Swarovski EL 8x32 Binocular
By Erin Boyd
Daniel Swarovski started his Austrian Precision Crystal cutting company in 1895 with the motto "Constantly improving what is good." The first binoculars the Swarovski Company built were 6x30 Habicht (Hawk) in 1949. The Habicht 7 x42 porroprism field glasses produced in that same year set the standard for hunting binos of that era.
Swarovski's current binocular flagship series, the roofprism EL model have been around for several years now, and recently the New Zealand Swarovski importers, the New Zealand Ammunition Company, sent me a pair of the recent additions to the EL line, the EL 8x32s for a review.
As I may have mentioned before, my personal preference for hunting glass is 8x32. For several reasons, they are compact, light weight, offer reasonable performance in evening and early morning light, and they do not have so much magnification that a sharp image is difficult to achieve when they are handheld. With 8x32 binos, a really good depth of field is achievable with the focus set to around 150 yards, ranging from that distance to several miles in sharp focus. When the glass is set like this, for hunting purposes, one rarely needs to touch the focus adjustment at all.
Exit pupil diameter, 4mm.
Fetures include twist up eyecups, Swarobright phase coated prisms, plus a new patented lens multi-coating that renders true colour fidelity. This is rather an important move for Swarovski, as the Habicht line (and the earlier SLC roof prism models) had lens surface coatings that rendered a rather warmer image than the true colours of the object being viewed. This had the advantage of increasing the apparent contrast of the image and cutting haze in European atmospheric conditions, but was not popular with the large bird watching fraternity in America, as the image, while sharp, clear and contrasty was not entirely colour accurate.
Swarovski carried out an in depth customer research program prior to designing this series of binocular, including sourcing advice from various American bird watching icons and societies. The company was keen to meet the requirements of those interested in ornithological pursuits, who are very particular customers and constitute a very large market segment.
Swarovski have put much thought into the ergonomics of the EL series and reduced quite a bit of weight (compared to their SLC range) by designing an open bridge that offers a good solid grip at all times. Swarovski make much of the fact that the ELs can be used one handed, but of course to a certain extent doing this negates the purpose of buying top line glass, because it is nearly impossible to hold any optical device steady with one hand. Nevertheless, due to their extremely intelligent design, these binos can in fact be held in many comfortable positions, courtesy of the open bridge and the tactile rubber armouring.
There are comfortable thumb depressions strategically placed under each barrel that enhance the handling of the binos. Further, the neckstrap is wide and distributes the weight well so the glasses can be carried around the neck all day without discomfort.
The objective lenses are set back sufficiently to afford good protection from the elements in general usage and have they have a hard rubber surround from the body armouring.
The eyecups are fully adjustable in any position and provide a full view for eyeglass wearers through the large diameter eyepieces; they are also removable for cleaning.
I did like the method of setting the diopter, which is incorporated into the large, finely grooved focus wheel. First, focus the binos for the left eye, (as is normal), then pull the focus wheel rearwards for about four millimetres, close your left eye and rotate the wheel until the image through the right barrel comes sharp. Push the focus wheel forward to lock the setting. There is a graduated scale on the wheel for the + - three diopter setting range. This method of setting is simple, fast and impossible to inadvertently move out of adjustment.
Some reviewers have criticised the EL series as being geared too low in the focusing wheel, others like it. I find the slower gearing excellent, the image comes into sharp focus very smoothly and easily, compared to the high gearing on my Minox 8x32 roof prisms. With these it is very easy to over-shoot the sharp focus point, which then involves a bit of back and forth readjustment of the wheel to sharpen the image.
Entirely practical front and rear caps come with these binos, they are easy to unlatch to view through and simple to click back into place. These are the first objective lens covers that I would leave in place and actually use should I ever own a pair of Els.
There is just one flaw in this otherwise fine package. The nylon carry bag that comes with these binoculars has no strap, handle or belt loop and zips closed instead of having a flap with a dependable latch. There is no provision for using the strap on the binoculars for carrying them while they are in the bag either. Most other binocular satchels have this feature. The nylon is slippery to handle, thus it would be all too easy to have the binos slip from your grasp, rather disappointing considering the thought that has gone into the high quality item the bag is supposed to protect.
Recently, I obtained a pair of Nikon SE 8x32 porroprism binoculars to use as a reference standard. The Nikon SE's are regarded by many bino experts as the finest view currently available, and are an appropriate standard for judging top of the line models against for crispness, resolution, contrast and colour fidelity.
I set up a USAF Edwards test pattern in the shade and at a measured thirty metres from my car, and then placed a sandbag on top of the car on which to rest both pair of binoculars.
On carefully looking through both glasses, the Nikons did resolve one scale further down the chart than the EL's, which were able to read the separations on the 1 millimetre lines at thirty metres. This merely establishes what is already well known, porroprism binos, all else being equal, will have better resolution than roofprism every time.
This was the only difference I could find between the optical qualities of both of these field glasses. When they were both hand held, any differences disappeared.
The Swarovski's offer a beautifully crisp and very contrasty view, with excellent colour rendition. The user can spend a long time looking through these glasses without any evidence of eyestrain whatsoever. The images have a lovely 'pop' that make the Swarovski's pure pleasure to look through.
The field of view is both very wide and very deep, at 420 ft @ 1000yd, and from where I set the focus wheel to be sharp at around 100yds, the depth of field was sharp for at least six miles, enabling a lot of ground to be covered, without making any adjustments.
There was the usual pincushion distortion that all binoculars have to one extent or another, and some chromatic aberration in the red and yellow spectrum was apparent on very rare occasions, but no more than in any other top of the line roof prism. I had to look very hard and critically to see it at all. The image was crisp right out to the edges.
I did set both pairs of binos up on the sandbag again outside my house and in the fading evening light, then focused them on the repeater station a couple of miles away up on the top of the Wither Hills.
Even when the light was almost gone I could still define a short whip aerial at the top of the tower and could not clearly discern any advantage for one pair of binos over the other. These are both top class units.
I also took the EL's for a bunny hunt on the Vernon Station not to far from where I live. I spotted several of the little beasties at various distances and was impressed at the way the Swarovskis opened up the shadowed side of the hills across the valley. The ELs brought everything into sharp relief and showed me that although there were a few of this seasons lambs over there, there weren't no rabbits!
I did see one rabbit sitting in the shade ahead of me about 280 metres away, a long shot for my 6x42 Kahles scoped BSA Majestic .222. As has happened with my Nikon SE's, while I could see the rabbit clearly through the binos, I had considerable trouble clearly locating him in the scope, and Kahles optics are pretty good, too! By locating landmarks near him through the binos I did finally distinguish my small dull grey target through the scope. I managed to put the bullet close enough to make him leap about a yard in the air before racing off over the ridge.
I found the Swarovskis extremely practical to use, very well designed and optically impeccable. I can safely say that Daniel Swarovski's motto is still being upheld.
The EL8x32s are designed for the bird watching fraternity, but they are the best handling roofprism binoculars I have encountered to date and would be a perfect choice for hunting.
Precision at this level does not come cheap though, this model retails for NZ $3000. If you are the type of person that demands uncompromising quality and performance then these may be the product for you.
Copyright 2005 by Erin Boyd. All rights reserved.