Swarovski EL 8.5x42

  • Extraordinary brightness – they really cut through any murk
  • Sharp right to the very edges – big field of view
  • Very precise focusing, and easy to find, too
  • Excellent eye relief for glasses wearers
  • In extended use, supremely comfortable

It’s fair to say they’re among the most eagerly-awaited optics we can remember. So, are Swarovski’s new Swarovision EL’s the best binoculars ever?

Well, at first sight, they don’t look too different from the original ELs, which appeared 10 years ago. The elegant cutaway design, much imitated since, is still there, along with the familiar dark green rubber armouring. But what about what’s inside? The optics are what has had many a birder giddy with anticipation, and right from the first sight, the wait appears to have been worth it. The first thing that hit me was how wide the field of view felt. In part that’s because, at 133m@1,000m, it actually is (!), but it’s also a consequence of the new field-flattener lenses, which work to keep the image sharp right up to the edges. There really is negligible distortion, and in practice that has two important effects. For a start, obviously, it means you get full value for that field of view. For another, it means extended periods of watching are much more relaxing for the eyes – there’s less need to keep adjusting eye position slightly.

Brightness is exceptional, too. The ELs are quite capable of making use of the first glimmers of dawn. The glass and the Swarovision coatings used mean that even in the lowest of lights, these binoculars cut through the murk to pick out an incredible amount of detail. They shrug off rain pretty well, and it was easy to get the lenses clean.

Colour is satisfyingly natural, with contrast also very impressive, all adding up to a very vivid, ‘walk-in’ feel to the image, and chromatic aberration (colour fringing) was very difficult to find even viewing against the brightest light. I did feel that depth of field was fairly shallow, but that was never a problem, because the focusing system itself is such a pleasure to use.

The focus wheel is a generous finger-and-a-half wide, which along with the ridged finish makes it easy to use while wearing gloves. Travel is smooth and, initially at least, reasonably stiff, making it easy to avoid accidental movement, and focussing is extremely precise. It takes a little over two anti-clockwise turns from close focus to infinity. And talking of close focus, it’s claimed as an impressive 1.5m, but in practice I found that probably a little bit conservative. The dioptre adjustment is calibrated and, because of the pull-out mechanism used, impossible to dislodge accidentally.

The rubber-covered eyecups twist up and down into three different positions, and proved very comfortable in extended use. I had one or two concerns about how well they’d stay in position, but there was no problem. They’ve been designed with the intention of improving things for wearers of spectacles, and those glasses-wearers I tested them on found the extra levels of adjustment a great help.

You might expect, with all that high-quality glass being used, that there’d be a penalty in terms of weight and size, but the magnesium body keeps the former more than manageable, and they’re impressively compact and well-balanced. Everything about the design, down to the well-placed thumb indents, makes them a pleasure to use for long periods. The rainguard and objective lens covers both attached securely while remaining quickly removable, and the neoprene strap was comfortable, easily attached and easily adjusted.

This does all come at a price. To start with, at least, you’re looking at £1,745 for a pair. Depending on the type of birder you are, you might decide that the optical advances made here aren’t what you need. As with any of the high-end binoculars produced in recent years, though, you’d be buying in the knowledge that you’ll probably never need another pair of bins, should you so choose, because the ELs appear equal to absolutely every challenge put in front of them.

REVIEWED BY MATT MERRITT.


FACTFILE

  • Price: £1,745
  • Dimensions: Length: 160mm, Width: 122mm, Height: 61mm
  • Weight: 795g
  • Close focus: 1.5m
  • Field of view: 133m@1000m