Swarovski SLC W B 8x42 review
11-10-2014, last revision 18-1-2018
Serial Number C832544147, origin of sample: Swarovski testpool, thanks to Swarovski Austria! Review period started 29-6-2014
Two simple truths: Better is the enemy of good, and all things are relative. So initially I was very pleased with the performance of the SLC 8x42 W B, especially in in comparison to the 8x32 Swarovision and the Nikon SE 8x32: The contrast is great, almost larger than life, with very good blacks. Definitely a big WOW! Secondly, ghosting and flare suppression is very good. Thirdly, it has the classic pincushion distortion for excellent panning and tilting behaviour. And last, the tripod adapter is simply perfect, a unique selling point of the SLC. In two seconds the SLC is on the tripod and then just very easy to use.
Then the 8.5x42 Swarovision entered the arena I was soon spoilt. There is no way going back for less, so the SLC will not be a longterm companion. It is a good glass, but the Swarovision 8.5x 42 clearly surpasses it in almost all respects, yielding a better level of clarity.
NOTE: Although this sample was from the Swarovski test pool - which mostly offers cherry picked glass as we would expect - I am a bit doubtful about this individual. Moreover, Kimmo Absetz remarked on birdforum that the 8x42 SLC is the glass with the least aberrations he knows...
Body and focusing
Very solid, good friction of the bridge. Unfortunately my sample has a very rough, noisy focusing wheel. I asked Swarovski about it and they claimed this problem had been fixed in later samples and older samples can be upgraded in the service. The rubber shield of the tubes is squeezed by the focusing wheel. Focusing was smoother and more silent in cold weather. Eyecups have that nice solid locking mechanism. Blackening of inner tubes looks perfect.
I find the bulky but compact SLC easier to handhold than the somewhat small 8x32 SV with its open hinge design.
I have to give a special applause to Swarovski for the tripod adapter that goes with the SLC. It´s plain perfect with a very quick horizon leveling.
The SLC does not have the attractive appearance of the Swarovisions. Of course it´s a matter of taste, but "beauty" is not exactly what comes to my mind when handling the SLC. Some strange dinosaur skin? Were dinosaurs really THAT green? Well, the Swarovision 8.5x42 looks so much better, and I don´t think it´s a clever marketing move to differentiate the two lines by a much less attractive design of the SLC line. A binocular in this price league needs a certain sex appeal.
Contrast and sharpness
Shadows often look really dark with this glass, probably due to good flare suppression. In sunlight at closed pupil, contrast transfer in most situations is fine in the image center, I immediately noticed this comparing with the 8x32 Swarovision which often yields images with a slightly grey veiling glare. Compared to the Nikon 8x32 SE, apart from the porro´s 3D effect, I thought the SLC had a nicer image with more vivid colours, not quite as biting sharp as the Nikon, but definitely a more pleasing view.
Close up performance: This binocular has an unusually soft bokeh (quality of unsharp image parts). This nicely isolates sharp from unsharp image parts and gives a good threedimensionality for a roof prism design, but also suggests that spherical aberration is not fully corrected. This guess fits with the slight softness I see with open pupils in close up, the image then looks softer than the Habicht 8x30s. But even at daylight below 5 meters or so I feel the SLC in fine details does not have the reference contrast/sharpness the Habicht and Nikon SE have. Most users will probably be quite happy with the sharpness though, especially in normal handheld use.
When comparing with the Swarovision 8.5x42, the SLC has an obviously less sharp image. This is more a perceptive quality than a difference in usuable resolution, the Swarovision just has the nicer, crisper image, and the price difference clearly shows. Highest production standards simply cost a lot more than high production standards. It seems 800.- more not only buy a field flattener lens, but much higher precision and probably better glass. Which begs the question if the more expensive predecessor to the SLC WB, the SLC HD, on average is a sharper glass, although the optical construction should be very similar.
I zoomed in on 1/9th of the image circle by using a Zeiss 3x12B booster and comparing with my Habicht 8x30 in clear afternoon daylight with rather closed pupils. At 3.5m distance the SLC showed a pronounced softness, the Habicht was very sharp. At about 11m distance the SLC was almost as sharp as the Habicht. At distances above that, the SLC becomes a good performer almost rivalling the Habicht in sharpness and often surpassing it in general contrast because of better flare resistance.
Checking my test chart with the SLC and the Zeiss booster at a distance of 16 meters, the SLC had almost the same resolution as the Swarovision 8.5x, but I discovered the right tube was a little bit softer than the left one. This result was the same in twilight with open pupil and at somewhat closed pupil at a cloudy afternoon. That means the SLC should be very good for hunting purposes where far distance performance on axis even in twilight is paramount. It´s less good for birding where close observations are an important part of the fun.
Classic distortion, classic edge performance. About 50% of the image circle are very sharp in sunlight with closed pupil, but beyond the sharpness drops slowly towards the edges. Refocusing can bring unsharp parts in better focus, but then of course you will loose center focus. With open pupils edge performance will drop considerably, and the images look softer and field curvature can become annoying. Again, this is very obvious comparing with the 8.5x42 Swarovision which becomes a bit less comfortable to use with open pupil, but remains very sharp over most of the field.
Colour saturation is perfect and gives the images a glow. The Swarovision 8x32 often looks lower in contrast, brighter, but greyer in comparison. In colour transmission I´d say I miss a tiny bit of blue, again compared to SV 8x32 and Habicht 8x32. It is easiest to see in orange evening light when blue shadows are not quite as blue as my eyes see them. I guess this partly is responsible for the fantastic contrast, but it also results in a colour fidelity not quite as good as in those two models. Reds and oranges really pop. All this fits with the transmission curve allbinos has measured for the earlier model. I´m sure the Swarovski engineers knew exactly what they were doing here, and it is very good. Allbinos has criticized transmission curves which are not flat, but I guess they are not flat because manufacturers don´t want them to be. It´s called expertise... Apart from effective flare suppression and of course the optical design the perceived contrast may be pushed by uneven transmission curves aka a slightly yellow colour reproduction. This might yield a crisp looking image even if the production tolerances are not extremely low.
The image looks a bit darker than expected, which reminds me of another high contrast binocular, the Nikon 8x32 SE. As if the black shadows and absence of flare make the midtones darker. This might be a perceptual phenomenon.
Ghosting and flare
A very good performance with closed pupil with generally very little ghosting and flare, and even looking towards a very low sun the image is surprisingly clean. Same with street lanterns. My porros and the SV 8x32 really cannot keep up with the SLC. With open pupil the image becomes more nervous with some crescent flares in the periphery. On a bright day there was some veiling glare from a bright sky above the field of view which could be eliminated by shading the objectives with my hand. Sometimes bright skies flash into the image as crescent flares.
CA is clearly visible in high contrast situations, from quite near to the image center towards the corners, definitely much worse than in the 8x32 Swarovision, although the center is a tad better than the Habicht 8x30 and Nikon SE 8x32. CA is something which does not bother me much, and I have seen a lot of CA in lenses costing 30 times more. But be warned in case you are especially allergic to CA.
Swarovski claims 19mm, the eyecups can be locked in 3 positions.
Ease of view
Very good, but again not up to Swarovision 8.5x level. I use the eyecups fully extended, but in medium to short distances I can provoke peripheral black outs by slight tilting or when scanning the periphery of the image by eye movement only, so the cups might be a bit too short for me. Not a big deal though.
Distortion and panning behaviour
Strong, classic pincussion distortion for perfect panning and tilting, no matter how fast. Thank you.
There is some coma towards the edge of the FOV.
Wide field of view
136 meters FOV for good immersion into the image. I would not want to put up with less.
Wishlist to Swarovski
- As always: sunshades are not a sign of weakness, but a cheap, easy and efficient improvement in optical performance.
- I´d love to see a more modern and attractive design and finish.
- I acknowledge the price difference to the Swarovision, but the center should be critically sharp and contrasty, as most customers probably view the SLC as a premium binocular.
- good general contrast
- good resistance to ghosting and flare
- perfect tripod adapter
- saturated colours
- exemplary panning behaviour
- It´s not reference sharp, especially in close up and with open pupil.
- Some doubts about the rough focusing
- Close focus of only 3.2 meters
- Curved field with weak edge performance, especially with open pupil
- Accuracy of colour reproduction slightly compromised probably for the sake of higher perceived contrast
- Quite a bit on the ugly side as far as outer values are concerned
A fine binocular with proven, classic qualities, but comparing to the Swarovision 8.5x42 this sample was not quite a state-of-the-art top glass. The SLC does the job well with high resolution power, but the Swarovision adds the joy of breathtaking clarity. On the other hand I liked the SLC more than other renowned binos like the Nikon 8x32 SE and the 8x32 Swarovision. For hunters who mainly need a reliable tool with good far distance performance at open pupil the SLC may be perfect, for birders marveling at the finest details of a bird in close up the Swarovision is much nicer. For my personal taste the SLC is already uncomfortably close in price to the Zeiss HT and Leica Ultravid HD Plus. So yes, I´m a bit sceptical about the price-performance ratio of the SLC. I had expected the SLC to be a top classic design built to the same quality level as the Swarovision, just without flatfield and close focus. That is not quite the case, but given the huge price difference it might have been a naive assumption anyway.