The toughest binocular ever

by David Chandler from Bird Watching Magazine


I’ve been reviewing binoculars since 2005. Normally, I look after them very carefully – it would be embarrassing to return them damaged! But for this test we did a different kind of review. We took a binocular that is meant to be tough, and put that toughness to the test. The binoculars were the CONQUEST HD 10x32. ZEISS knew what we had planned – more or less. They gave their permission, and even came along to watch. It wasn’t easy doing what we did – this kind of thing doesn’t come naturally to me. But, as professionals, we did it anyway! And everything we did is the kind of thing that could happen to binoculars. Well, most of it is. Read on to find out how this mid-range ZEISS coped. 

You can watch the film of this extreme test on YouTube. And what happened to the binoculars? Well, ZEISS cleaned them up, replaced that eyecup, and tested them to their usual stringent standards, then allowed us to auction them at Birdfair in aid of this year’s appeal. One of our lucky readers got a bargain. Everyone’s a winner!


Water and aroma-proof

It was really very smelly here – there was something anaerobic going on. The test was simple enough – drop the binoculars into the water, leave them there for a bit, and then rescue them. We did this and they still worked. There was though a slight problem with personal freshness.

Clumsy oaf in hide syndrome and submersion

You really should keep the strap around your neck, but I took it off,and stood the CONQUEST on the shelf in a hide, only to knock them over and send them tumbling towards the wooden floor. I had to do it again and again so that our photographer could get the image he wanted. And this did inflict some damage to one of the eye cup mechanisms – I suspect it landed smack bang on the eye cup. Everything else, though, was still in-tact. By now, the lady from Zeiss had left us, perhaps to seek solace from what had been a traumatic morning. Clearly, she trusted us. Or was it that she couldn’t bear to see what else we were going to do to the CONQUESTs? Lots of binoculars claim to be waterproof. I once met a tour leader who would check a new binocular really was waterproof by leaving it in a bucket of water overnight. Better that than have it mist up inside when you’re in a humid, tropical forest. Our test was briefer, deeper, and more vegetated than that. I knocked the CONQUESTs, ever so casually, into a pond. They did not float. It was almost an arm’s length deep when I pulled them out – and they were fine. Plus they smelt better and were the cleanest they’d been in quite a while!

Stepping it up

Why would you stand on your binoculars? To be honest, I don’t really know, but I stood on the CONQUESTs again and again, letting them take my full weight, and leaving a nice boot print on them. This was scary to do, but the ZEISS didn’t crumble under the pressure. We’d have to try much harder.

The dishwasher

Having caffeinated the ZEISS, it was time to clean up the ‘coffee cup’. We used a hosepipe instead of a dishwasher (now that would be a test!), and as you would hope, no water got in. Cleaning waterproof bins under running water can be a very good idea – I’ve done it on a cruise to get the salty spray off after a bit of sea watching. 

Impenetrable forest

Imagine the scene. You’re working your way through luxuriant primary forest, searching hard for the endemic that hasn’t been seen for more than a quarter of a century. Biting insects, blood-starved leeches and long, darning needle thorns – you and your bins are taking quite a battering. We recreated, as best as we could, that extreme birding scenario in middle-England, dragging the CONQUESTs through a luxuriantly flowery meadow. How very English. The bins were fine, by the way.

Over the top

If this one had gone wrong, it could have been a tricky conversation with ZEISS. We drove a Land Rover over them, leaving a lovely tyre print. It is extreme, but this sort of thing does happen. I know someone who left his bins on the roof of a vehicle in Florida and then drove off, driving over them and dumping them in a ditch by the side of the road. They were a bitmis-shapen after that but once they were punched back into shape, they worked again. The CONQUESTs didn’t need any re-shaping – even a big, grumpy Land Rover couldn’t squash them.