Zeiss Victory RF 10x42 Rangefinding Binoculars - tried & tested
- Credit: Archant
Chris Parkin puts the Zeiss Victory RF 10x42 Rangefinding Binoculars to the test to see if their performance is as impressive as their speedy rangefinding and reliable bluetooth connectivity
FOR: Bluetooth connectivity raises the bar and assists faster setup. It is reliable too; Fast rangefinding and accurate ballistic calculations; An alternative ergonomic control layout, but one I found easy to get used to
AGAINST: The lack of an instruction manual is a major oversight – get it sorted Zeiss!; Display would benefit from remaining on for a few more seconds; I would have liked a little more eye relief when shooting prone
VERDICT: When I saw the Victory RF for the first time I thought they were the ultimate answer to all my needs. I appreciate the ease of setup (once you have instructions) and Bluetooth connectivity for updating, but as an actual rangefinder interacting with human eyes and brain, I think a couple of timing issues need to be addressed in the firmware, which can no doubt be done via the Bluetooth. Ah, the blessings of technology!
Zeiss Victory RF 10x42 Rangefinding Binoculars
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- 2 Ruger American in .300 Blackout - test & review
- 3 Gun test: Tikka T3X Super Varmint Cerakote
- 4 Sako S20 Precision rifle - test & review
- 5 Gun test: Ruger Precision Rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum
- 6 Gun test: Sauer 100 Stainless XTA
- 7 Shooting long-range rimfire: part 2 (you don't need expensive kit!)
- 8 Gun test: the brand new CZ 600 centrefire range
- 9 Gun test: Anschutz 1710 HB G Kelbly .22 LR precision
- 10 Gun test: Bergara BXR Carbon .22 LR semi auto rifle
Effective lens diameter: 42 mm
Exit pupil diameter: 4.2 mm
Twilight factor: 20.5
Field of view: 115 m
Subjective angle of view: 66° Ww
Close-up setting limit: 2.5 m
Diopter adjustment range: +/- 3 dpt.
Eye relief: 17 mm
Pupil distance: 53.5 - 76mm
Lens type: FL
Prism system: Abbe- König
Coating: LotuTec®/ T*
Nitrogen filling: Yes
Waterproof: 400 mbar
Operating temperature1: -25/+63°C
Length: 166 mm
Width with an eye spacing of 65 mm: 121 mm
Weight: 915 g
Measuring range: 15 - 2300 m
Measuring accuracy: 1 to 600/ 0.5% over 600 m
Measuring duration: <0.3 Sec.
Laser wavelength: 905 nm
Laser beam divergence: 1.6 x 0.5 mrad
Battery: 1 x 3V Type CR 2
Battery life at +20°C: >2500 measurements
RRP: 8x42 - £2,500; 10x42 - £2,600; 8x54 - £2,800; 10x54 - £2,900
CONTACT: Zeiss 01223 401525 www.zeiss.co.uk/sportsoptics
IN DEPTH REVIEW
I have been a convert to rangefinding binoculars for a long time as they combine several daily needs into one tool. They don’t encourage me to take unnecessarily long shots, but they do help me adapt to locations and define ballistics on the vast selection of rifles I shoot.
I have relied on the Leica HD-Bs for some years, as these also measure atmospheric and angular variables to further improve shot solutions, with a ballistic readout allowing immediate firing solutions (other than for wind) to be displayed and acted upon. These were going to be my benchmark for the test as they are the only item of equivalent optical quality to counter what Zeiss’s new Victory RF units were offering, with newer connectivity updates.
Whereas the Leicas need PC access with a Micro SD card to supply custom ballistics into the binos, the new Victory RFs have taken the latest technology a step further, enabling Bluetooth connectivity for this purpose from a smartphone or tablet. This is only for initial set-up and not required in the field, but I will say the Bluetooth, when enabled or required, was faultless, and thank goodness they didn’t want anything with wifi which is a bane to outdoor shooting tech.
The Victory RFs are supplied in a grey clamshell case with neoprene neck strap and bridged rubber eyecup protectors to slot over the lenses. The objectives have clip-in plug-type protectors which, blissfully, hang low on their straps and don’t have a habit of becoming self-applied to block your view in what may be a chance opportunity of just seconds to view something.
The Abbe-König prism-design RFs (the Abbe-König appeared in the Victory SF binoculars a few years ago) have a central twin-pivot bridge, with the CR2 battery compartment, rated for 2,500 readings, located in the front bearing housing with the focus wheel sitting centrally between the two bridges. This is light in operation with 1¼ turns allowing sharp focus to be applied from approximately 2.5m to infinity.
Rounded four-position eyecups shroud the ocular lenses for varying glassing positions. Their soft radiused profile locks comfortably into your orbital sockets with minimal fatigue, but when laid prone an extra 1-2mm of eye relief would have been better for me – perhaps I have heavy eyebrows!
Ergonomically speaking, I found these binos encouraged my hands to sit a fraction further forward on the tubes, with my index finger controlling focus, each second finger sitting on the right tube’s power/ranging button, and the left side offering menu options.
A long five-second press of the menu button activates the Bluetooth to pair with the app on your phone, and a two-second press at any time will bring up the menu.
Usually, RF binos need a primary press on the power/ranging button to activate the aiming reticle inside (in this case, a red circle in the right tube), before a second press fires the laser and ‘pings’ back the distance. But these Zeiss do all of that in one press, which is fast but not necessarily as accurate on your point of aim.
Of course, secondary presses with a better aim are possible for more accurate readings on smaller targets, and you soon get used to the speed for larger game that you will line up more intuitively from the start.
From lifting the binos to your eyes, that first range reading will appear in less than 1.2 seconds, with the ballistic display following just 1.5 seconds after it. Speed is great, but the display only stays lit for 1.8 seconds so if you blink, you have missed it.
When considering a longer shot requiring that ballistic solution, you might want to be very sure you have read it correctly and the chances are that the further the shot, the less likely you are to be in a hurry, be that on targets or live quarry.
Just to compare, I timed the Leicas and they display the output data for over six seconds. Yes, it might mean a fraction less battery life for the internal red LED screen, but I’d rather that than be in a hurry with critical details.
Holding down the ranging button for three seconds, rather than a single press, puts the RFs into ‘scan’ mode, where range readouts are updated every 1.5 seconds. Critically, I was only able to get single ‘ping’ readouts to about 800m on bulky reflective targets, like trees in full leaf near dusk. If I was reading further, the ‘scan’ mode had to be adopted, and when you landed on the target you were looking for, releasing the button allowed the internal workings to calculate and then display the appropriate firing solution.
Compare that with the Leicas. Well, they did single ‘pings’ out to 2,000m on a church spire I can see from my office, but no further. On scan mode, the Zeiss did reach a little further to a bordering treeline at 2,150m, but this needed the slower scan mode function to give enough of a laser belt to get a return ping.
To sum up, the RFs are very fast, possibly the fastest of all by fractions of a second, BUT be careful what you wish for – I wonder if they might do a firmware update to slow things down just a little to help interaction with the comparatively sedentary human brain! I definitely want to see that ballistic readout last longer: three to four seconds at least.
Anyway, just to get it off my chest, the instructions supplied are less impressive, comprising two paper QuickStart guides, which are of little use. More detailed instructions are available in the app but, guess what, with binoculars in one hand and a paired iPhone in the other, flipping back and forth between apps and menu screens is a pain. Clear written instructions capable of being used simultaneously with the smartphone and binos made life straightforward once a set had been supplied to me.
The Zeiss app is perhaps not the most immediately intuitive, offering many unnecessary options to record photos and memories rather than being a solely technical application, but you get used to it and everything works once you are acclimatised.
Activating the menu button with your left middle finger introduces the first menu with 11 brightness settings on the internal screen, followed by the next list of up to nine personalised ballistic curves and nine standardised curves, supplied by Zeiss.
The next option allows you to dictate what details the display will show you after the initial distance readout. I chose option 6 for mRad displayed, which ties nicely to 10mm@100m clicks, but other units are available to suit those working in MOA or ¼” clicks, for example.
Other display options show factors like angles, true distance versus equivalent horizontal range etc. Mistakes at set-up may well haunt you, so be sure of what is being shown to you and that you aren’t mistaking readouts. Metres or yards can be chosen as the base unit before the next menu gives tAb versus tAL, alternating range displays between the longest or best signal return – think of a deer standing beyond a tree but close in line of sight, where the RFs would give the ‘best’ readout to the tree (greatest laser signal return) but the ‘longest’ readout to the deer. This is one to have a play with, and I tended towards longest and concentrated on re-pinging an item several times if I was even slightly unsure the laser beam wasn’t catching it.
The scan mode can be helpful, allowing targets to pop out of a background, and after a day of use I was confident that point of aim and point of impact (the zero of the laser beam and inner reticle) were in close collaboration, as I got accurate repeat pings that led to accurate shot solutions and hits on target. A penultimate menu screen allows you to reverse control buttons (left and right side of the binos) before the ‘menu off’ function is encountered, although the binos will automatically do this anyway.
If shooting one of the supplied standard ballistic curves, nine are offered with tabulated drop data so you can choose the one closest to your ammunition type. The option to use a custom curve after inputting your own rifle/scope and ammo data into the app is desirable for serious users as one or two clicks can be critical.
On steel silhouettes, I ran three rifles during a day of testing – a .243 with 75gr Hornady V-Max, some 178gr Hornady precision Hunter through a .308 (both factory loadings) and a full custom handloaded ammo set-up in my .260 Rem, using 123gr A-Max.
I had steel targets set out to 600m+ and wanted to try first-round kill shots to test the output data at realistic live quarry ranges, with the longer ones further into the theoretical stages of simple target shooting, rather than hunting. Out to 450m, I had first-round ‘kills’ with all three calibres at 167m, 234m, 354m and 411m where a 1cm click deviation from my well-known and previously empirically researched data was unimportant.
A click out at 200m is 2cm which, inside a realistic kill zone with all other variables ignored, is more than satisfactory – it would have been 3cm at 300m and 4cm at 400m, so you get the idea. Shots beyond 400m did need more detail, but I was happy enough with Zeiss’ calculations and readouts.
I was encountering over 75cm of wind drift at 600m with the .260, and having no understanding of wind effect will get you in a lot of trouble instantly, far beyond the relative simplicity of distance and single ‘clicks’ alone.
Also, if you have multiple rifles overlaid into the RF’s memory, make sure to clearly note which is which, because using the wrong one could be disastrous. They will be named things like ‘bAu1’ up to ‘bAu9’ for customs, and ‘bA1’ to ‘bA9’ for the standardised curves. I’d suggest hand-written notes with the rifle or ammo because using your iPhone on a Scottish hillside to remind yourself is far from desirable when wearing gloves.
Uphill and downhill angular measurement is factored in for improved mountain hunting capabilities for equivalent horizontal range and, to sum up, the fact that the binos did all this calculation for me allowed me far more time to concentrate on the wind, either intuitively or when using additional tools like the Kestrel.
None of these capabilities are new to me, but what the Zeiss have brought to the table is the combined smartphone capability. Any incorrect readings I found were easy to alter and update without resorting to a laptop to reprogram a memory card, and I was able to swap between custom settings in seconds, not the minutes needed to physically change over an SD card or reprogram it. The number of rifles and calibres that go through my hands could easily warp my opinion slightly in terms of what a one-gun man might want to buy into, but set-up of the Zeiss (once you have the instructions printed out) is far simpler than the Leicas. The Leicas do have different functionality to rangefinders which will appeal to some. For me, neither are absolute winners, and both have alternative benefits with few major detractions.
Reading over data sheets to compare facts and figures is one thing, but in essence the Zeiss is great for those with smaller hands. They feel a little less bulky, even if the millimetres and grams are of little difference.
The Leicas show index finger functionality for all three controls (menu, ranging and focus) whereas the Zeiss splits this three ways. It’s horses for courses, but either is soon learned and adapted to.
Image quality on the Zeiss is what you would expect, with a full armoury of the latest coatings to give a wonderfully bright, flat image across all 115m@1,000m field of view intuitive focusing. The interpupillary distance setting as you fold or open the bridges was a bit sticky but remained in position once set, so no great problem and I’d rather too tight than too loose.
Balance and eyecup design seemed to lock into my eye sockets from seated or standing positions. Both were comfortable with neutral balance for the slightly forward hand hold position to keep all controls accessible, and the slightly tapered tube with a minor square section toward the objectives was easy to hold and suited smaller hands quite well too.