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A comparative review between the Zen-Ray ZRS HD 8x42 and Nikon Monarch 8x42

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Old Thursday 31st March 2011, 06:33   #1
Intjmastermind
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A comparative review between the Zen-Ray ZRS HD 8x42 and Nikon Monarch 8x42

A comparative review between the Zen-Ray ZRS HD 8x42 and Nikon Monarch 8x42

For full disclosure: The Monarchs were purchased with my own money, but the ZRS HD was a pair lent to me for review by Zen-Ray, which will be returned afterwards. No other interests involved.

1. Introduction
I few weeks ago, I reviewed the Zen-Ray ED2 8x42 against the Nikon Monarch. I basically came down to the conclusion that while the Zens had slightly better optical performance than the Monarchs, their increased weight and size meant I couldnít definitely say they were the superior binocular. Well, Charles of Zen-Ray read that review, and offered me the opportunity to evaluate their ZRS HD 8x42 to see how it stacks up against the Monarchs. How could I resist? :)

2. Overview

Comparing the two binoculars side-by-side, I can tell this will be a fun matchup. Both are 8x42 binoculars about the same size, and use the traditional roof prism design. Both are fully-multicoated, phase coated, and have dielectric prisms. But the ZRS has the advantage of being about $80 cheaper than the Monarchs ($200 vs. $280). So from the start, it appears that the ZRS is marketed to be a Monarch-killer. But how does it do really?

3. Ergonomics

Looking at the two, you notice that the ZRS is smaller than the Monarchs. Itís slightly shorter and narrower. This is definitely a compact 8x42 binocular.
And then you pick the ZRS up, and the first thing you notice is that itís heavy! Well, technically itís not especially heavy for its class. But its smaller size tricks you into thinking it feels heavier. With both the Monarch and ZRS held at the same time, the extra weight is definitely noticeable. But keep in mind that the Monarchs are considered a very light binocular for its class.
Also when you pick them up, youíll notice the different rubber material used on the binoculars. The Monarchs have a very soft and grippy rubber coating, while the ZRS feels firmer and slightly more slippery in contrast. Zen-Ray attempts to increase the grip by texturing the barrel. However, they seem to have put it in the wrong spot. The ZRS has texturing on the sides of its barrels. Placing the texturing on the top and bottom instead, where you grip the binoculars in use, would have made it more effective. Right now the texturing doesnít really improve grip significantly.

A note on build quality. Both binoculars feel solidly built. However, I did notice that the focuser wheel on my ZRS felt ďscratchyĒ, whereas the focusers on the Monarch and ED2 were butter-smooth. This really didnít impair performance, but it would have been nice if it was smoother.

4. Optics

This is a section where people can talk for pages and pages about distortion this and arc-second that. But Iím going to focus on how the two performed in the field.

The bottom line is the ZRS had superior optics, mostly due to its wider field. Both binouculars had great low-light performance, allowing me to see things in the dark that were not visible with my naked eye. Center resolution was also excellent in both bins. Both also had a bit of blurriness at the edges, but the falloff was gradual, and I would say that their performance was quite good.
Both the Monarchs and ZRS HD had a bit of chromatic aberration. Nothing that distracted from functionality, but itís there if you look for it. CA was almost imperceptible near the center, but got more noticeable towards the edges in both bins.

What I really liked was the wider FOV available from the ZRS. Their FOV is a bit narrower than the ED2, but wider than the Monarchís. I would estimate it at about 60 degrees AFOV vs. 50 for the Monarch. Because of edge softness, youíre not really going to be viewing things at the edge of the FOV anyway. But what it means is you get a more pleasant, natural view with the ZRS. The Monarch is great if you want to look AT something, but the ZRSís wider view is more comfortable for scanning the terrain and enjoying the sights.

5. Conclusion

Because it started out much cheaper than the Monarch, the ZRS really only needed to demonstrate non-inferiority to be crowned the winner, which it has done and more. The wider FOV makes the ZRS more fun to use in the field, and the issues I brought up with weight and texture of the rubber are more personal ergonomic things that may or may not apply to everyone else.

So in the end, would I recommend the ZRS HD over the Monarch for someone in the market for a $200-300 8x42 binocular?

Yes. From my personal experience with both binoculars, I believe the Zen-Ray ZRS HD represents a great alternative to the Nikon Monarch.
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Old Thursday 7th April 2011, 18:30   #2
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I had an older ZRS HD 10x42 model that weighs 27oz with narrower FOV 315ft. It had slight yellow tint. I am curious if the new dielectric model eliminates that.
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Old Friday 8th April 2011, 21:30   #3
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315 feet for a 10X is not a narrow FOV ,it is indeed About 60 degrees AFOV..exactly what Injtmastermind estimated for the 8x model..
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Old Friday 8th April 2011, 22:12   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NWBirder View Post
I had an older ZRS HD 10x42 model that weighs 27oz with narrower FOV 315ft. It had slight yellow tint. I am curious if the new dielectric model eliminates that.
I didn't notice a yellow tint with the ZRS I tested. But without a side-by-side comparison, I cannot say that for certain.
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Old Friday 8th April 2011, 23:46   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NWBirder View Post
I had an older ZRS HD 10x42 model that weighs 27oz with narrower FOV 315ft. It had slight yellow tint. I am curious if the new dielectric model eliminates that.
It does but not by using a dielectric mirror coating.

The original ZRS has a (LaK - Lanthanum crown) field flattener element to reduce field curvature. That added a warm (I found it more organgish) bias.

And a silver mirror coating that also bumped up the red end of the spectrum.

The current ZRS is reported to be more neutral.
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Old Saturday 9th April 2011, 09:04   #6
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If the dielectric coating enhances the blue part of the spectrum,(correct me if It doesnt ),that would have an effect in balancing the warm bias of the LaK element..
Does the new version use the same element in the design of the field flattener,,?
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 01:53   #7
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No, the changed the design. They dropped the field flattener (and may have changed other bits of the design).

The dielectric coating doesn't enhance the blue part of the spectrum: the reflectivity is flat across the spectrum. That does reflect a bit more in the blue than a silver coating but it reflects more over the whole spectrum.

Overall the dielectric coating has less of an effect than you might expect: it's rather subtle if you AB identical bins (like the ZR ED and ED 2 8x43 ... see my review comments).

The effect of the AR coating has the largest effect with coloring of the LaK element a second.
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Old Monday 11th April 2011, 16:51   #8
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a more neutral color is definitely a plus. I like the 27oz weight on the old ZRS. Not sure 22oz model will feel the same ergnomically.
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