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Leica v Swarovski v Zeiss … and Kowa (1 Viewer)

Micealh

Member
Ireland
Leica v Swarovski v Zeiss … and Kowa

I’ve watched the discussions on alpha bins for a few weeks, having put aside some of my pension for going-on two years. Yesterday I finally managed to try and buy some new bins at a well-known birders’ shop in East Anglia, UK. Price wasn’t going to be critical, although I decided that I would only go for the NLs if I were sure they are the best.

Context: I’m not a physicist and I’m a crap birder. So my perspective might be of interest, at least to non-physicists and crap birders. I’m almost 63, with fairly normal eyesight deterioration. I couldn’t read without glasses but I drive and watch footie without specs. I was looking for one pair of all-rounders, which will be my birding companion until I need a carer to wipe the saliva off my chin every few minutes. I live in the north-west of Ireland, where the conditions can be challenging, but I spend a fair part of each year in Italy and the Mediterranean, where conditions are the opposite. Last week I was observing Golden Oriole and Moltoni’s Warbler from an Italian balcony; yesterday I was testing £2,000+ bins under persistent rain and leaden skies.

My shortlist comprised Swarovski ELs and NLs, Zeiss Victory SF and Leica Noctivid. I tried these models in 8x42 and 10x42 variants (8.5x42 in the EL). I also tried a (much cheaper) wild card in the shape of the Kowa Genesis 8.5x44. They were tested by watching passerines at feeders 10 metres away, following birds in flight over longer distances and by watching a hovering kestrel and various corvids against the sky. Caveat: what follows are my impressions, not verifiable data.

I’m not as concerned as some reviewers about off-centre sharpness. I try to view the object in the middle of the glasses and I’ve always assumed most people would. I wanted a decent field of view, something that would help, for example, when chasing that acrocephalus warbler I accidentally flush, as it disappears into the reeds. However, my biggest anxiety was chromatic aberration. Checking out plumage details of European raptors from below is hard work for me, and purple outlines don’t help at all. Those were my priorities as I started.

The Kowas offered a beautifully bright and rich image; they really weren’t out of their depth in this company. The ELs were, to my eyes, the least exciting and I felt they lacked some sharpness. The Zeiss felt true and natural, if a little less vivid than the Kowas, NLs and Noctivid. The NLs were bright, crisp, rich and beautiful. There was one slight problem, though. Regular readers of these threads will know what’s coming. At the bottom of the view were small, hazy crescents with what looked like raindrops beading in their midst. I tried to adjust my view and did manage to reduce this effect. I couldn’t eliminate it entirely and, once seen, it couldn’t be wished away. This really spoiled what was otherwise a fabulous view. The view through the Noctivids was also rich and sharp. Having read about their susceptibility to chromatic aberration I checked extra hard with these and found some, only when the object (a flying corvid) turned in a certain direction in relation to the light. Having considered optical performance I had discounted two: the ELs and the NLs. ‘Unbelievable Jeff’, as a certain football commentator says.

I assumed that optical performance would define my purchase, so I was surprised that ergonomics and other factors became important in my deliberations. Eye relief was fine on all except the Kowas. I found that I could use the Zeiss, in particular, just as well either with or without glasses. Dioptre setting should be a one-time issue and it was on the Zeiss, Leica and Kowa. I was surprised at how poor and fiddly it was on the Swarovskis, in comparison. The ELs were also eliminated for their ergonomics as they didn’t sit well, either in my hands or up to my face. The NLs were lovely, the squashed barrels helping them settle comfortably and intuitively in the ‘right’ way for me. The only other ones that had a similar feel were the Zeiss. They were finely balanced and light, too. The drawback with the Zeiss was, as I expected, the eyecups. The eye-relief stops were mushy and almost impossible to locate on the demo pair. On optical performance I thought the Kowas were good to save me a thousand quid. However, the focus wheel was ridiculously stiff and the tubes felt like a couple of house bricks in my hands. They were eliminated.

I was left with the Leicas (my pre-test ‘binoculars least likely’) and the Zeiss. My heart said Leica. They were lovely to look through. My head said Zeiss. Although they didn’t offer quite as delightful an image as the Leicas, they were lighter and more pleasing in the hand. Yet they were considerably longer than the Leicas, whose compactness I appreciated. Decisions, decisions.

I agonised for ages and chose the Zeiss. I paid £250 more for them than the Leicas would have cost. The eyecups were better (still not the best) on the pair I actually took away with me.

A couple of other thoughts. If you’re on a tighter budget than I was fortunate to have, the Kowas are a fantastic buy. Easily the best value on test. If the NLs didn’t have the glare issue, they would have been the ones. The field of view was incredible and the image was great, apart from that deal-breaker. For most buyers this will probably not be an issue, so get saving. Chromatic aberration was not as big an issue with the Leicas as I had feared. I loved the image and the compactness. They were nearly the ones. The field of view on the Zeiss 8x42 was appreciably better (obviously) than at 10x and for a lot of people these might well be the better Zeiss. I couldn’t ween myself off 10x. As so many other people have said, these are all great bins and in fine you have to try them for yourself. However, even at these prices, none of them were perfect. Some of the things I have read on these pages were borne out by my own experience and others weren’t. I hope this has been of interest to other non-physicists and crap birders who are considering buying very dear binoculars.

Later in the evening I learned that my daughter had ‘dropped’ my first grandchild. She lives in Manchester and thought naming him Jürgen might be a bit of a handicap as he grows up (non-British and non-Irish readers might struggle with that reference). But it was quite a day. As Van Morrison wrote, I never thought there’d be days like this.
 
Last edited:
Leica v Swarovski v Zeiss … and Kowa

I’ve watched the discussions on alpha bins for a few weeks, having put aside some of my pension for going-on two years. Yesterday I finally managed to try and buy some new bins at a well-known birders’ shop in East Anglia, UK. Price wasn’t going to be critical, although I decided that I would only go for the NLs if I were sure they are the best.

Context: I’m not a physicist and I’m a crap birder. So my perspective might be of interest, at least to non-physicists and crap birders. I’m almost 63, with fairly normal eyesight deterioration. I couldn’t read without glasses but I drive and watch footie without specs. I was looking for one pair of all-rounders, which will be my birding companion until I need a carer to wipe the saliva off my chin every few minutes. I live in the north-west of Ireland, where the conditions can be challenging, but I spend a fair part of each year in Italy and the Mediterranean, where conditions are the opposite. Last week I was observing Golden Oriole and Moltoni’s Warbler from an Italian balcony; yesterday I was testing £2,000+ bins under persistent rain and leaden skies.

My shortlist comprised Swarovski ELs and NLs, Zeiss Victory SF and Leica Noctivid. I tried these models in 8x42 and 10x42 variants (8.5x42 in the EL). I also tried a (much cheaper) wild card in the shape of the Kowa Genesis 8.5x44. They were tested by watching passerines at feeders 10 metres away, following birds in flight over longer distances and by watching a hovering kestrel and various corvids against the sky. Caveat: what follows are my impressions, not verifiable data.

I’m not as concerned as some reviewers about off-centre sharpness. I try to view the object in the middle of the glasses and I’ve always assumed most people would. I wanted a decent field of view, something that would help, for example, when chasing that acrocephalus warbler I accidentally flush, as it disappears into the reeds. However, my biggest anxiety was chromatic aberration. Checking out plumage details of European raptors from below is hard work for me, and purple outlines don’t help at all. Those were my priorities as I started.

The Kowas offered a beautifully bright and rich image; they really weren’t out of their depth in this company. The ELs were, to my eyes, the least exciting and I felt they lacked some sharpness. The Zeiss felt true and natural, if a little less vivid than the Kowas, NLs and Noctivid. The NLs were bright, crisp, rich and beautiful. There was one slight problem, though. Regular readers of these threads will know what’s coming. At the bottom of the view were small, hazy crescents with what looked like raindrops beading in their midst. I tried to adjust my view and did manage to reduce this effect. I couldn’t eliminate it entirely and, once seen, it couldn’t be wished away. This really spoiled what was otherwise a fabulous view. The view through the Noctivids was also rich and sharp. Having read about their susceptibility to chromatic aberration I checked extra hard with these and found some, only when the object (a flying corvid) turned in a certain direction in relation to the light. Having considered optical performance I had discounted two: the ELs and the NLs. ‘Unbelievable Jeff’, as a certain football commentator says.

I assumed that optical performance would define my purchase, so I was surprised that ergonomics and other factors became important in my deliberations. Eye relief was fine on all except the Kowas. I found that I could use the Zeiss, in particular, just as well either with or without glasses. Dioptre setting should be a one-time issue and it was on the Zeiss, Leica and Kowa. I was surprised at how poor and fiddly it was on the Swarovskis, in comparison. The ELs were also eliminated for their ergonomics as they didn’t sit well, either in my hands or up to my face. The NLs were lovely, the squashed barrels helping them settle comfortably and intuitively in the ‘right’ way for me. The only other ones that had a similar feel were the Zeiss. They were finely balanced and light, too. The drawback with the Zeiss was, as I expected, the eyecups. The eye-relief stops were mushy and almost impossible to locate on the demo pair. On optical performance I thought the Kowas were good to save me a thousand quid. However, the focus wheel was ridiculously stiff and the tubes felt like a couple of house bricks in my hands. They were eliminated.

I was left with the Leicas (my pre-test ‘binoculars least likely’) and the Zeiss. My heart said Leica. They were lovely to look through. My head said Zeiss. Although they didn’t offer quite as delightful an image as the Leicas, they were lighter and more pleasing in the hand. Yet they were considerably longer than the Leicas, whose compactness I appreciated. Decisions, decisions.

I agonised for ages and chose the Zeiss. I paid £250 more for them than the Leicas would have cost. The eyecups were better (still not the best) on the pair I actually took away with me.

A couple of other thoughts. If you’re on a tighter budget than I was fortunate to have, the Kowas are a fantastic buy. Easily the best value on test. If the NLs didn’t have the glare issue, they would have been the ones. The field of view was incredible and the image was great, apart from that deal-breaker. For most buyers this will probably not be an issue, so get saving. Chromatic aberration was not as big an issue with the Leicas as I had feared. I loved the image and the compactness. They were nearly the ones. The field of view on the Zeiss 8x42 was appreciably better (obviously) than at 10x and for a lot of people these might well be the better Zeiss. I couldn’t ween myself off 10x. As so many other people have said, these are all great bins and in fine you have to try them for yourself. However, even at these prices, none of them were perfect. Some of the things I have read on these pages were borne out by my own experience and others weren’t. I hope this has been of interest to other non-physicists and crap birders who are considering buying very dear binoculars.

Later in the evening I learned that my daughter had ‘dropped’ my first grandchild. She lives in Manchester and thought naming him Jürgen might be a bit of a handicap as he grows up (non-British and non-Irish readers might struggle with that reference). But it was quite a day. As Van Morrison wrote, I never thought there’d be days like this.

Interesting. Nice to have another pair of eyes looking at the top options.

I have never spent enough time with the NL 8x to notice the glare issues that trouble many. The view was lovely but for me the Leica NV 8x has a slightly more natural & saturated colour and deeper contrast which elevates the image somehow. You pay for that with a narrower view (which doesn't matter to me and perhaps pans more smoothly) and a little more lateral CA unless you get your eyes exactly centred in which case the difference is tiny. The SF 8x handles beautifully but for me the colour is the least saturated of the 3 and missing a little at both red and blue ends of the spectrum.

For less money, the Meopta Meostar 10x42 HD and the Nikon EDG in both 8x and 10x would be in the same bracket of quality I think. Perhaps also the Swaro SLC/Kahles Helia S in 8x & 10x.
 

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