Expert-Recommended Tips for Choosing a Swarovski Binocular
Posted on June 15 2021
This article by Clay Taylor, Swarovski Optik's naturalist market manager, first appeared in Redstart Birding's 2021 Optics Guide. Download the full guide here.
You have recently taken up bird watching, but your birding friends are finding birds and identifying them while you cannot get good looks at the same birds. How do you solve that?
Well, since the hobby is bird watching, getting a great look at the birds is very important. If you are struggling to see the same things that your friends do, you just might need to upgrade your binocular.
There are literally hundreds of models on the market, so here are a few suggestions from Swarovski Optik, makers of top-of-the-line optics for birding.
Most birders would rank the important parts of choosing a binocular in this order – size and weight, power (magnification), durability (waterproofness, ruggedness, etc.), and price. There are other considerations that can further help you with the final choice, such as image quality (sharp images with accurate colors), eye relief (especially important if you wear glasses), field of view (are you a “scanner” or a “spotter”?), close focus (if you also watch butterflies and dragonflies), and ergonomics (how comfortable are they to hold steady while viewing?).
The numbers to know are always listed as 8x25 or 10x50, and it is easier to remember “how big x how bright.” The first number is how big the binocular makes the bird appear, and the second number is how bright the bird image appears. In the two examples above, the 10x50 binocular gives both a bigger bird and a brighter image, but the binocular itself is much larger and heavier than the 8x25. While big and bright are obviously desirable, too heavy means that you might not want to take it with you.
The debate amongst birders usually starts with “which do you prefer: 8 power or 10 power?”—and there is no definitive answer. Instead, it depends on the user—if you can hold the binocular steady enough, 10x is great. If you use your binocular to scan the trees or the horizon for birds, the wider field of view of the 8x makes this more efficient. I will always recommend that you try both power options to see which one is better for you.
Here are my four recommendations to check out for your next birding optic.
Top of the Line: The Swarovski Optik NL Pure
In July of 2020, Swarovski Optik introduced the NL Pure binocular as its new flagship model above the EL SwaroVision line. The 8x42, 10x42, and 12x42 NL Pure models feature a completely new body shape with an indented barrel (some call it a wasp-waist look) that allows for amazing comfort and grip. They then redesigned the optical path to feature the widest field of view in the optics industry, a completely new focusing system that will close-focus down to 6 feet, and 5-position eyecup to precisely position your eyes so you can enjoy that huge field of view.
Then they added an industry first: the FRP Forehead Rest. As the name indicates, the FRP allows you to press the binocular against your forehead, giving you much greater viewing stability. That makes the 12x model, which has the same field of view as the 10x42 EL, mighty appealing. The 8x42 has a field of view of 470 feet at 1,000 yards, and looking into it makes you feel like you are inside the image. It is spectacular, and that is what I carry every day.
All that innovation comes at a price, as the NL Pure costs over $3,000, but that has not deterred customers from rushing to buy them. At this writing in early 2021, you might have a hard time finding one in-stock at Redstart Birding, but get on the list soon. The wait will definitely be worth it!
The Swarovski Optik CL Companion Binocular
The CL Companion models come in 8x30 and 10x30 versions, with two color choices for the rubber armoring (Swarovski green and anthracite gray) and three choices of strap & carry case—Wild Nature, Urban Jungle, and Northern Lights. They are a great size and weight—17 ounces and small enough to store in a jacket pocket, yet large enough to hold comfortably and firmly as you watch birds for long periods of time. They sell for about $1,300, and of course are totally waterproof and very rugged.
Now, there are many 8x42 and 10x42 binoculars available from other manufacturers that are in the same price range, so why would you buy a binocular with the smaller “How Bright” number? Simple. If you do most of your birding outside during the day, the scene is usually bright enough that your eyes have to close down. That larger, heavier 42 binocular no longer has the brightness advantage. As a long-time photographer, I know that even when taking photos of birds in the trees on a cloudy day, there is more ambient light there than in your well-lit living room. Can you use your binocular to look at things in your living room and still see details and colors? Of course you can! So, the CL Companion’s image sharpness and color will rival that of the larger, heavier binocular of the same price. You really need to see this and decide for yourself.
The Swarovski Optik CL Pocket Binocular
Everyone loves a small, lightweight, easy-to-carry binocular. The CL Pocket binoculars are very rugged and compact, the image is sharp, and the colors are perfect. They are available in 8x25 and 10x25 models, and have excellent eye relief in case you wear glasses. However, the field of view is relatively narrow, and their light weight makes them harder to hold steady when compared with a larger binocular.
The CL Pockets have recently been updated with new ergonomics, a more rugged twin-hinge design, and the addition of an ocular cover that attaches to the strap. This makes them a great travel binocular, especially if you are in places where you want to have a binocular handy but do not want to be wearing it around your neck.
Would I take one as my primary optic on a birding trip to Costa Rica? No, but it would make a great backup binocular in case something happens to my NL Pure.
Would I take one on a trip to New York City, Vienna, or Paris? Yes, absolutely! I could use it while birding tiny Bryant Park in NYC, watching the Eurasian kestrels nesting on St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, or viewing the reconstruction of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I would probably choose the 10x25 model if I wanted to see the artworks and architecture in these cities.
The Swarovski Optik dG Digital Guide: The “Wild Card”
Also in 2020, Swarovski Optik introduced something totally unique to the market—the dG Digital Guide. It is a hybrid optic, consisting of an 8x32 monocular in a wide, flat body PLUS an 8x telephoto camera! The camera lens and the viewing lens are side by side in the body of the dG. As you watch your bird through the viewing lens, pushing the top button will take a 12-megapixel picture with the equivalent of a 400mm telephoto lens.
However, that is only the start of what the dG Digital Guide can do. The dG will store up to 50 photos internally, and as soon as you open up the dG app on your smartphone, the dG will connect to the phone and WiFi all the images to your photos. If you have the Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the dG will also send its images to Merlin, which can then identify what you just saw!
Since the dG Digital Guide is its own WiFi source, the system works in your backyard, New York City, or even some place like Carara National Park in Costa Rica!
But wait, there is more! Since the dG Digital Guide is a WiFi source, you can also connect up to four additional devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) simultaneously, and the streaming image from the dG can be viewed on all of them. Including your own device, all of them can record the streaming images as a video, or take still photos any time, and these will be saved on the device.
If you are birding in a new city or country and do not have a local guide to help you with identifications, the dG Digital Guide plus Merlin can do that for you. The 8x telephoto lens will also make it easier to get photos of things like butterflies and dragonflies, which an app like iNaturalist can then identify.
Is the dG Digital Guide ideal for everybody? If you typically go birding with a binocular and either a DSLR camera or a SuperZoom camera, probably not. However, if you want to get photos for identification (or to verify that you saw a really rare bird) and you are not a “camera person,” this solution makes alot of sense. The dG is waterproof, has a built-in battery that charges with a USB cord, ample eye relief for eyeglass wearers, and is quite easy to hold comfortably while viewing birds or snapping photos of them.
No matter which of these optics you choose, go out and have fun with them!
Have any questions? Want to talk to a Redstart Birding representative? Give us a call at 833-262-1568 or email email@example.com to get started.