Binocular Review: Swarovski SLC 8x42 HD

Review: Swarovski SLC 8x42HD
Having recently reviewed two new Swarovski binoculars, I confess to finding it difficult to write about the newly updated SLCs without being repetitive, but birders should know about this new model.
Swarovski’s SLC line actually preceded the ELs. The bins in the SLC lineup were aimed originally at the hunting market because hunting was far more popular in Europe than birding when these bins were introduced.  Despite Swarovski's intentions, the birding community in Britain, Sweden, and later in the US, discovered and enthusiastically adopted them because they were very rugged, very bright, and had outstanding resolution. But many complained about the color balance being slightly off. In fact, the SLCs' color rendition was somewhat "off" because the bins were balanced to compensate for the flat light of overcast northern European skies.  They favored contrast in exchange for some loss of color fidelity, which didn't matter at all to hunters.  In response to these complaints Swarovski assembled an advisory team of top birders from Cape May Bird Observatory and Cornell Lab of Ornithology to help design a binocular specifically for bird watching. The resulting ELs were an instant market leader which spurred the other alpha class manufacturers to up their games.
Having updated the ELs after eleven years, the Swarovski team then set its sights on improving the SLCs.  The update incorporates HD (extra low dispersion) glass, a magnesium body, coatings which provided more accurate color and increased light transmision, and improved ergonomics. The folks at Swarovski still think of the SLC as being primarily for the hunting market and the ELs being for birders, but the distinction has blurred because the new SLC 8x42 HDs are among the very best birding binoculars.
Having had an opportunity to compare the new SLC 8x42 HDs directly against Swarovski’s new Swarovision 8.5x42 ELs and against the Leica Ultravids and the Zeiss Victory FLs, I can tell you that anyone in the market for alpha class bins now has an even more difficult choice to make.
The SLC 8x42 HDs appear to me to be the brightest bins of any in this configuration. The use of HD glass has eliminated the small amount of chromatic aberration that existed in the previous model. They are quick focusing, comfortable in the hand, and have a panoramic field of view. They also focus down to 6 feet which makes them good for butterflies and dragonflies.  The focusing knob is large, well-placed, and turns with the right amount of resistance (not too stiff, and not too loose, just right). And, they work well with eyeglasses.  The primary difference between the SLC 8x42 HDs and the Swarovision ELs is that the ELs include field flattener lenses  and have slightly better color correction, while the SLC HDs are noticeably brighter.
Over the month that I have had the SLC 8x42 HDs I have passed them and the Swarovision ELs around to several birding companions and asked which they liked better. About half of my testers had no preference. The other half expressed a slight preference for ELs. I, too, am in the group which prefers the ELs, but my advice to anyone looking at binoculars in this price range is to spend as much time as you can with each of these models, and with any other models you may be considering, before making a decision.
We birders are indeed living in a golden age of optics in which today’s mid-priced binoculars exceed the performance of the top models available only 25 years ago. The performance of today’s top models from Swarovski, Leica, and Zeiss were unimaginable only a few years ago.  Although all three of these manufacturers has (and deserves) its partisans, the designers and engineers at Swarovski are, at this moment, at the very top of their game. The SLC 8x42 HDs are a great addition to their growing line of  great birding binoculars.

For more, check out the Audubon Guide to Binoculars.

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