The three premium nature optics brands have remained the same for the past few years; all three from Europe and all three producing optics that are the best that money can buy. Only user preference can separate them, with everyone having their own personal reasons for favouring one brand or model over another. Two of the three manufacturers, Swarovski from Austria and Zeiss from Germany, have just launched new models of binoculars and users are suddenly faced with options as to which model and make to choose. I was lucky to get the chance to field test these binoculars last week and so will pass on my thoughts and opinions; but as always picking up a pair and trying them yourself is always essential when choosing your next optic. The first models that I got to try out were from Swarovski , the brand that I currently use and a brand renowned for its attention to detail and the very high quality of its products.
Swarovski has approached the issue of improvement by launching a totally new model. This follows on from the previous model, the Swarovski EL, which has had a couple of makeovers during its lifetime, giving three distinctly different models over a number of years. The new model is the Swarovski NL Pure (or NLs for short), which at first sight looks totally different from all other binoculars I have ever seen. This optic has sleek lines with a ‘waisted’ appearance to the barrels making it feel comfortable in the hand, and very easy to hold and optimised for balance. The other striking new feature is a forehead-rest that is designed to help with stability, keeping the binoculars shake-free for more comfortable viewing. Call me a cynic or a stick-in-the-mud, but I am never sure whether new features are added as a means of just being different, or for a real purpose, so I will look at the forehead rest very carefully and assess its usefulness. One big feature of this new model is the increased field of view over all previous makes and models, which is undeniably a very desirable improvement.
Given the claims of wider field and the optic being more stable I was particularly keen to test the 10x42 and 12x42 models. These are sizes I would normally disregard and choose an 8x42 to get a brighter and wider image, and a binocular that is easier to hold steady. I first went for the most extreme and picked up the Swarovski 12x42 NLs, a size that very few birders would think of using as an everyday binocular. My initial impression was that the weight of these was superb, quoted at 840g it is far less that my first top-end bins which weighed in at a neck-breaking 995g and is substantially less than my current Swarovski SLCs which are c.930g. Add to that the superior balance from the new body and it was a great start. I adjusted the forehead rest with an easily rotated knob and then looked through the optics for the first time. My first impressions were that in no way did this feel like a 12x optic; a high magnification such as this in previous models would have meant a less bright image and a narrower field of view. I was looking out over a lake and getting a very comfortable field of view (quoted as 6.5°), sharp from edge to edge and also a bright image across the whole of that field. So what about the forehead rest? At my most cynical, I feel that given the weight and balance I could have held the bins steady when resting my elbows on the hide shelf, BUT when walking round and looking at subjects as small as insects then this support did assist stability, so I do have to admit that it does help! Talking of insects and invertebrates, I tested the close focus out on a wolf spider on a log and was again impressed; I managed to get down to just about 2.2m (manufacturers quoted specification is a close focus of 2.6m) which for a 12x binocular is superb. The depth of field seems good, and I didn’t find myself constantly refocusing whilst watching gulls flying over the lake and, as I would expect from Swarovski, the image when focussed was clear and sharp.
So, on to the Swarovski 10x42 NLs, with 10x being a choice currently made by many birders instead of 8x, although not me! Again for weight (850g) and balance the unit felt great to handle and this time could be used without the forehead rest, although birders with a little bit of hand shake should benefit hugely from this feature. Again, this weight was less that my current 8x42 binocular, a difference that would be very apparent when watching raptors or holding them up for long periods searching through wader, gull and goose flocks, as I often do. The forehead rest is removable so it becomes the users’ choice whether to use it or not. The field of view was even more impressive at a huge 7.6° and with it came an extremely bright image, which would be very useful in woodlands and on duller days. Next I looked at close focus, and got this down to nearly 1.5m (quoted by Swarovski to be 2m closest) which when looking at the wolf spider was really impressive, especially given the 10x magnification, giving plenty of detail of the 5mm long subject! As before, the image was bright and sharp and even as a long-standing advocate of 8x bins I could be persuaded to swap to these 10x42s very easily. Following on from that, I think that if I was replacing my current 8x42 binoculars then my choice would be the Swarovski 10x42 NLs as an easy to use everyday optic but, if I was adding to my 8x42s, I would choose the Swarovski 12x42 NLs to give a bit more power in certain viewing situations such as seawatching without a scope, or checking a distant gull roost on a lake. With all the Bird Fairs either cancelled already or likely to be, the fact that Focalpoint Optics has a Swarovski on-site event coming up with all models available, and a Swarovski representative present to answer all questions, is a must for anyone interested in these models. Handling and testing these binoculars is the ONLY way to appreciate just how good they are. Pop along on Tuesday 18th August from 10am-4pm, booking a slot is recommended due to all the measures being taken to ensure full Covid Secure Protocols for customer safety - all equipment will be sanitised between customers and social distancing will be followed.
The Swarovski NL Pure range come with a 10 year Manufacturers Warranty and are waterproof down to 4m, which means that they can be rinsed or even fully immersed and washed to remove dirt, like dust and sea salt, which if left un-removed can cause damage to optics. With RRPs of £2410 for the 10x42 model and £2450 for the 12x42 model (and £2370 for the 8x42 model) they are a little more expensive that the model that they replaced, the Swarovski EL Pro, but with the improvements these optics offer it is a small increase for what could be the best ever nature binoculars.
Many thanks to Yvonne for her brilliant company whilst out testing these binoculars and for the excellent photographs too.