It’s good to see the world through nice, clean, modern glass windows, and it therefore stands to reason a nice pair of binoculars are a pleasure to look through for all the same reasons.
Now at the top end of the market, you’re not going to get a huge amount of change from £1500 for a pair and this may be too rich for many peoples budgets. But just suppose you’re thinking of making the leap or upgrading, let me give you a little insight into how this expense can be justified.
Firstly forget the snobbery and the ‘badge’ that wearing a pair of nice ‘nockers’ around your neck might represent. It doesn’t. Real birders are less about stuff and more about knowledge and experience. Having said that the more money you invest in your field optics the better your birding experiences (or whatever use you have for them) will be.
Although for any outlay over and above £500 you will notice you will pay a lot more for tiny improvements in the quality of the experience. Will you notice these improvements if you only get your bins out once a month when the weather's nice? Probably not.
For me, I use my binoculars every single day and on some days (when working on Ring Ouzel on Dartmoor for example) they will often be pressed to my face for a good 5-6 hours at a time - sometimes almost without a break. Similarly I will often be using mine at the top and tail of the day, when light is dimpsy.
So various considerations need to be weighed up, I want light-weight - as they’ll be around my neck all day, they need to be bright and clear and above all I need to not have to worry about them - they need to be life proof.
Over the years I’ve used several different types of binocular and more recently I’ve returned to the brand that started it all (my very first pair of Zeiss binoculars were the old Dialyts which I purchased for a couple of hundred nicker off my barber back in the 90’s). Now these were (and still are, assuming my ex-girlfriend is telling the truth and she hasn’t sold them) very good binoculars - but Zeiss has come on leaps and bounds since and my current pair are as near as I have found to perfect…
The binoculars that I’m putting on the pedestal are my very fine Victory HT’s. I personally use the 8x42’s - a specification which have always been the perfect compromise between weight, stability and brightness for me.
Now, binoculars are a personal thing - what works for someone will not necessarily work for someone else but I have to say for me these are the best - I find them easy and comfortable to hold.
Thanks to the unique design which is somewhere between a closed bridge and open bridge design - I believe something that Zeiss call a high bridge - and because of the lack of pointless ergonomic design features found in some other brands, your fingers can fall wherever they like. There is no design feature forcing them into a position you simply might not find comfortable. The grip is further enhanced by the armour, this ensures the barrels are not circular in cross-section - they have two subtle ridges that run down the outer length of the barrels. If you form your fist into a grip, these ridges coincide with the creases in your bent fingers and thumb - perfectly flexible ergonomics no matter how far apart the barrels are, or indeed what angle you’re holding them, the grips fall into place.
I could wax lyrical about all the technical aspects of these binoculars, the Abbe-König prism system, The Carl Zeiss T* multi-layer coating system and the FL concept until someone brings out a better pair of binoculars (which will be a long time hence and they’ll probably be made by Zeiss anyway). However, let’s get down to the features which are directly relevant (and understandable) to the users' experience.
Zeiss claim these are the brightest binocular on the market and they are - thanks to a host of processes that’ll only boggle the mind of a naturalist and are beyond most of us anyhow.
Suffice to say the German dwarves and the fairies that are employed by Zeiss’ sister company Schott to hand grind, polish and coat have gone that little bit further and somehow managed to squeeze the most light transmission out of these lenses. How we can only guess; special fairy dust?
However the result is staggering. The amount of light lost as it passes through the glass from your subject to your eye has traditionally been a bit of a hurdle to overcome if you’re in the business of making binoculars. Zeiss led the way, back in 1965 with the release of the Dialyt.
But with that wonderfully Germanic ethos, they had to keep on improving on what would seem un-improvable. The Schott High Transmission glass (that's where the HT comes from in the name) is the result. Achieving a 95% transmission, they really are the brightest binoculars in their class and if you spend enough time, peering off into the twilight for that first glimpse of a Woodcock, Pine Marten or Badger, then you’ll see what I mean. I’ve done direct comparisons with other top end brands under the same conditions and the difference is most definitely noticeable.
While I’m on the subject of the glass - I like this bit. The objective and ocular glass pieces have a LotuTec® protective coating, which is a microscopic coating that was inspired by nature. A branch of science and engineering known as Biomimetics means we tap into mother nature's very own R&D department to see how she deals with problems. In this case the leaves and flowers of the Lotus plant - they bead water and as it rolls off it takes dirt and grime with it, leaving the leaf unhindered access to the sunshine. This technology has been used in other applications which require light to get through, including self cleaning glass often used in skyscraper windows and, it seems, now binoculars.
The coatings seem to work well enough. Don’t expect miracles, you’ll still get rain on your lenses. But when I’m working in squalls and rainstorms here on Dartmoor, rain doesn’t stop play. I can still use them and if I do get some heavy droplets hindering and blurring my view, a quick shake or cautious wipe with a finger or chamois cloth and all’s well again. The coating also makes rinsing off and cleaning much easier. After a good dousing in salt water on a recent trip to Belize - I simply wore them into the shower with me (it’s a disturbing image I know) and stuck them on a towel to drain and to be honest with you, I forgot to polish and buff the lenses before using the next day as they were perfectly clean and smear free.
The Comfort-Focus-concept. The focus wheel itself is a large and chunky thing, set in the double-link bridge. Hold the binoculars in one hand or two and at least a couple of your fingers will naturally fall onto the wheel and because it is large, it doesn’t require much turning to go from closest focus to infinity - around 1.8 turns to be precise. The point of this is it’s very easy and precise and quick to get your focus sharp. Also the diopter adjustment is by a stiff wheel that is completely separate to the focus and therefore cannot be accidentally knocked.
The eye-cups I like a lot. Now I’m always dropping my binoculars. Part of my job requires frequently taking them on and off (often to satisfy the working requirements of sound men, who need to pin things to the inside of my clothing) and this has been when mishaps occur. With previous brands I have found the eye-cups to be the weakest link - I’ve split them, I’ve lost the little ball bearings and I’ve jammed up the railings with dust and sand. But in all honesty I’ve had no problems at all with my HT’s in nearly two years of use. I swap regularly between contact lenses and glasses and so having functioning eye-cups is essential. Occasionally they get a little stiff in their twisty races. in which case I simply unscrew them fully, pull them out, give the whole lot a wash and gentle brush under running water, dry and re-assemble. Neat.
Now there is a little thing, that I only know about because the nice people at Zeiss pointed it out - and of course once I knew about it I had to have it! At the objective end of the binoculars you’ll notice s thread, this is designed so you can, if you’ve got a suitable adapter ring, add a 52mm filter. The bad news is these filter adapter rings are like hens teeth, but if you spend a lot of time fish twitching, whale, dolphin or shark watching or indeed staring at landscapes covered by shiny stone for hours at a time a polarising filter attached to this end of your binoculars can be very useful indeed as it removes the surface glare and is the closest thing to x-ray vision you’ll ever get in a binocular. Just remember to unscrew them when you’ve finished otherwise the world can seem very dark!
So what about the negatives? Other than the price, which you can’t get away from - that old adage 'you get what you pay for' is very true - and in this instance you’re buying a pair of optical accessories that will be a pleasure to have pressed to your face for the rest of your life!
Well the only slight niggle I’ve had, occurred after a severe bit of binocular bashing. I had been abusing them in the searing heat of the tropics, after a thorough dousing in saltwater and then a baking on the deck of a boat, the focussing stopped working. I admit I did panic a little, I felt naked without them.
But after an hour in the cool shade, they sprung to life again, as if nothing had happened. I spoke to the gurus of optical loveliness at Zeiss, who assured me this was very rare and had something to do with lubrication, and they would happily sort it for me. Since they’ve been fine since and I use mine everyday, I’ve not felt the need to send them in as yet.
The only other minor gripe is eye-cups - now I don’t use a case, and for the most part they’re around my neck or hanging from a nail on my kitchen wall, ready to be grabbed in an instant if an interesting bird turns up on my feeders. But when I travel, I just throw them in my bag. They can easily take it, these are tough and worry free extensions of my own body so I have no worries. The only delicate thing (and this is an assumption, they’ve not developed any dings or scratches with my daily use over 2 years) are the external glass surfaces. The ocular glass is protected adequately by the ‘crumb guard’ that also keeps the rain off, but the objectives are naked, they came with caps but these very quickly snapped off their ring which went around the barrel. It’s not a biggy, but it would be nice to get right, I can’t be the only one, can I?
So all in all, I think you’ll find these binoculars very difficult to beat, they are not the most expensive on the market, but they are the brightest if not the very best. They are probably the most advanced binoculars money can buy and probably cannot be bettered although I’ve heard they’ve tried with what Zeiss are calling the ultimate Birders, binocular - the much lighter SF. Unfortunately, I’ve not held a pair yet (I missed the British Birdwatching Fair this year where they were launched) but watch this space.
Size: 160x128 mm
Weight: 785 g
Field of view: 136 m at 1,000 m
Close focus: 1.9 m
Guarantee: 10 years
Information believed to be correct at time of publication October 2014.