Swarovski EL Swarovision 42-mm Binoculars
- Simply incredible
- 4.67-foot minimum
- Huge field of view
- Amazingly flat edge-to-edge
- Unique digi-binning
Swarovski launched their latest version of the classic 42-mm EL binocular in January
of 2010. Swarovski wanted to know what we thought of them, so they sent us a couple
of pairs. We feel a bit privileged to have gotten to play with these! When the old
ELs originally came out, they redefined what a full-sized, high-end binocular was
supposed to be, from the look and feel to the optical performance. The old ELs were
brilliant, innovative and downright addictive to use. Dubbed “Swarovision” by Swarovski,
these new ELs are even better. These binoculars represent a major leap forward in
optics technology. The new Swarovski 42-mm EL is the kind of binocular that raises
the bar for everybody and in one step, changes the top end of the optics market.
It’s also the kind of binocular that makes this job really fun to do!
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The view through the new 42-mm ELs is very bright. When talking about the very best
binoculars or the very best scopes on the planet, usually the differences in optical
quality among the top contenders are fairly small, and often choosing between them
comes down to a matter of personal preference. We waited until dusk and then took
them out to see what they could do. If the Swarovski 42-mm ELs aren’t the absolute
brightest binocular available, they are so close it doesn’t matter. For image sharpness,
the Swarovisions rank right at the top. But the real revelation is in image richness.
The view through the ELs is so vibrant and detail-rich, the colors so vivid, that
it almost takes your breath away. There’s no way to explain how they do this, but
we’ll try anyway.
The new 42-mm ELs are made with fluoride-containing HD lens that feature a unique
design that Swarovski refers to as “field flattener lenses”. There are two field
flattener lenses between the prisms and the ocular lenses whose function is to remove
curvature of the field. This isn’t actually new technology: these are essentially
the same kind of lenses used in print shop cameras to produce flat images of documents.
The innovative part is to actually put them in binoculars. And it works beautifully:
the field is incredibly flat and virtually free of edge effects. Straight lines
stay straight even in the field margins, and there is almost no color-fringing even
on brightly-lit, high-contrast objects. In short, the edge performance is amazing!
This flat field edge has an interesting consequence: when you pan across a landscape,
particularly with relatively close objects, the view seems to ripple before your
eyes, as though things in the center of the view are jumping closer to you and then
receding again as they slide by. This “rolling ball” effect is a bit disconcerting
at first, but we found that you soon stop noticing it. Two other things jumped out
at us when we first took the new ELs into the field: contrast and depth of field.
The image through the new ELs has amazing pop – it is startlingly detail-rich. The
depth of field is simply huge. We looked at a tree full of White-crowned Sparrows.
The sparrows in the background seemed as sharp as sparrows in the foreground, as
though we had the entire tree on the same focal plane!
The new ELs have a 336-foot field of view at 1000 yards for the 10x42 model and a 399-foot field
on the 8.5x42
model. Those numbers are well above average for the respective magnifications,
with the 8.5x actually being somewhat extraordinary. We compared
them to binoculars that are listed as having the same or slightly larger fields
of view and we found that the Swarovskis often seemed to have the bigger field because
of that flat-field performance. Any way you look at it, the EL Swarovision binoculars
have a tremendous field of view. Eye relief on both models of 42-mm EL is 20 mm,
way above average for this trait, ensuring that these binoculars will be very comfortable
for all users.
Like all top-of-the-line binoculars today, the ELs are phase-coated and fully multi-coated.
As with most high-end optics manufacturers these days, Swarovski has their own proprietary
coatings, each with its own function. There are the Swarodur and Swarotop coatings,
which work to optimize image brightness and contrast. The Swarobright coating maximizes
color fidelity across the entire light spectrum. Swaroclean is a water-shedding
coating that reduces the amount of dirt and foreign matter that sticks to the lenses,
making them much easier to clean. You don’t have to know how these coatings work
but you can take our word for it that they do the job very well.
EL Swarovisions are roof-prism binoculars with Swarovski’s classic double-bridge
design, but it’s been refined a bit since you last saw it. The new ones are about
6.5 inches tall with eyecups fully extended, and about 5.25 inches wide with the
hinges at their widest setting, but the barrels are more than a quarter inch less
in diameter, resulting in a sleeker, more rakish look. Our postal scale measured
the new 10x42 ELs at 29.5 oz with the objective lens covers
and strap removed while the 8.5x42 version comes in at 28.9
oz in the same state. This is a bit heavy for modern 42-mm binoculars, but you really
don’t notice it in the hands. You pick them up, and your thumbs fall naturally into
the perfectly-placed, angled divots on the barrels and they feel good. The dark
green rubber armoring has a seductively tacky feel that provides a secure grip with
or without gloves on. The balance of the optic is excellent. In short, everything
just feels right! A few other minor details for your perusal: the interpupillary
distance range on the new Swarovision binoculars is 56-74 mm. That’s fairly average
for this trait, meaning you can comfortably use these binoculars unless you have
an unusually wide or narrow face. And of course, these binoculars are fully sealed
and nitrogen-purged to be dust-proof, internally fog-proof and watertight to a depth
of 13 feet (4 meters).
Both EL models are listed as having a minimum focal distance of 4.9 feet. In our
hands we found this to be about 4.67 feet, and this was with only minor field collapse.
That performance is way better than average for minimum close focus on a full-sized
roof prism binocular. The new ELs go from minimum close focus to infinity in a full
2.5 turns of the focus knob. If you’re like us, you read that and think, “That’s
terrible!” The funny thing is, it isn’t terrible. We didn’t believe that until we
actually tried it. Here’s how it works. From about 4.67 feet to about 9 feet is
a full turn of the knob. From 9 feet to 19 feet is another half turn of the knob.
And literally, from 19 feet to the surface of the moon is another half turn of the
knob. The moon was out on the afternoon we did this, so we tried it! Then there’s
another half turn that helps people compensate for extremes of far- or near-sightedness.
So basically, everything between about 9 feet away and essentially infinity is within
about 1 full turn of the focus knob. What you have is a full turn’s worth of precision
focusing for things that are closer to you than 9 feet. At the distance where most
of the things you want to look at are going to be, it’s all within one turn of the
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The diopter adjustment is concealed under the focus knob. To adjust the EL Swarovision
binoculars, focus the left ocular on something, and then without moving that focus,
pull the knob up towards yourself until it clicks open, displaying the scale of
+/- 5 diopters relative to equal. Looking through the right ocular, adjust focus
with the knob until it comes in sharply, and then, snap it shut by pushing it down
again. There are four click-stops within each diopter, and these hold the position
steady as you close the mechanism down, a nice refinement. The usual problem with
diopter adjustment mechanisms on the focus knob is that it’s almost impossible to
push the knob down without twisting it some, meaning you lost the adjustment you
just made. This mechanism doesn’t have that problem, which is really nice. The eyecups
adjust with a helical twist mechanism: counter-clockwise moves the eyecups outward,
clockwise adjusts them inward. There is one stable position between fully-in and
fully-out though it has kind of a “mushy” feel to it. While it feels a bit funny,
the intermediate eyecup position is stable. The eyecups go into a sort of pseudo-lock
if you keep twisting them when they are all the way out. This position is very stable.
Covers and Case
Among other features of note are the lens caps and covers. The objective lens covers
are soft rubber caps tethered to loops that fit snugly over the barrel ends. The
caps are heavy enough and the tethers pliable enough that they always dangle down
out of the way. When closing, they fit easily and precisely on the barrel ends and
stay in place. These are pretty good objective lens covers. The rainguard is a hinged,
hard plastic unit that fits snugly on the eyecups and doesn’t dislodge easily. The
hinge has multiple click-stops that allow you to set the angle of the rainguard
to match the interpupillary distance you set for the binocular. The rainguard can
be attached to the strap on either or both sides by sliding the strap through closed
loops. One marked improvement over the old EL rainguard is that this one is made
of slightly more flexible rubber, with the result that it does not make as much
noise when it bumps against the binocular. The neck strap is a fairly standard design
of neoprene-like material welded to soft leather and a foam rubber type material,
and it’s comfortable enough. It is molded to curve naturally around the user’s neck.
Additionally, the length adjusts through a gear mechanism unlike any we’ve ever
seen. Pull a lever on the gear upward to release the tension and allow the strap
to be adjusted, and then snap the lever back down to lock in the new position. This
is the easiest strap length adjustment we’ve ever seen. What a great design! Swarovski
also markets their own harness called “Bino Suspenders”. The case is a
padded affair with a flap that folds over and snaps in place. It is open on the
sides at both the top and the bottom. Swarovski claims this will help prevent external
binocular fogging, presumably by speeding up the process of temperature equilibration.
Balanced against that, it provides openings for dust and dirt to come in contact
with the stored binocular.
Swarovski has one further refinement to their EL binocular line: "digi-binning".
Digi-binning is the art of using your binocular as a telephoto lens for a digital
camera. With all EL Swarovision binoculars, Swarovski includes an S3 Snap Shot Adapter,
which fits over the eyecup of the ELs and allows one to fit a digital camera (provided
it has an extendable lens of suitably small diameter) to the binocular. The outer
ring of the Snap Shot Adapter twists to firmly grip the camera lens and while centering
its lens in front of the binocular eyepiece. The pictures shown here were taken with a point-and-shoot digital camera
with and without the Snap Shot Adapter and ELs, just to illustrate the process.
There are binoculars out there that have a digital camera intrinsic to them. The
problem with most of those is that the binoculars aren’t great in quality, and the
digital cameras lack the resolution and other capabilities of standard digital cameras
today. The Snap Shot Adapter allows you to combine modern point-and-shoot digital
camera technology with a high-end binocular, yielding image quality that is way
better than any intrinsic camera-binocular. Plus it’s just plain cool!
The EL Swarovision binoculars offer optical performance and image quality that is
breath-taking for its richness, sharpness and depth of field. The view is so good
it’s practically intoxicating. The new 42-mm ELs look and feel great. There really
isn’t a single feature of these binoculars that we could find significant fault
with. The new Swarovski ELs cost
for the 8.5x42 model and
for the 10x42 model. If you are in the market for the best
binocular money can buy, you owe it to yourself to try the EL Swarovision binoculars.
Then, hopefully, you’ll owe it to us when you buy them.
Buy Swarovski EL Swarovision