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The Binocular Advisor

Binoculars of Note

Swarovski 8x32 EL
High-end Binocular Round-up, 2008

by Michael and Diane Porter

Swarovski pioneered the open-bridge style with their EL binoculars. The design saves weight and makes the binocular easy to hold and focus with one hand.

Swarovski 32mm EL in hand

Several other manufacturers have since adopted the open bridge, but Swarovski still has the most elegant and ergonomic execution of the design.

On the EL, the hinge by the focus knob is narrower than in other open-bridge binoculars. You can wrap your three last fingers and your thumb around one barrel, and your index finger will naturally position itself on the focus knob, making for very comfortable operation. With other manufacturers' open-bridge designs, your index finger has to be more at an angle to reach the focus knob.

Swarovski 8x32 EL

Leica Ultravid Compact 8x20 BCLThe mid-sized 8x32 EL is a wonderful example of the open-bridge design. We have never picked up a binocular that more perfectly fits in the hand. It was Michael's absolute favorite of all the binoculars in our high-end survey.

Compact and lightweight, the binocular feels like an extension of the hand and is a natural at instinctive pointing. The 8x32 EL would be a top choice for a travel or all-around birding binocular.

MichaelAlthough its published eye relief is 15mm, the 8x32 EL worked well even with Michael's aviator-style glasses. It was Michael's favorite of all the binoculars we tested. He tended to reach for it whenever he went outside.

In the Ratings Chart for our 2008 survey, only the Zeiss Victory FL 8x32 equalled the 8x32 EL's wide field of view (420 ft. at 1000 yards).

Why the 8x32 was Michael's favorite

The 10x32 EL shares the same size, shape, weight and optical characteristics of the 8x32. Our special enthusiasm for the 8x32 over the 10x32 comes down to two matters:

  • 1. The 8x32 works better with glasses. With the 10x32, people who wear glasses will lose the outer part of the image. This makes a big difference to a glasses wearer. (But to a person who does not wear glasses, it doesn't matter at all.)
  • 2. The 8x32 has a wider field of view. It shows you a whopping 42o feet field of view at 1000 yards. The wide field of view contributes to that magical experience of super-realism. It's part of the Wow! factor.

Optical quality

The ELs' optics are unsurpassed. They're sharp. They're bright. They have superb contrast. They're as free from chromatic aberration as anything we've ever seen. On optical quality, nothing in our 2008 survey beat the Swarovski ELs.

Recent changes in Swarovski's EL design

Swarovski has made two modifications since it introduced the EL design. First was a change in the gear ratio, to give the binocular a faster focus. The second, this year, was the addition of Easy to Clean™ coatings on external lenses. The effect is that the lenses stay cleaner and are therefore less likely to suffer damage from overzealous scrubbing and rubbing.

The Swarovski warranty

Swarovski extends a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects and workmanship in the optical system. Other parts are warranted against manufacturing defects and workmanship for ten years. Swarovski has a reputation for being generous on warranty service.

The Swarovski EL is available in 10x42, 8x32, and 10x32.

See price

Bird Watcher's DigestCopyright 2008 by Michael and Diane Porter.

This article appears as part of the High-end Binoculars Round Up in the September, 2008, issue of Bird Watcher's Digest.

Photo of magazine copyright 2008 Bird Watcher's Digest. Tilted image of the Swarovski EL 8x32 courtesy of the manufacturer.



Will the 8x32 EL be bright enough?

The mid-sized Swarovski 8x32 EL seemed very bright and clear, but we wondered whether it was as bright as a full-sized binocular.

We compared it in daylight to the 8.5x42 EL and to other top 8x42 binoculars. The 8x32 looked just as bright and gave just as sharp a picture.

Then we compared it to some top 8x42s at dusk. It still held its own.

We sat and watched a field of grass and flowers as darkness deepened and continued to try the 8x32 EL and the other 8x42 binoculars.

It was getting pretty dark. Fireflies came out and started blinking over the field. The 8x32 was still looking just as bright as the 8x42s.

When it was almost dark, and the color had faded from the flowers in the field, and it was getting hard to make out details with the naked eye, at last we began to notice a slight difference in the brightness of the binoculars.

Under those conditions, the 8x42 showed a little brighter image and ever so slightly more detail than the 8x32 EL. Even then, the difference was hardly noticeable.

And so we had to ask ourselves why anyone would carry the extra weight of a 42mm binocular (and pay extra, too).

Why indeed?

Well, a younger person would probably have noticed more difference between the two binoculars as the evening got dark. That's because, as we age, the ability of our eyes' pupils to dilate for darkness adaptation gradually diminishes.

Only when the eyes' pupils are quite expanded, under conditions of youth and near darkness, does an 8x42 demonstrate a brightness advantage over an 8x32. (For further explanation of this phenomenon, see Mid-sized Binoculars and the Aging Eye.)

Exit pupils

During normally bright daylight conditions, the 8x32 will look just as bright as an 8x42 to virtually everyone. And to people of middle age and older, the 8x32 will look as bright even in dim conditions.

So if you're over 50, or if you plan to use your binoculars mostly in daylight, you might as well get an 8x32 as an 8x42, and enjoy the advantages of a smaller, lighter-weight binocular.

Another approach is to own two binoculars — a mid-sized binocular for daytime birding and a full-sized one for dusk or night excursions.

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