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Zeiss Victory Harpia 95mm Scope Review

I recently reviewed the Harpia 85, smaller sibling to the scope on test here. I tested it the way I usually do bino’s, but for astronomy like a telescope too.

Mostly, I found the Harpia 85 to be really excellent: compact and light, it performed better than I expected by day, giving sharp, detailed wide and vivid views across a big zoom range and with minimal false colour.

But what really surprised me was its performance for astronomy. No, it couldn’t give the ultra-sharp high-power views of an 85mm astro’ telescope like Tele Vue’s TV-85, but it gave great casual deep-sky views; of the Moon at medium power too.

Like almost all scopes, though, the Harpia is a refractor. And refractors have a problem: they’re hard to scale. So whilst a 1cm increase from 85mm to 95mm might not sound a lot, it likely pushes the envelope for what is already a compact and complex optical system. So has the Harpia 95 scaled well? As usual, read on to find out.

At A Glance

Magnification

23x-70x (3x zoom)

Objective Size

95mm

Eye Relief

~13mm measured

Actual Field of View

3.4°

Apparent field of view

72°

Close focus

4.2m measured, 4.5m claimed

Transmissivity

88%

Length

408mm claimed (~440mm w/ eyepiece)

Weight

2078g

Data from Zeiss/Me.

What’s in the Box?

Just like the smaller version, the Harpia 95 gets a long, thin version of Zeiss’ premium Victory binocular box, with a magnetic catch, a thick foam lining and ... a huge image of a Harpy Eagle.

Harpia is Made in Germany, unlike the Japan-made Gavia.

All you get in the box is the Scope: the eyepiece is an accessory.

Design and Build

Zeiss currently have two lines of spotting scopes – Victory Harpia and Gavia. The Harpia comes in 95mm and 85mm apertures and is Zeiss’ premium scope, part of a range of top-end German-made products under the ‘Victory’ label. The Gavia comes under the mid-price Conquest sub-brand and is made in Japan.

Zeiss have thrown everything at the Harpia, including multiple FL glass elements, to create a cutting-edge scope with a broad zoom range, an extremely close near focus and a wide field of view at all magnifications.

The technology to deliver such a leading range of abilities doesn’t come cheap, though: the eyepiece alone is more than many mid-priced scopes. That said, plenty of other brands – not all as prestigious as Zeiss – do sell scopes in the Harpia’s price range.

If you’re used to scopes from those other brands, the Harpia has an unusual feature. Zoom control is on the body, not the eyepiece, so there is currently only one eyepiece available for both 85mm and 95mm models.

Zeiss Harpia is part of a range of premium products under the ‘Victory’ label (here with 10x42 Victory SFs).

The Harpia 85 for comparison.

Body

First impressions? I was surprised at how small and light the Harpia 95 is, much lighter than my Tele Vue 85 for example, at just over 2 Kg. It’s not that much larger or heavier than the smaller model. The Harpia feels insubstantial compared to a typical Astro’ telescope of similar aperture.

Zeiss are coy about what the Harpia is made of for some reason, but given how light it is I’m guessing either a reinforced composite like the old FL range of binoculars, or perhaps magnesium like the Gavia.

Used as I am to astronomical telescopes from the likes of Tele Vue, Takahashi and Astro Physics, the Harpia’s outward appearance seemed almost ... well, a little plasticky really, whilst also feeling much more like a mass-market consumer product (a camera maybe) than most telescopes I review.

Closer inspection reveals excellent fit and finish, though, with smooth black armour on top and a nicely textured area at the back/bottom for grabbing the scope to move it about. I did notice that the smooth part of the armour is quite prone to nail scratches and marking.

At the front is a sliding dew-shield/sun-shade that clicks out with a refined and smooth action. At the other end is a port with a bayonet fitting for the eyepiece, with an optical component (prism or possibly lens) sealed into the base of it, so there’s no way for water or dust to enter the scope body.

Despite its light weight, the Harpia is nitrogen filled and waterproof to 400 mbar, same as their binoculars (and the cheaper Gavia too). I didn’t test it to that degree, but it survived heavy rain with no problems. Surprisingly, this turned out to be a great feature for astronomy: in showery weather I wasn’t worried about leaving the Harpia out.

Focuser

The Harpia 95’s focuser is the same as 85’s, but it’s unusual, at least for me.

The focuser is the broader of the two deeply-ribbed rings that encircle the scope at the back, the narrower one behind it being the 3x zoom control (see above). Unusually, it integrates dual speeds into the single ring: large movements make coarse focus shifts and smaller movements fine ones.

The fine focus has a very light touch indeed and makes very fine adjustments. When you reach the coarse part of the focuser travel, you feel a slight ‘bump’ in the action and the action becomes heavier as coarse focus engages.

This two-speed mechanism mostly worked well on the 85, with its snappy focus, making it easy to find that very subtle best focus point. Here, though, I found it more difficult to use for reasons I’ll explain in due course.

Even at best, though, I sometimes found the dual-speed function made the focuser frustrating to use: I’d focus through then back up, only for the focus point to have moved because I’d gone through the fine/coarse threshold without realising it. As for the 85, there’s a learning curve if you’re not used to this type of focuser.

I measured close focus at a very good 4.2m, a bit less than the claimed 4.5m. But compared to the 85mm model, it’s a metre more, so the Harpia 95 isn’t quite as well suited to long-range microscopy of insects and flowers, if that’s your thing.

I left the Harpia out for some hours in temperatures around freezing, to see if the focuser and/or zoom would stiffen up. Just as for the smaller version, they didn’t.

Focuser is the wider front ring, 3x zoom control behind, twist to the left to zoom in.

Optics - Objectives

The fixed part of the objective appears to be a triplet comprising a single front element of crown glass, with a large air gap and a crown/flint doublet behind (see below).

I assume that the two crowns are a premium high-fluoride ED glass, perhaps mated with some sort of special flint: Zeiss state, “FL glasses and other specially formulated glass types”. It’s interesting to note that the cheaper Gavia also has “HD Optics” and two crown elements, but is not as perfectly corrected for false colour.

Well behind the Harpia’s objective are a focusing lens and then a separate zoom lens assembly that effectively alters the focal length of the objective. It’s a complex optical system and it needs to be to make it as compact and portable as it is, whilst still giving low aberrations.

The zoom control varies the objective’s effective focal length between 174mm and 523mm (the eyepiece F.L. is fixed at 7.48mm), giving a focal ratio between F1.83 and F5.5, a little faster even than the Harpia 85!

At the low-power end, less than F2 is crazy fast by astro’ telescope standards, especially at this aperture, but false colour isn’t the problem you expect because it’s only that fast at the lowest power of 23x. At the top end, 70x in a F5.5 triplet doesn’t sound too challenging. For context, fitting a Takahashi FSQ-106 imaging scope with a medium power eyepiece would give an optical system with similar spec’s and I’d expect it to perform well at that magnification.

The pinkish T* coatings (a Zeiss trademark for almost a century) are very transparent and give an excellent overall transmission of 88%. The coatings also include Zeiss’ LotuTecTM water-repellent treatment that sheds rain and makes it easier to wipe away fingerprints.

In terms of stray light protection, the tube is painted matt black inside and has two knife-edge baffles, one immediately behind the objective (see below). The lens ring is micro-ridge-baffled against veiling flare; but with the hood extended, flare shouldn’t be a problem anyway.

Zeiss’ signature T* coatings (this lens had a few marks in it!)

Laser test showing the widely spaced triplet objective configuration.

OTA sports proper knife-edge baffles to suppress stray light.

Optics – Eyepiece

The Harpia 95 shares its lone fixed-focal-length (7.48mm) eyepiece with the 85mm model. The eyepiece is quite large and has a huge (31mm diameter), flat eye lens.

The eyepiece secures to the scope via twist-lock bayonet fitting with solid metal blades that holds it very securely. You have to press in a button to twist and remove it. A trivial gripe is that the alignment dot is positioned between two of the bayonet blades and so hard to spot.

The downside of the integrated eyepiece approach is that you’re stuck with one eyepiece (at present anyway), whether you like its characteristics or not. The advantage is that the zoom control ring is much larger and more convenient than it could be if the eyepiece zoomed (much easier with gloves) and has a very good zoom range of 3x.

As I’ve said, the zoom magnification range, 23-70x on the Harpia 95, is large for a spotting scope. But using interchangeable 1 ¼” push-fit eyepieces in the Gavia 85, via Zeiss’ own ‘Astro Adapter’, could give a much larger range of magnifications. I’m not aware of a similar adapter for the Harpia (and the bayonet isn’t the same).

The Harpia eyepiece is expensive for a non-zoom item. At around £500 it’s well into premium astro’-eyepiece territory, but with much less glass (and field width too). Here, the field is 72° - only moderately wide by astro’ eyepiece standards (which offer up to 110°), but the zoom maintains it across the whole range – both unusual and impressive.

Eye relief measures roughly 13mm from the rim of the eye cup and again seems to maintain that across the zoom range. For those who view without glasses, the eye cup twists out and extends.

The Harpia eyepiece is not all good, though. The field isn’t perfectly corrected. It is sharp to the edge, but has rather more pin-cushion distortion than I’m used to in a telescope, presumably to avoid the globe effect when panning. More of a problem for me is the off-axis false colour, which is quite pronounced in high-contrast views, even at low power.

Mounting

The Harpia has a built-in mounting ring. Loosening a lock knob on the right side allows the tube to rotate and change the eyepiece angle. It rotates smoothly, with click-stops and a refined weighty feel.

Attached to the ring is a mounting shoe that can function as a dovetail, but also has a standard ¼ - 20 thread for tripod mounting as an insert in a 3/8 thread.

I mounted the Harpia 95 on a light Berlebach ash tripod with a matching head that took the Harpia’s size and weight perfectly and look good in a domestic setting to compete with Swarovski’s similarly-spec’d ATX Interior at a slightly lower price.

For serious field use, you might choose a carbon tripod and a heavier scope-specific head.

I also tried attaching a Tele Vue dovetail adapter to the Harpia’s shoe via a ¼ - 20 bolt, then mounted it on a Vixen SX2 equatorial tracking mount for astronomy. By using the rotating tube feature this worked very well.

The Harpia 95 is compact enough to fit in a domestic setting.

A dovetail adapter from Tele Vue allowed the Harpia 95 to be equatorially mounted for astronomy.

Accessories

The eyepiece comes with a cap on a lanyard and another for the bayonet. The objective has a push-on cap that’s protective but requires a very firm squeeze to remove.

No case is provided, but you can buy a quality stay-on case as an accessory.

In Use – Daytime

Ergonomics

Eyepiece comfort is good with no troublesome blackouts, with or without specs. I can see all of the field with specs on, but only if I really push my specs into the eye cup, otherwise I lose a lot of the field.

The Harpia 95 isn’t quite parfocal across the zoom range. This seems puzzling but presumably complete parfocality was a step too far for an already-complicated optical system.

Like the 85mm version, the Harpia 95 is so compact and light that it’s easy to just pick it up and carry it on a tripod. But, as I pointed out before, for extreme portability you might choose the Gavia, which is significantly smaller and lighter still.

The View

The view is typical Zeiss: very bright and with a cool-yet-natural colour balance that I like; and sharp to the very edge in a way that Zeiss binoculars are not (see below).

Optical quality of the Harpia 85 I tested was extremely high, but this Harpia 95 was obviously less so from the first look. Fidelity was still good, colours vivid, resolution good, but the absolute pin-sharpness and snap of the 85 wasn’t there. A later star test confirmed that the optics were slightly out of alignment, though doubtless within tolerances for a spotting scope. I think you can see this less-than-perfect sharpness in the snap taken at 70x below.

Brightness is subjectively at binocular levels at low power (very similar to the 10x32 SFs I was testing at the same time), when the Harpia’s exit pupil is binocular wide. So, at 23x, I could watch birds searching through the leaf litter for bugs on the dimly-lit floor of my local copse on a cloudy day in early spring.

At 70x daytime brightness does drop off, both centre-field and slightly more at the edges, but less so than with the Harpia 85 – no surprise, the 95 collects 25% more light, after all.

At 3x zoom (70x magnification), the Harpia 95 has a very shallow depth of field. The lower optical quality/alignment meant perfect focus seemed a lot harder to find at 70x than the Harpia 85 had at 65x.

1x zoom - 23x magnification.

3x zoom – 70x magnification.

Flat field?

As I noted above, the field is sharp edge-to-edge, even at minimum focus distance and maximum zoom, confirmed by viewing a meter rule 5m away.

There is, however, quite a bit of pin cushion distortion, probably to allow comfortable panning. Even so, panning does create some ‘rolling ball’ effect, more so than the Gavia 85, presumably due to the wider field.

Chromatic Aberration

My standard test of focusing through branches silhouetted against a bright but cloudy sky reveals almost zero false colour from the objective, much the same as the Harpia 85, despite the Harpia 95’s marginally faster, bigger lens.

I usually do this test at 100x, but it’s still impressive at 70x - better than a doublet apochromat of similar size, with just a slight tinge of green one side, purple the other.

But considered as an integrated system with the eyepiece, the Harpia 95 is not as perfect, again just like the smaller model. There is lateral colour both off-axis and when moving eye position, sometimes quite a lot.

What does this mean in practice? Watching a crow in silhouette, at any power, it’s impossible to avoid some false colour fringing where black feather meets sky.

This Harpia 85 snap reveals the pin-cushion distortion and lateral false colour that the Harpia 95 suffers too.

In Use – Dusk

The Harpia 95 is bright at lower powers and works well into dusk, better than the smaller aperture version. You could use it in woodland even at twilight. Veiling flare under a brilliant dusk sky is a non-issue with the sun-shade extended.

In Use – Observing the Night Sky

General Observing Notes

Although the field shows some pincushion distortion for comfier panning by day, stars remain points until the last few percent when a just a little astigmatism creeps in at the edge.

Star testing a spotting scope isn’t really fair. Nonetheless, it did reveal some misalignment. The Harpia 85 had just a very little, this 95mm version more. Which part of the optical system was misaligned I couldn’t tell.

The maximum field of 3.4° made finding fainter targets challenging without a finder, more so than the 85mm version, more so than with binoculars that share your naked-eye line of sight. Still, even the Harpia 95 is better than the Gavia 85, which has only 1.9° maximum at its lowest power - very challenging for finding faint DSOs without a finder.

I found focusing a bit difficult at 70x and the image of the Moon below reflects this (though the seeing was poor too).

On the positive side, the ability to zoom in without swapping eyepieces turned out to be a great feature for astronomy.

Snap of the Moon taken through the Harpia at 70x with an iPhone X.

The Moon

A gibbous Moon just before full was crisp and reasonably sharp at 70x, with only minor false colour in focus.  It was quite a decent view, but not as sharp and astro’-scope like as the Harpia 85. I noted viewing the stripes in Aristarchus’ walls, ghostly Reiner Gamma, the central peak in nearby Marius, the central peak in Pythagoras and giant Schickard right on the terminator.

Mars

The Red Planet, right at the end of an opposition period, was the only planet around and only ~5 arcsecs in apparent size, a challenge for any telescope, it was only just discernible as a disk at 70x through the Harpia.

Deep Sky

Despite a maximum field of view of 3.4° at 23x, the Harpia 95 still frames larger clusters well. The Pleiades fitted in the field at 23x, but looked less perfectly sparkly than through the smaller model.

Another famous cluster, the Beehive, showed its main stars, pinpoint to the field edge; lots of fainter stars at this aperture too.

The chain of clusters, M35 to M38, running up through Auriga, were properly resolved into starbursts, likewise the Double Cluster and nearby Stock 2 and the Owl Cluster, sweeping from Perseus to Cassiopeia.

Zooming in on big and bright globular cluster in M3 in Boötes (no need to swap out eyepieces) began to resolve the misty ball into myriads of individual stars.

Castor split easily, but I failed to split Rigel which depends on a very clean Airy disk at high power.

The Harpia 95 makes a surprisingly good astronomical telescope for Deep Sky and the Moon, but it’s greater light gathering power was marred by noticeably poorer optics on this example than the Harpia 85 I reviewed.

Summary

In many ways the Zeiss Harpia 95 is just like its smaller sibling but with more reach in low light. The view is essentially the same – bright and crisp and wide, with vivid but natural colours (to me at least) and an impressive zoom range. Physically, it’s surprisingly similar – not much heavier at all and just a little longer and fatter. So sheer size wouldn’t be a reason to choose the smaller model, but close focus – a critical metre more distant here – just might, if insects are a major interest.

The already clever-but-flawed dual speed focuser worked less well for me than on the Harpia 85, because the optics were less snappy at high power. The objective-eyepiece system which delivers that big zoom range and consistently wide, flat field has a bit too much lateral false colour and pin-cushion, same as the smaller model.

Despite slightly flawed optical quality on this example, the Harpia 95 is a state-of-the-art scope, capable of almost anything you care to do with it from long-range microscopy to casual astronomy. Highly recommended.

 

Buy Zeiss Harpia 95 from Wex here: