A Work Commenced October 1 2022
When the Zeiss Terra ED pockets were first launched, many enthusiasts were pleased to learn that they were manufactured in Japan, but as of 2020, Zeiss moved the production of these units to China, where all of the larger Terra ED models continue to be made. At first, it was the source of some confusion, with some folk chiming in to inform me that their new Terra pockets were marked “Japan,” while others showed pictures of “China” under the bridge. When I made some enquiries, I was first told by one Zeiss employee that they were still being made in Japan, but shortly thereafter they backpedalled, informing me by phone that the new Terra pocket glasses were now being made in China, leaving only their flagship Victory pockets in Japanese production.
Over the last few years, I bought in, tested and evaluated many pocket binoculars from many manufacturers, and inevitably, the build up of equipment in my house meant that I had to gift many of them to friends or sell them on – and that included my Japanese-made Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25. But after owning and using some top pocket binoculars from Leica, including the 8 x 20 and 10 x 25 BCA models and the Ultravid 8 x 20, I gradually came to accept their limitations, as charming as they are, especially when I began to explore the larger format 8 x 30 and 8 x 32 models. The latter were simply much more comfortable and easier to use, with their bigger eye box and more comfortable handling. And as for optical versatility, the larger 30-32mm formats were in a completely different league to any pocket glass, however sophisticated. A week using my superlative Nikon E II 8 x 30 – my favourite binocular by a country mile – finally convinced me to sell off my little Ultravid 8 x 20 to help recoup some funds(I’m not a collector but an observer), but it did leave a small hole in my modest stable of instruments. I still yearned for a good quality pocket binocular for occasional use, for trips to the theatre and galleries, for travel and exploring interesting buildings in the towns and cities of Scotland and further afield. What to do? It was at this time that I thought I would give the little Terra pocket a second chance, noting that it was still selling at about the same price I paid for my first Terra – £270 – so I took the plunge and ordered a unit up from Cameracentre UK in South Wales.
When it arrived, I was pleased to see that the instrument was presented in the same presentation box my first Terra pocket came in; a sturdy fold-out arrangement, with a lovely presentation of an alpine nature scene. I was equally delighted to see that the binocular was stored inside the same hard, zip-fastened clamshell case, with a magnetic latch to boot. This was a very pleasant surprise, as a 10 x 25 Terra ED model(with a new black chassis) I bought off Amazon in 2021 only came with a soft pouch – hardly enough protection for the instrument, which I returned after not being entirely happy with its optical performance.
The exact same strap was supplied with this new Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 too; another good thing, as it is of high quality and perfectly designed to support this small pocket glass(310g). Examining the instrument, I was pleased to see what I had previously observed with my Japanese-made unit. Well put together, with the same grey-black chassis as before. I liked that colour scheme, with the blue Zeiss logo located just ahead of the central focus wheel. I was relieved to see that the double hinge was tight, maybe not as tight as I recall on the Japanese unit, but tight enough. The same immaculate Zeiss multi-coatings were smoothly applied to the ocular and objective lenses, and applying a breath test on a cool, afternoon outdoors, showed that the company’s proprietary LotuTec hydrophobic coatings rapidly dispersed the condensation. Neat!
The twist-up eye cups were also working perfectly, rigidly staying in position once clicked into their grooves. The dioptre adjuster – a small wheel located at the far end of the wide bridge – moved smoothly – and once adjusted, I was ready to test the optics.
Beginning with my flashlight test, I directed the light from my Iphone torch adjusted to its brightest setting into the binocular from across my living room to examine the focused image. As I noted with my Japanese model, the results showed very good suppression of internal reflections and very little diffused light around the intensely bright beam but, as before, it did show up a prominent diffraction spike, which was also unfortunately picked up by looking at some streetlamps after dark. No difference between the Japanese and Chinese-made instruments in this capacity. The little Leica glasses were much better in this regard, showing very little of diffraction spikes in comparison.
I never conducted an examination of the exit pupils on my first Terra ED pocket, so was keen to see how they fared in this unit. I’m pleased to report that the results were very good, as you can see below; both pupils presented as perfect circles, with no significant light leaks around them. Bravo!
But things turned out even more swimmingly as I began to study the images in bright autumnal sunlight. The view was excellent; bright, sharp, lovely contrast and vivid colours – all the things I had admired in the Japanese-made unit. That’s a consequence of the Schott ED glass used in the objectives and dielectrically coated Schmidt-Pechan prisms delivering an impressive light transmission of 88 per cent. The sweet spot is very large, with only a small amount of softening near the field stops. The view is wide – 119m at 1000m(6.8 angular degrees) – better than on my Leica pockets. I judged the Terra ED’s glare suppression abilities to be very good too – significantly better than my Leica’s, as I remember, with veiling glare being especially well controlled – for a pocket glass at least. The deeply recessed objectives and highly efficient coatings applied throughout the optical train definitely work together here. The quoted eye relief of 16mm is generous enough to enjoy the entire field using glasses, if that’s your thing. It’s also water and fog proof, making it suitable for the most adverse weather conditions Mother Nature is likely to throw at you.
If I’m being honest, the large focus wheel on the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 was, if anything, a little smoother than on my Ultravid 8 x 20. Just over one full turn clockwise brings you from closest focus(~ 1.9 m) to beyond infinity. Indeed, the wheel moved further beyond infinity than many other binoculars I’ve tested. Surely that means that with a bit of clever tweaking(which can be done!), the focuser can be re-adjusted to render the close focus even shorter, but that’s for another day.
In good lighting conditions, and taking into account its considerably smaller field, the Zeiss Terra pocket throws up very comparable views to my Nikon EII 8 x 30, with broadly similar levels of contrast and sharpness. Colour tone is noticeably warmer in the little Zeiss Terra though, and following the course of a long, straight section of country road, the compact Nikon Porro easily showed greater levels of contouring(stereopsis), as I expected from its more widely spaced objectives. This is a quick and easy way to see the advantages of Porro prism binoculars over their roof prism counterparts. The fact that you can more easily discern the bumps and depressions in the road is proof enough that the Nikon shows more spatial information than the little Zeiss roof prism binocular.
Another significant difference between the models is comfort and ease of viewing; eye placement is a lot more finicky with the Zeiss, requiring the precise alignment of one’s eyes with the barrels, and the smaller exit pupil requires a little more skill to find a satisfactory viewing experience. But a 3.1mm exit pupil is much easier to engage with than the 2.5mm pupils on my Leica glasses. None of this was an issue with the little Nikon 8 x 30 though: you simply bring it to your eyes for instant gratification, and drink up the enormous 8.8 degree field in all its optical glory! Having said all that though, I was very impressed how well the little Terra handled the affair. It’s a pocket binocular after all!
So, in conclusion, should I be worried about the fact that the new Terra ED pockets are made in China? For me, the answer to that question is definitely no. It’s every bit as good as the Japanese unit I once had. Properly looked after, it ought to give many years of service. After all, it’s still a Zeiss binocular; and you can tell that from the instant you gaze through it!
Neil English has tested more pocket binoculars than you could shake a proverbial stick at. Find out more from his up-and-coming book: Choosing & Using Binoculars: A Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Nature Enthusiasts, published by Springer Nature in late 2023.