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

Swarovski 10x42 NLs – a day in the field (1 Viewer)

John Cantelo

Well-known member
A number of people have commented about these bins but nobody (I think) has described what they’re like to use actually birding in the field. As a preamble, I’d say that I’m no optics expert but I’ve been birding (with binoculars!) for 60 odd years. In that period I’ve used both 10x & 8x bins (although for the last c30 years only the latter). I originally opted for 8x for the wider FoV and to avoid any handshake (not a huge problem for me but an occasional irritation). However, using a friend’s 10x42 Zeiss Conquest in Spain (where I do much of my birding) last year I found I really appreciated the greater magnification when watching raptors so began to consider a change back to 10x. My initial intention was to get a pair for £800-1000 but a critical birthday last week, an unexpected windfall and a better than expected trade-in for my Zeiss FL 8x42s (collectively amounting to 50% of the price) persuaded me consider the NLs.

So, when my local store (Canterbury Camera Exchange) called to say that they had a pair on 02/10 I lost no time in having a look. The first thing to impress me was the superb ergonomics. In a brief direct comparison in dull light with the Swarovski 10x42 ELs the newer binoculars appeared to have a ‘crisper’ image but so marginally so that it wouldn’t be apparent in anything other than a direct comparison. However, the wider FoV was obvious right from the get-go. I was sold & so were the binoculars.

The first challenge I faced was putting the neck strap on the binoculars via an absurdly over-designed and very fiddly attachment. This required a combination of grip & pressure my fingers (post several operations on my hands) no longer possess. Embarrassed, I returned to the (fortunately) nearby store for them to do the honours and left 25 minutes later far less embarrassed as it had taken them that long to do the job (despite regularly selling Swarovski bins) with one attachment being particularly obdurate. (Moral: if in doubt get the seller to do it). The strap's length could be adjusted very easily but, as I like a short strap to a belly bouncer, I found the excess strap dangling irritatingly beside the binoculars. On other binoculars I’ve simply cut off the end but terminating with a nice rubber lug I hesitate to do so (at this price point removable & re-attachable ones would have been nice). The case was very well made and generously padded. Personally, I would have preferred the binoculars to be in a vertical position to a horizontal one but despite my misgivings, the arrangement felt quite secure. And so into the field ….

This morning on my regular autumnal stamping ground was wet, overcast and dull with, later in the afternoon, the odd bit of sunshine; ideal testing conditions. During the day my first impression of ergonomic excellence was repeatedly confirmed. There was none of that ‘searching for the best grip’ you often get with new bins as, guided by the seductive ‘coca-cola’ curves, your hands just fell into place. Similarly, your index finger seemed to naturally gravitate towards the focus wheel. In the hand, they instantly felt very comfortable and secure so much so that I had no problem holding them confidently with one hand. I suspect that with the additional anchor point of the forehead rest (evidently not available yet) you would be able to hold them as steady as most binoculars held with both hands. Depending on your dexterity, this should free the remaining hand to use a mobile, scribble notes & eat sandwiches (vital if you find a rarity in your lunch break!) Despite my caveats regarding fitting the neck strap in use it proved to be well contoured and supremely comfortable. Both contributed to the instrument not feeling as heavy as the stats might lead you to expect. At 850g the NLs are almost 100g heavier than my old Zeiss and a mammoth 350g heavier than the Kite Lynx 8x30 I also use, but this weight helped keep the binoculars steady and didn’t prove a problem in use. However, some might find it so or want to use a harness. The diopter was easily adjusted but not readily accidentally moved. My only gripe in terms of functionality was that it was all too easy to loosen the rim of the eye-cup while trying to adjust the eye relief. As my increasingly problematical distance vision means I’m currently experimenting with using bins with/without glasses this was sometimes irritating but others content with using the same setting won’t find it a problem.

Optically (of course) they were superb. They were sharp pretty much edge to edge (but how much time do we really spend peering at the edge of the view?). Even at the extremes, there was little distortion and the field was indeed flat so that vertical lines remained (very nearly) vertical right to the edge. What else did you expect? Trading up from 8x the most striking thing was that I felt no loss of FoV which is hardly surprising as my 8x42s had a FoV of 135 @ 1000m and the NLs FoV is 133m @ 1000m (although my Kite Lynx 8x30 FoV is a stellar 151 @100m). When using them with glasses I found that the FoV was still better then in most 10x binoculars. For me, this was a critical consideration. At 2m the close focus was more than sufficient in usual field use and would only make a devoted insect watcher pause for reflection. As for chromatic distortion (to which, admittedly, I am not particularly sensitive), I could only see a minimal amount and then only at the very edge of the field if I actively looked for it; in short, I thought it as well controlled as any binocular I’ve ever peered through). I did note some flare at one point during the day but I didn’t find it a serious problem (although others might). On such a wet day the hydrophobic coatings really came into their own too.

So the bottom line is that these were undoubtedly the most ergonomically sound binoculars I’ve ever used and their optical refinement was as good as it gets. If a generous FoV in a 10x binocular is important to you then they have no peer but, alternatively, if having a lightweight pair of 42 mm bins is a priority then you might prefer to look elsewhere. Similarly, if you’re happy to sacrifice that last few % of optical excellence then an instrument at a third (or even a quarter) of the price will serve you more than well enough. Certainly, if you don't mind a narrower FoV then the Swarovski 10x42 ELs will give you much the same view for much less (as will various other Alpha glasses). However, if you have the cash burning a hole in your pocket and your really can’t do with anything but the best then these are the bins for you.
 
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NZbinodude

Well-known member
Great write up.

I like the extra heft of the NL's. Paired with the 'coca-cola' curves (as you so wonderfully put it), the binos anchor themselves to your hands.
 
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John Cantelo

Well-known member
Yes they're optically terrific but they're not magical as even they didn't get me on to a Y-B Warbler today. My duff hearing was just good enough to pick up the call but too poor to get any directional sense of exactly where it was coming from exactly so scanning the canopy (I think it was above me) proved unsuccessful. However if I had seen it then I'm sure they would have provided the best possible view!
 

dwever

Well-known member
A In a brief direct comparison in dull light with the Swarovski 10x42 ELs the newer binoculars appeared to have a ‘crisper’ image but so marginally so that it wouldn’t be apparent in anything other than a direct comparison.

Certainly, if you don't mind a narrower FoV then the Swarovski 10x42 ELs will give you much the same view for much less (as will various other Alpha glasses).

Nice review.

1. Must be a EL sample variance as in the 10X NL / EL comparison I experienced, the difference in crispness was more than marginal, and the difference in contrast pronounced.

2. Depending what is meant by, “much less”, the EL’s are only about 12% less in Sportsman’s Warehouse here in Alaska. $2,689 vs. $3,029. And the 10X is in stock in Anchorage, Wasilla, and Fairbanks’s I contacted all 3 in search of the 8X.
 

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b_reynolds_ak

Well-known member
Nice review.

1. Must be a EL sample variance as in the 10X NL / EL comparison I experienced, the difference in crispness was more than marginal, and the difference in contrast pronounced.

2. Depending what is meant by, “much less”, the EL’s are only about 12% less in Sportsman’s Warehouse here in Alaska. $2,689 vs. $3,029. And the 10X is in stock in Anchorage, Wasilla, and Fairbanks’s I contacted all 3 in search of the 8X.


So Sportsmans and Cabela's here in Alaska will price match the new lower prices, so your only looking at $2160 ish for the 8.5 or 10x42's. Cabela's in S Anchorage has a 8.5x42 EL if you're interested. Also Bass Pro has the 8.5x42, but the model they have on display has a focuser that is definitely not as nice as it should be, its quite rough going to the left. Cabela's wont list that they have them in stock, but if you go in there in person, they are right in the case. I know, because I ordered the 8.5's and a pair of 10x32 El's and returned them, so there they sit haha
 
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ajfossey

Registered User
Supporter
...additional anchor point of the forehead rest (evidently not available yet) you would be able to hold them as steady as most binoculars held with both hands.

Nice evaluation John. Sounds like you’re enjoying them. Following my purchase, I’ve found them to be a worthwhile investment choosing the x8 option due to having not long ago obtained the 10x42 Zeiss FL that I’d also like to continue using.

On the x8, having obtained the headrest I was unsurprised to find it offered no real valuable difference to me in obtaining a steady image. This may of course change as I get older!

The ergonomics, depth of field, wide field of view and absolute clarity are standout features for me along with the ease of use as a glasses wearer. I also found the straps initially difficult to fit but found pushing the pins fully through the strap lugs prior to fitting to the binoculars helped considerably.

Happily they were also instrumental yesterday in helping me find a Yellow-browed Warbler at Faversham Creek giving me the briefest, yet clearest view for albeit a fraction of a second! Hopefully a longer view will follow this afternoon.
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Nice review.

1. Must be a EL sample variance as in the 10X NL / EL comparison I experienced, the difference in crispness was more than marginal, and the difference in contrast pronounced.

2. Depending what is meant by, “much less”, the EL’s are only about 12% less in Sportsman’s Warehouse here in Alaska. $2,689 vs. $3,029. And the 10X is in stock in Anchorage, Wasilla, and Fairbanks’s I contacted all 3 in search of the 8X.

I think it's more likely to be a case of me understating the difference. The contrast is certainly better but not sufficient to be a deal-breaker or make any real-word difference in their functionality. The price differential here in the UK is more substantial I think.
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Another day out in the field with the NLs again confirmed what a delight the wider FoV is particularly when used with glasses on since the FoV remained better than most 1042s. I am also rethinking my former contention that edge to edge sharpness isn't that important - it helped me pick birds up when scanning foliage into which one had vanished. The contrast & sharpness are certainly superb.
 
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 Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
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