Gear Review: Swarovski Optik EL 8.5 x 42 binoculars

Life has many important decisions. Work. Marriage. Children. But if you make a mistake there are options: you can change careers, file for divorce or leave the kids at an adoption agency. But if you are standing in the Congo, failing to see the Okapi that the guy next to you is watching, there are no second chances. Choosing the right pair of binoculars is likely the single most important decision any mammal watcher will ever make.

OK. So I realize that not everyone may fully agree. But I doubt whether any of us has ever bought new binoculars without fairly careful consideration. I certainly – and this is no word of a lie – gave mine considerably more thought than I put into choosing any of the apartments I have lived in.

In 2018, after a ton of research, I bought a pair of Swarovski Optik EL 8.5 x 42 binoculars. I feel I know them well enough now to talk about them in public.

I’ve used Leica, Zeiss and Swarovski over the years. And, in the right conditions at least, I struggle to find much of a difference between the quality of the optics in these top brands. But other factors are also important for a mammal watcher.

How close will the glasses focus: can I study a bat’s face from 2 meters away?

How heavy are they: will I need to see a physio for my neck pain after an 8 hour hike?

How good are they in low light? Because that is when I will need them most.

Are they water and fog proof? I have a recurring nightmare that I am deep into a trip and I ruin my binoculars, several thousand miles from the nearest Amazon delivery centre.

All those questions were in the back of my mind when I was binocular shopping, and I have not been disappointed.

The close focusing (to 1.5 meters) with these glasses is excellent. They have a good field of view, are superb in low light and weigh in under 800 grams.

They are totally waterproof. When they get dirty just wash them under a tap. I also find them very easy to use quickly. Add to that Swarovski Optik’s legendary customer service – if you have pretty much any problem they WILL fix it –  and we have a winner.

I had one gripe with my last pair of Swarovski bins. The eye pieces are adjustable. If you do not wear glasses you need twist and extend the eyepieces outwards. There was a definite art form to the type of twist needed and I couldn’t master it. More often than not I would detach the eye piece totally. This was easily fixed but annoying. The new EL model has corrected this problem.

The one thing – and its a small thing – I would change about these are the lens caps that attach to objective lenses at the base of the binociulars. It took me about 2 months – and one walk through thick brush – to lose them. Not really a problem and in fact there might even be some benefit in having them fall off: there is now no chance they will accidentally drop over the lenses when that Okapi does appear. But if you really love those lens caps then treat your binoculars better than I treat mine. 

Anyone else want to share binocular advice?



  • Jan Kelchtermans

    I do have two (10×50 and 13×56) Swarovski bino’s attached to my tripod with a special designed adaptor ; also designed by Swarovski. I use both while scanning for mammals in the field. The result is just outstanding! Top gear!

  • Larry Master

    These are undoubtedly excellent binoculars. I have owned many pairs of binoculars from different manufacturers over the past 65 years, but by far my favorites are Canon’s 10×42 L IS WP Image Stabilized Binoculars, which, unlike Canon’s previous IS binocs close focus to 8.2 ft, are waterproof, require only one touch to stabilize, and have excellent optics. They are heavy (2.4 lbs) but the image stabilization more than makes up for the weight. The on-line reviews are excellent. To quote from one on-line review: “The 10X42L possess excellent optics and with their IS feature turned on, the marked increase in details, resolution and clarity makes even my glassing steady hands obsolete. Great optics, solid build, quality accessories, quick and very effective IS function and as a porro II design, wonderful 3D viewing. Battery life using fresh Lithium’s is superb (15 hrs of continuous IS use & charge still at 1.74V)!” I agree.

  • Mattia from Italy

    I use Zeiss Victory and I’m very happy. I find Zeiss better than Swaro at dawn and dusk, and it’s even a bit cheaper.

    When Zeiss created the new Victory top of the range, the old top of the range went at almost half the price, so I bought it. It’s always my tactics with binoculars.

    If you always search for mammals in strong wind conditions, like in Patagonia, a stabilizer like in the Canon is very useful, but only in this case.

  • TimBawden

    I have had the Swaro 8.5 * 42 EL’s for about 7 years now – I have to say it is the one purchase in my life I have never had buyers remorse for. They are heavy and I do need to send them for a service but they are excellent and take a lot of punishment. I assume other top end brands are just as good too.

  • Sofia

    What a startup! It’s cool. I can’t but leave my feelings. Life is nothing but to go into some of choices. I was wondered swimming through your alluring writing. I have hard enough about Okapi but not yet been there. Anyway, I trailed to the end of your binocular review. You explained the features and quality brilliantly. As a birder I personally use Monarch 7-8×42-binoculars-for-birding. But pleased to learn about Swarovski optik.

  • Chris

    Having tried another top make of binoculars I have traded them in after 2 years as I wasn’t happy with them and have just purchased a pair of Swarovski 8.5×42 EL and they are absolutely superb. Clearer, better ergonomically and a new reduced price as the Swarovski NL Pure model are just out.

  • benbalmford

    Thanks Jon for the helpful information in here. I recently upgraded my 15yr old pentax bins for a pair of Swarovskis. I ended up going with the 8 x 42 NL Pure (dad replaced his similarly old Leica’s with the 8 x 32 NL pure). NL vs EL – we could both pick up even more light coming through. 32 vs 42 – I could just about see a difference in light levels and found the hand-wobble that gets worse the bigger the binocular to not be too bad; whereas dad couldn’t see too much of a difference, and the hand wobble was a bit worse for him.

    • Jon Hall

      Thanks Ben – good to know you have both upgraded! Hoping you will both see many rare mammals through your new bins

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