In my opinion, the binocular, or binoculars as they are commonly known, is one of humankind’s greatest inventions. Whether it’s birds, mammals or even insects, a good pair of binoculars transforms our engagement with the natural world, allowing us to observe, from a distance that minimises disturbance, details way beyond the natural capabilities of the human eye. They help us to determine whether that movement on the edge of the forest 100m away was a wild cat or just branches moving in the wind, and whether the Phylloscopus warbler that moved through the canopy overhead had two wing-bars or only one, thus helping us to identify it with certainty. In short, they add another dimension to our experience in the outdoors.
Since the first attempts at fixing two telescopes side by side in the 17th century, many advances have been made in binocular manufacturing. Modern binoculars are lightweight, use high-precision glass and cutting-edge machine technology to make the image we see as clear, bright and sharp as possible, even in low light conditions.
The law of diminishing returns tells us that, over time, efforts to improve binoculars will gradually lead to fewer and less significant advances. However, just occasionally, there are breakthroughs that prove the exception, leading to a noticeable step forward. Having just spent a few days testing the new Swarovski Optik NL Pure, I can say with confidence that this new flagship binocular represents one such advance!
Over the last few days, since I opened the package from Swarovski in my front room, I have tested the NL Pure 8×42 in dull, almost dark, conditions when caught in a deluge during a thunderstorm in the mountains while watching dragonflies and on a hot, bright and sunny day on my local patch in urban Beijing watching breeding Zitting Cisticolas, newly-fledged Red-rumped Swallows and migrant Yellow-breasted Buntings. Am I impressed? You bet.
Having been spoiled by the flagship EL 8×32, I was intrigued, and to be honest a little sceptical, that the new NL Pure could improve on the EL. I am no longer sceptical.
There are two big things that make the NL Pure so good.
The first – and the thing that jumps out at you as soon as you pick them up – is the new ergonomic design of the barrels. They simply fit perfectly into the hand and, in a direct comparison test with the EL, I found the NL easier to hold for long periods. As I am often out in the field for hours at a time, comfort has always been an important factor, which is why I tend to prefer the lighter 8x rather than the more powerful, but heavier, models of binocular. The ergonomics of the NL Pure are a big plus for me and, if you invest in the revolutionary forehead rest, the comfort level increases again, acting like an image stabiliser.
The second thing is the field of view. At the online launch presentation by Swarovski, Wolfgang Schwarz, Deputy Head of Product Management said:
“In the past, we have talked about edge-to-edge sharpness. But there is one thing that’s even better – no edges at all.”
Of course, in reality, there are edges to the image but I can see what he means. The model I tested (NL Pure 8×42) has a field of view of 159m/1000m compared with 133m/1000m for the EL 8.5×42. There is no doubt that a wider field of view increases the chances of detecting more, whether it’s birds, mammals or any other wildlife. In a direct comparison between the NL Pure and the EL, the difference is startling.
The NL Pure is simply the best binocular I have ever experienced.
Today, 1 September, the NL Pure goes on general release. To celebrate, together with 7 colleagues across Asia, from Borneo to India, I participated in a live birding webcast as part of Swarovski Optik’s continental birding series. You can see the recording here. Enjoy!