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The 10x32 Conquest HDs are Zeiss’ smallest and cheapest European 10x model, competing on price with much less prestigious brands. Can they deliver?

Zeiss 10x32 Conquest HD Review

The 8x32 Conquest HDs are a recent best buy and one of my all-time favourites: great in almost every way and for a modest price, they lose to the SFs in terms of field width and absolute perfection in the view and hold, but actually beat them in ease of view and eyepiece comfort.

Here I investigate the 10x32 Conquest HDs to see if they are similar to the 8x32, or if (like the SFs) they are actually a very different binocular to the lower-powered model.

At A Glance

Magnification

10x

Objective Size

32mm

Eye Relief

15-16mm measured

Actual Field of View

6.9° (118m/1000m)

Apparent field of view

~63°

Close focus

~1.2m measured

Transmissivity

90%

Length

132mm

Weight

625g measured

Data from Zeiss/Me.

What’s in the Box?

The Conquest range all share the same the glossy, fold-out presentation box with an arty wildlife photo. No cut-price packaging here.

Design and Build

The Conquest HDs are Zeiss’ broadest range in terms of magnification and aperture. They’re the upper mid-market equivalent of Leica’s Trinovid HDs, but with much more variety - all the way from 8x32 to 15x56, with all the standard birding and hunting sizes in between.

All the Conquest models seem to share a similar style and approach, with rugged made-in-Germany build (some of the ad’s show a bruised and muddied pair that’s just been run over by a truck to prove it) and wide fields for their class.

Both the 32mm and 42mm Conquest HD models are fairly standard roof prism binoculars, with nothin’ fancy – no special prisms like the HTs, no innovative optical and mechanical design like the SFs. And whilst the 56mm models are large for their spec, these 10x32s are a normal compact size.

The Conquest HDs certainly seem like ‘proper’ Zeiss, but whether ‘Made in Germany’ means fabricated or merely assembled, I don’t know. In either case, Zeiss are likely to support them for service and repair in a way only the European brands do in my experience.

 

Body

Zeiss’ 32mm Conquest HDs share a look and feel with the other members of the range, a more conventional design than the premium SF models: an armoured hinge and the focuser at the back, rather than the double-link open bridge and huge central focuser on the SFs.

Like the SFs, the Conquests lack thumb cut-outs. But here there isn’t the innovative rear-biased handling to compensate by taking weight off your wrists.

Whilst these 10x32 Conquest HDs have similar optical spec’s to Zeiss’ older premium model, the 10x32 Victory FLs, the Conquests are a bit heavier and longer: 132mm vs 115mm and 625g vs 550g. Those differences may not sound much, but are noticeable. Unlike the SFs, the 10x32 Conquest HDs are identical in size and weight to the 8x32s.

The Conquests are covered in a thick, two-texture anthracite-black armour. That armour looks similar to the SFs’, but it’s not the same: unlike the SFs’, it smells rubbery and is worse for attracting prints and fluff. It reminds me of sticky rock-boot rubber.

To me the look and feel of the whole binocular isn’t as refined as Swarovski’s or (esp.) Leica’s mid-market models, with a rugged utilitarianism that’s typical Zeiss and attractive in its own way.

Independent tests have found Zeiss to be tops on ruggedness and the Conquests look it, though I’m not about to repeat the mud test, let alone the truck-crush test, to confirm it. They’re purged and fully waterproof to 4m like most quality roofs these days.

Focuser

Most of the Conquest models I’ve reviewed have had very workmanlike, smooth and accurate focusers, if not the kind of twirly perfection you get with SFs. Unfortunately, the focuser on this pair has a problem: the dioptre drifts as you focus. Usually, a bit of focusing in and out does end up with both barrels properly focused, but the act of focusing itself is uncomfortable as one eye blurs out of sync with the other. This is likely due to rocking or play in the mechanism of one or both barrels and is a fault on this pair.

The focuser turns on an inner axle, which may or may not be greaseless (I found a trace of grease on an earlier pair of Conquest HD 10x42s).

Close focus is an area where mid-price bino’s often fall short. Not here: it’s an amazing (esp. for this price point) 1.2m. From there to infinity takes just less than a turn: considering how close they focus, that’s super-fast too.

Dioptre adjustment is by a ring under the right-hand eyepiece in traditional style. Given the fault noted above, there’s nothing wrong with it – smooth, precise and well-weighted.

Optics - Prisms

These 42mm Conquests have modern-standard Schmidt-Pechan (a.k.a. Roof) prisms, not the high-transmission Abbe-König prisms found in Zeiss’ HT range and in the 56mm Conquests. Still, transmission is claimed at 90% - up there with most modern roofs and the same as the 32mm SFs.

Optics - Objectives

From a laser test, the objectives appear to be a modern-typical triplet, consisting of a crown/flint doublet and a separate crown behind that. Then there’s a focusing lens in front of the prisms. The ‘HD’ label indicates at least one crown element of high-fluoride glass to curb false colour and increase resolution and definition in high-contrast situations.

Coatings are pink and ‘T*’ but noticeably more reflective than the very dark T* version applied to the premium SFs (see below).

Baffling looks top-class, with a ridged lens ring and focusing carriage and a single knife-edge baffle too.

Optics - Eyepieces

The Conquest range share eyepieces of similar appearance, with large (24mm diameter on both 32mm models), quite flat and deeply recessed eye lenses. I presume they’re some kind of modified Erfle, likely with five elements. The eye lens coatings are completely different from the SFs’, which have much pinker hued coatings to match their objectives.

Good eye relief is quite hard to achieve on a 10x32. Nonetheless, I measured eye relief from the tall rim of the eye cup at an excellent 15-16mm. That’s identical to the 8x32 model and really top-notch - enough to see the whole field with specs at this field width. With a shallower cup profile, it could’ve been even more generous.

Field of view is a standout feature of the Conquest HD range. Here, an actual field of view of nearly 6.9° is more than most 10x32s and almost a degree more than my old 10x reference standard, Nikon’s 10x42 SEs.

Very significantly, these 10x32 Conquests avoid the 10x32 SFs’ annoying blackouts too: significant because it makes them much more comfortable than the SFs when panning.

The eye cups are not the 10x32 Conquests’ best feature, though – there’s only one click-out position and the action is a bit stiff, just as it was for the 8X32s I reviewed previously.

Zeiss’ 32mm SFs (top) have completely different coatings from the Conquests.

Accessories

The Conquests get Zeiss’ usual neoprene strap, which fits standard lugs. Even the high-end SFs get the same (no equivalent of Swarovski’s Field Pro at Zeiss). But simple does mean light weight and cheap to replace.

The case is much the same as Zeiss used to ship with their FL models and is similar to the 32mm SFs’ (but not the 42mm SFs, which get a fancier design). It’s plain black Cordura, but likely to be rugged and protective.

The eye cap is soft rubber. It’s easy to push on and it stays there, but threading the strap through it is a pain. The end caps are moulded in one and hang off a pair of lanyards for attachment to the strap lugs.

In Use – Daytime

Ergonomics and Handling

These are a fairly generic binocular in terms of construction and so handling is fine, if basic. By that I mean that there are no thumb cutouts or double-bridge; no specially sculpted barrels to help with a snug fit, no SF-style ErgoBalanceTM concept. The barrels of the 42mm models felt quite chunky to my smallish hands, but these 32mm Conquests are just right.

Similarly, the focuser wheel and dioptre adjust are standard fare (no fancy integrated-bridge design here) but again work just fine (excepting the individual fault on this example noted above). The dioptre ring is smooth and accurate and together with the snappy focus, it makes finding your best setting easy.

The fast focus and excellent snap make viewing birds in flight a huge pleasure with these smallest Conquests. I didn’t notice any stiffening of the focus action in sub-zero temperatures and icy winds (of which there were a lot during my review).

Eyepiece comfort is excellent, especially for a 10x32, a size that is often challenged in this respect. There is sufficient eye relief for specs, but no significant blackouts as you pan or look around – a big difference from the 10x32 SFs which have problems in this area. The eye cups are comfy if you view without specs, even if their action is slightly stiff and unrefined.

The only less than top-flight aspect of the Conquests’ handling is their size and weight. Similar in many ways to the old Victory FLs - long a Scope Views best buy despite their high price - the 10x32 Conquest HDs feel like a bigger, heavier binocular.

The Conquests look quite plain and lack the panache of Leica’s Trinovids (to me anyway, you might disagree), but are small and unobtrusive to wear.

 

The View

The finish and mechanicals of the Conquest range is in the ‘just good enough’ category. As usual, it’s the optical quality and view you’re paying for here.

So, their view is every bit as top-drawer as the 8x32 model: sharp, extra wide, bright, full of high-resolution detail and flat for a binocular that boasts no field flatteners. It’s a typically Zeiss view too – noticeably brighter and cooler in tone than a typical mid-range Leica or Swarovski.

Meanwhile the 10x32 Conquest HDs are pin-sharp and have the snappy focus that’s a sure sign of good optical quality. There’s no mid-market softness or fuzziness here.

High resolution is a defining characteristic of the view. I can easily ID small birds in the top branches of a tree 100m away – telling Goldfinch from Dunnock, Robin from Great Tit, with plumage colouration picked out even in partial silhouette.

Overall, it’s a great view - as good, I’d suggest, as the old premium Victory FL’s (though I didn’t have a pair to hand for direct comparison).

Flat field?

The field isn’t perfectly flat, though in use you likely won’t notice because it’s not far off it. Off-axis blurring only really starts in last 20% of field width, from where the numbers on a metre ruler blur progressively, just into unreadability at the very edge. That blur can be focused away and so seems to be just mild field curvature, but a more critical test on a star (see below) reveals a trace of astigmatism too.

What does that mean in practice? The very edge of the field is completely usable, you could likely ID a bird there even without re-focusing. That mild field curvature, along with a trace of pin-cushion distortion, makes panning completely comfortable – no nauseating ‘rolling ball’ effect with these, at least for me.

I never found myself wishing for field flatteners when using them, but that gradual off-axis softening means they don’t quite have the ‘wow’ factor of a high-end pair with a truly wide and flat field (think SFs, NL Pures or even good old ELs).

FOV softens from ~80% width, but remains usable to the edge.

Chromatic Aberration

These 10x32 Conquests may suffer slightly more from false colour than the 8x32s, but not much. Focusing through or panning around silhouetted branches produces minimal fringing. Viewing birds at high-contrast, even the jet-black plumage of a soaring crow, never produces a wash of purple that destroys resolution and contrast. Even at 10x, the 32mm Conquests have lower false colour levels than many other ‘HD’ binoculars.

In Use – Dusk

Dusk performance of a modern, high-transmission 10x32 is better than most would give it credit for. The shadows in the understory of the copse opposite knit into darkness more readily than for a pair of 10x42s, but otherwise Conquest 10x32s work well into dusk. I didn’t notice more than a fleeting touch of veiling flare under a bright dusk sky.

In Use – Observing the Night Sky

Stars distort a little from about 50% field width, but what distortion there is seems to be field curvature with a touch of astigmatism. You can focus the blur away, but doing so turns a star into a tiny cross towards the field edge. Still, my usual test of putting a whole asterism (in this case the Hyades) in the field makes for only mild distortion of the outer stars.

Stray light and ghost suppression is good. A brilliant, close security light generated some faint ghosts and four long faint prism spikes, but this is an extreme and unnatural test. Viewing around a bright streetlamp revealed no significant flare.

The Moon

The Conquest 10x32s gave me an excellent view of a first-quarter Moon - a hard white and grey marble with bright highlands, brilliant rays, dark maria; and with no significant ghosting, flare or false colour.

Mars

The only bright planet around showed no nasty spikes or flare.

Deep sky testing the 10x32 Conquest HDs from my lane.

Deep Sky

I was lucky to catch a run of clear spring nights with the Conquest HD 10x32s, so I did more astronomy with them than I usually would with 32mm binoculars (many wouldn’t consider 32s for astronomy at all). And in fact, a modern pair of quality 10x32s like these are better on the night sky than you’d think.

The obvious stuff looked good. The Pleaides were nice and sparkly. The Double Cluster and nearby Stock 2 resolved plenty of stars and in a rich and wide field, though with a ring of mild blurring around the edge. Panning across into Cassiopeia, I found lots of smaller clusters.

The larger open clusters in Auriga – M35, M36 and M38 all started to resolve with direct vision, once my eyes had adapted. Only M37 remained star-mist. The Beehive open cluster was dimmer than I’m used to, but showed all the major stars in their distinctive pattern and I easily found a much smaller cluster nearby, M67.

I was surprised to be able to find the Crab Nebula with averted vision. The Conquest 10x32s readily pulled one smaller galaxy, M51 in Ursa Major, out of its surrounding star field too and I might have spotted others as faint patches in and around Canes Venatici.

I easily discovered bright globular cluster M3 by tracking up from Arcturus in Boötes. Even when still at low altitude, the 10x32 Conquests pulled it out from the background better than the 8x32s because they higher power better supresses sky-glow.

Overall, the Conquest HD 10x32s work well for a bit of casual star gazing, though of course I wouldn’t choose any 10x32 specifically for astronomy.

Zeiss 10x32 Victory SF vs Zeiss 10x32 Conquest HD

These 10x32 Conquest HDs are an excellent binocular by any standards. Meanwhile, the range-topping 10x32 SFs are almost three times the street price. So what extra do the SFs give you for your money?

·         The SFs are larger but lighter

·         The SFs’ long barrels and rearward balance makes for a comfier hold

·         The SFs have nicer armour – less rubbery and fluff attracting

·         Centre field view is very similar

·         The SFs may have slightly higher resolution centre field, but not by much

·         The SFs have a wider, better corrected field with more ‘wow’ factor

·         The SFs appear to have much better coatings, especially on the internal elements

·         The SFs have a little more eye relief, but much worse blackouts that mean lower overall eyepiece comfort

·         The SFs focuser feels much nicer, even though the Conquests is good by general standards (individual fault aside - see above)

·         Zeiss quote identical 90% transmission and indeed brightness seems about the same

·         False colour levels are very low in both, with a small advantage to the SFs

I found the 10x32 (as opposed to any other model in the range) SFs' blackouts sufficiently intrusive that I actually prefer the Conquests (though the 10x32 SFs unquestionably have a better focuser and a finer static view).

Summary

At the start I asked if these are as good as the 8x32 model. In most respects, they are. They have a bright, vivid and sharp view with almost no false colour, just the same. Apparent field of view is similar to the 8x model and the field is slightly flatter, but I did find the higher power model slightly less comfortable (as 10x bino’s often are).

So, in terms of the view, these are a near ideal small 10x birding bino’: it just doesn’t seem like a mid-range view. The focuser on this pair had a minor fault, but was otherwise fast and accurate for following birds in flight and focuses extremely close if your viewing extends to butterflies or other insects.

All this daytime goodness translates well to good astronomy performance too. For quick views of the Moon, or the odd brighter DSO they work really well, surprisingly so for such a small aperture, proof of really excellent optical quality.

In terms of their physical build, the 10x32 Conquests aren’t as perfect. The armour is rubbery, markable and fluff attracting. The eye cups are stiff and rough. Finish is tough but utilitarian. The lens coatings boast T*, but it’s not the same T* as the SFs’. None of this really detracts from using them, though. The only real downside is that their size and weight is a bit up on the most compact premium 10x32s. But overall, for their price, the 10x32 Conquest HDs are unbeatable.

If pressed I’d recommend the 8x32 model for its easy view and comfort, but if you like the higher power these 10x32s are a great buy.

For a travel or lightweight birding binocular these 10x32mm Conquests are a Best Buy, just like the 8x model: you’re mostly paying for the really top-notch optics and view, but they’re rugged too. They work outstandingly well for birding, nature viewing or even a spot of casual astronomy.

Buy Zeiss 10x32 Conquest HDs from Wex here:

 

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