I had decided earlier today to make a brief trip up to a local lake to look for White-winged Crossbills. I put the neckstrap on the Minox BD BP porros in anticipation of taking them out on their first “field trip”. Slight change of plans though. As I opened the front door I glanced down and noticed the “Priority Mail” box sitting on the front step. I was a bit surprised as I usually hear the doorbell ring when one of the delivery folks drops something off. The zero degree temperature last night must have done something to the doorbell mechanism as I wasn’t able to get it to work either.
I grabbed the box and looked at the label. Sure enough it was the Zen Ray ED binoculars that I was keeping an eye out for. I threw them, and the dog, in the car and headed up to the lake. Upon reaching the parking area I tore open the box and took out a beautiful little set of binoculars. I say “beautiful” simply because I really do like the color scheme they have employed. They have the same color rubber armor as the Swaro ELs but with more distinctive black accents over the central bridge and in the eyecup area. Even the large red and white “Zen ED” logos located on the binocular look fairly tasteful…something I was not so sure of when I first saw the picture of them on the net.
Since they were going out walking with me I had to put the neckstrap on (so much for Tero’s neckstrap hypothesis for “keepers” ). The neckstrap is a wonderful design in one sense and a bit of an annoyance in another. The positive aspect of it is that it is of the same design as the Vero Vellini that I use for the Meoptas. In others words the neck is fairly well padded and it has that handy little “quick disconnect” feature that leaves a portion of the neckstrap still secured to the binoculars. The reason I enjoy this design is because many times I just tote the binoculars around the house or out on the back porch. Both are places that I do not need to have a neckstrap attached. The negative? Well, even with the neckstrap tightened to its shortest setting the binoculars hang incredibly low on my 6′ 4″ frame. I would say at least to my belly button. If there was some way to shorten the strap further then I would most certainly be raving about the factory included neckstrap as I love the design. The rest of the accessories are entirely adequate. They come with a hardcase similar to that of the Hawke Frontier ED/Vortex Diamondback, etc… and the usual rainguard and objective covers. FWIW the box they came in looks pretty classy in all black with red and white “ZEN ED” inscribed upon it.
Ok, enough of the niceties, lets get down to how they perform and function mechanically.
Physically the binoculars seem practically identical to the Hawke Frontier EDs minus the color differences. They have the same solid feel and wonderful fit and finish to them. There isn’t any play in the click-stop rotating eyecups…the focusing knob has good tension without any play in it and the central hinge is stiff enough not to move unnecessarily.
Speaking of focus, when I initially pulled them out you could tell that they had been sitting in the cold for some time as the focusing knob was stiffer to turn than anything I remember (except maybe the Vanguard). This was initially a concern to me as I have memories of comments surrounding the stiff focus on the Vortex Razor initially. I immediately wanted to write them off as “less than adequate” for this reason but changed my mind after more extended usage. The focusing tension was still fairly stiff in the 15 degree F weather but I was able to turn it satisfactorily after working on it for a minute or two. As I sit typing this I am working the focusing knob again. It is much smoother at room temperature but still is a bit stiffer than what I remember the Promaster and possibly the Hawke. I do not believe anyone would have a major issue with this but I thought it was worthy of being mentioned.
I find the overall ergonomics to be quite agreeable. It has the same texture and balance of that of the Hawke Frontier ED with slightly different texturing along the outer edge of each barrel. The physical weight of the binocular feels entirely acceptable for my tastes and I cannot imagine having a problem toting it around for an extended period of time.
Though it seems like an often used cliche in binocular reviews, this is where these binoculars really shine…pun intended. These binoculars are bright, sharp, largely free of distortion with a reasonably flat field of view and excellent chromatic aberration control. I would suggest they offer just as sharp and clean of an image as the Promaster EDs but with a larger field of view. Sounds similar to the Hawke’s doesn’t it? Well, it is except I would offer that this binocular, despite the same listed field of view seems to display slightly less field curvature and edge distortion than the Hawke Frontier ED. I would venture to say that it is a blend of the two from an optical perspective. I am hoping Kevin can chime in more on this issue as he has all three binoculars currently in his possession.
Looking through these binoculars is a wonderful experience. You immediately get the feeling that you are there…next to the bird and not really looking through a binocular at all. As with the Promasters the image is “Alpha” sharp, bright and wonderfully colorful. The color representation is fairly neutral with the ever so slightest warm color bias. It is less than either the Meopta or the Hawke and possibly at the same level as the Promaster. With alot of snow on the ground it is somewhat noticeable. If this was spring or summer I would be willing to bet that I would have a hard time noticing it.
At this moment I am looking out through the back window of my home at my bird feeders. There are goldfinches, pine siskins and a variety of other beautiful little birds in and around the feeders. It is a pure pleasure to look at them with the Zen Ray ED binoculars. They most certainly compare with anything I have in my selection at the present time and easily better many of them optically. For the $340-some dollars these can be had for right now I think they are just too good to pass up. They easily surpass the typical $300 roofs in so many ways that it would easily take me another half page to describe it.
Take a hard look at these. They are beautiful “little” bins.