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A review of Zeiss 8x42 SF vs Swarovski 8.5x42 EL (1 Viewer)

etc

Well-known member
This is a very unofficial, "first impressions" type review without deep diving into any deep analysis.

I have had this 8.5x42 EL since 2008 and decided to finally upgrade to the first gen "gray-green" 8x42 Zeiss.

I was able to compare it directly with the 2008-vintage EL. First of all, I cannot see any difference at all in the picture quality. It's neither brighter nor has a different tint as far as I can tell. It just as sharp, but not sharper. In fact, the EL resolves more details due to the slightly higher power available. I was able to read the fine print with the EL that Zeiss was not able to resolve. But that data was cherry picked and right at the very edge of SF's abilities. But this is not an issue with Zeiss, it's the 8.5x vs 8x situation. Zeiss is sharp as a tack. So is EL.

I didn't like having 8.5x42, I always thought that 8x42 was the better all purpose choice and examining EL vs SF side by side made me realize 8.5x42 is a stronger choice due to the marginally more detail it picks up, this benefit is worth the price of increased shake, smaller FOV and depth of field. That is the conclusion I came to when I bench-rested each one carefully. When I switched to unsupported off-hand, I came to the opposite conclusion. SF is the better choice, a small sacrifice in how far it can punch or how tiny it can resolve is worth the slightly less shake and secondly a bit larger field of view.

Again, optically, both are at the top of the game. Neither one is better than the other in any optical terms that I can detect. EL is sharper because it's 8.5x, not because it's EL. But it's more difficult to actually realize that advantage off-hand, you have to find a stable platform to view from. 8.5x is not the best choice for off-hand viewing, IMO. Although I would not call it a bad choice and I could live with 8.5 for the rest of my life, if I had to. It's a niche choice.

Optically the EL picture quality is stunning. You only realize how good EL is when you compare it with other top dogs and none can exceed it, only match it at best. I only have the 2008 model to reference and supposedly the newer ones are even better. I get that there has been a gazillion EL incarnations. In any incarnation, EL is a hard target to beat. It came across to me, versus SF, as a bit warm, with the SF being a bit more natural perhaps but I could be mistaken.

The downside to EL, is that while it punched a bit farther and showed just a bit more detail versus 8x of SF, it was hard to actually realize this benefit, to actually use that edge. It has an increased shake proportional to the increase of magnification, effectively nullifying the benefit most of the time. The only time it's actually worth it is if you can find a steady platform to control the shake. Then one can take advantage of 0.5x power increase. I think that 8x42 SF is the better all purpose device while 8.5x EL might be a better birding binocular due to its ability to resolve very small things better. But I use optics for many reasons, birding being a minor footnote. I enjoy astronomy a lot more and 8x42 is a better astronomy device as well (less shake, greater FOV, more pleasant all in all). Unless you use a tripod with EL, but then that raises the question why use 8.5x and not 10x or 12x (or even 15x) if you have the luxury of steading it.

Things I like about EL: The armor is better, grippier and seems higher quality. SF feels kind of cheap. The build quality of EL is great. After 10+ years of usage, it looks mint. EL is heavier which to me suggests quality.

Things I don't like about EL that SF got right: The SF eyecups are a lot better. I think SF settings could be better defined, with a more solid click maybe, but it has a huge range of options and ER, which is better in SF due to exit pupil size. The one thing really surprised me about EL is that the eyecups which came with it weren't even adequate for the huge ER of the EL. Meaning the eyecups did not extend far enough to accommodate the huge eye relief of EL. And were downright unusable. If the eyecups don't raise far enough, you get blackouts due to too much eye relief. I had to install eyecups from a 15x SLC to make EL usable. Hard to believe Swaro had such a massive oversight. Totally unacceptable for an alpha brand. I don't know if latter versions of EL fixed it but the 2008 vintage had that bug. Secondly EL's eyecups have 2 positions, either up or down and the SLC eyecups I installed are a perfect fit in the up position. The SF I had to extend all the way to the top and then bring down a few notches for the perfect fit. I don't know if newer incarnations of EL resolved this but 2008 vintage is the only sample I got.
The case that came with EL is total junk. SF came with a much better quasy-hard case.

Things that are a draw: EL vs SF:
Optical quality. Both are stunning. EL always generates the wow feeling, every single time. So does SF. EL resolves more due to the 8.5 but it's also a bit more aggravating to the increased instability. If more power was always better, we would all have 25x, which is not the case. I think 7x or 8x is the better all around choice (for me).

Overdrive past infinity. I have myopia of about -5.25, in both eyes and it's a critical that the device can accommodate that. I hate using eyeglasses. That is one downfall of Leica, which only goes to -4D. That's a deal breaker. Swaro EL is at the end of its adjustment and so it SF. My best estimate is both have -6D of overdrive past infinity. I did not test the diopter settings in terms of difference between barrels, because I need none. So left it at zero. I was hoping that SF would have a bit more of range in overdrive past infinity but it appears to stop at -6D, which is enough but just barely. If my vision deteriorates past -5.25, I will have to get another brand with even more overdrive past infinity.

Focus wheels are adequate in both. I don't like fast focus and both have relatively fast focus, seemingly identical. I wish it was slower in both SF and EL. So one could dial in with more precision.

Areas where SF wins: Close focus distance, you can look up the exact specs but SF is able to focus closer than EL. Not important to me as I don't count microbes on a butterfly 6 feet away but FWIW.
Weight. SF is noticeably lighter. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. I like the way EL feels, like a solid optical device.
SF has 3 hinges, EL only two. I don't know how to check for collimation, both appear to be OK.

Conclusion: Either one is a very solid choice and comes down to preference. I prefer Zeiss SF for largely superficial reasons.
 

Aquaplas

Active member
Austria
El had 60° Subject View. SF had 64. This is a big difference for me how impressive is the View. Compare the SF with the new NL who has 69° at 158 Meters, and yes, this is a great advantage. I think you can compare the SF better with the NL than the EL.
 

etc

Well-known member
I only compared EL with SF because that is what I have. The FOV is not a noticeable advantage.
The most important factor for me is that SF is a bit steadier.
 

Aquaplas

Active member
Austria
I think for me the FOV is a new Dimension of viewing. When you use a SF or NL for a longer Time, the FOV of a EL 8,5x42 looks lide a Tunnle View.
The Coloration from the Zeiss is warmer, more yellow green, i can good see it at the Moment her in the Snow. But the Clearity under some lights from the Zeiss is awsome. What i mean in my post before, the SF is a more Modern Bino than the EL. When you will compare the SF it is a bit more fair to do it with the new NL.
The 8,5x42 is a awesome Bino, but compared to the SF or NL the View for my Expirience is like a older Bino.
 

Patudo

Well-known member
Interesting read sir, and thanks for taking the time to set pen to paper. That's a really impressive testament to the 2008 vintage (and therefore pre Swarovision) EL. I recall when my brother tried the SF against his 8.5x Fieldpro he didn't think there was much difference in actual image quality between the two, other than the SF of course having a larger field of view (I more or less think the same). They are both superb - yes the SF offers a wider field of view and better handling (though the difference in this respect isn't as great to me as other folks seem to have found), but at a significant increase in price over the Fieldpro/Swarovision editions, much less the pre-Swarovision EL.

For what it's worth, I also find the difference in magnification between 8.5x and 8x noticeable in the field - fortunately both are as steady in my hands. That 8.5x mag (pioneered, of course, by that other great classic the Swift Audubon) was a pretty inspired choice by Swarovski - although one wonders how many folks might have gone for an 8x and a 10x were 8.5x not available. Maybe that's why Swarovski went back to the traditional 8x and 10x options with the NL...
 

etc

Well-known member
I think for me the FOV is a new Dimension of viewing. When you use a SF or NL for a longer Time, the FOV of a EL 8,5x42 looks lide a Tunnle View.

No, it doesn't. The 5 extra degrees are hardly noticeable. The difference in the lost FOV is made up by the more narrow FOV that is in sharper focus.
8.5x resolves more and reaches farther than 8x with the slight reduction in FOV, you can't have one vs the other. That is obvious and to be expected.

I think 8x is the better choice for an all-purpose optic. In my case. I like less tremor, as reason #1.
But I might get a second alpha in the 10x configuration, probably 10x56 SLC.
8.5x might be the better choice if all you have a single optic with no plans to get another one.

The Coloration from the Zeiss is warmer, more yellow green, i can good see it at the Moment her in the Snow. But the Clearity under some lights from the Zeiss is awsome. What i mean in my post before, the SF is a more Modern Bino than the EL. When you will compare the SF it is a bit more fair to do it with the new NL.
The 8,5x42 is a awesome Bino, but compared to the SF or NL the View for my Expirience is like a older Bino.

I've had the EL and SF side by side. I cannot tell any difference in picture quality other than EL is a bit warmer and the SF is more natural. Either one has a stunning picture by any metric, with EL 8.5x arguably having a more stunning picture solely due to the higher power, that extra 0.5x. Of course EL will have a smaller FOV given the extra 0.5x. Whether that's important, I don't know.
If you take SF to its limit, EL will reach just a hair farther. You can for example read tiny letters with EL that you won't be able to with SF. EL might be a better birding binoculars. If you need the very finest details. I am more of a big picture type person and for all purpose, 8x42 SF is a better idea. Less tremor, lighter. Larger exit pupil size, easier to hold. Better made eyecups with more options.

Don't be mistaken, EL is a tough player to beat, not sure anyone does. Not sure the 2016 vintage SF beats 2008 vintage EL. I have no idea if post-2008 ELs are an improvement or not. You can't go wrong with any year EL. I don't know if 8.5x is an advantage or not. I have a feeling the older ones with slower focus are another great choice but they lacked some of the more modern coatings.

Both EL and SF aggravate me with fast focus. I want slower focus with more precision.
 

etc

Well-known member
Interesting read sir, and thanks for taking the time to set pen to paper. That's a really impressive testament to the 2008 vintage (and therefore pre Swarovision) EL. I recall when my brother tried the SF against his 8.5x Fieldpro he didn't think there was much difference in actual image quality between the two, other than the SF of course having a larger field of view (I more or less think the same). They are both superb - yes the SF offers a wider field of view and better handling (though the difference in this respect isn't as great to me as other folks seem to have found), but at a significant increase in price over the Fieldpro/Swarovision editions, much less the pre-Swarovision EL.

For what it's worth, I also find the difference in magnification between 8.5x and 8x noticeable in the field - fortunately both are as steady in my hands. That 8.5x mag (pioneered, of course, by that other great classic the Swift Audubon) was a pretty inspired choice by Swarovski - although one wonders how many folks might have gone for an 8x and a 10x were 8.5x not available. Maybe that's why Swarovski went back to the traditional 8x and 10x options with the NL...

My review is subjective and non-scientific. No exciting numbers. I am reporting it as I see it, from the trenches, not from a lab. EL is still a very viable contender. Hard to improve upon, maybe impossible. I got SF with the idea of adding a 10x50 later on and 8x42 and 10x50 make more sense than a 8.5x42.
If you have 10x, getting 8x is more logical than 8.5x. But if you can afford just one alpha, 8.5x EL might be the way to go.

for me 8.5x was marginal. Kind of stable but 8x is even more so.

I am puzzled by the NL line.. No 50mm objective choice, in 10x, I think I would want 10x50, not 10x42... the diopter correction at infinity is less than that of EL or SLC (only 5 diopters). Weird selection. I will never get anything in that realm.

For years my only optics was the 8.5x and it does well if that is all you have, but a 8x42 and a 10x50 makes more sense. If you already have 8.5x, not sure it makes sense to get a 10x. I expected a quantum leap from SF, there is none. It's not brighter or anything. Bigger field of view due to lower power, that is all.
Sf is a fine device. And it costs more than 2008 era EL, not sure if it's a good value.

My ideal binocular configuration would consist of 7x35, 8x42 and 10x50 or 10x56. Then there is 15x56 which is odd, I would prefer 12x as way more practical.

Really to be perfectly honest, my first choice above EL and SF would be a Leica because they are more compact, the picture quality is equally stunning and they are very well made. My very first Alpha was a Leica and I compare everything else to it. But Leica does not adjust far enough to accommodate myopia so I must look elsewhere. I hear Nikon is another impressive choice.
This is heresy on this forum but an old 1990's Trinovid/ Ultravid is still very competitive against anything that costs 3 times as much. Just a bit less bright.
 
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tenex

reality-based
That's a really impressive testament to the 2008 vintage (and therefore pre Swarovision) EL.
I also was highly impressed by this EL when I tried it years ago, and think I'd still prefer it to the SV version. The view was so... natural. I was a Leica enthusiast at the time but think only distaste for the open bridge kept me from getting one.
 

etc

Well-known member
The only difference that my non-scientific view can detect is that EL is a bit more warm while SF is a bit more natural. And I could be wrong. It's completely subjective. Brightness is the same, if there is a difference, it's undetectable without lots of tests or equipment. I think I prefer warm but in reality Zeiss is just a different taste you get used to. It's lifelike and shows precisely as it is without adding anything. Both are very sharp. EL can resolve more details solely due to higher power, that 0.5x, at the expense of reduced FOV and more tremor. There is no free lunch. I don't need a 8.5x. I would rather have a 7x42 and a 10x50 or so. These two could encompass the entire range of optical needs. But if you can afford just one optic, 8.5x might be it. It's a clever marketing thing. It exceeds the multitudes of 8x on the market in one sense.

There is nothing wrong with open bridge design, in my view. I think Zeiss SF copied the EL design, successfully, building on the success of the EL platform. I know it's in jest since Zeiss had open bridge design 100 years ago. Whatever decision one makes must be made based on superficial reasons. Nothing fundamental. Eyecups, armor color, weight, etc.
 

Aquaplas

Active member
Austria
No, it doesn't. The 5 extra degrees are hardly noticeable. The difference in the lost FOV is made up by the more narrow FOV that is in sharper focus.
8.5x resolves more and reaches farther than 8x with the slight reduction in FOV, you can't have one vs the other. That is obvious and to be expected.

I comparet the SV 8,5x42 with the NL 8x42. And with the right Eyecoup setting the 69 Degree Fov is a other Dimensien!!!! You cant compare that. 159 Meters Field of View is such a noticable Difference that i picket up the NL and forgot the SV. Also the Zeiss with his 64 Degrees is for me an other Impression comparet to the 8,5 SV. I have a SLC 8x42 to, who is much cheaper than the other Binos. Its a great Bino. But the Impression of the View is comparable to the 8,5SV. Is only 60 Degrees......
I think the New NL, and before the SF are another Generation of Binos with the wiede Field of View.

I've had the EL and SF side by side. I cannot tell any difference in picture quality other than EL is a bit warmer and the SF is more natural.

I can tell you i comparet the SF with all Svaros exactli and the coloration differences are big. But you cant see it in all lightning conditions. The SF has a other Transmission curve then the Swaros. In some lights the Swaros are more clear, the whites are more clean, and in other light conditons the SF looks more clean and very bright. This are things you will notice when you ar out in the field with both of this awesome Instruments and compare it Side by Side. Only one day with most same light Conditions will not show you this fine "Secrets"
 

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