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When did Swarovski become an "alpha" brand...?

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Old Wednesday 10th October 2018, 19:48   #1
MandoBear
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When did Swarovski become an "alpha" brand...?

I was musing on this as I was out birding this afternoon.

When I started out birdwatching in the late 1970s, Zeiss and Leitz (now Leica) were the top brands with their Dialyt and Trinovid binoculars, and I wasn't particularly aware of Swarovski being a premium contender (though I recall their telescopes were well regarded). By the time I bought my Leica Trinovid BNs in about 2002, Swarovski were much more recognised and certainly snapping at Zeiss and Leica's heels. Now they're shoulder to shoulder with them - and perhaps even ahead in some respects.

Just out of curiosity, when would you say they made it into the "alpha" league, and with which model of binoculars? Was it with the EL, or was it earlier?

Not trying to stir up a hornet's nest, but in my birding lifetime, at least, I feel they've transitioned into a more prominent manufacturer.
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Old Wednesday 10th October 2018, 21:31   #2
Gijs van Ginkel
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MandoBear, post 1,
When the first EL roof prism binoculars were produced around 1999 I think. Before that time the company also made very good binoculars, but the EL's gave sales an enormous boost and the company a top reputation.
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Old Wednesday 10th October 2018, 22:41   #3
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I would argue that in the USA that it was with the introduction of the SLC models (esp. 10x42 and 7x42, for which the trail was blazed by the 8x30) that preceded the introduction of the EL. The EL was a such big deal when it was released because there was already acceptance/recognition of Swarovski as a brand as prestigious and in the same performance category as Zeiss and Leica. That reputation came from marketing and experience with the revised SLC models of the mid-to-late 1990s, which were more rugged, more elegantly waterproofed, more ergonomic, and faster focusing than their predecessors. Also paving the way for acceptance of Swarovski as an alpha binocular brand (and for the success of the SLC bins) was the release of the AT/ST 80 scope in ~1990. It was the first scope to be widely accepted in the USA as an alternative to the Kowa TSN-4 as a premium ~80 mm birding scope (since the Nikon Fieldscope ED series was limited to 60 mm until the 78 ED was released in ~1994, and was ignored by almost everyone afterward).

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Old Wednesday 10th October 2018, 23:53   #4
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Hi MandoBear,

In the '70s I couldn't afford a Leitz Trinovid or a Zeiss Dialyt. I did go, often, to the Leitz representative here in our country, to see the beautiful Trinovids in the shelves. And, sometimes, the person in charge let me touch one and see throught it. In spite of the beautiful design and evident quality construction I always saw some fuzziness or lack of sharpness. Always. Until I see a, then, new Swarovski Habicht 10x40. Porro of course. Not so elegant but still showing a hight quality construction. But a UNIVERSE of difference in the sharpness and resolution of the view!!!! With that special "yellow" tint of the Transmax antireflex lens coating. Of course, at that time, Swarovski was a rather obscure and rare european brand...
Anyway, I became a convert to that view quality. Similar to the great Porro Leits and Zeiss binoculars...

Best

PHA
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Old Thursday 11th October 2018, 00:09   #5
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Hi MandoBear,

In the '70s I couldn't afford a Leitz Trinovid or a Zeiss Dialyt. I did go, often, to the Leitz representative here in our country, to see the beautiful Trinovids in the shelves. And, sometimes, the person in charge let me touch one and see throught it. In spite of the beautiful design and evident quality construction I always saw some fuzziness or lack of sharpness. Always. Until I see a, then, new Swarovski Habicht 10x40. Porro of course. Not so elegant but still showing a hight quality construction. But a UNIVERSE of difference in the sharpness and resolution of the view!!!! With that special "yellow" tint of the Transmax antireflex lens coating. Of course, at that time, Swarovski was a rather obscure and rare european brand...
Anyway, I became a convert to that view quality. Similar to the great Porro Leits and Zeiss binoculars...

Best

PHA
Hello PHA,

in the 1970's, you were comparing a non-phase coated roof prism binocular with a Porro prims binocular. Before phase coating, roof prism binoculars had poorer resolution and poorer contrast than the contemporary Porro prism binoculars.
The roof glasses were popular for their compactness, not their optical qualities.

Today, the top roof glasses compare very favourably with Porro glasses.

Happy bird watching,
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Last edited by Pinewood : Thursday 11th October 2018 at 01:52. Reason: correction
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Old Thursday 11th October 2018, 02:31   #6
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I agree with Alex. As seen in the 1995 Eagle Optics Catalog that I posted a few years ago, Swarovski was well established in the US by that time, and was receiving great reviews from Stephen Ingraham, who classified the Swaro 8x30 SLC (Type II) as a bird-worthy alternative to Leica's 8x32 BA. I certainly thought Swaros were "alpha class" at the time, which included the whole lineup of "traditional" Porros and roof pocket binoculars.

Ed
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Old Thursday 11th October 2018, 06:04   #7
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Interesting perspective from the USA. I certainly had never heard of Swarovski until the introduction of the EL and was so taken with it I bought one to replace my Dialyt 10x40 BGA T*. This was the point at which I realised Zeiss and Leica had company at the top of the optics tree.

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Old Thursday 11th October 2018, 09:58   #8
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Hi Andrew,

I know it very well, of course! And that is (was) one of the reasons because, no mather the Trinovid and Dialyt were considered then alpha binoculars, they didn't give the best optical performance.

By the way, I think Swarovski were considered true alpha binoculars since the introduction of the SLC 42 mm.

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Old Thursday 11th October 2018, 16:55   #9
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Hi Andrew,

...no mather the Trinovid and Dialyt were considered then alpha binoculars, they didn't give the best optical performance.
That mirrors my experience of the 10x40 Trinovids. I bought a pair in 1987, and they were beautiful binoculars, and a joy to handle, but optically they didn't "sparkle" in the way I felt they ought to...
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Old Thursday 11th October 2018, 17:43   #10
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Alpha roofs, pre-phase coating, despite the nostalgic reverence, were all pretty awful. Back in the day, I used a Bushnell Custom 10x40 because they were far sharper and more contrasty, for a third the price.
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Old Thursday 11th October 2018, 18:42   #11
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I would say the SLC had an alpha reputation at least among US hunters. The birding market didn't seem to take as much to Swarovski until the ELs, of which I still see many in the field.
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Old Thursday 11th October 2018, 19:26   #12
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I would say the SLC had an alpha reputation at least among US hunters. The birding market didn't seem to take as much to Swarovski until the ELs, of which I still see many in the field.
It still is, IMO. Great optics, great build, backed by unbeatable CS.
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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 13:32   #13
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I joined the RSPB in late 1973 and received their then excellent magazine "Birds"as part of my subscription.The Heron Optical Company was a regular advertiser.
The Heron Optical Company was the only UK supplier of the Habicht Diana 10x40 wide angle binocular.It was advertised as "The quality binocular for the discerning birdwatcher" in large print. In much smaller print was added "This incredible binocular one of the Superb Habicht range from the Austrian Swarovski Optik works is only obtainable from us."
They were later used on a Cambridge University Birding expedition around this time and this was included as an endorsement in their adverts.
In a "Which?" (consumer magazine) in March 1990 testing 8x binoculars the Zeiss Dialyt was best buy with the Swarovski not far behind along with the Lietz (Leica).
In those far off days before the explosion of birdwatching in the UK, Zeiss (West Germany) and Leitz were considered the top brands in the small birdwatching market and they were promoting Roof prisms as the superior choice.
We now know that porro prisms were not inferior to roof prisms (certainly not in the 1970s and 80s), therefore I would suggest that Swarovski was always in my time an "Alpha" brand although this is a modern concept.
I would contend that the EL put them arguably at the "top of the tree" for birdwatchers but they always have been producers of high quality optics or Alphas if you must.

Last edited by Robert Wallace : Friday 12th October 2018 at 13:34.
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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 14:03   #14
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Agree Robert. The Swarovski Habicht, especially the 10x40 but all three (or four if the 6x30 is included) were true "alpha" binoculars, even if not for "the masses" !! I have had 5 (five) S. Habicht 10x42, starting with the first one bought used (I paid for it the price, then, of the semi hard leather box...) in 1981, my only binocular for 20 years. Three of them were of the early times. ALL of the five were perfectly collimated at the factory, survived some very hard use (by me), without ANY malfunction or break. And ALL were OUTSTANDING in their optics!!!!!

Best!
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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 14:45   #15
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Robert
Thanks for the trip down memory lane. We joined the RSPB in 1971 and used Swift porros until we got fed up of their size (we had a motorcycle and holiday luggage space was severely limited) and lack of waterproofing and shifted to roofs which we bought from Heron Optical!

Lee
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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 15:17   #16
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It still is, IMO. Great optics, great build, backed by unbeatable CS.
Agreed, I meant to indicate the original SLC was what thrust them into the opinion of most hunters as an alpha.

I'd still own the SLC HD if I didn't need to sell off many of my optics.
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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 17:30   #17
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Heron Optical... my my... I so remember them and their stapled together catalogues back in the day (late 70s for me). Didn't they used to be linked with Field & Trek back then?

A real trip down Memory Lane!

And yes, I remember them selling the Habit binoculars.
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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 17:34   #18
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My first experience with Swarovski binoculars as 'alphas" was in the mid 1980s. The binocular enthusiasts I knew then were all quite aware that the roof prism binoculars available, including Leitz and Zeiss, were inferior to any decent quality Porro, even though we didn't understand why.

Among that cohort Swarovski Habicht SL and Habicht Traditional Porros, along with a few Porro models from Nikon, Swift, Fujinon, Carl Zeiss/Jena and Zeiss/Oberkochen, were considered the "alpha" binoculars of the time. I recall the introduction of the original 8x30/7x30 SLC as just another pre-phase correction disappointment.
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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 19:19   #19
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The binocular enthusiasts I knew then were all quite aware that the roof prism binoculars available, including Leitz and Zeiss, were inferior to any decent quality Porro, even though we didn't understand why.
Really interesting stuff Henry. Could you (or any other birder of that vintage) recall whether the birding community was as informed - or held similar views - back then? I'm wondering whether the desirability of roof prism binoculars prior to phase coating had at least as much to do with their non-optical advantages (waterproofing, handling etc).

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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 19:25   #20
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Heron Optical... my my... I so remember them and their stapled together catalogues back in the day (late 70s for me). Didn't they used to be linked with Field & Trek back then?

A real trip down Memory Lane!

And yes, I remember them selling the Habit binoculars.
Yes they were a division of Field and Trek.
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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 19:41   #21
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Henry post 18 you may be correct in saying binocular enthusiasts in the 1980s were aware of the optical superiority of porro prisms over roofs. This was not the case with the birdwatching community in the UK. The British Trust for Ornithology in their respected booklet on Binoculars circa 1974? Extolled the advantages of the new roof prisms (basically Zeiss and Leitz) also John Gooders author of "Where to Watch Birds" and possibly the first professional birdwatcher in the UK appeared in advertisements for Zeiss West in the more serious journals. The message to birdwatchers was clear roof prisms are best.

Last edited by Troubador : Saturday 13th October 2018 at 07:14.
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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 21:05   #22
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Swarovski was a optics and binocular supplier to the Wehrmacht in WWII

https://www.flickr.com/photos/binocw...hCUib9-6BJYTj/
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Old Friday 12th October 2018, 23:44   #23
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Patudo and Robert,

You're correct. In the 80s there was no broad awareness that the roofs were not all they were cracked up to be. Magazine reviewers and big time birders to say nothing of normal consumers ate them up, even praising their purportedly superior optical quality. There's never been a better example of the Emperor's New Clothes.

Henry
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Old Saturday 13th October 2018, 03:19   #24
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From 1978 through to 1995 British Birds ( https://britishbirds.co.uk ) published the results of five surveys of the binocular and telescope choices of their members. I’ve attached copies. They give a clear idea of what were then UK birders preferences, and include list prices, along with popularity and overall performance ratings by the respondents.

In considering whether Swarovski was considered an Alpha brand, at least by UK birders during the period, I’d draw attention to the following:

ROOF PRISM vs PORRO
The Zeiss West and Leitz/Leica choices are roof prism models (by the time the surveys start, neither firm is making Porros suitable for birding). In contrast, for most of the period the only Swarovski’s featured are their traditional style Porro 10x40’s - referred to as the Diana. Only the 1995 survey includes Swaro’s SLC models (the 8x30 was introduced in 1985, and the x42’s in 1992).

POPULARITY
Zeiss West is the overwhelming choice; Leitz/Leica is a distant second, and; Swarovski is an equally distant third.

PERFORMANCE
In contrast, the three brands are rated much more closely, with the differences a matter of degree. Optically the ratings are suspect when one considers the comparison is of non-phase coated RP’s binos to Porro models (phase coating was first introduced by Zeiss in 1989, other manufacturers soon followed).

So it seems that at least for the great majority of UK birders - in terms of popularity - it’s not until the introduction of the x42 EL’s in 1999, that Swarovski is recognised as an Alpha binocular manufacturer.

A post by giosblue ( https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=313992 ) alerted me to the surveys. They can still be downloaded from the BB website using ‘binoculars and telescopes survey’ in the basic search function. The site includes access to articles from 1907 onward!

Googling around, I found that the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club also has an on-line archive from it’s first issue in 1958 ( https://www.the-soc.org.uk/about-us/...-soc-s-journal ). From the early 1970’s onward there are advertisements for optics, which will be of interest to some forum members
Attached Files
File Type: pdf 1978 British Birds Survey.pdf (175.5 KB, 45 views)
File Type: pdf 1983 British Birds Survey.pdf (184.4 KB, 19 views)
File Type: pdf 1985 British Birds Survey.pdf (208.7 KB, 20 views)
File Type: pdf 1988 British Birds Survey.pdf (439.6 KB, 23 views)
File Type: pdf 1995 British Birds Survey.pdf (155.8 KB, 36 views)
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Old Saturday 13th October 2018, 07:10   #25
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Really interesting stuff Henry. Could you (or any other birder of that vintage) recall whether the birding community was as informed - or held similar views - back then? I'm wondering whether the desirability of roof prism binoculars prior to phase coating had at least as much to do with their non-optical advantages (waterproofing, handling etc).
Patudo
Our experience of having to send our Swift porros back to the importer (Pyser) time after time after time to have the internal condensation cleaned out after we had used them in the rain on holiday was one factor that pushed us towards roofs. The other was how much more compact roofs were. The Swifts were enormous and took up a lot of space in our motorcycle panniers whereas the roofs didn't. So yes it was compactness and weather-proofing that pushed us into the arms of Leitz and Zeiss.

Lee
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