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Interview with the new head of Zeiss Sports Optics

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Old Friday 24th August 2018, 09:57   #1
Troubador
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Interview with the new head of Zeiss Sports Optics

Late in 2017 the media reported the loss of 220 jobs (inaccurately as it turns out) at Sports Optics in Wetzlar, and the creation of 70 jobs in Oberkochen. A trade union representative speculated that future manufacturing would be done at the Zeiss factory in Hungary.

These news items raised far more questions than they answered and with delays in the long-awaited SF 32 and in the Harpia scope reaching the shops, I was determined to try to find out what is happening at Zeiss Sports Optics. Certainly the news bulletins gave the impression that manufacturing in Wetzlar was being wound down.

Zeiss is divided into different business groups, one of them being Consumer Products, which includes photographic and cine lenses as well as Sports Optics. This business group has at its head Jörg Schmitz, who has been in post for about a year, and who I met at last year’s Bird Fair. I asked him if he could make himself available for an interview concerning the re-structuring of Sports Optics, and he agreed to do this at this year’s Bird Fair.

Herr Schmitz was educated at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn and Universität St. Gallen, and subsequently had a distinguished and successful career in management at internationally known companies such as Diageo, Braun and Kaercher.

I had a series of questions to put to Herr Schmitz and recorded his answers which form the basis of this article. However, although I had originally planned to publish this in the form of a ‘question and answer’ interview, the fact is that our ‘interview’ roamed backwards and forwards over these topics, because they are so inter-connected, so that it seemed more logical to use these responses to produce a synthesis in the form of an article with quotations, rather than a verbatim record.

I asked Herr Schmitz what the restructuring was meant to achieve, and what the roles of the factories at Wetzlar, Oberkochen and in Hungary will be, and also how successful they have been at managing the retention of staff due to the movements of jobs to other sites and also to the recruitment of staff to replace losses.

He replied: “First of all there has not been 220 job losses because many jobs have been transferred. Eighty jobs in those functions which are close to the customer (this means product development and management, marketing, digital innovation and sales) have been moved to Oberkochen to merge with those departments there, and 70 jobs have been created in other parts of our manufacturing network, which principally means our factory in Hungary. Regarding the job losses in Wetzlar, because we have sister companies in the town (for example Zeiss SMT) many of our former colleagues were able to find jobs there, and others decided to retire. It was important to us that all of this was achieved without any dismissals or terminations of employment.

Manufacturing in Germany is expensive and we needed to secure our competitive position for the long term, and changes in the demands of the market are happening at a faster pace today, so we need a much more efficient way to respond to these changes. To do this we have combined our product development teams from Wetzlar and Oberkochen into one unit in Oberkochen, which makes us more efficient in dealing with the demands of research and development at Consumer Products. As of today all of the product management and marketing positons are filled, we are recruiting engineers, and we expect all of these positions to be filled by the end of this year.

“To be very clear, Wetzlar remains Sports Optic’s key manufacturing site, with all critical components being manufactured there and all final assembly and quality assurance performed there. Some pre-production (prototyping) parts and some optical parts will be made in Hungary and of course there are some parts that have always been sourced outside of Zeiss Group for example rubber armour and eye-cups. For our main Victory products all optical components will be produced by Zeiss, the sole exception being the Zeiss Pockets which were developed by Zeiss but are produced in Japan to achieve the right price”.

It occurred to me at this point that perhaps one of the reasons why the Zeiss Pockets are not made in Hungary, like the previous Zeiss Victory Compacts, could be to free-up capacity in Hungary to play more of a role of ‘partner’ to production in Wetzlar.

It is now well known that Conquest HD and Terra ED are produced with the participation of far-eastern suppliers or are produced entirely there, with quality assurance effected in Wetzlar, so I asked Herr Schmitz if out-sourcing and sub-contracted manufacturing would play an increased role in the future and he said: “No, it will stay on a similar level to now, as long as those suppliers continue to meet our high standards, and this we constantly check”.

Knowing that warranties and repairs are constantly discussed on Birdforum I also asked where customer service would be based and whether the numbers of employees working on this had been reduced and Herr Schmitz replied: “There is no reduction in customer service employees and in fact we have been working to make significant improvements to the level of customer service. We have looked at how this is done in different companies, not only optics companies, but also for example Amazon, and we are investing in new systems and software to improve communications with our customers so they are fully informed of the progress of their binoculars or scope through the customer service procedure. And please understand this isn’t done because we view customer service as some kind of cost-centre which needs controlling, we see this as a vital part of our business and we know we can, and must, improve it”.

I also asked Herr Schmitz if the radical overhaul of the manufacturing network would also lead to a radical overhaul of the product range. He said that he could not make announcements about future products at this time but that different ways to capture opinion and feedback from the market were being put into place and that the newly combined product development team in Oberkochen is now able to be more responsive and flexible to these market demands.

Finally I threw a few questions at Herr Schmitz that were not directly related to the re-structuring:

Q: When will you put HT glass in SF?
A: It already has it!

Q: Do you think carbon fibre could be a useful weight-saving material for bino and scope optical tubers.
A: Actually we are looking into new materials and methods to help weight saving but we are not yet in a position to make any announcements.

Q: There have been long delays before products reached retail outlets following the announcement of HT, SF and now Harpia. What is your plan to stop this happening again?
A: Yes, this is correct, and we didn’t like this at all. This is another reason for the combining of development resources together in Oberkochen which will give us a greater capacity and flexibility, and greatly improve the speed from prototype to series production.

So there you have it. The interview took quite a long time and Herr Schmitz was more than comfortable devoting it to communicating with the Birdforum membership. One thing that constantly impressed itself on me was the feeling that Zeiss realises it has been looking inwards too much and for too long in recent times, and that reaching out to the market and opening communications with it is going to be a strong feature of the way Zeiss Sports Optics works in the future.

Lee
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Old Friday 24th August 2018, 12:42   #2
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Lee,
Thank you so much for this - interesting!!
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Old Friday 24th August 2018, 15:16   #3
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Lee,
Thank you so much for this - interesting!!
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Thank you Canip. We walked away from Bird Fair to my car parked in one of the huge fields acting as car parks, and sat in it to do the interview so we would not be interrupted by visitors to the Zeiss stand. It was a little bit surreal sitting in my old Skoda with Herr Schmitz sitting where Troubadoris usually sits!

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Old Friday 24th August 2018, 20:35   #4
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Ask him to return the iconic Zeiss ''Z'' to the hinge end of binoculars..lol
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Old Friday 24th August 2018, 23:25   #5
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Nice write up.
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Old Friday 24th August 2018, 23:34   #6
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HT glass in the SF? Didn't know that, why is Zeiss so quiet about it?
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Old Saturday 25th August 2018, 00:13   #7
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Originally Posted by james holdsworth View Post
Ask him to return the iconic Zeiss ''Z'' to the hinge end of binoculars..lol
Yes indeed! And put some proper strap lugs on the Victory Pocket--ones that are at least as large as on the older Victory Compact.

--AP
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Old Saturday 25th August 2018, 07:12   #8
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Originally Posted by Vespobuteo View Post
HT glass in the SF? Didn't know that, why is Zeiss so quiet about it?
My guess is that their marketing plan was that the HT 42 and 54 were the low-light binos with High Transmission glass and they did't want to confuse their marketing message by saying 'oh by the way SF has HT glass too'.

Now HT 42 is discontinued this frees them up to mention HT glass in SF and indeed in the latest Nature catalogue HT glass in SF is plainly stated.

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Old Saturday 25th August 2018, 07:19   #9
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Originally Posted by james holdsworth View Post
Ask him to return the iconic Zeiss ''Z'' to the hinge end of binoculars..lol
James and Alexis
I actually had this on a list of minor topics to mention if we had time but in the end despite Herr Schmitz spending more than an hour with me there just wasn't time to go through that list.

Herr Schmitz is in New York just now but when he returns I will mention this to him.

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Old Saturday 25th August 2018, 07:21   #10
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Originally Posted by Alexis Powell View Post
Yes indeed! And put some proper strap lugs on the Victory Pocket--ones that are at least as large as on the older Victory Compact.

--AP
Alexis I will pass this on.

Lee
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Old Saturday 25th August 2018, 17:23   #11
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Enjoyed it Lee!
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Old Saturday 25th August 2018, 18:01   #12
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Enjoyed it Lee!
Thanks Chuck.

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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 00:48   #13
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Originally Posted by Troubador View Post
My guess is that their marketing plan was that the HT 42 and 54 were the low-light binos with High Transmission glass and they did't want to confuse their marketing message by saying 'oh by the way SF has HT glass too'.

Now HT 42 is discontinued this frees them up to mention HT glass in SF and indeed in the latest Nature catalogue HT glass in SF is plainly stated.

Lee
Strange that the SF has HT glass but no better transmission than the FL's, with no HT glass.
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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 11:46   #14
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Originally Posted by james holdsworth View Post
Strange that the SF has HT glass but no better transmission than the FL's, with no HT glass.
James

I wondered if Zeiss look back with embarrassment at the 'up to more than 95%' line for HT and are just being more modest these days.

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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 14:43   #15
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Now I’m a little confused (not uncommon for me!). Where would the current 8x32 FL T be made, Wetzlar?
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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 15:47   #16
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Now I’m a little confused (not uncommon for me!). Where would the current 8x32 FL T be made, Wetzlar?
Hi 45

Here is what Herr Schmitz said: "To be very clear, Wetzlar remains Sports Optic’s key manufacturing site, with all critical components being manufactured there and all final assembly and quality assurance performed there". He also said that some parts may be made at the Zeiss factory in Hungary, and then there are the parts that Zeiss has never made themselves like rubber armour and are bought from specialist suppliers.

So my understanding from the above is very clear: FL binos will be coming from Wetzlar as they do now.

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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 16:00   #17
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Strange that the SF has HT glass but no better transmission than the FL's, with no HT glass.
More complex optical design with more elements in order to achieve field of view + field flattening?
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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 16:09   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vespobuteo View Post
HT glass in the SF? Didn't know that, why is Zeiss so quiet about it?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Troubador View Post
My guess is that their marketing plan was that the HT 42 and 54 were the low-light binos with High Transmission glass and they did't want to confuse their marketing message by saying 'oh by the way SF has HT glass too'.

Now HT 42 is discontinued this frees them up to mention HT glass in SF and indeed in the latest Nature catalogue HT glass in SF is plainly stated.

Lee
Quote:
Originally Posted by james holdsworth View Post
Strange that the SF has HT glass but no better transmission than the FL's, with no HT glass.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Troubador View Post
James

I wondered if Zeiss look back with embarrassment at the 'up to more than 95%' line for HT and are just being more modest these days.

Lee
Lee,

Further to what we have spoken about, I wonder if something hasn't been lost in translation leading to the incorrect story? It wouldn't surprise me at all if those within Zeiss are talking apples and pears either. The Schott HT range of glass is a specific range of glass (12 types at last glance of the catalogue) .... I've got to say that I see no evidence in the view (green ham colour cast to my eyes - and more "ham" than "green" :) , nor in the tested transmission curves of superior 'blue' transmission in any way - in fact it's quite lacklustre. .....

Can you post a pdf of the latest Nature catalogue so that we can see the exact wording?

This following link is an english translation of the German Zeiss website
https://translate.googleusercontent....NH2-7BpWKGprmA
In it they say the SF has "several fluoride lenses in SCHOTT glass of the highest quality" .... nowhere does it mention HT glass, and besides "several" in the English language is defined as "more than two but fewer than many" (which is news to me! In our now b*st*rdised form of the English language - the Queen's modified by so many Americanizations and Dan autocorrect that we no longer know whether we're Arthur or Martha! I have always used a "couple" for two, a "few" for three, and "several" for four, or sometimes more - but less than "heaps", and nowhere near as many as "stacks", or "sh*tloads" !! )
So technically there could be as little as 3 'fluoride' lenses in there. We know 2 are in the Ultra-FL lens system, so that leaves another one somewhere else .....

P.S. the "up to more than 95% transmission" of the HT series of binoculars, as I have explained many times in the original HT thread (and indeed the mega SF thread) is a direct result of the HT glass in the HT series, since HT glass is the only glass in the Schott catalogue that has a guaranteed "minimum" transmission level. If the Zeiss marketing shiny pants white shoe brigade have decided in future to refrain from such w*nkery then that's a good thing - they could get arrested if caught in public !



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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 17:02   #19
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I have always used a "couple" for two, a "few" for three, and "several" for four, or sometimes more - but less than "heaps", and nowhere near as many as "stacks", or "sh*tloads" !!
This is brilliant! For what it's worth, ma'am, in my personal accounting system "several" is definitely a number greater than four - I would say at least 7 or 8 but less than 10-12.
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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 17:03   #20
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CJ: You can find it in the 2018 hunting catalog, attached a screen shot of it.
The 2017-18 Nature catalog still have the 42mm HT in it so not mentioned there.

The 3% difference vs Zeiss HT might be due to the AK-prisms. Haven't seen any ham in the SF yet...

https://www.zeiss.com/content/dam/Sp...ng-2018-en.pdf
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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 17:21   #21
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The 3% difference vs Zeiss HT might be due to the AK-prisms.
That's what I think as well.

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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 17:27   #22
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Talking

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This is brilliant! For what it's worth, ma'am, in my personal accounting system "several" is definitely a number greater than four - I would say at least 7 or 8 but less than 10-12.
LOL that's interesting!

Mostly I have used "several" to mean 4, and distinguish it from a "few" which I have taken to be exactly 3. For me 7 or 8 would be something more like "stacks", and I would think 10-12 would be getting more toward "bucketloads" :)



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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 17:41   #23
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Originally Posted by Vespobuteo View Post


The 3% difference vs Zeiss HT might be due to the AK-prisms. Haven't seen any ham in the SF yet...
Y'know... the SF design would seem to offer plenty of space for Abbe-Koenig prisms... hint hint Herr Schmitz ...
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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 17:58   #24
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Originally Posted by Vespobuteo View Post
CJ: You can find it in the 2018 hunting catalog, attached a screen shot of it.
The 2017-18 Nature catalog still have the 42mm HT in it so not mentioned there.

The 3% difference vs Zeiss HT might be due to the AK-prisms. Haven't seen any ham in the SF yet...

https://www.zeiss.com/content/dam/Sp...ng-2018-en.pdf
Thanks Vespo,

That's interesting. If that is correct (and I'm still not discounting a mix-up) , it could be as little as 1 HT lens in the eyepiece ....

I would estimate that the transmission benefit of a HT A-K prism v's a non-HT S-P prism at the daylight and night time wavelengths at about ~2% , a bit more in the 'blue'.

The colour cast I see in the SF is very subtle, yet it is there (I should fess up that I probably have supernatural white balance detection powers due to previous work requiring high level scrutiny, and so it wouldn't surprise me if others don't see it to the same degree or even at all). I would say that the T* coatings of the SF are likely of a different Flava to the HT's too.

It is interesting to compare transmission curves (allbino's for what they are worth), as it clearly shows the SF lacking in the blue (leading to the slight green ham colour cast that I see , and also reducing brightness according to the CIE Standard)
https://www.allbinos.com/304-binocul..._SF_10x42.html
https://www.allbinos.com/305-binocul..._HT_10x42.html
https://www.allbinos.com/302-binocul...lus_10x42.html
https://www.allbinos.com/223-binocul...arovision.html
(I've long suspected that the SV has HT glass)

I stand by my original assessment that the SF needs 'more' HT glass.



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Old Sunday 26th August 2018, 18:04   #25
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Y'know... the SF design would seem to offer plenty of space for Abbe-Koenig prisms... hint hint Herr Schmitz ...
Actually, I don't think that's the case as the extra length of the A-K prisms would make for a faster focal ratio which would increase aberrations (CA, etc) if the physical length of the binocular stayed the same. It would also muck up the Centre of Mass and reduce the effect of the touted ergonomics. Sorry! :)

Ultimately using the S-P prisms costs about "up to more than 2% transmission" Lol ! ..... there are other ways of getting that back though ---- *teehee*



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