This review on the Zeiss Victory RF 10×45 rangefinder binoculars is based on a 3 month long field test. It reflects the thoughts of 3 different precision rifle shooters as they used the product to observe and range targets from 25 yards out to 1 mile hundreds of times. The full field test consisted of 8 different rangefinders, so we have a very wide view of what to expect in a good pair of rangefinder binoculars. This post is compiled from our notes of what we specifically liked or didn’t like about the Zeiss Victory RF compared to the rest of the models out there.
- Extremely accurate
- Fluoride glass provides good optical quality
- Large field of view
- Ranging button is large, easier to push, and placement is ideal. A nice, light button can keep you from moving off target while pushing it, similar to a nice trigger on a rifle.
- 45mm objective performs better in low light than the more common 42mm (at least theoretically)
- Lots of “no reads” offhand
- Heavy with a large, blocky design
- Poor ballistic functions limited to 500 yards
Anytime the Zeiss Victory RF displays a range, you can pretty much take it the bank. It is extremely accurate. However, if you need to range beyond 1,200 yards … you should pick a different rangefinder. The Zeiss Victory RF also had a significant amount of “no reads” offhand at 600 and 800 yard targets. Overall, the Zeiss Victory RF is good, but it’s optical and ranging performance were both edged out by the new Leica Geovid HD-B. Since the HD-B is only $200 more ($2,995 instead of $2,799), I’d buy the HD-B.
Many people believe the Zeiss Victory RF to be one of the most accurate, and reliable rangefinders out there. I have to say that for the most part, I found all those claims to be true. They are extremely accurate rangefinders, and boast one of the tightest beam divergences of any consumer-grade rangefinder binocular. But, beam divergence isn’t the only thing that matters for a rangefinder binocular. So let’s dive into how they performed in the field.
Optical Performance Review
For my field tests, I tried to come up with an objective, data-driven approach for testing optical clarity and what I ended up doing was placing eye exam charts from 600 to 1,400 yards and then recording what size of letters two different people could accurately read. These were virtually identical to the eye charts doctors use to assess visual acuity by determining how much detail and definition a patient can make out at a particular distance. I combined all that data into a single score for each model so they can be ranked in terms of how much detail my two testers could make out. I provide a lot more detail about how the test was conducted, and compare other optical specs in The Optical Performance Results post.
Here are the overall optical results, and you can see the Zeiss Victory RF was one of the top performers. Zeiss uses fluoride glass on these models, and you can definitely tell they have great clarity compared to some of the other models on the market.
The Zeiss Victory RF did have a slightly larger objective lens than most of the models tested, at 45mm. That theoretically gives it a slight edge over the other models in low light conditions, it can gather in more light. The surface area of a 45mm diameter circle is 1,590 mm², while a 42mm circle is 1,385 mm². That is a 15% increase in size over the 42mm. The math would say it gathers more light, which is why it’s Twilight Factor and Relative Brightness specs are higher than the other models. My eyes couldn’t tell any meaningful difference between it and another pair, although I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert in this field and I couldn’t measure brightness in any scientific way. In optics, the physical dimensions are only one piece to the puzzle. It would assume the lens, coatings, and all other factors that go into optics are the same … and in the real world, they aren’t.
The Zeiss Victory RF also had one of the larger fields of view for any 10x rangefinder binocular, which is noticeably larger than many of the models.
Ranging Performance Review
One of the first things, is that Zeiss only claims this unit is capable of 1,300 yards and I was able to get consistent readings on small, 2 MOA targets all the way out to 1,600 yards in ideal conditions from a tripod. It is rare these days for a company under-promise and over-deliver, but Zeiss seems to have done it with the Victory RF.
Here are the results of ranging a 2 MOA reflective target in ideal, low-light conditions from a tripod at various ranges from 600 to 2,000 yards. The exact size and shape of the targets, as well as the surroundings varied, but details of each target along with more details of the test are given in the ranging performance test results post. Each target was ranged 10 times under the same conditions.
The Zeiss pair was extremely accurate, with zero “no reads” out to its max range of 1,600 yards in ideal, low-light conditions. That means it ranged 1,600 yards 10 for 10, then when I tried to range 1760 the Zeiss Victory RF never gave me a single reading out of 20 attempts. It almost felt like they may have put some kind of hardcoded limit that didn’t allow it to display a distance over 1600. The downside of the Zeiss was that it did give me bad readings 7% of the time from 600-1600 yards.
The readings given by the Zeiss Victory RF had the 2nd lowest standard deviation of all the models tested (only bested by the Vectronix Terrapins). For example, on the 800 yard target the Zeiss model gave the following 10 readings: 801, 800, 799, 799, 799, 799, 800, 800, 800, and 800. Although it didn’t perform that precisely on all of the targets, it didn’t take long for us to see that the Zeiss was one of the top ranging performers. Its tight beam divergence (1.6 × 0.5 mrad) allowed it to handle some of the toughest ranging scenarios I could throw at it.
One unexpected result was at very short ranges. Of the 8 units tested, the Zeiss pair was the only one that was ever off by more than 1 yard at ranges of 25, 50, and 100 yards. The Zeiss Victory RF 10×45 gave a reading of 22 yards for a 25 yard target, and 97 yards for a 100 yard target. This could be concerning for bowhunters, but is really of no consequence to precision rifle shooters. This was surprising based on the surgical precision the Zeiss pair had at mid and long distance targets.
In bright light conditions, radiation from the sun can cause interference and limit the range and resolution of readings a rangefinder is able to gather. This obviously has a negative effect on performance. The chart below shows how the Zeiss Victory RF performed at sunset, and how it performed ranging those same targets 3 hours before sunset. Once again, this testing was done from a tripod, with visibility of 10+ miles on 2 MOA, reflective targets.
In bright lighting conditions, the Zeiss Victory RF displayed an accurate range 75% of the time on targets in the 1000-1200 yard range. Only the Vectronix rangefinders were able to achieve that kind of accuracy in that range under bright lighting conditions. This type of distance seems more inline with Zeiss’s claimed max range of 1,300 yards … although they never promised that kind of distance on small, 2 MOA targets.
I also tested the rangefinders offhand, but did that on larger targets. Here are the results for ranging 3 foot by 2 foot bright, white rectangles from 600 and 800 yards. The 600 yard target had brush 30 yards in front of the target, which appeared just below the bottom edge from the ranging position. The full target face was visible and unobscured, but just barely. So many rangefinders had a hard time ranging the intended target, and would occasionally show the distance for the brush instead. The 800 yard target was exactly the opposite, with nothing in front of the targets. But there was brush in the background that a lot of rangefinders would get readings off. It was difficult for some rangefinders to get adequate energy off the targets compared to the brush in the background, causing incorrect distance readings. So although these were relatively large targets, the surroundings played into the offhand results and some rangefinders handled it much better than others.
The biggest surprise in my field tests with the Zeiss Victory RF was the high percentage of “no reads” I got when ranging offhand. It was significantly worse than I expected, as you can see in the chart below.
I’m not sure if I got a bad unit, or what … but this isn’t the kind of performance I was expected after seeing how well they operated from a tripod. This was likely due to the tight beam divergence. Tight beam divergence can help when ranging off a tripod, but it can hurt you when ranging offhand … and that may be the case here. When you have very tight beam divergence, the motion caused by the unsupported position may make it difficult to hit the target precisely with a tightly focused beam. On the other hand, if you had a beam with more divergence you could more easily hit the target even with some wobble and then rely on the rangefinder’s “smarts” to determine what you were intending to range within that larger window. The minute vibration that is introduced when the rangefinders aren’t supported can also make it more difficult for the rangefinder to receive/gather the “echo” of the rangefinder beam.
Having said all that, having tight beam divergence is a good thing when you are ranging an object surrounded by brush or with objects in front of or behind it. You have a better ability to precisely place the laser energy exactly on the object you want to range, without it spilling over onto unintended targets. You just need to have a steady rest to make that happen once the beam divergence gets really small. The Vectronix Vector 23 is a $24,000 rangefinder with a ridiculously small beam divergence of 0.3 mrad. It is a military-grade rangefinder that can accurately range up to 18 miles … but it also struggled offhand for the same problems mentioned here. You can see how it performed in the offhand chart above. The readings were very spread out compared to some of the other models.
Equivalent Horizontal Distance Function
The Zeiss Victory RF does NOT support the functionality to display the horizontal distance. It can only display the line of sight distance. This can be an important feature for a long-range shooter (and bowhunter), because it’s that second distance that you should plug into the ballistic calculator. Equivalent horizontal distance is the horizontal component of the distance, which is the distance gravity is going to act over. Honestly, it takes a steep angle to make a huge difference in the ballistic calculation. In fact, Todd Hodnett from Accuracy First has made the comment that there are really just a few locations in the United States that provide the terrain for a true long-range, steep-angle shot. That is why they have facilities in the Texas panhandle where they train on how to shoot in windy conditions, AND facilities in Utah where they train on how to shoot in high-angle conditions (like those found in some parts of Afgahnastan).
The Zeiss Victory RF features Zeiss’s Ballistic Information System (BIS), but honestly, it is the weakest of any rangefinder I’ve seen that has ballistic capabilities. According to their manual, “The equipment has 6 saved trajectory paths, which cover nearly all calibers. You must select the most appropriate trajectory path for you depending on the caliber, bullet type and bullet weight used.” I don’t think selecting from 6 preset ballistic curves can really provide accurate long range dope for every cartridge out there. Zeiss probably recognizes that themselves, which is why the manual also says “For safety reason, the holding points are given only for ranges of up to 500 metres. For greater ranges, the display shows ‘HIGH’.” Even the Bushnell models will display ballistic calculations out to 800 yards, and they also provide 8 preset ballistic curves to select from. While that’s not ideal either, it’s better than 6. There is simply way more diversity in ballistics from 223 Rem to 338 Lapua Magnum than can be represented by 6 preset trajectories, at least if you want to make first-round hits.
Ergonomics & Design Review
I’ve used a lot of rangefinders, and the ranging button on this model was one thing that set it apart from the rest. Before you think I’ve lost my mind or put too much emphasis on this … think about a light, crisp trigger on a rifle compared to a factory rifle with a 7 lb. trigger pull. Which do you think you could shoot more accurately? When using a heavy trigger, you can actually pull yourself off target. This may not be a big deal if you are hunting and take a shot at 100 yards, but if you are shooting small targets at long-range … a good trigger may be the difference between a hit and a miss. This same thing is true for the ranging button on rangefinders. You want to center the laser energy on the intended target for the best chance of an accurate range, and the big, light button on the Zeiss helps you do that.
The placement of the button allows you to easily get to it even when wearing a baseball cap, which isn’t true for most models. And the button has a positive “click” when you press it, which is good tactile feedback that you actually pressed the button.
I’ve talked to other people who have reviewed multiple rangefinders, and this is one of the first things they mention as well. It is probably one of those features that you have to use several models that do it wrong before you can really appreciate it, but I do. Well done, Zeiss. It is a pleasure to use.
One downside is the Zeiss Victory RF was one of the heaviest units tested at 41.4 ounces with strap and lens covers attached. Optics Planet says “Most people find that anything more than 35 ounces is too much to comfortably carry around the neck and a weight of less than 30 ounces is much better.” At 41 ounces, you probably aren’t going to want to wear these around your neck too long.
Also, the Zeiss manual says “The brightness of the display is automatically adjusted to the brightness of the surroundings and therefore requires no manual adjustment.” Yeah, it is automatically adjusted to be very dim. I constantly found myself straining to read the display. Some models I tested were too bright, but I guess that is better than not being able to read it.
Most manufactures make it very tough to compare their product to others out there. Although Zeiss does a better job at this than most others, they are still pretty secretive about some of their specs. So, I spent days searching websites, user manuals, and calling/emailing to gather a complete set of detailed specifications. There are almost 40 different specs, including actual measured weights, dimensions, and the max ranges found in my field tests for each model (which can be very different from what the manufacturer claims). Some manufacturers list this specs in metric units and others are in U.S. standard units … I’ve converted everything to the same units to make comparison easy. I also read through each of the manuals to see exactly what each one does or doesn’t have in terms of advanced features like equivalent horizontal range, and ballistics functions. Some of the specs I even measured or calculated myself, because they weren’t available anywhere or were specs manufacturers are notorious for exaggerating.
|Manufacturer Part #||524518|
|Measured Weight in Use²||41.4 oz.|
|Measured Dimensions³||6.8 × 6.0 × 2.8 inches|
|Housing||Magnesium with rubber armored exterior|
|Tripod Adaptable||Optional Adapter|
|Included Strap||Contoured Neoprene|
|Limited Warranty||Lifetime, Transferrable|
|Beam Divergence||1.6 × 0.5 mrad|
|Tested Max Range⁴||1,600 yd|
Claimed: 1,300 yd
|Tested Min Range||10 yd|
|Claimed Accuracy||± 1 to 656 yd,|
|Tested Repetition Rate||56 ranges/min|
|Receiver Optic (Rx) Aperture Size||MFR refused to specify|
|Laser Type||904 nm|
|Pulse Duration||MFR refused to specify|
|Battery Type||1 CR2 Lithium|
|Battery Life||10,000 measurements|
|Equivalent Horizontal Range Function||No|
|Display Multiple Object Distances Function||No|
|Advanced Ranging Modes||Scan|
|Ballistics Functions||Limited to 500 yd|
6 preset ballistics curves, provides holdover info in inches out to 500 yards max
|Objective Lens Diameter||45 mm|
|Exit pupil||4.5 mm|
|Eye Relief||15.5 mm|
|Field of view at 1000 yards||330 ft|
|Objective Angle of View||MFR refused to specify|
|Prism Type||Abbe-König Roof|
|Coatings||Carl Zeiss T* multi-layer coating, LotuTec protective lens coating|
|Relative Brightness (RE)||20.3|
|Measured Focus Rotations||1.0|
¹This reflects the price each model was available for online through a major, reputable distributor as of Nov 2013.
²Includes batteries, lens covers, and included carrying strap
³Measured with lens covers attached
⁴All ranges were on reflective targets approximately 2 MOA in size in 200 yard increments in ideal atmospheric conditions (i.e. low light, great visibility).
To see how these specs compare to similar rangefinder binoculars, check out my post with side-by-side comparison.
The Zeiss warranty was by far the best in the industry … period. Although they still only offer a limited warranty, it is a lifetime warranty and is transferrable. They are the only optics manufacturer I’m aware of that stands behind their product by providing a warranty like that. The transferrable part means that if you buy a used pair, you are still covered. That is pretty amazing, and refreshing to see in an increasingly cover-your-butt and do-the-least-possible warranty world.