Review: Swarovski 8x30 CL

When I started writing about birding optics I was getting more new products to test than I could keep up with. Things have changed. Friends in the optics industry complain that the market for high-end binoculars has been stagnant. Binoculars, after all, last a long time, and people don’t rush to replace great bins with a newer model unless they are feeling prosperous.

Against this backdrop the birding fanatics and engineers at Swarovski have been acting as if their hair is on fire. More accurately – they seem to be channeling Steve Jobs. Introducing one great product after another, Swarovski has been doubling down its bets on the premise that greatness creates its own market.

Swarovski’s latest binocular -- the newly introduced 8x30 CL – is the first mid-priced offering from the company. I have been conditioned to salivate at the announcement of a new Swarovski binocular, so I have had to train myself to be super critical. My first outing with the new CLs was a bird walk with a group of Staten Island regulars who all enjoy auditioning whatever new bins I show up with. This is a jaded group so I was not prepared for their collective reaction to the CLs. “Wow.” “Are these new?” “What are they?” “Can I try them next?” “What do they cost?” “I want a pair.” “Are they on the market yet?” “Where can I get them?” I actually got to use them for about ten minutes because nobody would willingly give them back. Most eager to hog them was my wife who is accustomed to using Swarovski ELs and knows the difference. The next day at our annual “big sit” I simply refused to share the CLs. Work is, after all, work.

My bird club’s reaction confirms that Swarovski has produced a winner. The consensus is that they work well with and without eyeglasses. They fit a lot of different face and hand sizes. The focus is satisfyingly fast without being overly critical. The focus knob is well-designed and travels through only one complete turn from closest focus to infinity. And they feel really, really good to just about everybody.

What about the optics? They are surprisingly good for a binocular sporting such a diminutive configuration. In full sunlight they appear to be about as bright as most full-sized binoculars. The color rendition seems completely neutral. There is no noticeable distortion of any kind. The field of view is a respectable 370 feet at 1,000 yards.

What they are NOT is a bargain pair of Swarovski ELs, Leica Ultravids, or Zeiss Conquest FLs. State of the art binoculars are expensive to design and manufacture, and they have to cost a lot more. Full-sized state-of-the-art binoculars offer higher resolution, better color correction, better contrast, and a much more satisfying image than the next best thing. You can most fully appreciate the difference when looking at a bird at extreme distance or in the first and last half hour of sunlight. Although I can see the difference in a side-by-side comparison, I and, I suspect, most of you, will gladly give up that last iota of optical truth for ultimate convenience because the CLs are so easy to carry and use. As I get older, and my back gets increasingly cranky, I am more apt to reach for smaller binoculars more often than I used to.  Consider that the world’s best binoculars are useless if you don’t have them with you. The new Swarovski 8x30 CLs weigh in at a scant 17 ounces so there is no excuse to ever leave them behind.

I get a lot of questions about what to buy. A lot of them come from people who want something smaller and lighter than full-sized binoculars. I have never been a fan of compacts because they just don’t offer enough brightness and field of view. The new CLs are barely bigger than compacts and perform like bins with much bigger objective lenses. Those of you who are looking for small bird-worthy binoculars should find that the Swarovski 8x30 CLs are the answer to your dreams.

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