ZEISS VICTORY SF £2,129.99
Are Zeiss’s newest binoculars worthy of a £2k price-tag? We put them to the test
BACK IN THE early 2000s, I was invited along with former BW editor David Cromack and the Birdfair legend Tim Appleton to visit Zeiss in Germany. The company were after input on making its top range binoculars better. Partly as a result of our input (I like to think), the FL binoculars were developed, which later were called the Victory FLS. I have been birding with these bins for more than a decade. In fact, they are always with me. They’ve had the rubber armouring replaced, the eyecups swapped, but these workhorses are still delivering the goods. I feel naked and vulnerable without them. I forget I am wearing them and don’t think before using them, they are part of my birdwatching nature. So, how do the Victory SFS compare with binoculars which are second-nature to me? Firstly, let me point out that this testing session is the third time I have had a good go with the SFS. A few years ago I went to the initial launch event in Germany, Austria and Hungary and was using them all the time then. Again, last spring, I was in Poland with Zeiss, birding with these binoculars (and sneakily hoping I’d be lent a loan pair to take home). Each time, I have put aside my FLS for the SFS, I have found myself immediately forgetting my old friends. In many ways, they are similar binoculars, but just a bit (a noticeable bit at that) better! Like other brands of top modern binoculars, Zeiss have opted for an open bridge design, which looks stylish and feels natural and very comfortable. There are no unnecessary dimples to guide the thumb, just grippy, lightly textured rubber. They are not at all heavy, and with the excellent Zeiss strap, sitting so nicely on the chest I occasionally forgot I was wearing them and had to do a sneaky feel with my hand to make sure they were still there. They are a breeze to use, sitting well in the hand, so the thumb rests naturally on the generous two-finger rubber focus wheel. This wheel moves as smoothly as silk and takes you from about 1.5m close focus to infinity. Focusing is easy and precise, getting the bird in focus in an instant.
In the field
With my trusty FL pair, I am used to the easy, relaxing, sharp and natural image Zeiss bins can deliver. And I have never grumbled about brightness, especially as my pair are 7 x 42s. But with the SFS you get all of the natural look, but notably brighter (these are bright bins!), even crisper and seemingly even sharper. But resolution has got so good on the best binoculars, that this these slight differences are extremely hard to detect. They excel in field of view, which adds to the natural feel, in the field. In fact, they are not far off my Fls in field of view, even though they are 8x bins not 7x. I like this, as I love a nice open field, but the effect is wasted if the image is not sharp all the way across. Luckily, edge-to-edge sharpness is excellent with the SFS. I come back again to that word ‘natural’, which is about as big a compliment as you can give to the image of a pair of binoculars. The binoculars come with an excellent, elasticated strap, fine case, and the usual rain guards etc.
Choosing between the best of the best brands of binoculars has never been easy. These days, it is harder than ever, but the Zeiss SF is as good a pair of binoculars as I’ve had the pleasure of using. If you are in the market for a top-range binocular, put these on your short list.