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The big-eye 10x56 and 15x56 Zeiss Conquests are great for astronomy, but a little more compromised than Swarovski’s fully-premium SLC HDs. Are these 42mm Conquests much the same, or have Zeiss gone all out to conquer the mainstream birding market?

Zeiss Conquest 10x42 HD Review

The market for mid-range birding binoculars is hotly contested. My current favourites, Leica’s Trinovids, sit bang in the middle price wise, but bring European build and refinement to the table for the same money as Nikon’s Monarch HGs and significantly less than Swarovski’s excellent SLC HDs.

When I went to buy the Trinovids, I tried a pair of Zeiss Conquests and though I liked them a lot, they were quite a bit more expensive at the time, so Leica got my cash and my recommendation. Now, though, their street price is the same, so I thought it was time to look at the Conquests afresh.

My recent experience with Zeiss has been mixed. I typically love the daytime view, but find too many niggly mechanical and build problems. Let’s see if the Conquests are an improvement.

At A Glance

Magnification

10x

Objective Size

42m

Eye Relief

18mm claimed, 16mm measured

Actual Field of View

115m (6.7°)

Apparent field of view

66°

Close focus

2m claimed and measured

Transmissivity

90%

Length

150mm

Weight

795g claimed and measured

Data from Zeiss/Me.

What’s in the Box?

Open the glossy double box and you’re confronted with the binoculars, an arty photo of stags and the statement, ‘This is the moment we work for’. I have to admit, it’s a classy and dramatic unboxing. Well done to the Zeiss marketing department.

 

Design and Build

The Conquests are Zeiss’ largest range of binoculars in terms of the magnifications and apertures on offer. Intended as ‘entry level premium’, they are the equivalent of Leica’s Trinovid HDs and Swarovski’s rather more expensive SLC HDs. But the Conquests offer more variety than either, all the way from 8x32 to 15x56.

All the models seem to share a similar style and approach, with rugged made-in-Germany build (the ad’s show them covered in muck and squashed under a truck wheel to show how tough they are) and wide fields for their class. These 42mm 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.

The Conquests 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

First impressions of the Zeiss Conquest 10x42 HD is that they share a look and feel with the much more expensive Victory HTs, with the same style of jet-black armour. However, they have a more conventional design with an armoured hinge and the focuser at the back, rather than the double-link metal bridge and huge central focuser on the HTs.

Like the Trinovids, the Conquests don’t have thumb cut-outs. That’s one of the areas where Swarovski’s SLCs seem more premium, with a two-stage cut-out that really makes for a snug fit in the hand.

Compared to the Leica Trinovids and SW SLCs, these Conquests are a bit heavier at 795g vs 745g and 765g respectively; a bit larger too. Part of that is due to the two-texture armour – it’s very thick and protective, but smells rubbery, has very obvious seams and is the worst for attracting prints and fluff.

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

Focuser

The focuser wheel isn’t as large as some, but it’s well placed and covered in (likely replaceable) grippy rubber. Only the outer part turns on a fixed inner ‘axle’. The action is smooth and accurate, but slightly ‘dry’ feeling. But, overall, the focusing action gives little to complain about, whilst being super-fast at ¾ of a turn from close focus (of about 2m) to infinity. There is room beyond infinity to cater for various prescriptions too.

I assumed the focuser would be greaseless; but after some use, I found a trace of grease seeping from the around the axle of the focuser.

Dioptre adjust is by a ring under the right eyepiece, the traditional way many bino’s do it. It’s functional with a sensible weight to prevent accidental movement. But I didn’t find it as easy to use as the best – a bit vague and sloppy and with no détente for neutral.

Optics - Prisms

These have modern-standard Schmidt-Pechan (a.k.a. Roof) prisms, not the high-transmission Abbe-König prisms found in Zeiss’ HT range. Still, transmission is claimed at 90% - up there with the better modern roof designs.

Optics - Objectives

Investigation with a laser suggests these are a triplet - a cemented doublet with a small airgap and another single element behind. The ‘HD’ tag suggests they contain high-fluoride glass to cut false colour fringing, a feature that’s rapidly becoming the norm (Swarovski don’t even mention it anymore).

The objectives are well recessed and the lens ring is micro-baffled with fine ridges. A knife-edge baffle sits behind the objectives, for further control of stray light. The focuser carriage has also been ridge-baffled, but the interior isn’t painted flat black the way some are.

These have Zeiss’ usual excellent T* coatings with their distinctive pink tint that gives a cool view I do like. They also get LotuTecTM dirt and water repellent coatings.

Excellent coatings and thorough baffling are the enemy of stray light.

Optics - Eyepieces

The eyepieces offer a very wide field for the 10x42 class, at 66° apparent and 6.7° true. That’s half a degree more true field than Swarovski’s 10x42 SLCs, for example.

Claimed eye relief is 18mm which would be outstanding. Unfortunately, that’s from the surface of the huge (24mm) eye lenses, which are deeply inset below the rim of the rubber eye cups. I measured eye relief from the cups (which is what matters) at a still-creditable 16mm. It’s enough to see almost the whole field with my specs on.

Not only is there plenty of eye relief, even with that deep cup rim, but there are no blackout problems either. Nestling your eyes into the cups and moving your focus point around is a much less frustrating exercise than with Swarovski NL Pures, for example, much as I like their huge and immersive view.

The eyecups themselves are one of the areas that let these Conquests down. There are three click-out positions, which is fine. But I use the term ‘click’ loosely, because the action is sticky, grindy stiff and horrid. Worse, the left puts up much more of a fight than the right. Why can’t Zeiss just copy Swarovski here?

Accessories

The strap is the Zeiss-usual neoprene one which fits standard lugs. The case is the same as Zeiss used to ship with their FL models: a plain cordura item, but likely to be rugged and protective (unlike Leica’s stylish but silly Trinovid pouch).

The eye cap is a soft rubber job which is easy to push on and stays there. The end caps are moulded in one and hang off a lanyard for attachment to the strap lugs. Again, they just work.

Full marks for accessories that are basic, but just do their job.

In Use – Daytime

Ergonomics and Handling

In a sense, handling is basic too. By that I mean that these have no thumb cutouts or double-bridge or specially sculpted barrels to help with a snug fit. The barrels feel quite chunky to my smallish hands, partially thanks to the very thick armour. Similarly, the focuser wheel and dioptre adjust are standard fare (no fancy integrated-bridge design here) but work fine, though the dioptre is a bit sloppy and has no haptic way of telling you’ve reset it to neutral.

I’ve just reviewed the Swarovski NL Pures and these didn’t have anything like that level of ergonomics (no shade intended, they’re a third the price!)

Eyepiece comfort is very good though, with plenty of eye relief and a notably low level of blackouts for a wide-field binocular. The eye cups are comfy too ... once you’ve fought them into the right setting, that is.

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 (unlike their enormous 56mm siblings).

The View

The view immediately impressed me. It’s noticeably wider and more immersive than most and has that real crystal clarity and detail that high-end binoculars give. It seems even brighter than the (good) 90% transmissivity would suggest. I compared it with a pair of Swarovskis that boast similar transmission levels and the Conquests were definitely brighter.

The other big difference comparing a recent pair of Swarovski CLs with these was the colour rendition. The Swarovskis had never seemed to me overly warm, but the Conquests have a cooler colour balance that I actually prefer.

Resolution is another area where these subjectively excel. I caught a soaring Buzzard over the fields and made out masses of plumage detail, even at a distance. These really are a birders’ binocular.

Overall, these have the best view of any mid-range binocular I’ve tested.

Flat field?

Compared to some Zeiss binoculars, these 10x42 Conquests have a well corrected field. Some mild curvature and astigmatism creep in from about 70%, but you only really notice it by day in the last 10% and even there the field is usable. Given the width of the field, the well corrected part is probably much the same as Swarovski’s SLCs’. Off axis aberrations are better controlled than the Leica Trinovid 10x42 HDs too and the Zeiss’ field is wider to start with.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is reasonably well controlled centre field, but not as good as the best. Panning through high branches yields some flashing false colour and focusing through produces a touch of purple and green either side of focus. Chromatic aberration increases markedly towards the edge, too, just like the 56mm models.

Watching Crows and Jackdaws quarrelling in the tree tops, on a dull but bright day, yields branches and feather with traces of purple and green coatings.

Overall, false colour is similar to most mid-market HD models these days including the Trinovids, but perhaps a step down from the SLC HDs.

In Use – Dusk

Dusk shadow penetration and even performance in Moonlight is excellent, with some light intensifying effect compared to the naked eye.

In Use – The Night Sky

Astigmatism and some field curvature stretch stars into short lines progressively from 70% to the field stop, but the distortion is mild: the Pleiades are still perfectly recognisable when placed right at the edge. This does mean you get a blurred-out ring around the field edge, in which only brighter stars are visible, but the field is so wide and the effect mild enough I didn’t find it intrusive.

The upshot is that the Conquests’ half degree of extra true field over Swarovski’s better corrected SLCs probably ends up with much the same usable field plus some extra context (see simulation below).

Proper baffling, excellent coatings and deeply recessed objectives combine to eliminate ghosting and flare, leaving only the faintest spikes on brilliant security light. Full marks for stray light protection.

Small and brilliantly sparkly stars suggest excellent optical quality.

6.7° field of 10x42 Zeiss Conquests and 6.3° field of 10x42 Swarovski SLCs overlaid on Orion’s belt and sword.

The Moon

These display a hard, sharp and very contrasty Moon. On a thick crescent just past last quarter, in a clear dawn sky, I could easily make out the major craters, including Copernicus and Clavius darkening into their dusk. There is minimal false colour and no ghosts of any kind. Light scatter around the Moon is also exceptionally low for binoculars.

Planets

Mars yielded no spikes or flare or other nasties that bright planets sometimes do.

Deep Sky

I was lucky to get a really dark and transparent night on the last day of Christmas: my neighbours were all in bed, dark-fearing security lights off, fairy lights packed away until next year.

I started with my usual binocular deep sky objects. Big open cluster M35 resolved brighter stars with direct vision, stardust with averted. Likewise, the Starfish Cluster showed arms with direct vision and its ‘arrow head’ shape. I almost got M37, M36 and M38 in one field. Views of these clusters were among best I’ve seen at this aperture. The Double Cluster was brilliant and populous, it’s arc of stars leading away to nearby Stock 2.

Moving to bright galaxies, M33 was very well picked out of the background, with its shape more apparent than usual at 42mm. The Andromeda galaxy on the other side of orange Markab looked good too, revealing its smaller companion and the dark lane that seems to cut off the nebulosity.

Orion’s great Nebula M42 looked bright and contrasty, with arms and central spike clearly defined. I found the Dumbbell Nebula easily by tracking across from beautifully split Albireo. Globular cluster M15 to the right of Enif in Pegasus was easy to find too, a bright, fuzzy star.

This was all too easy. I decided to go deeper. I hunted down the much smaller twin galaxies of Bodes Nebula. The Ring Nebula in Lyra was hard, but I found it once my eyes were really well dark-adapted. The Crab Nebula took ages and averted vision, but I finally found it too. Globular cluster M56 between Lyra and Albireo, much harder than M15, eventually revealed itself. The small open cluster near Stock 2, NGC 663, was very well resolved. I readily found nebulosity in both Heart and Soul nebulae and in the North American Nebula too.

So how does the big but astigmatic-off-axis field fare on wide asterisms? Putting Orion’s belt and sword in the same field saw Nair El Saif and Mintaka slightly elongated. Similarly, the whole Hyades arrow-head fitted in the field, but Aldebaran, Ain and Hyadum I were all slightly astigmatic.

Despite that field-edge astigmatism, the Conquest 10x42s make an excellent deep sky bino’ for their aperture.

Testing the Conquests - such a dark night that I disappear!

Zeiss 10x42 Conquest HD vs Leica 10x42 Trinovid HD

I’ve compared these two similar binoculars throughout this review. To summarise, I preferred the view through the Conquests: a little brighter, wider, sharper off axis and more immersive. But in terms of weight, size, handling and build quality, the Leica’s win the day. Which you choose would come down to personal preferences and perhaps current discounts.

Summary

It’s all about the view. Wide, super bright crystalline clarity, with masses of resolution and a natural but cool presentation I really like. It’s a view you just want to keep enjoying, fabulous for IDing birds on the wing or just casual nature viewing. There’s lots of eye relief too and no blackouts. Stray light suppression is really excellent, with no flare or ghosting that I could find. That wide field is a great feature and the mild off-axis astigmatism doesn’t spoil it, even for astronomy. In fact, they might just be my favourite mid-premium 10x42 for deep sky.

Mechanically they’re mostly good too, with a smooth, accurate and exceptionally fast focuser (if a bit dry feeling).

Negatives? As usual with Conquests, there is too much false colour at the field edge and even a bit much centre field on high-contrast subjects – not ruinous, but these suffer some chromatic aberration that the best these days don’t. The eye cups just aren’t great – rough and stiff in action, they don’t belong on a binocular of this price. I find the thickly armoured barrels are a bit fatter than my small hands prefer, so these aren’t the most comfy to hold for me. Then there’s the armour: it smells rubbery and really attracts dust and prints. However, these have none of the serious quality fails I was regularly seeing in Zeiss a few years back.

Despite a few niggles, Zeiss’ 10x42 Conquests give an outstanding view for a sensible price. They’re great for birding, but for astronomy too. Highly recommended.

Buy Zeiss 10x42 Conquest HDs from Wex here:

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