ZEISS Ambassador James Lidster testing the SFL 30 binoculars on his trip to Namibia

You know that feeling, when you have carefully worked out what to take on holiday, how to pack it, well aware that the nice people at customs are still going to want to check your bag. They tend to recognize binoculars, and cameras, but a Harpia spotting scope starts to raise a few eyebrows, and then try and explain to them why we need a sound recording device, and a microphone larger than the scope covered in a shaggy dog windshield and a DTI thermal camera….So the bag is full, I haven’t weighed it as I don’t want to know, I also don’t want anyone else to weigh it as nothing else will fit in. And then I get a phone call, how did I fancy testing the new 8×30 SFLs whilst on holiday? Yes no problem, of course there’s room in my bag! I briefly considered leaving my 8×42 SFs behind, but what if I didn’t get on with the SFLs, maybe it would ruin my holiday? I needn’t have worried….here are my thoughts.

My first thought was that these are small bins. I bought my daughter a pair of ZEISS Victory 8x25s last year, and these didn’t appear much bigger than those, although slightly bulkier. The advantage of such small bins is their weight, and these are very light weight. Something I didn’t notice in 12kg of hand luggage but something that will be very popular with birders spending long days in the field. They weigh just 460g and although I’m happy to wear my 8×42 SFs all day I know many people prefer lightweight bins.

The image blew me away, I can’t quite describe what it is but it just seems so bright and sharp. We tried them at dusk and dawn, even at night waiting at waterholes and they were incredible. I’m not technically minded but apparently they use a new ultra-high-definition (UHD) concept, I don’t know what that means but it certainly works!

According to the specifications the field of view is 142 metres at 1000 metres. Scanning the large open plains or vast skies for raptors was very comfortable, as was scanning the bushes for passerines or following fast flying hirundines at close range. I know many birders don’t like wearing sunglasses when birding but it’s something I often do, and with the eyecups screwed down I found the image still very relaxed, something that can’t be said of all bins.

SFL stands for Smart Focus and Lightweight. The Smart Focus involves the positioning of the focus wheel and how efficient the focus wheel is (just 1.4 turns from close focus to infinity). Some reviewers felt the focus wheel of the SFL 40s was a little stiff but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the 8×30 SFL. The focus was smooth and very comfortable thanks to the positioning of the focus wheel.

Being an obsessed birder I tend to forget to look at other things but the 1.5 meter close focus was great for watching insects, or even some of the Sociable Weavers which came and fed at our feet!

Many birders aren’t fans of lens covers for the objective lenses, but I like using them to protect my bins in my hand luggage, or whilst driving. But they are often poorly made and break off, fall off or flap around in front of the bins. I really like these, they won’t fall off at least as they fit very snugly.

In recent months we have also had a chance to try the SFL 8 and 10 x 40s, both of which were very impressive but something about the 8×30 appeals to me more, despite the small size, they just seem to be even sharper than the 40s? I guess that’s why choosing binoculars is such a personal thing?

I have to admit before I was an ambassador for ZEISS I was already a devoted user of the SFs, so would I swap my SFs for the SFLs? I wouldn’t but it’s a very close-run thing. Would I be looking for a new pair of bins, lightweight, razor-sharp and for less money then I wouldn’t think twice about buying the SFLs.

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