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Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85mm Scope Review

I recently wrote my first proper review of a spotting scope, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. That scope was Zeiss’ premium Victory Harpia 85 and I was impressed: giving wonderful views by day, the Harpia really surprised me by working for astronomy too. Meanwhile I loved its compact size and low weight.

But the Harpia has a downside – cost. It’s an expensive device. Worth it? Yes! But what if you don’t want to invest that much in a scope? Just as they do in their binocular range, Zeiss have another current offering at a more modest (though still quite high) price-point: the Gavia on test here. How does it compare to the premium Harpia? Read on to find out...

At A Glance

Magnification

30x-60x

Objective Size

85mm

Eye Relief

~13mm measured.

Actual Field of View

33m – 23m / 1000m

Apparent field of view

1.9° – 1.3°

Close focus

3.3m measured.

Transmissivity

88%

Length

390mm (incl. eyepiece, Sun-shade retracted)

Weight

1460g body only, 1780g incl. eyepiece.

Data from Zeiss/Me.

What’s in the Box?

The Gavia gets a similar box to the Harpia, with a magnetic catch and a thick foam lining. Only the big nature photo is different.

Design and Build

Zeiss currently have two lines of spotting scopes – Victory Harpia and (this one) Conquest Gavia.

The Harpia comes in 95mm and 85mm apertures and is Zeiss’ premium scope, part of a range of top-end products under the ‘Victory’ label, including their ‘SF’ birding binoculars. All Victory products are of European manufacture, as far as I know.

The Gavia, meanwhile, is part of Zeiss’ budget-premium (?!) Conquest range and like the Conquest binoculars it’s proudly made in Ger... (screeching sound of needle being dragged off vinyl).

Scratch that last, because in fact, the label on the Gavia box tells you it wasn’t made in Germany at all, but under license in Japan. Does this matter?

In terms of the build quality, absolutely not. I couldn’t find any evidence that the mechanical and optical fabrication quality (rather than the optical and mechanical design) is any different from Zeiss West’s. It looks the same. Fit and finish are the same. If not for that ‘Japan’ on the box, I wouldn’t have known. This isn’t a re-badged generic scope: external appearance and finish of the Gavia is pure Zeiss; the coatings are typical Zeiss T* too.

Whilst outsourced build might have vague status implications, there are two possible real issues for you as a buyer: future saleability and repairability. I don’t know about either, but both are something to consider.

Labels on the similar Harpia 85 and Gavia 85 boxes betray different origins.

Finish looks typical Zeiss and much like Harpia’s.

Body

First impressions? If I was surprised at the small size of the Harpia, I was amazed at how small and light the Gavia 85 is, just as Zeiss claim.

The Gavia is light because it’s made of a magnesium. I measured just 1460g w/o the eyepiece, which is 25% (480g) less than the Harpia. The Gavia 85 is 30mm shorter than the Harpia 85 too.

Like the Harpia, the Gavia’s outward appearance seems a little plasticky, whilst also feeling much more like a mass-market consumer product (a camera maybe) than most of the astro’ telescopes I review.

Closer inspection reveals excellent fit and finish, much like the Harpia’s, as I noted above. Like the Harpia, the armour on top is smooth, black and slightly shiny. It’s quite thick (about 2.5mm), doesn’t attract prints or fluff too badly and has only a faint odour of rubber. However, I did notice that it is quite prone to nail scratches and marking.

Underneath and at the back is a textured area for grabbing the scope to move it about. Here the armour is different to the Harpia’s, though, with much more subtle texturing.

At the front is a sliding dew-shield/sun-shade that clicks out with 40mm of travel to protect the lens in use. It slides fine, but with a less refined and smooth action than the Harpia’s.

At the other end is a port with a bayonet fitting for the eyepiece. I’ll talk more about this in the eyepiece section below.

Despite its light weight, the Gavia is nitrogen filled and waterproof to 400 mbar, same as their binoculars.

Zeiss Victory Harpia 85 for comparison.

Focuser

The focuser is the deeply-ribbed ring that encircles the scope at the back. The ribbing is the same style as the Harpia’s, but the Gavia doesn’t get the Harpia’s innovative, but for me slightly flawed, two-speed focuser. Neither is there a zoom ring here, like the Harpia’s, because the zoom control is conventionally located on the eyepiece.

Despite a lack of fine focus control, the focuser’s action is close to ideal for me and I never felt the need for one: it’s smooth but weightier than the Harpia’s so no danger of defocusing by accident. It’s precise too and has no slop. I could find no difference in focus position when focusing though and then backing out, a key benefit for me as I habitually focus that way.

The Gavia is not parfocal across its zoom range – it’s not too far off, but zooming mostly needs a quick nudge on the focuser.

Close focus is an outstanding feature of the Gavia – I measured just 3.3m across the whole zoom range just as Zeiss claim, almost the same as the Harpia. It’s a fabulous feature that allows the Gavia to function as a long-distance microscope.

The focuser is fast, with closest focus to infinity taking less than a single turn.

I left the Gavia out for some hours in temperatures around freezing, to see if the focuser and/or zoom would stiffen up. They didn’t.

Focuser is the ribbed ring.

Optics - Objectives

The fixed part of the objective appears to be an air-spaced triplet comprising a single centre element of flint glass, sandwiched between two crowns.  Zeiss claim ‘HD’ optics, but based on laser scatter and performance (see below) I would guess these are not the Ultra-FL glass found in the Harpia, but a cheaper ED glass of some type.

Well behind the objective proper are a focusing lens and then a separate zoom lens assembly.

The objective’s focal length is a fixed (unlike the Harpia’s) 494mm, giving a focal ratio of F5.8. That’s similar to a fast astro’ scope designed with wide fields and imaging in mind.

The Gavia has the usual pinkish T* coatings (a Zeiss trademark for almost a century) which are very transparent. The coatings also include Zeiss’ LotuTecTM water-repellent treatment that makes it easier to wipe away fingerprints.

There are a couple of proper knife-edge baffles behind the objective to kill stray light. The lens ring and focuser carriage have ridge-baffles machined in for the same reason.

Look past the typical T* pink coatings to see knife-edge and ridge baffles to control stray light.

Optics – Eyepiece

The Gavia comes with a zoom eyepiece that varies between ~8mm and 16mm in focal length. The eyepiece is quite large, but not heavy.

The eyepiece secures to the scope via a twist-lock bayonet fitting with solid metal blades that holds it very securely. Unlike the Harpia, there is a locking ring on the body that acts as belt-and-braces to secure the eyepiece in addition to the bayonet.

The zoom magnification range of 30x-60x compares with 22-65x on the Harpia 85. This doesn’t sound too different, but it feels much more so in practice, because unlike the Harpia, apparent field of view varies with magnification, a key difference.

Zoom eyepieces are often prone to a narrow apparent field at low power and this one is no different: the apparent field widens as you zoom in, so that the field of view at 1000m only varies between 33m at 30x and 23m at 60x. The Gavia’s maximum true field of 1.9° at 30x is quite constricted (much more so than its barrel size could theoretically permit).

If you take Tele Vue’s advice about choosing eyepieces based on field width not magnification, the Gavia’s zoom is consequently less useful than the magnification range might suggest: magnification varies by a factor of two, but the field of view by just 30%.

Eye relief measures roughly 15mm from the rim of the eye cup and seems to maintain it across the zoom range, but I can only see the whole field at the 30x zoom setting. For those who view without glasses, the eye cup twists out and extends with two out positions. Unlike some Zeiss eye cups the twist-and-click action is smooth and positive.

Eyepiece has twist-out cup with two positions to accommodate the ~15mm eye relief.

Mounting

The Gavia has a built-in mounting ring, in which the scope can be rotated having loosened a lock knob on the right side. It rotates smoothly, with click-stops and a refined weighty feel.

Attached to the ring is a mounting shoe that can function as a dovetail, but also has a standard ¼ - 20 thread for tripod mounting as an insert in a 3/8 thread.

I mounted the Gavia on a light Berlebach ash tripod with a matching head that works perfectly and looks good in a domestic setting, too.

For serious field use, you would choose a carbon tripod and a heavier scope-specific head.

The Gavia 85 is smart enough for a domestic setting.

Accessories

The Gavia comes with a push-in objective cap that I found quite stiff and tricky to remove. The eyepiece comes with a cap on a lanyard and there are caps for its bayonetted end and the open end of the scope too.

No case is provided, but you can buy a quality stay-on case as an accessory.

Another useful accessory that the Harpia doesn’t get is an adapter to allow the fitment of 1.25” astro’-fit eyepieces, of which there is of course a huge range available. Experiments with Tele Vue eyepieces, Nagler and Panoptic, suggest these might be an interesting alternative to the standard zoom.

A 19mm Panoptic, an eyepiece neither particularly large nor expensive, gave a really superb view at 26x, a huge improvement over the 30x setting of the standard zoom eyepiece.

This also offers the possibility of increasing the range of magnification and field of view: a 32mm Plossl giving just 15x, and a 5mm Nagler giving 99x, both focused up nice and sharp (though the high power gave a lot of false colour). Meanwhile, the 32mm Plossl gives a much wider field of 3.1° than the standard eyepiece’s 1.9°.

In Use – Daytime

Ergonomics

Eyepiece comfort is good with no troublesome blackouts at low power, with or without specs. Even at 60x, blackouts are minor.

Like the Harpia, eye relief is sufficient that I can see all of the field with specs on, but only if I really push my specs into the eye cup, otherwise I lose a lot of the field, especially at 60x where the apparent field is wider.

As I mentioned before, the Gavia is close to parfocal across the zoom range but annoyingly not quite. Still, re-focusing is easy because the focuser action is very positive and precise.

The Gavia is so compact and light, it’s not an issue to just pick it up and carry it on a tripod – even easier than the Harpia.

The View

Given the Gavia’s lower price and outsourced manufacture I was expecting a lacklustre view, but not so. The view is really very good: sharp, full of detail, and bright too. There is no softness, even at high power, and focus snap is always an absolute point – a sign of great optics.

Views of waders out on the bay sands are pin-sharp, as are the ripples and waves of the incoming tide. Across the bay, the woods and villages are picked out with perfect detail and contrast.

Nearer to home, I can enjoy close-up views of the spring flowers poking up through last year’s leaves in the under-storey of my local copse, where light levels and contrast are low.

The elephant in the room with the Gavia is the field of view. As I pointed out above, it only narrows by 30% as you zoom in, so that lower powers deliver steadiness and depth of field, rather than the much broader view you expect. I found myself really wanting a lower-power/wider field zoom setting in the Gavia, much more so than with the Harpia.

1x zoom - 30x magnification: sharp but narrow.

2x zoom – 60x magnification: sharp and detailed on-axis, but depth of field is very shallow.

Flat field?

As I noted above, the field appears sharp edge-to-edge by day, even at minimum focus distance and maximum zoom, confirmed by viewing a meter rule 3.5m away. Only when viewing stars do you realise that there is a little curvature and astigmatism towards the edge.

There is also a bit of pin cushion distortion, probably to allow comfortable panning. Even so, panning does create some ‘rolling ball’ effect.

Chromatic Aberration

My usual way of assessing false colour is viewing silhouetted branches at high power. The Harpia 85 really surprised me by passing this test almost to perfection; the Gavia 85 not so much.

Despite a triplet objective and ‘HD optics’, the Gavia shows some purple-and-green fringing from the objective around silhouetted branches when focusing through at the maximum zoom setting of 60x. There is minor in-focus false colour too. This would be typical of an astronomical telescope with an ED doublet objective, of similar aperture and focal ratio, at this magnification.

Even at the lowest power of 30x, there is a trace of false colour and more off-axis from the eyepiece. None of this is ruinous, but in birding or nature viewing in high-contrast situations – silhouette, snow, bright water etc – you may notice it.

In Use – Dusk

The Gavia continues to give good views in low light, but only at lower magnifications. For high-power viewing in twilight you might need to consider a larger aperture.

In Use – Observing the Night Sky

General Observing Notes

One of my main goals in testing the Gavia was to see how it performs for astronomy, so I’ll spend some time going into detail. Just skip this section if you’re not interested!

For a proper star test 60x is a bit low powered and star-testing a scope intended for terrestrial use is arguably unfair anyway. Nonetheless, the star test looked good, with nice rings one side and slightly fainter ones the other. I noticed only minor false colour in the star test, even on Sirius.

Even on-axis, The Gavia shows a little astigmatism on stars, in a way the Harpia didn’t – a delivery more typical of binoculars. Minute crosses they may be, but stars still appear basically pinpoint on casual inspection. And astigmatism only increases a little towards the field edge.

By day, the Gavia’s field appears sharp-to-the-edge, but at night stars do become progressively a little blurred off axis at 30x, but it’s mostly curvature and can be focused away. Sensibly, at the highest powers the field is almost flat.

One unexpected issue was that the maximum field of just 1.9° at 30x made finding fainter targets very challenging without a finder, more so than with binoculars that share your naked-eye line of sight. I often got lost trying to find DSOs among the stars, where I didn’t so much with the Harpia.

The limited zoom range made it a less useful feature than the Harpia’s for astronomy.

Gavia FOV at 30x overlaid on Orion shows how comparatively narrow it is.

The Moon

A crescent Moon low in the dusk sky looked as crisp and detailed as it did through the Harpia.

Mars

Mars was the only bright planet around at the time of test and it looked like a minute disk, with no flare or ghosting.

Deep Sky

The Gavia has a really noticeably smaller field than the Harpia (see above). At 30x it only just encompasses the main features of Orion’s sword, for example, or just two of the belt stars where the Harpia easily manages all three.

The Pleiades fitted perfectly in the field at 22x and looked quite good: not the brilliant misty diamonds on velvet you get with an astronomical refractor, but perfectly nice sharp stars.

The Orion Nebula looked much as it does through an 85mm astro’ scope, with sweeping arms of nebulosity and some whorls and clumps in the bright inner region. The field of view at low power just about encompassed the whole of Orion’s sword.

Various open clusters looked great, with the flat field framing them nicely among their star fields – the Double Cluster, the Pinwheel, the Starfish and Praesepe all resolved into bursts of stars. I easily found fainter and smaller clusters in the Milky Way in and around the constellation of Cassiopeia.

Castor split easily, but I failed to split Rigel.

Overall, the Gavia makes a surprisingly good astronomical telescope and a very compact one, but finding things is hard with no finder and a narrow FOV.

Zeiss Gavia 85 vs Tele Vue TV-85

The TV-85 is a compact astro’ telescope that also gets quite widely used for terrestrial viewing.

The TV-85 is just an ED doublet objective in a tube with a 2” rack-and-pinion focuser (more recent versions get dual speed) and that simplicity means it’s bright and capable of high powers. Despite the Gavia’s theoretical advantage of having an ED triplet, it actually suffers rather worse false colour at high power and it’s not as sharp above its design maximum of 60x (whereas the TV-85 will happily take well over 100x).

The ability to take 2” eyepieces means the TV-85 has a much wider potential field of view too (up to ~4.4° vs 1.9°) and much greater flexibility for prime-focus photography.

However, the Gavia is much lighter weight, even more compact and waterproof to boot; possibly more rugged.

So, for most terrestrial uses I would choose the Gavia as expected, unless a wider range of field of view and/or power was a requisite. For astronomy I would pick the TV-85 every time. For mixed use, the choice would depend on specific needs (waterproofness etc).

Summary

The Gavia extends the Conquest vibe into a scope – everything you need, nothing you don’t. Its huge advantage is its light weight and compact size, even compared with the Harpia, but optically and mechanically it’s mostly good news too.

The view is a bit narrow, but it’s sharp to the edge, bright and crisp, with natural yet vibrant colours and truly excellent resolution. The focuser is single-speed and a bit heavier and less fluid than the Harpia’s, but is highly effective nonetheless.

Build quality is excellent on this example. Contrary to expectations, if you didn’t know that it’s outsourced, you would assume the Gavia is made in the same factory as the Harpia - it seems very similar, even down to the coatings.

So the Gavia’s big downside isn’t lower optical or build quality, as I’d feared it might be. Instead, the Gavia’s main downside is its constricted view at low power that renders the already limited zoom range (compared with the Harpia’s) much less useful still. The Gavia does also show some false colour at high power, despite ‘HD optics’ and a triplet objective, but I found this overall to be less of a problem than the limited field of view.

The Gavia 85 gives a really outstanding view. Optical and build quality are fully up to the high level you’d expect of Zeiss. The Gavia is also very light and compact, just as advertised. Its main downsides are a narrow field of view at low power and a bit of false colour the Harpia eliminates.

 

Buy Zeiss Gavia 85 from Wex here:

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