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/ AN OLD RIVALRY
AN OLD RIVALRY
April 8, 2006 4:39 PM
The Nikon / Zeiss rivalry goes back a long long time. I can remember 50 yrs. ago as a boy listening to my father debate the relative merits of Nikkor versus Carl Zeiss Jena lenses. I have owned a Nikon 12x36 D roof prism for 25 yrs. and always felt it to be a quality binocular. My brand new, but old design, Zeiss 10x40 B/GA (thanks to Kenny) has given me the means to do a nostalgic comparison. Both of these binoculars are out of production, but there are still a few new Zeiss’ available.
The Nikon ‘D’ series was introduced around 1980 and mine is an early example. The Zeiss ‘B’ series was originally introduced in 1958 but has undergone many improvements over the years such as the T* multilayer coatings in 1979 and the P-coated roof prisms in 1988. As expected these two binoculars are more similar than different, and it took some nasty tests to separate them in optical quality.
Despite two and a half decades of banging around, my Nikon still makes perfectly round on-axis exit pupils and is in excellent collimation. I ray traced it a few years ago and found it also has good field edge illumination.
The eye relief and fold-down eyecups are similar.
The 10% smaller objectives of the Nikon 12x36 result in lighter weight (640g vs. 760g) that largely compensates its higher magnification for hand holding. The Nikon requires bracing of my elbows, but so does the Zeiss 10x40. The conventional armoring of the Nikon has held up well so far; however, my 55 yr. old Fuji that Bill Cook is re-armoring confirms that there are limits to this. The Zeiss rubber armoring will undoubtedly survive us all.
After 25yrs. of continual Diopter tweaking on the Nikon due to incidental contact, I instantly fell in love with the front hinge Diopter adjustment on the Zeiss – just set it and forget it. Too bad they don’t use this system anymore, since the combined focus/Diopter adjustment that replaced it is now being reevaluated by Zeiss due to persistent reports of interaction.
Neither focuses closely enough for birding/daytime use, but the Zeiss has the edge at 5m vs. 7.5m. This was just enough difference to allow observation of Finches in a nearby tree that would not come to focus in the Nikon.
During the day I used spindly dead branches silhouetted against a very bright washed-out sky. While barely noticeable in either, the Nikon D showed slightly less color than the Zeiss B/GA. This same result was repeated at first-quarter Moon, which appeared color-free at the Nikon’s field center while very slightly fringed in the Zeiss. At the field edges both showed inward magenta fringing, but again a bit more pronounced in the Zeiss.
This was tested using a neighbor’s downspout about 15m away. In the Zeiss the downspout remained perfectly straight right out to the field edge, while in the Nikon it developed mild inward bowing. In 25yrs. of use I had never noticed this!
Flaring and Ghosting
When first quarter Moon was moved just outside the field edge, the Zeiss produced a bright inward flare not present in the Nikon. Once the moon was far enough off field, the flare extinguished and no further artifacts were observed. In comparison, the Nikon produced a large washed-out ghost that persisted with the Moon several field diameters away. Thus despite the annoying initial flare, the Zeiss produced more contrasty views of Saturn located near the moon.
Other Optical Comments
During the day, the 4mm vs. 3mm exit pupil difference was easily noted as images in the Zeiss were consistently brighter. However at night the additional magnification of the Nikon made up this difference. Around new Moon I was able to compare M46/47, M35, M44 and M51, and to my eye they all looked absolutely identical in both bino’s.
Daytime tests showed no discernable difference in sharpness on axis or off, but under the stars the Zeiss had a very slight advantage. Although Procyon looked similar in both, I found myself twiddling the focus knob on the Nikon more often than the Zeiss. This may be partly due to 25yrs. of wear in the Nikon focuser, but focus snap just seemed slightly better in the Zeiss. Procyon started to soften at about 50% field radius in both and degraded marginally faster in the Nikon as the edge was approached.
A very wise man (Bill C.) has said repeatedly that quality is quality. In my humble opinion he is correct. If nothing else, I would hope that this nostalgic comparison spurs buyers to stretch that extra amount for a Nikon or Zeiss (or Fuji, Leica, Swaro etc.) if at all possible. They will have a binocular that will literally last a lifetime and save money in the long run, because it won’t ever degrade. According to Bill, the optics in my half-century old Fuji are still in excellent condition.
Thanks for reading,
April 8, 2006 5:11 PM
I think that that classic Zeiss glass is about the coolest design of any binocular. I have only once actually looked through such a glass (only once, and all sorts of things could have been wrong with that single specimen), but in that one experience (not generalizing here!!!) I was quite surprised--underwhelmed, actually. I expected dazzling clarity and brightness. Had a very ordinary view. Probably an ill cared for specimen, of course.
April 8, 2006 5:55 PM
They've been making find instruments for a long time. Lots of nice glass.
April 9, 2006 7:43 AM
added to minireviews
Teach a kid something today. The feeling you'll get is one of life's greatest rewards. member#21
/ AN OLD RIVALRY
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