Swarovski EL 8x32 binocular

OUR VERDICT: The image is pin sharp, flat, distortion free right up to the edge and with very little chromatic aberration. This may yet prove to be the ultimate 32 mm binocular.

Anyone who has been gazing fondly at high-end binoculars with a view to splashing out on something compact, lightweight and user friendly, and which packs perhaps the ultimate punch in optical performance, should read on.

The launch in spring of Swarovski’s upgraded EL32s – available in 8x and 10x magnifications – marks the end of a schedule of redesign for the company’s pinnacle EL range ahead of this year’s Birdfair. Effectively, both are completely new models that represent the final addition to the Swarovision family of 42 mm and 50 mm binoculars. Fortunately for me, I was able to field test the 8x model during May, one of the most exciting months in the birding calendar.

From the word go, it did not disappoint. Although it’s lean, light and neat in terms of functionality, its pièce de résistance lies in the image it delivers, but more of that later.

The physical differences from its predecessor may not be readily apparent, even though it has been completely re-engineered. It has a slightly more streamlined appearance, although the rubber armouring is largely the same and I found the small indentations or thumb rests are perfectly positioned for user comfort. It is 30 g lighter than the previous 32 mm model and the eye relief has been increased to 20 mm, with the twist-out eyecups adjustable to four different positions.

The close focus distance of 1.9 m is an improvement on the previous model’s 2.1 m. Just over two clockwise turns of the focusing wheel take the image from close to infinity, the first 1.5 turns delivering a precise near-distance focus to approximately 20 m, with the next half turn providing fast focus to distant horizon.

Dioptre-setting mechanics are integrated into the main focusing knob, allowing accurate adjustment by pulling the wheel up to operate, upon which an incremental scale of -4 to +4 is revealed. Pushing it down locks the desired setting smartly with a reassuring click.

All set and in focus, the image is immediately inspiring. The field of view is now a top-of-the-range 141 m at 1,000 m. Unlike many binoculars which boast a field of this magnitude, however, Swarovski has been successful in delivering an image which is pin sharp, flat and distortion free right up to the very edge. Furthermore, I detected very little chromatic aberration in the image as a whole; it’s there in the periphery, but at a seriously low level. Even a migrating Osprey, back-lit and high over my Northampton garden was sharply defined and colour perfect, with no glare, light spillage or chromatic aberration. Producing a flat field of view can result in an apparent rolling or fish-eye effect as you are panning from side to side, but even this potentially annoying side effect appears to have been minimised and is hardly noticeable.

In addition to the physical attributes of the EL’s image, throughout its use I was continually impressed by the wholly natural colour reproduction and high degree of contrast, while the level of brightness was astonishing. Was this really a 32 mm binocular? Even in low light conditions the model just seemed to suck in the lumens and I was simply unable to fault it.

The usual Swarovski attention to detail is also carried through to the accessories. There’s an articulated rainguard, which is adjustable in width to match the interpupilary distance setting of the eyepieces, a contoured adjustable padded neckstrap and Swarovski’s S4 Snapshot Adapter which allows a compact digital camera to be connected to either eyepiece for digibinning.

The whole package oozes quality and the EL32 is the only one in the range which is available in green or sand-brown. Even dyed in the wool devotees of 42 mm binoculars cannot fail to be impressed with this model. Hats off to Swarovski for producing what may yet prove to be the ultimate 32 mm binocular.

Tech spec

Price: £1,540
Size: 138x110 mm
Weight: 580 g
Field of view: 141 m at 1,000 m
Close focus: 1.9 m
Gas-filled: yes
Waterproof: yes
Guarantee: 10 years