Swarovski 8x30 SLC WB Review
Swarovski’s pre-HD 15x56 SLCs were my main astronomy binoculars before I replaced them with the HD model. They were far from perfect, but were of high optical quality and great for astronomy.
At the other end of the scale (literally), I needed a lightweight pair to take walking and nature viewing and when Swarovski introduced the 8x30 CL ‘Companions’ I was keen to try them. So I did, at my local camera shop.
The shop was, as always, friendly and helpful, but sadly I didn’t feel the same about their Companions. Yes, they were perhaps the smallest and lightest ‘proper’ binoculars I have tried. But I didn’t think the view was up to much – a bit narrow, dropped off a bit towards the edge, just not very special really; certainly nothing like the 8x32 ELs I was able to compare them with.
I didn’t buy the Companions, but they got me wondering about the binoculars they replaced – the 8x30WB SLCs, the little brother of my 15x56s. So I bought a used pair to see how they stack up as an alternative budget choice to the 8x30 CL Companions.
Caveat: this review is based on two identical pairs, both bought used. It’s unlikely but not impossible that both pairs have been serviced with upgraded coatings at some point.
At A Glance
15mm claimed (14mm measured)
Actual Field of View
Apparent field of view
Data from Me/Swarovski
Design and Build
The 8x30 SLC has a long history going back to the 1980s, but if you are planning to buy a pair that creates a problem. It seems as if all the older models fetch the same sort of used price, but they’re not the same. In fact, versions prior to the one on review here are probably best avoided. Why? Not because they’re faulty, but because they lack important optical coating features.
The oldest models are easy to spot, as they look very different from this one. Those Mark Is lack SWARObrightTM mirrors and have no phase coatings either. They are not really worth buying in my view unless very cheap.
The last (Mark IV) version with its ‘Neu’ style two-tone black and green armour is distinctive and has all the latest features, no issue there.
The problem is the middle-aged models (always the way) – the Mark II and Mark III. Below is a photo of the previous version to this one, the Mark II. It has phase coatings, but not SWARObrightTM mirrors. This is the one to be careful of because it looks very similar to the Mark III, but will be dimmer in use. The only clue is the ‘cut’ in the armour below the eyepieces (armour colour, black or green, is irrelevant).
All versions were made in Austria and are readily and economically serviceable by the factory in Europe, or by a dedicated US facility – a huge Swarovski advantage.
These Mark IIs look similar to the Mark IIIs on test, but lack dielectric mirrors. Note the extended ‘cut’ in the armour below the eyepieces.
The 8x30 SLCs are a compact binocular with similar styling to other SLCs models of the time. Build quality is good, but workmanlike compared to the exposed alloy and finer armour of a pair of ELs. Despite being (I think) made of aluminium rather than magnesium alloy, these are light at 590g – as light as (Zeiss 8x32 FL) or lighter than (Swarovski 8x32 EL) most premium 8x32s today.
The armour is grippy, doesn’t smell rubbery and doesn’t attract fluff like many do – i.e. it’s typical Swarovski.
Like other SLCs, these are waterproof to 4m.
The focuser is unusually at the front of the bridge, but it’s convenient in such a short binocular. It’s both smooth and accurate, with no play and no shift of focus when changing direction (a fault you find in some mid-range bino’s).
Close focus is about 3.5m, at which the image merges almost perfectly for me. From there to infinity takes just over ¾ turn – pretty fast.
The dioptre knob is at the back of the bridge – it is spring-loaded and you push it in to adjust it. It’s precise, but slightly awkward to use.
The 8X30 SLC’s focuser is at the front of the bridge, it’s fast and smooth.
Dioptre knob is at the back: push in to adjust.
Optics - Prisms
The prisms are the usual Schmidt-Pechan (a.k.a. Roof) prisms, but these Mark IIIs have the all-important SWARObrightTM mirror coatings – modern multi-layer dielectric mirrors that increase transmission to enhance brightness. Think twice before buying Mark IIs and earlier models that lack this feature (see above).
As explained above, from Mark II onwards they should have phase coatings too, which is pretty much essential (more so than the SWARObrightTM mirrors) because without it resolution is mediocre.
Optics - Objectives
These probably have a triplet objective like other SLC models. Swarovski make no claim for ED glass or ‘HD’ lenses, but false colour is minimal, as we will see. This is understandable: if the SLCs were a scaled design up to 15x56, you might expect the smallest model to be well corrected and these are.
There seems to be a plane optical window in front of the objective for sealing purposes, because the whole objective moves to focus. Canon IS binoculars use the same system. It doesn’t seem to have any detrimental effect, not on focusing feel, nor on brightness, nor on stray light.
The whole objective assembly moves, so the front is sealed by plane glass windows. Barrels are baffled; coatings are top quality.
Optics - Eyepieces
Looking at the numbers, you can start to see why I wasn’t impressed with the Companions. These old SLCs have a field 0f 7.8 degrees, which translates to around 60 degrees apparent, similar to most modern premium bino’s. The CL Companions have just 7.1 degrees (55 degrees apparent) by comparison, which looks a bit narrow in use.
Both the SLCs and their CL replacement have the same claimed eye relief of 15mm. I measured these SLCs at 14mm, but in either case it’s usable with my thick-framed specs, but the whole field isn’t visible.
The SLCs have typical Swarovski click-stop eye cups with a solid feel and positive twist-out mechanism. There is only one ‘out’ position for people without specs.
The eyepieces don’t suffer from significant kidney-bean blackouts as you shift eye position.
<Photos of eyepieces and eye cup positions here>
The SLCs come with a soft, unpadded fabric case – it’s logoed but that’s about it. The caps are typical band-on types for the objectives and pivoting for the eyepieces (a nice feature). The strap is also a typical logoed Swarovski item – no skimping there.
In Use – Daytime
Ergonomics and Handling
Handling in the field is good and the small size and light weight make these a pleasure to walk with. I like the front focuser now I am used to it, but I know others don’t. Focusing is smooth and accurate. Dioptre adjustment is convenient and easy.
Eyepiece comfort, free of blackouts, is excellent. There’s not enough eye relief to see the whole field with my thick-framed specs on, but it’s competitive with other compact binoculars. The eye cups are solid, positive and easy to adjust with no Leica-style flex or poor seating.
These are just a really nice binocular for every day use – ‘nuff said.
Swarovski 8x30 SLCs are small and unobtrusive to wear.
A slightly older design they may be, but I really like the view through the 8x30 SLC – it is wide, sharp and bright with masses of detail on axis and doesn’t drop off badly towards the edge either. Colour rendition seems very natural too.
If the first impressions are good, nothing changes as you use the little SLCs. Internal reflection and ghosting are well controlled, in typical Swarovski fashion, so using these around water or snow would not be a problem. I found no problems with ghosting as some have claimed.
Both barrels come to focus with that definite snap that is typical of good optics – there’s never any doubt you’ve got best focus.
Looking at plumage or other subjects with a lot of fine detail, the impression is of very high resolution.
Field curvature softens the view, but only towards the edge.
The field is surprisingly flat and well-corrected (much like the 15x56’s field, in fact), despite no claim to field-flatteners, with just some curvature and a touch of astigmatism from about 70-80%.
Despite the lack of ‘HD’ lenses, these smallest SLCs suffer only modest levels of false colour, similar to many ‘HD’ models in larger sizes. In general use false colour seems minimal, but watching a foraging Egret I did notice a faint rim of green and purple around the brilliant white plumage.
In Use – Dusk
This is where the small objectives show. The 8x30 SLCs work much better in low light than 8x20s, but they don’t penetrate deep dusk shadows like larger-objective binoculars.
In Use – The Night Sky
The first thing to say is that these 8x30s are emphatically not useless for astronomy like 8x20s.
Stars are really pin-point and that tight point-spread means you can see densely populated fields of fainter stars in a way I wasn’t expecting. Field curvature is the main off-axis aberration, but doesn’t start until past 70% and isn’t intrusive until quite close to the field stop, where it smears stars into short lines. But the central well-corrected area is plenty large enough to fit in Orion’s belt. Coma and astigmatism are very minor.
Stray light is very well controlled, with just a couple of very faint ghosts well off-axis when viewing a bright security light at night. The same security light creates a hint of veiling flare, but overall the SLCs are up to modern Swarovski standards for stray light.
The Moon looks as good as it does with any top-notch 8x binocular – crisp and detailed, with no flare or false colour. Lower power and good depth of field mean enjoying the Moon in context – floating through icy clouds or dropping below a distant chimney pot.
The 8x30 SLCs show Jupiter as a tightly defined tiny disk, with minimal flare or spiking. The small objectives make the moons harder to spot than larger apertures.
You might think these would be marginal for deep sky, due to their small objectives and older design. Not so. Admittedly, I had to use averted vision more than I’m used to, but I found lots of stuff. Meanwhile, star fields looked great, strewn with pin-sharp stars up to about 80% field width.
The Orion Nebula showed nice bright arcs of nebulosity with averted vision, but was a bit dim viewed straight. The belt area was well sprinkled with faint stars, though.
The Andromeda Galaxy showed its bright core and some extended fuzz with direct vision, more with averted. Nearby M33 was easy to pick up as a wide smudge. Fainter galaxies were trickier, though – I struggled to find Bode’s.
The Double Cluster showed up well and M35 yielded a few stars viewed directly, many more with averted vision. The three open clusters in Auriga, M36-38, were easy to spot as misty patches (all fitting in the same field), but only partially resolved into their component stars with averted vision. The Pleiades were a bit dimmer and less sparkly than I’m used to with bigger binos, but looked good nonetheless.
It’s hard to criticise the 8x30 WB SLC, in this Mark III version at least. No, they aren’t as ‘perfect’ as a pair of Swarovision 8x32 ELs, with a little more false colour and field curvature and a little less eye relief. But I found they gave nothing much away to other premium binoculars in the 8x32 size. I definitely preferred them to the newer CL Companions (but that based only on a brief test).
The view is tack sharp, bright, quite wide and superbly detailed. Minor false colour is only present where contrast is highest. Stray light is well controlled, even compared with modern designs (much better than Kowa’s premium 8x33 XDs for example). Field curvature is modest, astigmatism well controlled.
Mechanically, the focuser and dioptre are both light and precise, though the unusual dioptre adjust is a little awkward. These focus fast - it’s easy to follow birds on the wing. The 8x30 SLCs are a light yet easy to hold binocular. Eyepiece comfort is excellent. Eye relief isn’t enough for my chunky specs, but competitive for a compact design.
Overall, the 8x30 SLCs don’t seem outdated, just typically thorough Swarovskis - better in many ways than current mid-range binoculars of similar (new) price. I prefer them to Kowa’s 8x33 XDs for example. Just make sure you buy a pair with SWARObrightTM mirror coatings and phase coatings too (i.e. Mark III or IV).
The Swarovski 8x30 SLCs in their later versions get my highest recommendation if you can find a good pair used: full Swarovski quality at a modest price.