The 54mm Victory HTs are some of the smallest and most portable ‘big-eye’ binoculars. They offer the tempting idea of one binocular to do everything, from birding through owling to full-on astronomy.
Zeiss Victory 10x54 HT Review
If I have learned anything in ten years of testing optical equipment it’s that less is more. I used to own numerous scopes, eyepieces and binoculars, but I’ve gradually whittled that over-sized collection down to a few premium items I use all the time. For me that means less overall investment, less clutter and better value.
So in theory I’d entertain the concept of just one pair of full-sized premium binos, for birding, nature viewing and astronomy (backed up by a super-compact pair for travelling and trekking), but which ones?
I would need the following boxes ticked:
· Big objectives (50mm +) and good light transmission for dusk use and astronomy.
· (Relatively) light weight and compact size for carrying.
· A sensible mid-range magnification for daytime ease-of use, but still enough for DSO-hunting at night.
· A wide field of view.
· High optical quality.
· High-fluoride glass optics for minimum chromatic aberration.
· Lots of eye relief so they’re comfortable to use with my specs on.
Given how much I liked my Zeiss 7x42 FLs, Zeiss’s latest Victory HT 10x54s look top contenders and could well tick all these boxes. Let’s see if they do.
At A Glance
16mm Claimed (18mm measured).
Actual Field of View
Apparent field of view
Data from Zeiss.
What’s in the Box?
In their latest premium packaging, Zeiss have created impressive instant wow-factor with a 2-part box that’s almost a display case:
Design and Build
Zeiss’s range has become a bit confusing of late. There are at least three separate premium models with different body styles. The older Victory FLs are still available in the smaller sizes, whilst Zeiss have introduced the new 42mm open-bridge SFs to compete with Swarovski’s ELs. Then there are these HTs, priced as a premium binocular like the SFs, but offering a brighter view with their brighter Abbe-König prisms (like the FLs and Dialyts). Unlike the SFs, the HTs are available in a 8x and 10x magnification, both at the conventional 42mm size and the larger 54mm tested here. Zeiss don’t currently offer higher-powers (12x or 15x) in their premium ranges.
Body and Ergonomics
Zeiss have gone for smaller-than-usual 54mm objectives for a reason. If you do the maths, 54mm objectives and 95%+ transmission (Zeiss’s claimed value for the HTs) should deliver the same amount of light as 56mm objectives with ~90% transmission (a figure typical for premium roof-prism binoculars). So in theory they should transmit as much light as, for example, Swarovski’s older 56mm SLCs, whilst being lighter and more compact. Indeed, the weight of these 10x54s is much more like a typical 10x50 at just over a kilo and they are shorter than most big-objective binos, too, at 193mm long.
So the Zeiss Victory 10x54s look and feel more like typical 50mm binoculars – lighter, shorter and more comfortable to hold than Swarovski’s old 15x56 SLC Neu, with a balance point closer to centre that brings the focuser more easily to hand. The 10x54 HTs have a short bridge design that allows you to hold near the focuser, or get your hand comfortably around those flared barrels for maximum stability.
External build quality is generally decent, but showier than the workmanlike Victory FLs. The bridge of the Victory HTs is metal, unlike the FLs, but the finish on that exposed metal isn’t quite as uniform as it is on the best.
The armour has a novel two-texture finish, with the heavier texture where your hands go. The armour is thicker than my Swarovski’s, but again finish is poorer with more noticeable seams. It’s a trivial point perhaps, but the shiny smooth section attracts finger-prints and nail-marks and I’m not sure I like the fussy styling of the two-texture armour, especially around the barrels.
Overall, design and ergonomics are first rate, but external build-quality isn’t as good as the best – a familiar theme with recent Zeiss binoculars.
Zeiss armour and body are thicker than Swarovski’s, objectives more deeply recessed.
Smooth armour really attracts dust and prints after a bit of use in the field.
The focuser is not as fast as some birding bino’s, taking 1 ¾ turns from stop to stop (compared to just one turn for the Victory FL’s). However, as we’ll see, it’s crucially fast enough to easily follow birds in flight and the feel is a little more fluid than the Victory FL’s focuser.
These Victory HTs focus close for a big-eye bino’, but they don’t merge the image perfectly at close range, leaving an impression of the two separate barrels. Swarovski’s 10x42 ELs, for example, gave a perfectly merged view at the same distance (about three metres). This may simply be down to the larger objective spacing, but it’s worth considering if you use binos as a long distance microscope for butterflies etc.
My biggest issue with the focusing mechanism, though, is the dioptre adjustment. On the Victory FLs, you pull out the focusing knob to adjust dioptre (see below). It’s light and fluid but avoids accidental movement: perfect! The Victory HTs have a thin, exposed dioptre knob opposite the focuser on the opposite side of the bridge. The knob is stiff to avoid accidental movement, but that makes it harder to adjust and less precise.
The focusing mechanism is similar to other premium greaseless focusers, if a little slower than some, but I much preferred the old Victory FL’s dioptre mechanism.
Zeiss Victorys: 10x54 HT and 7x42 FL. The FL’s focuser is faster, the HT’s smoother.
Separate dioptre knob is shared with new SFs.
Older Victory FL dioptre adjustment integrated with focuser.
10x54 HT objectives have Zeiss’s standard T* and Lotutec coatings.
Cut-away diagram shows the four-element HT objectives, five element eyepieces without field flattener and thin Abbe-König prisms.
Optics - prisms
Zeiss pioneered the Abbe-König prism in their old Dialyts. The good thing about this type of prism, compared to standard roofs, is that the light is bent around by total internal reflection (just like porros), with no mirror coatings required. This means Zeiss HTs, like the older FLs and Dialyts, simply transmit more light than even the best roofs. Zeiss quote 95% light transmission: that’s 5% more than say Swarovski’s ELs and so the view is noticeably brighter in the daytime.
Interestingly, Swarovski have gone for Abbe-König prisms on their latest big-eye binoculars, whilst Zeiss appear to have returned to roofs for their latest Victory SFs (which sure enough have a lower transmission value than these HTs)!
Optics - objectives
The Victory HTs have high-fluoride ED glass in the optics, like most premium bino’s these days. This is a good thing because it minimises chromatic aberration (false colour fringing) on high contrast parts of the view.
However, these HTs may have two ED glass elements in their objectives that contain a total of four lenses (a triplet objective plus focuser). It’s an arrangement they share with just a few other binoculars at present, including Kowa’s Genesis XDs and (possibly) Swarovski’s SLC HDs. It could/should give complete freedom of false colour at 10x magnification, but for some reason it doesn’t here, as we’ll see.
Zeiss’ T* coatings are among the very best for transmission and their pinkish hue gives a cool tone to the view that I like. The lenses are also coated with a hydrophobic coating called “Lotutec” that sheds water and dirt (they should work better in the rain).
Optics - eyepieces
The eyepieces again look exactly like those on my Victory FLs. They don’t sport the kind of huge, highly curved eye lens that you get on Swarovski’s latest ELs. The HTs’ eyepieces are a five-element design that crucially omit the field flattener found on Zeiss’ SFs.
Apparent field width at 63° is good, about the same as Swarovski’s 10x50 ELs and a few degrees more than the 10x56 SLCs; but given the Victory HTs’ lack of field flatteners, the usable field is effectively much less.
Eye relief is huge: Zeiss claim 16mm, but I measured 18mm plus. That’s more than the ELs’ have in practice (though not according to the specs – those variable millimetres again) and make the whole field comfortable with specs. Even better, Zeiss have designed in low levels of spherical aberration of the exit pupil too; that means less blackouts as you move your eye around.
For specs’ wearers, eyepiece comfort is state-of-the-art and a big bonus point for these 10x54 HTs.
All that eye relief does mean you need lots of adjustment in the eye-cups and these have three out positions with enough travel to accommodate the large eye relief.
Eye-cups have three extended positions, lots of travel, to accommodate the long eye-relief.
The 10x54 HTs come with all the usual accessories: case, strap and caps.
The eyepiece caps are not the push-over stay-on type that the older Victory FLs had. Instead they push into the lens housing and stay on by a little lanyard that attaches to the strap lugs. They work well, though.
The case is basically the same Cordura item that came with the old FLs, except that the flap is now brown faux-leather. As before, it looks cheap and has flimsy fittings compared to the latest Swarovski EL case.
The strap is the usual Zeiss item, but I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t wear as well as Swarovski’s, tending to fray more.
Objective caps push-in and secure with lanyard.
Zeiss and Swarovski cases. The Swaro’ case is much more refined.
In Use – Daytime
The 10x54 HTs are easy to hold, even for small hands. Ergonomics are first-rate.
The modest size and weight, big focuser wheel and good balance, along with the nicely flared barrels make these very comfortable to use.
The large, soft-rubber coated focusing knob falls perfectly under my fingers. It’s light and smooth in action too and feels fluid and precise – up with the best greaseless focusers I’ve tried recently. Initially, the focuser on this pair was noisy, making a rustling squeaky noise. This soon quietened down with use.
The focuser isn’t a fast as some, but still plenty fast and accurate enough to cope with birds on the wing.
Yes, of course the big-eye HTs are larger and heavier than your typical birding binocular, but they aren’t the unwieldy monsters that many big-objective binos are. They don’t look ridiculous hanging around your neck either, though compared with 10x42s you would really notice the extra weight after an hour or two carrying them.
Zeiss’s compact 10x54 HTs don’t look or feel like typical big-eye binos.
Novice binocular users often expect big-eye binoculars to have a wide bright view; usually they are sorely disappointed. In bright daylight, your contracted pupil stops down the objective, so big lenses don’t give a brighter view. What’s more, bigger objectives mean worse aberrations for a given optical design. I’ve tested several pairs of big-eye bino’s with a dim and soft daytime view as the result. Even the non-HD Swarovski 15x56 SLCs were a bit dim in daytime use.
The Zeiss 10x54 HTs really turn that idea on its head: the daytime view is super-bright and quite wide. On axis, the view is sharp and detailed, similar to a pair of premium 10x42s. What’s more, comfort at the eyepiece is excellent due to the large eye relief and well-supressed blackouts.
So, for big-eye binos, these were a revelation in terms of the view, at least before Swarovski brought out the SLC HDs. The effect is not subtle: my daughter immediately commented on how much nicer the daytime view was than the original 56mm SLCs’.
There are some downsides, though. The view is surrounded by a bright ring. This doesn’t detract from the view itself, but was slightly distracting. Then there is the issue of what happens to the view off axis ...
Centre field the optics are very sharp and they snap to focus perfectly, so general optical quality is clearly high. However, if you are used to binoculars with field-flatteners like Swarovski’s latest ELs and NL Pures (and even SLC HDs), you will notice a lot of off-axis field curvature.
The view starts to distort from about 50% field width, getting progressively worse to the field stop, where the view is poor. It is true that some curvature and distortion makes panning more comfortable, due to the absence of a ‘rolling ball’ effect that can make some nauseous when panning flat-field bino’s. But here the off-axis view is too blurred for my tastes.
I have started to find the field curvature on my Victory FL 7x42’s troublesome since owning a pair of Swaro ELs, but the higher power and narrower field of the 10x54s makes it seem even worse. Even my old pre-HD Swarovski 15x56 SLCs had a much flatter field than these. Interestingly, the latest Zeiss birding bino’ – the Victory SF - does have field flatteners, so it seems that Zeiss may be changing their approach.
Does this field curvature spoil things? Before field flatteners were common, it might not have done, but these days it does, for me at least.
Considering those twin-ED objectives, chromatic aberration should be virtually absent. In fact, the 10x54 HTs do suffer from modest false colour, even on axis. I can still enjoy a large flock of Goldfinches in the trees across the road, without flare and false colour spoiling their plumage. But the jet-black plumage of crows, in flight or in high branches, is compromised by green and purple fringing. Likewise, panning through winter branches flashes false colour, especially from the outer parts of the field.
False colour correction just isn’t as good as it should be for a modern HD design.
In Use – Dusk
With 95% transmission optics, 54mm objectives and a 5.4mm exit pupil you would expect the 10x54 HTs to have outstanding dusk performance and they do. These allow you to pull detail out of shadows that have already become black and featureless as night draws in. Looking at the copse across the way, the ground under the trees still looks like daytime when all is impenetrable darkness with my naked eyes.
The high optical quality and accurate focuser make focusing in low light much easier than with lesser binos where it can be a real problem.
A bright dusk sky causes problems for some binoculars, flooding the objectives with light and washing out the view. The 10x54 HTs have deeply recessed objectives and don’t suffer from this issue.
If you like hunting, birding or nature viewing in very low light conditions, or even something more specialist like owling, these are a very fine binocular. For older eyes, they may work better than a specialist dusk binocular, like an 8x56, which has a larger exit pupil than many older eyes can manage.
In Use – The Night Sky
Testing the 10x54 HTs on a frosty December night with Christmas lights invading my darkness!
The characteristics that work in dusk should make the 10x54 HTs ideal for astronomy. Indeed, they are bright and have a deep reach, showing lots of dimmer stars. Stray light performance is exceptional, so working around streetlamps isn’t a problem and the superb optical quality means stars are tight and sharp with minimal flare.
But there is a problem. Those off-axis aberrations – noticeable but not ruinous by day – are much more intrusive on the night sky. The focal surface is curved, but the big problem is astigmatism that distorts stars progressively from about 50% field width and is very noticeable by 60-70%. Near the field-stop, this smearing of starlight makes fainter stars disappear, giving a tunnel-like effect that spoils the view of star fields for me.
Ideally I prefer 12x or more for detailed views of the Moon, but even so these Victory HTs deliver a near perfect view of the Moon: hard, sharp and full of detail. What’s more, even a bright Moon produces only the slightest trace of ghosting in-field and they also suppress stray light well when working around the Moon (or streetlights) too: just an occasional dim ghost is visible.
Chromatic aberration isn’t a problem on a bright Moon in the way it is with older, pre-HD binoculars, but there is a trace of violet and purple around the limb that isn’t there with the best.
I got a wonderful view of a 4-day crescent through these in the twilight sky of Christmas evening, with Mare Criseum starkly shadowed on the terminator. A few days later and Theophilus and Catherina were easy to make out on the terminator, whilst the Earthlit old Moon was still easy to make out. All in all, the Victory 10x54 HTs deliver a good binocular view of Luna.
Jupiter often causes problems for prismatic optics, so much so that testers sometimes talk about ‘the Jupiter test’: mediocre optics turn Jupiter’s tiny bright disk into a flared or spiky mess. In contrast, the 10x54 HTs produce a perfectly clean view of Jupiter free from any flare. I could easily make out all four Galilean satellites lined up on one side of the planet: tiny points of different brightness perfectly separated by black space.
I generally prefer a bit more than 10x magnification for finding and viewing smaller deep sky objects. Nonetheless, those big lenses and high-transmission optics give very bright deep-sky views, whilst the larger field and steadier view make them easier to use than say 15x56s.
The string of open clusters in Auriga were bright and easily resolved into stars in a way smaller objectives don’t manage. M38 showed its characteristic cross-shape to good effect. The Pleiades looked bright and sparkling and the double cluster much brighter and more populous than through 10x42s.
The Great Nebula in Orion looked bright and detailed, with a sense of the extending arms of nebulosity, but less so than with higher powers.
The view of M31 was especially good, with lots of field width to fit the whole galaxy in, but plenty of brightness to deliver a hint of the dark-lane cut-off on one side.
One thing to note is that the relatively low power doesn’t supress sky glow (and Moonlight) as well as higher powers. With a low first quarter Moon in a frosty sky, I struggled to find the Dumbbell Nebula; it took a few seconds with my 15x56s.
But again, the main problem is that off-axis astigmatism that spoils these for sweeping dark starry skies.
Zeiss 10x54 HT vs Swarovski 15x56 SLC Neu (non-HD)
Swarovski 15x56 SLCs and Zeiss 10x54 HTs.
I’ve made a number of comparisons with the pre-HD SLC 15x56s throughout this test; I’ll summarise them here. The SLCs are more of a one-trick pony than the Zeiss: weight aside, you’d happily use the impressively multi-purpose Zeiss 10x54 HTs for birding (as well as dusk nature viewing, spotting and astronomy too), whereas the 15x56 SLCs are too slow to focus, too jiggly and too dim for birding. And yet …
Overall, I still prefer the Swarovski 15x56 SLCs for hand-held astronomy. Their higher magnification, flatter field and equally good (perhaps even better) optical quality delivers much more involving views of most deep sky objects (and the Moon too).
Note: I have since tested the newer HD version of Swarovski’s SLCs in both 10x56 and 15x56 sizes. Both are a much more pleasant to use than the older versions during the day and perform as well as or better than these Zeiss 10x54 HTs in most areas and are a similar size and weight.
In some ways, the Zeiss 10x54 HTs are excellent binoculars with class-leading features. Daytime brightness, handling and eyepiece comfort are all outstanding. Centre-field resolution and stray light suppression are good too. On axis, the daytime view is similar to premium 10x42s, but of course the 10x54 HTs work much better in low light. However, they suffer from two significant flaws: too much off-axis blurring and false colour.
The Zeiss 10x54 HTs were the first big-eye bino’s to close the gap with smaller premium birding binocular in terms of view and handling, moving the big-eye bino experience forward a step in doing so. However, I now prefer Swarovski’s 10x56 SLC HDs or smaller 10x50 ELs overall for daytime use.
Sadly, I just couldn’t recommend these for astronomy because of the distorted stars off-axis. For casual use on the night sky, they do work well, but if you want binos specifically for astronomy, I would strongly suggest ones with a flatter field like Swarovski’s 56mm SLC HDs.
Zeiss’ 10x54 HTs are comfortable to use and offer supreme brightness, but off-axis blurring and false colour mar the view by day. At night, distorted stars across half the field width compromise them for astronomy, despite excellent on-axis deep sky performance.
Buy Zeiss 10x54 HT from Wex here: