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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

NL32 vs SF32 (and a few others) (1 Viewer)

wdc

Well-known member
Last October I was able to purchase a slightly used Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 from a fellow bird forum member for a good price. I already own an 8x42 SF, which I bird with regularly, and was curious how its smaller sibling would behave. When it arrived, I found I liked everything about it initially, except for the usable eye relief, which prevented me, ever so slightly from seeing the entire image circle with a crisp field stop with my glasses on. Nonetheless, its relative size to the 8x42 SF, excellent balance and optical performance, allowed it to fit right in, and I started using it on rotation, especially when I was carrying a scope, as to more easily one hand the binoculars.

I also own a Nikon Monarch HG 8x42, that has served me well, but it too is just shy of the necessary eye relief for me. So the SF32 ended up in the same boat with the Nikon as one of those otherwise excellent tools that was missing a desired, aesthetically pleasing visual component: A clear view of the entire field, with a crisp black edge, instead of an image circle bordered by an out of focus grey ring, which was the foreground eyecups occluding the edge of the true field.

allbins.bf.2.jpg
L-R: Zeiss SF 8x42, Zeiss SF 8x32, Nikon MHG 8x42, Swaro EL32, Leica Trinovid HD 8x32. Of these 5 binoculars only 3 show me an unobstructed FOV.

Does this prevent me from finding the bird? Nope. Its just a nagging reminder that eyeglass wearers are often the outliers in the ‘one size fits all’ world of binocular design, and are sometimes completely shut out from using, for all practical purposes, an entire range of well loved binoculars due to low eye relief (Nikon EII, Leica Ultravid HD+, Swarovski Habicht, etc).

I've taken note of forum members that wear eyeglasses, and what equipment works for them. Through trial and error (and returned product) I discovered that I often need just a little more eye relief than they do, as I found I could not see the entire FOV of several binoculars that they were enjoying with eyeglasses….. (Zeiss 8x32 Conquest HD, Zeiss 8x32 Victory FL)

If you don’t wear glasses when using binoculars, consider yourself very fortunate, as a vast array of new and used quality bins await you. If you do wear eyeglasses with binoculars, the options are greatly reduced, and for some folks like me, what fits out of that limited selection is an ongoing hit or miss proposition.

Nl.SF.2.jpg

Enter the NL series. I had been rather set against the idea of another, increasingly pricey purchase, and was prepared to just stop with the SF32, but I was curious if I could get a clean, un-vignetted presentation through the NL. And what I discovered was exactly that. For whatever combination of design parameters, the NL 8x32 fits me extremely well. I get the entire field, and the AFOV is perceptibly big and immersive. Perhaps it should be, as the eyepiece glass is 2mm larger than the Zeiss (25mm to 23mm) and the EL32.

NL.lineup.1.jpg
L-R: SF32, NL32, EL32, MHG 8x42. Note the extremely low profile of the eyecups and the larger diameter glass of the NL

The obvious criticisms that can be aimed at the NL are that it is big and heavy for an 8x32, and costs too much. So, besides it fitting me extremely well, did it offer any other performance advantages over the other binoculars in a similar size/class? And the answer is, yes, with a caveat.

I did a little comparative work with the likely competitors: The EL 8x32, the former benchmark Swaro in that size that it is replacing, the Zeiss SF 8x32, it’s newly minted competitor, and threw in the Nikon HG 8x42, because it is close in weight and size to the NL32.

I’ll cut to the chase and just say that the most helpful performance advantage the NL 32 has over ALL the aforementioned binoculars is that it handles veiling glare better, in some cases dramatically better. But…. It comes at a price in terms of the annoying crescent artifacts that show up when direct bright light hits the lenses. Granted, they can be tilted away, or dealt with by sliding the binocular down a bit on the surface of my glasses, but they nonetheless show up in those conditions. Ironically, the Nikon MHG 8x42’s show no crescents in the same light, but the overall washout of values by the sun across the entire field is much greater than in the NL. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.

vg.test.1.jpg

My testing for all this was done rather simply on the side of my house, standing outside the studio door, looking towards bright afternoon sun to a ridge about a mile distant, with a shadowed fence in the foreground. In the photo above you can clearly see the ‘veiling glare’ of the earth’s own atmosphere in the shot, typical of summer afternoon light around here.

All I did was assemble the bins, aim them at the fence in shadow, then use my hand to block direct sunlight from hitting the objectives. As soon as the objectives are shaded, the crescents, if present, vanish, and the contrast across the entire field goes up. My judgement on performance quality is based on the amount of wash out perceived in direct light, as well as the level of contrast shift that occurred when I shaded the objectives. (the less shift in contrast, the better the performance, is part of my assessment) That’s the subjective part, as the only measurement is through my eyes and my critical, comparative judgement, so you can take it all with a grain of salt. I would encourage anyone to try this yourself with the binoculars you own. I’m quite certain if you own several pair that they will not all behave the same.

Here’s my notes on the test:
Looking west towards sun in bright, late afternoon. 6:20 - 7pm. Sun, ~25-30° above the horizon.
Binoculars tested: Swaro 8x32 EL, Swaro 8x32 NL, Zeiss SF 8x32, Nikon MHG 8x42

All binoculars, except Nikon, showed a bright crescent or lozenge of light at bottom.
The crescents, btw, can be ameliorated a fair amount by tilting the binocular up, or slightly sliding the eyepieces down my glasses.

El32: Strong veiling glare and crescents present; most washed out, and dramatic difference when shading objectives by hand.

Nikon MHG 8x42: Strong washout, but no crescents. Dramatic difference in contrast when shading with hands.

SF32: Veiling glare and crescent highlights. Washout of values is less than EL and Nikon, but still a noticeable contrast improvement by shading hand over objective. Plus, I can see the blue ring! (Really not an issue, but folks bring it up. )

NL32: . Bright, curved sausage crescents that can be tilted away to a great degree. However, the best at suppressing veiling glare over the entire field. In other words, there is still a greater range of contrast in the image in direct sunlight. When shading the objectives, the contrast shift is visible, but pretty quiet, which is noticeably better than the others.

At any rate, I’ve been testing my binoculars for veiling glare in this fashion periodically, and rather casually, because I’d rather just go birding than keep charts of this stuff, but I have noticed a few things.. which will probably require retesting to make sure it is repeatable….

-Smaller objectives tend to show more glare or other artifacts than larger objectives
-All my binoculars show some degree of it.

I am honestly puzzled by those that say there is no veiling glare in certain binoculars, because in the manner I've outlined I can see it in every pair I own.
However, the way they handle it varies quite a bit.

Here's a few more observations below to wrap this up.

Accommodation of view with glasses on:
El 8x32: Excellent view to the field stop
Sf 8x32: Field stop slightly occluded by foreground eyecups which produces an out of focus grey ring surrounding the actual image.
Nikon MHG 8x42: Field stop slightly occluded by FG eyecups
NL 8x32: Excellent view to the field stop. Crisp black ring and perceptibly ‘large’


In the hand:
All of these binoculars are, imho, easy to use, to handle, and none of them break the bank with their weight. I will say that the ergos of the pinched cylindrical grip of the NL’s work well for me, and I find them to be an improvement over the Els, with their “Thumbs go here” indents. The NL’s flattened curves are more like danish modern furniture. They actually make the Nikon 8x42’s feel a bit fat, and I’ve always considered the Nikon MHG a rather svelte bin, at least for an 8x42….. If one has very large hands, perhaps the NL’s will not be as accommodating, as there is less surface area to wrap one’s hands around.


Focuser, feel and speed:
The least smooth: El 8x32: Grainy and has different tension going one way than the other.
Nikon MHG 8x42: Smooth with some resistance
SF32: Smooth w/low resistance
NL32: Smooth w/low resistance

In the field, I noticed the NL focuser felt slower than my other binoculars, as it seemed I could keep dialing in a greater degree of sharpness/resolution in a somewhat leisurely manner, which perhaps would put some folks off. I tested all the binoculars by marking the turns of the wheel to focus from roughly 6 feet out to 1.25 miles, which is the high point on a ridge visible from the side of the house, measured in Google Earth. Here’s the results:

From ~6 ft. to 1.25 miles:
NL32: >1.5 turns 540°
EL 8x32: >1.25 turns 495°
SF32: 1.25 turns. 450°
Nikon MHG 8x42: >1 turn. 390°
Zeiss Conquest HD 8x42: <1 turn. 300°

I threw the Conquest in there, as it has a reputation for fast focus speed, and in this group it was the clear winner, while the NL is at the other end of the pack. So far, it hasn’t cost me a bird.

Conclusions:

-If you need extra eye relief like I do, these work great.

-If the SF32’s had showed me the entire field, I probably would have stopped there, as the handling, balance, and focuser of the SF is excellent.

However….
The veiling glare test showed the NL to have a significant edge over the others on that point in spite of the crescent artifacts.

When regular birding, I don’t think as much about a singular issue like veiling glare, because one is often looking in many directions, when on foot and moving around. I generally think of it as a temporary circumstance that compromises the view. However, If you were in a fixed position, looking into a low sun, especially over water, then addressing that would be more of a priority. In which case even the NL’s crescent artifacts might be a deterrence.

I still don’t like the crescent artifacts in the view, even if they can be dealt with to a great degree. These are also present in the SF32, btw. They are a distraction that one has to adjust for. Amazing to pick up a bin like the Nikon MHG and realize they’re not there at all, even if the veiling glare is there in abundance….


Pros:
-Excellent accommodating, wide view for eyeglass wearers like me.

-Handles veiling glare better than others mentioned in test, substantially better than the EL32, and noticeably better than the Nikon MHG 8x42 and SF32

-Good ergos and focuser

-Crisp, contrasty image with good color.



Cons:
-Expensive.

-Crescent artifacts in eyepiece when looking towards light

-Slower to focus (for some)

-A bit large and heavy for an 8x32. However, something tiny, like the ultravid hd plus 8x32 doesn’t work for me at all.

-Less ease of view than an 8x42.



Addendum(s)

All the binoculars I mentioned are good, worthy, well-designed tools for our purposes and enjoyment. The fact that some fit me better than others is my problem, My conclusions shouldn’t be meant as any sort of universal condemnation of ones that don’t work as well for me, or suit my needs.

I think the NL 32 binocular has forged a new, somewhat uneven middle ground, where the 32 objective size is equal in performance with the 42mm class, in daylight, with an excellent wide, flat field, and ergos, all the while approaching the size and weight of the 42mm, as well as its price. Its superb handling of veiling glare, is marred by the crescents that go with it, so that's somewhat of a mixed bag.

Is the NL32 the new 42? I'm not so certain.

I'll admit that the larger exit pupil of a 42 can make for an easier, more relaxed view. I notice it when I pick up the SF 8x42, which I would also point out gives me the entire field, and in terms of veiling glare, is on par with the NL32, with a much subdued manifestation of crescents to boot.... At retail, the SF8x42 is only $200 more, so the choice then is a densely packed, but skinnier, lighter, and slightly smaller NL32, or the full-figured, 5mm exit pupil and 42mm objective of the SF.

That's about all I got, and I realize this review falls short in many respects, especially when considering Henry's patient, analytical approach, Troubador's 'Nature, as viewed through... x' joyous descriptions, and Chuck's enthusiastic and thorough 'in the field comparative' methods, and all the other folks who take the time to share your experiences with these devices. The collective dialogue is what makes this forum a pleasure to read and learn from.

cheers,

-Bill
 

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Maljunulo

Well-known member
I would ask the perhaps unwelcome question "If the artifacts go away when you slide the eyepieces down your glasses, why are you using them up that high to begin with?"
 

wdc

Well-known member
I would ask the perhaps unwelcome question "If the artifacts go away when you slide the eyepieces down your glasses, why are you using them up that high to begin with?"
Fair question! Because the image circle feels perceptually centered in my visual field in that position. I have to move the circle off that axis to diminish the crescents.
It may also have something to do with wearing bifocals.... ;-)
 

Maljunulo

Well-known member
Fair question! Because the image circle feels perceptually centered in my visual field in that position. I have to move the circle off that axis to diminish the crescents.
Thank you. That's unfortunate.

What happens if you simply raise your chin?
 

wdc

Well-known member
Thank you. That's unfortunate.

What happens if you simply raise your chin?
6 of one, a half dozen of the other? The same effect. With glasses you don't have a tactile positional awareness in the manner that binoculars directly touching your eye sockets provide.
 

jcnguyen09

Well-known member
I returned the SF 8x32 due to the eye relief. I can't see the entire view with my eyeglasses on. I waited and got the NL 10x32 and be happy about it. I can see the entire view on the NL without any issue. Ironically on the spec ER for SF 8x32 is 19mm and NL is 18mm.
 

wdc

Well-known member
I returned the SF 8x32 due to the eye relief. I can't see the entire view with my eyeglasses on. I waited and got the NL 10x32 and be happy about it. I can see the entire view on the NL without any issue. Ironically on the spec ER for SF 8x32 is 19mm and NL is 18mm.
Hi JC,
Yes, it is frustrating to be misled by the stated eye relief, when it is the usable eye relief that is the more essential data point for eyeglass wearers. I also think the AFOV can play a role in this issue. Ideally you want it to be as wide as possible, to get the most immersive experience, but not so wide as to collide with the vignetting effect of the FG eyecups. The NL got that equation right.
Its good to know that even the 10x32 works for you.

-Bill
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Hi JC,
Yes, it is frustrating to be misled by the stated eye relief, when it is the usable eye relief that is the more essential data point for eyeglass wearers. I also think the AFOV can play a role in this issue. Ideally you want it to be as wide as possible, to get the most immersive experience, but not so wide as to collide with the vignetting effect of the FG eyecups. The NL got that equation right.
Its good to know that even the 10x32 works for you.

-Bill
I wear spectacles all the time (varifocals) and the SF 32s (both 8x and 10x) work just fine for me. In fact I have to raise the eyecups a little to avoid minor blackouts so for me the eye relief is more than adequate.
Bill a significant part of the arrangement that has you struggling to see the full field of view is the distance between your spectacles and your eyes which are a little too far from the eye relief at the moment. You can perhaps get your eyes a little closer to the binos by making sure your spectacles are right at the top of your nose.
Lee
 

Torview

Registered User
Supporter
Nice read Bill,

And in no way "falls short" imho, I was hoping to try a 32 SF/NL as and when and was saving towards it, but I`ve just snagged a 7x42FL which I`ve been looking for for an age now.

Nice selection you`ve got there.
 

wdc

Well-known member
I wear spectacles all the time (varifocals) and the SF 32s (both 8x and 10x) work just fine for me. In fact I have to raise the eyecups a little to avoid minor blackouts so for me the eye relief is more than adequate.
Bill a significant part of the arrangement that has you struggling to see the full field of view is the distance between your spectacles and your eyes which are a little too far from the eye relief at the moment. You can perhaps get your eyes a little closer to the binos by making sure your spectacles are right at the top of your nose.
Lee
Hi Lee, Good suggestion. I do regularly push the spectacles up my nose for the ones that are vignetting the field, but there's still just enough of a 'gap' that I have to resort to pushing bins and glasses into my eye sockets to get the field in a rather uncomfortable, unnatural manner.

Your comment does bring up the potential for improving my side of the equation to be more accommodating. Next time I visit the eye doctor for a prescription, I'll ask if I can have it all set to be closer to my eyes, but not so close that my eyelashes are dusting the lenses.. ;-)

It really does make me wish that manufacturers, or an aftermarket supplier, could produce a set of ultra low profile replacement eye cups for their products. As Zeiss did to address the issue with the Conquest eyecups being too short for some, they could certainly try producing eyecups to improve upon the opposite problem. The NL's are about the lowest I've ever seen, and certainly help me, as the stated eye relief is 2mm LESS than the EL, yet the entire field is still visible. Usable eye relief on the SF32 and the Nikon MHG could be easily increased in this fashion.

Bill
 

wdc

Well-known member
Nice read Bill,

And in no way "falls short" imho, I was hoping to try a 32 SF/NL as and when and was saving towards it, but I`ve just snagged a 7x42FL which I`ve been looking for for an age now.

Nice selection you`ve got there.
Thanks Torview. I hope you enjoy the 7x42Fl, and looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it when you have the time. That one has been ' a binocular of interest' for me as well.

-Bill
 

GrampaTom

Well-known member
United States
It really does make me wish that manufacturers, or an aftermarket supplier, could produce a set of ultra low profile replacement eye cups for their products. As Zeiss did to address the issue with the Conquest eyecups being too short for some, they could certainly try producing eyecups to improve upon the opposite problem.
Methinks this is not a small point. NZwild posted about switching out NL eyecups onto his EL with good results. The extra, and more firm, clicks are a plus compared to the EL. SwaroUS said, do to virus and working remotely, they hadn't tried, but here... The NLs do screw-in but are just barely longer so that an internal ring doesn't quite sit on the edge of the ocular lens and form what seems a kind of seal. But the additional clicks and firmer stops are there.

Merging yours above and that, why not? I get in the case of Swaro they want to sell NLs and use the new eyecups as a new feature but making an improved NL eyecup truly adaptable to the EL would hardly effect that and would be plus for EL owners down the road. Also in terms of supply chain one cup for both seems a smart solution... So why dont others do stuff like this instead of like say Leica being known as the non eyeglass friendly bino company with short eye relief.. if its this simple?
 

james holdsworth

Consulting Biologist
It’s a shame Zeiss didn’t feel the HT worthy of the wide field upgrade…that model already had almost all the
positive attributes mentioned here - superb stray light control, brightness, neutral colour and very low CA…and the eyecup design is much flatter than the SF and tapers inward to allow full field views with glasses.

Maybe it could not have been done with the HT layout, the AK prisms etc. but I find it odd that Zeiss needed to go entirely off in a new direction.

BTW - excellent comparison, with great detail provided and a nicely standardized approach.
 

wdc

Well-known member
Methinks this is not a small point. NZwild posted about switching out NL eyecups onto his EL with good results. The extra, and more firm, clicks are a plus compared to the EL. SwaroUS said, do to virus and working remotely, they hadn't tried, but here... The NLs do screw-in but are just barely longer so that an internal ring doesn't quite sit on the edge of the ocular lens and form what seems a kind of seal. But the additional clicks and firmer stops are there.

Merging yours above and that, why not? I get in the case of Swaro they want to sell NLs and use the new eyecups as a new feature but making an improved NL eyecup truly adaptable to the EL would hardly effect that and would be plus for EL owners down the road. Also in terms of supply chain one cup for both seems a smart solution... So why dont others do stuff like this instead of like say Leica being known as the non eyeglass friendly bino company with short eye relief.. if its this simple?
GrampaTom, The reasons may be varied. Perhaps there isn't enough advocacy for it, or the marketing folks either don't see a big enough return for the effort, or maybe don't feel that it reflects well on their brand status....

I think what would move the ball forward on the issue would be for some prominent be-spectacled folks in the birding community to approach the big 3 or 4, and weigh in on ways to make their products more accessible to a larger market. Eyecup replacement options should be a fraction of the cost of re-engineering eye relief in the optical chain. Think of it like a component that improves performance for a segment of a community, like something you might buy for a bicycle to make it better suit your needs.... like a longer seat post, different handlebars, or a larger climbing gear.

-Bill
 

wdc

Well-known member
It’s a shame Zeiss didn’t feel the HT worthy of the wide field upgrade…that model already had almost all the
positive attributes mentioned here - superb stray light control, brightness, neutral colour and very low CA…and the eyecup design is much flatter than the SF and tapers inward to allow full field views with glasses.

Maybe it could not have been done with the HT layout, the AK prisms etc. but I find it odd that Zeiss needed to go entirely off in a new direction.

BTW - excellent comparison, with great detail provided and a nicely standardized approach.
Thanks James. I had plenty of good role models on the forum to learn from. ;-)

Regarding the demise of the HT, I just took a look at the interview Gerhard Dobler gave to Lee awhile ago about the development of the SF...

In it he talks about the design goals being a wide field, improved balance to make it easier to hold it up longer, and a relatively fast focus. Out of those three, I expect the balance issue might be what drove them to change the optical path and prism arrangement. I did also check the focus speed of my 8x42 SF, utilizing the same parameters as I did in my review,
~6 ft. to 1.25 miles, and it is 330° (!), less than a full turn, which is second only to the Conquest HD in my test. I wonder what it would be for the HT.

-Bill
 

Tringa45

Well-known member
Europe
Bill,

Another factor that influences your eye relief requirements is your prescription. I'm assuming that you are far-sighted as I am, but those with a negative correction can often get by with as little as 15 mm.
Perhaps not to your taste, but two binoculars with unusually long eye relief are the 7x42 Meopta Meostar (22 mm spec.) and the 8x56 Swarovski SLC (23 mm).
On the former I need to extend the eyecups a little (no stops and rather moderate FoV) and on the latter I need the first stop (5 mm extension) to avoid blackouts.

John

PS:- Just a thought; Is the eye relief less critical if you test with uncorrected sunglasses?
 
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tenex

reality-based
What a thoughtful and thorough report, Bill. Enjoy those NLs!

Regarding users not plagued by glare: I suspect that most simply don't often use binoculars in such trying conditions, for a variety of reasons. They don't want to get too close to the sun, can't make out a target to observe in the first place, aren't enjoying the washed out and backlit view in that direction, and so on.

Regarding eyeglasses: they tend to sit angled a bit from vertical, so pressing binoculars fully up against them (however natural the impulse) must tilt the barrels down, creating an optical alignment problem. Oddly enough, in recent years I became aware that I have a slight tendency to do that myself for some reason even without glasses, and have learned to correct for it. Perhaps this might help.

Regarding eye relief: from a non-eyeglass point of view it can seem that manufacturers (except Leica) are already going to extremes to accommodate demands from glasses wearers, thereby (with all the compromises involved in optical design) imposing costs in performance, mass, and/or price on everyone else. Sometimes they don't even get the eyecups deep enough for the superfluous ER, and if they do, one has a tunnel-vision experience despite a decent FOV. The binoculars I grew up with in the 1960s had so little ER that my eyelashes generally oiled the oculars; holding the 15x60 close enough for viewing required actual effort. I don't know how much of its field my father, who already needed glasses then, could see (I never thought to ask!) but he never complained, nor did I think to; we just enjoyed using them. "Brillenfreundlich" used to mean that you could see a usable part of the field wearing glasses, not its entirety. And today people kvetch about a field stop not looking quite sharp. I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, but expectations (or concepts of fairness?) seem to have inflated strangely in recent years in all areas of life, and some recalibration might be in order.
 
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wdc

Well-known member
Bill,

Another factor that influences your eye relief requirements is your prescription. I'm assuming that you are far-sighted as I am, but those with a negative correction can often get by with as little as 15 mm.
Perhaps not to your taste, but two binoculars with unusually long eye relief are the 7x42 Meopta Meostar (22 mm spec.) and the 8x56 Swarovski SLC (23 mm).
On the former I need to extend the eyecups a little (no stops and rather moderate FoV) and on the latter I need the first stop (5 mm extension) to avoid blackouts.

John

PS:- Just a thought; Is the eye relief less critical if you test with uncorrected sunglasses?
Hi John, I'm sure you're right about the prescription playing a role. Also, I will try the non-prescriptive glasses test. Even my sunglasses are prescription, so will have to borrow some.

Thanks for the suggestion of some other high eye relief bins. I do have a Leica Ultravid BR 7x42 that works for me at 17 mm, has a wider field, and weighs less than the Meopta, so I think I'm good. I'd like to look through the Swarovski out of curiosity, but I'm not sure I'd really put it to good use. Seems a special purpose bin, like perhaps to look at comets...

-Bill
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

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