Swarovski EL 8×32 Swarovision Binocular Review

Swarovski EL 8x32 SwarovisionPros: uncompromising image quality. Bright, razor sharp, high contrast view right to the edge of the field. Outstanding low-light performance, which is particularly impressive given its 32mm objective lenses. Excellent build quality and ergonomics; lightweight yet solid and robust. Superb all-round performance. Possibly the best “accessories” (case, strap, rainguard, objective covers, lens cloth) on the market.

Cons: Slight rolling ball effect visible when panning in cluttered environments. Barrels a shade longer than you might expect in a mid- size binocular (while they are significantly lighter and slimmer than a full size 42mm binocular, they’re not actually that much smaller).

Price: c. €1,800
Available in 8×32 and 10×32 configurations

Value: Excellent

Rating: Highly Recommended

Check out the EL 8×32 Swarovision on the Swarovski Optik website.

The EL32 Swarovision is undoubtedly one of the mid-sized binocular elite — and a real contender for the title of best mid-sized binocular in the world. The view through the EL32 is almost flawless, and as you might expect, that kind of optical performance comes with a premium price-tag to match. Along with breathtaking optical performance the 32mm version of the EL Swarovision is lightweight, feels great in the hand and is easy to carry in the field.

Bottom line: this is one of the very best wildlife and birding binoculars available: a true all-round star performer. If you want uncompromising views in a lightweight, ergonomic body that’s easy to carry and use then put this binocular on your short-list… period! If you do decide to invest in one, let’s just say you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

You can buy Swarovski EL 32 binoculars through UK-based Wex Photographic and various other mail-order / online retailers in the UK that ship binocular to Ireland. If you want to “try before you buy” in a bricks-and-mortar store then Conn’s Cameras on Clarendon Street in Dublin stocks a range of Swarovski Optik models. Be sure to tell them we sent you 🙂.

Swarovski EL 8×32 Swarovision: Full Review

EL 32 Swarovision from Swarovski OptikSwarovski had been promising to send the mid-sized version of their flagship EL Swarovision binocular to Ireland’s Wildlife for review for some time. But this is a binocular in high demand on the review circuit, and review sample stock was limited. I had to wait my turn….

When the box from Swarovski finally arrived at IWHQ had the wait been worth it?

Let’s see….

First Impressions

You have to hand it to Swarovski — they don’t do things by halves. This is a company that understands the pivotal role of prestige in their brand image — and that’s reflected in everything that they do. It starts with the box their binoculars are packed in.

You’d swear Swarovski puts every bit as much attention-to-detail into designing and manufacturing its packaging as it does the optics inside. It’s a study in understated elegance.

Inside that feeling of effortless quality pervades everything. From the printed instruction manual and warranty card right down to the branded microfibre cleaning cloth, everything is top-drawer. There’s a consistent quality about it all that subconsciously lends you a quiet confidence that the star this supporting cast is assembled around has to be something very special.

When you pick up the EL 32 you’re left in no doubt that this is an instrument that means business. But this is far from a utilitarian workhorse of a binocular — it is slimline, elegant and beautifully refined, and yet it retains a reassuring feeling of solidity that few binoculars can match.

And then you look through it!

Balance, Handling and Build Quality

Swarovski EL 32 in the handBut we’ll get to the view in a minute — first let’s take a closer look at the build quality and ergonomics of Swarovski’s pint-sized flagship.

While the EL 32 Swarovision shares the same design as its larger 42mm and 50mm cousins, it is of course significantly smaller, the barrels are slimmer, and because they only need to accommodate 32mm objective lenses they are more or less straight along their length rather than flared like their larger stable mates.

Body construction

As you might expect in an instrument of this calibre Swarovski has opted for class-leading magnesium alloy for the EL 32 chassis. It is both very strong and extremely light, but it’s also expensive, which is why you tend to find it used only in premium binoculars and spotting scopes.

The robust metal body is coated in a hard but very tactile and grippy textured rubber armour. This serves both to protect the binocular from bumps and knocks, but also makes it very comfortable to hold and offers a secure grip in any weather — even when the binocular gets wet (in fact the first time I used them it was raining — so this was a feature I got to test right away). The armouring has very well placed thumb indents on the underside which guide your hands to the ideal position for a secure and balanced grip.

Dual hinge “EL” design

Swarovski introduced the double-hinged “open bridge” design with their original EL model — so its no surprise to see the EL 32 sporting the same double hinge design. Because they are only housing 32mm objective lenses the barrels are very slim. I was worried that they might feel a bit too thin, making the binocular feel awkward in the hand, but if anything the opposite was true. The narrow barrels really let you wrap your fingers around them, making for very stable and ergonomic handling experience.

My one criticism — and the reason I’ve never been a big fan of the double-hinge design in any binocular — is that I tend to find the lower hinge gets in the way of my little finger when grab the instrument. It’s not really a problem — I just adjust my grip slightly so my finger rests on the lower hinge — but given the choice, I prefer the modern single-hinge binocular design like the one employed by my SLC HD or the excellent little Kite Lynx HD I reviewed recently.

Mechanics

All of the moving parts, as you’d expect in an instrument at this level, worked flawlessly. Hinges pivoted, wheels turned and dials… well, dialled… as they were supposed to. No surprises and no complaints on this score.

Focus

The focus wheel turns smoothly and freely, and is covered in lots of fine rubberised ridges that make it very grippy and easy to turn even when wearing gloves. The focus mechanism turns through two full turns clockwise from an close focus to infinity. That’s quite a lot of travel as contemporary binoculars go — but the bulk of that range is taken up between the 1.9 metre close focus and about 10 – 15 metres — giving you excellent fine-focus control up close, where you need it. For most of your birding and wildlife watching you’ll be looking further out, and using a quarter- to half-turn focus range max. In practice I found the focus on the EL to be quick, precise and smooth. No issues.

Uneven focus resistance — not a problem

EL in the rainYou occasionally see people commenting on forums about the uneven resistance of the Swarovski focusing system. Apparently this is a symptom of the focus system design used in the EL and in the SLC HD (I’m not sure about the most recent SLC incarnation, which uses a redesigned focus system).

It’s true that the focus wheel does have marginally more resistance in one direction than the other — and the EL 32 I tested showed this trait slightly more than my SLC HD does — but I’ve never met anyone who has found it troublesome in either binocular. The focusing isn’t silky and fluid as in, say, the Nikon EDG — but its very smooth and functional, and to be honest I prefer a bit more resistance when turning the focus wheel on my binocular.

Where it really matters — using the binocular out in the field — I’ve never had any concerns about my ability to find pin-sharp focus quickly with either the SLC HD or the EL 32.

Dioptre Adjustment

The dioptre adjustment on the Swarovski EL is integrated into the centre focus wheel — you simply pull out the wheel, turn the click-stop mechanism to set the desired dioptre setting and click the focus wheel back in to lock your new dioptre setting in place. It’s a very convenient and effective system, and a handy scale under the dial means you can memorise and reset your dioptre adjustment easily if somebody else uses your binoculars and makes a change.

Eyecups and eye-relief

On the EL 32, as with all Swarovski’s binoculars, the rubber-coated twist-up metal eyecups are removable. You can simply unscrew them and replace them if they ever get damaged without the need to send your binoculars in for repair — which is a great feature. The eyecups have four possible positions — fully up, fully down, and two intermediate stops — and give a maximum eye relief of a whopping 20mm. That offers masses of flexibility for glasses wearers — and means that pretty much anyone who needs to will be able to experience the full Swarovision experience without having to remove their eyewear.

Weatherproofing

It almost goes without saying that the EL 32 is fully sealed and is waterproof, dust-proof and nitrogen purged to prevent any internal fogging. Enough said!

Optical Performance

Image sharpness and field of view

EL 32 SwarovisionAs the flagship binocular of a brand widely acknowledged as one of the finest manufacturers of optical instruments in the world, the EL Swarovision range comes with a big reputation. To say I was expecting a lot of the EL 32 is something of an understatement — and while that says a lot about the brand, it can be be something of a double edged sword. With that level of heightened expectation comes the very real risk of disappointment.

So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I raised the EL to my eyes for the first time. I needn’t have worried — optically this binocular delivers in spades on every level. The image is ludicrously sharp, exceptionally bright and crystal clear from the centre right out to the edge of the field of view.

Normally when you’re reviewing a binocular you look for the size of the central sweet spot and the degree to which the image starts to degrade as you approach the field margins. With the EL 32 there’s none of that — the entire field of view is pin sharp right across the frame. It is very, very impressive — particularly when you’re holding the binoculars still.

The field of view is comfortably wide at 141m / 1000m (8°). Although you can find wider 8x 32mm binoculars these are wider than most… and the field appears all the more impressive because of that true edge-to-edge sharpness. Th EL 32 manages to achieves that “binocular-nirvana” of immersing you into the scene you’re viewing. Good binoculars magnify the view and bring the action you’re looking at closer to you… really great binoculars go a step further, in and almost seem to transport you into the middle of the scene you’re viewing. It’s a subtle distinction, but it makes all the difference in the world to the quality of your viewing experience.

The EL 32 falls into the latter category.

Rolling ball — not the Achilles heel some make it out to be

There’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to optics though… and what you gain in one department you usually have to sacrifice in another. By flattening the field of view and eliminating pincushion and barrel distortion, as Swarovski has with its Swarovision coatings, you get a pristine edge to edge image — but you introduce a phenomenon known as “Rolling Ball” or “The Globe Effect” when panning the binocular from side to side. Essentially it causes the panning image to look as if it’s moving across a curved convex surface — like a globe or sphere (see example below).

Rolling Ball Example

A simulation of the “Rolling Ball” or “Globe Effect” (right) compared to a “normal” panning view (left). (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The intensity of the effect depends on the characteristics of an individual’s visual perception, so it varies significantly from person to person. Some people hardly notice it at all — others apparently find it extremely disturbing, even disorientating. You can read a brief explanation here.

For me it wasn’t much of an issue. I was aware there was something different about the image when panning, but couldn’t really put my finger on exactly what it was in most situations. The only time I saw noticeable “rolling ball” was when I was panning when focussed on the middle distance, where there was out-of-focus detail in the foreground. Then the foreground showed noticeable rolling ball — but again it wasn’t really an issue, as I wasn’t interested in the stuff in the foreground… I was interested in where the middle-distance where I’d focussed the binoculars.

None of the experienced birders or wildlife observers I showed the EL32 to were particularly bothered by the effect either — and all of them were blown away by the quality of the view. So while rolling ball may trouble a small proportion of people, for the vast majority it’s unlikely to be a problem.

That one “characteristic” aside — the view through the EL 32 is simply one of the best I’ve experienced through any binocular to date.

Colour fidelity, contrast and chromatic aberration

Size comparison of EL 32

Size comparison: Meopta MeoStar B1 8×32 (left), Swarovski EL 32 Swarovision 8×32 (centre), Swarovski SLC HD 10×42 (Right)

Colours through the EL 32 are bright, vibrant and very natural looking. The contrast is superb, and combined with the outstanding sharpness gives the image a real “pop”. It’s that combination of contrast, accurate colour rendition and pin-sharp detail that creates the elusive wow factor you get with truly outstanding binoculars… and the EL 32 certainly has that.

The flouride containing HD glass in the objective lenses, combined with Swarovski’s industry-leading coating technology pretty much eliminate any sign of chromatic aberration (colour fringing) too. It was practically impossible to detect, even when trying really hard to induce it while looking at really high contrast subjects.

Low light performance and coatings

The EL 32 Swarovision is insanely bright for a mid-size binocular. It puts many full-size binoculars… even mid- to high-end models… to shame.

High quality optical components, cutting edge optical design and Swarovski’s proprietary blend of high-tech coatings (dubbed Swarobright, Swarotop and Swarodur) combine to do a fantastic job of maximising light transmission through the instrument, and of controlling stray light and glare.

The outer surface of the objective and eyepiece lenses also have what Swarovski calls its “Swaroclean” coating applied. This is a non-stick, scratch resistant coating that both repels water, dirt, grease and other grime, making the binoculars easier to clean, and protects the more delicate anti-reflective coatings beneath. What it boils down to is that your expensive lenses will need cleaning less often, and when they do need cleaning you’ll need to use less force when rubbing to remove the dirt, and are less likely to inadvertently damage the coatings. That’s great news for the longevity of your optical investment.

In good light it is almost impossible to see a difference in brightness between a high quality mid-size and full-size binocular. As the light fades though, and your pupils dilate, the extra light gathered by the wider 42mm objective lens should become more apparent. This is where the quality of the Swarovski’s really shines through. The EL 32 continued to perform exceptionally well as the light fades — delivering amazing views well into twilight and matching or exceeding the low light performance of several 42mm binoculars I compared them to.

The low light performance is very impressive indeed.

In the field

Other than the personal foible of that bottom hinge getting in the way, the EL 32 was an absolute delight to carry, handle and use in the field — and the views it offered across a wide range of field conditions were simply stunning. It’s very hard to fault this binocular’s performance in any situation.

At 580 grammes it’s not the lightest pair of high-spec mid-sized binocular on the market, but that weight is partly a reflection of the quality of the components that go into delivering the class-leading view. It also lends them a comfortable heft and balance that offers just the right amount of inertia to keep things nice and steady when you’re using them.

While they’re not exactly light, and are not the most compact mid-size binocular you’ll ever see, they are noticeably lighter and smaller than a full size 42mm equivalent — making them much easier to hold to your eyes for longer periods, less of a chore to carry in the field for hours and far easier to stow away in a pack or large jacket pocket.

The EL 32 is a consummate all-rounder.

Accessories

Swarovski Optik EL 32 and CaseI mentioned in the summary at the start of this review that the Swarovski accessories are probably the best on the market. Swarovski carry their “prestige” ethos through every aspect of their business — and the accessories you get with the EL 32 are all a step up from what you typically get with most binoculars, even at the premium end of the market.

The strap is a superb padded neoprene affair with an innovative attachment system and a unique locking “quick adjust” system that makes it really quick and easy to alter the length — making fumbling with fiddly plastic buckles is a thing of the past! The rain guard is made of high quality hard plastic, moulded to fit the eyecups perfectly and hinged in the centre to perfectly match the interpupilary distance set on the binoculars. You can remove it for viewing with the flick of a finger, and it slides effortlessly back into place once you’re done. It’s easily the best rainguard I’ve ever used.

If you like to keep your objective lens covers attached, then the tethered objective covers, made of high quality moulded rubber, fit snugly over the end of the barrels and work really well. Even the microfibre cleaning cloth is thicker, finer and feels like its made of higher quality material than those you usually get with other binoculars.

Then there’s the included case — or field bag. I don’t use a case, mainly because I use my binoculars all the time, so I want them ready for action. If I did though the case Swarovski include with their binoculars is probably the best quality, best designed binocular case I’ve ever seen, with space not just for your binoculars but also a field guide / notebook and sundry other other bits and pieces.

Snapshot Adapter attached to EL 32

Out of the box digi-binning with the Snap Shot Adapter

One other thing that’s included… and is a lot handier than it sounds at first… is a “Snap-Shot” adapter that slips over the eyepiece of the binocular and allows you to attach a compact digital camera. This clever little gadget effectively turns your high quality binoculars into a convenient super-telephoto lens for your camera — perfect for capturing that all-important record shot of the rarity you’ve just spotted.

Using it takes a bit of practice… but the results you can achieve are surprisingly good.

Warranty

Swarovski Optik offers a comprehensive 10 year warranty on defects in material and workmanship with all of its binoculars. While that is very good, it does fall short of what some other manufacturers are offering today, with warranties of 30 years or even lifetime warranties becoming more common in the industry.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the EL 32 Swarovision from Swarovski Optik is one of the most versatile and best performing all-round optical instruments you can buy today. If you’re looking for a truly uncompromising viewing experience in a compact, easy to carry form factor then you really do need to check out the EL 32. It is an outstanding optical instrument in every way.

Swarovski EL 32 Swarovision Product Specifications

Taken from the Swarovski Optik Website:

Magnification 8x
Effective objective lens diameter (mm) 32
Exit pupil diameter (mm) 4
Exit pupil distance (eye relief) (mm) 20
Field of view (ft/1000 yds / m/1000 m) 423 / 141
Field of view (degrees) 8
Field of view for eyeglass wearers (degrees) 8
Field of view, apparent (degrees) 61
Shortest focusing distance (ft / m) 6.2 / 1.9
Dioptric compensation (dpt) ± 4
Diopter correction at ∞ (dpt) 5
Light transmission (%) 90
Pupil distance (in / mm) 2.2-2.9 / 54-74
Twilight factor acc. to DIN 58388 16
Length approx. (in / mm)* 5.3 / 138
Width approx. (in / mm)** 4.3 / 110
Height approx. (in / mm)** 2.4 / 57
Weight approx. (oz / g) 20.5 / 580
* Value with eyecups twisted in _
** Dimensions at a pupil distance of 2.5 in / 64 mm _
Technical Data
Functional temperature -13 °F to +131 °F (-25 °C / +55 °C)
Storage temperature -22 °F to +158 °F (-30 °C / +70 °C)
Submersion tightness 13 ft / 4 m water depth (filled with nitrogen)
SSA snap shot adapter S4

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank Swarovski UK for submitting the EL 32 Swarovision for review on Ireland’s Wildlife.

NB. Ireland’s Wildlife has no specific affiliation to any optics or gear manufacturer and all reviews on the site are completely independent and objective. If you’re an optics or gear manufacturer and would like to submit your product for review on the site please drop us a line using the contact form and we can take things from there.

About Calvin Jones

Calvin Jones is a freelance writer, author, birder and lifelong wildlife enthusiast. He is founder and managing editor of IrelandsWildlife.com. He is also the tour leader and wildlife guide on our West Cork based Discover Wildlife tours.
Calvin is also co-author of bestselling digital marketing titles and offers digital business consulting services and training through Digital Marketing Success

Trackbacks

  1. […] At the centre of the field of view the image is razor sharp, with great contrast and colour and no sign of colour fringing (chromatic aberration). The binocular obviously emulates a lot of the good points of its more accomplished (and much more expensive), stable mates the SLC HD and the EL Swarovision. […]

  2. […] widely reported and discussed when Swarovski Optik introduced a field flattener in their flagship EL Swarovision line. To counteract the rolling ball effect ZEISS has introduced a modicum of distortion as part of […]

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