Peak Optical Performance

Constant innovation has kept ZEISS at the top of the optics market.

Peak Optical Performance

ZEISS has a storied history that covers over 175 years of innovative optical design and engineering.

Since 1846 the company’s mission has been to produce the finest optical instruments for a wide range of uses, from hunting and shooting to surgery and cinematography. Talk about hunting optics and it’s a name that quickly rises to the top. 

Shooting Sports Retailer recently had the opportunity to speak with Barton Dobbs, head of sales for ZEISS Consumer Products North America, about the company’s product lines, development strategy and the overall state of the optics industry.


SSR: ZEISS has delivered some very innovative optic features. What’s the company philosophy behind research and development?

Dobbs: ZEISS is unique in that 10% or more of our company-wide profits are funneled back to Research and Development. This is a significant investment and is a primary driver for how we continue to lead the optics industry in innovation and quality product manufacturing. Many companies create optical products, but nobody puts as much into innovation and true precision craftsmanship as ZEISS.


SSR: ZEISS operates in a number of different markets, from cinematography to riflescopes. How does that breadth of product development benefit you in the shooting sports market?

Dobbs: The expanse of our reach into so many optical industries allows us to build, and share, optical knowledge, and innovations between the many divisions. For example, the T* lens coating from ZEISS Photo and Cine lenses is shared with the Hunt and Nature division across our line of binoculars and riflescopes. The result is unmatched brightness and clarity of image in our optics. ZEISS pools together knowledge and innovations in optical design from various company divisions such as medical technology and semi-conductor manufacturing technology, and hundreds of optical engineers and scientists, to come up with cutting edge optical products.


SSR: What separates ZEISS from all the other optics companies vying for space on retailer’s shelves?

Dobbs: One key factor that separates us from most optics manufacturers is our inherent ability to deliver industry-leading optical performance in every product we produce. There are many companies offering users a wide range of interesting features in their optics. However, no other company consistently provides its customers with optics that generate such supreme brightness and vivid color definition as Zeiss. Innovations like HT High-Transmission glass, Ultra-FL (lens) Concept, and our legendary T* six-layer lens coatings provide the user that extra performance they need to take a more precise shot or to experience nature in a new and exciting way. No other company has the 175-year pedigree for developing and perfecting optic design and engineering like ZEISS.

SSR: Can you talk a bit about the build and construction of ZEISS optics?

Dobbs: ZEISS not only creates great optical products with advanced lens coatings and glass types — the company also prides itself in testing and confirming a very high level of durability in its products. We know our products are often used in harsh conditions and our optics need to be relied upon in every challenging condition. We design our riflescopes with extremely tight mechanical tolerances and put our scopes through industry-leading recoil testing. For example, the new LRP S5 was designed to withstand initial shock testing of over 800 impact cycles of 1,000 g-forces and to withstand multiple shock tests of an enormous 1,500 g-forces of impact. We place a high level of importance on ensuring that our premium binoculars and riflescopes stand up to anything our users put them through.


SSR: What are your biggest challenges in today’s shooting sports industry?

 Dobbs: There are more optics manufacturers in today’s market than ever before creating a confusing number of choices, particularly at lower price points. Many new optics companies start up in the U.S. and strive to quickly capitalize on industry trends by bringing hunting and shooting optics to market as quickly as possible. We at ZEISS are focused on bringing optics to market quickly as well, but our relentless attention on quality and precision means we spend more resources on R&D, engineering, and quality control — and our new products simply take more time to develop. But in the end, the retailer and consumer know that when ZEISS launches a product it will be industry-leading in most categories.


SSR: What is ZEISS doing to serve the surging interest in long-range shooting?

Dobbs: ZEISS has remained extremely competitive in the hunting optics market, and we will continue to develop and feed that market. However, the recent evolution of long-range hunting and long-range shooting has caused us to shift gears a bit and work to develop products that cater to this quickly growing market segment. 

For years we have heard from retailers and consumers ‘if only ZEISS could put its outstanding optics into first focal plane riflescopes, people would buy it!’ Well, we have listened to the market and we recently launched the LRP S5 first focal plane riflescope. Offered in 318-50 and 525-56 models with MOA and MIL reticles, the LRP S5 combines everything you would expect from ZEISS: excellent optical performance and precise mechanics, innovative technology like diffractive reticle illumination, and best-in-class total elevation travel of a massive 140 MOA. We spent a significant amount of time speaking with long-range hunters and shooters about their specific needs in precision shooting, applied major R&D resources to the development of the LRP S5 line, and expect it to be an industry leader in a short period of time.

SSR: Can you talk a bit about the product lines?

Dobbs: We have updated or changed about 80% of our product portfolio in the past few years, so there is a lot to talk about here. For binoculars, our award-winning Victory SF line was recently enhanced with the launch of the new SF 32. It’s an amazing mid-sized bino with incredibly wide field of view, fantastic optical performance, and balanced ergonomics that allow effortless observation over long periods of time. The Conquest HD binocular line remains likely the best ‘bang for the buck’ binocular in the industry, and the Victory RF range-finding binocular combines our top-quality optics with an internal ballistic solver and weather station to provide hunters and shooters with a ‘do it all’ optic.

We have also expanded our riflescope portfolio in recent years, and it has really paid off. The V4 line provides users with an exceptional feature set and outstanding quality in the $800-1,200 retail price range. In summer 2020 we expanded the V4 line with 14 new models featuring highly intuitive reticles, the Ballistic Stop, and the all-new External Locking Windage Turret. The V6 scope line remains our premium mid/long-range hunting scope of choice, with 6X zoom and 92% light transmission for those seeking even more performance from their rifle scope. The V8 scope has long been our top-performing rifle scope from an optics standpoint. We are excited to launch the new V8 riflescope this winter with new streamlined 30mm tube, FL fluoride lenses, HT high-transmission glass, 92% light transmission and digital reticle illumination. This is the premium hunter’s dream scope.

We already discussed it but the LRP S5 is our newest riflescope and with the launch of this line ZEISS is jumping head-first into the first focal plane riflescope market with a uniquely premium design — not a ‘me-too’ product. 

For spotting scopes, sales of our Gavia 85 spotter have taken off in recent years as people seek spotters with higher-performance optics and a lighter weight platform. The Gavia measures in at only 15 inches but provides supreme optics with its 85mm objective lens and our legendary T* six-layer lens coatings. It’s a great option for both nature observers and weight-conscious backcountry hunters. The Harpia 85 and 95 spotting scopes take everything to the next level. Designed to be used at maximum power, the Harpia’s unique objective zoom system delivers consistent field of view and optical performance from minimum to maximum power. There is no other spotting scope like it on the market. 

In early 2021 we launched the new DTI 3/35 handheld thermal imaging camera, which has opened ZEISS to a whole new world of retailers and end-users. With a working range of 1,300 yards, the DTI 3/35 allows users to spot and judge targets in pitch black conditions and at very long ranges. We also recently launched the DTI 3/25 handheld thermal, which is a similar product to the 3/35 but offering a smaller objective lens and wider field of view. We know both DTI products will continue to open new doors for ZEISS.

SSR: The optics market has expanded significantly over the past decade. Has that created more challenges or opportunities?

Dobbs: As mentioned before, the rapid expansion of the optics industry in recent years has created a lot of challenges for companies like ZEISS, but many times those challenges reveal opportunities as well. The challenge of U.S.-based companies being able to bring a certain scope or rangefinder to market in a very short timeframe pushes ZEISS to become faster and more efficient while continuing to focus on providing the optical design and engineering innovation that is core to the brand. However, we will always prioritize bringing the highest-performing products to market over simply speed to market. This separates us from other competitors.


SSR: What new products have you most excited for the future?

Dobbs: Again, the LRP S5 has generated a high level of enthusiasm across our company. We now have a product line designed for the popular and growing long-range shooting segment of the industry and we plan on staying in this game for a long time. The DTI 3/35 and 3/25 thermal products are also very exciting, as they both allow us to speak to a whole new range of retailers and consumers. Expanded distribution for ZEISS products is always on our mind. The opportunity to develop next generation ZEISS products, including first focal plane riflescopes and thermal products, creates new opportunities at retail for ZEISS. 


SSR: What does a retailer need to do to begin carrying ZEISS optics in their stores? Are there any dealer incentives or programs for new partners?

Dobbs: We are always looking for trusted new retail partners to carry and sell our products. In recent years we have raised expectations of what a ‘ZEISS dealer’ should be, requiring retailers to stock more of our product lines and represent our brand in the right way. If these retailers and prospects agree to our program parameters, there are nice incentives to be had, both financially and via additional support at point of sale. 

These programs will help our retailers capture more sales and earn higher profits and will also provide consumers with a better ZEISS experience at retail.


SSR: What do you want retailers and their customers to think about when they hear the name ZEISS?

Dobbs: It is simple. We want retailers and consumers to hear the name ZEISS and think ‘I want to own a ZEISS because it is — hands down — the finest quality product on the market.’


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