Swarovski Habicht 8x30 W (built in 2009)
26-2-2014, last revision: 31-10-2014
The Swarovski Habicht 8x30 W is my favourite binocular. The proof is in the pudding, and this one I take out every day and use with joy - and awe. It´s my reference for center sharpness, colour reproduction, brightness, and handheld steadiness. And the 3D view is what spoils me for most other binos. The Habicht is very small, easy to hold, of very high build quality, and has a truly excellent price-performance ratio.
Other binoculars may be easier to use and give a cleaner image under difficult situations. The Habicht 8x30 yields the most beautiful images, and has the greatest "I WANT TO TOUCH WHAT I SEE" factor.
Looking through this glass feels like being eight times closer to your subject of interest - instead, as with even the best roof binoculars, of just watching a scene from the distance. Everything looks great. Very few other binoculars offer this kind of beauty.
The mechanics are very good, too. Please read my story about a Habicht from 1961 which after more than 50 years of use is optically and mechanically pristine. Quality cannot be faked, nor achieved in a cheap way. I guess the manufacturing of this bino is very precise and durable. I was told by a Swarovski employee that the basic design is from 1949. Even though they use the lastest coatings this is quite unique - which other optics after 60 years can still be top performers?
Out of the box, the Habicht does have three flaws though. Luckily, two of them can be overcome with some homemade modifications which I consider to be essential. The reward is a superb binocular for a very adequate price.
The Habicht 8x30 W is a masterpiece because of its unique combination of qualities. A proven optical system, superior manufacturing, superb coatings and the inherent advantages of porro prisms yield a spectacular performance. I have been using the Habicht as well as the Nikon 8x32 SE and the Swarovision 8x32 for more than a year to really get a feeling for the qualities of each of these excellent binoculars. Please check my Nikon 8x32 SE review for more comparisons with the Habicht.
Chrystal clear view with best colours
The Habicht has a wonderfully bright and clear image with cleanest, vibrant and natural colours - which make the legendary Nikon 8x32 SE look a little bit dark and muddy (some say: mushy) in comparison. Combine high transmission and superb contrast even at the resolution limit and you have the sparkle of a top class optical system. The Habicht just shines in the twilight or on dull days, with finest colour nuances and extreme sharpness. In sunshine the image is just mindblowing sharp and beautiful.
To be honest it is a bit embarrassing to test the latest and most expensive roofs and always find that they cannot achieve what this little porro does in the center of the image. I was glad to find out that some people had made similar observations and commented at www.birdforum.com, especially about Gijs van Ginkel´s statement who measured the transmission of quite a few binoculars and claimed: "I have investigated the quality of the Habicht 8x30 porro and at first I could not believe what we found. I have had many porro binoculars in my hands, but the image quality of the Habicht is excellent: very sharp image quality, bright and with perfect color reproduction. We measured 95% light transmission, but the latest ones come up to 96%, while the spectrum is flat as the Dutch country side". Swarovski now claims on their website a transmission of 96% (compare this with 91% for the 8x42 SLC and 90% for the Swarovision 8x32 and then tell me that porros are totally outdated...)
The image has that gorgeous 3D look that I love, expect and can not get from any roof prism. With the Habicht, at medium and close distances you´ll enjoy the threedimensionality even of small things that at the same time are clearly separated from the background. This is a visual experience larger than life and yet it feels very natural.
Technically speakingthe Habicht must have superb MTF (Modulation transfer function) values. That is, it transfers the contrast of a scene with very little loss into its images. And Swarovski really got this right, it´s at the core of the magic of this glass. The MTF values of the Nikon SE seem optimized for low frequencies/bigger structures (say, branches), which gives the images an almost electronic, oversharp impression - but also a sure WOW effect. For more details on our perception of sharpness check out this superb brochure from ARRI/Dr. Hans Kiening, page 8/9 and my article. The Habicht is for my taste better balanced in its MTF, and beats the Nikon in the contrast reproduction of fine details (MTF of high frequencies). Watching a test chart in 50 meters distance from a tripod I could not see a difference in resolving power - both of them are spectacular performers. But I did see a pleasantly richer, more lifelike, vivid image generally and especially in close-ups with the Swarovski. Given that you don´t have stray light in your image, the Habicht lets you see deep into the shadows and has a really nice highlight rolloff.
The center performance of the Habicht is simply as good as it gets. The Swaro-vision 8x32 is not sharper, contrastier or higher resolving in the center.
At daylight, the Habicht´s edge performance is very good with about 50% of the image looking very sharp. With open pupil, it´s probably a bit less, but this is not something which bothers me really.
Chromatic aberration is low but sometimes visible, I have no complaints about it (performance is identical to the Nikon 8x32 SE). Coma is present at the edge of the image, but center performance gives you pinpoint stars.
Ease of view
It is the proverbial "through an open window" kind of view and the Habicht is very tolerant to where you put your eyes - into the exit pupil or closer or further away. With a Nikon 8x32 SE, this is not the case at all and you really should stay close to the optimum position.
Best close-up performance in a porro
I have yet to find another porro which gives such an easy view in close-ups and this for me is one of the outstanding qualities of the Habicht. Three meters is ok, and everything from four meters or further away is comfortable to watch. Again, the Nikon SE cannot quite compare here.
Very small and lightweight
Even compared to the smallest roof prisms in the 8x32 class, the Habicht has an excellent performance to weight ratio. I carry my Habicht under my left arm the whole day and forget about it as long as I don´t use it. It can take it anywhere, anytime. And it just stays flat on my body, contrary to the Nikon SE, which is unbalanced and always tilts into an uncomfortable position.
With 136 meters field of view the Habicht is a true wideangle design and I would not be happy with less. The Nikon 8x32 SE has more of a tunnel view, and more so than the numbers would suggest (131m) because of the eyepiece design.
Most good porros are not waterproof. The Habicht is.
The most beautifully designed and built porro binocular in the world
The Habicht 8x30 is a puristic tool built to last and to be passed on to the next generation of users. And it is very attractive with beautiful textures of leather and black metal. This is something I both miss in the Nikon SE and in Swarovskis roof prism models. They look and feel like tools, reliable but prosaic with their plastic finish.
This is the one serious flaw in this glass. Especially with open pupil, the image is plagued by internal reflections of light sources or high contrast situations. Standing in a dark wood with bright patches of sunlight would be one example. The Nikon SE is way better in this respect. I built a sunshade which will not eliminate but reduce flare and ghosting.
Being a waterproof construction, the focusing in the Habicht tends to be much stiffer than in nonwaterproof porros. The oculars need to be sealed against the body and the focussing mechanism needs to be waterproof, too. I am sure there could be better engineering solutions. I was not happy with the focusing, but the Swarovski service fixed it perfectly and it is now a real joy to use. A bit more friction than the SE, especially on cold days.
These are TOTALLY INADEQUATE - they are made from grey rubber and reflect light coming out of the ocular back into the optical system. They made me nervous until I realized I get less reflections without them, so I got rid of them and built my own (see below).
Loose diopter adjustment
The diopter adjustment ring will change its position if you don´t fix it with tape.
Plastic prism covers, printed symbols
The prism cover plates are now made from plastic with "Habicht" and "8x30W" printed on them. These details feel really cheap and spoil the otherwise jewellike built quality. In 1961 the plates were metal and the logos were most beautifully engraved.
The Swarovski and Habicht logo printings are plain bad design.
Well, speaking of the 1960s. I don´t know when Swarovski stopped providing Habicht buyers with those georgously plain, brown leather pouches with green lining inside. Yes, they were made in Austria. But I know today´s pouch is neither really protecting the binos nor does it look good.
Wishlist to Swarovski
- Better ghosting and flare suppession. Are the baffles and inner surfaces really optimized? It would be worth it!
- Fully functional eyecups. It should be a really black, non-reflecting material.
- Sunshades!!! Black metal. Maybe plastic.
- Smooth focusing out of the box - there must be some feasible way to achieve this without sacrificing water resistance.
- The plastic prism covers are a shame.
- Please rethink the graphic design of the logo etc. - more understatement would make this bino even more desirable ;)
The Habicht is wonderful, but nevertheless: I really wish you were going to build the four best binos in the world, all with improved flare and ghosting resistance and long eyerelief - the NEW HABICHT 8x30 and 8x48 and their 10x siblings.
Improve your Habicht - it is really worth it
1. Eyecups. Screw off the eyecups. Play around with the binocular for a while to get a feeling for how close you want to have the ocular to your eye. Get some velcro tape and some black rubber foam (I used a piece of a camping matress) and cut them in the shape and thickness (5mm in my case) that you need - see images. Fix the foam with velcro to the binocular. Now, the Habicht rests comfortably on your eyebrows, the foam may even dampen your handshake a bit, and depending on your eyesight you might be comfortably using the glass closer than with the regular eyecups, giving you a better wideangle performance.
2. Sunshades - ESSENTIAL. I made about 6cm long tubes from black cardboard as prototypes and stuck them on the front lenses to find out under which conditions the performance would improve. Result: I will never use the Habicht without anymore and have ordered some custom made metal versions.
3. Diopter adjustment. Get a little piece of black gaffer tape and fix the diopter adjustment ring in the right position.
Now, your 700.- binocular has enjoyed a 700.- performance boost. It´s about highest image quality, not about good looks though. Maybe Swarovski or at least some friendly Chinese manufacturer could have mercy on us and save us this homework.
4. Remember to adjust the interpupillary distance according to viewing distance. If I focus from infinity to 3 meters, I reduce the distance by 2mm. Moreover, watching very close, I might prefer to bring some more distance between my eyes and the oculars for an easier viewing. This might sound complicated, but it will soon be routine and will give you the best performance from your porro binocular.
As far as I can see, Swarovski has stopped marketing the Habicht line in the US. In Europe the Habicht is easily available. I prefer the Habicht to the Swarovision 8x32 - most of all I really want that 3D look only a porro can yield. The Swarovision lets you analyze, with the Habicht you will start to enjoy, contemplate, meditate...
This inevitably makes me wonder: WHAT IF Swarovski were to put a little of their latest technologies into a modernized Habicht. Such a binocular would easily be the best 8x30/8x32 binocular in the world and would surely offer a jaw dropping performance. It would beat most high end roofs, including Swarovski´s. That´s why it will probably never come.
If you´re not wearing spectacles while using your binos, and are willing to do some minor custom modifications, and like to learn how to use your binos for best results, you probably cannot buy a better binocular for general use. Your partner might become jealous and complain about you just spending four hours again on that "little walk with the dog". Because with the Habicht it is more about the wonder of seeing, not about spectacular things to be seen. Although a roof prism bino is much easier to use, the Habicht in my opinion is absolutely worth the troubles. It is a binocular for enthusiasts. Although quite surprisingly, my kids start to realize how good it is, too. I´m confident it will serve me well for decades without much hassle.
The Habicht has a unique set of qualities, some are obvious, some you´ll only discover when comparing it to the best of the rest. It is the chrystal clear image with glowing colours in a very small, attractive, rock solid body with an adequate pricing. I love my Habicht. In bright sunshine, on a dull day, in the rain, from dusk to dawn to star gazing - it´s giving me wonderful 3D images in incredible colours which transform almost anything into beauty. Dewdrops, a puddle of water, flowers in the backlight, delicate grasses in the wind: new wonders everywhere. All the same old things shine in a new light. What more can a binocular offer?
48 years later... Habicht 1961 vs. 2009