I recently purchased a pair of Swarovski 8.5 x 42 "Swarovision" binoculars, and after using them for the last two months or so, I felt compelled to write up a review, something I rarely do unless I am so impressed that I can't help myself!
I should briefly say that I am a bird biologist who spends about half the year watching birds for a living, and the other half for pleasure. I routinely spend weeks and months on end birding every day all day long, and so I feel that I get a lot of use out of my binos. Most of the work I do is in the North American arctic. The binos I used up until now were a pair of 8 x 43 Vortex Stokes DLS, which I was very happy with, but they suffered from some serious durability issues, and frankly they don't hold a candle to the new Swarovskis.
First off, right out of the box you can tell you are dealing with a quality product. The product is nicely packaged and comes with all kinds of nice extras
The binocular case that is included is the best I have ever seen. It is made of nice durable nylon and features a dust-proof zipper that wraps all around the outside. Inside there is a slot for the binos and a slot for whatever else separated by a hard divider which has a mesh pocket for lens cloths etc....
Included are a high quality lens cloth and a nifty camera adaptor which I have not used, but I am sure some folks would really like (assuming it fits your digital camera). It might be a bit gimmicky, but it could also work quite well.
The neck strap is great, but I switched it for a harness right away
The lens covers are great. I use these all the time since I work a lot in wet/dusty/muddy environments, and these are the best I have seen. They are made of a nice soft sticky rubber and they stay put when you want them too and swing out of the way nicely when you want them too. They fit so well that you could even briefly submerge the binoculars with no water leaking onto the lenses.
The eye cups themselves are most excellent. Buttery smooth sliding mechanism with excellent eye-relief at two steps. They are made of nice metal with soft rubber rims, not cheap plastic like some other high-end models. They are also very easily removed (just unscrew them) which makes it very easy to clean them and the sockets they screw into. I am pretty sure this would drastically increase the life of the mechanism, as invariably small bits of grit get caught in there and would wear away at the grooves the eyecups slide up and down on.
The focus knob is nicely knurled with sticky rubber and is smooth and easy to turn, but it almost feels a bit flimsy. A little more resistance would not be uncalled for. Still, it feels nice and smooth. There is a tendency for grit to get into the knob and make a nasty s....ing noise when you turn it, but you can slide the knob up (which is how the diopter is adjusted) and wipe the face of the inner barrel clean. The diopter adjustment is very quick and easy to use, is very precise (4 stops per number) and will never be accidentally knocked off the chosen setting.
Overall, the feel of the binos in the hand is great. The rubber armour is not too hard, not too soft, not to sticky, not too smooth, but just right. The knob is well placed, the thumb indents feel a little out of place to me, but overall the 'fit' is excellent. Clearly this a matter of personal preference, but they are designed well and I think the ergonomics will appeal to most people, particularly the double barrel design which lets your fingers wrap all around both barrels. The weight is not excessive, but they are heavier than some other comparable models. Again, if you like the feel of a solid unit, they feel great. If you want an ultra-light pair of binos, these may be little too much for your taste.
OK. The optics. You better wear a pair of diapers before you look through these, because you will probably lose bowel control. I know I did. I am used to high end binos, and I have spent time using Leicas, Zeiss’ and the older Swarovskis, and I also had the opportunity (which I highly recommend anybody considering such a purchase avail themselves of) of conducting a lengthy side-by-side comparison both inside and outside the store of all the top-end models, and there is absolutely no comparison. The new Swarovskis are in a league of their own. There is a close-fought battle for second place between all the other competitors, but these new binos stand head and shoulders above the rest.
There has been much debate in on-line forums as to the relevance and worth of the new field-flattener lenses these binos feature, and in my opinion there can be no debate. This is nothing short of a revolution in binocular design. This technology is not new (it has been widely used in projectors, for instance to reduce the ‘bulging’ associated with projecting a flat image through a round lens) but it completely changes the way you use the binoculars. There is no blurring, no fading, no softening whatsoever right up to the absolute edge of the image. Literally 100% of the image you see through the lens is in perfect focus. Panning across a horizon is a different experience altogether, everything is crystal clear. You can use the binos in what would be a normally very frustrating position (for example, looking through them at an angle when lying flat on the ground or craning your neck upwards) with no change in image quality. You can look at an entire flock of birds and see each one from edge to edge as clearly as the rest. The big difference I am trying to describe is that instead of moving the binos to center your subject in order to obtain a clear view, you can move your eyes and achieve the same effect. This doesn’t sound like much, but believe me it will change your entire viewing experience.
The resolution is absurdly good. Things look clearer through the binos than they do in real life. There is no fringing or aberration even in high-contrast backlit situations.
Colour is true and vibrant, amazingly so, although I have noticed a very very slight bluish cast to the image. In clear, low light, I noticed some browns (mud, tundra, etc…) looking a little greyer/bluer than with the naked eye, but this is so insignificant that it hardly bears mentioning. Other people might notice it as well though, although it is so slight I can’t imagine it ever causing even minor annoyance.
The field of view is excellent, and is especially impressive since these binos are 8.5 x magnification. The slight increase in magnification is therefore surprisingly accompanied by a slight increase in FOV. How nice! By the way, I tend to dislike 10 x’s because I find they shake too much, but these 8.5’s are just about perfect. A slight but tangible increase in magnification is a real treat compared to other 8 x’s
The depth of field is nothing short of amazing. This is something that is rather hard to quantify, as there is a significant amount of focusing done by the human eye which might be unnoticeable to some but even painful to others. In short though, these binos have the best depth of field I have ever seen in non fixed-focus binoculars. The other day I was watching some shorebirds between about 15 and 25 meters, and I barely had to adjust the focus at all. This is for me one of the greatest features about these binos. There is a great deal of eye fatigue associated with constantly adjusting the focus to make the image sharp, a problem greatly reduced with a large depth of field. These also have a fantastic close focus distance (a feature I almost never take advantage of, but is probably of use to many other people out there). Suffice to say I can stand up and look down to see my boots in clear focus!
There is much talk about the so-called ‘pinball effect’ of these binoculars, whereby the image tends to bulge towards the viewer especially when panning and especially at close focus distances. There is an article online that I don’t have a link to that explains the physics of this, but rest assured that this is a bit of a curious novelty at first, but is quickly forgotten, and is certainly not annoying or distracting. How often do you pan quickly focused at 10 feet anyway?
My one complaint is that there is a definite ‘dead spot’ in the adjustment of the inter-pupillary distance. There is a nice tightness to the mechanism which prevents the barrels from shifting, but if you are just holding them normally, there is a point at which even gentle pressure will shift the barrels ever so slightly producing a soft audible click and an almost imperceptible movement. This is certainly not a problem optics wise as it only affects the IPD and NOT the collimation as some have suggested, but it is rather disappointing in a pair of binoculars of this cost and otherwise superlative quality.
All in all, I can wholeheartedly recommend these binoculars as the absolute cream of the crop. They are expensive, but if you work with your binos or bird a lot, you can almost not afford NOT to buy them. They are the best. Bar none. You will LOVE them and never look back.