Notes on Zeiss 20x60S Stabilized Binoculars

By Paul Knight on October 4, 2015 — 22 mins read

For three hours we followed the trail through the woods. The scene was typical of Northeast Georgia this time of year; a leafless canopy of trees was over our heads while we walked on a carpet of damp leaves. The sky was clear and the sun shone through with relative ease. We would occasionally hear a mountain bike making its way up the road near the trail head, but other than that we had Chimney Mountain to ourselves as we headed for the top. My wife carried our lunch and water; I carried my Zeiss 20x60S image-stabilized binoculars.

The top of Chimney Mountain provides almost 360 degree views of Appalachia. As I would later be able to estimate on Google Earth we could see about 20 miles in every direction. As we were setting our backpacks down, a shadow on the ground caught my attention. I unhurriedly pulled out the binoculars as a lone buzzard circled us. I wanted to take a closer look at the creature. He was fast, and the relatively narrow field of view through the binos made it difficult to capture him at first. But once I got hold of him and stabilized the image I was able to track him with ease. It felt like those cameras you see on tv that track a golfer’s ball. The image was perfectly crisp and smooth.

Leaving the buzzard alone, I turned to the horizon at my south. I wondered if I would be able to see any landmarks to give me a sense of where I was. Within 20 seconds I had my answer. There, about 20 miles away, were the two water towers in my home town. A couple miles to their south was the chicken plant. Here I was, on the extreme north end of Habersham County, and I was easily able to identify objects on the extreme south end–and with a handheld device nonetheless.


After returning home and eating a late dinner, I was eager to try the binos out on decently dark skies. Up until that point I had only been able to use them under the glow of the Atlanta sky. I had a meeting with Orion and I didn’t want to be any later than I already was, especially during this season. It would be the first time I had seen the great Orion Nebula with the binos.

I walked outside and let my eyes adjust to the darkness for a while. Once my anticipation overtook my patience I lifted the binos. Within seconds I was looking at one of the most beautiful views of the night sky I had ever seen. Orion’s nebula shown like a blooming flower with one pedal casting a shadow on another, lending a sense of depth to the composition. The stars in the vicinity shined with the intensity of welders’ spatter. The crispness and contrast of the image was simply beautiful. And again it was with the same device that just hours earlier allowed me to spot my hometown chicken plant.

Mobility, versatility, and power is the name of the game with these. With something no larger than half a loaf of bread and no heavier than a few cans of soup, these binos provide a feast for the eyes. In the three months I had owned these binoculars up to that point I had not one ounce of buyer’s remorse. That day on the hike and night under the stars simply affirmed my suspicion that I had discovered the most incredible optical device I had ever owned.

Orion Sketch - 20x60

Above: Sketch of the Orion Nebula as seen through my Zeiss 20x60S binoculars. Approximate sketch time was 30 minutes. Post processing in Photoshop to invert the colors.

Why I Bought These

I didn’t realize it then, but when I was in high school I had all the free time in the world. Part of that free time was spent setting up and taking down my Celestron C8 and Losmandy GM-8. As I got older and my free time diminished, I eventually realized that the C8 was no longer fitting my needs. The views were amazing, but I could no longer afford the time it took to set it up. And I didn’t have an observatory to leave it up.

A couple years ago I sold my C8 and GM-8 and started the hunt for a grab-n-go setup. What I landed on was a beautiful ensemble: an AstroTech AT72ED refractor, a Half-Hitch FTQ mount, and a Manfrotto 475b tripod. I had carefully selected and limited my equipment to fit inside just two cases: one case for the tripod and mount, and another case for the refractor and all accessories. I could take everything in just one trip. It was a beautiful, efficient, and effective setup, and I enjoyed it for a year. But over the course of that year I realized something about myself. As quick as the little refractor was to set up (it took only about 5 minutes), I finally admitted to myself that I had reached a point in my life and my hobby where I wanted zero setup time. That meant I needed either one of two things: 1) an observatory or 2) a pair of binoculars. While an observatory is an ultimate life goal for me, in the short term I opted to place my hobby strictly in a pair of binoculars. But which pair?


My dad and I had always dreamed of owning a pair of Zeiss 20x60S binoculars. We loved the Classic Dialyt design, and over probably 20 years we owned a number of different models in that line including 8×30’s, 7×42’s, and 8×56’s (I still happily own the 7×42’s). For us, the primary problem with the 20×60’s was the cost—at $8,000 new, it was hard to justify selling a car for a pair of binos. But after my dad passed away last October, I decided to cast all financial concerns aside and to purchase the 20×60’s in his honor. That happened in December when I found a used pair on eBay. Since then, I have not had a second of buyer’s remorse.

I have enjoyed the views the 20×60’s have given me, but I have equally enjoyed simply studying their mechanics. Below, you will find not just a review but also my attempt at explaining how these things actually work. They are a marvel of ingenuity and engineering, and I am beyond proud to own one of the most—if not the most—mechanically advanced binoculars ever made.

I am writing this as an amateur astronomer with a life-long interest in physics and astronomy. However, as an architectural and urban designer I make no claims to provide you with a completely accurate or exhaustive understanding of this instrument. I am only sharing my passion to the extent that I can. That said, I welcome any feedback or knowledge about these binoculars that you can share. I will be happy to update this page as I learn more from you.

General Note:
Click on any image for a higher-resolution version of that image.

Basic Information

Technical Data:


  • Magnification: 20 x
  • Effective Lens Diameter: 60 mm
  • Exit Pupil Diameter: 3 mm
  • Twilight Factors : 34.6
  • Field of View at 1000 yd : 156 ft
  • TFOV (not from Zeiss): 2.79 degrees
  • Subjective Viewing Angle: 60 °
  • Close Focus in Ft: 45.93 ft
  • Diopter Adjustment Range: +4 | -4 dpt
  • Pupil Distance: 57 – 73 mm
  • Eye Relief: 13 mm
  • Lens Type: Achromat
  • Prism System: Porro
  • Water Resistance : Sealed against spray water
  • LotuTec® : no
  • Nitrogen Filling : no
  • Functional Temperature in °F : -4 | +104 °F
  • Height in Inch : 10.8 inch
  • Width in Inch at an eye width of 65 mm: 6.33 inch
  • Weight in Use in oz: 58.55 oz
  • Cost new: $7,999

Usage Suggestions:


  • Birdwatching 4/5
  • Hunting 3/5
  • Nature observation 2/5
  • Events 1/5
  • Traveling 0/5
  • Marine 3/5
  • Astronomy 5/5
  • Outdoor activities 3/5

My Equipment

I confirmed with Zeiss that my binoculars were manufactured in 1993. They said that the specs of my model are exactly the same as those that are currently produced.


20x60 and 7x42 20×60 and 7×42 20x60 and 7x42 20×60 and 7×42

K04_4735-bw K04_4696-bw K04_4702-bw

The binos come standard with a hard case that’s fitted perfectly for them. It provides excellent protection. I like to keep a cleansing cloth and microfiber cloth in the case at all times.

As an alternative to the hard case, I purchased a small, soft leather case for when I take these binos on a hike. Some people have expressed apprehension over taking these binos on a hike, but I didn’t buy them to not use them. Hopefully I don’t fall on my back in a creek somewhere, but if that ever happens I’ll pay Zeiss to fix them and life will go on.

K04_4729-bw K04_4792-bw K04_4801-bw K04_4777-bw K04_4774-bw K04_4779-bw

I purchased a pair of 3-1/4″ diameter solar filters from Thousand Oaks. The clearance between the objective lenses on the binoculars is narrow due to the casing, but it is just large enough to accommodate the thickness of the solar filter casings together. Because the filters have to be snug in the center, they overhang the outer edges slightly. I accommodated for this by installing felt liners only on one side.

K04_4675-bw K04_4679-bw K04_4681-bw

As a couple of accessories for the binoculars, I have a WalkStool and a Manfrotto Compact Tripod. While not necessary, they make observing a little more comfortable. The binoculars are heavy, so the tripod takes care of that. It may seem crazy and counter intuitive to consider using a tripod, but I have to say once you engage the stabilizer the image is sharper and more stationary than anything you’ve ever looked through.


The binoculars attach to the tripod by way of a small, circular disc that came with the tripod. The disc screws into the underside of the binos and then locks into place on the tripod head. While the connection appears to be perfectly secure, it is anything but stable. The binos wobble severely on the tripod head which is a bit unnerving, but they’re not going anywhere. Once the stabilizer is engaged the wobble goes away completely. One benefit to a loose connection is the slight freedom of movement for the binos–rather than having to disengage the tripod head you can just tilt the binoculars one way or the other.

K04_4717-bw OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA tripod-head-clamp

Finally, I purchased a Zeiss 3×12 tripler to attach to the eyepiece of the 20×60’s. The tripler is well made and carries all the quality you would expect from a Zeiss product. However, when attached to the 20×60’s the result is not good. The image lacks the crispness that the 20×60’s normally provide; it’s dark, dull, and cumbersome. I tested this on the sun, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. Venus was surrounded by a severe purple halo. I couldn’t make out the cloud bands on Jupiter as it was just a large, dim ball. Without the monocular attached, Saturn was nice and crisp with its rings easily distinguishable; with the monocular it became more of an elliptical blob. I was careful to focus and attached and detached the monocular numerous times to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong.

It’s too bad. Since I don’t have a telescope I was really hoping I could convert the 20×60’s into a 60 power 60mm scope. I wasn’t expecting a miracle by any means–I knew going into it that a dedicated telescope would be the best thing for higher-power viewing. I just wanted an “emergency” 60x just in case, but the quality of the image was so bad that it just wasn’t worth keeping.

I sent Zeiss an email requesting that they fabricate a 2×12 monocular to add to their line up of products. If you have had a similar experience with the 3×12 as I have perhaps you should consider doing the same.


The Mechanical Stabilizing System

I will get to the optics a little later. First, I want to discuss what really sets the 20×60’s apart from every other bino on the market: the mechanical stabilizing system.

If a Zeiss representative told me that these binoculars are powered by magic I would believe them. The stabilizing mechanism is incredible. At 20x unstabilized, the moon is a jittery bouncing ball. It’s essentially impossible to focus on anything for any meaningful amount of time. However, as soon as I engage the stabilizer everything floats. The first time I did this I could feel my heart rate increase—but with Zeiss’s magical stabilizer I couldn’t see my heart rate reflected in the optics. It’s simply amazing.

From what I have observed, in hand-holding high-power binoculars there are three classes of tremors that cause the image to shake:

  1. Hand tremor
  2. Heartbeat
  3. Body sway

Based on my observations, the effectiveness of the stabilizer varies based on the viewing angle. I want to emphasize that this is not due to the mechanics of the binoculars themselves. It is due to the successive levels of discomfort that my body feels as I hold the binoculars at a steeper and steeper pitch. It is easiest and most comfortable to hold the binos while viewing the horizon, but the more I look up the more I have to strain my back and neck which causes my body to shake which eventually overwhelms the stabilizer. The stabilizer itself functions equally at all angles as far as I can tell. With that in mind, here are my estimates of effective tremor reduction at varying degrees of altitude:

Viewing Altitude Hand Tremor Heart Beat Body Sway
0-20 99% 90% 10%
20-60 99% 70% 5%
60-90 99% 20% 0%

With the binoculars unstabilized, hand shake is ever-present, heartbeats obscure the image regularly and periodically, and there is an overall sway of the image. With the binoculars stabilized, the only real noticeable tremor is due to body sway. Given the limited motion and range of the mechanics this makes sense.

The stabilizer at 20x is equivalent to an unstabilized 3x Bino. I am officially spoiled–even my 7×42’s are too shaky for me now.

Stabilization Mechanics

When I first received these binos, I put on a headlamp and peered inside the casing through the objective lenses. I sat there for an hour, subtly shaking the binos, engaging and disengaging the stabilizer, trying to figure out how they worked. At the end of that session, I figured magic was good enough. Then I found the patent.

Patents are great. They protect the intellectual properties of inventors and investors, but they also allow people like me to learn more about the devices they use. You can download your own copy of the patent here. While this patent is filled with technical jargon, I was able to glean a satisfactory level of understanding for myself. Let’s see how well I can translate that for you.

First, here the major components of the binocular:

  1. Binocular casing
  2. Objective lenses
  3. Stabilizer
  4. Eyepieces

The stabilizing system is composed of the following parts (refer to the diagrams below which I produced by color-coding the drawings from the patent):

    1. Moveable double holder (grey): the frame that pivots around when released and holds the other stabilizing components.
    2. Base frame: the moveable double holder is attached to the base frame via a pivot; the base frame, in turn, is attached to the casing of the binoculars.
    3. Spring joint (yellow): about half of the patent discusses this device. This makes me suspect that it is very important, but I do not know why.
    4. Magnetic damping device (orange): this includes the magnets at one end of the moveable double holder and wires that trip based on the eddy current that is generated. The magnets also act as a counterweight for the inverting prism system at the opposite end of the double holder.
    5. Inverting prism system (blue): these optics manipulate the light path between the objective lenses and the eyepieces. As the magnetic damping device does its magic, these optics adjust accordingly. Also, these prisms act as a counterweight for the magnetic damping device.
Stabilizer Color Keys

The stabilizer fits between the objective lenses and the eyepieces. Light enters through the objective lenses then gets “stabilized” before entering and exiting the eyepieces. See the two light-path diagrams below. These were produced by overlaying the patent diagrams onto images of my binoculars, scaled appropriately.

Patent Diagram 1 Patent Diagram 2

Here’s what I cannot explain (to me this is still in the “magic” category):

1. The spring joint. It is unclear to me why this is explained in such great depth in the patent. The concept seems simple enough: it’s the thing that releases or locks the moveable double holder. It seems like that should be relatively easy and straight forward mechanism to accomplish that.
2. The magnetic damping device. I know what magnets are. I know what eddy currents are. I know in general terms how these things could dampen vibration, but seriously–how the hell do you calibrate these forces? Even if a Zeiss engineer sat me down to explain it to me I am pretty sure it would be beyond my comprehension.


Below are the only two images I could find on the internet that shows the binocular’s insides (I’m not ready to take mine apart yet). The first one is from Zeiss’s Service and Repair page; the second is from an optics repair house in the Czech Republic (or Germany, I’m not sure).

zeiss-customer-service2-b&w_980x308 zeiss20x60wintersport-tschechien

You can also download a video (28 mb, .mov file, no sound) I made which shows the insides of the binos illuminated with a headlamp through their objective lenses.


Over perhaps 18 years I have owned an 80mm ED Orion refractor, a C8 with XLT optics, and an AstroTech AT72ED. They all gave me fine views, but until I looked through this pair of Zeiss 20×60’s I had no idea what I was missing. I had conditioned myself to observe stars as little blobs—albeit tiny little blobs. I suppose I thought “well, that’s what stars look like through our atmosphere.” When I saw the perfect points of light through these binos I was amazed. Stars are points—perfect, zero-dimensional points. It took me 18 years to see how important that observation really is.

All of that said, the view is not crisp to the edge. There is some obvious field aberration. I would say the inner 80% of the field of view is sharp. The remaining 20% gets progressively worse as you look to the edge, culminating in little star streaks.

Note: Given the length of this article I am starting to feel the effects of writing fatigue. I’ll update this section with more material one day. Or maybe someone else can review the optics for me?

What can I see with these?


I am amazed at how crowded the skies are. With the naked eye, I only notice high-altitude jet fuel trails, low-altitude planes coming in for a landing, or helicopters making emergency flights to Piedmont Hospital. I’ll pull the binos out to take a closer look at these and undoubtedly I will always find something else flying around that was invisible to me otherwise. There are planes everywhere. I know I’m in Atlanta which is a big flight hub, but I just didn’t realize how crowded the skies really are around here until I got these binos. I suppose in a few years I’ll be saying the same thing about drones.

From the top of Stone Mountain, with the 20×60’s I can easily watch planes land at Hartsfield Airport 20 miles away and I can see them all taxiing up in the sky for landing. When a plane flies over Stone Mountain I would swear I could see someone waving if I knew exactly where to look.

International Space Station

The ISS was projected to fly directly overhead early one morning, with a bright -3.7 magnitude. I decided to get up early and wave at those on board. I grabbed my 20x60s anticipating the view to be similar to that provided by the naked eye: a bright dot in motion.

The ISS faded into view up from the southwest horizon. About a minute in, I pulled the binos up and found, to my complete surprise, a stunning view of the actual structure of the ISS. I had no idea I would be able to make out detail, but there I was counting solar panels. Amazed, the ISS continued on, approaching zenith, which required me to lay down in the parking lot, binos in hand. I followed the lab across the entire sky as it faded away into the northeast.

A “photoshop sketch” of the scene is shown below.

And below is the ISS making a flyby with Jupiter in the background.

The Moon

The view of the moon is just incredible. For my first look at it through the 20×60’s, I was fortunate to have a waxing crescent. The shadow side was subtly illuminated, rendering the moon as a heavenly sphere. At 20x stabilized, every detail is visible; unstabilized, don’t even bother.

Click on the simulation below:

20x60 vs 7x42 FOV Compare Moon Night

The Sun

Twenty power seems to be the turning point for resolving sunspot details. At 7x (as seen through my 7×42 Classics with solar filters) there’s no point looking at the sun. You’ll just see a yellow bouncing ball that has a few black specs on it. However, at 20x details come into view. You can easily see sunspot details, granulations, and those white water vapor regions along the edge of the solar disc.

Click on the simulation below:

20x60 vs 7x42 FOV Compare Sun

The Planets

  • Jupiter: Jupiter appears as a bright, large disc surrounded by its four galilean moons. Based on their relative sizes, brightness, and color, I can easily distinguish one moon from another. I have tried and tried to observe cloud bands on Jupiter, but have not been able to due to the intense brightness. Even on a night of good seeing, Jupiter appears to be just too bright.
  • Venus: Because Venus is so bright it is difficult to observe phases, but it is possible.
  • Saturn: “The rings and the space between the rings and the planet are barely discernible. This is a 20x handheld binocular—it’s impressive that they’re discernable at all but it’s not a particularly impressive or majestic view. Titan is just visible as a faint tiny point.” That was written during unstable seeing conditions. During a night of clear seeing, the rings were easily discernable. The gap between the planet and the rings was obvious. This observation highlights the following: when viewing planets at 20x there is only so much you can see (there is no “detail”, just the thing itself). When the seeing is bad, it doesn’t just obscure the details, it obscures the thing itself. Seeing is critical.

Deep Sky

While not fit for small and faint objects, these binos work wonders on the larger and brighter ones. Scanning the skies and making my own “discoveries” is such a pleasurable experience. Here are a few sketches of what you can expect to see from a 5-magnitude sky in rural Northeast Georgia (a “5” or “6” on the Bortle Scale).

Andromeda Gal 20x60s Cropped
Above: Sketch of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31/32). Approximate sketch time was 30 minutes. Post processing in Photoshop to invert and crop.

2016-01-30 NGC884-869 20x60s
Above: Sketch of a double star cluster (NGC869-884). Approximate sketch time was 20 minutes. Post processing in Photoshop to invert and crop.

2016-01-30 Pleiades M45 20x60s
Above: Sketch of the Pleiades star cluster (M45). Approximate sketch time was 20 minutes. Post processing in Photoshop to invert and crop.

2016-01-30 M33 20x60s
Above: Sketch of the Triangulum Galaxy (M33). Approximate sketch time was 2 minutes. My fingers were too cold at this point so I did this from memory once I got back inside. Hence the lack of any foreground stars. Post processing in Photoshop to invert and crop.

And here is what you can expect to see from a 7.5 magnitude sky out in the Arizona desert.

M81-82 Sketch 20x60
Above: Sketch of M81 and M82 galaxy pair. Approximate sketch time was 15 minutes. Post processing in Photoshop to invert and crop.

M51 Sketch 20x60
Above: Sketch of the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). Approximate sketch time was 10 minutes. Post processing in Photoshop to invert and crop.

City Skyline

I haven’t taken these to Manhattan yet, but I imagine they would be excellent for people watching. We have a nice view of the Atlanta skyline from my office. Here is an estimate of what can be seen:

20x60 vs 7x42 FOV Compare Skyscrapers

Birds, Wildlife, and Mountaineers

In the town of Murren, Switzerland, I had incredible views of some of the highest mountains in Europe. I was scanning the scene with the 20x60s and stopped to study the top of the Eiger. Then I noticed some tiny little movement. After studying the view for a while I realized I was witnessing some hikers making it to the top. I was able to perceive their victory arms in the air and the colors of their jackets. Undoubtedly I was witnessing an achievement for them as mountaineers, but this was also an achievement for me and my 20×60’s.

From where I was sitting in Murren to where the hikers were standing on the Eiger is 5.8 miles laterally and 1.5 miles up (Murren’s altitude is 5,400 ft and the Eiger’s is 13,000 feet). The hypotenuse of that triangle yields the crow-fly distance between my binos and the hikers which was six miles. Six miles! And I was able to resolve a human figure at that distance. That is incredible.


The binoculars really came to life on a recent trip to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. I will post more about the trip later, but in the interim here is an image capture through the binoculars with my iPhone 7.

Closing Remarks

I have heard some people complain about how heavy these are. I’m no body builder, and they’re not that heavy. I have heard some people complain about finger fatigue from having to hold the stabilizer button down. I’ve never experienced that–I play piano, so maybe I have stronger fingers than the average user? And I have heard complaints about how expensive these are. Ok, this one’s true. I purchased mine used on eBay, but even then I had to sell my AT72 telescope, Manfrotto 475B tripod, Half-Hitch mount, Televue Binoviewer, and set of paired eyepieces. Some people would say I’m crazy for trading in such a wonderful grab-n-go system for these binoculars. But honestly, I’ve never looked back. These binoculars are bad ass. They look and feel awesome. They take up minimal space in my small condo. They fit in my back pack. I can use them to observe bison in Yellowstone, waterfalls in Switzerland, people in skyscrapers, or nebulas in Orion. For me, their power and versatility has made the transition worth it. One day I’ll have a stationary observatory so I can get my 200x views of Jupiter back, but until then I am quite content to view the universe in my hands at 20x.


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Update Log

  • December 19, 2019, 1:30 pm EST: Added safari photograph.
  • May 27, 2018, 6:30 pm EST: Added section on the International Space Station.
  • April 9, 2016, 4:00 pm EST: Added more deep sky sketches.
  • February 2, 2016, 8:00 am EST: Added more deep sky sketches.
  • December 29, 2015, 9:00 am EST: Typographic adjustments.
  • October 19, 2015, 1:00 pm EST: Added a sketch of the Andromeda Galaxy.
  • October 6, 2015, 9:00 pm EST: Added a clarification of my point about the effectiveness of the stabilizer at different viewing altitudes.
  • October 4, 2015, 1:30 pm EST: Updated post to reflect latest reader comments and suggestions; added two images of binocular entrails as found on the internet; added a video showing my binocular’s entrails through their objective lenses.
Posted in: Astronomy, Featured

Leave a comment

  • Thank you for a very well-written, interesting, and informative review. Some of the photographic and simulated views are very helpful. I was amazed at the “moving” tripod head latch assembly photos.

    I have long wished for a set of these binoculars, but about 3 years ago, opted for a set of Canon 18X50is instead. My reaction to the Canons is much like yours is to the Zeiss 20X60’s.

    Now for one small criticism: I think your simulation of the moon views should show the image of the moon as being much larger. The small ones you provide is more like viewing it unaided.

    All told, while I still like my Canons, you have made me wish even more that I could afford a set of the Zeiss. It would be very nice not to have to worry about keeping charged up AA batteries on hand all of the time. My Canons won’t work with standard AA’s, they have to have good rechargeable ones.

    Thanks again for the best review/article by far that I have ever seen regarding these binoculars!

    Rick Springer

    • Thanks Rick. Really appreciate it. And I’m glad I was able to impress you with my GIF image of the tripod head. That’s a trick you can do yourself if you have Photoshop.
      You can click on any of the images to view their higher-res versions. I should probably figure out at what distance one should sit from their computer screen when viewing the image at 100% in order to perceive the similar angular size as when I observe through the 20×60’s. That’s an update for later…

  • Really interesting and in depth read. Thank you for this great review and sharing your experience with the outstanding Zeiss 20×60 IS binocular.

    Unique is your comparison of effectiveness of the stabilizer at different viewing angles. Your estimates of tremor reduction (hand tremor / heart beat / body sway) at varying degrees of altitude are THE info I always looked for – and never found. I searched the forums and asked Zeiss, to no avail. There simply is no other source giving this comparison data. Great job!

    Congrats on owning this outstanding Zeiss product.

    Ok, maybe the time is come that I should sell some things, too…


      • I DID it. Simply could no longer resist. Life is too short to miss the good things…
        Ordered it 3 months ago. The eagerly awaited parcel finally arrived yesterday. As usual, foggy nights since days. The first terrestrial tests in daylight are convincing. That battery-less and silent stabilizer works like a charm. Zeiss Voodoo at its finest. 25 years on the market and still unequaled.

        • Congrats Steve! I’m surprised it took that long. Wonder if they had to fabricate it just for you.
          Would be interested to hear how you like it once you’ve had a chance to get well acquainted with it.

          • Paul, I ordered/prepayed in mid December 2015 at an authorized dealer in Germany. At time of ordering, delivery time was stated “calendar week 4/5 2016”. Later it was corrected to “additional 2 weeks”. Then again corrected to “begin of March”. I have no clue why it lasted nearly 3 months till delivery. I have knowledge of another 20x60S buyer, who, by pure coincidence, ordered a 20x60S at nearly the same time and got it after exact 34 days.
            I checked the serial number with Zeiss. They confirmed build date February 2016. Test certificate is dated 15.02.2016.

    • It just hit me that I should clarify my point about the effectiveness of the stabilizer at different viewing altitudes. I should have emphasized that the stabilizer itself function at all angles as far as I can tell. The differences that I quantified are due the limitations of my own body. It’s most comfortable to hold the binos while viewing the horizon. But the steeper and steeper I look the more discomfort I feel which cause my body to shake which causes the stabilizer to become overwhelmed. I hope that makes sense.

      • Paul, great to know, that the stabilizer itself functions at all angles and that the reported differences of stabilizer effectiveness are mainly the effect of body movement when pointing high the 20×60 S in standing position. Personally, I prefer a relaxed observing position lying flat on the bottom (on a camping mattress). Elbows may be supported by some styro blocks or something similar, allowing the most relaxed observing position.

  • Great review! I got mine used a couple years ago on AstroMart for less than $5000. Had pre-decided to snap them up if ever available for a bargain price. I LOVE THEM! My background is Aerospace Optics and Math, so I appreciate your researching the patent illustrations etc. I’ve got ~40 patents and can comment on the sometimes perplexing read and what they choose to include and not: That spring gizmo may have helped the patentability relative to other “prior art.” Other than that the patent looks good for content and format. Your use of the word “distortion” regarding imperfect images near the edge. More appropriate would be “field aberration” in the lexicon of Geometrical Optics. “Distortion” is reserved for morphing of the image Shape near the edges, not it’s sharpness. Even Optics Professionals get confused regarding the nomenclature though: The Seidel Aberrations are purely geometric (ray-trace) and are the Big Five: Spherical, Coma, Astig, Field Curvature and Distortion. Add in the two lowest order Chromatics (Chromatic difference in longitudinal image location, commonly/simply called “Chromatic”; and Chromatic Difference in magnification, commonly called “Lateral Color”) To add to the confusion, the Wavefront Aberration is most commonly notated in terms of the Zernike Circle Polynomial (which has an infinite number of terms). The Lower Order ZCPs are piston, tilt, coma, astig, trefoil, quadrafoil, pentafoil etc., the prefix “primary” assumed for those. Then come the secondary, tertiary etc. ad infinitum. These are important because are what interferometer software spews and maps. I’m bloviating so will get back on point! Indeed the images are Razor Sharp with no detectable Color whatsoever, as one would expect from top of the line Zeiss. The “collimation” (co-registration of L/R images) same comment. These binos are indeed amazing and YES, worth the New List price! I’m delighted I was able to SNAP them up used. I will never part with them until I go blind or they are pried from my cold/dead hands. Thax for the thorough review! PS: One TINY typo, bottom of “Mechanical Stabilization System” section – “…mechanics this makes since.” should read “…mechanics this makes sense.” Tom Dey

    • Thanks Tom!
      Thanks for your note regarding “distortion” vs “field aberration.” That’s just the kind of thing I enjoy learning about.
      I love your comment about only getting rid of your 20×60’s if you are blind or dead. I concur. Though if I go blind I still may hold onto mine–I enjoy that ever-so-subtle “chunk” sound too much when engaging the stabilizer.
      And thanks for your comment on the typo. I don’t know if that was my brain’s fault or autocorrect’s.

      • You’re welcome! That “chunk” sounds like a bar of gold being set on a mahagony table…may well be? Nother thought re aberrations: Math would demand that Coma is unifoil, astig is bifoil then come trefoil etc. Caution: This pick-up line does NOT work, even at Kitt Peak!

  • You might be interested in this document, which shows the reduction of tremors according to the frequency. You can see that below 1 Hz there is no change at all (there is even a very small amplification of tremors), at 10 Hz (so 10 tremors per second), the reduction is about 90%, and at 100 Hz the reduction is about 98.5%. So this is perfectly consistent with your observations of minimal body sway reduction.
    This image comes from this page:

  • Hi. Thanks for this very interesting review. Please, I would like to know how far are those buildings in Atlanta. Thanks.

  • Paul,
    I always wondered why Zeiss delivers such an expensive tool like the 20x60S with an eyepiece cover only, but without any lens caps. :confused:
    The Zeiss 20x60S has the lenses placed in slightly recessed position. Would it be possible to use snap-cap lens covers, or is the black rubber of the body too slick for a safe grip of snap-cap covers?
    (I left an identical question in your thread on CloudyNights.)

  • Hi again Paul,
    I have a question on the ¼” tripod adapter of the 20x60S as pictured on image no. 18 in your review: Apparently, the Zeiss black rubber coating protrudes slightly and forms a thin ring around the 1/4″ adapter. So that protruding rubber ring would be compressed by a quick change plate, leaving that rubber ring damaged or at least permanently compressed after unmounting the quick change plate. I have no clue if Zeiss ever changed that 1/4″ adapter design on the newer production 20x60S units.
    Did you ever try to mount a quick change plate to your beloved 20x60S?

    • That’s actually a plastic (or metal?) ring and doesn’t compress. The only thing you really need to worry about in terms of attaching a plate is damage to the rubber on the underside of the binocular casing. Because of the contours there is a risk that a plate could cause unwanted indentations. This isn’t a problem with my tripod head because my binos are just kind of sitting there while being loosely secured via the locking disc.

      • In order to avoid any unwanted indentations or scratches to the binocular rubber casing, a quick change plate would have to be as compact as possible. Maybe a 30x38mm plate is compact enough to be safe to the adjacent rubber casing on the binocular underside, even in case that the plate is unintentionally turned 360°.

      • Hey! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website? I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I&1v2#7;8e had problems with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  • Paul; thanks for your good description of the 20x60s.
    I always wanted one and I just received a new one from which are in Italy. I never had seen one before and expected the push down stabilizer button to completely smooth things out. I tried in the night and focused on distant street lights. To my disappointment it didn’t stabilize that much. Could the stabilizer have been damaged during the shipment from Italy. I don’t know how it is supposed to work or how effective it is supposed to be.
    Should I return it ?
    bob nadrich

    • Bob,
      The stabilizer seems to be most effective against high-frequency shakes, like from your hand. Decently effective against “heart beat shake”. And not very effective at all against large movements, like if your body is swaying side-to-side.
      When you first look through the binos at street lights, those lights should be bouncing around and rapidly vibrating. Once you actuate the stabilizer, 95% of the rapid vibrations should go away; most, but not all, of the bouncing should go away. I can use these “free standing” (ie, not leaning against anything), but if it’s your first time using them I would recommend having a wall to your back to lean on, or a railing in front of you to prop your shoulders. Pretty much all movement should go away at that point.
      If you don’t notice a change when you actuate the stabilizer they may very well be damaged. I have read many reports about the stabilizer being very sensitive, so if the shipping company dropped it during its journey from Italy it may have knocked the internals out of whack.
      Good luck.

        • No–the photo wasn’t taken through the binos. It was captured just with then 18-200 lens then photoshopped to simulate what my view was through the binos.

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  • Paul, thank you very much for both an informative and an entertaining review-! For myself, I have a 15X45 IS Canon binocular, which I greatly enjoy. Now you have made me wish for bigger-! Could be maybe Zeiss, as you did? I do have already Carl Zeiss Jena 10X50, which are as perfect a 10X binocular as a mere mortal might hope for. Yet, as you discovered, there is no “limit” to what you may see when going bigger, if optical quality remains very high. Thanks again.

  • Paul, Thank you so much for this awesome review.
    It is amazing to know how such an instrument is able to bring us closer to our surroundings.
    I think those binoculars constitute a very good investment to enjoy observing not only nature but also the whole universe.

    All the best. 🙂

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  • Thanks for share… just a Question… have you ever compared to Canon 18X50 ?

    I think all metal frame and yellow spring are calculated for ” calibrate ” the magnetic damping device… means self calibrated.

  • Hi again Paul,
    On my new Zeiss 20x60S, I found that there is a slight vertical image shift between unstabilized and stabilized function. I mounted the 20x60S on a tripod to check and confirm the image shift. A well-centered object moves downwards after the stabilization knob is pressed (entire image shifts slightly upwards in stabilized operation). After releasing the stabilizer knob, the image moves back to previous position. The amount of vertical image shift between unstabilized/stabilized operation is not very large, but nevertheless well visible.
    Is this normal, shows your sample the same behavior, or should I contact Zeiss?

  • Thank you, Paul, for the update. I am very interested in reading more about the stabilizer issue and the vertical image shift, too. Hopefully you get back your beloved Zeiss soon. Looking forward to your further news here.

  • Paul,
    A question on your first beautiful deep sky sketch, showing the Orion Nebula:
    the sketch shows the four main stars of the so-called Trapezium. I can see them in my Zeiss 20x60S, too. At 20x, these four Trapezium stars stand very closely, making them a fairly hard target for free-handed operation. Can you see the four Trapezium stars fully resolved in free-handed operation (standing or seating) as sketched? Personally, I found that a firm support (or tripod) is necessary to see the Trapezium well resolved and stable, as sketched by you. Very careful focusing is required as well.
    The same applies to your nice deep sky sketches (Andromeda Galaxy M31/32); Double Star Cluster NGC869/884; Pleiades M45; Triangulum Galaxy M33; the M81 and M82 galaxy pair; Whirlpool Galaxy M51):
    did you the sketches (sketch time up to 30 minutes) with the Zeiss 20x60S mounted on tripod, or in purely free-handed mode?

    • Steve,
      All those sketches were made with the assistance of Manfrotto’s Compact Tripod: While I love scanning the skies handheld, for longer sketches and deeper observations it’s nice to have the binos mounted.

  • Good work anyway. The reason I like the Zeiss 20x60s is that they can be hand-held, making them a highly portable 20x powerhouse. Even after 25 years since market introduction, the Zeiss 20x60S really rocks. It quickly became my primary hand-held grab-n-go instrument.
    Yes, hand-held scanning is so a pleasing joy with the Zeiss. And want to see all four Trapezium stars of Orion in constant view, or doing longer observing sessions at elevated comfort level? Nothing speaks against putting it on a compact 2-way mount or monopod. With a compact QR plate as the Arca Swiss 38mm permanently bolted to the bino bottom, mounting/dismounting is a super-easy 5 second operation. Firmly and wobble-free tripod or monopod mounted, the Zeiss will show even those tiniest details at the physical limits of a 20×60 configuration.

  • Thanks Paul – an excellent and thorough writeup.

    I am a sailor and have been interested in theese bins for years now. A couple of years ago I bought the Canon 18x – and have not been super happy with those. Not really sharp.
    I found a pair of the 20×60 used and as a last check before buying I once again read a few interesting articles about them, and then I ran into your review.
    So I guess you in the end have pushed me over the edge…
    I’ll leave a comment once I have started to used them in a marine context – would you know any sources to infor about the Zeiss in that connection?
    All the best

    • Laust,
      Congratulations on the purchase! Would love to hear your impressions of the binos. I do not know of any sources that review their marine capacity. Will be interested to hear how yours perform.

  • Thanks Paul for your excellent review. I just purchased a pair used and am looking forward to receiving them and putting them to use. I’ll use them primarily for wildlife and a little stargazing. Can you tell me where I can find the soft case like yours?
    Also, what advantage these binoculars have over a similarly priced spotting scope for your astronomy purposes? Would these binoculars provide any better image than a spotting scope aside from handholding and stabilization?

  • Hi
    I enjoyed your article very much
    This Zeiss 20 x 60 s is excellent and I am happy to have one
    Only one remark: it is better to clean optics with a clean piece of deerskin instead of microfibers
    Deerskin does not have fibers at all and will never scratch
    Microfibers can give microscratches

  • Paul, how did I spend so many years since buying my instrument (1998) without previously finding your pages (and links) that answer ALL my technical queries! Thanks so much. There’s nothing to add about the spectacular performance of the binocular, nor the wisdom of deciding to fund the purchase. In common with thousands of other enthusiasts I own and use examples of most of this planet’s best civilian and military binoculars, but I suspect few of us are privileged to own this instrument as well. The one tip I might add for proud owners who enjoy astronomy is to suggest trying the brilliant support called the Paragon Plus Binocular Mount with dedicated tripod. This is a counterweighted parallelogram type mount for astronomical use, and although the stabilising feature of the 20x60s is not needed when using it, this opportunity exists for star gazers to get every ounce of the superlative optical performance from their fabulous instrument. Thanks again.

  • Geat review. See please some remarks on Zeiss stabilization “magic” – from a person with some experience with german land surveying equipment. Dedaces ago Zeiss (both at Jena and Oberkochen) built self leveling level instruments that worked without any power supply; powered by magic, as some would say. The idea behind it is a kind of pendulum incorporated in the optical path. Any high frequency shakes of it are dumped by special “air brakes” – a kind of drum with a piston moving inside. The trick is – the diameter of that piston is by some tenths of mm smaller than the inner diameter of the drum. This allows for some restricted air flow around the piston, but this limits the speed of the piston within the drum thus stopping any shakes of pendulum. Mail me for further informations if you feel they will be usefull for you

  • Wow, this is a great review. Have been looking at these for a while in lieu of a Questar 3.5 as they are much more versatile, but obviously so different. I am quite sure I would get more use out of the Zeiss…

  • Hi! Great article! Do they still make this binocular new and are there any changes they have made or updated the glass

  • Fantastic review Paul. In “The reason why I bought it” you have summed up exactly what many astro/ birding enthusiast have done and felt after years of buying and trying in the quest for ultimate portability and ease of use. The effectivity of the stabilization mechanism has been reviewed beautifully. It puts to rest the doubts i had. The mechanism is effective all time but it’s the body shake which is the issue.In short this wonderful combination of optics and mechanics may have a relatively narrow FOV but your review is definitely wide angle…. Everything has been covered . Thanks a lot.

  • Thank you for this amazing review – no doubt it’s the most informative on the internet. I got these recently and they’re pretty amazing for their size and magnification. I just really wish it came with lens caps and was waterproof. The focuser feels a bit cheap and plasticy too, but I guess that’s the price you pay for relatively light binos.

  • Thanks for the in-depth report.
    I noticed that you did not mention anything about the 20x60T*S, only discussed the “S”.
    Can you discuss the “T” and how it improves the binoculars?

  • Hey Paul, is it safe to carry this binocular on a bicycle?
    It is safe to take it with you when hiking ?, taking in consideration the vibrations associated with this activity.

  • Paul, thank you for your review – the best and most useful I’ve seen on any binoculars, image stabilising or otherwise.
    I bought a pair of these new last year, mainly for astronomy, and find that I’m using them far more often than my telescope setup. They cost the proverbial arm and leg, but not a single dollar of it regretted.
    My first clear-sky view of objects such as Omega Centauri, the Jewel Box in Crux, even a faint Centaurus A, using that magnificent image stabilisation combined with their beautiful contrast, was unimaginably glorious, and confirmed that my will-I-or-won’t-I purchase decision was the right one.
    The only odd feature I found with these binoculars is that, compared with other binoculars I’ve used, the focus wheel operates in the reverse direction: pull to the right for closer focus, and push to the left for longer focus. Maybe that’s a Zeiss thing, but I found it difficult to get used to at first. Did you have the same experience?

  • Hello,
    Thank You for Your outstanding article. Could You also share Your opinion about white light reflections seen on frontal lenses in various photos on the net. Shouldn’t ZEISS provide these high-end binoculars with fully multi-coatings?

  • I enjoy looking through a post that can make people think. Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

  • Having read this I believed it was very enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this information together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worth it!