A Review of the Zeiss Victory Harpia
Meta: From bird-watching to hunting to sightseeing, the Zeiss Victory Harpia has something to offer just about everyone. Is this the right spotting scope for you? Find out here.
Spotting scopes have come a long way in recent years. They’ve become smaller, lighter, and more powerful. They’re useful in a very wide range of situations, too. For instance, some people use spotting scopes for bird-watching, while others use them to spot game from their blind or tree stand. Yet others carry spotting scopes with them while traveling to take in amazing views or to capture images on their smartphones. The Zeiss Victory Harpia ranks as one of the most popular options on the market, but what does it offer you? Is it the right spotting scope for your specific needs, or should you consider something else? In this review, we’ll delve into what it provides, how it performs, and how it stacks up to others on the market.
What Is a Spotting Scope?
Spotting scopes are a bit like small, super-portable telescopes. However, unlike scopes designed for stargazing that lack optics needed to erect the image, these are designed specifically for use in viewing terrestrial objects. That means the optics turn the image right side up. They are used in a very wide range of activities, including:
- Wildlife viewing, particularly bird-watching
- Target shooting
- Tactical ranging
Like a telescope, a spotting scope gathers light from the surrounding area (and any ambient light sources, such as the sun, moon, artificial lights, etc.). The diameter of the objective lens determines the device’s light-gathering abilities. The larger the objective lens, the more light can be gathered. This also affects image quality and resolution.
While the objective lens is permanent, most spotting scopes are designed to accept different eyepiece lenses. This allows you to get different levels of magnification from the same spotting scope.
While many spotting scopes have an angled body, similar to the Zeiss Victory Harpia, that is not the case with all of them. Some have straight bodies similar to telescopes, rather than a body angled at 45-degrees.
How Are Spotting Scopes Used?
Spotting scopes are used in a wide range of activities. One reason for that is their extreme versatility and ease of use. You can use a spotting scope in a number of different ways, including the following:
- Tripod: Most spotting scopes feature a built-in mount that allows them to be attached to a tripod. With a tripod, you can use them to watch birds, zoom in on distant views, capture images with your camera or smartphone, and more.
- Gun-Mounts: In addition to tripods, many models are designed to be mounted to guns, where they can be used as a telescopic sight.
- Hand Use: All spotting scopes can be used by hand, without the need to mount them. In this situation, they work similarly to a monocular.
Features You Should Know
The Zeiss Victory Harpia offers a wide range of features and capabilities. If you’re considering this spotting scope, you’ll certainly want a better idea of what’s what. Here’s what you get ion terms of the most important features:
- 95mm objective lens
- Extra-low dispersion fluoride glass
- 45-degree angled viewing
- Included Vario eyepiece
- LotuTec lens coating for all-weather viewing
- 72-degree subjective viewing angle across the zoom range
More about the Scope
One of the first things you’ll notice about the scope on removing it from the package is the slip construction. That makes it simpler and easier to use almost anywhere, whether you’re mounting it to a tripod, using it by hand, or putting it to use in some other way. You’ll also notice a built-in bayonet mount at the bottom. It’s secure and lockable for peace of mind.
This scope features FL lenses and other specialty manufactured glass types. The unique combination delivers one of the sharpest images possible while maintaining faithful color representation. Even at the highest magnification, you’ll find a crisp image and true colors without distortion.
You will also find that the scope offers a 72-degree subjective viewing angle throughout the zoom range. This provides it with a much wider overview of the terrain/view than you’ll find from other scopes. Changing the magnification is simple, as well, thanks to the 3x Power Zoom feature. Just adjust the zoom and you can move from 23x to 70x.
You’ll also notice that the focus system is a dual-speed affair that helps ensure you get the best view possible even while changing magnifications. The precise focusing is all thanks to automatic gear-switching capabilities.
Finally, you get the best of all worlds with excellent usability in all weather, plus a design that’s built to last. The LotuTec coating on the lens ensures complete hydrophobic coverage, so you can use the scope in almost any weather and not have to worry about moisture beading on the lens. The build materials are also light and strong, capable of lasting for decades.
About the Eyepiece
The eyepiece included with the Zeiss Victory Harpia is designed and manufactured by Vario, a well-known name in the optics industry. It also represents a significant leap forward in comparison to eyepieces that come with most telescopes and spotting scopes.
With the Harpia, the eyepiece delivers crisp, clear panoramic views. Like the other optics, the eyepiece features a LotuTec coating and is made from extra-low-dispersion fluoride glass for maximum light transmission. It also does not create halos or chromatic aberrations.
Finally, you will note that the eyepiece is attached to a movable portion of the body. This allows you to change the viewing angle to match your orientation needs, or to allow multiple people of different heights to use the scope while it is mounted on a tripod. Just turn the end and the entire eyepiece rotates clockwise.
Using the Harpia
You’ll find that using the Zeiss Harpia is simple and easy, whether you’re doing so by hand or with the help of a tripod. The 45-degree viewing angle and unique body construction were chosen to provide ease of use when standing, mounted, or lying down.
Once you have the scope positioned and the eyepiece is in place, you simply need to turn the focus ring. You’ll find two rings on the body of the scope about one-third of the way up the barrel from the eyepiece. The front ring is for focusing. The second ring is for adjusting the magnification. Together, they make it easy to find your point of interest and then adjust the magnification until your view is crystal-clear.
Turning the focus ring also gets you up close and personal with one of the true stand-out features of the Harpia – the dual-speed mechanism. You can turn the ring very quickly for rapid-focus capabilities, but you can also make use of the fine-focus speed. Both are provided by the same mechanism, which simplifies the design and ensures better usability.
To use it, simply turn the ring. You’ll feel the gear engage (high-speed). When you have found the view you want, simply turn the ring in the opposite direction and you’ll feel the fine-focus gear kick into action.
What Does It Compete With?
The Zeiss Victory Harpia was the company’s answer to many competitors. This scope competes with the following:
- Swarovski ATX
- Kowa 883
- Leica Televid
Note that these models are not directly comparable. Each has some small difference that makes it unique on the market. However, the Harpia does manage to deliver best-in-class performance and durability. It also stands out from the pack with quite a few unique features of its own, which you won’t find with any of the three competing models mentioned above.
As noted above, the Harpia offers true all-weather performance. That’s thanks to many different features and technologies. For instance, the body is sealed and has been purged of O2. Instead, nitrogen fills the cavity. This inert gas resists moisture and fogging. The body itself is also covered in rugged rubber armor. That provides you with several important benefits, including:
- Waterproofing the scope
- Providing a better grip during wet conditions
- Protecting against shocks and bumps
Carrying, Storage, and Protection
The Harpia is a very large scope, so you’ll want something to carry it in. You will also want a padded protective case and end caps. Sadly, you’ll have to purchase those on their own. Zeiss does not include them in this package. The only contents of the box are the scope and the eyepiece.
With that being said, this does provide you with the opportunity to purchase a case that works best for you. Zeiss offers more than one option, running the gamut from basic to super-padded. Purchasing your case will make sure that you’re getting exactly what you want.
Where the Scope Falls Short
While there is a lot to love about the Zeiss Victory Harpia, the scope is not perfect. There are a few areas where it falls a little short. First, there is no option to have a straight body – the only choice is the 45-degree angled barrel. That is fine for most, but some may prefer a different option.
Another minor quibble is the size of the scope. The 95mm objective lens means that, even though it is streamlined and lightweight, the scope is big. The only other option is to downgrade to the 85mm version, but even that one is very large. For beginning users, a smaller scope may be the best way to go. With that being said, the larger size does deliver critical capabilities that cannot be found with smaller scopes, such as mounting a camera directly to the eyepiece and the very wide viewing angle that the scope delivers.
The Zeiss Victory Harpia is a marvel of precision engineering and performance. Its large size and 95mm objective lens give you one of the best views in the industry. The hydrophobic lens coatings ensure that you can use your scope no matter what the weather might be, and the oxygen-purged, nitrogen-filled body won’t fog up, either. The rubber armor offers a tactile grip and protection against falls and drops, as well.
However, this scope may not be for everyone. It’s very large, and despite the use of modern materials in its construction, it is correspondingly heavy. There is also the fact that it isn’t available in a straight barrel style, only in the offset-style, so users with a preference for the former will be left out.
With that being said, the Harpia does offer industry-best performance in virtually all light conditions and is a go-to solution for bird-watching enthusiasts, photographers, and many others.