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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

4 weeks tropical birding with the Zeiss SFL 8x30 (1 Viewer)

dalat

...
Switzerland
I'm just back from a wonderful 4-weeks holiday to Costa Rica, where I put my new Zeiss SFL 8x30 to good use and test.

My long-time main binocular is the Ultravid HD 8x42. Of course new bins are tempting and a looked through the new arrivals now and then. The result was always the same: I saw that the Zeiss SF, the Leica Noctivid, the Swaro NL are bit better, but not that much better to justify the investment to upgrade from my Ultravid. Also, they were all heavier and bigger than my Ultravid and I don't like that. I was rather looking for something smaller and lighter, but even the new 8x32 SF or NL were as big as my Ultravid, so I was not interested. It was only the new SFL which triggered my interest. Specs ticked all my boxes, reviews were good, and the price pretty reasonable.

I ordered the SFL from Orniwelt, a reputable dealer who had a good price, and I also made use of the trade-in offer, which brought the price to just over CHF 1000. There were some delays with customs, but the bin arrived just in time before the trip.

The trip was a family holiday, but centered on nature and birds, it was the perfect opportunity to put the new toy to test. I took along my Ultravid and my daughter had her Kite Lynx 8x30.

I'm a birder and not a binocular tester, so I did not do specfic tests or in-depth comparisons. My test set-up was simple: go birding every day and see if I end up using the new SFL more than my treasured Ultravid.

The result was clear, surprisingly clear: I ended up using the SFL all the time. I used the Ultravid only occasionally, mainly to check again how it holds against the SFL and a few days at the end of trip (see below).

The image of the SFL is very nice, crisp and clear. I love the Ultravid's image, but I did not miss anything of that in the SFL. I had a hard time to believe this first, and checked back a couple of times, but indeed I like the SFL's image better. The larger FOV (142 m vs 135 m) is visible to me as well.

Birding in tropical forest is very challenging, also due to many difficult light situations. Good control of reflexes, glare etc is important here, and it was the most surprising aspect for me that the SFL handled those difficult situations even better than my Ultravid, which is really good at this (for example better than all the top Swaros).

CA control and edge sharpness is good. I guess a bit better than the Ultravid, but I did not pay too much attention to those. I'm not overly sensitive to CA and I look at the centre of the bin, so already the Ultravid is good enough for me.

The SFL's focusser is perfect. I really appreciated the fast focus in the forest, where you often go back and forth from very close to quite far. The image easily "snaps" into focus in a way bins of lesser quality usually don't.

The ergonomics of the outwardly placed focus wheel worked well for me. Very comfortable and intuitive. I ended up having the index and the middle finger on the focus wheel and the other two fingers around the barrel. However, the Lynx with its classical configuration works also well for me. I guess the advantages of the SFL focus wheel placement are felt more in the larger 40 format.

The bin worked well in rain and humid conditions and I had no issues with fogging up at all. The Lynx and even more so the Opticron Traveller (which we also had on the trip) suffered from fogging up quite a bit. Not sure if the SFL has Lotutec or a similar coating, but it certainly works well.

It was an absolute pleasure to have such excellent optics in such a small and light package. I could feel that particularely well in the sweaty conditions of the tropical forest. My Ultravid, which i so far appreciated much for the very same reasons, suddenly felt clumsy and heavy.

Not surprisingly, the Ultravid with its larger objective was still a bit better in low light with my eyes. While dawn is short in the tropics, the forest has a lot of low light so this matters. But to me, the advantage was too small and still preferred to take the SFL along. I only really felt the difference in direct comparisons I made. Perhaps to younger eyes the difference here is bigger.

The Lynx is a very nice bin, the format is identical with the SFL and both bins seem to share a lot of DNA (probabaly they come from the same factory in Japan). Still, the SFL was clearly better. The image was a little clearer and the SFL handles difficult light clearly better. I also felt the weight difference, even though nominally this is very small. The Lynx has an even larger FOV and this is visible in comparisons.

So I really loved the SFL and it certainly was to become my main bin. However, there was an issue with eyecups: the soft rubber rings (which touch the face) are glued on the hard plastic hulls (the cylinders screwed on the ocular) and the glue quickly failed. Not a big problem as such, as the rings are shaped in a way to hold on the hull without glue. However, they got easily stuck in the rainguard, which fits quite tightly, and then the rings come off the hull when the rainguard is removed. So I often had the ruber ring stuck in the the rainguard or fall to the ground. Later the same thing happend with the second eyecup and the inevitable happend a few days before the end of the trip: I lost one of the rubber rings and did not find it any more.

Now I did the stupid mistake to pack away the unusable bins in a bag with dirty clothes. Which I left in the trunk of the car in the parking of the last hotel. Which I then parked near the entrance of Manuel Antonio National Park for the last beach sunset of the trip, not thinking about the bag with clothes in the trunk. Which then resulted in a smashed window and a lot of dirty clothes and the SFL being stolen. While of course I have to blame mostly my own stupidity, I also blame Zeiss a little: would the glue not have failed, I would have had the bin around my neck and not in the bag and I would still have it now.

As the trip has drained our bank account pretty much, buying new toys will need to wait quite a while. So this means back to my trusted Ultravid. They will continue to do there job more than well, but it is still a little sad to have found and lost again a better bin.

Florian
 

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Sorry about the loss!

Thanks for review. I’ve been using the 30sfl daily and tho my nocs and even the 40sfl are better, I doubt I’ll ever hump them long distances again. Earlier in week we did a 5 mi (round trip) with 2000’ of elevation gain on very rocky difficult trail. I lugged my camera, day pack, and 8x30’s. And I was ever grateful not to have full size/weight binos around my neck! But most importantly, I never once felt limited by the compact format ;-)
For me, they really are that good…
 
So sad to read the end of the review :( Especially taking into account that they worked so well for you. Thanks for sharing your impressions, it looks like an awesome little binocular. I have tried the Kite Lynx, and thought it was a little better than the Opticron Traveller 8x32, but I preferred the weight and "hand feel" of the Opticron (and its price!!), so I've continued looking for "THE" 8x30/32, and the SFL might well be it. I concur with your comments about the 8x32 NL and SF (to me they're a bit pointless as 8x32, because what I look for in that format is lightness and compactness). Thanks!
 
Sorry about the loss!

Thanks for review. I’ve been using the 30sfl daily and tho my nocs and even the 40sfl are better, I doubt I’ll ever hump them long distances again. Earlier in week we did a 5 mi (round trip) with 2000’ of elevation gain on very rocky difficult trail. I lugged my camera, day pack, and 8x30’s. And I was ever grateful not to have full size/weight binos around my neck! But most importantly, I never once felt limited by the compact format ;-)
For me, they really are that good…
You could ditch the camera... Just sayin
 
Didn't know whether to put a thumbs-up or a smiley for the great review or an angry face for the theft. Thanks anyway. I'll hopefully be getting my SFL 8x30 in September.
 
....However, there was an issue with eyecups: the soft rubber rings (which touch the face) are glued on the hard plastic hulls (the cylinders screwed on the ocular) and the glue quickly failed. Not a big problem as such, as the rings are shaped in a way to hold on the hull without glue. However, they got easily stuck in the rainguard, which fits quite tightly, and then the rings come off the hull when the rainguard is removed. So I often had the ruber ring stuck in the the rainguard or fall to the ground. Later the same thing happend with the second eyecup and the inevitable happend a few days before the end of the trip: I lost one of the rubber rings and did not find it any more.
I just studied mine and see what you mean - the rubber eyecup is a separate pc from the plastic tube which extends. I tend to not crush the rainguard in too tight, and I wonder if that makes a difference? I'll def keep an eye on it however...
 
You could ditch the camera... Just sayin
I could and I sometimes do. But I also hate missing great bird portraits and photography is one of my lifetime 'hobbies'. I've been 'shooting' since I was a teen... and now that I'm old-as-dirt, it's again one of my most enjoyable pastimes. And, in the same way that I 'make do' with an 8x30 (instead of a conventional, heavy 8x42), I've moved to an APS-C rig which saves me considerable weight over FF equivalent. When I need it, a Kowa 553 does the job and it in turn lets me carry a lighter tripod. I was just enough of a climber and wannabe alpinist that I did learn through experimentation how to shave grams - and it adds up - lighter gear has even allowed me to wear lighter footwear!
 
I just studied mine and see what you mean - the rubber eyecup is a separate pc from the plastic tube which extends. I tend to not crush the rainguard in too tight, and I wonder if that makes a difference? I'll def keep an eye on it however...
Yes, that's it. I did not push the rainguard particularely strong, just enough so it holds. But I used it often as it rained frequently and this was apparently enough to get the eyecups loose. I haven't read about this issue before, so perhaps it was the hot temperatures weakening the glue more than in northern climates?
 
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Yes, that's it. I did not push the rainguard particularely strong, just enough so it holds. But I used it often as it rained frequently and this was apparently enough to get the eyecups loose. I haven't read about this issue before, so perhaps the it was the hot temperatures weakening the glue more than in northern climates?
And what is with the rubber coating on the Bino in this hot and wet climatic? No problem? In my SFL 8x40 the rubber coating becomes blows. Here in Austria the maximum Temperatures I use the SFL were 30 degrees.
 
Otherwise no issue with rubber armour (or anything else). It was hot and humid, I had a lot of insect repellant and sweat on my hands, but no effects visible (as I would expect it after such a short use).
 
And what is with the rubber coating on the Bino in this hot and wet climatic? No problem? In my SFL 8x40 the rubber coating becomes blows. Here in Austria the maximum Temperatures I use the SFL were 30 degrees.
I was looking at the 8X40 for the small size (like the EDG and SLCs) but after reading about the armor not sure now, although I know Zeiss would service it. Regarding eyecups, they can make the best focus in the business but not so much on the eye cups.
 
I just studied mine and see what you mean - the rubber eyecup is a separate pc from the plastic tube which extends. I tend to not crush the rainguard in too tight, and I wonder if that makes a difference? I'll def keep an eye on it however...
The problem with the rain guards is that they are simply too tight. (Same with the objective covers, but I don't use those.) There is an easy way out, however. Call Zeiss to send you a rain guard for their older FL models. They are just that little bit larger and very comfortable to use on the SFLs. :)

@dalat: Thanks for your very fine report, and very sorry about your loss of the superb SFL!
 
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