A Powerhouse of Optics in a Small Package: The Increasing Popularity of 8x32 Binoculars
Posted on March 12 2021
Our friend and Zeiss territory account manager Richard Moncrief provided us with some fantastic insights into the rise of 8x32 binoculars for bird watching. Enjoy!
Over the history of modern birding, specialty publications going back to the turn of the last century, Birds and Nature, for example, championed the study and enjoyment of birds and the natural world. There are some interesting advertisements in these magazines, but there is a notable lack of any sort of ads for optics in general or binoculars in particular.
However, by 1908, the Sears and Roebuck Catalog featured a variety of binoculars branded Marchand, Colmont Chevalier, and Jena among others, in magnifications of 3x up to 6x at modest prices ranging from $2.80 to $7.95. These are Galilean designs typically, and similar binoculars in my collection are well-built but lack field of view, close focus, center focus, and the ergonomic usability we have come to expect in modern birding binoculars. Objective-lens sizes tend to be larger—42 to 54mm. The same Sears catalog shows two models of Busch binoculars, including a 9x prismatic with smaller though undefined objectives, priced at $33.50, and a 12x Terlux model at $55! Not insignificant price tags at the time. The point is, a variety of binoculars in differing cost/quality options was commonly available through one of the most widely distributed catalogs in the US. A birder could purchase these with relative ease, though many of the binoculars were models with smaller objective lenses, and often sold for viewing horse-racing and similar sporting events.
Interestingly, a large number of binoculars were sold surplus after World War II, including many US M3 6x30 models, and a number of British models, also 6x30. At least five binoculars in my collection, picked up at antique stores over the years, have the names of both females and males written inside the case, or have address labels taped to them. These addresses suggest that the owners lived in more land-locked areas, rather than locations where they would possibly be uses by boaters. I would surmise these were owned by naturalists and birders. It just goes to show that the 30mm class of binoculars have been with us, and popular with bird watchers, for a long time.
Over the years, and especially in more modern times, the 40mm became a primary choice of birding glass, with many being in 7, 8, and 10 power. Different regions of the country seem to favor one magnification over the other, but again, there seems to be room for everyone at the viewing stand. The development of binocular lines by many companies continues to follow the popularity of the 40mm class, followed by the smaller 30mm-class binoculars.
But 30–32mm models continue to see strong growth in preference, with many birders looking for a lighter-weight, handier binocular that nonetheless maintains excellent optical performance for most of their birding activity. And, generally speaking, while a 32mm often has been secondary to a 40mm binocular for birding, many people are choosing their 32 as their go-to birding glass. A 8x32mm binocular will deliver an exit pupil of 4mm, which proves most satisfactory for much of our daylight birding, with our pupils constricted from 2 to 4mm. Even in some lower-light conditions, with the increased efficiencies of the most modern optical designs and glass and coating technologies, 32mm models continue to deliver a satisfactory image.
The newest binocular in the ZEISS line are our Victory SF 8x32 and 10x32 binoculars, designed by birders for birders to complement their older 42mm siblings. Both models share the same traits of very wide field of view and a notably better balance, thanks to the design work going into the ocular elements. They also have in common a higher resolute and color immersive experience, thanks to ZEISS’s exclusive Super-FL glass types and our T* multi-coatings. The ZEISS Victory SF 32 offers an exceptionally wide field of view; at up to 465 feet at 1,000 yards, it sets new standards in nature observation. An oversized and well-positioned focus knob allows for ease of use and fast focus even while wearing gloves. It takes only 1.6 revolutions of the focus wheel to adjust from infinity to the minimum focusing distance of 6.4 feet, meaning the binoculars offer the perfect balance between fast and highly precise focusing. With unsurpassed image quality with high light-transmission, the enormous field of view, and the SmartFocus concept, nature lovers can easily discover birds in the vast expanse of nature, focus on them more precisely, and identify them more quickly.
ZEISS Victory SF32 features the unique ErgoBalance concept, already well-known from other models in the SF line of binoculars, in which the center of gravity is shifted toward the eyepiece, making long-term observation extremely light, ergonomic, and fatigue-free. People going on extended trips are looking for lighter-weight binoculars that take up less space and weight in their luggage. Coming in at 20 to 21 ounces, depending on the model, the Victory SF32s are less fatiguing to use all day, but still deliver wonderful optical performance. Birders, nature travelers, and those who enjoy nature journaling will appreciate these features. The combination of the ErgoBalance design and the outstanding optical performance delivers a binocular that is also easier on older hands and easier on older eyes.
ZEISS also has wonderful options in our entry-level premium class binocular, the TERRA, in 8x32 and 10x32, and in our mid-tier line, the very popular Conquest HD 8x32 and 10x32 binoculars. In fact, the Conquest HD 8x32 has been one of my top ZEISS picks for several years. It is a fun and easy binocular to work with. As you move from TERRA ED to Conquest HD to Victory SF, you are on a migration route of increased optical sophistication and performance.