A Work Commenced December 27 2023
Product: Zeiss Victory Pocket 8 x 25
Country of Manufacture: Japan
Exit Pupil: 3.13m
Eye Relief: 16.5mm
Field of View: 130m@1000m (7.5 angular degrees)
Dioptre Compensation: +\- 3
Chassis: Magnesium alloy overlaid with black rubber
Coatings: Zeiss T* Multicoating, LotuTec coatings on objective lenses
Light Transmission: 91%
Close Focus: 1.9m advertised, 1.65m measured
Folding Mechanism: Single asymmetric hinge
ED Glass: Yes, Schott Fluorite containing objective
Waterproof: Yes (1m)
Accessories: Cordura clamshell case, neck strap, lens cleaning cloth, instruction sheet, warranty information
Dimensions: 11 x 11 cm
Weight: 290g advertised, 289g measured
Warranty: 10 Year (European)
Although I fully acknowledge the superiority of larger compact and mid-sized binoculars, pocket instruments have always remained a charming proposition to me, especially when ultra portability is the desired endgame. That’s why my new book, Choosing and Using Binoculars, has a large chapter dedicated to such instruments.
In this review I’ll be setting down my thoughts on arguably the most sophisticated small binocular ever made: the Zeiss Victory Pocket 8 x 25, which caused quite a stir when it was first brought to market in 2017. Zeiss, of course, has a long history of creating sophisticated pocket binoculars. For example, I’ve already extensively showcased the less expensive Terra ED 8 x 25 in previous blogs, where I’ve extolled its many virtues.
The original Victory Pocket had an 8 x 20 format, just like Leica’s Trinovid BCA and Ultravid BR models. It too had an asymmetric single-hinge design, folding down neatly so that it could fit inside a typical pocket, but Zeiss decided to completely redesign their flagship pocket glass, packing it full of features only found on their larger Victory models. Gone are the small 20mm objectives which were replaced by larger 25mm lenses, with magnifications of 8 x or 10x. I decided to test the more popular 8 x 25 model in this review with a view to answering an intriguing question raised in the fascinating Birdforum thread highlighted in the preamble above: can the performance of this little 8 x 25 come close enough to a top-rated 30 or 32mm model to justify abandoning the larger format altogether?
Considering the fact that Zeiss has bestowed their Victory label on this instrument, I was expecting an attractive presentation box. I wasn’t disappointed. The rigid, white cardboard box opens up to show a picture of a bear family in the wilderness. The instrument is laid in a foam cutout adjacent to the grey Cordura clamshell case, which also contained the supplied neck strap. The only two other accessories:- an instruction sheet and Zeiss microfibre lens cloth are tucked away at the sides. Given the considerable expense of this instrument I was surprised to see no ocular or objective covers for the instrument included in the package. More on this later.
As mentioned earlier, the instrument has a single, folding hinge offset to the left. Having only used more conventional, dual-hinge models, I found I had to totally re-think how I was going to handle this binocular but I’m delighted to say that after a little practice, I took to it like a proverbial duck to water. I found the most stable arrangement was to wrap my right hand round the right barrel, resting some of my fingers on the bridge and using the left index finger to rotate the focus wheel. This neatly avoids any contact with the dioptre compensation wheel mounted at the opposite end of the bridge. With a little bit of practice, I found this to be a considerably more comfortable arrangement than any dual- hinge glass I’ve experienced before.
The focus wheel is covered in textured rubber and is noticeably larger than that found on all other pocket binoculars. The motion is silky smooth and very precise, taking 1.75 revolutions clockwise to go from closet focus to a little bit beyond infinity. Having a larger focuser is a real blessing, especially when wearing gloves.
The Magnesium alloy chassis is overlaid by thick black texturised rubber armouring helping to bulk out the instrument for better gripping. I did note that it attracts dust and other debris rather easily however.
The twist up eyecups lock firmly in place. Overlaid by black rubber, they are very comfortable to rest one’s eyes against even for prolonged viewing periods. Eye relief is generous, especially for an 8 x 25 format. However, I was just able to see the entire field of view when the cups were retracted, but I wouldn’t describe the experience as comfortable. Luckily I don’t wear eyeglasses so this wasn’t an issue for me. In retrospect, I felt the Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 BR was easier to use with spectacles on, even though it has less quoted eye relief.
The ocular lenses are 20mm in diameter, so fairly large for this format.
The objective lenses are decently recessed for a pocket binocular, providing a few millimetres of protection from stray light and the elements. I noted different antireflection coatings on the ocular and objective lenses(purple).
The supplied neck strap is a scaled down version of the bigger Victory SF models. And while many complained about how difficult it was to pass the loops through the tiny lugs, I didn’t find it overly fiddly to attach. Round the neck it sits very comfortably and is an ideal match for the weight of the instrument(289g).
All in all, the ergonomic qualities of the Zeiss Victory Pocket( VP) are a good step up from the Terra ED pocket previously showcased.
One of the other issues commonly raised in the preamble thread link was the security of the dioptre wheel. Many reported that it moved quite a lot. Others even reported that it came right off! One would hope someone from the Zeiss team was listening as these reports came out. That said, the wheel on this unit seems firm and has a decent amount of inertia against movements. When set in the zero position, the wheel slots into a small groove. Moving it either clockwise or anticlockwise reveals no other grooves. For the first few days of my tests, I placed the folded up binocular in the supplied case, wrapping the neck strap around the barrels. But I quickly noticed significant departures of the dioptre wheel from my ideal setting just taking it out of its case. Clearly the wheel was either catching on the top of the case or the neck strap, or both.
I soon hit on a solution however, by storing the binocular with the barrels fully extended and the neck strap doubly folded under the bridge. Stored this way I have not encountered any movements. Problem solved.
I do like the case however, a miniature version of those supplied with the bigger Victory SF models. I think it’s a very good match for the instrument.
My first tests involved seeing how well the Zeiss VP 8 x 25 handled a bright beam of light from across a room. I’m delighted to say that it passed this test easily. I saw no significant internal reflections, no diffraction spikes and no diffused light around the target. This was a significantly better result than the lower-cost Terra ED 8 x 25 units I tested, which did show a prominent diffraction spike when pointed towards strong light sources after dark.
The appearance of the exit pupils in the Zeiss VP was not quite as excellent as those I recorded with the Terra pocket however, as you can see below.
While the Terra produced an excellent result with a dark, cavernous blackness around the bright pupil, the Zeiss VP showed more light leaks, with a slight false pupil near the main entrance pupil. More on this a little later.
The image served up by the Zeiss VP is truly excellent: tack sharp from edge to edge, bright and contrast rich. Colour correction is excellent. I see none within its very large sweet-spot and only a few splashes of colour fringing near the field stops.
I also noted that unlike the vast majority of other instruments I’ve tested, this well corrected field is seen both vertically and horizontally.
Pincushion distortion is very well controlled in this instrument too, only appearing very mildly at the extreme edges of the field. The Zeiss VP 8 x 25 performs well against the light with very good control of glare: something pocket instruments are not renowned for. All in all, I can easily see why this little Zeiss binocular is a true member of their prestigious Victory series.
Notes from the Field
I found that the flexi plastic rain guard offered by Opticron to be a decent fit for the Zeiss VP. Objective covers are unnecessary in my opinion, as these lenses hang downwards while the instrument is being transported around your neck. In addition, the objectives are treated with Zeiss’ proprietary LotuTec coatings to repel water and dirt during field use.
Reading through the many threads on the Zeiss VP 8 x 25, including the preamble linked to above, I noted the number of people who claimed that this instrument had replaced their 8 x 32 Alpha glasses, citing the VP’s large field of view(~7.5 degrees), its generous eye relief, superb optics and much better handling than any other pocket sized instrument. One seasoned naturalist even claimed that the Zeiss VP 8 x 25 was a “revolutionary” instrument or even “one of the great binoculars of our times.”
I can certainly understand these sentiments having tested it under a variety of different environmental conditions. It most definitely behaves much more like a 32mm glass than I had expected.
Close focus was a little underwhelming however, as I fully expected a value near 1.5m based on so many other reports. My measurements revealed a 1.65m close focus value: very good in the scheme of modern roof prism binoculars, but not exceptional.
Focusing is buttery smooth and easy even in sub-zero temperatures. On a family visit to Braemar in the Scottish Highlands over the Christmas holidays, I subjected the VP to temperatures as low as -6C and it performed flawlessly, with no stiffening up of the focus wheel. Indeed Zeiss claim that the instrument operates flawlessly in temperatures ranging from -25C to +63C!
I did detect a slightly increased amount of glare glassing strongly backlit targets near or just after sunset. I attribute this to the minor false pupil engaging with my dilated pupils under these lower light conditions.
During a very windy spell of weather in early December, I often found myself out in open fields glassing with the Zeiss VP. I found it was sometimes very difficult to hold such a lightweight instrument steady as 50mph winds swept across my line of sight. It was at moments like these that I started pining for my more bulky 8 x 30, which handles these blustery conditions much more convincingly.
Can the Zeiss VP 8 x 25 Replace an Alpha Compact 8 x 32?
Millimetre for millimetre, the Zeiss VP 8 x 25 is a little sharper than the Nikon EII 8 x 30, but at this level of quality there is never very much between them. Having said that, the Nikon is the easier glass to use, because it’s all about lots of little things adding up:
Greater mass to dampen vibrations better
A larger exit pupil for easier eye positioning
A far more relaxed view
Better performance in low light conditions
A much wider and more immersive field of view
A much more enhanced stereoscopic image
Greater aperture allowing for more astronomical targets to be enjoyed
So while the Zeiss VP 8 x 25 brings you very close to a top performing 8 x 32 roof, it just can’t compete with the sheer, unabashed insouciance of a top performing compact Porro like the venerable Nikon E II.
The Zeiss VP 8 x 25 delivers superb optical performance in a highly ergonomic, low weight package, making it ideal for lots of activities including travel, watching sports events, studying flowers and insects at close range, birding, trips to the theatre and/or museum, hiking etc.
For many it can and has replaced larger formats but in my opinion it will never match those unique views served up by a top quality 8 x 30 Porro system such as the Nikon E II, Swarovski Habicht, or Nikon SE 8 x 32. However and, acknowledging those marker stones, if uncompromising daylight optical performance and ultra-portability are your main requirements, the Zeiss VP is an easy choice to make. It is, in my estimation, the best pocket binocular ever made!
Kudos Zeiss Sports Optics!
Read more about this binocular and many other models in my new book, Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts, now available for purchase on Amazon and all good book stores