Over the last few years many rifle scope manufactures have introduced new reticle designs that help the shooter figure out the correct holdover at various shot distances. These new reticle designs have been dubbed "ballistic reticles" because they attempt to match a particular cartridge's flight path (ballistics) to the crosshairs of the scope.
Zeiss has come up with a promising new ballistic reticle that is called the Rapid-Z. The Rapid-Z comes in four variations: the 600, 800, 1000, and varmint reticles. Each reticle is uniquely fitted to match certain cartridge groups and comes in a variety of scope types. A buyer can purchase a Rapid-Z in the standard Conquest line of scopes, the Victory, and the new Victory Diarange. The high end Victory scopes are only available, at press time, in the 1000 and varmint variations. The Diarange, which has a built in rangefinder, comes in only the 600 and 800 Rapid-Z. The Conquest, the workhorse of the Zeiss line, can be obtained in any of the Rapid-Z configurations. For this review, we chose the Conquest 4.5-14 x 50 scope with the Rapid-Z 800 reticle.
Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14x50 with Rapid-Z 800 Reticle
Understanding the Rapid-Z
If you're used to a standard duplex reticle, the first time you look through a ballistic reticle can be a bit intimidating and the Rapid-Z is no exception. The graphics below show both the Rapid-Z 600 and the Rapid-Z 800. Both the 600 and the 800 are virtually the same other than the yardage they reach out to, the 600 for up to 600 yards and the 800 for up to 800 yards. The numbers on the crosshatches correspond to the various yards, for instance 4 is for 400 yards, 5 is for 500 yards, and so on. The marks between the crosshatches are for 50 yard intervals. Between 500 and 600 yards on the Rapid-Z 600 the marks are 25 yard increments, which is also the same increment between 600-800 yards on Rapid-Z 800.
The Rapid-Z 600 Reticle. (Image from Zeiss)
The Rapid-Z 800 Reticle. (Image from Zeiss)
You will also notice vertical notches on the yardage crosshatches which correspond to a 5 mile-per-hour crosswind. As yardage increases the crosshatches also become longer where the tips of the crosshatches correspond to a 10 mile-per-hour crosswind.
The Rapid-Z uses the magnification variation of the scope to fit the yardage crosshatches to the shooters particular cartridge and load. To get the correct magnification for a load visit www.zeiss.com/sports  and click on the "Rapid-Z Calculator". The calculator will allow you to select the exact factory load you shoot. The calculator can then pick which reticle would be the best fit for your load. For most big game hunting cartridges the best fit will be either the 600 or 800 Rapid-Z.
As an example if you shoot Federal Vital-Shok 7mm Remington Magnum with 160gr Nosler Accubonds, the calculator will recommend a Rapid-Z 600. With our test scope with a maximum magnification of 14 power, the optimal fit occurs at 13.68 power. What this means is that by setting the scope at 13.7 power and this particular load the crosshatches on the reticle precisely match. The reticle always assumes a 200 yard zero.
The Scope Magnification Dial is marked in half power increments. In the
photo the scope is set to about 13.7 power for the example 7mm Mag load.
Its worth noting that not all cartridges will fit any Rapid-Z reticle of your choice. For instance the Varmint reticle is only going to fit lighter varmint cartridges like the 223, 22-250, 204, etc. Likewise the 1000 yard Rapid-Z is probably only best for the 308 win or a cartridge with similar ballistics like the 260 Remington. If you're thinking about purchasing a Rapid-Z, it's worth checking the online calculator first to see which reticle it recommends for the load you like to shoot.
Reloaders might also wonder where they come into the picture. The calculator will allow you to select the particular bullet you're shooting and then enter in the muzzle velocity in order to properly fit your load ballistics to the reticle. This can be a bit trickier than just selecting a factory load off the sheet, but if you're a reloader you will probably enjoy the tinkering anyway.
Another view of the Scope Magnification Dial.
Once you're sighted in and have figured out the optimal magnification setting for your Rapid-Z scope and the load, you also need to accurately know the distance to your target. The simplest solution is to use one of the many models of laser rangefinders on the market. If you don't have a rangefinder the Rapid-Z can still help you out. On the reticle graphics above, you will notice a series of small hashes on all four points of the reticle. These marks correspond to two inches of height at 100 yards, the closer hash marks correspond to a half inch at 100 yards.
Using the equation (known length)/(length covered) x 100 = Range, you can determine the range to the target. For instance a deer has a brisket of roughly 18" and if the deer you're targeting covers three 2" marks then the range to target using the equation above is 300 yards.
With the Rapid-Z reticle all rangefinding must be done at the maximum power of the scope.
Using the scope
Zeiss is known for quality glass and the Conquest doesn't disappoint. Color separation and clarity is what most hunters have come to expect from Zeiss. The side parallax focus is a nice feature that quickly allows you to zero out the parallax at a given distance. The windage and elevation turrets are quarter MOA click adjustments that have become standard on a variety of scopes.
The Side Parallax Focus has a large knob that is straight forward to use.
The Turrets adjust in 1/4 MOA clicks and the dial is spring loaded so it
can pull up the turret for a quick re-zero then snaps back down.
When shooting, the reticle is true to form being able to engage targets at the ranges specified on the crosshairs, although you must use a 200 yard zero for the main crosshairs. Some fine tuning may be necessary for the temperature and altitude you're shooting at. The online Rapid-Z calculator will allow you to adjust the magnification setting for temperature and altitude where you're hunting.
Our test model came in at a price of $874.99 which is toward the more expensive side of the Conquest models available with Rapid-Z. Zeiss also makes a 3-9x40mm model with the Rapid-Z 600, which comes in at $524.99, which should be a good value with the premium reticle. Overall the Conquest line is comparable to the Leupold VX-III series in cost.
One of the nicer features of Zeiss that is worth mentioning is their Lifetime Transferable Warranty. This in effect means that Zeiss warrants the scope against defects in craftsmanship for the lifetime of the scope regardless of whether or not you are the original purchaser of the scope. Most warranties these days are non-transferable.
The Rapid-Z is well thought out and an excellent reticle for correctly estimating holdover at longer distances. Its flexibility in adjusting to varying loads takes it beyond the ballistic reticle offerings of most manufacturers. Pairing the Rapid-Z with Zeiss quality glass makes for a great experience.
The online Rapid-Z calculator is a good tool for matching your load to the scope's reticle. However the tool is currently only available online which is our greatest complaint. It would be helpful if Zeiss had included the program on a small CD or for download to run locally on your PC. It would be nice to archive the program or to use it on your computer when afield and away from Internet access.
If during the course of your hunts you don't find yourself taking shots much beyond 100-150 yards, the new ballistics reticles, whether by Zeiss or another manufacturer, will not be of use to you. However if you plan to hunt in an area that has wide expanses of land where shots can stretch 300 yards and beyond the Rapid-Z can be a simple tool to help you place an ethical shot.
Speaking of ethics its important to note that technology is no substitute for practice. While a modern rifle, with premium loads, and a scope like the Rapid-Z in theory will make it technically possible to take a long shot, it doesn't mean you should. Variables like wind, the rest, and the degree of marksmanship you have obtained will outweigh the technical advantages of your equipment