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8x20: 'New' Swaro 8x20B, Leica Ultravid, and 'Old' Swaro (1 Viewer)

Sancho

Registered User
Supporter
I like the 8x20 format and have been through a few models. I have a question for others who may have greater knowledge than I. First, a few caveats: I realise there is sample variation. Also, one can´t really compare "from memory". And no two sets of eyes are the same. And no two eyeballs, even in the same head, are equal. And one man´s pocket is another man´s bag (i.e. 8x20 is too small for some people, and 8x25 has gained popularity...but it´s too big for my needs). Anyway, here´s my observation/question. I had a "new" Swarovski 8x20B, made in 2016 (I think). I bought a used Leica Ultravid 8x20 from a goodly BF member a few years ago. Comparing them, I found each to have specific advantages (Swaro smaller, lighter, wider FOV), but preferred the contrast and "punch" and colour rendition of the Leica, also finding it a hair "sharper". (I realise these are not technical terms but there you go). Recently, I sold the Swaros. Then I thought, erroneously, that I had lost the Leicas, and bought a secondhand pair of Swaro 8x20B on ebay, from Germany. They turned out to be the "old" version, made in 1992 (using the "first two digits plus 30" formula, anyway). I was impressed. Then I found my Leicas under a pile of books or something. And, in true obsessive fashion, took the Ultravids and the "old version" Swaros out to compare them. Oddly, I found the 1992 Swaros, to my eyes, to be a hair´s breadth sharper than the Leicas, and to perform really well in odd lighting, with no glare or wash-out or whatever you call it. So, even though I no longer have the 2016 version Swaros to compare, I think that, to my eyes, the "old" Swaros were superior. Again, this may be simple sample variation. In any case, not trusting my eyes, or judgement, I called on Mme. Sanch for her opinion. She has no interest in binoculars, carries no optics-baggage psychologically (or physically), simply looks, observes, and delivers a "I-prefer-this-one" judgement. Lo and behold, in various lightings and at various distances, she also prefers the "old" Swaro 8x20B, from 1992, over the Leica Ultravid 8x20. Being a sensible person, she says the difference is tiny, hardly noticeable to a sensible person, what does it matter, both are brilliant, etc. etc. etc. But I wonder. Is there something "different" about the old 1992 Swaros? I imagine they don´t have Swarotop/Swarodur etc., but I wonder if, for example, they have lead glass or something else that makes them different? I´d really appreciate observations from anyone who knows. And I realise the final caveat, that none of this really matters. BTW, in the photo you can see the "old" Swaros had "AUSTRIA" and "HABICHT 8x20" printed on the central body plate, and no little hawk symbol. Kind of cute, in a retro ´90s way. Simple rubber eyecups too, non-adjustable other than folding them down if you wear glasses.
 

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elkcub

Silicon Valley, California
United States
Hello Sancho,

I've attached a pix of my own two beauties. Mrs. Elkcub's 8x20B Habicht (c. 1997) are on the left, and my 8x20 (c. 2000+) Leica UV's are on the right. (Note the pink marker she uses to identify hers. :)

In my opinion, the older Swaro pocket bins are quite outstanding relative to current products. The Leicas are somewhat brighter in side-by-side comparison, but also a bit less contrasty. Resolution also seems to be a tad better with the old Swaros, as you suggest, but overall I can't see as practical difference between them in normal viewing — except for the fact that the Leica has a longer eye relief. This explains why I bought them. Otherwise, I'd still be using my 10x25B Habicht (c. 1993). Unfortunately, I bought the Leicas about two months before Swaro announced the 8x25.

Ed

PS. Ah, I see you have the original ~c. 1993 edition of the Swaro. Mine has a twist out eyecup that was added later.
 

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Sancho

Registered User
Supporter
Thank you Ed! That confirms my deeply irrelevant suspicions. I wonder why the 'older' Swaros were optically different to later models of the same bino. I love the pink tag customising Mme. Elkcub's case!
 

John A Roberts

Well-known member
Australia
Some history and information about the original Swarovski Pocket model line . . .

The Pocket 8x20 was introduced in 1989, with the 10x25 following in 1992
Both remained in production until 2013 when replaced by the CL Pocket 8x25 and 10x25

The original production was black. A green version was added in 2000 and a sand version (aka Traveller) was added in 2009


The 8x20’s were also produced in a number of limited editions, with a variety of finishes
Some were for sale by Swarovski, though others were produced for third parties

The Swarovski variations were introduced as follows:
- 1995, Century (grooved body coverings, with silver/ rhodium finish, see: https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=378670 )
- 2001, Bridge (brushed silver finish to body coverings and bridge insert)
- 2006, Nabucco, Idomeneo and Tosca (crystals inlayed in body coverings, see: https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=391961 )
- 2007, Tyrol (tan leather body coverings)

The third party production was:
- 1997, Holland & Holland (brown leather body coverings and wood bridge inlay)
- 1998, Hermes (brushed silver finish to body coverings and bridge insert)
- 1999, Orvis (green leather body coverings, conventional green bridge insert)

- - - -

Both the 8x20 and 10x25 Pocket models have the same optical construction
Along with Schmidt-Pechan prisms, they have:
- a 3 element objective comprising a 2 element achromat and a single focusing lens, and
- a 5 element ocular in a 2, 1, 2 configuration
The greater magnification of the 10x25 is achieved by increasing the physical (and thus focal) length of the objective body
See both the cut away image from Swarovski and the cross-section from the 1990 US patent application

(The only detail that I'm aware of in relation to the optical construction of the two CL Pocket models, is that they each have 10 optical elements per side
- so the same number as the original Pocket models, though not necessarily in the same configuration)

- - - -

From its introduction, the Pocket model had both Swarotop multi-coating, along with phase coating

From observation of the markings on the box labels, Swarobright dielectric prism coating was introduced by October 2001
(not present on #E7121 78943, but present on #E7142 81957)

Gijs has tested a 2005 production model, see my recent post at: https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=391961
For the period from 1989 to 2005 one would have expected the usual gradual improvement in transmission as Swarovski improved the quality of its coatings

And at the start of 2009, the Pocket model line would have benefited from the update to the coatings that was applied to all product lines
See Dale Forbes’ comments at: https://www.birdforum.net/showpost.php?p=1639843&postcount=29


continued . . .
 

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John A Roberts

Well-known member
Australia
The original eyecups were fixed folding rubber ones. However, in March 1996 twist adjustable eyecups were introduced - from #E6609 37010
The specific serial number is from the Spare Parts Catalogue EFT 2019, see: https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=390663

The Pocket model was air-tight from its introduction, but nitrogen fill was not used until July 2003 - from #E7327 96171
The units didn’t have any additional marking, though the box label was marked BN (instead of just B)
The specific serial number is again from EFT 2019, which refers to a change to the part number for the eyecups,
but the number is consistent with my observations regrading the box label markings

- - - -

The Pocket model has had 3 main numbering patterns:
- from 1989 to 1990 (observed from #59F 40094 to ##60F 49349)
- from January to August 1991 (from #E61 02079 to #E61 26300)
- from August 1991 on (from #E6149 01686 to #E8315 58019)

For an explanation of the numbering components see the second table at: https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=369004

The one exception was the 8x20 Century. The observed numbering runs from: A-177 to A-709; B-004 to B-995, and C-315 to C-646
See: https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?p=3869102


Total production would have been in excess of 160,000 units


John
 
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elkcub

Silicon Valley, California
United States
Thanks for the extensive information, John. It is amazing how the 8x20 pocket models were also used as 'designer' binoculars, no doubt mostly appealing to women.

The biggest improvement in the CL models, IMO, was eye relief.

Ed
 

John A Roberts

Well-known member
Australia
And an image of each of the 8x20 variations that I didn't link to:

- Bridge from 2014 eBay listing from jegango

- Tyrol from B&H Photo listing

- H&H from a 2014 eBay listing by eamo 127

- Hermes from a 2015 Heritage Auctions listing

- Ovis from a 2016 eBay listing by carveravepawn1


John


p.s. Ed, both the H&H and the Ovis may have been more intended for the bro market?
 

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Sancho

Registered User
Supporter
Many thanks John. From your excellent analysis I see that my 8x20B are indeed post-1991. They have the simpler non-twist rubber eyecups, but I actually prefer these because I no longer wear glasses and the cups 'fit' nicely into my eye-sockets. I'm off for a cycle now, Swaros will be in my cycle-vest pocket!
 

Sancho

Registered User
Supporter
To be specific the tag is Japanese pink, — because she's Japanese. ;)
Very nice pink it is, too. Beautiful illustrations, it's a very gentle powder-pink, no? The reason I 'lost' my Ultravids was, the case is dull black so I didn't notice it on the floor with some books, while packing stuff to leave our holiday flat in the West (of Ireland). I've mislaid mobile phones countless times, for the same reason, so always opt for phone covers in lurid colours. I will try to buy my new/old swaros a lurid day-glo pink camera bag.
 
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Sancho

Registered User
Supporter
If coating improvents etc. were made on an ongoing basis, I'm assuming then that I just struck it lucky in the sample variation stakes with this 1992 8x20B, that seems for some reason to out-perform a 'modern' (2013?) pair, and an Ultravid. Like the guy said, 'Sometimes you eat the ba'ar, and sometimes, well, he eats you'.
 

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John A Roberts

Well-known member
Australia
Hi Sancho,

A few observations regarding your experiences comparing the 1992 8x20 Swarovski to the far more recent Ultravid (though I’m unable to come to a definite conclusion) . . .


Firstly, I don’t think that the level of performance that you’re seeing in the Swarovski is due to the anti-reflective coatings, as the A-R coatings don’t primarily control sharpness

Once an optical design is established (the basic hardware of the lenses), updates to the coatings primarily improve the brightness of the image along with the colours
However, a good optical design is always going to perform well in terms of sharpness, regardless of the coatings

As many have recounted when using an old single coated high-quality Porro prism binocular for the first time:
- firstly, they’re amazed by the central sharpness, and
- then they invariably wonder how much better the performance would be with modern coatings

But the gain is not what many would expect e.g. my dual coated 1961 8x30 Habicht - when used under good lighting -
shows detail extremely close to the level of my multi-coated 2013 version (only distinguishable on the closest of comparison)


Though in contrast with roof prism designs, phase coating does significantly improve sharpness, by eliminating the de-phasing that occurs
when the light column is split and recombined by the 2 roof surfaces of the prisms
- and handily the Swarovski Pocket models were phase coated from their introduction

- - - -

Another confounding factor is the difference between: objective/ measured transmission and; subjective/ perceived brightness

For example, we know from Gijs’ work that:
- the Leica 8x20 Ultravid has consistently higher transmission (mostly over 90%, and peaking at 96%), compared to
- the 8x42 Ultravid HD/ pre-Plus (mainly between 80 and 85%, and peaking at 87%)

See the first graph from the test ‘Compact kijkers 2005’, and the second from ‘Test van nieuwe 8x42 kijkers . . . 2016’
Both can be found at: https://www.houseofoutdoor.com/verrekijkers/verrekijkers-testen-en-vergelijken/

However, what’s striking to me - is that even under ideal conditions for the 8x20 - in bright sunlight where the pupil of the eye is maximally constricted:
- the image of my 8x42 is always noticeably brighter
- though the 8x20 shows significantly more contrast (more ‘punch’ as you indicated in the first post)

- - - -

Our subjective impression of sharpness is a combination of qualities (and ultimately a mental construct)
This includes at one extreme the finest level of perceptible detail, aka resolution (e.g. the subtly different textures in the bark on a tree trunk),
and at the other extreme, edge differences between large high-contrast structures (e.g. a black post silhouetted against a white cloud)

The approach taken with the Leica 8x20 (and perhaps also with the Swarovski 8x20?) is to accentuate the contrast
This of course is a technique that has long been used on relatively low resolution television screens i.e. increased edge contrast gives the impression of greater detail
(but as you move increasingly closer to the screen the more obvious the lack of fine detail/ resolution becomes)

As the Ultravid 8x20 has both superior transmission, and is optically simpler (6 lenses in 4 groups, verses 9 in 6) to the 8x42,
it would seem that it’s the other internal measures (such as baffling and stops) that help create the significantly higher contrast,
though at the cost of a subjectively darker image

- - - -

However, as to what balance of factors makes the image of the 1992 8x20 Swarovski superior to the more recent Ultravid?


John
 

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Alexis Powell

Natural history enthusiast
United States
What fun rumor to start--the old Swarovski pocket models were better than the later models and their competition! I don't know. Of course you have to report what you see, but I think y'all are crazy. I've done a lot of comparing of 8x20 roof prism bins (various models, various vintages of each model) from Leica, Zeiss, Swarovski, Nikon, and some others, and I have always found the Swarovski 8x20 inferior to the others, particularly with regard to seeing into low-contrast dark areas, dealing with backlight, for close-focus, and for ergonomics (focus knob placement). I've seen some unit-to-unit variation, and having clean lenses also matters, but all else equal, I rank as co-equal best the Leica Ultravid (excellent back-light control, superb "sharpness", and excellent close focus) and the (discontinued) Zeiss Victory Compact (version with dielectric coatings, has nice FOV and big sweet spot, but rapid focus operation for birding is much inferior to the Leica).

--AP
 

Sancho

Registered User
Supporter
@John A Roberts: Sincerest thanks, John, for that excellent analysis and explanation. I really appreciate the time and effort you've put in (and feel I feel a little guilty as a result!). The entire episode has reached a rather happy conclusion. I mentioned to Mme. Sanch that I couldn't understand why these 'old' binos were preferable (to my eyes) than these 'newer' (and according to most experts, superior) binos. In a rare reversal of normal managerial policy, she said.....'Why don't you keep both?'
 
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