Welcome to our review of the Swarovski NL Pure 10x42, a stunning pair of high-end binoculars for any discerning birder seeking the best binoculars for birdwatching or, for that matter, anyone into wildlife safaris, spectator sports and concert-going.
When it comes to premium optics, ergonomics, fit and finish and outright durability, Swarovski is pretty much in a league of its own. Despite the extremely high prices, it’s a Rolls Royce brand that any self-respecting elite birder is unswervingly drawn towards, and for very good reason, as we will discover.
Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 review
Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 review: price and availability
Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 review: specifications
- Magnification: 10x
- Objective diameter: 42mm
- Field of view (at 1000m): 133m
- Closest focusing distance: 2m/6.56 ft
- Weight: 850g/30 oz
- Dimensions: 158 x 71 x 131mm / 6.22 x 2.79 x 5.15"
Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 review: design
Swarovski produces a wide range of binoculars for a variety of applications. This model falls under the NL (Nature Lover) category of which there are five models to choose from – 8x32, 8x42, 10x32, 10x42 and 12x42. Given that this writer lives near woods and farmland with plenty of raptors about (both kites and buzzards), I chose the 10x42 model for this review since I was seeking powerful 10x magnification and as wide a field of view as possible. With their 42mm objective lenses, the 10x42s proved to be a perfect balance between optics and weight.
In terms of ergonomics, the NL 10x42 measures 158mm in length, 131mm in width and 71mm in height, and its body is shaped like a soft drinks bottle with a slim waistline that provides excellent grip, amazing comfort and expert balance. Granted, at 850 grams they do feel a little heavy in the hand so if you have weak forearms perhaps consider the marginally lighter 10x32 which weigh in at 640g, or perhaps purchase a universal tripod adaptor. That said, I’ve been able to hold the 10x42s in position for minutes at a time without feeling like my arms are about to fall off. And my arms are very lean, it has to be said.
In order to blend in with the natural surroundings, these Swarovski binoculars come in British racing green and are covered in a thick armour of weatherproof rubber which protects then against knocks and scrapes.
The 10x42’s rubber-coated eyecups twist in and out using a ratchet system with five distinct positions up to a maximum eye relief distance of around 15mm. All decent binoculars feature a dioptre adjustment that compensates for focus differences between your two eyes. Sometimes it’s integrated into the barrel of a single eye cup but in this instance it’s a stiff nubbed wheel situated just fore of the focus wheel that adjusts the focus of your right eye. To use, close your left eye and move the wheel left or right until the image looks pin sharp.
Once you’ve made a successful dioptre adjustment to your right eye you can move over to the main focus wheel – and this is where the Swarovskis really shine. Unlike cheap bins that come with a less-than-satisfying focus wheel, this model’s is as tactile as a car’s steering wheel. In fact it feels as if it has two gearing systems – one with just the right amount of resistance to move quickly through the full focal plane and a central section with zero resistance for fine tuning. This makes the Swarovski 10x42 ideal for birdwatching where you have to locate the subject and focus as quickly as possible before the bird flies off.
Completing the package is a wide and comfortable adjustable neoprene neck strap that helps distribute the weight of the binoculars while walking. However, the jury’s out on the strap attachment system which is awkward to use – you have to turn a tiny little knob which is difficult to get purchase on with finger and thumb. As a result, it’s not a particularly confidence inspiring system.
As is the case with all binoculars, this model comes in a suitably padded premium case with internal pocket and exterior clips to attach a shoulder strap.
Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 review: features
There’s no getting away from it, binoculars with higher magnification have a narrower field of view and that translates into a shaky image when holding them in the hands. Many birders prefer 8x magnification because it means a smaller, lighter body and less image shake when holding them to your eyes. However 8x magnification can sometimes be a hindrance if the bird hide is on the other side of a lake from a rare species you spent your whole life looking for. At times like this you’ll wish you had a little more magnification so the subject fills more of the frame. And that’s where this model comes in. Why?
Well, for birdwatching – and even spectator sports – you ideally want a wider field of view so you can clearly see the subject without a lot of shaking. However, this often means using a larger and heavier model. Hence, I think this pair are just perfect for the task they were designed for – watching wildlife up-close and personal, only with a very decent field of view so you can a) locate the subject more easily, b) see more of the subject’s surroundings and c) enjoy the experience without too much shakiness. Incidentally, Swarovski also sells an optional Forehead Rest for the NL Pure that really helps stabilise the image by bracing the binoculars against the user’s forehead.
The Swarovski NL Pure’s optics have a 133m field of view at 1,000m and the image is crystal clear right to the very edge of the lens. They are stupendously bright, too (a light throughput of 91%), which makes them an ideal choice for wildlife watching from dusk to dawn.
Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 review: optical performance
If you’ve always wondered why some binoculars are far more expensive than others, and you find it difficult to tell one similarly-specced pair from another, put your peepers to these for the answer. Edge-to-edge clarity is exceptional, and there’s plenty of magnification at your fingertips to view wildlife from a good, safe distance in almost any type of light.
Depth of field is immense, especially when you focus on a subject with the background a good distance beyond it. It’s like looking through a very expensive camera lens with a really large aperture – the main subject stands out like a razor-sharp beacon while behind it, a beautiful soft-focus bokeh effect provides almost surreal visual clout. The detail at the point of focus is nothing short of sensational.
While these bins are best suited to wildlife viewing, I can think of myriad other uses for them, including spectator sports, plane spotting, ship spotting, concert going and day-to-day uses like seeing the state of your chimney stack or anything else beyond the range of natural eyesight. But not voyeurism, for obvious reasons.
Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 review: verdict
If you’re a committed birdwatcher, you will already know all there is to know about the Swarovski brand, partly because any discerning birder you share the experience with will almost certainly have a pair on them. After all, Swarovski binoculars are known for their class-leading pin-sharp, crystal-clear image quality, which is why they cost so much.
And there’s the rub. I personally would find it hard to justify spending upwards of two grand on a pair of binoculars unless my eyes were accustomed to spotting even the slightest differences between one pair of binoculars and another. Put another way, the judging of high-end binoculars is the visual equivalent of being able to distinguish the minor differences between various vintage wines. If you know, you know.