Zeiss Conquest 8x56 HD Review
The traditional choice for a low-light binocular with 7mm exit pupils – the widest most eyes can accommodate – was always 7x50; but Zeiss pioneered an alternative, designed for low-light hunting, the 8x56 Dialyts. The higher power confers obvious advantages for terrestrial use and cuts through sky glow better for astronomy too.
I have never reviewed an 8x56, so it’s high time I did. And where better to start than the successor to those Dialyts, Zeiss 8x56 Conquest HDs?
8x56s are dusk specialists.
At A Glance
18 claimed, 20mm measured
Actual Field of View
Apparent field of view
Data from Zeiss/Me.
What’s in the Box?
The glossy box with a wrap-around scene is standard Zeiss.
Design and Build
Conquest is Zeiss’ everyman binocular, with a huge range of models from 8x32 to 15x56, all with a similar no-nonsense look and ethos. I’ve now reviewed and really liked all of them, finding a great view, quality build and good value every time.
I’m pleased to see that it still says ‘Made in Germany’ on the Conquests’ focuser knob. Why pleased? Because German manufacture is good for Europe, good for repairability and helps set the most famous brand in optics apart from others – Vortex comes to mind – that outsource their premium optics.
The smaller Conquests (especially the 32mm models) are very competitively priced; but though these are cheaper than the Swarovski equivalents, they are still an expensive binocular.
Alternatives at this size? 8x56 is not as widely available as some formats, but Swarovski make an 8x56 in their excellent SLC HD range and Nikon an 8x56 Monarch 5 at a lower price. Others options include a Steiner and a Vortex.
The original Zeiss 8x56 Dialyts have a great reputation, but they are very long, their field is narrow and they’re not waterproof.
The 56mm Zeiss Conquest HDs look very similar to the smaller models, but larger… much larger. They are longer (210mm vs 193mm) and heavier (1275g VS 1050g) than Zeiss’ 54mm HTs and larger than Swarovski’s 8x56mm SLC HDs too.
The Conquests have a more conventional design than the HTs, with an armoured hinge and the focuser at the back, rather than a double-link bridge and huge central focuser.
Confusingly, the design and size of the 56mm Conquests is very similar to the older Swarovski SLC Neu, rather than the more compact (and newer!) HD model compared in this review.
Zeiss don’t sculpt the back for thumb cut-outs, unlike the SLC HDs which now get a two-stage cut-out that really makes for a snug fit in the hand.
Like other models in the Conquest range, the focuser is excellent - smooth and precise and quite light in feel. It is fast too, just like a premium birding bino’. These focus down to about 2.5m, close for a big-eye bino’. Merge is excellent at that distance too.
Unfortunately, the dioptre adjustment is less good. It’s in the old-fashioned place as a ring under the right ocular. It’s smooth and well-weighted here (unlike some earlier Conquests’), but lacks even a mid-point click-stop.
Optics - Prisms
Like the current Swarovski 56mm SLC HDs, the 56mm Conquests get the Abbe-König prisms that Zeiss pioneered. These prisms give a slimmer profile, but more importantly they transmit more light because they don’t need lossy mirror coatings like the ‘normal’ Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms that the 42mm and 32mm models make do with.
Transmission is quoted at 90%, which is less than the SLC HDs on paper; but as we will see these are subjectively a very bright binocular, as were the Abbe-König prism equipped Zeiss FLs and Dialyts before them.
Optics - Objectives
Zeiss claim ED (i.e. high-fluoride) glass in these latest Conquests – hence the ‘HD’ label. Though they do still suffer from a little chromatic aberration, it’s much better controlled than on the higher-powered models.
The Zeiss Victory HTs use a complex four element design with two ED elements. Which system the Conquests use isn’t stated by Zeiss, but from a laser inspection of the objectives and the level of false colour I suspect they are triplets with one ED element.
The T* objective coatings on these 8x56mm Zeiss Conquests are of very high quality - much the same as the dark-pink T* coatings on the SFs and the Victory FLs before them, different from the smaller Conquest models’ I’ve tested. They also have the latest dirt-shedding “LotuTec” feature, same as the premium models.
Interior quality and baffling looks exceptional: two knife-edge baffles behind the objectives and ridge baffles in the focuser carriage. The objective retaining rings are ridged to help curb flare.
Pink T* objective coatings are like other premium Zeiss’ (here Victory FLs).
Swarovski SLC HD and Zeiss Conquest coatings compared.
Ridge and knife-edge baffles behind the objectives.
Optics - Eyepieces
The eyepieces have large (25mm), flat eye lenses. As with other Conquest models, the eyepieces don’t have Zeiss’ signature dark-pink T* coatings like the objectives, though the SFs (and Victory FLs before them) do.
Large objectives and a low power permit long focal length eyepieces which naturally have high eye relief, so the Conquest 8x56s have plenty, despite very deeply recessed eye lenses. Zeiss claim 18mm, but I measured slightly more. So, in contrast to the higher powered (10x and 15x) models, I can comfortably see the whole field with my specs on.
The exit pupils are sharply defined, round and the correct size (i.e. unvignetted). Blackouts (spherical aberration of the exit pupil) aren’t an issue either, really adding to comfort.
Apparent field of view is good for an 8x56 at 57° giving ~7.3° (125m/1000m) true, but a little narrow compared to the latest birding models. For context, that’s just 0.1° (3m/1000m) less than the 8x42 model, 0.3° less than Swarovski’s 8x56 SLC HD, but over a degree less than the wide-field 8x42 SFs.
The adjustable eye-cups have only three positions (many premium examples have four). The action is better than previous Conquests – a little stiff, but solid and positive.
Eyepiece coatings are different from Victory FL, SF and other premium Zeiss models.
Eye cups have just three positions.
The semi-rigid Cordura case and thinly-padded strap are standard Zeiss items, supplied with most models apart from the 42mm SFs. Nothin’ fancy, but the case is durable and protective.
These get push-in objective caps and a rubber stay-on eyepiece cap, both secured by little lanyards. Push-in caps can be a pain, but here they are easy to fit and stay put thereafter.
In Use – Daytime
Ergonomics and Handling
These are a large binocular – larger than the Swarovski’s 8x56 SLC HDs, but just 40g heavier. There are no cut-outs or sculpting of the barrels to help with the hold, but they don’t need them because you’ll hold them around the barrel ends most of the time.
Focus action is very smooth and precise, with no backlash, play or variation of focus point when changing focus direction. No, it’s not as fast, nor quite as fluid as the SFs’, but in keeping with the Conquest range ethos it’s as good as it needs to be.
I prefer dioptre adjustment on the focuser, but here the basic eyepiece ring is precise and has just enough resistance to avoid shifting it by mistake.
Eyepiece comfort is really excellent, with plenty of eye relief to see the whole field and no blackouts with my glasses on. I’d like an intermediate eye cup position for use without glasses, although with care you can find intermediate positions between the click-stops.
Super-sharp centre-field, blurred towards the edge.
First impressions matter, with bino’s too. With these it was, ‘wow, that’s a great view!’
Later, I’d realise that the view is a little narrower than the best (usual with 8x56s), with a lot more off-axis blur. But that first reaction holds – it’s a great view, sharp, ultra-bright and very easy and comfy. Colour rendition has that signature Zeiss cool tone and I like it. These had me just wanting to view and not review – always a sign of a great bino’.
As usual, I need to point out here that big objectives don’t improve brightness in full daylight: your pupil contracts and stops down the aperture, so daytime brightness is a function of transmissivity. Counterintuitively, this means some cheaper big-eye bino’s seem dim by day, but not these.
On paper these may not have the highest transmission at 90%, but subjectively the daytime view seems especially bright. Compared with my 8x32 Victory FLs, these surprised me by proving significantly brighter by day. The reason is likely those Abbe-König prisms (the 32m FLs have conventional roof prisms for compactness).
These are a great reminder that lower power means more depth of field and less focusing. Along with the naturally steady view you get with lower powers, it makes them easier and more relaxing to use, especially when tired. The wide-set objectives give a stunning three-D effect too.
Optical quality is supreme in both barrels, with perfect sharpness and focus snap. Subjectively, resolution seems outstanding. Looking across the bay at Blackpool on a clear day, I made out details in the rollercoaster and tower I don’t recall seeing before. In the other direction, the Conquests showed extreme detail on a service rig and ship at the wind farm out to the west.
As expected, these work into very low light. I watched a flock of Skylarks at dusk up on the fell in very low contrast conditions. A frosty bay at dawn, still full of deep shadows, was easy to search for waders.
For terrestrial use the field seems well corrected, but that’s an illusion because you concentrate centre field, which is indeed super-sharp. The snap taken through them below shows the truth – these have a lot of blur from 50% field width or less.
The other 56mm Conquests suffer from false colour fringing on high-contrast parts of the view, but this lowest-power model to a much lesser extent and mostly from the eyepieces off-axis. Centre field you can minimise it with careful eye positioning and there’s not much from the HD objectives when focusing through.
Stray Light and Ghosting
Stray light resistance is top-class. I couldn’t get significant veiling flare under a bright dusk sky. A bright streetlight in-field produced no spikes or flare, just a few very faint off-axis ghosts.
In Use – Dusk
The section of bay-front promenade near my house is very dark: even fully adapted my eyes can’t penetrate it on a moonless night. But these 8x56s gave a real light-intensifier effect, showing all the major features of the prom’ and salt-marsh in silvery starlight. And that’s even though they are likely vignetted by my older pupils to more like an 8x50 than an 8x56. Younger eyes would get even better night-vision performance.
As expected, these would be great for owling and other nature viewing at night, twilight hunting or surveillance too.
In Use – Observing the Night Sky
The 8x56 Conquests were wonderful for terrestrial use, rather less so for astronomy. Handling and focusing are great – focus once, then hold them steady around the long barrel ends. Centre-field stars are very pinpoint given the high optical quality. The problem lies off-axis.
Like other Zeiss bino’s, these distort off-axis stars from as little as 50% field width, severely so by the stop. This is astigmatism, not field curvature: you can’t focus it away.
This means that, though you can get the whole of Orion’s belt and sword in the field, both Nair-Al-Saif and Mintaka are then quite distorted. Viewing a rich star field like the one between the Double Cluster and Stock 2, the faint stars in a ~30% ring around the edge are smeared into extinction, giving the tunnel effect I dislike.
A last-quarter Moon hanging low over a pink and frosty bay dawn looked great through these: sharp and detailed, with crater Longomontanus prominent on the terminator. I noted just a little false colour on the very limb when focusing through.
Jupiter’s Galilean moons were very easy to spot given the bright optics and big objectives. The planetary disk showed just a little flare and short spikes. Bright Venus in a dusk sky produced rather more short spikes in focus – not the best performance.
The 8x56 format has a strong reputation for deep sky and the Conquests largely delivered.
The Auriga clusters M36-38 just about fitted in one field. All were resolved into masses of faint stars, with only M37 needing averted vision and M36 really showing off its sweeping Starfish arms. M35 was richly populated too. This is unusual in a low-powered bino’ and due to those big objectives.
The Orion Nebula was small compared to the higher powers I’m used to, but again these showed lots of nebulosity, including a trace in NGC 1975 above it. Was it my imagination or could I make out a hint of nebulosity in the Rosette Nebula too?
These deliver the richest star fields and I easily found lots of little clusters in the Milky Way below Cassiopeia. The Double Cluster region looked wonderful centre field, but the off-axis astigmatism did mar the view (see above).
I easily found comet ZTF (2022) E3, a fuzzy region between Mars and Aldebaran with a definite core and hint of its forked tail.
Zeiss 8x56 Conquest HD vs Swarovski 8x56 SLC HD
I haven’t done a full review of the 8x56 Swarovski SLC HDs yet, but I have spent time with them and their higher-mag’ siblings, so I can compare their main features with the Conquests’.
· Both employ Abbe-König prisms for maximum brightness
· Field of view is very similar, as is eyepiece comfort
· On this pair, build quality is similar too
· The Conquests are longer and slightly heavier
· The Conquests have just a touch more false colour, but significantly more off-axis blur
· Terrestrial view and overall performance seems very similar
· The better corrected field makes the Swarovski better for astronomy
· The Conquests are currently a not-insignificant 30% cheaper
More than the higher-magnification models which are compromised by too much off-axis false colour, I’d choose the 8x56 Conquests for terrestrial use just because they’re cheaper and performance is similar. For astronomy, try to stretch to the Swarovskis.
This is one of those reviews in two halves.
Build quality is flawless on this pair and some of my minor gripes with earlier Conquests – like sloppy eye cups and stiff dioptre adjustment - seem quietly fixed.
For terrestrial use the Conquest 8x56s are outstanding. Exceptional eyepiece comfort is the icing on a cake which includes the best optical quality I’ve seen in a while, extreme resolution, great colour rendition and a very bright view under all conditions. Focus is smooth, precise and ultra-snappy. False colour is low. True, there is quite a lot of off-axis blur, but you rarely notice it by day.
Dusk and night performance for terrestrial use is superb too, with the strong light intensifier effect that the 7mm exit pupil and big objectives confer. These are easy to focus even in very low light. Veiling flare at dusk and ghosting on bright lights at night aren’t a problem.
For astronomy, I didn’t find them as compelling. The main issue is distorted stars off-axis: it spoils star fields with a tunnel effect and mars the wide views of constellations that these should be great for. Meanwhile, the low power gives less involving views of DSOs (and the Moon) than 10x or 15x.
For terrestrial use these get my highest recommendation – the view is superb, the focuser excellent, ditto eyepiece comfort. For astronomy I’d prefer a better corrected field off-axis.
Buy Zeiss 10x56 Conquest from Wex here: