Review: Swarovski Habicht 8x30 (1961)
2013 - last modified 9-5-2014
So I bought an old Swarovski Habicht 8x30 No. 813298 on ebay for 140.-. It looks very beaten up with some leather and lacquer coming off the metal. I have a look through: Amazing sharpness. I check the lens system: Everything inside looks chrystal clear like new. The focusing works flawlessly, collimation is perfect. I contact Swarovski about the history of this sample. They don´t have it in their service archives, and it was built in 1961.
1961, beaten up, probably never serviced, and in perfect working condition.
For days and weeks I take the Habicht out on all my walks. The family starts to tease me about it.
Mechanics: The body is very light, almost perfect in my hands, in a classic beautiful design with central focusing. This bino is said to be watertight - unique in Porroprism designs - so in cold weather the focusing can be a bit stiff because of the sealings around the oculars. The quality of the housing puts to shame the old Zeiss Jenas and even Zeiss Wests.
Pros: This bino is proverbial razorsharp on axis (image center) and performs very well far into the corners. The field of view is 136m - a true wideangle design. I like to use mine without eyecups to have the widest field of view and just immerse into the image. I have no eyestrain at all. The Habicht has superb microcontrast. Watching a meadow in the morning with a million dewdrops and a million blades of grass will tell you what I mean. A Canon 10x30IS for example will give high contrast at big structures, but not in fine details. The image looks sharp, but something is lacking. And the Habicht has more - the classic porroprism quality: A true 3D image larger than life. Stars look nice, too. It is a glass to take out and enjoy the beauty of nature. Combine it with a tripod and start meditating... I found myself watching things just for the sake of watching. This is the best compliment for a binocular.
Cons: Firstly, of course, the coatings are not up-to-date. In difficult situations there will be some flare and ghosting which would be reduced in a modern glass. Also, there is some flare in high contrast situations without direct sun. The Habicht is more contrasty, but also much darker than the Leitz Binuxit from the same era. Compared to the Zeiss West 8x30 brightness is similar but the Swaro has a much better ease of view. As both are too yellow the Habicht to me is the much better choice. There is pronounced chromatic aberration on contrasty edges (like in most binos). Eye relief is short. Images have a very yellow cast. This was chosen deliberately (unlike in other old binos which suffer from aging canada balm): the blue coating gives a good protection from UV radiation and achieve higher contrast in hazy situations. This is important in military glasses, but the colour shift is not pleasing for modern bird watchers. On a blue midday colors are very nice, though. And I´d clearly prefer a superbly transparent optics with a warm cast to a cheap true colour throwaway binocular.
Swarovski started to build the Habicht 8x30 around 1949 and it is still being built in Austria! Because it is a cult classic and many binocular fans want to own one. Or maybe better to say: Superb binos priced reasonably. As far as I understand, Swarovski Optics is still a family owned business, and already built binoculars for Zeiss during WWII because Zeiss could not keep up with the demand.
No other top porro binos of the era, no Leitz and definitely no Zeiss West 8x30 are internally chrystal clear like new like this Habicht is. A remarkable proof of quality.
Thanks to Swarovski Austria - to Lydia Kalb for her quick help in my investigations, and to head of quality control Mr. Erler - a man very passionate about binoculars - for having a long and enlightening phone talk about all my questions.
P.S.: I had a second sample of the 8x30, also from 1961. Same quality! As clean, and no sample variance at all! The other still very popular binos from the 60s are the Leitz Trinovids. Those are outdated roof prisms though and too expensive for my taste - but I have never used one.
Old vs new
The Habicht 8x30s (built 2009) is my No.1 binocular I use almost every day with joy and awe. Of course the new one is a bit sharper, way brighter, with absolute perfect colours, and it´s 90 gram heavier.