8x42 comparison 2020






Autumn 2020...



.... and a scene from the spring 2015 8x42 shootout.


Mission statement: All samples reviewed in 2020 are - or were - my own. This test is totally independent. And totally biased due to my experience and taste as a professional wildlife film producer and cinematographer.


The trouble with modern lens designs

Modern optics have very often lost the really important qualities because manufacturers engage in an understandable, but ultimately damaging and stupid arms race. In the case of binoculars the main design goals have become mainly these two: A flat and as wide as possible apparent field of view. The biggest sacrifice: A deep, natural, immersive rendering of space. We end up looking at 2D cartoons instead of being drawn into the image space.

In this sense, many binocular images also become less immersive and transparent. A really transparent image lets the binocular vanish. It cannot vanish when 3D real space flattens almost into 2D image space. Or when space is extremely warped by an overstretched apparent field of view when panning the binocular.

Only astronomers truly profit from a flat field binocular as there is no 3D at infinity anyway.

For a great 3D pop in the SP prism binoculars we are comparing we necessarily need one thing: a curved field - but with great control of all other aberrations! You want your bird right in the middle of the branches, and you want to clearly see into which direction every branch spreads out. This is impossible with a field flattened glass.



I have studied this issue with regards to cinematography and photography lenses also. The most legendary lenses used in high end filmproduction in Hollywood and the rest of the world have some field curvature. Because actors look more 3D, more real, and so can have more impact on an audience. Faces often look slimmer, younger, better. Unless you want to put your camera with a wide angle lens straight into your actor´s face you will rather not choose a flat field lens for imaging purposes.

When observing with a binocular, why would you want your images to not be most immersive, not have the deepest, most realistic rendering of space?

When flat field designs like the Swarovision and Nikon EDG entered the market, they not only offered flat field, but also better aberration control than most of their competitors from Zeiss and Leica with their decades old designs. Such designs had strong aberrations (for example astigmatism) towards the edges which reduce ease of view and probably cause faster eye fatigue. A good example would be the Zeiss Victory FL 7x42.

This has changed with the evolution of classic curved field designs.

The Leica Ultravid HD+ have somewhat small apparent fields of view, which allow for better aberration control than in the Zeiss Victories FL with their wide apparent fields of view.

But Swarovski beats them all with their unique 42mm SLCs, which have excellent aberration control except field curvature combined with a wide apparent field of view.

The Swarovski SLC has - unexpectedly and ironically - become my prototype role model for a great 8x42.


Ok, this is not an 8x42, but a favourite of mine with typical Leica qualities.





In order of preference. I directly compared in 2020: SLC, Noctivid, EDG, plus Ultravid HD+ 8x32 as a reminder of Ultravid qualities. I included all other glasses from the 2015 test as a short overview.




Swarovski SLC 8x42 WB

Full review here. Because of the stunning quality and a very fair price this is the first glass I would not only recommend to a friend, but to anyone looking for a great glass.

This is a truly unique binocular. It blew my socks off. The most immersive view of all 8x42s: Deep, bright, inviting and friendly, with outstanding ease of view.

The glowing brightness and beautiful contrast with sparkling shapes and textures remind me very much of AK prism designs, especially the Zeiss HT8x42. But the SLC has a much better ease of view and is more compact.

Comparing to Nikon EDG 8x42, Leica Noctivid 8x42 and Leica Ultravid HD+ 8x32 the SLC consistently had the better images to offer.

This can´t be true...

Especially as I was not impressed with the SLC in the 2015 shootout. For sure I did have a lemon sample then (different barrels, a bit soft compared to most other 8x42s, but it was from the manufacturer´s demo pool). And it might well be that Swarovski also put more effort in the SLC since.

I gave the SLC another chance by accident, as I had ordered a demo of its previous model, the SLC HD, but I´m glad I did.




UNIQUE IMMERSIVENESS and TRANSPARENCY (for a SP prism design) due to

extremely good 3D rendering of space in combination with

brightness and

microcontrast (sparkling images due to high contrast even at small detail edges) and a

wide apparent field of view (136m) with

excellent aberration control (except field curvature). It struck me how well even stars were depicted close to the edge of the field by refocusing. In daylight, there will hardly be any distracting edge blurriness. This good aberration control gives clean and very easy to look at images.

Contrast boost by a state-of-the-art tweaking of the transmission curve, at the expense of colour accuracy - less blue, a bit less red, so a slight yellow green bias. Nevertheless, colours still look beautiful and natural, just a little bit warm.

Long eye relief (18mm) and high tolerance to eye placement make it suitable for spectacle wearers.


Very long focus throw means a lot of work when focusing (1.7 revolutions from 3.2m to infinity, where Leica Noctivid and Ultravid have 0.8, Nikon EDG 0.7).

3.2 meters close focus, the previous model (SLC HD) had 1.8 meters. I´m very frustrated about that as I love to observe close.

Some peripheral flares under many conditions and strong veiling glare in bright backlight, due to sloppy internal blackening. This could easily be improved and it fact may have been better in the previous model.

Focuser is on the rough side, although this improves quickly after some use.

Ugly appearance. Is that deliberate to make the Swarovision look more desirable? The previous model looked much nicer.

Most of these cons were probably absent from the predecessor and are a result of Swarovski downgrading this glass from the SLC HD to make it cheaper.


But there are rumors that this glass is discontinued.


If I could only keep one binocular this one would be it.



Leica Ultravid HD+ 8x42.


Full review here. This was my favourite 8x42 in 2015. I bought the 7x42 instead, which seemed to be even a bit better. I was so stupid to sell it in favour of the Zeiss FL, but regretted it ever since.

My predictions from previous testing and constantly comparing to my Leica UVHD+8x32:

The Leica is the only other 8x42 SP prims glass with a similar deep rendering of space due to field curvature!

But I expect it to be not quite as immersive and sparkling as the SLC due to

- less brightness

- less contrast boost, but therefore slightly better colours (more red).

- lesser aberration control

- a smaller apparent field of view (130m).


I love the Ultravid HD+ line, especially the 7x42 and 8x32, but will try to test the 8x42 again. It is possible I will end up prefering an Ultravid to the SLC, but it is improbable.



Leica Noctivid 8x42

Full review here. With the Noctivid, I was wondering for more than a year: Why has the Leica magic disappeared?

The main issue again is field flattening - Leica flattened the field in an evolutionary manner. So while the Noctivid field is not as flat as the Nikon EDG´s or Swarovision´s, it is definitely flat enough to destroy the depth of space as seen with an SLC and Ultravid HD+.

Imagewise, a disappointing glass for me as a fan of the Leica Ultravids.

The much cheaper SLC beats the Noctivid, unless you love oversharp images or do a lot of close observations.

Build quality, looks, accessories and close up performance are top notch, though.



Impeccable build quality

Beautiful industrial design

Well constructed accessories, especially lens covers

Good colour reproduction (slightly yellow, but with more red than many competitors)

Comfortable panning and tilting with no weird warping of the images

Great ease of view in subdued light



Flat images compared to SLC and Ultravid. Gone is the Leica magic.

Some weird veiling glare, making the images even flatter in bright light

Sharpness (edge contrast of big objects) is too high for my taste, images look digitally cold in bright conditions.

Ergonomy - the Noctivid does not balance well and a narrow double hinge makes it hard to hold the glass with one hand.

Bigger and heavier than Ultravid

Less contrast boost and therefore perceived brightness than SLC.

This is about the only glass that easily gives me black outs in bright conditions, although longer eyecups would vignette the apparent field of view, so it is in the optical design probably.

Edge performance will not please astronomers and flat field fans



Noctivid images leave me lukewarm at best. That is not enough for a longterm relationship.




Nikon EDG 8x42


Full review here. I somehow have a weak spot for the EDG despite it being a flat field glass because it has superb global contrast and microcontrast, starting with excellent flare suppression, and very neutral, saturated colours, and excellent ergonomy.

But as a flat field design, it renders space horribly flat. The great contrast makes up for this a bit, but not quite. The lack of contrast boost is also missed except in bright daylight, the images have a darker, duller appearance than those of SLC and Ultravid.

The build quality is a bit doubtful, hinge friction and diopter wheel are especially troublesome, and all accessories except the strap are close to unusable.



Superb global contrast due to effective flare suppression

Good microcontrast

Most neutral colours with more blue than most competitors

Great ergonomy



Very flat rendering of space due to strong field flattening

Useless accessories

Hinge loosened and needed customer service

Diopter adjustment is fiddly

Tendency for lightspots reflecting from oculars

Lack of contrast boost due to neutral colour makes images look a bit dark and subuded especially in low light.



I enjoyed using it, especially in the summer, but when directly comparing it to SLC and Ultravid HD+, the flat rendering of space and lack of contrast boost can be quite shocking.



Swarovski EL Swarovision 8.5x42


Full review here. The Swarovision is a legendary, extremely successful, very impressive glass and understandably so.



Best ease of view

Neutral colours with a lot of blue



Flat images. Deep, natural rendering of space is destroyed by field flattening.


A lot of warping when panning and tilting.

Rough, uneven focuser.



Zeiss HT 8x42

Full review here. Looking back from 2015: The HT impressed me very much, as AK prism glasses have a special look: Very bright, and extremely high microcontrast down to the finest details without being oversharp. As someone wrote: A "washed clean" look.

I had the opportunity to buy the cherrypicked test sample from Zeiss and finally decided against it. Ease of view was really not the best, probably due to strong off axis aberrations.

I confirmed this when owning the Victory FL 7x42 for more than a year, a close relative predecessor to the HT, which has an extremely impressive image, too, but again there is some resistance in the view.

Also, the bulk of the HT compared to its elegant, short predecessor was a turn off.

The HT was discontinued.



Extremely bright

Best microcontrast

Best 3D of all 8x42s, because of widest stereo base and classic curved field

Good flare resistance

Easy panning without image warping

slightly better colour than Victory FL 7x42



Ease of view not top notch

Strong aberrations off axis

First demo sample had broken focuser




An updated AK prism 8x42 from Zeiss with modern aberration control could be superlative, but they should rather evolve the Victory FL body shape...



Zeiss Victory FL 7x42


Comparing to Leica and Nikon EDG 7x42 here. I´m assuming this is very similar to its 8x42 brother. I owned this glass for more than a year and was very impressed. But like with the HT, I did not find ease of view good enough. Moreover, the FL has a bit more green in the colours than I like.



Extremely bright

Best microcontrast (washed clean AK prism look)

Best 3D, because of widest stereo base and classic curved field

Easy panning without image warping

wide apparent field of view (150m)

strong contrast boost makes images glow in low light



Ease of view not top notch

Strong aberrations off axis

Colours are a bit off (too much green) due to aggressive contrast boosting



An updated AK prism 8x42 from Zeiss with modern aberration control could be superlative, but they should rather evolve the Victory FL body shape...



Zeiss SF 8x42 MKI


Full review here. This glass was the biggest disappointment in the 2015 shootout together with the faulty SLC sample. Zeiss has since updated it with a new focus mechanism and probably also with tweaked coatings.

But I´m not sure it is worth the trouble testing the MKII because the SF was so far from my taste. The design choices involved seem to exactly NOT yield what I expect: A good balance of important qualities in a small package.

The extremely stretched apparent field of view and its uneven distortions warps the images when panning in a really nasty way, worse than the Swarovision.

The build quality seemed inferior to the competition, the focus knob was hardly usable in the end.

The high intensity coatings for extreme contrast boost made images the greenest I had ever seen (for more on colours see here).

Two things I liked: The weight balance, and the 3D was better than in other flat field designs, due to a very uneven flattening. I´m not even sure the SF qualifies as true flat field in its image appearance. Not if you are used to a Swarovision.

The SF for my taste is an example of the detrimental arms race manufacturers engage in.



Good ergonomy

Good 3D for a flat field



Overstretched apparent field of view with uneven distortion causes strong warping of the image when panning the glass.

MKI with distinct greenish bias