT had no other significant defects, but the left side was moderately comatic, probably because collimation required the application of a fair amount of eyepiece eccentricity. I also observed an identical mix of off-axis aberrations, dominated by astigmatism. The off-axis performance was so similar between the two binoculars that I really couldnít tell them apart. Distortion also appeared to be identical, consisting of the same amount of simple pincushion in both.

I could see a slight increase in brightness in the HT, but no significant difference in color bias compared to this early production 8x42 FL from 2004. On the other hand I did seem to see an improvement in color bias over my 2007 8x56 FL, which probably reflects the increasing green/yellow bias Iíve observed in later FLs compared to early ones. The images below show the difference between the 8x56 FL and 8x42 HT when they were placed in front of a white surface in sunlight. The right Powerpoint image was made by taking crops of the areas within the binocular field stops in the left photo and placing them together over a crop of the background. I was surprised to see the mild blue bias of the HT in the photo, which I didnít notice visually.

Since we were staying in a house right on the Pamlico Sound I had ample opportunities to induce glare from both direct sun and reflections from water. The extra objective baffle in the HT seemed to slightly improve its glare resistance in bright light compared to the 8x42 FL, but the big exit pupil of the 8x56 was even more effective at keeping glare out of the eye under the same conditions. Sorry to say I forgot to check glare resistance under twilight conditions when the HTís baffle might make more difference.

Overall the change from the 8x42 FL to the 8x42 HT strikes me as very much like the change from the Leica Trinovid to the Ultravid: essentially the optics from an earlier model have transplanted into a new body with some small improvements to light transmission, color bias and glare resistance. The basic aberrations, both on and off axis, remain as they were.

The rest of the time I had with the HT was spent comparing its image quality to my 8x56 FL, since thatís the one I would replace with any new binocular. The big FL is my reference for a binocular image with very low axial aberrations. In the dollar bill test, with the binos tripod mounted in sunlight, I needed to move the HT about 8 inches closer to the bill in order to resolve the lines under the ďONEĒ and even then best focus had the slightly gauzy look I associate with a little too much spherical aberration. Later, when observing a gibbous moon the 8x56 always produced an obviously sharper, cleaner and more relaxed image. Several other targets produced the same result, a better image through the FL that was easy to see. All comparisons were done using both eyes and also using only one eye through the right (best) side of both binoculars. The only areas where I found the HT superior to the 8x56 FL were the more neutral color bias and a very slight increase in brightness. For me those improvements donít compensate for a more highly aberrated image.

In the end, it doesnít look like either of these new Zeiss models is a candidate to replace my 8 year old 8x56 FL. I suppose Iím just stuck with the hefty FL for as long as I continue to see a better image through it than I do through other binoculars. Itís a shame Zeiss didnít just give the 8x56 FL more neutral coatings and HT glass to turn it into an 8x56 HT. The 8x54 HT I tried last year was a disappointing step backward and since the Swaro 8x56 SLC is unavailable in the US to audition I guess for now my binocular money will stay in my pocket.

Henry Link
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Old Saturday 10th October 2015, 13:59   #2
NDhunter
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Henry:

A very nice review, and I can see the distortion characteristics of these optics can be
very complex. It is too bad you did not have more time observing with the SF.

I was wondering how that bad storm affected your area. I feel for those especially
in South Carolina.

Jerry
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Old Saturday 10th October 2015, 15:02   #3
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A very nice write-up Henry, thanks for posting.

Lee
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Old Saturday 10th October 2015, 16:04   #4
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As always, very nice review! I was hoping I did not make a mistake when I purchased a like-new, 2011 producing year 7x42 Victory T*FL for quite a bit less than a used 8x42 HT; from this review I can say I don't think I did, as I prefer the 7x format and the faster focus of the T*FL, and don't think the (very?) slightly improved optics of the HT would have outweighed the advantages for me. I'm sure others will think differently!

Justin
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Old Saturday 10th October 2015, 16:20   #5
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Surely not, I just can't imagine such a thing.

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I'm sure others will think differently!
Justin
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Old Saturday 10th October 2015, 16:55   #6
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Thanks, Henry, for a characteristically excellent report.

Regarding the distortion pattern, it's of course nice for me personally to read that you see it pretty much like I did when first reporting about RB in the SF. Conventional preconception back then was that it would have a more neutral distortion pattern than SV's, and I seem to recall that not all the readers were ready to accept it when I said that to my eyes there was more RB in the SF than in the 8.5x SV.

Just as interesting from a general viewpoint is your report on image quality, aberrations and differences in resolving power in the "Dollar Bill Test" between the 8x42 HT and the 8x56 FL. This again shows that although binocular manufacturers would like to tell us and perhaps even themselves believe that the human eye cannot detect resolving power differences between 8x (or 10x) binoculars if they meed the DIN/ISO standards for high-resolution optics, the reality of the matter is different. We can actually see a sharper image in a better (lower-aberration sample) binocular, and it makes a difference to the amount of detail we can see.

Incidentally, could you give us the distances at which the 8" difference between the two binoculars was recorded so as to enable us to assign a percentage figure to the difference?

Kimmo

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Old Saturday 10th October 2015, 19:14   #7
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Hi Kimmo,

I didn't have anything along for making measurements. Even the 8 inches is an estimate. Looking back I think I could have improvised something, but I didn't think to do it. I would say the distance was around 20 feet, maybe a bit less, so 8 inches was not a big percentage difference, certainly less than 5%. That's probably more a reflection of the limits of my eyesight in dealing with tiny line pairs than the true difference in resolving power, even with the effective apertures stopped down to 20mm.

Henry

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Old Saturday 10th October 2015, 19:47   #8
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Interesting contribution as usual.
You wrote "In the end, it doesn’t look like either of these new Zeiss models is a candidate to replace my 8 year old 8x56 FL. "
But I didn't quite catch why the SF was not of your liking? The distortion pattern?
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Old Saturday 10th October 2015, 19:50   #9
henry link
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NDhunter View Post
I was wondering how that bad storm affected your area. I feel for those especially
in South Carolina.

Jerry
Yes, South Carolina had it much worse than the Outer Banks. We were only a little inconvenienced by comparison.

However, when we got home we discovered that very heavy rain had leaked in and flooded the floor of our old Passat that we had left in the driveway. That ruined a computer or two that VW thought it would be a good idea to locate under the carpet. My mechanic says the repair will cost more than the value of the car.

Henry

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Old Saturday 10th October 2015, 20:25   #10
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Henry,

Too bad with your car. Now you need to get a new/-er one, with money that could be better spent on something more useful and sensible.

An old Passat is a good car and one that fulfills a requirement I have been only half-jokingly placing on our cars, which is that the car should tie up less money than my birding optics. Our present car is the first one that has not met this condition, but then I upgraded my tripod, and later my scope and lastly my binoculars, and all the while that nice car of ours has duly aged and depreciated. So for a while now we've been safely back where we should be with the car being worth significantly less than the birding gear it carries.

Kimmo
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Old Sunday 11th October 2015, 07:54   #11
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Henry,

Too bad with your car. Now you need to get a new/-er one, with money that could be better spent on something more useful and sensible.

An old Passat is a good car and one that fulfills a requirement I have been only half-jokingly placing on our cars, which is that the car should tie up less money than my birding optics. Our present car is the first one that has not met this condition, but then I upgraded my tripod, and later my scope and lastly my binoculars, and all the while that nice car of ours has duly aged and depreciated. So for a while now we've been safely back where we should be with the car being worth significantly less than the birding gear it carries.

Kimmo
Hi Kimmo

Did a quick calculation and find that our optics plus photo gear comfortably exceed the value of our second-hand Skoda.

This is a good excuse for a celebration I think

Lee
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Old Sunday 11th October 2015, 09:18   #12
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...and find that our optics plus photo gear [my emphasis] comfortably exceed the value of our second-hand Skoda.
Lee
If I get to calculate the value of my photo gear vs the value of my 1984 Toyota Supra, well, the photo gear is pricy by many multiples. My binoculars, not at all. Perhaps I should spend more on the bins, but whenever I contemplate that I think of the camera lenses I'm not buying. I never think of cars (I'm quite happy with mine, 30+ years old or not).

...Mike
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Old Sunday 11th October 2015, 20:28   #13
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Originally Posted by Vespobuteo View Post
Interesting contribution as usual.
You wrote "In the end, it doesnít look like either of these new Zeiss models is a candidate to replace my 8 year old 8x56 FL. "
But I didn't quite catch why the SF was not of your liking? The distortion pattern?
You're a close reader! I think I could probably adapt to the distortion, but I'm dubious about the center field aberrations compared to the 8x56 FL. I didn't mention that because I wasn't able to do the usual geeky tests. I only used the binoculars for a few minutes, hand held. I can't know whether I was seeing dirty optics, a weak specimen or maybe just forming an erroneous first impression.

Henry
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Old Sunday 11th October 2015, 20:44   #14
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... or experiencing confirmation bias.

Nice writeup, Henry.

Ed
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Old Sunday 11th October 2015, 21:57   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by henry link View Post
You're a close reader! I think I could probably adapt to the distortion, but I'm dubious about the center field aberrations compared to the 8x56 FL. I didn't mention that because I wasn't able to do the usual geeky tests. I only used the binoculars for a few minutes, hand held. I can't know whether I was seeing dirty optics, a weak specimen or maybe just forming an erroneous first impression.

Henry
ok, seems wise,
dirt can ruin the view in any optics,
hope you get to try it a bit more soon,
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Old Monday 12th October 2015, 04:15   #16
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Did the lenses have debris on them ?


Quote:
Originally Posted by henry link View Post
You're a close reader! I think I could probably adapt to the distortion, but I'm dubious about the center field aberrations compared to the 8x56 FL. I didn't mention that because I wasn't able to do the usual geeky tests. I only used the binoculars for a few minutes, hand held. I can't know whether I was seeing dirty optics, a weak specimen or maybe just forming an erroneous first impression.

Henry
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Old Monday 12th October 2015, 11:26   #17
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... or experiencing confirmation bias.

Ed
Yep, absolutely.
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Old Monday 12th October 2015, 11:31   #18
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Did the lenses have debris on them ?
Nothing that bad, but I found my optics acquired a thin film after less than a day of birding in windy conditions on the Outer Banks, enough to cut contrast and dull colors. The HT I borrowed required some major cleaning before I tested it.
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Old Monday 12th October 2015, 18:35   #19
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Thanks Henry, great read.

About "overcorrection of spherical aberration" in the HT, how to diagnose that? 64x magnification and diffraction patterns?

SF vs SV distortion, superb description, and very unfortunate Zeiss decided to do it like that IMO. Surely they could implement classic pincushion distortion in this design, would love to see the result.

About your HT 8x54 experience - I reread that thread recently - I understand you were not willing to try a second sample, but how could one distinguish aberrations resulting from sloppy manufacture from aberrations resulting from a sloppy optical design? Same goes for the 8x42 HT probably. There is a lot of sample variation.

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Old Monday 12th October 2015, 19:41   #20
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the previous Zeiss:s have more spherical abberation in the eye piece,
and rather tricky eye positioning,
the 54mm is the least forgiving, IMO,
the SF is better here,
and have a lot more comfortable view,
like the SV:s,
the flat field and edge to edge sharpness also
increases viewing comfort,
IMO,
but the memory of the SF starts to fade a bit,

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Old Monday 12th October 2015, 20:27   #21
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Old Tuesday 13th October 2015, 10:16   #22
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Just had a closer look at the 8x42 SF distortion again. It does not have proper pincushion to 75% of the field, but lines will slightly bend towards the center, not the edge when reaching the outer field. Itīs a "wavy" distortion, whatever the exact term might be. Outer field looks pretty rectilinear to me.

The 8.5x42 SV - as far as I remember - is real pincushion over most of the field and then going to rectilinear.

That explains the big difference in RG between the two. But then, the SV 8x32 may successfully compete with the Zeiss for the title "worst pseudo RG effect".
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Old Wednesday 14th October 2015, 17:59   #23
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Thanks Henry, great read.

About "overcorrection of spherical aberration" in the HT, how to diagnose that? 64x magnification and diffraction patterns?

SF vs SV distortion, superb description, and very unfortunate Zeiss decided to do it like that IMO. Surely they could implement classic pincushion distortion in this design, would love to see the result.

About your HT 8x54 experience - I reread that thread recently - I understand you were not willing to try a second sample, but how could one distinguish aberrations resulting from sloppy manufacture from aberrations resulting from a sloppy optical design? Same goes for the 8x42 HT probably. There is a lot of sample variation.
Thanks Tobias, I also enjoyed reading your review of the same binoculars.

Yes, I used a 64x star-test, but that's not hard to do if you have two 8x binoculars and a tripod. Only the tested binocular absolutely requires tripod mounting. You can hold the other one up to the eyepiece steadily enough to see the basic out of focus diffraction patterns.

What I saw that made me say "overcorrected" was a set of well defined rings outside of focus and no rings inside of focus, the opposite of what most binocular show. Looking more closely at the FL yesterday I see that the situation is more ambiguous. The overly bright outer ring and overly bright central spot are on the sides of focus they should be for undercorrection. So, what seems to be unusual about the FL/HT is the strong pattern of well defined rings outside of focus rather than inside.

The 64x star-test is also helpful in distinguishing "aberrations resulting from sloppy manufacture and aberrations resulting resulting from sloppy design". Since you're essentially testing two specimens of a single telescope design any problem that's confined to only one side has to be sloppy manufacturing. Something that looks the same in both the left and right telescopes is a candidate for sloppy design. Confidence that the design is at fault increases with more specimens showing the same thing. My star-test results for spherical aberration in the 8x54 HT were corroborated by another BF member who star-tested a different pair, so that's four specimens of the same telescope with the same aberration. I think that's pretty good evidence for design rather than manufacture, but of course more samples would make the confidence higher.

Henry

Last edited by henry link : Wednesday 14th October 2015 at 19:50.
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Old Wednesday 14th October 2015, 22:45   #24
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Henry - Would the glass composition, i.e., lead v. non-lead (eco glass) yield anything your 64x test would differentiate? Or is is essentially design driven?

John
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Old Thursday 15th October 2015, 04:55   #25
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Henry,

I had hoped for your report on the 8x42 HT for a long time now, ever since you led the discrediting of the 8x54 HT, while James and others here championed the 8x42 mightily. The inconsistency, although across different specifications, was so striking that I didn't know what to think. It appears now that it's mostly confirmed: The 8x54 HT suffers from easily noticeable (that is, bad) spherical aberration while the 8x42 sibling is pretty much up to Z-snuff (although no match for the larger aperture FL). This is surprising, since I see no fundamental difference between my 42 and 56 mm FLs, so correct me if I don't have that right.

Nice place, the Outer Banks. I spent a few days there in the early 90s and had a fine time, but we got out just before a hurricane hit. And too bad about the Passat, I guess you mean the neat old boxy model.

Ron
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