Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions
16 November 2020
Arkadiusz Olech

1. First impressions

When it comes to production of 8×30/8×32 binoculars the Zeiss company has had many years of experience under their belt. Every fan of binoculars has heard of such models as the Deltrintem 8×30, launched as early as 1920, or the Dialyt 8×30 which, in many variations, reigned on the market from 1964 to the beginning of the 21st century.

Lately Zeiss have started to rebuild lines of their binoculars in a quite decisive manner and that trend also includes the 8×32 class. In 2004 they stopped production of the Zeiss Dialyt 8×30 B/GA T* ClassicC and, at the same time, they launched the cheaper Zeiss Conquest 8×30 T* along with the flagship Zeiss Victory FL T* 8×32. The Conquest 8×30 was produced untill 2012 and it was superseded by a much better successor, the Conquest HD 8×32, available on the market up to now.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

The flagship 32 mm instruments had to wait for a successor a bit longer – in March 2020 Zeiss announced the launch of the Victory SF 8×32 and the 10×32 models. Their wide fields of view were really impressive, amounting to, respectively, 8.8 and 7.4 degrees, and the eye relief of 19 mm was also very comfortable. Still, those instruments are quite huge for the 32 mm class (their length could reach even 15 cm), and not especially light (weiging 590-600 grams) – in the following chart you can find basic parameters of new models put together with parameters of their predecessors. You can notice that almost everything was improved in the new models but the previous FL instruments were really small and lightweight.

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New binoculars were supposed to hit the shelves during holidays and we thought we would be able to test them very soon. Unfortunately the outbreak of coronavirus thwarted our plans. Ever since a big part of Zeiss employees have been working remotely, the plants have had limited processing capabilities, and the supply of goods have been delayed. As a result we got the Zeiss Victory SF 8×32 for our tests in November instead of May or June. As the coronavirust remains active and is still thwarting many plans we don't know how long it will take us to conduct the full test of this pair of binoculars. However, after handling it, we've decided to share our first impressions.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

Any flagship, top-of-the-range product should include the best solutions and technologies available at a given company. Accordingly, in the objective lens of the Zeiss you can find Schott fluorite glass that is supposed to ensure excellent correction of chromatic aberration. Still, the construction of the objective is simplified compared to that of the Victory FL series, and includes two thin elements so the centre of gravity is moved toward the optically complex eyepiece. It is supposed to provide a stable grip and less susceptibility to vibrations.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

A wide, well-corrected field of view and a comfortable eye relief, amounting to as much as 19 mm, were obtained mainly due to a complex optical construction of the eyepiece. The Zeiss diagrams show that behind the Schmidt-Pechan prism system you can find as many as six groups of elements, with as many as seven or even eight elements overall.

All air-to-glass surfaces are covered by anti-reflection Zeiss T* coatings. The Schmidt-Pechan prisms are also dielectric and phase-correction coated. The outer elements are protected by hydrophobic LotuTec layers.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

The whole optics is closed in a nitrogen-purged, waterproof casing (400 mbar pressure) that allows you to use the binoculars in temperatures ranging from -30 to +63 degrees C.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

As it befits a flagship series the producers also took proper care of the stylish box and additional accessories.The Victory SF 32 mm comes with a black carry pouch, a bit different than cases of the SF 8×42 and the SF 10×42 models – it is smaller, softer, and its shape is much more rectangular. Apart from that in the box you can find a contoured, neoprene lanyard, objective caps, a rainguard, and a cleaning kit.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions
The cases for Zeiss SF 8×32 and SF 8×42 binoculars.

The rubber armour, covering the body of the binoculars, is black but without any noticeable texture; still the instrument sticks to your hands very well and, overall, is very comfortable to handle and to look through. Rubber isn't loose in any place and the rubberized eyecups twist up, with four available positions.

Focusing is done through a significant central wheel which is positioned almost perfectly below your index finger. The wheel is covered by rubber ribs, it moves smoothly and is well damped. Running through the whole working range (so from the declared 1.95 meters to infinity) needs a turn through an angle of about 580 degrees. It is a sensible value, quite typical for this class of parameters. Dioptre correction is done by turning a smaller wheel, positioned in the middle of the instrument, separated from the main focus wheel by the proximal bridge. It performs exceedingly well – all operations are kept inside the casing, nothing moves on the outside, the construction remains completely sealed.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

One glance inside the tubes shows that they aren't perfectly blackened. The edges of the cell with the focusing element and the casing of the prisms are matt and gray, reflecting a significant amount of light from the torch when you illuminate the interior. The same can be said about the screw and a track keeping the focusing element cell mechanism in place. What's more, you can notice distinct reflections from the narrow ring which joins two parts of the casing right next to the prism cell. To be honest I didn't expect such a view. A top-of-the-range instrument should be blackened in a perfect way – here the situation leaves a lot to be desired.

The cleanliness is also far from perfect. In both tubes I notices some specks of dust on the prisms; what's more, torch light reveals that the roof prism has a shiny edge. Once again we didn't expect such a problem as it is something a good quality piece of equipment should be free of.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

Coatings on objectives are characteristically pink, typical for the Zeiss T* coatings, turning momentarily orange and/or purple. Similar reflections can be observed on the prisms. From the side of eyepieces pink dominates with slightly purple and yellowish-orange reflections. The intensity of the coatings is low.

Now the time has come to describe our impressions after using the Zeiss Victory SF 8×32. Let's start with daytime observations.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions
Zeiss Victory SF 8×42 and Zeiss Victory SF 8×32.

The wide field of view is indeed noticeable and quite impressive. Despite its size the diaphragm is sharp, nicely isolated, without any distinct coloration. What's important, you can't notice the flaw we complained about during the tests of first Zeiss SF 42 mm models. They features bright reflections right behind the diaphragm and the new instrument is completely free of that effect.

Zeiss and Swarovski, their biggest rival, correct optics in quite different way. The binoculars from Austria provide a very flat field which is almost perfectly sharp till its edges. You have to pay for it, though, with weaker correction of chromatic aberration which in many Swarovski models makes itself felt rather keenly near the end of the field of view. The Zeiss Victory SF 8×32 corrects chromatic aberration ideally in the field centre and it is barely visible on the very edge. It is an excellent performance – few other pairs of binoculars deal with chromatic aberration so well. The price? A bit weaker correction of sharpness on the edges of the field. The effect is not especially pronounced, you can sitll notice many details there but the decrease of image quality in last 5-10% of the field surface makes itself felt. With such a wide field of view, almost completely devoid of chromatic aberration, it still remains a very good result.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions
Zeiss Victory SF 8×32, Zeiss Victory SF 8×42 and Zeiss Victory HT 8×54.

Distortion is visible but, fortunately, not especially high, never producing significant rolling ball effect. Images are properly contrasted, their colouring – quite neutral. If you take a closer look, though, you can notice slight greenish hue without any problems – also a characteristic trait of Zeiss binoculars

Exit pupils are positioned against a very dark background. Everything looks fine from this side but the shape of pupils is not exactly what we expect from a top-of-the-range instrument. They aren't round but truncated from one side. It is strange because the binoculars are not so small for the 32 mm class so the producers should have made sure there are no traces of mechanical vignetting.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

After daytime tests we wanted to check how the binoculars perform at night. Point-like images of stars are one of the most demanding tests for optics, as they emphasize all possible flaws as clear as day.

In main categories the Zeiss fared very well. Astigmatism is corrected sensationally well – stars in the centre of the field of view are almost ideally point-like, without even traces of sparking. After a slight defocusing they keep a circular shape. Coma on the very edge of the wide field is low, appearing only near 3/4 of the field of view radius. What's interesting, it doesn't increase gradually but first it goes up, then it keeps the same, rather low level, and finally it decreases.

Brightness loss on the very edge of the field is visible but not especially high. With such a wide field it is an effect not only understandable but also acceptable, especially as it doesn't cause any discomfort during observations.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

We looked at bright lampposts and we were in for a surprise. The SF 8×32 performed better than the SF 8×42, especially when it comes to image contrast and ghosting. Still in the category of spikes the smaller binoculars were completely defeated. The edge of the roof prism we noticed when looking inside with a torch also contributed to that – spikes are really pronounced and the SF 8×32 really fares weaker than the bigger Zeiss models (the SF 8×42 and the HT 8×54) and other binoculars we compared it with (the Swarovski CL Companion 8×30, the Swarovski EL 8.5×42, the Leica Trinovid 8×42 BN).

To sum up we are really pleased Zeiss enlarged their SF series, adding 32 mm models, especially that these pairs of binoculars practically set new standards, parameters-wise, in this class of equipment. They offer you an enormous field of view joined with a comfortable eye relief. It's worth reminding here that the 8×32 class binoculars rarely come with a field of view wider than 8.5 degrees and if they manage that trick it usually means a shorter eye relief. It's enough we mention here the much-praised and well-liked Nikon 8×30 EII which field of view is exactly the same as the field of view of the Zeiss Victory SF 8×32 but its eye relief is by over 5 mm shorter. For people wearing glasses such a difference might be crucial.

Zeiss Victory SF 8x32 – first impressions - First impressions

The wide field of the Zeiss Victory SF 8×32 was sensationally corrected when it comes to chromatic aberration and astigmatism. You can't complain about coma, distortion, brightness loss or sharpness on the edge either. Still some slip-ups are strange for a premium piece of equipment that costs 2000 Euro. The blackening inside the tubes should have been better, exit pupils should have been perfectly round and also distinct spikes coming out of bright lampposts at night shouldn't have happened at all.

The Swarovski EL 8×32 is going to be the direct rival of the Zeiss and so far the new SF binoculars are not without advantages. The main advantage is of course its field of view, wider by as much as 0.8 of a degree. That field is also better corrected when it comes to chromatic aberration. The question is how long this advantage will hold. This year Swarovski presented NL Pure 42 mm models with really record-breaking fields of view. I suppose soon enough we will be shown some novelties in the 32 mm class as well. I am really curious how they will compare with the Zeiss. Of course you should keep in mind that the new Swarovski binoculars haven't been available yet and nobody can tell when they will be launched whereas the Zeiss is already available and, if you spend as much as 2000 Euro, you can enjoy its superior image quality and a very wide field of view without any delay.

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