Chris Packham: Review on VICTORY SF

By naturalist and TV presenter, Chris Packham

How about this for a tale of restraint? The box arrived and I hacked into it to reveal the eagerly anticipated arrival . . . my new VICTORY SF 10x42’s from ZEISS. I reverently removed them, sniffed their ripe newness and fitted the strap. It was dark outside so I wandered into the lounge to study them taking care to prevent wet poodle noses from nudging the lenses. The coating is smoothish, un-patterned and sleek, greyish with a hint of olive which compliments the semi-matt black of the ‘metal-work’ and the eye pieces. And it doesn’t scuff or mark as I later found in the field, indeed it's easy to wipe clean and still looks like new. The focusing wheel is large and the individual eye correction wheel, which sits on top of the spindle, is easy to use and locks firmly. The little blue badge is suitably neat and understated so all in all they are cosmetically and practically simple but equally graceful, uncluttered and above all a triumph of practical design. But of course ultimately it's not really about how they look, it's about how you look through them and that’s where the restraint comes in. You see, contrary to my primary instinct I didn’t take them on their first outing the following morning into the oak woodland around my home when I trudged through the drizzle on behalf of Mr’s Itchy and Scratchy. No, I saved them for two more days, until I had arrived in The Gambia on my annual visit to this bird-watching mecca. True to form I wanted to christen them with something a little more exciting that a Greenfinch or Woodpigeon.

The plane arrived late so it was nearly dark when I strolled down to the jetty at Mandina Lodges and scanned around. Nothing but Pied Kingfishers, Western Reef Heron and a Greenshank, sadly none fit to perform the task at hand. I sat down hoping for some shimmering sunbirds to saunter past, a Black-shouldered Kite to lope to roost or a Finfoot to surface in the amber stream. I waited . . . it got dark . . . and I thought the virgin bins would have to wait another night. Then, on huge dragon wings, a silhouette shaded the lamplights and floated into the shallows where it folded up like a giant umbrella and stood statuesque, as tall as a teenage boy. The Goliath Heron! The world's largest and most formidably armed avian fisherman. It crept into the artificial glow and posed, poised with its shaggy neck and eye sparkling. Perfect . . . I raised the VICTORY SF’s and it came alive.

In a way such a trial - low light, water, dusty air - was a real ‘in at the deep end’ as far as the optics were concerned but they didn’t disappoint. I handed them to a colleague to see the mega-bird and they exclaimed ‘Blimey, these are good aren’t they, so bright!’ And yes they are. And the following morning they proved to have superb edge to edge sharpness and a beautiful fresh resolution too. Add this to rapid focusing, easy to adjust eye-cups and a very comfortable strap, even on the longest and sweatiest days, and you’ve got a fantastic pair of binoculars. By the time I’d been ogling White Crested Helmet Shrike and Violet Turaco I was confident I’d made the right choice in new optics. All that remains is to see if they can enhance the appeal of my immature Greenfinches when I get home!