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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

Compared Swarovski EL 8.5x42 versus Zeiss 8x42 SF (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
Compared my 2008 era Swaro EL 8.5x42 to the first gen of Zeiss 8x42 SF that I got to replace the EL. I wanted a 8x42 for a long time.

These are some random and subjective and opinions from the real world, not a lab environment with numbers and charts and pictures.

I expected to be blown away by the SF and just the opposite happened, EL has a more impressive picture quality. Mostly due to the higher 0.5x it has over 8x42. But I specifically wanted a 8x42 device to decrease the shake, increase FOV and such.

8.5x42 EL has a greater reach - as expected and 8x42 SF has a bigger FOV and just as fine resolution, as expected. There is almost no difference in optical quality, if someone handed me one or another without me knowing which, I doubt I could tell. It seems Swarovski EL is a bit on the warmer side while Zeiss SF is a bit cooler, more true color. This contradicts the reviews I've seen, maybe it's how I see colors, I am colorblind in a very limited spectrum. Either color is impressive. I think I like Swaro's tint just a bit more but there is absolutely nothing wrong with SF.

So picture quality-wise, it's a draw.

Therefore one's decision has to be made by superficial factors. Here they are:

What I like about Swarovski over Zeiss:
Better armor, feels better and feels more expensive, after over a decade of use, looks like new. Zeiss feels cheap. It seems to work just as well but EL looks more refined in that area.

What I like about Zeiss SF over Swaro EL:
Eyecups. They extend further, have more positions, feel more solid. I had the rubber piece disintegrate on the EL but it was a moot point since I ended up replacing the stock EL eyecups with eyecups from an SLC. Why? Because the stock EL eyecups don't extend high enough to accommodate the huge ER of the ELs. They are too short and I get blackouts. It's just incredible that such a major player as Swaro had such a major flaw. It seems like the binoculars were designed by one team and they did a superb job optically, A+, and then handed it off to another team that designed the undersized, i.e. too short eyecups and an equally stupid eyecups cover contraption.
It's an easy fix, you can install SLC 8x56 eyecups but one should not have to do that.

SF is lighter and a bit bigger. 3 hinges versus 2. Seems they took the EL's design and improved upon it.

What I dislike about both:

Fast focus. I wish both would slow down! I get the reason for fast focus but I like to have a bit more precision when dialing in focus versus speed. I get a bit irritated when I overshoot and have to dial back in the direction I came from. With slow focus that does not happen.

What I like about both:

Diopter correction at infinity: -6 diopters. If you have minus 5 (in both eyes so the diopter correction is irrelevant) like me, you are unable to use great optical devices like Leica which only goes to -4. I really like Leica, it's magnificent and to be perfectly honest, would probably be my first choice if not for this deal-breaker. But, I run out of adjustment and thus am forced to use eyeglasses with any Leica binocular, which I hate, or contacts, which I prefer not to use. But both Swaro EL and Zeiss SF thankfully have enough overdrive past infinity to accommodate about -5. If they didn't, it would be a major deal breaker and I would have to look elsewhere, like Nikon or GPO.

Things that are irrelevant:

Zeiss SF has a closer focus distance. Not going to compare the numbers, but it seems like just a few feet. Useful if you want to count fleas on a butterfly 6 feet away. Not very useful if you do astronomy. Close focus is the latest fad, like fast focus, makes no difference to me at best.

After 13 years of use, the EL looks mint. The build quality is excellent and I have no idea if SF will hold up just as well.

To summarize, if you have the 2008 era EL, there is no good reason upgrade it to the SF. There are no improvements in brightness or contrast or anything optics wise that are apparent (there may be, but they are not obvious to me). When I upgraded from the Trinovid BN to the EL, it had a number of obvious improvements.

I am going to upgrade from the EL to the SF only because I don't like 8.5x as much as 8x and my idea is to get two devices, the second most likely being Swarovksi 10x56, meaning there is no longer a reason to own a single 8.5x. If you must have just one alpha brand, it's hard to envision a better choice than 8.5x42 EL, because it has a slight "advantage" over all the other 8x models and the greater throw it has overrides the slightly smaller FOV and such. Yet 8.5 is more practical than 10x. 8.5 EL - they strike a nice balance. I ran the EL and SF side by side and the increased power and reach of EL is more impressive than wider FOV and less shake of SF. EL might be a better birding binocular but SF might be a better all-purpose binocular and I spend a lot more time on astronomy than birding. It's not so much the issue of EL versus SF as it's 8.5x versus 8x, in any brand.

8.5x is a great all purpose choice but it makes no sense to own both 8.5x and 10x. I think 10x and 8x makes more sense as a pair.

My next choice is 10x56 SLC. While I like how 10x50 EL looks optically, the model lost a full 1 diopter of correction at infinity, now it's only -5 versus -6 that 8.5xEL has, which makes no sense at all. I like Swarovksi but the options they have are very questionable. Like the new "Pure" has no 10x50 option. Really?
The 10x56SLC has a full 8 diopters of correction at infinity for those of us blind as bats. I have a feeling it will vastly improve upon either 8x42 SF or 8.5x EL.

I have no experience with post-2008 EL models but the 2008 EL, pre-SV is world-class and hasn't been superseded yet by other models in the same 42mm objective configuration. No way to get a quantum leap without going to 56mm or such.


I think you'll like SLC 10x56 a lot, though you may find its eyecups inadequate also. I find I have to tweak them by dialing back clockwise a little from the top position, "down" but they really go up an extra bit first, and that makes them just deep enough for me, though I'm tempted now to try those 8x56 eyecups which might be even better.
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia

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