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Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions
3 August 2020
Arkadiusz Olech

1. Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

In the middle of June 2020 journalists specialising in widely understood sports optics were informed that on 30 June there would be an online webinar concerning novelities launched by the renowned Swarovski Optik company. These novelties would be officially presented worldwide the very next day.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

During that internet launch event we were shown a new series of binoculars called NL Pure (NL standing for Nature Lover). It comprises of three roof prism models with the following parameters: 8x42, 10x42 and 12x42. As it befits the top-of-the-range series of a renowned producer they are supposed to offer all the best: excellent optics joined with high quality anti-reflection SWAROTOP and SWARODUR coatings on all air-to-glass surfaces (minimizing losses of light to 0.2% on one surface) and reflexive dielectric SWAROBRIGHT coatings on one of surfaces of roof prisms system.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

Two things stuck out at once: firstly, a truly intriguing shape of binoculars' barrels, with untypical indentations in places where you usually place your hands to hold the instrument. The hosts of the press conference explained that the location of roof prisms had been changed (they were rotated relative to each other) in order to allow such a profile of the binoculars' barrels. As a result it became more comfortable and safer to hold, ensuring a firmer grip.

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Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

Fields of view of the new binoculars are the second, very interesting thing. The following chart presents their basic parameters; at once you notice that the 8x42 model features a field of view as wide as 9.1 degrees, the 10x42 instrument's field of view is 7.6 degrees and the 12.42 binoculars feature a field as wide as 6.5 degrees. We don't doubt these are practically record values and it's impossible to find anything similar in other contemporary instruments. It's enough to mention the fact that in the 8x42 class a field of view ranging from 8 to 8.5 degrees has been considered an excellent result; there have been pairs of binoculars with fields of view as narrow as 6.3-6.5 degrees. In the 10x42 class a field ranging from 6.0-6.5 was called already good; lately we've seen models with fields as wide as 6.6-7.0 degrees and we've praised them a lot as a step in the right direction and a return to the era of wide angle binoculars which used to be popular several dozen years ago. As you see the new Swarovski models exceeded these values noticeably.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

You should also notice how big are the apparent fields of view of the eyepieces. According to a simplified formula, multiplying the field of view of the binoculars, expressed in degrees, by its magnification, you get the following results: 72.8, 76.0, and 78.0 from the lowest to the highest magnification. With such a high field values the simplified formula distorts the results a bit so you should use a more precise tangent formula and the results are as follows: 65.0, 67.2 i 68.5 deg.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

Construction of such wide angle eyepieces that, which additionally are supposed to correct properly optical aberrations up to the very edge of the field and assure you a comfortable eye relief, amounting to 18 mm, needs without doubt a complex optical system. Despite that complexity Swarovski claims that the overall transmission of their new binoculars reaches a very high level of 91%.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

The new NL Pure series is not supposed to substitute the current flagship EL Swarovision series, but actually improve on that by creating a class of their own. The prices of new NL Pure devices start from 2850 Euro; in order to make even more room between them and the older EL devices the producers decided to weaken the parameters of EL binoculars a bit – their minimum focusing distance was changed from 1.5 meters to 3.3 meters.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

The Swarovski specialists are so sure of quality of their new NL Pure series optics that they launched a device with really unusual 12x42 parameters, a completely new pair of binoculars in their line-up. On the one hand it is a unique model, with very few direct rivals available on the market. In the past you could find 12x40 models but in the 21 century I can only remind myself of the Nikon Monarch, the Vortex Viper, the Bushnell H2O and the Kenko Artos. On the other hand 12x42 parameters are not especially extreme. Such an instrument offers an exit pupil of 3.5 mm so higher than in quite popular 10x30 or 10x32 class.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

Still, because of these quite unique parameters it's the 12x42 model that became the apple of the Swarovski's eye (as it features the widest field of view of eyepieces) and they sent it as the first to be tested by journalists. As it fell into our hands as well we decided to share our hands-on impressions with our Readers.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on
Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 i Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Swarovision.

First let's tackle the ergonomics. The new pairs of binoculars are a tad heavier than the EL Swarovision devices but the difference is cosmetic and difficult to notice in practice (NL 12x42 weight is 880 grams together with objective covers). The new models' barrels are a bit shorter and they are contoured; as a result, in our opinion they look more elegant and slimmer. Also the fact that the producer resigned from open hinge construction might influence the slimmer shape of the new product. The contoured barrels are in fact very comfortable in your hands – personally I enjoyed handling the NL Pure a lot.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on
Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 i Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Swarovision.

The excellent quality greenish rubber armour is very similar to the material covering the newest EL models, sticking to your hands very well. Near the eyepieces you can find the logo and below the name of the company, this time embossed in rubber. In the case of EL instruments the shining logo letters were put in a notch cut in the armour.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on
Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 i Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Swarovision.

The central wheel changed a lot – now it is surrounded by the bridge and behind you find a small joystick for dioptre correction. It looks and performs better than in the case of predecessors; we hope the wheel will be less of a problem than in the case of EL instruments where, after several years of wear and tear, the mechanism becomes so worn out that you could feel difference of resistance depending on the direction of turning. Here the resistance is the same and on a proper level – the wheel is neither too loose nor too tight to move. Still, as usual with the Swarovski instruments, you need a lot of turning. Running through the whole distance range needs a turn through an angle of about 700 degrees.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

On the bridge from the side of eyepieces you find two screws. This is a place for attaching the so-called forehead rest, a Swarovski invention, presented along the NL Pure series. It has to be bought separately for 129 Euro.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

If you decide to spend that much you get the said forehead rest, a small case, and a small key for the screws on the bridge. After removing the screws you push the forehead rest into the holes. You can also regulate its position, controlling how close the rest is attached to the barrel.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

We were very curious how that invention works in practice so it was a bit of luck that we were sent the pair of binoculars with the higher magnification. I was a tad sceptical at first, the whole idea and the price seemed to me preposterous (after all for 129 Euro you can buy a quite decent pair of binoculars, not as good as the Swarovski, that's true, but still able to give you a lot of joy). The facts are such that the forehead rest is indeed able to stabilize your binoculars better. Of course the effect is not as pronounced as the effect of optical stabilization system featured by top-of-the-range devices produced by Canon or Fujinon but it is definitely an improvement. Micro-vibrations are damped down very efficiently and you look through the binoculars for a longer time enjoying better stabilization of images. If you want to buy the 12x model it seems acquiring the headfront rest is a good idea.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

A comprehensive assessment of coatings and glass elements inside the NL Pure will be available only after examining the binoculars with the spectrophotometer; as for now we can present only our general impressions concerning the coatings. Overall, they don't differ much from Swarovski standards. When you look at the optics straight and from a bigger distance, putting the binoculars against a white wall, tubes seem to be empty. It means there are no distinct reflections.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

Looking at the objective lenses at an angle you see damped down green-yellow reflections; at more acute angles there is also some purple; prisms shine with green and yellow and on eyepieces the coatings are pink-green-yellow. The intensity of reflections is low but objective coatings differ from each other slightly and it's an interesting thing. When you look at a great angle in the right objective there is a tad more green and in the left objective you can notice a bit more purple. We are very curious about the transmission graphs of both optical paths.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

Interior of the tubes is dark, matt and ribbed in several places. Bottoms near the prisms are also dark and matt. Still not everything looks perfect, mainly because of a case with the focusing element. Its edge is too bright for our tastes. Additionally, when the focusing element moves toward the prisms and eyepieces, it reveals the inner tube which is equally bright although matt. The overall assessment of the blackening of the tubes can't be very high. In our opinion entire tubes should have been darker and the area around the focusing element - better blackened. We don't have any reservations concerning cleanliness inside the binoculars – we didn't spot any dirt or specks of dust on the optics.

The imperfections concerning blackening, described above, inflence the appearance of exit pupils. In a perfect case you should see a round pupil against an ink-black background. In this case you can notice some ligher areas and arcs so the result is not as perfect as it should be.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

When it comes to the optics we compared the NL Pure series novely with such good instruments as the Swarovski EL 10x32, the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 (two specimens from 2015 and 2017), the Nikon 12x50 SE, the Leica Ultravid BL 10x42, and the Zeiss Conquest HD 10x32. I looked through the NL Pure 12x42 for the first time and, I admit, I felt disappointed. In the centre the image was crystal clear but on the edge I noticed some slight mist. I thought that the field of view might be obscured by caps fixed to objectives. As I found out, you have to learn how to function with such a wide field of view. My eye sockets are such that I have to extend eyecups to the full in the majority of binoculars I use. I did the same with the new Swarovski binoculars and it was a mistake. The field is so wide that I had to twist the eyecups down by one stop in order to observe everything comfortably – after that operation all was fine and finally I started to enjoy myself.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

When I got to know the NL Pure series specification I didn't believe such a wide field of view can be corrected as well as in the newest EL Swarovision models where all the aberrations, perhaps apart from CA, are kept well in control, even on the edge. I was very surprised when I found out that images provided by NL Pure are not weaker than these provided by its predecessors. The centre is crystal clear – perfect colours, great saturation, excellent contrast. Images are so bright that they almost dazzle you. The situation is so good that the Nikon 12x50 SE, with a bigger objective lens, seemed to be a slower device, with a lower contrast images and a noticeable red hue.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

The centre of the field in the NL Pure is amazing but I am really impressed by the performance on the edge. The situation is certainly not worse than in the case of the EL instruments. Sharpness remains on the same level to the edge of diaphragm and its loss on the very edge is really slight. Chromatic aberration makes itself felt but certainly its level is not higher than in other EL binoculars. Distortion is slight, and some of it is left so the rolling-ball effect doesn't become bothersome – in my opinion in the NL Pure it is distinctly lower than in the EL 10x32.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

Night time observations proved the Swarovski renown. Stars are almost perfectly point-like so astigmatism is corrected in an excellent manner. The coma performance is quite untypical for a change. You can notice slight deformations of stars from point-like images already from the behind of half of the field of view but as you move closer to the edges coma doesn't increase, keeping the same low level. Brightness loss near the edge is really small – a great achievement, taking the size of the field into account.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

One glance at bright lanterns shows that the contrast is preserved even though the situation is not ideal. When you move the binoculars you can catch one 'ghost'. Fortunately it is not big and its intensity is low. Perhaps it is a sad consequence of less-than-perfect blackening of area near the focusing element.

To sum up: the NL Pure 12x42 is a joy to use. A brilliant image quality and a great size of the field of view allows you to immerse yourself in the image. The field practically reaches borderlines of the area visible by our eyeballs. In order to disappear in it completely you lack perhaps about 5 degrees of the field of view of eyepieces. That's how close the NL Pure is to perfection – it really brushes against it.

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on

So far I've managed to test almost 400 pairs of binoculars. Most of my tests can be found on Optyczne.pl and Allbinos.com. My private collection features over 100 classic devices, some of them are, undoubtedly, excellent optical instruments produced by such renowned companies as Docter, Fujinon, Leica, Nikon, Steiner, Swarovski, or Zeiss. The number of binoculars that I've just handled and looked through hits close to one thousand now. In all my years of experience I've never seen an optical instrument better than the Swarovski NL Pure 12x42. I suppose I don't have to add anything more...

Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 – first impressions - Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 hands-on



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