Swarovski started out cutting crystal for high-end jewelry and then decided to apply that skill to binocular lenses. That precision can be seen in the Swarovski EL 8.5x42, which provided the clearest image of the best binoculars we tested. Even in low-light dusk and dawn conditions, these lenses were able to soak up enough light to provide a great image. If you've got a job that requires looking through binoculars all day, or are about to go on a wildlife viewing trip of a lifetime, you should seriously consider getting the Swarovski ELs. They will definitely improve your entire experience.Editor's Note: This review was updated on December 12, 2022. We bought and retested this pair of binoculars.
Cons: Prohibitively expensive
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Swarovski EL 8.5x42
$2,169 at Amazon
$477.37 at Amazon
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|Pros||Incredible clarity, brightness, comfort, and construction quality||Very clear and bright, easy to adjust, comfortable, high-quality construction||Good clarity and brightness, smooth focus knob||Inexpensive, good clarity and brightness||Good clarity, small and lightweight, relatively comfortable|
|Cons||Prohibitively expensive||A bit heavy for the backcountry||Mediocre close focus range, mediocre field of view||Average construction quality, mediocre low-light performance||Poor low-light performance|
|Bottom Line||One of the best all-around models that we tested, but they also carry a high price tag||This model is our first choice and offers just about the best clarity and brightness you can get from a binocular without a quadruple-digit price tag||These perform well for the price, offering a smooth focus knob and decent brightness and clarity||The most budget-friendly option we've found that offers a good introduction to birdwatching||An inexpensive, small, and packable model that offers surprisingly good optics|
|Rating Categories||Swarovski EL 8.5x42||Vortex Viper HD 8x42||Nikon Monarch M5 8x42||Celestron Nature DX...||Vortex Diamondback...|
|Field of View (10%)|
|Ease of Adjustment (5%)|
|Close Focus Range (5%)|
|Specs||Swarovski EL 8.5x42||Vortex Viper HD 8x42||Nikon Monarch M5 8x42||Celestron Nature DX...||Vortex Diamondback...|
|Multi - Coating||FMC||FMC||FMC||FMC||FMC|
|Field of View (at 1000 yards)||399 ft||409 ft||335 ft||388 ft||332 ft|
|Close Focus||4.9 ft||6.0 ft||8.2 ft||6.5 ft||6.0 ft|
|Eye Relief||20 mm||18 mm||19.5 mm||17.5 mm||18 mm|
|Measured Size (Length x Width)||6.3 x 4.8 in||5.6 x 4.9 in||5.7 x 5.1 in||5.3 x 4.9 in||4.6 x 4.5 in|
|Measured Weight||30 oz||24 oz||22 oz||22 oz||14 oz|
Our Analysis and Test Results
This incredible pair of binoculars set the standard for clarity, brightness, and functional design. We truly feel that this pair is the best of the best. However, the multi-thousand-dollar price tag may deter many users. There are other sets of binoculars that performed excellently in our tests but cost significantly less than the price of the Swarovski.
The glass contained in the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 is not just good, it's the top-of-the-line. Swarovski is known for making high-end glass for jewelry and other optics. Just look around the internet forums, or talk to those in the know, and you will hear about the legendary reputation they have rightfully earned. 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 clearly. With the fluoride coating — or Swarovision, as Swarovski calls it — there is no chromatic aberration or color fringing around the edges. All the vertical and horizontal lines look crisp and clear from edge to edge.
When compared to the other premium models we tested, the Swarovski EL is about even regarding clarity — which confirms the linear relationship between quality glass and price. At the multi-thousand-dollar price point, it is reasonable to expect near-perfect clarity.
It is difficult to describe the amount of light this model can pick up and transmit for the ultimate viewing experience. We kid you not, one tester's comment on this product was, "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 many of the ultra-large binoculars on the market designed for stargazing.
There is a relationship between clarity and brightness. Good glass will help with brightness, and the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 has the very best (more about that further down). Like all the other top binoculars, the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 has 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 binos to the other high-end models, the Swarovski EL is just a little bit brighter than the other two, as you can see in the picture above. However, this difference is minor, and only really apparent in a strict side-by-side comparison should you have all these premium models available to you.
The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 is also a comfortable pair of binoculars to handle and hold. A lightly-textured rubberized coating covers the entire body of the binocular. There are even ergonomic indents for your thumb. It really is amazing how much extra comfort these thumb indents add.
The center is open, which makes it easy to form a c-grip around the whole barrel of the binocular and can even make it easier for larger hands to hold. 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.
Field of View
The EL 8.5x42 leads the field in almost every testing category in this review. The one area it didn't dominate was field of view. The manufacturer-stated FOV is 399 feet, which is not the largest of the bunch. Even after actual testing and measurements, the field of view is above average, but not as good as the models with a wider field of view.
Ease of Adjustment
The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 has a hinge at the front of them near the objective lens. This helps keep 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 glides open with just enough pressure that you don't feel like you're forcing them, but not too little so that 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.
Close Focus Range
The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 has one of the shortest close-range focus distances, one of the best we've ever tested. The manufacturer states that its close-range focus is 4.9 feet, and our tests confirm this range.
Should You Buy the Swarovski EL 8.5x42?
Because we didn't want this review to sound like fanboy drivel, we secretly hoped the expensive Swarovski EL 8.5x42 would underperform. Who doesn't want to see the underdog win? But alas, the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 earned top rankings in almost every classification. This pair is almost blindingly bright compared to its closest competitors. The glass is crystal clear, and every aspect of the design is perfectly executed, from thumb indents to an open center for a comfortable grip. If you want the best pair of binoculars on the market and you don't mind spending a couple grand for them, then, by all means, buy the Swarovski EL 8.5x42.
What Other Binoculars Should You Consider?
We suspect if you're considering a Swarovski model, then you probably already own some other optics, and you've looked at some of the other models we tested. 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 looking at some of the other high-performing but less exorbitantly priced products, like the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 or Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42.
— Max Mutter
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