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Reviewed by Joe on 04/07/20
It's not often Swarovski introduce a new top of the range binocular - the EL first arrived in 1999 and hasn't had a successor since... until now.
The new NL Pure was revealed to stockists on Tuesday via an exclusive webinar, with the first stock expected sometime in September. The NL will be available in three sizes: 8x42, 10x42 and 12x42, with RRPs starting from £2370. On Friday I had the chance to try out the 12x42 model.
Shifting away from the open hinge design of the EL, the new NL Pure has reverted to a traditional single hinge positioned near the top of the binocular. This, along with an adjustment of the prism system, has created a much better balance in the hand. Whereas the EL is arguably front heavy, the NL Pure certainly isn't, and the slimmer barrels provide a truly ergonomic grip. The repositioned focus wheel is in a more natural position for your fingers and has been completely redesigned to provide a smoother turn compared to the EL too. The dioptre is positioned on the bridge behind the focus wheel. While it's not lockable, the smooth adjustment is met with plenty of resistance, meaning accidental adjustment would be highly unlikely. Eye relief is quoted at 18mm, and the eyecups on the 12x42 have 6 different stops on their way from twisted fully down to all the way out; I haven't yet had seen or tried the 8x or 10x models but assume they're the same. The bayonet pins for attaching the lanyard appear to be the same as that of an EL but felt, if anything, slightly firmer on the NL, with a more resounding click. The objective lens covers are also ever so slightly different in the way they can be detached, but otherwise are the same concept from the EL FieldPro design first released in 2015. Covering the magnesium chassis, the green armouring feels like that of an EL, but Swarovski, with sustainability at the forefront of this design, have used recycled materials for the NL Pure. Packaged with the binoculars is a Swarovski branded bar of soap and soft brush for cleaning the exterior of the binoculars, which can then be rinsed in clean water.
It's not just the balance and focus wheel which are superior to the EL; Swarovski have created a binocular with an unparalleled field of view. Even the 12x42 (6.5°) has a wider field of view than that of the EL 10x42 (6.4°), with an apparent field of view of 71°, which creates an image with, as Swarovski describe it, almost indiscernible edges. This has all been done without sacrificing image quality at all. The NL binoculars feature the same Swarovision technology as the EL does, so colour, contrast, brightness (91% light transmission) and edge-to-edge clarity are all as apparent as they are in the EL, but with a field of view which I can only describe as more inviting than ever before. After 20 minutes of testing the NL Pure 12x42, and occasionally comparing them to my EL 8.5x42, I was beginning to understand how Swarovski could justify their price tag. The 'tunnel' effect you get from a pair of binoculars, with a circular image surrounded by the black outside, is almost gone from the NL Pure. My initial trepidation about the 12x magnification was almost instantly eliminated after one look. Hopefully sometime in the next few weeks I'll get the opportunity to test the 8x42 and 10x42, with their 9.1° and 7.6° field of view respectively. I've always used either 8x or 10x before, but I can certainly see the appeal of the 12x magnification. I have a steady hand and didn't find using them uncomfortable, but the new forehead rest, which will be available as an optional accessory, supposedly helps maintain a steady view.
Both the 8x42 and 12x42 weigh in at 840g, while the 10x42 is 850g, so they're far from the lightest binoculars on the market. But the aforementioned weight distribution and balance, coupled with a new universal comfort strap, should mean the NL Pure binoculars won't weigh you down through the day. The universal comfort strap is even wider and more comfortable than the lift carry strap which is provided with the EL binoculars, and the functional sidebag supplied with the NL Pure is well thought through. Designed with a sling strap, the functional sidebag provides more than adequate space and protection, as well as easy access to the binoculars.
This latest innovation from Swarovski is a step up from an EL that I simply didn't think was possible. After over 20 years at the top, the EL has been kicked off its perch by the new NL Pure, and it's certainly not a disappointment. It's without doubt a huge amount of money to pay for a pair of binoculars, but they certainly have a good claim for the title of the best binocular ever made. The legendary EL is set to stay in the range, and Swarovski have announced a hefty price drop in the EL 32mm and 42mm models, but the latter is set to see a rather unwelcome increase in its minimum focus distance. None-the-less, the EL will remain one of the best binoculars at a more attractive price than ever before.