Swarovski SLC 8x42 HD


Just like buses – no major new binocular releases from Swarovski for some 10 years, and then two revamped ranges come along together (well, almost). Hot on the heels of the company’s acclaimed EL II Swarovision models (see Birdwatch 214: 44) comes the improved SLC series, initially featuring 8x42 and 10x42 binoculars which will be available from June. Having recently reviewed the new ELs, I was keen to see how their upgraded stablemate SLCs compared.

This range actually pre-dates the ELs, having been Swarovski’s first roof-prism binoculars designed for birding. When the ELs were introduced the improvements in quality over the SLCs were obvious, but in the latter’s latest incarnation the distinctions are less clear; this is a high-performance binocular. The company has upped the ante, appearing to set its sights on higher-placed rivals such as Zeiss and Leica, while maintaining the ELs in what it hopes will be a market-leading position.

The most obvious indication of this is the addition of the tell-tale HD designation to the model name. High-density lenses containing fluoride have been incorporated in the SLCs for the first time, reducing colour fringing and enhancing contrast and colour rendition. While they can’t match the newest ELs, they are certainly closer to the original version. Some slight image distortion is detectable towards the edge of the field of view, but you have to look hard to see it, and in use it was not an issue.

Image resolution is also enhanced by the addition of the company’s proprietary lens and prism coatings, again taking these binoculars further into EL territory. An additional non-stick coating on the eyepieces and objective lenses helps disperse dirt and water more easily.

The focusing mechanism of the old SLCs has been discarded and replaced with a new, smooth-turning knob which appears identical to the EL design. A respectable one and a half turns will take you from the closest focusing point of just under two metres to infinity. The focusing knob sits on the single bridge between the barrels, and this is the most obvious visual distinction from the flagship EL II’s twin-bridge body; otherwise, the green-and-black rubber armouring with thumb cut-aways on the underside has a familiarly upmarket feel to it.

With magnesium body housings also now sported by both Swarovski ranges, the 42 mm SLC and EL models all weigh in somewhere around the 800 g mark. You’d be hard put to notice any difference in weight in the field, though the SLC body design is, interestingly, more compact and marginally lighter.

I tested the new SLC 8x42 binocular over a three-week period, half of it on a trip to the United States which included early starts to watch lekking grouse and, often, late finishes. These low-light situations were tailor-made for this specification, and at times when we were in position before dawn, scanning for the distant shadowy forms of grouse on their near-dark ‘booming grounds’, the SLCs came into their own. Unexpectedly bright images helped detect the birds where other optics might have struggled, and the wide field of view (136 m at 1,000 m) was just what the job required. At all times the binoculars felt up to the task; these 8x42s performed well and looked good with it. In fact, it was easy to forget that I wasn’t road-testing another EL binocular.

The SLCs come with an articulated rainguard, strap and new waterproof field bag, which is a big improvement on Swarovski’s old cases. This bag can house not only a binocular, but also accessories such as a snapshot adaptor and notebook (or a field guide and more if you keep your bins around your neck). It has a subtly contoured design, with the strap and bag best carried diagonally across the body from shoulder to hip.

On the trip on which I field-tested the new SLCs, it was interesting to note that six of the other nine birders were using Swarovskis. All were ELs, however; the company did such a good job with the introduction of the first ELs 10 years ago that it may have difficulty persuading its fans of the new benefits of the SLC range.

However, given that the 8x EL IIs come with a recommended retail price tag of £1,745, prospective buyers can now acquire a high-performing Swarovski binocular and save well over £200 in the process. Over time, discounted high-street prices will see the cost fall but the differential between the two ranges maintained, so the new SLCs deserve serious consideration for purchasers at a price point that could become increasingly attractive.

Tech spec

Price: £1,510
Size: 149x120 mm
Weight: 810 g
Field of view: 136 m at 1,000 m
Close focus: 1.9 m
Gas-filled: yes
Waterproof: yes
Guarantee: 10 years