The New 2016 Zeiss Victory SF Binocular
New and original Zeiss Victory SF binoculars compared
|Old Zeiss Victory SF||New Zeiss Victory SF|
In a 2015 review for Bird Watcher's Digest, we compared the then-new Zeiss Victory SF binocular to other two top binoculars. Our top choice was the Zeiss Victory SF. (Read that complete review here.)
However, Zeiss has since improved on the orginal Victory SF binocular. In late 2016, Zeiss came out with a new version of the Victory SF. According to the manufacturer, the optics have not been changed at all, but there are several important differences in the external binocular.
Improved focus • Zeiss has re-engineered the focus. The new SF turns with perfect smoothness and uniform resistance. Picking up an old SF and then the new SF, we noticed that on the OLD Victory SF the mechanism does not have exactly the same degree of resistance throughout the entire focus range. In some spots it turns easier than in others. The new one is flawless in this regard. This is the most significant difference between the old and the new Victory SFs.
It's worth noting that the old as well as the new Zeiss Victory SF are covered by Zeiss's transferable lifetime warranty against manufacturer's defects AND a USA-and-Canada non-transferable 5-year "no-fault policy" that covers damage during normal and intended use, provided the binocular is registered within 60 days of purchase. That means that if the focus wheel were to develop a problem, Zeiss would fix it.
More click-stops in the eyecups • In the original SF, there were only three set positions for the eyecups, to accommodate users without glasses or with glasses of various shapes. There was a somewhat long distance between the twisted-down position and the first click stop. The new SF has four positions, including one that is close to the twisted-down position. This might be helpful to a person whose glasses or brow shape requires a very small amount of extra eye relief.
In both the old and the new version, the click stops are particularly nice, with soft locks to hold them in place.
New color • The original Zeiss Victory SF was gray with black trim. The new one is all black. The difference is useful for determining at a glance which model you're looking at. The texture of the coating may be slightly different in the new SF than in the old one. Michael thought the new one seemed a bit smoother than the old one. Diane couldn't really tell the difference. No big difference.
Our opinion of the old and the new SF
We like the new focus wheel and the extra click stop in the eyecups. Since Zeiss has not raised the price on the new version, we would take the new one over the old one if presented with the choice.
However, the original version has optics that are not in any way inferior to the new one. If you find a gray old-style SF deeply discounted, you have a chance to get premier optics at a significant savings. If you're concerned about possible problems that might develop, such as with the focus, Zeiss's 5-year no-fault warranty provides quite a measure of comfort.
What didn't change about the Victory SF binocular?
The following are features of the Victory SF that did not change with the new 2016 all-black models.
We tested the resolution of the Zeiss Victory SF binocular, using a T-21-RP USAF 1951 optical resolution chart. We compared its resolution to that of the Swarovski EL and the Leica Ultravid Plus. Comparing the same magnification of these top binoculars, we found that all three had superior resolution. After careful testing, we are satisfied that no manufacturer makes sharper binocular than the Zeiss Victory SF.
We focused the SF at the center of the field of view and then looked to see how sharp the image was at the edges. It was razor sharp both at the center and at the edges. When trying to see fine details, one automatically centers the bird in the field of view. So, one might ask, how important is sharpness at the edges, anyway?
Although it may not help you identify a bird, an image that is sharp clear to the edges increases the subjective experience of immersion. It adds realism. The effect is especially striking in a binocular with a wide field of view, like the Zeiss Victory SF.
Some birders have noted that field flattening technology can create distortion when you pan the binocular. Things seem to swell in the center, as if the image were wrapped around the surface of a sphere. Some high-end binoculars are prone to this particular kind of distortion, although the effect reportedly bothers only about 5% to 10% of users. Zeiss's field flattening technology was designed to minimize this rolling-ball effect. We did not see the rolling-ball effect at all when we panned with the Victory SF.
The brightness of a binocular is important to birders, especially if they like to go owling or want to watch woodcocks displaying at dawn. At sundown, we took the Victory SFs outside and watched the details on the resolution chart as the light diminished. Suffice it to say that these binoculars are very bright indeed. It is a stunning experience to use them in low light. When with the naked eye you can barely make out any detail, with Zeiss SF you can see your target again, as if someone had turned on the light.
How close you can focus a binocular depends in part on the focusing ability of your eyes, and this varies from person to person. Since the manufacturers' methods of measuring may also vary, we measured the close focus ourselves. In our testing the Zeiss focused as close as 5.4 feet, which is very close indeed.
At 1000 yards, you see a train, going left to right. How many cars can you see? Now substitute "feet" for "cars," and you'll understand what "field of view" means. A wide field of view helps when you're trying to locate a bird in the binocular.
Birders love a wide field of view. However, binoculars with a wide field of view usually have short eye relief, which is bad news for glasses wearers. To create an eyepiece with long eye relief and a wide field of view requires a sophisticated, expensive optical design.
So how does the Zeiss Victory SF do on this metric? At 1000 yards, the width of the image of the Zeiss 8x42 is 444 feet, the widest field of view of any of the high-end binoculars and significantly wider than the Swarovski EL or the Leica Ultravid Plus. In short, the Zeiss SF sets a new level of achievement in providing a wide field of view even for people who wear glasses.
Some people's eyes are very close together. Some people's eyes are very wide apart. Most adults find that all binoculars will accommodate the distance between their eyes, and this is a non-issue for them.
However, if your face is smaller than average or your eyes are close together, you might need a smaller minimum interpupillary distance than some binoculars provide. With a minimum IPD of 54 millimetes, Zeiss will fit closer-set eyes than any of the other top binoculars.
Many binoculars have hollows or ridges on the barrels to help locate your hands. Grasping the binoculars the same way each time reinforces the muscle memory you use to instinctively point the binoculars at the bird. You want your index finger to land easily on the focus knob, but you don't want the binocular's strap lugs to press against the web of your hands.
There are no ridges or indents on the barrels of the Zeiss SF. You can locate your hands wherever you want. The Zeiss's somewhat longer barrel length is a plus here. The extra space in the hollow of the bridge is good for people with large hands.
The bridge acts as a thumb guide. With three fingers in the bridge, one finger lands on the focus knob. With two fingers in the bridge, two fingers land on the focus knob, and your hand is still clear of the strap lugs. In either position, your focusing fingers remain in a natural, un-angled position. Someone put a lot of work into good ergonomics here.
The SF's focus knob is wide enough for gloves or focusing with two fingers. Its ergonomic finger placement makes it especially easy to use two fingers to walk along the knob. The SF's diopter adjustment is not part of the focus knob but has its own separate dial.
Focusing speed 20 ft to 250 yds • How many turns of the focusing knob it takes to move from close to far is an indication of how fast you can focus a binocular. We measured how many turns it took to go from 20 feet to 250 yards. We think that this range reflects much of a birder's experience in the field. We found the Zeiss SF covered the distance in 1/3 of a turn. It's fast focusing, but not so fast that one overshoots the point of focus.
Focusing speed 20 ft to close focus • We measured how many turns it took to go from 20 feet down to the closest the binocular would focus. We found the Zeiss took 1-1/2 turns to get to 5.4 feet. This again translates into speedy acquisition of your bird.
The Zeiss Victory SF is our top pick in a full-sized, 42mm binocular. This is not surprising, since Zeiss started from scratch and completely redesigned the SF with the express intention of creating a product that would beat the competition on as many metrics as possible.
SF Optics • The SF combines a huge field of view with edge-to-edge sharpness and long eye relief. The combination provides an exceptional experience of immersion in the image that works even if you wear glasses. The binocular seems to disappear, and all your attention is on the bird.
SF Ergonomics • The SF is an incredibly comfortable binocular. Its perfect balance makes it feel light. There's less small muscle activity needed to hold it up to your eyes, so you can observe longer without fatigue. SF stands for Smart Focus, and the new design allows the focus knob to be turned either with one or with two fingers without having to reach at an angle or feel the strap lugs poke your hand. You can focus from 20 feet to 250 yards with only 1/3 turn of the focus knob. That's one easy finger swipe.
Personal choice • We are keenly aware that picking a binocular is an intensely personal choice. No one else can tell you how well a binocular will fit your hands. It's always a good idea to try a binocular before you buy it. But if you're looking for a starting point or a bench mark, you could hardly do better than to start with a Zeiss Victory SF.
© 2016 Michael and Diane Porter
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