I have been using Zeiss binoculars for the best part of the two decades. For most of that time I used what were known as Zeiss FLs (a 7x42 pair), which were brilliant, and for the last couple of years I have had a Zeiss SF 8x42 pair, which I use every day (and are even a step up from the FLs). These are of course, the larger objective lens siblings of the Zeiss SF 8x32 pair I have had for testing.
So, I have been able to do side-by-side comparisons of the two. What is most surprising for me, is how similar the optical performance of these two binoculars are. Zeiss have somehow squeezed all the good things that make the bigger SFs such amazing binoculars into what feels and looks like a half-size package.
The 8x32s share the larger model’s ‘open bridge’ design, but the slimmer barrels mean holding them for birding is a delight. The barrels are covered in a very lightly textured (almost smooth) but grippy rubber and feel lovely in the hands. I never found focusing the x42s anything but natural and easy, but it is even more of a breeze on the x32s, with my fingers automatically finding the 1.5-finger width ridged focus wheel (a few mm ‘shorter’ than the 8x42’s wheel). Focusing is smooth, easy and precise, with about 1.75 rotations from close to infinity.
That close focus distance is about 1.85m to my eyes (closer than the claimed 1.95m), which is about 35cm further than my 8x42 pair, and perhaps the most notable optical difference between the pairs. For nearly all birding use, this will be of no consequence, and even for insect-watching close-ups is more than adequate.
The image is, at all times, excellent, bright, crisp and very ‘real-life’ in colour. In fact, again, it is extremely similar to the 8x42s, even in low light. Zeiss has worked wonders in extracting such a performance from these x32 binoculars. And the wonders continue with the field of view, which is very similar or even slightly wider than the 8x42 model at a quoted 155m at 1,000m range. In side-by-side comparison of the two models, it appears similar. And it almost goes without saying that there is crisp edge-to-edge.
Colour-fringing or chromatic aberration are not usually a problem at this price range, but try as I might, I couldn’t see any at all. Again, it is something the x32s share with the x42s.
My dear wife Jo and I went on an afternoon trip to the Nene Washes (just east of Peterborough) the other day, to look for harriers, scarce egrets and Cranes all coming in to roost at dusk. So, we had a chance to do a sneaky binocular swap and to find her opinion of the 8x32 SFs. She was instantly impressed with how comfortable they feel and how smoothly and well the focus wheel works, as well as how good the image was. She was also pleased with the comfortable eye cups which worked very well with her spectacles.
The binoculars come with the expected fine array of accessories, including a nice neoprene strap, rainguards etc, as well as a decent padded case (not as fancy as the 8x42 case but more than adequate!).
These are ‘forget you are wearing them’ smaller binoculars which feel brilliant in the hand and have exceptional optical performance.
Optics: **** 1/2 out of 5
Build: **** 1/2 out of 5
Value : **** out of 5
Overall: **** 1/2 out of 5
Eye relief: 19mm
Field of view: 155m@1,000m
Close focus: 1.95m
Size (LxW): 152mm x 112 mm
Supplied with: Neoprene strap, rainguards, fabric case