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Zeiss’ 8x32 Conquest HDs are the smallest and cheapest model of the range, competing on price with much less prestigious brands. But are they any good?

Zeiss 8x32 Conquest HD Review

I’ve liked all the models I’ve reviewed in Zeiss’ Conquest HD range so far, which is pretty much all of them except for the 10x32 and 8x32. But the 8x32 model at least has big boots to fill: the old Zeiss 8x32 Victory FL was a Scope Views best buy for years and something of an all-time favourite of mine (I’ve actually owned two pairs).

Coincidentally or not, the 8X32 Conquest HDs have identical optical spec’s to their more upmarket predecessor, despite being just half the list price. On the face of it progress, then – same bino’ half the money. Or is it? Let’s investigate ...

At A Glance

Magnification

8x

Objective Size

32mm

Eye Relief

15-16mm measured

Actual Field of View

8.1° (140m/1000m)

Apparent field of view

64°

Close focus

~1.5m measured

Transmissivity

90%

Length

132mm

Weight

625g measured

Data from 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’ largest range of binoculars in terms of the magnifications and apertures on offer: equivalent of Leica’s Trinovid HDs and Swarovski’s rather more expensive SLC HDs, but with more variety than either - all the way from 15x56s to these compact 8x32s.

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 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 the 8x32 Victory FLs share optical spec’s with these Conquests, the cheaper binoculars are a bit heavier and longer: 132mm vs 115mm and 625g vs 550g.

Some of the difference in weight may come down to the composite body of the FLs, but partly it’s probably due to the Conquests’ 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, has very obvious seams and is the very worst for attracting prints and fluff. The SFs’ armour looks like Leica’s; the Conquests’ reminds me of sticky rock-boot rubber. Irrelevant to you, but the Conquests are a nightmare to photograph for me, because I can never get all the dust and prints off that black rubber!

To me the look and feel of the whole binocular 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.

It perhaps goes without saying that these are fully waterproof. Independent tests have found Zeiss to be tops on ruggedness and the Conquests look it, but I’m not about to repeat the mud test, let alone the truck, to confirm it.

Focuser

The very latest stop-of-the-range models from Zeiss and Swarovski have super-smooth and fluid focusers, but these Conquests are like their previous top models. The focuser is reasonably smooth, free of backlash or vagueness, but feels a bit stiffer and drier than the best. 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 10x42s).

Close focus is an amazing (esp. for this price point) 1.5m. From there to infinity takes just less than a turn: that’s fast!

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

These appear to be a modern-typical three element triplet with a focusing lens behind. The ‘HD’ label indicates at least one 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.

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 here), 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 the objectives.

I measured eye relief from the tall rim of the eye cup at an excellent (for an 8x32) 15-16mm. That’s just enough to see the whole field with specs at this field width and is about the same as I measured for Zeiss’ previous top-line 8x32s - the Victory FLs. With a shallower cup profile, it could be even more generous. What’s more, these avoid the SFs’ blackouts. Good eye relief is quite hard to achieve in an 8x32, so full marks to Zeiss for managing it in a mid-price model and with no downsides.

The eye cups themselves are not one of the Conquests’ finer features, though – there’s only one click-out position and the action is stiff and rough.

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, easy to push on and it stays there, but threading the strap 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 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 work just fine. 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 outstanding, with plenty of eye relief, and no significant blackouts noticeable with specs on or off. The eye cups are comfy if you view without specs, even if their action is stiff and unrefined.

The only less perfect point about the Conquests’ handling is their weight, which is about 75g up on the old 8x32 Victory FLs: they may share the FL 8x32’s optical specs, but the Conquests feel like a bigger, heavier binocular. It’s the only real area in which they lag the older but more premium Victory FLs.

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. It’s the view and optical finesse you’re paying for. And of all the many models in the range perhaps that’s most true of these 8x32s. No coincidence, because lower powers and smaller apertures tend to have lower aberrations for a given optical design.

I don’t have a pair to hand for direct comparison, but I suspect the view is as good as Zeiss’ old top-line 8x32 Victory FLs’. I did compare it with the latest 8x32 SF and found it nearly as good in most ways, bar field width and off-axis sharpness.

So the view here is really excellent: pin-sharp and with the snappy focus that’s a sure sign of good optical quality. It’s a typically Zeiss view too – noticeably brighter and cooler in tone than a typical mid-range Leica or Swarovski.

High resolution is a defining characteristic of this 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 in even silhouette.

Flat field?

The field isn’t perfectly flat, though in use you likely won’t notice. Off-axis blurring only really kicks in for the last 20% of field width, from where the numbers on a metre ruler blur into unreadability. A lot of that blur is just field curvature – you can focus it away, after which the ruler is sharp to the field stop.

Enough with the viewing rulers, 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.

Chromatic Aberration

You might suppose that these smallest, lowest powered Conquests would have the lowest levels of chromatic aberration and they do. Focusing through or panning around silhouetted branches produces no purple and green, no flashes of colour that shouldn’t be there. Viewing birds in high-contrast situations never produces a wash of purple that destroys resolution and contrast. Compared with Zeiss’ top-line SFs, you might find a trace of false colour of you really go looking for it, but not otherwise.

You might think this pickiness over chromatic aberrations over the top, but it isn’t: watching crows and seagulls soaring and squabbling, every feather is perfect and untainted by the fringe of false colour so many bino’s create.

Make no mistake, these have lower false colour levels than most ‘HD’ binoculars.

In Use – Dusk

Dusk performance of a modern, high-transmission 8x32 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 8x32s 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 from about 50% field width, but it’s almost all curvature with just a trace of astigmatism until the very edge – most of it can be focused away. My usual test of putting the belt and sword of Orion in the same field distorts the outer stars Mintaka and Nair al Saif just a bit.

Stray light and ghost suppression is very good. A brilliant but distant security light generated no ghosts, just the faintest trace of four long prism spikes (but very faint indeed). Viewing around a bright streetlamp was untroubled by significant flare.

The Moon

You wouldn’t choose 8x for the Moon, but the Conquests gave me an excellent view of it - 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

Despite their modest aperture, the smallest Conquest HDs do deep sky well and I enjoyed an extended observing session with them. The key is their 8° field: it opens up such large sections of sky you can just pan from constellation to constellation finding things. And I found a lot.

Panning up through the Milky Way from a low Deneb, a distinct patch of misty nebulosity is the North American Nebula. Further up, I find an open cluster - M39, nicely resolved, that leads on to many more clusters with only NGC numbers: most are just misty patches, but finding so many of them embedded in rich star fields is a great result for such small bino’s.

The obvious stuff looked good too. 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 narrow band of minor blurring around the edge. Orion’s sword region looks really good, with a surprising amount of glowing nebulosity from the Great Nebula itself. Meanwhile, the belt was thick with stars – more so than I expected.

The 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 and one smaller galaxy, M51 in Ursa Major, too.

No magic here of course, these are still 8x32s. Panning either side of orange star Mirach in Andromeda, I easily found M31, but it did look a little dim. On the other side of Mirach, M33 was easy to find too, but again a little dim.

Another thing smaller apertures don’t do so well is star colours. The Garnet Star, a rich amber even in 7x50s, looks pale gold; ditto La Superba, really an even deeper orange-red, but here just silver with a hint of gold.

Surprisingly, the 8x32 Conquest HDs proved one of my all-time favourite sub-42mm bino’s for astronomy. Fine, bright optics, comfy eyepieces and that huge field combine to make them really enjoyable.

Zeiss 8x32 Victory SF vs Zeiss 8x32 Conquest HD

These 8x32 Conquest HDs are an excellent binocular by any standards. Meanwhile, the range-topping 8x32 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

·         SFs’ brightness seems only a touch better, if at all

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

·         The SFs have a little more eye relief, but worse blackouts

·         The SFs focuser feels much nicer, even though the Conquests is good by general standards

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

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

All those little refinements do sum up to make the SFs a significantly nicer binocular ... but three times nicer? Go ahead and treat yourself to the SFs, knowing these Conquests were all you really needed.

Summary

At the start I asked if these are any good. They are, and then some.

I like the Conquest range in general, but these may just be the best of the lot. They have a wonderfully bright, vivid and sharp view with almost no false colour. Apparent field is down on the 10x model, but on the upside is superb comfort with sufficient eye relief for once in a compact bino’. Off-axis blurring is never a problem and the field edge is usable, but there’s enough curvature for comfortable panning.

So, in terms of the view, these are a near ideal small birding bino’ and the focuser helps too – fast and accurate for following birds in flight, if not the very most fluid. It just doesn’t seem like a mid-range view.

All this daytime excellence translates well to astronomy as well. For sweeping starry dark skies searching for clusters, looks at the Moon, or the odd brighter DSO they work really well, surprisingly so for such a small aperture, proof of really excellent optical quality. But what about build quality?

In terms of their physical build, the 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 8x32s. Still, I’m tempted to buy a pair as a rough and tumble travel bino’.

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

 

Buy Zeiss 8x32 Conquest HDs from Wex here:

 

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