Nikon, Vixen, Zen Ray, Zeiss – a 7x shootout!

Stet and I have gotten together on a couple of occasions recently to compare a variety of high performing binoculars. On the last two occassions I had the opportunity to try his newly acquired Zeiss 7×42 FL. I do not try to hide the fact that the 7×42 FL is my favorite binoular. A combination of unique characteristics make it extremly appealing to me. I enjoyed owning all five of the 7x42s over the years. If my finances allowed it I would most certainly pick up another. It is the one Alpha model and configuration that I actually would like to own again someday.

With those thoughts in mind I have been on a quest to find other 7x binoculars that either approach or equal its performance for a fraction of the cost. Many of you know the models I am referring to: the Vixen Foresta 7×50 porro, the Zen Ray 7×43 ED3 and the out of production Nikon 7×35 WF (wide field) Action. Each of them comes close to matching the FL and actually better it in some optical areas but none of them combine all of the features that the 7×42 FL does in one package.

Late this morning Stet and I spent another two hour stint comparing these models and some spotting scopes. Here are my impressions of these models by themselves and in comparison to the FL.

The Zeiss FL 7×42

This binocular sports the widest field of view of any 7×42 model currently made at 450 feet. That is an approximate 60 degree apparent field of view in a 7x binocular. The image is exceptionally bright, tack sharp and displays literally no color fringing throughout the entire image. Apparent depth of field is very good and only bettered by the porro models. The sweet spot on this particular unit is also very generous at around 80% by my estimation. There may be a slight drop off in image quality between 70-80% but you really have to look hard to see it.

The only “downside” in reference to the other models and competing Alphas is the specific type of contrast the FL displays. The image appears “washed out” at times depending on what you are observing and what you are comparing it to.

The Zen Ray 7×43

From an overall design standpoint the Zen Ray is very close to the Zeiss. It possesses many similar characteristics to the Zeiss…a field of view within 10 feet (440 versus 450), a sweet spot surrounded by astigmatism, a tack sharp image in the center of the field with little if any notable color fringing and a very good level of apparent brightness.

In comparison to the Zeiss it is only a hair less bright but the contrast level (or style of contrast if you like) is slightly more vivid. Browns and reds in particular appear deeper in the Zen Ray.

The Vixen Foresta 7×50 porro

This is probably the one model that is the most different from the others in terms of overall design. Yes, it is a porro but it is also a 50 mm model in comparison to the 40-somethings and the 35 of the Nikon. As a result it is notably brighter under all conditions even in comparison to the Zeiss. The level of contrast is equal to that of the Zen Ray and a little better than the Zeiss. The size of the sweet spot is comparable to the other two in terms of the percentage of the field of view but since the field of view is notably narrower (376 versus 440 and 450) it doesn’t cover quite as much actual “yardage”. The edges also might be a little sharper than the other two. There is a small amount of field curvature outside of the sweet spot which does give the appearance, depending on the circumstances, of a larger sweet spot.

The two areas where this model betters the two roofs is in the apparent depth of field and the 3D effect. Both are absolutely excellent and provide a very relaxed image.

The downside to this model/configuration is its relatively large size and narrow field of view in comparison to the roofs.

The Nikon 7×35 WF (wide field) Action model

This is a binocular that I picked up off of Ebay 6 or 7 months ago. Its strong points are its very wide field of view, 488 feet and its excellent depth of field/3d effect. In terms of the 3D effect only the Vixen betters it. The two are exceptionally close on apparent depth of field and I have a hard time determining which is actually better in this regard.

The size of the sweet spot is a smaller percentage of the field of view, mayber around 65-70%. The image offers excellent apparent sharpness at the same level as the other models. The contrast level is difficult to describe. I find it certainly acceptable but since this model is only single coated it is a bit less than the other models. There is a yellowish tinge (noticeable but not objectionable) to the image because of the lower light transmission level.

The other negative is the level of eye relief. I believe it is listed at 10 mm. Because of this I completely remove the rubber eyecups in order to see the full 488 foot field of view. For eyeglass hearers this certainly could be an issue.

Stet and I agree that these four are certainly some of the highest performing 7x binoculars we have ever tried or owned.

Pics are below..and in subsequent posts. The last three pics are of my children’s playset (digibinned) through the Vixen, the Zeiss, the Zen Ray and the Nikon. Ignore the upper right hand corner of the Zen Ray pic as I couldn’t quite the phone/camera centered when I took the shot.

7xzeiss 7xNikon 7xshootout 7xshootout2 7xvixen 7xzenray

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