Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 first look and vs...
By accident I found a hunting shop very close to my home with a surprising selection of alpha binoculars from Swarovski and Zeiss. Unfortunately, no Leicas. So today I had a first look at the Swarovski Pure 10x42. Could it be worth getting the 8x42 version for long-term testing?
I also took a couple of other glasses outside, and had my Swarovski SLC 8x42 as a reference. Unfortunately, all glasses except mine were 10x, which surprised my because hunters are the main customers in this shop. I dislike 10x and I saw clearly again why: Too much image shake, much smaller apparent fields of view, and much smaller exit pupils. It´s the exit pupil, stupid. All of this reduces the immersiveness of the imagery.
It was overcast, so no chance to test for flare.
Here are some impressions:
1. Swarovski NL Pure 10x42
PROS: It´s a shockingly good image, by far the most impressive view in this short test. A really transparent glass, very "Pure" indeed. Bright, perfect sharpness, contrast, ease of view, and the only glass with neutral colours. Amazing sparkle, especially given the fact that there are none of the usual tricks with the transmission curve to perceptually increase contrast by green/yellow-green casts - like all the following glasses!
Biggest surprise: I saw no Absam ring - a steep, very narrow drop in contrast near the edge of the field which is a bad feature of the Swarovision. Neither would a 42mm Swarovision be so crisp and bright - although this statement is based on memory, not direct comparison. Ergonomy is superb - I love single hinge designs - and the Pure feels small, elegant, but very dense and high quality. The mass dislocation due to the shape of the Pure might help with more stability. Focuser is the smoothest from Swarovski so far and in the league of the Leica Noctivid.
CONS: The main problem I had was the rolling globe effect, just as expected. But the Pure does not have the rather extreme irregular warping the Zeiss SF has. The Swarovision from memory warps more, too, although much less than the SF. Still, fast pans or tilts with the Pure just don´t feel comfortable the way I am used to with the classic designs. This is a serious flaw but probably an inevitable compromise.
The diopter mechanism has a little lever in front of the focuser. I could live with that, but the Swarovision or SLC diopter is much more elegant and easier to use.
At closest focus the view was getting a bit uncomfortable. I wonder if that is an issue with 10x, I had the same with the Noctivid 10x42, whereas the 8x42 Noctivid featured the best macro performance ever.
The 3D seemed a bit flat, but I expected much worse and there is still hope. All 10x images look way flatter than in 8x glasses, so comparing 10x with 8x is always difficult. Even the Zeiss 10x56 with wider stereo base and AK prisms did not quite convince me - see below.
CONCLUSION: I was expecting an evolved Swarovision performance with a somewhat painfully overstretched field of view similar to the Zeiss SF. But the optical design and especially the field flattening feels really different, new but mature in the Pure. This is very exciting.
It is also worth a couple of thoughts that Zeiss started the new round in the arms race of alpha binoculars in 2015 with the SF, and that it took Swarovski 5 years to release a new flagship after the Zeiss SF. Then again, it took Zeiss about 6 years to bring a new 8x32 to the market after the SF 42s when Swarovski is releasing an 8x32 Pure within a year after the bigger siblings. Draw your own conclusions.
2. Zeiss Victory FL 10x56
How come this classic glass is still available here? Because the focus mechanism is totally broken. Unusable - you focus, adjust the diopter, refocus - and the diopter is totally gone. Welcome to Zeiss quality control. Over the years in a given shop, the proportion of lemon glasses will necessarily increase, if the owners are not very careful and send them back to the manufacturers. Colours were definitely on the muddy green side of things.
3. Zeiss HT 10x54
just arrived when I was in the shop. Compared to the Victory FL 7x42 - which I used to own - I found the sharpness fall off towards the edges acceptable and not too disturbing. That is the good news. But compared to the Pure and even my SLC 8x42, the view is somewhat lacklustre. Another disappointment from Zeiss. I love their lenses though. The HT 8x54 might be more immersive with its bigger exit pupil and field of view.
High intensity red/magenta/tobacco - classic hunting coatings. Colours are on the greenish, muddy side of things. Far from the colour clarity of a Leica UVHD+ 8x50... or Swarovski Pure.
4. Zeiss SF 10x42 MK1 grey
Time is flying, the SF MK1 is already more than 6 years old. Colours are too green, lacking freshness, but the image has good sharpness and the 3D is quite good, probably a result of the far from perfectly flattened field. I have never connected with the SF well and I don´t consider it to be a real field flattened glass like the Swarovision or Nikon EDG, although technically it has a field flattening lens. No question, imagewise the Pure is in another league with its transparency. The SF´s focuser feels like greased with fine sand. I doubt that Zeiss has updated this design much with the MK2, except maybe in the colour department and a more reliable focuser mechanics.
5. Swarovski SLC 8x42
The SLC 8x42 is a wonderful glass and still wows me after one year of use. Recently, it gave most Leicas quite a hard time when I tested binoculars in Wetzlar. Today was similar, the SLC held its ground fabulously.
The Pure is more transparent and crisper, although I am not sure about the 3D. The SLC has a fantastic deep rendering of space for an SP prism glass.
Colourwise the SLC is inbetween the Zeisses and the Pure, more neutral and less muddy than the Zeisses, but not as cooly pure as the Pure. This is the main issue I have with the SLC, especially now in the winter, when low contrast scenery with a lot of dark tones makes yellowgreen colour skews more prominent than during blue, high contrast summer days. Long focus throw, bad close focus and somewhat ugly finish are other issues.
Swarovski should go back to the SLC WB 42mm predecessor models (SLC HD) with their better close focus and faster, steeper focus, and update with new glass and new coatings for neutral colour. Price it between the Pure and the Swarovision, market it accordingly as a classic alpha (they would probably have to put the word "tradition" somewhere). I will order one immediately. The 42mm SLC is such a great, mature, classic design, shame on Swarovski for getting rid of it.
The Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 is an extremely transparent glass and the view is indeed a league above the other glasses. This is very easy to see, even for unexperienced buyers, so the Pure will be a big success for Swarovski.
For the Pure 8x42 I have even higher expectations, given the larger exit pupil and wider apparent field of view. It will be especially interesting to see if the panning behaviour is worse, and if close up performance is better.
Big question marks are how the Pure deals with flare, and if the 3D rendering is acceptable in the 8x42. Also, will the Pure be robust enough to justify the investment and last for decades? A faulty focuser mechanisms and other smaller issues were reported to me in personal communication.
The Zeiss binoculars disappointed again today. I do own some of their still lenses (late Classics and Milvus) for cinematography and I am very enthusiastic about them, for their robust mechanics, mature optical designs, beautiful, vibrant imagery and outstanding value. But Zeiss binoculars... ok, I forgot to mention the Zeiss Victory 8x25. Optically amazing. But will it last 30 years or longer like an Ultravid? Probably not.
Leica has a small niche, their Ultravids have special qualities and I enjoy them depite their underwhelming specs. But Leica probably lost the race for a better market share with the mediocre Noctivid design.
The NL Pure10x42 looks like an outstanding design far ahead of the competition. It will give Zeiss and Leica an even harder time for sure.