Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Review
Cons: Prohibitively expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The New Swarovski EL 8.5x42 vs. The Version We Tested
These binos have a new neck strap connection system, objective lens covers, and some slight cosmetic changes; optically, the company has confirmed that they are the same bino that we have tested.Check out the side-by-side comparison below, with the latest version pictured on the left and the older version shown on the right.
This incredible pair of binoculars sets the standard for clarity, brightness, and functional design. We truly feel that this pair is the best of the best. However, the almost $3000 price tag may deter many users. We found that we also love the much more reasonably priced Vortex Viper HD 8x42, which scored almost as high as the Swarovski but costs less than a quarter of the price. The Vortex Viper, our Editors' Choice winner, might appeal to more buyers even though the Swarovski blows the rest of the competition away.
However, very few other manufacturers make 8.5x magnification models. When we decided to compare the EL to the Zeiss Victory HT and the Leica Noctivid for our high-end shootout, we used the 10x magnification version of the EL, so that everything would be more directly comparable.
The glass contained in the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 is top-of-the-line. Swarovski is known for making high-end glass for jewelry and other optics. Just look around the Internet forums, and you will hear about the legendary reputation. This is probably one of the reasons Swarovski doesn't produce a low-end line, for fear of eroding their brand when it comes to glass quality. On the ISO 12233 chart test, the 10 zone was clear and crisp, and you could make out the lines. With the fluoride coating, or SWAROVISION as Swarovski calls it, there is no chromatic aberration or fringing around the edges. All the vertical and horizontal lines look crisp and clear from edge to edge.
When compared to the other high-end models we tested, the Swarovski EL is about even regarding clarity.
We kid you not, one tester comment on this product is "I think it's brighter outside looking through these binoculars, which I know is impossible." That is how incredibly bright these binoculars are. They compare and might even be brighter than the Nikon Monarch 5 8x56, which have a 14mm objective lens advantage.
There is a relationship between clarity and brightness. Good glass will help with brightness, and the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 have the very best (more about that further down). Like all the other top binoculars, the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 have a multi-coating on all surfaces, which helps to keep the light from scattering and instead focuses it to your eyes once it enters the system. Swarovski calls this coating SWAROBRIGHT, and according to the company's documentation, Swarovski was the first binocular company to coat glass to reduce light scattering.
Comparing these bins to the other high-end the Swarovski EL is just a bit brighter than the other two models, as you can see in the picture above. This difference is minor, however, and only really apparent in strict side by side comparisons. During real-world use, we didn't think the Zeiss or Leica models felt comparatively dim.
Ease of Adjustment
The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 has a hinge at the front of them near the objective lens. This help keeps the lens in alignment, especially with the larger objective lens, but allows the center to be open. The movement of both the front and rear hinge is smooth for adjusting the interpupillary distance. The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 almost glide open with just enough pressure so you don't feel like you're forcing them, but not too little, so they flop around. The focusing knob is just like all other aspects of the Swarovski EL: smooth. The focusing is quick and easy with just enough pressure. The diopter adjusts by pulling out the central focusing knob, which then reveals a graduated scale. Once you're done with your adjustment, just push the knob back in. There is no lock on the diopter adjustment, but it takes a little bit of pressure to pop it out which reduces the likelihood of accidental adjustment.
The Swarovski EL's ease of adjustment is about even to that of the Zeiss Victory HT. However, the Victory HT has a separate knob to adjust the diopter, which we liked a bit more than the EL's diopter adjustment. Overall the EL is much easier to adjust than the Leica Noctivid, which has a finicky eyecup adjustment.
Field of View and Close Focus Range
The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 can focus down to 4.9 feet, which tied with the Zeiss Terra ED 8x32 for the best in close focus range. The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 leads the field in almost every category in this review. The one field it didn't dominate was field of view, although the difference was pretty small. The Swarovski EL was bested by 5 feet for field of view. The Zeiss model has 404 feet viewable at 1000 yards compared to 399 feet for the Swarovski EL 8.5x42. Though the Swarovski was not the best in both of these fields, it came in a close second.
The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 is a comfortable pair of binoculars to hold. A light textured rubber coating covers the whole binocular. There are indents for your thumb. It's amazing how much extra comfort these thumb indents add. This makes these bins much more comfortable than both the Zeiss Victory HT and the Leica Noctivid. The center is open, which makes it easy to grip around the whole barrel of the binocular and can make it easier for larger hands. The eyecups are soft and pull out to provide 20mm of eye relief. The package is completed with a stretch rubberized neck strap that is comfortable around the neck.
Though the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 lack a thick covering of rubber to protect them from dropping and impact, all the tolerances are so tight that might not even help. The weight and feel of the Swarovski EL just says "quality" right up to the "made in Austria" on the front hinge. There is no noticeable alignment issue in the barrel. Everything moves with just the right amount of pressure, which we interpret as a sign of good quality control, tolerances, and manufacturing process in general. China is producing some good products for a good price these days, but you can tell by looking at the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 that the build quality is top notch.
Swarovski binoculars are coveted by birders and other outdoor professionals around the world. The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 is an excellent all-around binocular that will excel at most tasks. Besides niche markets or those looking for a lightweight, compact pair of binoculars, you couldn't go wrong with the Swarovski EL 8.5x42. For the price, we certainly wouldn't use them as a beater pair of binoculars to throw around the car or boat for a just-in-case instances, but we would take them on boating or car trips. Overall we find this pair of binoculars to be exceptional for spying wildlife with great clarity and detail, which earns it our Top Pick Award for birding and wildlife viewing.
At around the 3,000 dollar mark, the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 are not inexpensive. In fact, they are more than twice the price of the next most expensive pair of binoculars in our test, which is the Leica BCR 10x25. So the question is: are they worth the price? We think one comment summed it up best: "If you were going on a once in a lifetime trip and you were going on this trip to view a certain species of wildlife that you always wanted to see, then yeah, I could see spending $2000+ for these binoculars."
We didn't want this review to sound like fanboy dribble because we started out wanting the expensive Swarovski EL 8.5x42 to fail in every way. Who doesn't want to see the industry lead fail and the underdog win? That said, except for the price, the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 earned top rankings in every classification. This pair is almost blindly bright compared to its closest competitors, the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 or the Nikon Monarch 7 ATB 10x42. The glass is crystal clear and every aspect of the design from indents for the thumb when you hold them to an open center for a comfortable grip, are perfectly executed.
If you want the best pair of binoculars on the market and you don't mind spending a couple of grand for them, then, by all means, get the Swarovski EL 8.5x42. In reality, if you are considering a Swarovski model, then you probably already own some other optics, and you've looked at the Nikon EDG and the Vortex Razor HD. The truth is most people reading this review want to know how other less expensive binoculars compare to the Swarovski. So, if that's you and you want a really good pair of binoculars, then we suggest you get the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 which earned our Editors' Choice award.
Other Versions and Accessories
Swarovski El 8x32
- Price: $2,443
- Magnification: 8x (less than the 8.5x42)
- Weight: 21 oz (8.5 less than the 8.5x42)
— Max Mutter