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Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Review

One of the best all-around models that we tested, but they also carry a high price tag
Swarovski EL 8.5x42
Credit: Swarovski
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $2,410 List | $2,169.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Incredible clarity, brightness, comfort, and construction quality
Cons:  Prohibitively expensive
Manufacturer:   Swarovski
By Max Mutter ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 11, 2022
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99
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 15
  • Clarity - 25% 10.0
  • Brightness - 20% 10.0
  • Ease of Adjustment - 15% 10.0
  • Construction Quality - 15% 10.0
  • Comfort - 10% 10.0
  • Close Focus Range - 7.5% 9.0
  • Field of View - 7.5% 9.0

Our Verdict

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 EL 8.5x42, which provided the clearest image of all the 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 EL. It will definitely improve your experience.

Editor's Note: This review was updated on January 11, 2022 with information on the latest version of this product, as well as further comparison info.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Swarovski EL 8.5x42
Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $2,410 List
$2,169 at Amazon
Check Price at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$240.00 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$150 List
$146.25 at Amazon
$190 List
$154.79 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Incredible clarity, brightness, comfort, and construction qualityVery clear and bright, easy to adjust, comfortable, high-quality constructionExcellent brightness, great clarity, comfortableInexpensive, good clarity and brightnessGood clarity, small and lightweight, relatively comfortable
Cons Prohibitively expensiveA bit heavy for the backcountrySlightly heavy for backpackingAverage construction quality, mediocre low-light performancePoor low-light performance
Bottom Line One of the best all-around models that we tested, but they also carry a high price tagThis 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 tagAn excellent balance of price and all-around performance with particularly impressive brightnessThe most budget-friendly option we've found that offers a good introduction to birdwatchingAn inexpensive, small, and packable model that offers surprisingly good optics
Rating Categories Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Vortex Viper HD 8x42 Vortex Diamondback... Celestron Nature DX... Vortex Diamondback...
Clarity (25%)
10.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
Brightness (20%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
6.0
5.0
Ease of Adjustment (15%)
10.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Construction Quality (15%)
10.0
10.0
9.0
6.0
8.0
Comfort (10%)
10.0
10.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Close Focus Range (7.5%)
9.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
Field of View (7.5%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
5.0
Specs Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Vortex Viper HD 8x42 Vortex Diamondback... Celestron Nature DX... Vortex Diamondback...
Glass Type HD HD HD ED HD
Multi - Coating FMC FMC FMC FMC FMC
Magnification 8.5 8 8 8 8
Field of View (at 1000 yards) 399 ft 409 ft 393 ft 388 ft 332 ft
Close Focus 4.9 ft 6.5 ft 5.0 ft 6.5 ft 6.0 ft
Eye Relief 20 mm 18 mm 17 mm 17.5 mm 18 mm
Prism Roof Roof Roof Roof Roof
Waterproof/Fogproof? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Size (Length x Width) 6.3 x 4.8 in 5.8 x 5.3 in 5.7 x 5.1 in 5.3 x 4.9 in 4.6 x 4.5 in
Weight 29.5 oz 24.2 oz 21.8 oz 22.2 oz 14.0 oz

Our Analysis and Test Results

Product Update Note — January 2022
The Swarovski EL series of binoculars has been revised since we tested them. They feature an updated 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 older version pictured on the left and the updated model shown on the right.




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. 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 might appeal to more buyers even though the Swarovski blows the rest of the competition away.

In our original round of testing, we used the 8.5x magnification version of the EL. However, very few other manufacturers make 8.5x magnification models. When we decided to compare the EL to other comparable models for our high-end shootout, we used the 10x magnification version of the EL, so that everything would be more directly comparable.

Performance Comparison


Swarovski EL 8.5x42 binoculars - the swarovski el has incredible glass quality, which translates to...
The Swarovski EL has incredible glass quality, which translates to top-tier clarity and brightness.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Clarity


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.

Swarovski EL 8.5x42 binoculars - a comparison of some of the high-end bins we tested.
A comparison of some of the high-end bins we tested.
Credit: Steven Tata

Brightness


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 the 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.

Swarovski EL 8.5x42 binoculars - the 8x magnification binoculars in our test. this magnification is...
The 8x magnification binoculars in our test. This magnification is often considered the sweet spot because it gives you plenty of enhanced vision but reduces vibration from your hands which is sometimes apparent in 10x binos. From L to R: Nikon Monarch 5, Swarovski EL, Steiner Predator, Vortex Viper, Zeiss Terra, Vortex Diamondback, and the REI XR (previously tested).
Credit: Michael Payne

Comparing these bins to the other high-end models, the Swarovski EL is just a bit brighter than the other two, as you can see in the picture above. This difference is minor, however, and only really apparent in strict side-by-side comparisons.

Swarovski EL 8.5x42 binoculars - you can't beat the way the swarovski el feels in your hand.
You can't beat the way the Swarovski EL feels in your hand.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

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.

Swarovski EL 8.5x42 binoculars - the open center on this pair makes gripping easy and comfortable for...
The open center on this pair makes gripping easy and comfortable for large hands.
Credit: Michael Payne

Construction Quality


Though the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 lacks a thick rubber covering to prevent dropping them and protecting them from impact, all the tolerances are so tight that it might not even help. The weight and feel of the Swarovski EL 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 attractive prices these days, but you can tell by looking at the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 that the build quality is top-notch.


Comfort


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.


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.

Swarovski EL 8.5x42 binoculars - the indents on the barrels leave a comfortable space for your thumbs...
The indents on the barrels leave a comfortable space for your thumbs to rest and provide a secure grip.
Credit: Michael Payne

Close Focus Range and Field of View


The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 can focus down to 4.9 feet, which was the closest focus range in our test.


The EL 8.5x42 leads the field in almost every category in this review. The one area it didn't dominate was field of view, although the difference was pretty small.



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 every classification. This pair is almost blindly 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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