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Swarovski NL vs Zeiss SF: a personal comparison of two 8x32s. (1 Viewer)

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Troubador

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IMG_5309.JPG

Thanks to Birdforum member Jan van Daalen, I have had the use of a Swarovski NL 8x32 during the past few weeks and have been able to compare them with my own Zeiss SF 8x32. Here is what I discovered.

The NL comes with that curiously sculptured shape and I was intrigued to find out how useful it would feel during active nature observation, as opposed to how it feels when trying it out in an armchair. Well, I didn’t arrive at any firm conclusions about this as at various times my reaction was ‘this feels odd’, ‘it’s nice to have more room for my thumbs’, and ‘I prefer the SF’s bigger diameter tubes that give me a more secure grip’. I alternated between these findings and never really decided on a final judgement, although I suppose you could argue that the waisted-shape of NL didn’t prove to be an unambiguous improvement for me.

Physically, I wouldn’t want a 32mm to be much heavier than the NL and neither would I like one to be much longer than the SF.

Before moving on to the optics I should mention that the NL has 6 eyecup positions compared to SF’s 4 which gives it an advantage when adjusting the eyecups to see the full field of view while avoiding black-outs. However I found it baffling that Swarovski have chosen to site the dioptre scale on the underside of the hinge, as this means that for some observers, their IPD setting will mean they cannot see the zero position of the dioptre scale and so cannot see their own setting. They would have to destroy their IPD setting in order to reset the dioptre in the event of it having been moved accidently. Observers who believe the IPD is critical to binocular performance and who would normally never change this once they have set it, will find this particularly annoying. See the photo below on the left, which shows NL set to my own 58.5mm IPD and the fact that I cannot see the zero mark to check or reset my dioptre without destroying my IPD setting.

One thing was very clear from the outset and that is that both of these models have fabulous optics, sharp across the field of view and very well-controlled chromatic aberration. I did notice that NL produced a slightly brighter image than SF, and this was especially clear when looking at white objects. The NL’s white was simply whiter. Having said that it would be wrong to say the SF’s image was perceptibly dull.

This extra brightness of NL (combined with a greater choice of eyecup positions) would seem to put NL into a commanding lead in this comparison, but in the world of binoculars things are never so simple.

Take a look at the photo below, on the right, and here you can see the suburban scene outside our house. Note how the brightness of the low winter sun is just visible around the corner of our next-door neighbour’s bay window. More or less in the centre of the pic is the side of large house in the distance and on it, high up near the roof, is a white-framed window. From the same position as the photographer I looked through both models at this window (so fairly close to the sun), both with and without spectacles, to assess them for glare, which is what we call non-image-forming light. Cutting a long story short, whereas SF showed only a small area of glare (which was transparent), NL produced large areas (up to 50% of the field of view) of milky glare which could be made better or worse by small movements of the binocular in relation to the observer’s eyes. While the circumstances of my investigating the production of glare in these models could be described as ‘artificial’ I contend that viewing towards strong sunlight (but never directly at it) often happens when looking at birds high in the sky, and a similar situation often occurs when observing over lakes and the sea with sunlight reflecting off the water. My experience with NL convinced me that the various complaints we have seen on Birdforum that NL is a ‘glare-monster’ do have a foundation in fact. The variability of these reports is also borne out by my findings that small changes in the position of the observer’s eyes in relation to the binocular’s exit pupil can have a big influence on the size of the area of the fov that is rendered useless by the glare. Spectacle wearers should note that unlike the eyecups fitted to SF, those on the NL slipped and slid around very easily on spectacle lenses from two different brands, making it all the more likely the NLs would easily move inadvertantly in field conditions and expose the glare.

In my opinion, at least as problematic as the glare issue, is NL’s speed of focusing. I have a standard test for estimating the focus speed of binoculars and that is to focus first on a building that is 4km (2.5 miles) away from our house, and then estimating the number of turns of the focus wheel it takes to refocus onto a point 2.0 metres from where I sit at my computer.

As a background, let me first use Zeiss HT 8x42 as an example. This model takes 1.2 turns on my test and I find this fast enough in Scotland and in most of England given the biodiversity (number of species of birds, dragonflies and butterflies etc.) in these areas. In a few places in England and certainly in the big wetland habitats in mainland Europe (where the biodiversity is much higher than in the UK) such as De Groote Peel in the Netherlands and near Vendres and Narbonne in the Languedoc of Southern France, HT struggled to get me refocused from near to far and back again in time to capture views of small birds or dragonflies nearby followed by Harriers, Herons, Terns or Egrets in the distance and then back to a nearby butterfly. I was simply missing too many views of some of these as I was spending too much time pumping the focus wheel.

Now, NL 8x32 took 1.4 turns in my test (so is significantly slower than the HT) whereas the SF only took 1.1 turns, which is a small but useful improvement compared with HT. For me, the SF’s speed is a good balance between speed (in some habitats) and precision of focus (in other places), but the NL, with a focus speed around 30% slower, is simply too slow for me. Of course other observers in other places may have a quite different opinion.

Finally, I found the rainguard too tight around the eyecups, making it tricky to get it on and off quickly in the rain. Moreover, when pulling off the rainguard it quite often pulled up one of the eyecups out of position. And as for the Field Pro strap, it seems perversely complicated to me but at least Swarovski include adaptors to allow a standard strap to be fitted.

Overall then, my take on NL 8x32 is that it is a flawed model with great optics let down by its tendency to glare and the slowness of its focus. For now SF 8x32 remains the top choice of my binos.

Lee


IMG_5306.JPG IMG_5329.JPG
 
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Torview

Well-known member
You were very lucky to have both to try at home Lee, nice to read your findings.

I had a chance to try both side by side at Titchwell the other week, I still can`t account for why but I found the SF slightly underwhelming compared to my 42, there was nothing that would introduce glare on the day I tried them, but I found the NL slightly brighter and a little sharper/contrastier.

John.
 

Troubador

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You were very lucky to have both to try at home Lee, nice to read your findings.

I had a chance to try both side by side at Titchwell the other week, I still can`t account for why but I found the SF slightly underwhelming compared to my 42, there was nothing that would introduce glare on the day I tried them, but I found the NL slightly brighter and a little sharper/contrastier.

John.
Thanks John. I was so happy with the SF 8x32s when I got them that I sold both SF42s to get the SF10x32! Never regretted that for a moment.

Lee
 

Conndomat

United States of Europe
Ukraine
Hello Lee,

Thanks for the comparison!

I only know the 42 models, to make it short, the SF is ahead in terms of balance, feel, focuser and insight, the NL is better in terms of optics, except for the suppression of stray light, both binoculars are excellent in their own way.

Andreas
 

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
My general opinion of the SF and NL across all formats mirrors yours nearly exactly. They are both excellent. In conditions without glare, the NL at times impresses as a bit more brilliant and neutral. But it is more prone to glare. The eye cups lock more positively on the NL and have more positions, but they are narrow enough that they are less comfortable than the SF. For ergonomics, I prefer the SF. I find the Fieldpro system cumbersome and unnecessary, but I can live with it. The integrated objective covers are also unnecessary and I dislike the little rubber piece you have to put in if you don't use the objective covers (thankfully I've not lost mine yet). And yes, the rainguard fits far too tightly. Even after a year, I have to correct the position of the eyecups on my NL multiple times per day due to the exceedingly tight fitting rainguard pulling/twisting/pushing them out of position.

In great light, the NL does look a bit better. But when used day after day in the field, the SF is a much more ergonomic and useful tool without the limitations of the NL.
 

henry link

Well-known member
Excellent comparison, Lee.

I think all your criticisms of the 8x32 are valid and apply equally to the 8x42, except for glare resistance. I've found that the 8x42's glare can be reduced to near extinction with careful initial adjustment the eyecup length and the IPD settings. The small exit pupils of 8x32 and especially the 10x32 will inevitably allow more glare to enter the eye.

I suppose like almost everyone I hate the look of the Field Pro system. From day one I installed the adapter lugs for standard straps and now find the ability to rotate the lugs actually has a little advantage when a harness strap becomes twisted.

Henry
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Excellent comparison, Lee.

I think all your criticisms of the 8x32 are valid and apply equally to the 8x42, except for glare resistance. I've found that the 8x42's glare can be reduced to near extinction with careful initial adjustment the eyecup length and the IPD settings. The small exit pupils of 8x32 and especially the 10x32 will inevitably allow more glare to enter the eye.

I suppose like almost everyone I hate the look of the Field Pro system. From day one I installed the adapter lugs for standard straps and now find the ability to rotate the lugs actually has a little advantage when a harness strap becomes twisted.

Henry
Thank you Henry, and also for your additional comments.

Lee
 

[email protected]

Well-known member
Supporter
I tried all four of the new alpha 32 mm's. The Zeiss SF 8x32 and 10x32 and the Swarovski NL 8x32 and 10x32. Firstly, these four are the finest birding binoculars I have ever used optically and ergonomically. When I tried them, I had more veiling glare in both the Zeiss SF 8x32 and the Swarovski NL 8x32 than I did the Zeiss SF 10x32 or Swarovski NL 10x32. Of the two 10x32's, I had a little less glare in the NL 10x32 than I did the SF 10x32. In fact, I had much more glare in the Swarovski NL 8x42 than I did the NL 10x32. I chose the NL 10x32 for that reason, plus I felt it was slightly brighter and had a little better contrast and transparency than the Zeiss. Overall, the optics were IMO a little better in the NL 10x32. You can not just say arbitrarily that a smaller exit pupil will allow more glare to enter the eye. What you have to remember about glare is it is very dependent on the eye sockets and eyes of the person using the binocular. Everybodies eyes are different, and even the way the light hits your cones and rods in your retina will determine if you see glare or not in different binoculars. You have to try the binocular yourself to see if you are going to experience glare or not. Here is an interesting story about how some people see glare and others don't in the same binocular from Allbinos concerning the fabulous Swarovski SV 10x50. I usually go with an 8x32, but in this group I found the 10x32's to be better performers because of less glare and their huge AFOV. Swarovski and Zeiss seemed to have made eye placement problems a thing of the past in these newer 32 mm alphas because eye placement is very easy even with the 10x32. I typically don't like a 10x32 because of difficult eye placement, but I didn't experience it with any of these binoculars. Also, even on the 10x32, I have no difficulty with low light performance. Actually, the 10x32 performs better in low light than the 8x32 because of the Twilight Factor! You can see more detail. Ergonomically I found either the Zeiss SF or the Swarovski NL excellent with both of them having superb smooth focusers and the focus speed on the NL is perfect for me because I prefer a slower focus especially when the on-axis view is so sharp that you need to approach the focus slowly to get the sharpest view, or you will go past prime focus.

 
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Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
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the focus speed on the NL is perfect for me because I prefer a slower focus especially when the on-axis view is so sharp that you need to approach the focus slowly to get the sharpest view, or you will go past prime focus.
Yes Dennis but there is fast focus, a medium focus, a slow focus and glacial focus :) and I think NL 8x32 is glacial. I would describe SF32 as medium not fast. Fast to me would be FL8x32 or Conquest HD 8x32 which are twice as fast as SF.
Way back in the 1970s I remember reading a recommendation to always, when focusing, focus towards closer distances and just go past the point of prime focus and then come slowly back. I can recommend this method.

Lee
 

mulligatawny owl

Well-known member
You were very lucky to have both to try at home Lee, nice to read your findings.

I had a chance to try both side by side at Titchwell the other week, I still can`t account for why but I found the SF slightly underwhelming compared to my 42, there was nothing that would introduce glare on the day I tried them, but I found the NL slightly brighter and a little sharper/contrastier.

John.
Same here. I much preferred my SF 8x42 to the 32 I tested the other day and saw some glare intruding on the FOV in comparison to the super clean view of the NL. I put it down to less eye relief for my glasses than I like.
 

Canip

Well-known member
View attachment 1426033

Thanks to Birdforum member Jan van Daalen, I have had the use of a Swarovski NL 8x32 during the past few weeks and have been able to compare them with my own Zeiss SF 8x32. Here is what I discovered.

The NL comes with that curiously sculptured shape and I was intrigued to find out how useful it would feel during active nature observation, as opposed to how it feels when trying it out in an armchair. Well, I didn’t arrive at any firm conclusions about this as at various times my reaction was ‘this feels odd’, ‘it’s nice to have more room for my thumbs’, and ‘I prefer the SF’s bigger diameter tubes that give me a more secure grip’. I alternated between these findings and never really decided on a final judgement, although I suppose you could argue that the waisted-shape of NL didn’t prove to be an unambiguous improvement for me.

Physically, I wouldn’t want a 32mm to be much heavier than the NL and neither would I like one to be much longer than the SF.

Before moving on to the optics I should mention that the NL has 6 eyecup positions compared to SF’s 4 which gives it an advantage when adjusting the eyecups to see the full field of view while avoiding black-outs. However I found it baffling that Swarovski have chosen to site the dioptre scale on the underside of the hinge, as this means that for some observers, their IPD setting will mean they cannot see the zero position of the dioptre scale and so cannot see their own setting. They would have to destroy their IPD setting in order to reset the dioptre in the event of it having been moved accidently. Observers who believe the IPD is critical to binocular performance and who would normally never change this once they have set it, will find this particularly annoying. See the photo below on the left, which shows NL set to my own 58.5mm IPD and the fact that I cannot see the zero mark to check or reset my dioptre without destroying my IPD setting.

One thing was very clear from the outset and that is that both of these models have fabulous optics, sharp across the field of view and very well-controlled chromatic aberration. I did notice that NL produced a slightly brighter image than SF, and this was especially clear when looking at white objects. The NL’s white was simply whiter. Having said that it would be wrong to say the SF’s image was perceptibly dull.

This extra brightness of NL (combined with a greater choice of eyecup positions) would seem to put NL into a commanding lead in this comparison, but in the world of binoculars things are never so simple.

Take a look at the photo below, on the right, and here you can see the suburban scene outside our house. Note how the brightness of the low winter sun is just visible around the corner of our next-door neighbour’s bay window. More or less in the centre of the pic is the side of large house in the distance and on it, high up near the roof, is a white-framed window. From the same position as the photographer I looked through both models at this window (so fairly close to the sun), both with and without spectacles, to assess them for glare, which is what we call non-image-forming light. Cutting a long story short, whereas SF showed only a small area of glare (which was transparent), NL produced large areas (up to 50% of the field of view) of milky glare which could be made better or worse by small movements of the binocular in relation to the observer’s eyes. While the circumstances of my investigating the production of glare in these models could be described as ‘artificial’ I contend that viewing towards strong sunlight (but never directly at it) often happens when looking at birds high in the sky, and a similar situation often occurs when observing over lakes and the sea with sunlight reflecting off the water. My experience with NL convinced me that the various complaints we have seen on Birdforum that NL is a ‘glare-monster’ do have a foundation in fact. The variability of these reports is also borne out by my findings that small changes in the position of the observer’s eyes in relation to the binocular’s exit pupil can have a big influence on the size of the area of the fov that is rendered useless by the glare.

In my opinion, at least as problematic as the glare issue, is NL’s speed of focusing. I have a standard test for estimating the focus speed of binoculars and that is to focus first on a building that is 4km (2.5 miles) away from our house, and then estimating the number of turns of the focus wheel it takes to refocus onto a point 2.0 metres from where I sit at my computer.

As a background, let me first use Zeiss HT 8x42 as an example. This model takes 1.2 turns on my test and I find this fast enough in Scotland and in most of England given the biodiversity (number of species of birds, dragonflies and butterflies etc.) in these areas. In a few places in England and certainly in the big wetland habitats in mainland Europe (where the biodiversity is much higher than in the UK) such as De Groote Peel in the Netherlands and near Vendres and Narbonne in the Languedoc of Southern France, HT struggled to get me refocused from near to far and back again in time to capture views of small birds or dragonflies nearby followed by Harriers, Herons, Terns or Egrets in the distance and then back to a nearby butterfly. I was simply missing too many views of some of these as I was spending too much time pumping the focus wheel.

Now, NL 8x32 took 1.4 turns in my test (so is significantly slower than the HT) whereas the SF only took 1.1 turns, which is a small but useful improvement compared with HT. For me, the SF’s speed is a good balance between speed (in some habitats) and precision of focus (in other places), but the NL, with a focus speed around 30% slower, is simply too slow for me. Of course other observers in other places may have a quite different opinion.

Finally, I found the rainguard too tight around the eyecups, making it tricky to get it on and off quickly in the rain. Moreover, when pulling off the rainguard it quite often pulled up one of the eyecups out of position. And as for the Field Pro strap, it seems perversely complicated to me but at least Swarovski include adaptors to allow a standard strap to be fitted.

Overall then, my take on NL 8x32 is that it is a flawed model with great optics let down by its tendency to glare and the slowness of its focus. For now SF 8x32 remains the top choice of my binos.

Lee


View attachment 1426034 View attachment 1426035

Many thanks, Lee, also from my side, for your nice and interesting comparison!
I find many very valid points in there that I fully agree with (maybe Swarovski would find them valid too?) and also many, to quote yourself, where „other observers …. may have a quite different opinion.“
For you, the SF “wins“, whereas I clearly prefer the NL despite its „flaws“.
I generally much prefer 8x42 over 8x32. The NL is actually the only 8x32 where I feel a temptation to leave the 8x42 at home. With the SF, I would never give up the 8x42 for the 8x32.

fwiw Canip
 

[email protected]

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Yes Dennis but there is fast focus, a medium focus, a slow focus and glacial focus :) and I think NL 8x32 is glacial. I would describe SF32 as medium not fast. Fast to me would be FL8x32 or Conquest HD 8x32 which are twice as fast as SF.
Way back in the 1970s I remember reading a recommendation to always, when focusing, focus towards closer distances and just go past the point of prime focus and then come slowly back. I can recommend this method.

Lee
Glacial!:( Interesting word. The Zeiss Conquest HD does have a fast focuser. Good point, on going past the prime focus. I will have to try that.
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
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Many thanks, Lee, also from my side, for your nice and interesting comparison!
I find many very valid points in there that I fully agree with (maybe Swarovski would find them valid too?) and also many, to quote yourself, where „other observers …. may have a quite different opinion.“
For you, the SF “wins“, whereas I clearly prefer the NL despite its „flaws“.
I generally much prefer 8x42 over 8x32. The NL is actually the only 8x32 where I feel a temptation to leave the 8x42 at home. With the SF, I would never give up the 8x42 for the 8x32.

fwiw Canip
Thanks Canip and I hope you continue to enjoy your 8x42s in good health :) . I have very fond memories of my SF42s but because of my lung disease I have needed to reduce the weight I carry and I have been delighted by the performance of my 32s.

Lee
 
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[email protected]

Well-known member
Supporter
Many thanks, Lee, also from my side, for your nice and interesting comparison!
I find many very valid points in there that I fully agree with (maybe Swarovski would find them valid too?) and also many, to quote yourself, where „other observers …. may have a quite different opinion.“
For you, the SF “wins“, whereas I clearly prefer the NL despite its „flaws“.
I generally much prefer 8x42 over 8x32. The NL is actually the only 8x32 where I feel a temptation to leave the 8x42 at home. With the SF, I would never give up the 8x42 for the 8x32.

fwiw Canip
When it comes to these four alpha's, the Zeiss SF 8x32 and 10x32 and Swarovski NL 8x32 and 10x32, it just comes down to personal preference which you prefer. These are the four best birding binoculars for most people you can buy right now. Every binoculars fit's different people's eye sockets different, and all of our eyes are different with different rods and cones. For example, I preferred the Zeiss SF 8x32 over the 8x42 because I got orange crescents in the lower part of the FOV with the bigger 8x42. Glare is a personal thing, and it varies from person to person with different binoculars. I got bad glare in the Swarovski NL 8x42 but practically no glare in the NL 10x32 so that shoots Henry's theory about smaller exit pupil binoculars having more glare all to heck. It is not true! It depends on the PERSON if you see glare or not.
 

Hermann

Well-known member
Glare is a personal thing, and it varies from person to person with different binoculars. I got bad glare in the Swarovski NL 8x42 but practically no glare in the NL 10x32 so that shoots Henry's theory about smaller exit pupil binoculars having more glare all to heck. It is not true! It depends on the PERSON if you see glare or not.
No, glare is NOT a personal thing. If you believe that you're just fooling yourself. Sure, there will always be people who want to convince themselves there isn't any glare in a binocular they just got at great expense, but that's wishful thinking.

Hermann
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
When it comes to these four alpha's, the Zeiss SF 8x32 and 10x32 and Swarovski NL 8x32 and 10x32, it just comes down to personal preference which you prefer. These are the four best birding binoculars for most people you can buy right now. Every binoculars fit's different people's eye sockets different, and all of our eyes are different with different rods and cones. For example, I preferred the Zeiss SF 8x32 over the 8x42 because I got orange crescents in the lower part of the FOV with the bigger 8x42. Glare is a personal thing, and it varies from person to person with different binoculars. I got bad glare in the Swarovski NL 8x42 but practically no glare in the NL 10x32 so that shoots Henry's theory about smaller exit pupil binoculars having more glare all to heck. It is not true! It depends on the PERSON if you see glare or not.
During my experiments testing NL8x32 it was clear that even very small changes in the position of the EP relative to the observer's own pupils could make a huge difference to the extent of the glare that was present. It could make it much worse or much better and these results were repeatable time after time.
An observer who habitually positions the binos in one way may damn this model as a glare-monster, a different observer who habitually positions the binos in a different way may think they are not so bad. All of this suggests that both yourself and Henry could be perfectly right in that you may have been fortunate in how you positioned the NL 10x32 but the glare may have been present for the reason's Henry advanced.

Lee
 

Tringa45

Well-known member
Europe
I suppose like almost everyone I hate the look of the Field Pro system. From day one I installed the adapter lugs for standard straps and now find the ability to rotate the lugs actually has a little advantage when a harness strap becomes twisted.
But, Henry, isn't it easier to disentangle a symmetrically tangled strap than an asymmetrically tangled one?
My only experience of this strap attatchment has been on my wife's CL Companion and I consider it a real PITA.
Swarovski's "innovations" recently seem to follow the principle of: "Why make it simple, when you can also make it complicated".

John
 

henry link

Well-known member
Hi Lee,

Here are some photos that show how de-centered pupil positions can either eliminate or exacerbate the source of glare in the NLs. These show the 8x42, but the 8x32 I examined had similar glare coming from the same place.


Obviously, a binocular's glare resistance should be primarily evaluated with the eye's pupil correctly centered on the exit pupil as in the left photo. That's the neutral condition, but the conditions shown in the other two photos do have some relevance since the pupil tends to wander off-axis in actual field use and, as you mentioned, some people do seem to habitually misalign their eye's pupils with the exit pupils.

Henry
 
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henry link

Well-known member
But, Henry, isn't it easier to disentangle a symmetrically tangled strap than an asymmetrically tangled one?
My only experience of this strap attatchment has been on my wife's CL Companion and I consider it a real PITA.
Swarovski's "innovations" recently seem to follow the principle of: "Why make it simple, when you can also make it complicated".

John
Hi John,

Believe me, I'm the least enthusiastic defender of the Field Pro system, but it has allowed me to put my harness on any old way and then just crank the relevant lug to take out the twists, a minor advantage.

Henry
 
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