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The Zeiss Victory SF 8x32: a somewhat idiosyncratic, but comprehensive review (2 Viewers)

b-lilja

Well-known member
I will be releasing this in two or three parts. This is part one.

After long consideration I bought a pair of 8x32 SFs. I am providing this review hoping it will help others with their process – spending an amount equal to half of the price of a halfway decent used car is a little tough, and it is worth being very completist in the decision. Even then, you will learn a lot after purchase – I’ve really come to realize you just won’t be able to get a full sense of a set of binoculars until you use them a lot in different settings.

A bit about me and how I use binoculars.
I am a pretty decent birder, but certainly not in the “master birder” category, but am in my mid 50s and have enjoyed birding and binoculars since I was a kid. I suspect at some point in my life (ie retirement) I will be more into it, but just not now, too busy. I live in Seattle, WA, USA, so sky conditions are often cloudy, water is a thing, and a fair amount of the birding is marine and forest oriented. Probably pretty similar to our UK brethren/sistren. However, the dry side of the state/US NW represents very different, dry open conditions. I do a lot of hiking, and also quite a bit of birding with a tripod/scope over my shoulder.

I am not much of a technical optics person, I am much more of a user, and this is written from this standpoint. In part, professionally I am a designer (though of very different scale and subject) but I appreciate industrial design from both functional and aesthetic standpoints.

My current binoculars.
I consider myself very much an 8x32 person. I think this is the sweet spot of portability, view, available light, weight, steadiness of view (magnification, size, and weight). I either own or have owned the following:
Zeiss Conquest HD 8x32
Nikon 8x32SE
Leica 8x32 BN
Nikon 8x30 EII
Vortex Viper 8x32 HD
Vortex Viper 8x32 standard
Canon 8x30 porros (really outstanding, from the 70s)
Swift Audubon 8.5x42 (my first serious binoculars)
As well as an array of small reverse porros, the standouts of which are the venerable B and L 7x26 compact custom v4, and the Nikon Mountaineer 2 8x25s.

I have been in love with each of these to greater or lesser extent, but in this sub-alpha category, the Zeiss have been the ones to beat. I will note however that my Nikon SEs were recently serviced by the Nikon East Coast US service center, and they are just better…they did something, I’m not sure what…and still taking that in.

As part of this purchase process, I also took close looks at both the Swaro 8x32 EL’s and the Leica 8x32 Ultravid 8x32 HD+’s. Those are both superb bins, but this is not a comparo, and I ultimately picked the Zeiss…though I will share my wife loves the Leicas (both the BNs and the Ultravids) so we may be doing an upgrade there too, and have them do double duty as travel/backpacking bins.

Wow, that’s a lot of context. Here we go.

First impressions
• Special view – a fair bit of majick and faerie dust going on
• Light, or the perception of lightness – impeccable balance
• Maybe not the most “lux” thing I’ve used for the price/size (vs. cameras, watches, audio, other bins, etc). But not terrible.
• Zeiss family character, nice design gestalt. Overall positive feeling visual, tactile, etc.
• Perhaps an “instant classic” in the line of great bins

Design – function
First off – balance, and weight distribution/lightness. These are light to start with, and the backweighting is not marketing fluff – it is really nice. I tend to jam binoculars into my eye sockets to stabilize/steady, and the balance with these in that scenario makes for a very restful, stable, comfortable gaze, for a long period. Perhaps a way less dorky version of the new Swaro NL forehead thingie...

Overall handling is excellent. This is my first open hinge bin, and I’m still not entirely sure what to think – but overall I think I like it. I actually like the length of the bins, as it gives some flexibility with hand placement – and the security of grasping the whole tube is nice. I am not sure though I love the focus knob forward – but maybe I just need to get used to it – I have tried to turn the diopter many times now instead of the focuser – but again that is habit. It could be that once I adjust I will like the handling balance. So far I have not disliked it, just found it different. I do find somehow the archetypally simple layout/design of the standard single hinge faced by a big focuser to be pretty nice and just so basic – sort of a “minimum viable product” layout which always appeals. The rubber is nicely grippy with the right amount of give for comfort and security. The tube shape (that Zeiss family dihedral at the 2 and 4 oclock position, also seen on the Conquest HDs) are nice for a bit of extra grip.

The focuser, as commented on elsewhere, is superb, and a highlight. I love it. Just the right amount of resistance/ease. Nice and chunky, easily accessible from a number of hand positions. The faux middle hinge is a nice functional touch to keep the focuser from getting bumped.

The overall build quality (exceptions noted below) seems excellent. I think these will prove tough, except as noted below.

However, there are three things from a function standpoint I don’t like.

The detents on the diopter are too spread out, and can result in a suboptimal setting, as others have noted (the diopter pulls out and pushes in for setting, similar to Leica, but with detents). This is such a simple thing and quite irritating. If the diopter resistance itself was stiffer, it wouldn’t matter so much, but in the “out” position there isn’t much. I guess you could make a workaround with an o ring (which would actually probably work pretty well – but really?).

The rollout, detented eyecups are just ok – and unfortunately the setting which I think is probably best, one click up, has a weak detent. I have found these moving on me in normal use – very irritating. At the price, I feel like we deserve better. However, so many manufacturers fall down in this area (the wonderful Leica BN sliding/retracting cups, finely designed, lack a badly needed detent at their sweet spot, as many know).

Finally, I am 95% sure the strap attachment points are plastic. I just don’t get that. These are legacy quality bins, and for sure some people (ie real field users) will break these – in cold, with UV, or just a heavy hit. They are exposed. Even the $650 Vortex Vipers have metal strap attachments. The Conquest HDs are plastic too, but chunkier. I would love someone to correct me on this, but they differ from the finish of the exposed magnesium pieces. Why oh why would you save money on this detail? You can bet no one has lost a BN or a Dialyt by breaking a strap connection and watching the bins slide off their neck… The gold standard to me for cool elegant smart strap attachments are the Nikon SEs…a detail not often commented upon, but beautifully cast, recessed, into the magnesium body. THAT is the way to do that. I have seen the photos of the SF castings and the strap attachments are not included. OK, ‘nuff said.

To be continued this weekend: Design - form, as well as the most important stuff - the view. Stay tuned!
 
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Hermann

Well-known member
Finally, I am 95% sure the strap attachment points are plastic. I just don’t get that.

Troubador? Do you have any information on what material they used for the attachment points?

Plastic wouldn't really be a good idea IMO. Not for strap attachment points.

Hermann
 

b-lilja

Well-known member
I had actually gotten curious about whether I had falsely stated the material, so I emailed Zeiss, and this is what they said, disconcertingly:

"Thank you for contacting ZEISS Consumer Products.
They are mostly plastic.
Do not put metal rings on them as after time they will wear through."

Wow.

Don't want to make this the pivot point on what are really great binoculars, but this is really surprising.

BTW, I use a binoculars harness that attaches with metal rings.
 

LucaPCP

Well-known member
Many strap attachments are plastic

The strap attachments of the Leica UV HD+ and Zeiss FL and Conquest are also plastic, and I haven’t read complaints about them.
 

Hermann

Well-known member
BTW, I use a binoculars harness that attaches with metal rings.

Using metal rings is a bad idea IMO, even with binoculars with metal strap lugs. I've seen binoculars where metal lugs were very worn after people used metal rings for attachment.

Hermann
 

garymh

Binocular Engineer
Hi,

Owners using metal rings to attach straps is quite common and we see a lot of damage done to strap lugs (metal and plastic) by this.

The good thing about Zeiss strap lugs is that, since the FL, the lug itself can be easily replaced. This is also the case with many Leicas.

On most other binoculars if the strap lug is damaged the only solution is to replace the complete body housing.

Gary
 

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
… The gold standard to me for cool elegant smart strap attachments are the Nikon SEs…a detail not often commented upon, but beautifully cast, recessed, into the magnesium body. THAT is the way to do that. ...............

I had not known about the Nikon SE, but I have always been impressed by the way this attachment is recessed in the Leupold Greenring Yosemities. A great porro with some similarities to the Nikons. Don't know who was first, but I fully agree with your assessment that this is the way to do it!
 

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Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
The Leica strap attachment point is metal.

I used to own a pre-BA Trinovid 10x40, and I can confirm that the attachment was metal there too. The reason I know is because one side of the hook actually broke! I then fixed the thing by covering all with a sturdy coat of two-component glue. I then painted it all black to hide the repair to some extent as the attached picture shows.
So metal is not necessarily safer at all.
 

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b-lilja

Well-known member
Hi,

Owners using metal rings to attach straps is quite common and we see a lot of damage done to strap lugs (metal and plastic) by this.

The good thing about Zeiss strap lugs is that, since the FL, the lug itself can be easily replaced. This is also the case with many Leicas.

On most other binoculars if the strap lug is damaged the only solution is to replace the complete body housing.

Gary

This is very good to know. However, I will still greatly prefer a metal lug, specifically stainless in that location. It does not seem like that would be difficult. That is what is on my BNs, and they inspire confidence.
 

b-lilja

Well-known member
Part Two - design form

Part Two

Design – Form


This discussion here is limited to aesthetics/overall gestalt. Some may question that here, but to me, most of us here love binoculars as a design object, no different than other cool mechanical thing. So why not?

Overall, I like these a lot. Zeiss in general reminds me of stuff made by the French – somewhat quirky, “we do it our way” looks, real highlights, and a few things that seem like were designed in late July right before vacation and attention was on other things (this later part doesn’t apply to older Zeiss stuff). Zeiss puts out stuff Leica would be horrified to be associated with, in a good way. Sort of the old school Citroen of the bin world. That said, I think Zeiss has been sure not to be too weird or unique with these – this shows up with things like the lack of big “Z” at the objective hinge, etc..

The overall composition and proportions are balanced and complete. I like how the hinges are formed to create a sort of oval when viewed from above – the back hinge flairs forward, the middle faux “hinge” is straight across, and the objective hinge flairs back. Very cool – there was thought in that. I also like that the rubber molding angles down at the strap lugs. That specific detail is part of Zeiss’ design vernacular on other bins, like the Conquest, and it’s nice to see it here.

While I believe the focus location should be entirely based on function, it does look good in its location. I am certain Zeiss started with where they thought it should sit functionally, and then built the bin layout around that.

One design touch, though subtle, that I like are the dihedral forms that culminate at the objective end of the tubes. This is carried forward from the Conquests. I think this is a really cool feature that has functional benefit. It gives the bins some interest and a bit of a face (eyebrows? jowls? owl eyes?) at the end of the bin when viewed when raised.

The bins look cool when folded, too. They form a nice ridge that highlights the hinges, which themselves have design uniformity, including the faux hinge, with circles implying the hinge itself.

I love the mix of exposed magnesium casting and rubber. All of the surfaces are matte (which has functional benefits too).

The magnesium castings are gorgeous and I really like seeing them exposed. The have a grainy, grippy finish that seems about right.

As mentioned above, the rubber has a matte/slightly tactile finish that is non-shiny and grippable. It is a pretty substantial shift from the classic Zeiss shiny rubber used on the Dialyt, somewhat carried forward to the Conquests. This shiny rubber is uniquely “Zeiss”, and it is one of those slightly weird/quirky things they do (that I like), but I think on these that rubber would seem somewhat cheap and out of place. They made the right call here. The rubber is not as nice as the Swaro ELs, but I don’t care, because it is black – I don’t like colored bins.

Speaking of color – they did a great job here too. The rubber and the magnesium/metal coating are slightly different shades of black. Both are warm, but the rubber is slightly warmer. It’s a touch of contrast, without going anywhere near the (what I found as) offputting grey/black of the original SF 8x42s. Classy and appealing.

A small thing, but the only parts of the bin that are ribbed are the things that turn – the focuser and the diopter. Nice intuitive design language. (I guess that comment should go in the section above).

The fonts and numbering are consistent with what Zeiss has used previously. I believe the “8x32” and serial number are lightly stamped into the metal (debossed), but I think the “Victory SF” is just printed. It makes me wonder if they decided to add that later. I really dislike non stamped printed stuff on metal, debossing is a little classy touch of more expensive kit.

Speaking of dislike, there is a funny little box similar to a QR code that is stamped and printed into the eyepiece ring, next to the serial number. I think it is probably a thing to guard against counterfeits? While I support that, I don’t like see it every time I bring the bins to my eyes. It has an artificial/digital feel, and I get outside to get away from that crap, and don’t need to be reminded of it. I wish Zeiss could have hidden it, it just detracts.

Another thing I don’t care for is the simple “Zeiss” written in a pretty standard, non logo font on the objective hinge. Zeiss has two terrific logos, the “Z” as well as the “ZEISS” logo used on the badge – these hands down are what should be there.

A small thing, but I like the older school font used on the “Made in Germany” the diopter – I believe straight across from the Dialyt.

I also appreciate that the Zeiss blue shield appears to be metal, and perhaps based on the metal color, magnesium. It looks classy and stands up to the cool (metal) Leica red dot.

All of these elements come together in a cohesive whole that is not over the top, but pleasing, unique, “Zeiss”, yet “classic” and a nice balance of not fussy/interesting. I know from experience this is not easily arrived at – it is nice to know someone really thought about these things. My small nits are just that compared to the great job on the whole.

The last thing I will note is quite intangible – related to an overall sense of quality. This gets into Robert Pirsig territory, but I will add these don’t quite reach the heights of the top of the line Swaros or Leicas. This is very subjective. I believe however the argument can be made that at the end of the day, Zeiss is primarily focused on the user/function of the bins. If someone is going to buy binoculars as a luxe item, I doubt they will buy the Zeiss – the Leicas and Swaros are more likely. And I’m just fine with that. That is not to say the Leicas and Swaros aren’t focused on the user/function too, it’s just that they seem to be more focused on the luxe thing as part of the market too.

Hoping tomorrow to get to the most important part - how they actually work!
 
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xaver

Member
Thanks for this report! Regarding your last point about the overall sense of quality: I wonder whether one reason is that Swaros and Leicas often feel more robust – it seems that in most comparisons within a given class of binos, Zeiss are usually the lightest among the three brands, so maybe they are optimized for a relatively low weight. I don't think that means they are less endurable, though. I used my Dialyt 10x40 for 30 years before I switched to the SF 10x32 this autumn.
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Regarding the position of the focus wheel. I find that if I wrap my middle/ring/little fingers around the barrel just underneath the middle bridge, my first finger automatically falls on the focus wheel, so I always use this hand position.

Lee
 

b-lilja

Well-known member
Part Three - View

It’s funny, after all the buildup, I feel like my comments on view may be a little anticlimactic. Also, I apologize for drawing this up so much – I thought I’d be able to get this all out at close to the same time.

Probably the most distinguishing aspect for me about their view is their immersive, 3d, HDness. It is fairly astounding. Textures leap out. Looking at the bark on an old Douglas Fir, you can feel its depth. Twice now I’ve had birds in flight enter the field of view flying away from me – and I literally gasped in how alive the view seemed, almost more 3d than my naked eye seems, if that’s possible. I was out yesterday in a high wind day on the Puget Sound – waves really had motion and depth. I haven’t used them much looking in brush and forest, but I think this aspect will really be nice there.

This might sound odd, but related to this I wonder if this aspect makes the resolution of the bins a little less clear. I have found myself wondering if the resolution is as good as some of my other bins, but I think it actually may be related to the HD aspect. I have also been using them in conjunction with another pair, doing constant comparison, and it is possible this leaves my eyes too exhausted to settle in. I am going to do some comparisons using a USAF chart because I’m just curious.

Blackouts are there – similar to the Conquest HDs. I’ve been able to work around this with both, but it is a thing.

Regarding tint. Before looking really closely at these, I honestly haven’t spent a lot of time paying much attention to it, mainly thinking of Leicas as warm, Nikons a little less so, and Zeiss colder. Now, tint is everywhere. I am realizing my eyes themselves, as others have commented, have slightly different perceptions. In particular, I think tint is very contingent on sky conditions, particularly overcast, but also sun angle, etc.. In different conditions, any of these might seem the most neutral. Specifically, I do find in some conditions that these SFs have an overtly greenish tint. In particular can shift blues and browns towards green, and make greens even greener. Again, Conquest HDs have been my go to bins for five years, and I never thought about this. And yet in side by side, they are fairly similar in tint, the Conquests at times being even more greenish. And there are some settings where the Leicas are almost laughably inaccurate. I think the bottom line is that coatings adjust colors, and don’t do it perfectly.

Wide field. These do have a wider field, but it is less noticeable than I expected. To me the HD aspect is much more defining.

Glare. Decently resistant to glare.

CA, rolling ball. These aren’t things I really ever notice in any bins.

Light transmission. Seems very good. Interestingly, one evening the SEs seemed much better, another the SFs. A mystery.

Ease of view. This for me is a very real thing. I find the SFs, like their little brothers the Conquest HDs before them, to be “technical” binoculars – a more intense, dimensional view, that I do find both thrilling and somewhat demanding and tiring. As I get older, my eyes don’t hold up on a long day (nonstop computer in the life of Covid definitely doesn’t help). That is where I find the SEs and the BNs to be so comfortable, like an old pair of jeans or running shoes.

Going through this effort, it is becoming more clear to me that this is at best an extended first impression. I am realizing I really need to just spend full days with just these, without close comparos to others. I have learned a ton in the process. As maybe you can tell, I really like these binoculars, but I’m not 100% on them quite yet – I want to look at the resolution thing more closely, and just live with them a bit. I feel like it might be premature to post these comments, but will continue to share my observations as I go.
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Tint

Specifically, I do find in some conditions that these SFs have an overtly greenish tint. In particular can shift blues and browns towards green, and make greens even greener. [email protected] b-lilja

This is fascinating given my experience over the past week. I have been in the west of Scotland and here, at this time of year, the hillsides are wonderful tapestries of more tones of brown, especially golden browns, than I can describe. They vary from pale sandy browns through various shades of biscuit browns to red-browns or even red, and they all seem to glow whether the sun is shining or not. And at this time of year the weather, the cloud cover, the amount of sunlight changes by the minute.

And during this week I have scanned hillside after hillside with a pair of SF 8x32s and have looked for any sign of green muddying the purity of the brown tones and I simply did not find it. Pale sandy browns to deep red-browns remained as vibrant through the SFs as they did using naked eyes and under vastly varied lighting conditions.

I have another test in mind and will report back during the next week or two after performing it a few times.

Lee
 

Hermann

Well-known member
Thank you for your reports. They make fascinating reading. Keep it up, please ... :)

Going through this effort, it is becoming more clear to me that this is at best an extended first impression. I am realizing I really need to just spend full days with just these, without close comparos to others.

Great stuff. I only wish others here would be equally careful - far too many reviewers tend to shoot from the hip on this forum. You need hours in the field, in all sorts of lighting conditions, you need hours to get used to the view, make sure you got the IPD just right, find out, which grips works best and so on. THEN you can write a meaningful review.

And even though you said your review was just an "extended impression", it's far better than a lot of the stuff (some) people post here.

Hermann
 

eronald

Well-known member
Lee,

I think binocular color is a very personal thing and just as no amount of anyone telling me will convince me of the gustative superiority of English wine over French wine, none will convince me of the brilliance of Zeiss color over Leica color. I think some wise Italians once said "de gustibus et coloribus non disputandum est" or similar which we might here improve on by the attitude of "de coloribus aut bene aut nihil", let us not speak of what we cannot praise.

Edmund

Specifically, I do find in some conditions that these SFs have an overtly greenish tint. In particular can shift blues and browns towards green, and make greens even greener. [email protected] b-lilja

This is fascinating given my experience over the past week. I have been in the west of Scotland and here, at this time of year, the hillsides are wonderful tapestries of more tones of brown, especially golden browns, than I can describe. They vary from pale sandy browns through various shades of biscuit browns to red-browns or even red, and they all seem to glow whether the sun is shining or not. And at this time of year the weather, the cloud cover, the amount of sunlight changes by the minute.

And during this week I have scanned hillside after hillside with a pair of SF 8x32s and have looked for any sign of green muddying the purity of the brown tones and I simply did not find it. Pale sandy browns to deep red-browns remained as vibrant through the SFs as they did using naked eyes and under vastly varied lighting conditions.

I have another test in mind and will report back during the next week or two after performing it a few times.

Lee
 
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Hermann

Well-known member
I think binocular color is a very personal thing and no amount of anyone telling me will convince me of the gustative superiority of English wine over French wine, or of the brilliance of Zeiss color over Leica color. I think some wise Italians once said "de gustibus et coloribus non disputandum est" or similar which we might here improve on by the attitude of "de coloribus aut bene aut nihil" ...

Well, the latest iterations of the Habicht range are as colour neutral as a binocular gets IMO. I use them to determine if any other binocular has some colour tinge. They also have just about the best transmission around, so I also use them to check how bright a binocular really is.

That said - I don't really care all that much unless I find a colour tinge too strong (like in the venerable KOMZ 7x30, otherwise a brilliant binocular in many ways!) or in some way objectionable. But that rarely happens, and in virtually all cases I find I can used to any colour tinge after a few days in the field.

Hermann
 

eronald

Well-known member
Well, the latest iterations of the Habicht range are as colour neutral as a binocular gets IMO. I use them to determine if any other binocular has some colour tinge. They also have just about the best transmission around, so I also use them to check how bright a binocular really is.

That said - I don't really care all that much unless I find a colour tinge too strong (like in the venerable KOMZ 7x30, otherwise a brilliant binocular in many ways!) or in some way objectionable. But that rarely happens, and in virtually all cases I find I can used to any colour tinge after a few days in the field.

Hermann

Hermann,

Some people are sensitive to color or noise, others can get used to any background music or color tint. I personally find a green or blue tint irritating, and a yellow or warm tint tolerable or even pleasant, but I wouldn't expect everybody else to agree with me. However I would expect other people with good color perception to notice the tint.


Edmund
 

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