Wednesday 3 April 2024

Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 - initial thoughts

If you read the tale of my binocular disaster, you may be interested to hear that a silver lining to that dark cloud rapidly came into focus. Our insurance paid out (thanks Axa) and with a bit of extra cash, I secured myself a pair of the new Zeiss Victory SFs, from Viking Optical

I was very happy with my Zeiss FLs, so I was keen to get my hands on the new SFs, having heard good things about them. Viking Optical provided excellent service, and, with next-day delivery, I was out birding with the SFs less than a week after obliterating my FLs! Not bad at all. 

So, what is my early opinion? Well, optically they are excellent: crisp, bright and with gorgeous colour rendition, resulting in a smile on my face each time I see a bird through them; I am a very happy birder! The general build quality is fantastic, as you would expect from Zeiss, with excellent, smooth focussing, a solid diopter arrangement and a straightforward strap attachment situation, unlike the fiddly wierdness of Swarovski. They arrived with a rather futuristic case, which I probably won't use - I'm not cool enough. They do fit into the old case from my FLs, so I will use that for now. I also rescued my old rainguard from my FLs, as although the SFs are supplied with one, I prefer the one-piece type, as I find they flick on and off more easily. The bins also came with objective lens covers, but they never left the box.

When I got them out of the box, the SFs seem really quite big, with long barrels. However, the open design, similar to the Swaro ELs reduces the weight considerably and the attention to balance means that they do not feel cumbersome or heavy whilst in use. My old FLs weighed in at 765g and my new SFs are 790g, an increase of only 3% or so, so barely noticeable. For those who don't like bins at the heavier end, consider getting a harness-type strap, or go for the 10 x 32s (590g) or perhaps the 10 x 40 SFLs which are 640g. The open bridge design looks a bit odd at first - I was never a massive fan of the appearance of the ELs - but they are actually very comfortable to use. I can hold the SFs with one hand, three fingers round the barrel and my index finger on the focus wheel, in a much more secure way than I could hold my FLs. As I spend a fair bit of time guiding on boats, this will be a real advantage, especially when the swell gets up! The focus is super smooth, with moderate resistance, giving it a lovely action and allowing precision use.

In terms of optics, I have not looked through a more fantastic pair of bins! The initial impression has a clear wow-factor and is an unexpected step up from my trusty FLs. The brightness, incredible field of view and sharpness of focus is just awesome. The depth of field seems impressive, so it is easy to focus the bins with very little rotation of the focussing wheel. This is really helpful when locking on to flying birds, or skulking birds deep in cover, where every split second counts, allowing me to focus in and identify the bird before it disappears. I spent ages just watching freshy arrived Sand Martins scudding around over Castle Howard lake the other day; it was such a joy to get such good views of them through the SFs and stay locked-in focus the whole time without any effort.

I haven't yet used the SFs in low-light, so I can't comment on their performance in those conditions, but the impression I get from how well they perform in murky, overcast weather, is that they will be fantastic. 

Another feature of these bins is the exceptional close focus. I can pretty much focus on my toes, which will give me a great ability to check out plants, insects and other nearby wildlife without having to step away. I chose my FLs partly for their close-focus ability, which seemed better than the equivalent Leica and Swarovski, and the SFs are even better, which is really pleasing. I am sure the 8s are even better! 

And now for the negatives...

One downside of these SFs, which has been reported by birding mates and also online, are the flimsy eyecups. As seems standard, the eyecups twist up or down and click into a number of positions, to give the birder their preferred eye-relief. I like to have mine at the first click up from the bottom. Within two uses, they barely register the clicks to allow them to be partially dropped and everytime I take the rainguard off, they move. Very frustrating! It is very peculiar that Zeiss have cocked-up their top level bins in this way. Everything else is excellent, but the eyecups are like something off a pair of budget-end bins -or worse! I had been warned about this, but was - perhaps too optimistically - hoping that Zeiss had sorted this out and new pairs were being supplied with improved eyecups. Apparently not!

With a bit of Googling, I found a message on Zeiss's website recognising the problem with the SF eyecups and after an email exchange, I am being sent a replacement pair of apparently more robust eyecups, from their UK repair contractor, the very helpful East Coast Binoculars. I will update how that goes once I receive and replace them - hopefully in the near future!

So, apart from the eyecup situation, I am very happy with my new bins and I suspect these will last me a very long time (providing I don't leave them on my car roof!.


(By the way, I am entirely independent of Zeiss, so this is my genuine opinion. I have a Swaro scope, Manfrotto tripod and previously had Zeiss FL bins, so I am not solely limited to Zeiss. Of course if any of these companies want to give me free gear to trial and review, just drop me a line!).


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