One who comes from the Mecca of European birdwatchers, may choose just one job: ornithologist. More precisely, a scientist, who deals with questions about the migration behavior of raptors, the personality of homing pigeons, the cooperative breeding of European Bee-eaters and the DNA of the Red-backed Shrike.
Liviu Parau grew up in Europe’s second largest delta area. Where the Danube flows into the Black Sea, Liviu’s home region extends in the Danube Delta biosphere reserve, covering 5,800 km². Nearly two thirds of the delta are protected conservation areas, with the biggest part in Romania and a smaller part over the border, in Ukraine. Together with Bulgaria and Moldova those two countries committed themselves to safeguard and conserve the wetlands along the lower Danube. They aim to preserve the world’s largest coherent reed beds as shelter for the impressive pelican population and for numerous other bird species in the long run.
The nature conservation organization WWF called this a gift to our planet.
Which part of the Danube Delta in his home country Romania is the most beautiful one is hard to tell for Liviu. After all, every corner encompasses an unbelievable variety of wildlife. If Liviu has to name some areas his favorite ones are the lakes around Maliuc and Mila 23 as well as the coastal regions in Sulina and Sfântu Gheorghe.
Out of 5,200 wild animal and plant species in the delta there are 362 bird species registered. The majority of the birds nest in the delta, but several are just migrating, using the delta as stopover site to replenish their energy reserves. Among the bird species, Liviu names a clear favorite, the Red-breasted Goose, which visits the area only in winter. Furthermore, he is still impressed by the iconic symbol of the Danube Delta biosphere reserve, the White Pelican with a number of about 15,000 birds and the roughly 700 Dalmatian Pelicans.
AN INTERESTED, OPEN-MINDED PERSON LIKE LIVIU INEVITABLY DEVELOPED A DRIVE FOR DISCOVERY HERE AND THE QUEST TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ANIMAL BEHAVIOR.
A somehow predestined scientific career
As a child, Liviu Parau spent many summers at his grandparents’ farm, taking care of the animals. Later in his teen years he spent lots of time after school in the large delta wetlands searching and documenting everything that flies. The love for animals is deeply rooted in his DNA, says Liviu. His father is an animal husbandry engineer and his mother studied veterinary science.
In a region where ornithologists continuously map new bird species it was just a natural choice to deal more extensively with birds. So Liviu joined the local birdwatchers’ club in Tulcea at the age of twelve. Studying biology was just a logical next step.
During this phase of life, he was mainly attracted to raptors and so for his bachelor degree he decided to collect field data about their migration behavior.
Driven by the desire to decode their decision to migrate, Liviu researched the influence of weather conditions and the local geography. He also dealt with the new threats along their flyways, like wind farms and what measures could protect the birds. Raptors migrate using up-lifting thermal currents. This helps them to go down south without using their own energy, basically hitchhiking from one current to the next. In Europe, the main threat for migrating raptors are windfarms. Collision with the turbines could be reduced by keeping windfarms away from migration flyways and temporarily shutting down problematic turbines.
Despite his close attachment with the fascinating Danube delta, Liviu left his homeland to follow his passion for research. At least he was close to the water during his Erasmus scholarship, as his master’s degree project led him to Konstanz University and to the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, at beautiful Lake Constance. The topic of this research was the link between the personalities of homing pigeons and their leadership position in the flock. It seems that being bold or shy will not predict a leader, but rather the previous experience in flying the same route and the ability to survive falcon attacks.
ONE INTERESTING PROJECT FOLLOWED THE OTHER IN THE YOUNG SCIENTIFIC CAREER OF LIVIU.
How cooperative is the behavior of the European Bee-eater during the breeding season? Directly after his master studies Liviu accompanied a research group of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen as an assistant on a Croatian island to answer this question. Among the local breeding European Bee-eaters Liviu and his colleagues discovered several birds which helped to feed offspring which were not their own. Globally only nine percent of all bird species show cooperative breeding behavior, mainly in tropical areas where food is available year-round. That is why the European Bee-eater is so special. Liviu observed how older siblings and neighboring birds helped to feed the newly hatched bee-eaters. They even recorded a female bird helping a breeding pair in another colony of the island.
Scientific insights of molecular biology
Directly after his time in Croatia he returned to the institute in Seewiesen to investigate the population dynamics of the non-native Rose-ringed Parakeet in Europe. During this project Liviu moved as a guest researcher to the lab of Professor Michael Wink at Heidelberg University. Here, while working with Michael Wink, he first came into contact with molecular biology in a project for gene expression of the Northern Wheatear.
With molecular techniques and genetic information a new world opened for Liviu. He started his PhD project under supervision of Professor Wink on population genetics of the Red-backed Shrike. The German Ornithologists’ Society partly funds this project. As illegal hunting of migrating birds in Egypt is seen as a big danger for the Red-backed Shrike, they are interested in discovering the natal origin of the shrikes using molecular techniques.
Out in the field Liviu collects feathers, takes blood samples and buccal swabs from the Red-backed Shrikes. For this job he has to be fast as his Red-backed Shrikes are breeding in the vineyards around Heidelberg. Vineyards are particularly problematic to localize the birds, because the shrikes stay well hidden among the broad leaves and numerous lines of the vineyards. With his sponsored ZEISS Victory SF 10×42 he localizes the birds very quickly. Thanks to the high magnification he even reads their leg rings, which he puts on birds he already examined.
Back in the lab Liviu extracts the DNA from the samples he collected. After sequencing the DNA, he is analyzing the order of nucleotides, which are the building elements of the DNA. He focuses on two small genes, which are recognized as very reliable population genetic markers. Taken together, these genes have 1,551 nucleotides. Not all birds are characterized by the same order of nucleotides. A certain order is called a haplotype. Via the haplotype Liviu can group birds of the same genetic background.
Among the so far 132 examined Red-backed Shrikes from 14 countries Liviu identified 76 haplotypes. That means a high genetic diversity. As many migratory bird species in Europe, the Red-backed Shrike’s high genetic diversity is a consequence of the ice ages from the past two million years. Back then, various populations got mixed in Southern Europe, when retreating from the cold. At present, despite the deplorable high trapping numbers on the flyway, the Red-backed Shrike has high chances of survival as a species, thanks to this genetic variety. Diseases and viruses will not endanger this species. For Liviu Parau, the scientist from the birdwatcher’s paradise, this is an important and reassuring finding.
Noam’s home was not a safe place. As soon as he got eight years old, he daily moved out into the forests in the mountains of Jerusalem after school. Nature meant freedom and safety, which he could not find at home. Out here he played relaxed, lived out his curiosity and just was happy. Nature never let him down as he says: “Nature was the home where I could feel a sense of control. I could be the kid I was.” He learned from the energy and diversity of nature and developed to a stable, balanced person.
At the age of ten years Noam got his first bird guide book and binoculars. Suddenly, all birds around him got names, although he was aware of them since a long time from his daily forays. He got to know members of the “Jerusalem Bird Club” and experienced that he was not alone in the region with his interest. Details in nature now got more and more relevant, he could allocate them and had terms for them. The driving force of all, what Noam learned from the forest, was and is the emotional attachment.
TODAY NOAM WEISS DESCRIBES: “NATURE AND ME, WE NEVER LET EACH OTHER DOWN. IT WAS MY SAFE HOME AND I STARTED TO PROTECT IT.”
Via the stock exchange to bird protection During his studies at the university nature remained Noam’s safe haven. Nevertheless, contentwise he dedicated himself to another interest and studied Middle East and Islam sciences. With his university degree under his belt he alighted at the stock exchange, where he worked for several years. During those years there was not much time left for birding. First with a long sickness he reflected on this old hobby, and the healing power of nature, which he always had experienced, as well as on his interest in nature conservation.
As a volunteer Noam came to bird ringing and a little later to Eilat. In this international center for bird watching and research he was offered a job in 2005: to start an outreach program in education, community work and tourism. The idea was to inspire new target groups without a strong connection to nature. Since 2014 Noam organizes the center in Eilat as director, occupied by the Israeli BirdLife organization, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).
Bird conservation at the most beautiful place One of the central objectives of Eilat’s Bird Sanctuary is to protect the habitats of a globally important stopover site for migratory birds. Noam explains: “Our main target is to keep the flyways for birds safe without any hazards.” Eilat is the port and holiday resort at the utter north of the Gulf of Aqaba, one of the two strung-out bays of the Red Sea. Nearly all birds pass by here on their flight between Europe, Asia and Africa. The diversity of species is considerable and makes Eilat to a hot spot for ornithologists.
Noam and his team observe the physical condition of the birds, ring them and monitor their habitats. They mainly involve publicity into nature conservation and convince private persons about the importance of their field pond or garden as a resting space for the migratory birds. Regularly they guide pupil through the field and engage them early in life for the topic. Young volunteers from the region as well as from around the whole word support the work of the center in Eilat. Noam’s job consists in funneling the passion, energy and the competences of the volunteers in a way that all find what their hearts’ desire and that they contribute significantly to the enormous project in Eilat.
Passion and life task Anyhow, Noam’s big talent is to bring people together and activate them. He does not have to convince anyone. If he explains in his unique manner, always with a twinkle in his eye and never dogged, what it is about, everybody just understands that this is important. His biggest project was to prevent a wind farm in Eilat in the years 2016/2017 together with his companions. Despite all positive effects of wind energy it would have meant a deadly end of the journey of countless birds before they would have reached their summer or winter grounds.
Noam and his colleagues activated important scientist and public opinion makers. They went to every public meeting, even to parliament. But the government wanted the project for its policy of clean energy. And the kibbutz, in which the wind turbines were planned to be built, got the chance of millions of revenues. Nobody of them believed anymore in being able to stop this fatal project, until the intensive communal work done by the bird’s sanctuary team showed its effect. The members of the kibbutz as part of the project decided against its construction.
WHEREVER NOAM APPEARS ON INTERNATIONAL BIRDING EVENTS BIRDERS GATHER AROUND HIM. EVERYBODY APPRECIATES HIM AND KNOWS HIM FROM THE ANNUAL CONSIDERABLE EVENT OF BIRD WATCHERS, CHAMPIONS OF THE FLYWAY IN EILAT.
Jonathan Meyrav has developed the big celebration on migration in 2014 and organizes it since then with the popular bird race that collects donations for bird conservation. Noam is the host, helps with the organization and actively takes part with his Israeli-Palestinian team “The Palestinian Sunbirders”. The entertaining films about the big competition to identify as much birds as possible within 24 hours illustrate what is important for Noam. He rejoices to host so many bird enthusiasts from all over the world and to enjoy the day with his team, lots of fun and a moderate will to win.
Noam calls himself a 24/7 birder, who wears his ZEISS Victory SF binoculars always around his neck even on vacations and in the middle of big city. Luckily, he is married to a biologist, who shows some understanding on this. But his attitude on birding has changed: As a place of refuge Noam relished nature mainly on his own early in life. Later on, as he wanted to give nature something back, he had to engage other people for his commitment in nature conservation. His passion and positive charisma is anyhow so infectious that even inexperienced people understand why bird and nature conservation is relevant. It protects all of us.
As any scribbled doodle or Google Image search of a “bird-watcher” will prove, binoculars are synonymous with birding. This is the one piece of equipment that no birder can do without. Perhaps you’ve owned a treasured pair for many years, but you feel it may be time for an upgrade judging by the spiderweb of scratches across the lenses. Perhaps you’re new to the birding game, and looking for advice on which pair to buy. Or perhaps you’re wondering why the experts are able to discern so much more detail through their bins than you can through yours.
Buying the right pair of binoculars is a challenge. There are seemingly countless brands and models to choose from, and quite frankly, the differences between the top makes are virtually negligible. In his extensive 2013 review (African Birdlife 1(3):48-52), Peter Ryan and his review team came to a similar conclusion: a convergent evolution of optics, if you will. Traditionally, the big three have always been ZEISS, Leica and Swarovski. Lately, brands such as Minox, Kowa, Vortex, Lynx and several others also offer excellent optics at competitive prices.
ZEISS’ ENTRY-LEVEL BINOCULARS, THE TERRA RANGE. SHOWN HERE ARE THE 8X25 POCKET MODEL, RECOGNISABLE BY ITS BLUE RINGS, AS WELL AS THE 8X32 ED MID-SIZED MODEL, AND THE LARGER10X42 ED. TERRAS ARE AVAILABLE IN BLACK, GREY OR GREEN.
BIRDING WITH ZEISS For several years, German optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss has fostered a relationship with BirdLife International, and have so made a tangible contribution to bird conservation throughout the world. Locally, this includes sponsorship of BirdLife South Africa events, and in supplying key field workers at BirdLife with optics. Furthermore, a significant proportion of the sale of each ZEISS product sold through BirdLife South Africa’s website goes directly towards the important conservation work of this NGO. ZEISS furthermore runs courses, outings and birding blogs: truly, they support birds and birding. And that’s why I think birders should also support them. That, and the fact that they produce some of the world’s leading optics!
ZEISS understands the requirements of birders, who are notoriously selective, specific and informed about gear, and tend to put their equipment through demanding and rigorous use (abuse?) in the field. They also understand that different users will demand different features in their optics. With this in mind, I was offered the opportunity to review six pairs of ZEISS binoculars. It is not wise to buy a pair of expensive binoculars blind off the Internet, or based solely on a published review. It is imperative to hold the product in your hand, get a feel for its weight and balance, and most importantly find some birds to test it out on. So I was excited about the prospect of reviewing these, not by looking through the office window, or by comparing lists of specs, but by taking the binoculars out in the field, and providing an honest opinion of their respective pros and cons.
HANDS-ON REVIEW Lens diameter. Exit pupil diameter. Diopter adjustment range. Subjective angle of view. Reading binocular reviews can be straining, if you lack a background in optometry and engineering. Let me offer you some eye relief. I don’t think it’s really necessary to understand all these terms before you purchase a new pair of bins. In fact, I’d bet that most birders will value ease-of-use features and ruggedness above minute differences in optical quality and technical specifications. I have a specific memory of a Lesser Swamp Warbler, seen through a pair of ZEISS Victory HTs, that still feels permanently burned onto my retinas. This is reflected in ZEISS’ tagline: This is the moment we work for. This is a review for birders, by a birder.
THAT BEING SAID, THERE IS NOTHING QUITE LIKE THE MOMENT YOU SEE A BIRD IN GREAT LIGHT, AND REALLY WELL, THROUGH A NEW PAIR OF TOP-END BINOCULARS.
A WIDER FIELD OF VIEW MAY BE MORE DESIRABLE THAN ADDITIONAL MAGNIFICATION, PARTICULARLY WHEN OBSERVING FLOCKS OF BIRDS, SMALL FAST-MOVING SPECIES, OR IN WOODED HABITATS – AS IN THE CASE OF THESE MIOMBO BLUE- EARED STARLINGS. NOTE THE VIOLET-BACKED STARLING VISIBLE AT THE BOTTOM RIGHT OF THE 8X VIEW. MOST PEOPLE AGREE THAT THE MORE STABLE IMAGE VISIBLE THROUGH 8S ALLOWS THEM TO DISCERN MORE DETAIL THAN THE SLIGHTLY LARGER BUT MORE SHAKY 10X IMAGE.
THE GREAT DEBATE: TEN OR EIGHT Binoculars’ greatest power is of course in their magnification of an image. In bringing a raptor thermaling way up in the clouds down so you can discern those all important carpal patches; or enlarging a flock of waders out on the mudflats so you can discern the split supercilium that distinguishes Broad-billed Sandpiper from Little Stint. It stands to reason that bigger is better: the more magnification, the larger the image. Therefore, many birders, myself included, have traditionally opted for 10x bins. However, having reviewed 8x and 10x binoculars, I am now firmly of the opinion that 8 is greater than 10. There are two main advantages to a smaller magnification.
Firstly, it offers a wider field of view. For birders who have had years of practice at locating warblers skulking in a leafy canopy this makes little difference, but in most cases, the extra proportion visible at lower magnification does make life easier. This is particularly true in densely vegetated habitats where it all too easy to lose sight of a rapidly moving target. The same applies to pelagic birding from a pitching and rolling vessel. If you don’t believe me, try out both models, but the 8x first. I’ll be willing to bet you’ll feel like a horse with blinkers looking through the 10s. Secondly, less magnification equals less shake.
THE 8X32 TERRA (LEFT) IS COMPARABLE IN SIZE TO THE CONQUEST MODEL OF THE SAME MAGNIFICATION AND OBJECTIVE LENS SIZE (THIRD), BUT IS ONLY ABOUT HALF ITS PRICE. THE SAME APPLIES TO THE TERRA 10X32 (SECOND) AND CONQUEST 10X42 (FAR RIGHT). HOWEVER, THE CONQUESTS ARE OPTICALLY AND ERGONOMICALLY SUPERIOR TO THE TERRAS, AND OFFER EXCELLENT VALUE FOR MONEY. THE CHOICE IS YOURS.
THE CONTENDERS Specifically, this review features ZEISS’ entry-level and mid-range makes, focusing on the Terra ED range, in the under R10 000 bracket; and the Conquest HD range (at R12 000 – R15 000). Each class was represented by a compact 8×32, and a bigger 10×42. In the Conquest was also the intermediate 8×42, while the Terras included the decidedly cute Pocket 8×25 model. I spent three months roaming around in scorching bushveld, damp wetlands and salty coastlines with these. I also roped in many birding colleagues, of all ages and experience levels, for their opinions. SETTING THE STANDARD Setting an impressive standard right from the outset, ZEISS products come in a modern and minimalist white box, which unfolds majestically to reveal its precious contents nestled in a foam recess.
This sleek packaging strategy simply screams German engineering, and is guaranteed to leave you with a feeling of having made the right purchase, and a smile on your face. The exception to this is the Pocket model binoculars, which come in a translucent, sturdy plastic case. Several accessories come standard with all the models: a comfortable neoprene neckstrap, with a soft ‘aircell’ in the case of the Conquests, plus durable eye-cup splash guards and objective lens covers, a lens cleaning cloth and the relevant manuals and documentation. A sturdy canvas carrying bag, that can slip onto a belt or strap, is also included.
Terras feature a two year warranty against factory faults; this extends to ten years in the higher priced Conquests. All the binoculars are nitrogen filled and water resistant: to a depth of one meter in the case of the Terras, and four meters in the Conquest models.
GRAB AND GO: TERRA 8X25 You don’t need deep pockets for the ZEISS Terra Pocket 8x25s. And I mean that both metaphorically and literally. I often grabbed these at the last minute to accompany me on a morning jog–weighing only 310 g, you completely forget that you have them with you, until you need them. To me that is precisely the point of a pair of inexpensive, super compact binoculars. A fallback in case of emergency. I decided to purchase a pair to keep in my car; just in case I need to make a dash for a rarity, or if a raptor cruises overhead while I’m stuck in a traffic jam. You could even sneak them into a concert or sports stadium in your wife’s handbag. Of course they are somewhat optically inferior to their bigger cousins, but definitely not to the degree that it would be frustrating in most situations. One caveat is that one should perhaps not opt for the 10x Pocket model, as such a high magnification on a mere 25 mm lens diameter results in a restrictively narrow field of view.
These were also my four year old son’s clear favourite. On more than one occasion he nicked them from my office to go exploring out in the garden. Considering their relatively low cost and robust design, these would be ideal binoculars to introduce children to the world of birding. The diagnostic blue rings below the eye-cups really appeal to the designer in me–a smart marketing move on ZEISS’ part, as is their choice to use memorable words instead of codes as names for their various products.
PROS: Tiny and very light; truly pocket-sized. CONS: Focus ring small and not ideally placed for larger hands. Inter-eye adjustment too flexible. IDEAL FOR: Hikers, joggers, occasional users and birding emergencies. An excellent choice for children.
THE TERRA 8X25 POCKET MODEL IS THE LEAST EXPENSIVE BINOCULAR OFFERED BY ZEISS. NEVERTHELESS, IT IS STILL A FORMIDABLE PIECE OF HARDWARE WHICH OFFERS EXCELLENT OPTICS. AT ONLY ABOUT 300 G AND 111 MM IN LENGTH, IS PERFECT FOR BIRDING ON THE GO.
TERRIFIC TERRA ED ZEISS rather humbly labels these as their entry class binoculars, with SCHOTT ED glass, featuring a hydrophobic coating, as opposed to the HD lens with LotuTec coating of the Conquests. The difference in optics and ergonomics is apparent, but not striking. I was impressed with the ease and steadiness of the focusing mechanism, particularly on the smaller 8x32s–I would rank this on par or perhaps even slightly superior to the Conquests’. Perfect for quickly getting that flushed crake in focus, and keeping it sharp until it dives back into cover with legs dangling. The focus might be a little too fast on the 10×42 Terra, resulting in some back and forth until the image is in sharp focus. At a little over R8 000, a pair of Terra EDs are half the price of a Conquest. Perhaps they won’t last a lifetime, but then again, you could always just buy another if you somehow manage to destroy the first (which I strongly doubt). I would highly recommend these for someone who would classify their interest in birds as passionate, but not obsessive. If you go birding only on weekends, or keep your binoculars in a cupboard at home, these are for you. If you skive off work to go birding during the week, and keep you binoculars on the kitchen table, read on. The smaller 8x32s are great binoculars for people with smaller hands or who are already burdened with cameras, telescopes or other equipment. A number of female reviewers selected these as their first choice. Oh, and what’s life without whimsy? In addition to the standard black, new Terra designs are also available in sleek grey and black and attractive green and black. The eye-catching bright blue version is no longer in production.
PROS: Good optical performance, particularly in handling of glare, at a reasonable price. Smooth, intuitive focus. CONS: Rubber armour, overall quality of build and eye-cups inferior to Conquest. Diopter can be difficult to adjust. IDEAL FOR: Beginner or intermediate birders, or perhaps mildly interested birders’ spouses. Perfect to accompany you on a yearly safari or expedition. An excellent ‘backup’ for serious birders, e.g. in case your primary bins get lost or stolen on an overseas birding trip.
LADIES SIZE: CONQUEST 8X32 I have to admit something: I had an amorous little love affair with a pair of 8x32s Conquests. The light weight and shapely ergonomics of this model makes her, uhhh…it, really attractive and nearly irresistible to hold. The 8x32s weigh in at 630 g, about halfway between the two larger Terra models, but considerably lighter than the approximately 800 g Conquest 42s. The 8x32s measure 18 mm, about one eye-cup, shorter than the bigger Conquests. At an incredible 1.5 m, the close-focus limit on these babies is the shortest of all models evaluated (though almost rivaled by the larger Terras). You can literally focus on your own toes. In addition to pedicure appreciation, this is ideal for watching butterflies and dragonflies. At the larger end of the focus spectrum, they offer the widest field of view: 140 m at 1 km, compared to 128 m in the 8x42s and 115 m in the 10sx42s. The smaller objective lenses do mean a small loss of brightness and vibrance when birding at low light-levels: at dawn or dusk, or in forests, for example. However, the exit pupil size is actually very close to the 10×42’s (4.2 mm vs 4.0 mm), though not as impressive as the 8x42s’ 5.3 mm. Personally, I would still choose the more macho 8x42s, but it’s a very close call.
PROS: Fantastic close focus. Small and lightweight , yet with excellent optics. Wide field of view. CONS: Marginally poorer performance than x42s models in low light conditions. IDEAL FOR: Women. Photographers who are already burdened with other gear. Hikers. Or when birding in rough terrain or thick bush.
CONQUEST HD x42: THE PERFECT BINOCULARS FOR BIRDING? At the end of the day, the Conquests conquered my heart. These combine all the requirements I have for birding binoculars: incredible optical clarity, high light transmission, comfortable ergonomics and exceptional ruggedness. To elaborate on that last point: though I did not have the liberty of subjecting the review products to exaggerated trials to simulate field conditions, there are hours of entertaining footage online of reviewers doing just that. Let’s just say that the ordeals of a day in the field–perhaps an occasional wipe with a shirt, or being dropped in the dirt-don’t even compare. ZEISS were willing to gamble that their Conquests would withstand extremes in friction, gravity, shock, temperature, submersion, gunfire and even detonation. Turns out they were right.
A useful feature of the Conquests, is the four-position locking mechanism of their eye-cups. This allows users to select their preferred setting, instead of simply either fully in or fully out. The diopter, situated below the right eyepiece, adjusts easily but stays in place while twisting the eye-cups in and out. The focus is smooth to the touch but not overly sensitive, and at ideal speed shifting the focus from a realistically close point, say 3 m, to the horizon requires only half a turn, without the need to raise and readjust your index finger. This was actually my main qualm with the Conquest’s big brother, the Victory HT; while the meticulous focus of the latter model offers good precision, ideal when hunting for example, birding requires a quicker reaction time.
MY FIRST CHOICE: A PAIR OF ZEISS CONQUEST 8X42S. THIS PAIR IS FULLY EQUIPPED WITH A REMOVABLE SPLASH GUARD TO PROTECT THE EYEPIECE LENSES AGAINST RAIN OR DUST AND AN OPTIONAL COVER FOR THE OBJECTIVE LENSES; THE LATTER CLIPS ONTO THE SIDES OF THE BARRELS. ALTHOUGH NOT VISIBLE HERE, THE NEOPRENE NECK STRAP FEATURES A COMFORTABLE ‘AIRCELL’. LET’S GO BIRDING!
The Conquests feature soft but sturdy eye-cups, that don’t cause discomfort even during long observation periods. The binoculars are coated in rubberised armour and have a feel of real quality and durability-which almost, but not quite, evokes a desire to ‘throw them around a bit’ just to prove that they can take it. This look and feel of indestructibility inspires confidence in the product-these are the binoculars that will accompany me across oceans, through deserts and over frozen wastelands in search of birds. Standing 150 mm high, and 120 mm wide at a typical eye width, these are not small optics. However, they do not feel bulky or cumbersome in the field. The 8×42 and 10×42 models are identical in weight and dimensions, and the decision on which of these to buy is a tricky one. For its higher light transmission, increased stability and wider field of view (128 m vs 115 m at 1 km), I would choose the 8x42s-these are truly versatile binoculars. However, if you typically bird in open habitats and over long distances, and have a steady hand, the greater magnification of the 10x may be right for you.
I was interested to note that Ryan’s review team, in their aforementioned article, scored the ZEISS Conquest as ‘best value for money, hands down’. I agree wholeheartedly, as do a great many birding colleagues-from my father-in-law who leaves his pair at their game farm, to professional guides who are in the field 300+ days a year.
This is still a pricey pair of binoculars: you could buy two pairs of Terras for the same price, though only half a Victory HT, and about a third of a Victory SF, ZEISS’ top flagship. Nevertheless, I believe this may well be the last pair of birding binoculars you ever buy.
The moment that irrevocably sealed my connection to the Conquest came when a pair of Grey-winged Francolins ambled into our strandveld garden. The bins happened to be lying next to me on my desk, and I grabbed them for a closer look at these petite and reclusive gamebirds. Even though I had seen this species countless times before, what I saw that day changed my whole perspective. Every single feather, in exquisite detail and breathtaking sharpness. This is definitely the moment I worked for.
PROS: Excellent optical performance and durability. Perfect focus speed. Multi-level eye-cups. CONS: Heavier than the smaller models. IDEAL FOR: Passionate birders. Researchers. Users that require versatile, high-performance binoculars that will ensure a lifetime’s observations in the field.
For more information and technical data please visit our website: Conquest Binoculars and Terra Binoculars.