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

Zen-Ray ED2 7x36 vs. Vortex Viper 6x32 (1 Viewer)

eitanaltman

Well-known member
I am currently comparing these two binoculars, Zen-Ray ED2 7x36 and Vortex Viper 6x32, as candidates to replace my trusty Eagle Optics Ranger SRT 8x42 which served me well for the past 5 years before disappearing along with my recently stolen car! Back then, the Nikon Monarch (which my wife still uses) and the EO Ranger were among the top "best buys" at the $300 price point, but I wanted to take my insurance check and see what the fuss is about with the advances in sub-$500 optics over the past couple of years.

Bottom line: Both are optically phenomenal for the price and are simply excellent deals at the prices I paid, under $300 each for the Demo 7x36 from ZR and the clearance sale price on Viper currently at Eagle Optics.

My personal feeling is that, once you are at a certain general "ballpark" of optical quality, differences in ergonomics and other subjective issues trump any teeny difference in optics. That is certainly true when comparing "alpha" scopes and bins, and also with the many excellent $300-500 binocular options out there. And these two are no exception; the differences in non-optical aspects (size, ergonomics, etc) far trump any raw optical quality disparity between the two, and one should choose one over the other based on personal preference issues. Anyone who can't afford "alphas" would be absolutely delighted with the raw optical quality of either bin.

I've seen a couple of other comparisons on the net (including the excellent review linked just below) but since both are available for such good prices right now, I wanted to provide another voice for those looking for relatively compact, lower mag bins at around $300.

For anyone who stumbles upon this thread, I will direct them to this review by Ilya Koshkin which I found extremely helpful and really can't quibble with, my conclusions generally agree with everything here: http://www.opticsthoughts.com/index...binoculars&catid=5:binocular-reviews&Itemid=5

And this review is also relevant, comparing the standard Rangers (my old bins) to the newer Ranger HD, which as we all know is a ZR ED2 clone: http://www.bestbinocularsreviews.com/Eagle Optics8x42RangerED-89.htm

I'm taken them out in the backyard, looked around the street, and spend some time at a local marsh/pond spot, mostly in daylight with mixture of clouds and sun, so these are generally initial subjective impressions. No low light tests yet, but also no hyper critical evaluations, measurements, etc. I'm more of a "real world use" reviewer here, I have not the expertise to measure eye relief and arcseconds of resolution and whatnot. I'm not going to relist specs since these are all readily available online.

Most of what I have found will simply reaffirm the info that's already out there, but I wanted to lend another voice to corroborate some things.


Optically:

- Again, both are just superb. Sharp, clear, bright... It's really a great time to be a "budget" shopper for bins as the type of optics you can get nowadays for under $500 is phenomenal.

- That said, as others have reported, the ZR is indeed a wee bit better -- a little brighter, a little more saturation, and you get extra magnification while still having a wider FOV. I would say both are equally razor sharp in the center, but the overall view of the ZR is simply more easy, relaxing and immersive because of that wide FOV and better brightness/color. The only area where the Viper clearly beats the ZR is in glare/flare control.

- Both are a definite step ahead of the Monarchs; although it's a bit difficult to compare an 8x32 or 7x36 to a 10x42 bin, the Monarchs lag a bit behind in brightness, saturation, and "pop" and of course have a much narrower FOV. I compared my old EO Rangers to my wife's Monarchs a lot, and thought they were slightly brighter and easier to look through (part of this is my preference for 8x vs 10x and the better DOF)... but it's clear that the ZR ED2 and Viper are also both better than the Rangers. The Rangers had softer edges, more CA, and based on memory were not quite this sharp in the center axis.

- Now, to be fair, we tend to exaggerate small differences in reviews like this so the difference between the Monarchs/Rangers and these new bins is not HUGE, as the Nikons still look darn good. Honestly, it would take a really careful observer to find a significant difference in performance... my wife, who isn't nearly as critical, couldn't really tell much difference in optics, she just commented about ergonomic stuff and the obvious magnification difference between the 7x36 ZR ED2 and the 10x42 Monarch ATB's. My wife likes her Monarchs because they are extremely light and small for a 42mm objective bin, and the barrels get really close (she has a small face and the EO Rangers had too much IPD for her). She also wears glasses, and did not have any issue using the ZR 7x36, so the minimum IPD and eye-relief are sufficient for small, glass-adorned faces. She hasn't tried the Vipers yet but I can't imagine any problems with ER or IPD.

- In general, you'd have to be real nit-picky to not love the brightness, clarity, sharpness, etc. of any of them for the price. Any but the most critical observer would think any of the Nikon Monarch, EO Ranger, and ZR or Viper were all excellent. The biggest differences IMO are, again, not really optical, as any of these has plenty of sharpness and brightness for 99% of birding situations... rather, most would likely choose based on differences in secondary aspects like FOV, ergonomics, eyecup design, etc.

- In terms of flaws, I definitely see the edge softness of the ZR ED2 but it doesn't bother me since I don't spend time staring at the edge of the FOV. The sweet spot is plenty large in both for my uses. The Vipers have a narrower FOV, feeling a little more "tunnel like" compared to the more wide open, relaxing view of the ZR ED2, but are a bit sharper further out.

- The ZR was slightly better at controlling lateral color fringing (CA), but both were excellent. You'd have to work hard to induce CA on either bin, which wasn't true with the old EO Rangers especially towards the edge of the field.

- The ZR ED2 has an ever so slightly warmer color cast than the Vipers, but unless you were doing a critical A/B side-by-side comparison, you wouldn't see the difference. Both have a remarkably neutral, natural feel in terms of color / white balance.

- Now, the biggest problem with the ZR: the reviews of stray light / glare control being better on the Viper are accurate, the baffling or design or something must be a bit better in this regard because the tubes are nice and dark, no glare, haze or flare when gazing in the direction of the sun. I do see a faint, hazy crescent of glare on the bottom of the field with the ZR ED2 when looking in the general direction of bright sun. Charles assured me that these have the new baffling, and this appears to not be the same problem as with the initial ED2 runs, but it's there.

- That said, again, I still prefer the ZR view overall, and will probably just deal with the occasional glare/haze in tough conditions in deference to the plusses of the ZR -- the extra mag, wider FOV, and the wee bit more brightness/saturation overall that gives it a more relaxed, "3D" immersive view, as opposed to the slightly more "looking through a tube" view of the Viper. This is not to discount the view through the Viper, which again is superb, but the difference is clear in direct A/B comparison. I think both are so sharp at the center axis that, at this low mag, they are both beyond the limits of human vision to really discern.


Ergonomically:

- I will echo other reviews in that the build of the Viper is a small notch above the ZR. I like the softer, rubber armor of the Viper vs. the smoother, more plasticky armor on the ZR. Just feels more rugged. The ZR ED2 has more tension in the center hinge, so the barrels really stay at the same distance apart unless you try to move them, but I don't think anyone would really have a problem with the Vipers in this respect.

- The focus knob is better on the Viper, a little bit more buttery and precise, whereas the ZR's is a teensy bit looser with a bit of slop. Again, no surprise here as others report the same.

- I like the locking diopter system better on the Viper, although the tension on the ZR diopter is sufficient to prevent it from ever being knocked out accidentally so either system will get the job done. The eyecups are a bit nicer, with an extra click-stop and better detents to keep them in place... although, like Ilya's review, I never use the intermediate click-stops so it's sort of irrelevant to me.

- Overall, the Viper just has a slightly more precise, better machined, more rugged feel to it... but, as I keep reiterating, as with all the other differences this is slight stuff and the ZR build quality is just dandy for the price. But I would definitely give the Vipers the edge in ergonomics.

- Both have quality rainguard systems with similar designs, and neither would fall of accidentally. The objective covers are better on the Vipers, but part of this is inherent to the open bridge design of the ZR ED2 which places the hinge so close to the front of the tube. There just isn't a lot of room for the objective cover to slip onto the tube, so the "cup" isn't as deep as that of the Viper. In short, both systems work, but the covers on the ZR fall off more easily and you'd be more likely to lose the whole cover accidentally.

- In terms of weight, the Viper is a couple of ounces lighter but both felt fine in the hand, the different distribution of the open-bridge design on the ZR really makes them feel no heavier in hand.

- In terms of size, the Viper is considerably more compact; the ZR 7x36 is larger than my wife's 8x42 Monarchs, so as others have noted this is not a "true" compact bin, whereas the Vipers are much more compact. Ilya has a couple of nice photos showing the size difference in the linked review.


Conclusion:

I am almost certainly going to keep the Zen-Ray's for now and return the Vipers. As I've already mentioned, I love the wide, bright, saturated, and relaxed view of the ZR.

But the biggest factor is a final ergonomic issue that appears to be a deal killer for me: the 6x32 Vipers have TOO MUCH EYE RELIEF for me! In Ilya's review his friend found the same thing... but for whatever reason I keep getting "blackouts" on my left eye when I try to use the Vipers. I tend to jam the bins into my eye socket, not rest them on my eyebrows, and never had issue with the EO Rangers, Nikon Monarchs, or ZR ED2's when the eyecups are fully extended. But with the Vipers, I haven't been able to find a natural position that doesn't lead to annoying blackouts on my left eye.

I think I would prefer the 8x32 Vipers with their shorter eye relief and greater magnification... in fact, given my preference for the overall ergonomics of the Viper, if you took the 8x32 Viper and gave it a wider FOV like the ZR, it might be the perfect compact bin for me.

But as an every-day bin, I think I prefer a slightly longer tube of the larger ZR and the ZR feels really solid in my hands. I do love the open bridge design, like I said before it mitigates the greater weight due to the different distribution and is very comfortable to hold... if you could take the ZR ED2, and give it slightly better build quality (softer armor, better focus knob) and better glare control, it would be pretty darn perfect. As it is, either one is a phenomenal value.
 

mayoayo

Well-known member
The version 1 of the ZEN 7x36 was obviously(for 99% of users,I think)flawed by the glare issue..creating a distracting and intrusive source of stray light in the image that just ruined the beautiful view..the second version does a better job,but still has a bit of that ..I found,though,that the exit pupil was large enough for me to learn how to "ignore" glare totally,keeping the stray light outside my pupil ,while not loosing any FOV,by just adjusting the tilt..
 

eitanaltman

Well-known member
yeah, in actual daily use (now that I've had more time to take it out and look at birds) it doesn't bother me that much, but it is definitely there. Overall the view from the ZR ED2 7x36 is spectacular for the price, but not "perfect" because of the glare control. The soft edges don't really bother me one bit because I don't stare at the field stop, but the glare is more intrusive in "real world" use.

in contrast, the Viper has awesome glare control but the excessive eye relief is a bit of a deal killer for me. I don't want to have bins that I have to hold in a specific way to avoid blackouts in my left eye... as I read someone say somewhere else, minor annoyances when you first get a binocular are bound to become huge annoyances in the future.

it's a shame because, overall, I actually think I prefer the Viper. I like the more solid feel, the softer rubber armor, the superior focus knob, and I actually like the more compact size. And it doesn't seem to give up anything in terms of light gathering, brightness, etc. with the smaller objective.

one other niggle with the Viper for me though is that I get more of a "two circles" look, where I can see the edges of the two overlapping circles, as opposed to a "unified" image. I wonder if this is because of the shorter barrel??
 

eitanaltman

Well-known member
EDIT: on a side note, I made a comment above about IPD and my wife's small face... turns out she CANNOT get the barrels of the Viper close enough for her to use. It looks like the ZR has a few mm more room in terms of minimum IPD, so I would not recommend the Viper for people who have small faces.
 

eitanaltman

Well-known member
FOLLOW UP: I am actually going to return BOTH the 6x32 Viper and the 7x36 ZR ED2. Although the optics of both are superb to my eyes, some little annoyances got in the way of full enjoyment. Unlike some of the folks here who own 5-10 pairs of bins, I can only really afford one primary set right now, maybe two if I get a good deal, so it has to be something I can live with for nearly all circumstances.

I am also still torn personally as to whether I want a full-size (e.g. 8x42 class) or a compact as my primary glass. Anyway....

VORTEX VIPER: As noted above, the problem of too much eye relief was the deal killer. I really loved the build, ergonomics, and focus knob (moreso than the Zen) but the need to hold the bins in a specific way to avoid getting blackouts in my left eye was something that I didn't want to live with long term. I also think 6x is a little too low on the magnification for a primary bin. Too bad the 8x32 Vipers aren't really available anymore as they have shorter eye relief and higher mag.

ZEN-RAY 7x36 ED2: The deal killer for these is the glare; as noted above these should be the newer versions with update baffling, but darned if I couldn't see a veiled crescent of glare in the bottom 1/3 of the field nearly every time I looked for it. The final nail in the coffin was when I took them out in the late afternoon to do a little birding with fairly dim light... even in this non-extreme condition (the sun wasn't even visible) I was getting constant glare crescents.

Also on the Zen I wouldn't mind a few ergonomic improvements, better focus knob and better rubber armor... thus I am contemplating getting the 8x43 ED3 as it appears to have corrected some of the flaws that bother me about the ED2.

I also may try the 8x32 Fury's, although I am aware they are a step down optically from the Viper, they are dirt cheap right now and then I could possibly save up and get a full-size pair in a few months time and keep these as my car bins.

FrankD's review on the 8x32 Sightron also has me quite intrigued.
 
Last edited:

FrankD

Well-known member
FrankD's review on the 8x32 Sightron also has me quite intrigued.

I am glad you brought that up because I was going to suggest it after reading all of your comments on the other two bins. For $180 they will really surprise you optically and ergonomically.
 
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 Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
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