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Using Binoculars to see at distances

Swarovski EL Swarovision 42-mm Binoculars


Swarovski EL 42mm Binocular

Review Highlights

  • Simply incredible optical quality
  • 4.67-foot minimum close focus
  • Huge field of view
  • Amazingly flat edge-to-edge performance
  • Unique digi-binning capability

Full Review

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!

Optical Properties

Swarovision Digi-binning Rollover image with mouse

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.

Coatings

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.

Dimensions

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).

Focusing

Swarovski EL 42mm Binocular Rainguard 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 focus knob.

User Adjustments

swarovision EL 42mm binocular diopterRollover image with mouse

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

Swarovski EL 42mm Binocular Objective Cover 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.

Digi-binning

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!

Conclusions

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 $2,275.00 for the 8.5x42 model and $2,320.00 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.

Swarovski EL Swarovision Binoculars - current price and availability