• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Two Month Review: Swaro 10x42 NLs (2 Viewers)

John Cantelo

Well-known member
I've used 8x binoculars for 20+ years for two reasons; reduced ‘hand shake’ and the wider field of view they offer compared to 10x instruments. However, spending more time watching distant birds of prey in Spain made me reconsider my options. Having done so I had more or less decided to buy a good, but ‘second tier’ pair of binoculars for c£800-900 when two things happened; the COVID lockdown and the appearance of Swarovski NLs. Like many, the former meant I was spending less money so my bank balance was unexpectedly healthy and the specifications of the latter were too good to ignore. Despite the view that any improvement in image quality that the NLs may have over top quality sub-alpha glasses is minimal in field use to the average birder I just had to look at them.

It must be said that NLs are very bright, sharp and exhibit very little distortion even at the extreme edge of the view. The point shouldn’t be forgotten is that they are Swarovski products so being optically superb is in their DNA. The NLs have that coveted 'Wow!" factor on first use. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled and for me only (just) visible as a very narrow green line and then only noticed when actively looked for. Also remarkable was how little distortion there was out of ‘true’ even at the very edge of the. Some suggest that the NLs are markedly superior in image quality when compared to the ELs which is a remarkable claim. Comparing the NLs with the ELs on a dull, wet and cloudy day the former did seem to offer a marginally crisper view, but it was very slight and could be no more than wishful thinking on my part. In field use, without a studied direct comparison between the NLs with their stablemate, on image quality the two would be effectively indistinguishable. What was obvious – and for me a major selling point – was the wider field of view of the NLs. Not only was this clearly better than the 10x42 ELs but at 133m at 1000m identical to the 8.5x42 ELs and similar to many top quality 8x42s. Since then I have used the NLs extensively in the field and the only optical problem I have experienced is very occasional instances of ‘flare’ rending the view temporarily ‘milky’ but this has only happened in exceptional circumstances (and no more than with my old binoculars). Some have complained that the NLs have an annoying 'rolling ball' effect but it's not something I'm sensitive to or have noticed to be a problem.

Unlike their optical quality and the well-advertised generous field of view, I had no expectation that the NLs would handle much differently from other roof prism binoculars. I was wrong. The barrels of the NLs sport a waisted ‘Coca-Cola bottle' shape which encourages your hands to naturally slip firmly into place. It usually takes me a while to get used to holding new binoculars, but these were ‘right first time’. This excellent grip makes the NLs easier to hold steady than other binoculars that I’ve used. However, one of my concerns with the NLs was their weight. At 850g they are 60-100g heavier many rival binoculars and so at the heavier end of 10x42 instruments. However, in use with the good, wide strap they came supplied with this has proved not to be the problem I feared it might be. For some a binocular harness may be a sensible option. On the other hand, those additional grams possibly assist with holding them steady and reflect Swarovski brand’s famously robust construction.

With my hands grasping the barrels my index finger seemed to naturally fall into place on the focus control. The focus wheel rotated smoothly taking about 1½ turns to go from close focus (2m) to infinity. This may seem a lot but in normal field use you probably won’t need any more than ½ a turn (which takes you from a frequent viewing distance of 5-6m to infinity). This is fine unless you do a lot of butterfly watching as it takes a whole turn (or thereabouts) to go from c5-6m to 2m. The diopter adjustment (located forward of the focus ring) was easy to use but, although a little raised, not easy to accidentally knock out of position. Initially, I found it very easy to inadvertently unscrew the eyecups whilst clicking them up or down. After repeated use, however, I appear to have subconsciously learnt the trick of not doing so and it’s no longer any concern.

All new Swarovski binoculars have a unique method of attaching the neck strap. This seems to work well once set up but I found fixing the strap to the binoculars so problematic that I had to return to my dealer and get them to do the job for me. In fairness, a couple of operations on both hands has left me with poor dexterity but even so the shop assistant, despite being familiar with Swarovski binoculars, took 25 minutes to successfully attach the strap. Perhaps I was unlucky to have an unusually difficult fitting, but the mechanism seems wildly over complicated and over engineered. All this innovation seems to do is complicate using an alternative strap of your choice which can be done as the binoculars come with adaptors to allow the attachment of more conventional straps. However, the anchor points seem surprisingly flimsy and I question whether they’re sufficiently robust. Wrestling the supplied strap off and the adaptors on isn’t something I’d relish but this may be the only option if you want to replace the strap with a harness. The supplied neck strap was comfortable and extremely easy to adjust for length, but those who prefer a short strap will find that, annoyingly, 6” of strap dangling free down each side of the binoculars. The strap has a neat rubber tag-end which made me loathe to cut strap to size but with a Velcro tie I found it possible to neatly tuck the excess strap out of the way.

Swarovski's diagnostic green 'armour' is comfortable to grip and, as far as I could judge, offered a good level of protection. The cover for the eyepieces fits snuggly, but at times too snuggly although with use should loosen up. The objective lenses are well recessed (by c1.5cm) protecting them from accidental damage. I've never previously used binoculars with protective OG covers in situ but am finding them quite useful as an extra layer of protection since I tend not to use a case. These covers can be removed, and two small bungs are supplied to close the small indentation left behind in the rubber armour. The case is well made and extremely well padded with a useful internal pocket. With the brace attached, however, I found it was less easy to loop the strap around the bins, slip them into the case and zip it closed. In a break from tradition, the binoculars fit into the case sideways, not vertically. I find this a retrograde step as, unlike traditional designs, there’s not plenty of space at the top for the strap to fold into and you cannot secure the binocular strap around your neck before extracting them from the case or take a firm hold of the strap and binocular’s barrels before you entirely remove them. I am yet to be convinced that the design is a good idea.

Considering good ideas brings me on to the most unusual aspect of the NLs, the forehead brace. This is an optional extra and an expensive one (c£100). Until I tried it, I thought it was just a useless gimmick but after only a few moments use I was proved wrong. With three points of contact the view became distinctly less jittery meaning that in this respect the 10x42s became just as good (or better) than my old 8x. Using the brace also meant I could hold the binoculars very steady single-handedly (freeing one hand to hold a pencil, a cup of coffee, etc) and, as an occasional user of spectacles when birding, I found that the additional anchor point really helped in steadying the view. It would go a long way to make the 12x 42 model a viable birding glass particularly as it has a FoV (113m @ 1000m) similar to most current 10x42 (although probably not worthwhile on the 8x). Two final accessories that came in the box were something of a surprise; a bar of soap and a brush. I’m not sure how many birders would opt to give their bins a quick wash and brush up but I suppose it does encourage confidence in the instrument’s waterproof qualities.

Are they worth the premium price when other top companies (and even Swarovski itself) make superb alpha instruments for considerably less? To be brutally honest, probably not. The 10x42 ELs offer a very similar optical performance to the NL's (other than the exceptional FoV) but are 60% of the price. Even if you have the cash, it arguably makes more sense to get the 10x42 ELs and supplement them with a pair of high quality 8x binoculars which would give you greater flexibility for the same overall cost. And yet, if you’ve got the money burning a NL sized hole in your pocket and weight isn’t a consideration, then buying the best 10x42s on the market is very hard to resist. To (cynically) paraphrase Jane Austen - It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a birder in possession of a good fortune, must want Swarovski NLs bins. The image of competence/seriousness that they project is worth more than the one the user perceives on looking through them.

FOR
Optical excellence Class leading FoV
Good close focus (albeit not class leading) Superb ergonomics
Innovative Foreheadbrace Build quality
Well-padded case
Swarovski’s legendary after sales service
AGAINST
Overly complex strap attachment
High Price
Weight
Questionable case design
NB - I've posted a longer more discursive review with photos on my blog - Review - Swarovski 10x42 NL Binoculars - Birding Cadiz Province (weebly.com)
 

NDhunter

Experienced observer
United States
Are they worth the premium price when other top companies (and even Swarovski itself) make superb alpha instruments for considerably less? To be brutally honest, probably not. The 10x42 ELs offer a very similar optical performance to the NL's (other than the exceptional FoV) but are 60% of the price.

John:
I enjoyed your review, and it seems similar to several other users that have been reported.

The new NL is a very nice binocular, but really not much better than the EL SV.

Jerry
 

dwever

Registered User
Supporter
Thank you John. You've given me hope.

As you perhaps know John, in late October NZbinodude posted a thread where sharing numerous problems he had with his NL Pure 10X42's (https://www.birdforum.net/threads/nl-pure-problems.395989/). Disheartened, that post stopped me in my tracks from buying the NL 8X42 from MidwayUSA. After expressing all of his problems with the bins, NZbinodude said, "the NL's are a great example of an optical company's 'art', but they're over-engineered, fragile instruments, which aren't designed for serious use."

Based on your well expressed experience, were the problem set of NL's most likely outliers that don't represent the whole, are they fragile as asserted, and will the NL's stand up to daily use and live a long life?

Thank you again.
 

[email protected]

Well-known member
Supporter
Choosing between the EL or NL just comes down to deciding if the improvements in the NL are worth the difference in price to you. There is no doubt that the NL beats the EL in FOV, ergonomics, CA control, brightness and focuser smoothness. Swarovski made the strap attachment tighter than the EL so it would not accidentally come off and it won't twist around on its own so if you have a weak grip it is helpful to use something like a rubber jar gripper to aid in removing it and reinstalling it. Once the strap attachment is installed it won't come off, and I am sure it is robust enough that it would not break because it looks like hardened alloy steel. I use my own Vero Vellini strap because the Swarovski strap is too long. The nice thing about the Swarovski attachment is the binoculars always lay flat against your chest because it rotates easily and it looks good. I find the side load case works well and it has the advantage that it is less likely you will damage your lenses with the binoculars laying on their side. If you just fold your strap a couple of times and insert it behind the binoculars the case closes easily and you can grab the binoculars firmly when you use them. The NL's have to be a little heavier than the EL because their wide field requires a complex eye piece with more glass in it. I feel the exceptional ergonomics and balance make up for the additional weight over the EL though, and they look like a smaller binocular than the EL. There is already a couple NL 8x42's on the used market for $2500 so if you wait awhile you should be able to get the NL 10x42's at a discount that will put them closer in price to the EL. Here is a good review on them.

 
Last edited:

nzwild

Active member
I don't see any issues with NLs durability. Swarovski product is consistently exceptional.
Its about expectations. My 2019 8.5x42 EL gets electrical tape around the eyecup rubber so they cant get pulled off. A lightweight fleece bag protects them from scrapes when out and about and I make a 1 piece strap set to my ideal length. All the factory accessories get stashed until I sell them again. I get a NL 10x42 field of view in an 8.5 package that puts more terrain in my central view, with less shake and a more relaxed larger exit pupil. I feel I get exceptional resolution and transmission due to recent coatings. As long as they don't get dropped of a cliff they are going to continue to do an incredible job.
For many users the NLs fulfil expectations and excellent reports and reviews back this up. As long as a product is actually tested and compared by the user in the field and it surpasses the 'previously proven' then you cant go wrong. Beware tho if you sell your favourite before getting the new 'best' one. Some mighty fine optics have been sold in haste.
 
Last edited:

bkdc

Well-known member
I have no doubt that Swarovski‘s customer service will take care of anyone with problems. The question is whether there is a serious design flaw which cannot be remedied by the service center. Zeiss was quick to redesign the SF although the early adopters of the grey version did get shafted. It is unlikely that there is a major design issue but time will tell. It seems that the optical properties are not in question, so it is a question of durability of the focusing mechanism. Early adopters do get hurt in two ways. First, they tend to pay the full premium price along with the excitement of the latest and greatest. Second, they are the second wave of testers (after the manufacturing does its own field testing).

Nzwild uses a fleece bag. I use a very light microfiber bag designed for camera lenses and then stuff it in my man-purse. You get four sizes in a pack for 10 bucks. Called Lens Jammies. They double as a lens cleaning wipe.

After handling the NL pure, I think the two top contenders are Zeiss SF and the NL Pure. Those who perform hours of glassing may still find the Ergobalance weight distribution on the Zeiss SF more comfortable and less fatiguing. The NL has the superior optical characteristics, and the forehead rest may help but it is not as comfortable to me for long term holding. I feel like I can use the Zeiss for an unusually long time without fatiguing my arms. The EL Swarovision is still amazing and is far less finicky with eye placement. It’s the one I would lend to my aging father or anyone with less experience using binos. It will always remain a “Legend” and I’d go for a used one with the full minimum focal distance at a great price.
 
Last edited:

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Thank you John. You've given me hope.

As you perhaps know John, in late October NZbinodude posted a thread where sharing numerous problems he had with his NL Pure 10X42's (https://www.birdforum.net/threads/nl-pure-problems.395989/). Disheartened, that post stopped me in my tracks from buying the NL 8X42 from MidwayUSA. After expressing all of his problems with the bins, NZbinodude said, "the NL's are a great example of an optical company's 'art', but they're over-engineered, fragile instruments, which aren't designed for serious use."

Based on your well expressed experience, were the problem set of NL's most likely outliers that don't represent the whole, are they fragile as asserted, and will the NL's stand up to daily use and live a long life?

Thank you again.
At this juncture, so early on in what I hope will be a long and fruitful relationship, it's hard to say how fragile or otherwise my NLs may prove to be in the longer term. They certainly don't feel fragile and feel less 'delicate' than some other top models. I know from others who use their binoculars daily and do so pretty hard that Swarovski armour can become loose & detached from the body. However, I also know that they've had similar (or worse) problems with other 'alpha' binoculars but the difference is that, unlike their rivals, Swarovski has beautifully 're-skinned' their bins leaving them looking brand new at no charge.
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Choosing between the EL or NL just comes down to deciding if the improvements in the NL are worth the difference in price to you. There is no doubt that the NL beats the EL in FOV, ergonomics, CA control, brightness and focuser smoothness. Swarovski made the strap attachment tighter than the EL so it would not accidentally come off and it won't twist around on its own so if you have a weak grip it is helpful to use something like a rubber jar gripper to aid in removing it and reinstalling it. Once the strap attachment is installed it won't come off, and I am sure it is robust enough that it would not break because it looks like hardened alloy steel. I use my own Vero Vellini strap because the Swarovski strap is too long. The nice thing about the Swarovski attachment is the binoculars always lay flat against your chest because it rotates easily and it looks good. I find the side load case works well and it has the advantage that it is less likely you will damage your lenses with the binoculars laying on their side. If you just fold your strap a couple of times and insert it behind the binoculars the case closes easily and you can grab the binoculars firmly when you use them. The NL's have to be a little heavier than the EL because their wide field requires a complex eye piece with more glass in it. I feel the exceptional ergonomics and balance make up for the additional weight over the EL though, and they look like a smaller binocular than the EL. There is already a couple NL 8x42's on the used market for $2500 so if you wait awhile you should be able to get the NL 10x42's at a discount that will put them closer in price to the EL. Here is a good review on them.

I can certainly agree that there's no doubt the at NLs are noticeably & obviously better in terms of FoV and ergonomics. I really didn't handle the ELs for long enough to come to a sound judgement and focuser smoothness. I thought the NL's CA control was very good and that they were bright optically but in all honesty, I felt that any improvement over the ELs was fairly subtle. Perhaps a longer comparison would have shown a greater difference. I still don't like the case though and the forehead brace does tend to get in the way when trying to fold the strap into the case ...... but as issues go it's a pretty minor one. I'd also agree that the ergonomics are exceptional and thank you for pointing out the excellent balance which I omitted to mention; both greatly reduce concerns about weight. Thanks too for directing me to the review in Ireland's Wildlife.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top