Review: Swarovski EL 8x32 Swarovision
2013. Last revision 16-3-2015
It is possible that this model was modified in its flat field implementation since I tested it. This is speculation though.
No doubt: The Swarovisions are some of the most successful and desired premier binoculars of all. I had a sample from the Swarovski Austria testpool for a long term evaluation. The EL 8x32 Swarovision sure does provide an immediate wow effect with a unique combination of extreme wideangle and spectacular edge performance in a very flat field of view. But I could never get used to the trade offs involved in this cutting edge design: flare, ghosting and a resulting lack of contrast combined with a weird and distracting rolling globe effect.
I hope to check on these binos again when testing 8x32s next autumn, as I really love the 8.5x42 Swarovision which is a better glass. I would love to know why...
Body and focusing
For an 8x32 roof prism glass, it´s a very long housing. The body feels solid with perfect friction of the hinges. The focusing wheel has a very long throw which makes pinpoint focusing and the tracking of birds which fly towards you easy, but it is a bit rough going with too little friction for my taste. Looks as if a very close focus of 1.5 meters, a very long focus throw, and the necessity to be able to use this glass in any temperature (so, no use of grease) seems to be some tough engineering problem. I like the locking mechanism of the eyecups, very solid and precise.
The classic 8x30 porros for me are easier and steadier to hold than a roof design. The rigid plastic eyecups are never really comfortable for me - why not have some attachable foam covers to make the eyecups a bit softer when pressing them into ones face... The double bridge looks nice, but does it really help to hold the glass steadily? I feel the bigger, but compact design of the SLC 8x42 is easier to hold.
Putting your great binocular on a tripod is a real eyeopener, and many birders have to use a tripod anyway for their scopes. Every bino should have a good tripod adapter. Here it´s the usual one with a rubber belt to fasten the binos to a metal plate. Very impractical. Swarovski should implement the brillant system from the SLC in the Swarovision, too.
A very attractive pair of binoculars. I´m sometimes a bit sceptical about the Swarovski green but in this shape it looks nice. Definitely a very cool, modern, sexy design.
Contrast and sharpness
General impression: Typical Swarovski fingerprint with natural colours, excellent, nicely balanced sharpness and contrast from coarse structures to fine details, and from infinity to close-up. Looking closer at center sharpness a shadow of a doubt creeps in: Is it really reference sharp? I had a couple of observations, be it details in a blooming cherry tree, be it the imprints on a wine bottle, where my feeling was: This is very sharp, but it´s not quite Habicht 8x30 sharp. As if the Habicht pulls out more contrast of the details just above the resolution limit of my eyes which gives the images just a little more punch and vividness than the Swarovision´s. Contrast transfer: I have to admit I was quite surprised when I compared the Swarovski SLC W B 8x42 to this bino. The SLC consistently yields the contrast I was often and somewhat unconsciously missing in the SV. And it is not a subtle difference - the SLC shows much darker shadows and way more saturated colours. The SV often looks a bit too bright and milky in comparison.
Having spent 8 weeks with the Swarovision 8.5x42 - which I love - I think I have been on the right track. There is quite some veiling glare in backlight in this bino, and as the ghosting and crescent flares in the 8x32 are definitely (and not surprisingly) worse than in the 8.5x42, I would expect veiling glare in the 8x32 to be a bigger problem, too
Field of view
is a stunning 141 meters, and combined with a unique flat field it is really something to behold.
Edge performance and flat field
are another immediate WOW: Very unusual sharpness far into the edges. But the flat field images look - flat. Very flat. The image is not immersive. Technically fantastic, emotionally and aesthetically disappointing. Here is a link to some interesting tests and ideas about flat field lenses - Hollywood director of photography Shane Hurlbut asks: why do we want flat glass? Of course he is testing camera lenses, not binoculars. But his conclusions fit very well with mine about the 8x32 Swarovision flat field experience. Flat is flat, NOT threedimensional. On the other hand, the superior contrast of the 8.5x42 Swarovision makes for more immersive images than for example the SLC 8x42.
is a spectacular 1.5 meters and sharpness is great even at this distance. This is no little achievement! And it´s very easy on the eyes, too, no strain whatsoever. WOW again.
is very nice and very neutral.
Brightness is top notch, it´s the brightest bino in its class I have tested so far, although this could be a perceptual phenomenon related to veiling glare, because very high contrast binos like the 8x42 SLC tend to look darker than expected.
Ghosting and flare
The Swarovision´s image is nervous with ghosting and internal reflections, especially with crescent flare in the periphery of the image, and with veiling glare in backlight. The Nikon SE 8x32 definitely has a better image in this respect with less ghosts and less flare. The Habicht is about as bad as the SV when used without sunshades, which is not a compliment to the SV given the 1000.- price difference and an almost 60 years younger optical design... It seems plausible that the quite extreme lens curvature needed for this kind of field flattening also results in light beams not flowing unhindered and unforced through the optical system, resulting in glare which lowers the contrast of the image.The street lantern test was good though, with just two faint reflections which were not bothersome. But in backlight, these binos cry out for sunshades.
Chromatic aberration control is really state-of-the-art with only faint traces of CA towards the edges. Bravo.
Swarovski claims 20mm exit pupil distance which gives ample space for viewing.
Ease of view
is truly excellent, and contrary to the SLC it is possible to scan the image by eye movement without provoking blackouts.
Distortion and panning behaviour
If you take a close look at the Swarovision´s image, you will notice that close to the edge of the image circle there is a steep drop in sharpness, then a sudden rise. This is possibly connected to strong curvatures in the field flattener lens. Some binocular fans ironically call it the "Absam ring" (the Swarovskis are produced in Absam, Austria). From the center to the "Absam ring" I see a slight pincushion distortion, although less than in classic designs. Beyond this zone distortion changes and straight lines remain pretty straight. Anyway the result is what most people call a "rolling globe effect" when the image moves from the outer zone through the Absam ring to the central part with pincushion distortion. I´d say it´s not a classic RG effect due to lack of pincushion distortion, because the biggest part of the image is slight pincushion without RG, but the edges distort weirdly. To me it is a distracting thing. I feel uncomfortable with it as I pan and tilt a lot - a standard procedure when looking for wildlife. I personally find it unconvincing to argue that many people are not bothered by this, as it is a core issue, not a side note in the use of a binocular.
Comparing to the Swarovision 8.5x42
I did not compare these two directly, but taking the Habicht 8x32 and the SLC 8x42 as reference points plus my feelings after one year of using it I feel confident to say this:
The 8x32 has much more flare, it is not as sharp and contrasty, and it has a much worse rolling globe effect. Due to the better contrast transfer of the bigger glass, the image is way more immersive than in the 8x32. More here. It could be the 8x32 is more compromised for small volume, whereas the 8.5x42 is built for absolute performance with only little compromises due to the field flattening.
Wishlist to Swarovski
Simply, I expect the same level of excellence as in the 8.5x42 Swarovision. That is:
- A better balance between distortion, flat field and rolling globe effect. I need a much better panning behaviour.
- Less ghosting, less crescent flares, less veiling glare, and an even better contrast transfer.
- The fabulous 8.5x42 Swarovision tripod adapter in a smaller version to quickly attach the bino to a tripod.
- As always: a sunshade would work miracles, especially in backlight.
The Swarovision 8x32 is not for me, mainly due to the strong rolling globe effect, not entirely convincing contrast, and very flat looking images. The Swarovision 8.5x42 lacks these faults. The Swarovision 8x32 is a binocular that polarizes - you might judge it´s a somewhat overbred instrument which does impress but fails to deliver some essentials. But you might as well end up concluding this is the best 8x32 money can buy today.
Did Swarovski quietly change the flat field implementation a bit, making it more similar to the 8.5x42 Swarovision, so creating an 8x32 Swarovision MK2?