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Reviewed by Joe on 13/09/17
Let's face it, if you're reading this review you're probably fairly serious about binoculars. We all know that Zeiss, Swarovski and Leica are the 'alpha' brands and each of their respective 'alpha' binoculars are exceptional. I'm sure you want to know what's better, the Zeiss Victory SF, the Swarovski EL or the Leica Noctovid? Well, I can tell you now there is no definitive answer as binoculars are a very personal thing, but I am going to at least endeavour to offer my opinion here on the latest Zeiss Victory SF 8x42.
Your research this far has probably included all the specifications, of which, possibly the most eye catching is the field of view. A whopping 148m@1000m or 8.4°, the Victory SF 8x42 outclasses its competition. Put into practice, when you bring the SF up to your eyes, you're treated to an immersive view with detail retained right up to the very periphery thanks to the field flattening glass. Perhaps equally as impressive as the wide field of view is the light transmission - 92%. To achieve this figure without sacrificing the field flattening lens is undeniably impressive, as any extra layer of glass will reduce the light. This is where Zeiss' legendary T* anti-reflection coating comes in. Decades of perfecting this coating allows Zeiss to reduce light reflection to a minimum, meaning these Victory SF 8x42 binoculars with their 5.25mm exit pupil will keep performing even after the sun's gone down. Then we come to the 'Ultra FL' lens system - with fluoride lenses (a special, high quality sub category of ED) and Schott glass ultimately ensuring a crystal clear image with natural colours and little to no chromatic aberration. In use, all of these things add up to a binocular that is such a pleasure to look through. Looking towards the sun at the holly bush outside the shop on a September early afternoon, with the berries just beginning to turn from green to orange to red, the Victory SF handled the tricky light conditions beautifully, retaining excellent colour and contrast without any noticeable fringing. A single Swallow drifted into my view and although the wind was blowing it this way and that, following its movement wasn't difficult thanks to the wide field of view. Moving on to the feeders as half a dozen Blue Tits were joined by numerous Great Tits, House Sparrows and Goldfinches, once again the the wide (and flat) view meant I could keep to one spot and fit everything in. A pair of Large White butterflies fluttered on to the last of the flowering buddleia, offering me a perfect opportunity to test the accurately quoted 1.5m close focus. I had to squeeze the barrels closer together to get a comfortable view, but I was quickly on to one of the butterflies and was able to appreciate all the tiny details not noticeable with the naked eye.
As is to be expected from a binocular in this price range, the build quality of the latest Victory SF is exceptional. With improved eye-cups and smoother focussing compared to the older model, along with the new all-black design (as opposed to grey-black), the overall feel of of these bins is certainly 'alpha'. The triple-link bridge is left as exposed metal with both barrels covered in a smooth but well gripped rubber armouring. The lockable dioptre which sits on the top of the bridge pulls out with a soft yet resounding click and turns smoothly into position before pushing back in to lock. The 4 stage eye-cups (offering 18mm eye-relief) lock definitively at each stop and can be twisted all the way off which allows for more effective cleaning of the glass. Speaking of which, the exterior lenses are protected by Zeiss LotuTec® lens coating, designed to encourage water and dirt to fall off, eliminate glare and make the lens surface tougher. If you're wondering what 'SF' stands for, it's Smart Focus, meaning 1.8 turns from close focus to infinity as opposed to 2.5 turns. Once again we come back to binoculars being a personal choice, as this is not everyone's preference but does allow for quicker focussing. It's certainly beautifully smooth to focus and the wheel is positioned in a very natural position.
The Victory SF 8x42 is a tall binocular (173mm), marginally more so than a Swarovski EL, but at 780g is slightly lighter. In the hands, it's incredibly well balanced. Zeiss have managed to push more of the internal elements towards the top end of the binoculars and therefore the centre of gravity is closer to the eye. Ultimately, this makes them feel even lighter than they really are, meaning after hours of testing I didn't feel at all fatigued by them. Unlike the Swarovski, the Zeiss don't have thumb indents under the barrels. Have I mentioned personal preference already? It wouldn't sway my decision either way.
Supplied in a semi rigid carry case with its own strap, the Victory SF also come with a padded lanyard, rainguard, stay on lens caps and a cleaning cloth. This selection of accessories is typical for any binocular but the quality of the items is of course above those in a lower price bracket. The case is internally padded and provides enough space to fit the binoculars in with the lanyard attached (surprisingly not a common feat), with two zips and a magnetic clasp. The supplied lanyard is padded and provides plenty of comfort and when looped through the rainguard into the binoculars prevents you from losing it. The stay-on lens covers are also designed to attach to the lanyard loops on the barrels, on a thread with quick release clips should you wish to take them off, but this design essentially reduces the chance of losing your lens caps to a minimum; an innovative design which I haven't seen from other brands.
Optical quality: 10/10
Build quality: 9/10
Value for Money: 9/10
You have to be picky to find faults with the latest Zeiss Victory SF 8x42. An immersive wide picture with incredible colour, contrast and detail that personally I couldn't fault. A truly ergonomic design which is beautifully balanced in the hand but is still the best part of 800g, so perhaps a bit heavy for some. A silky smooth focus wheel to go from under 6 feet to infinity as quick as you like. 18mm eye-relief is very good but 2mm short of the Swarovski EL. Ultimately, it's as near as perfect as you can get from any binocular but none-the-less I implore you to 'try before you buy'.