Pros: The best binocular I have ever used: period. Exquisite ergonomics, incredible image clarity across the field of view… and what a field of view. The NL Pure takes immersive viewing to a whole new level.
Cons: Slight detectable seam in the rubber armour where it meets on the inside of the barrels. No locking mechanism on the dioptre adjustment. Price.
Price: RRP. €2,900.00
Rating: Highly Recommended
Check out the NL Pure on the Swarovski Optik site
Swarovski has been at the pinnacle of the consumer optics market for decades. Its flagship EL lineup raised the bar for premium optics when it first appeared, with its innovative dual-hinge design and dielectric prism coatings, way back in 1999. In subsequent guises, the EL has retained a position at or very close to the top-spot in the premium optics league for more than 20 years.
Now, with the release of its all-new NL Pure 12×42, 10×42 and 8×42 models, Swarovski has raised the bar yet again. If you have the budget and you want the very best, the NL Pure has to be on your very short short-list.
Swarovski Optik NL Pure 10×42 Full Review
As one of the top three European premium optics manufacturers (alongside German brands Leica and Zeiss), Austrian-based Swarovski Optik needs no introduction in wildlife and birding circles.
Rivalry between the top-tier brands is fierce, and loyalty among their respective fanbase equally so. Birders and wildlife enthusiasts can be a mildly obsessive bunch; never more so than with their optics. For many, the evolution of Swarovski’s long-running EL line represents the pinnacle of binocular performance.
So the question on many people’s lips, including my own, when Swarovski announced a brand new flagship, was how on earth could they improve on the already outstanding EL.
Swarovski Optik UK gave me the chance to find out when they sent a pair of 10×42 NL Pure out for review recently.
Swarovski’s packaging for the NL Pure is, as always, a masterclass in understated elegance. Their signature green livery and iconic Goshawk logo is simple, clean and inviting. When you open the box and pick up the NL Pure you’re left in no doubt of this product’s pedigree.
Everything about this binocular feels right in the hand… from the carefully sculpted, elongated barrels, to the balance, to the positioning and silky-smooth action of the focus wheel. It’s hard to explain the feeling, but when you hold an NL Pure for the first time, everything just fits. You know you’re holding something special, and that’s before you even look through it.
Balance, Handling and Build Quality
It seems almost unnecessary to point out that the NL Pure is extremely well made. You’d expect as much from any top-tier optics manufacturer, so it’s no surprise that the NL Pure ticks that box.
Covered in Swarovski’s hallmark green rubber armouring, the magnesium alloy body feels solid and the rubber affords a comfortable grip. Magnesium alloy offers the best balance of lightness, strength and durability available. Even so, the NL Pure is no lightweight.
At 850g the 10×42 NL is at the upper end of the weight scale for full-size binoculars. In use though, it never feels overly heavy, thanks largely, I suspect, to the superb balance and ergonomics of those svelte, sculpted barrels.
The flattening of the barrels is something that leaps out at you when you first see an NL. It looks unlike any other binocular I’ve ever seen. At first I thought that might be a design gimmick: a marketing ploy to help set the NL apart from the tubular crowd. However, it turns out that “waist” in the barrels is a big deal.
Do a little exercise for me: hold your hands up in front of you as if you were gripping an imaginary pair of binoculars. Now look at the shape of the curve between your fingers and thumbs. That’s not the circular shape of a standard binocular barrel. It is the shape of the barrel where you naturally grip the NL Pure. The result is uncanny; when you’re holding the NL it feels almost as if you’re not holding it at all.
All of which makes the NL Pure the most comfortable binocular I’ve ever looked through. It really is a joy to use out in the field.
The focusing wheel of the NL isn’t where you’d normally expect it. They’ve moved it to sit within the single hinge, in line with the kink in the barrels. That puts it in exactly the right position for your index finger, making focussing a seamless experience.
The focus mechanism is wonderfully smooth and consistent through just under two clockwise rotations from a close focus of 2m to infinity. In the field focusing was quick and accurate, and I never had to hunt back and forth to nail a razor sharp image.
Another difference with the NL pure is the dioptre adjustment. It’s no longer incorporated into the focus wheel. Instead, you push a stubby little lever near the top of the hinge. Surprisingly for a binocular at this level, there is no locking mechanism, although in my experience the action was stiff enough to prevent accidental movement. Apart from at the centre point there are no click stops: the lever moves smoothly back and forth. At first glance it doesn’t look like there’s a scale to note your adjustment setting either, but turn the NL Pure over and you’ll find a dioptre adjustment reading on the underside.
I’ve read that some reviewers found themselves inadvertently moving the dioptre adjustment whilst trying to focus, but I never found this to be an issue. In fact, I found the new position of the dial to be convenient and easy to use.
Eyecups and Eye Relief
The metal eyecups on the NL Pure have six (yes six) twist-up positions — fully down, fully up and four intermediary click stops. It gives you incredible flexibility to set the eyecups to the ideal position for your eyes so you can take full advantage of the NL Pure’s stand-out feature: a ludicrously wide field of view (more on that shortly).
For spectacle wearers, the NL Pure 10×42 offers an eye relief of 18mm, which should offer most people who use glasses the ability to take advantage of the binocular’s full field of view.
The eyecups are covered in a thin black rubber that provides a comfortable cushion when you hold the binocular up to your face.
Again, this almost goes without saying: the NL Pure is nitrogen purged and fully sealed, making them waterproof, dustproof and impervious to internal fogging of the optical system.
OK, down to the nitty gritty. What is the view like through the NL Pure?
It’s a tricky question to answer; not because I have nothing to say, but because I’m struggling to find superlatives in English that can do it justice. The NL Pure aren’t just the most comfortable binoculars I’ve used, they are also the best binocular I’ve ever looked through… and I look through a lot of binoculars.
Image Quality and Field of View
High-quality binoculars bring things closer, allowing you to appreciate the smallest detail and see things you wouldn’t ordinarily see. The best binoculars take this a step further: instead of just bringing the view closer, they almost catapult you into the scene, making you feel a part of it. The NL Pure takes this immersion in what you’re looking at to a level I’ve never experienced before.
I don’t know how they’ve managed it, but the 10×42 NL Pure has a field of view that eclipses many 8x binoculars. At an impressive 7.6°/[email protected] to describe the view as expansive is to undersell it. While Swarovski’s “almost indiscernible edge” claims are questionable — the field edges are certainly there if you look for them — I can see what they’re getting at. With such an expansive field the edges fade into the periphery of your consciousness, barely noticeable, and the scene you’re viewing becomes all-encompassing.
The effect is like the optical equivalent of one of those wrap-around cinema experiences at a theme park, only with real-life as the star attraction.
The quality of the image is also impressive. It’s exceptionally bright, with plenty of contrast, and is tack sharp from the centre to the very edge of the field. The NL Pure incorporates Swarovski’s class-leading SWAROVISION system, giving unparalleled edge-to-edge clarity. There must be some astonishing optical shenanigans going on in the eyepiece design to achieve that across the NL’s enhanced field of view.
The result when you look through the binocular is stunning.
Colour Fidelity and Chromatic Aberration
To my eye contemporary Swarovskis have some of the best colour fidelity in modern optics. Colours are neutral and vibrant but remain neutral, with no discernable colour cast and colours remain true across a wide gamut of lighting conditions.
The coatings and quality of the optical components — which include high-density (HD) lens elements containing fluoride — practically eliminate chromatic aberration, resulting in a crisp, high-resolution image packed with minute detail even with high-contrast subjects.
Low Light Performance and Coatings
The NL Pure includes the latest evolution of Swarovski Optik’s proprietary high-tech lens and prism coatings. Dubbed SWAROBRIGHT, SWARODUR and SWAROTOP these coatings increase light transmission, reduce glare, improving image quality and protect the outer surface of the lenses.
The result is class-leading brightness. The NL pure is the brightest 10×42 binoculars I’ve ever used. In fading light — even in moonlight — the view through them looks brighter than with the naked eye. That would defy the laws of physics, so it can’t be true — but that is how it feels.
It’s safe to assume that as the flagship model of a top-tier manufacturer the NL Pure uses the best available coating technologies. That means phase correction and dielectric coatings on the prisms, multiple layers of high-transmission coatings on all lens surfaces, topped off with a durable protective coating on external lens surfaces to protect the underlying coatings, repel water and dirt and make your optics easier to clean.
The result is not just exceptional low-light performance, but exceptional performance, whatever the lighting conditions.
The NL Pure comes with a set of accessories that mirrors the quality and attention to detail Swarovski has lavished on the binocular. There’s a high-quality field bag, a very comfortable padded neck strap with an innovative attachment and adjustment system, clip-on objective lens covers, a heavy-duty yet elegant eyepiece rainguard, a Swarovski Optik branded cleaning cloth and a “soap and brush” set (which I presume is for cleaning the rubber armour should it become grubby).
Another accessory worth mentioning that’s not included in the box is the new adjustable forehead rest. Designed specifically for the NL Pure range, the idea is that, when attached, the rest provides a comfortable third point of contact with your face, steadying the binocular for an even more impressive view.
I wasn’t sent one with the review sample, so can’t vouch for its effectiveness, but I have read some reports from reviewers who were initially skeptical, but after using it are staunch converts. It is available as an optional accessory for €129.
The Swarovski Optic NL Pure comes with a 10 year manufacturer warranty.
The Swarovski Optik NL Pure is the best binocular I’ve ever used.
It redefines what to expect from the very best optics available. The class leading field of view, outstanding image quality, and revolutionary ergonomics all come together beautifully to deliver a package that’s simply incredible.
It’s hard to find things to criticise in a binocular this good, and I’m conscious that it may come across as almost too positive. But the NL Pure really is that good. I used the 10×42 extensively over a three-week period on Ireland’s south coast, and apart from a few very minor foibles (like a detectable seam on the rubber armour and the lack of a locking mechanism on the diopter adjustment) there really wasn’t anything to find fault with.
Of course there’s the price… but then you expect that at this level of the optics market. If you use your binoculars professionally, or as an enthusiast, multiple times a week for a decade or more, and you apportion the cost, suddenly it doesn’t seem such bad value.
For me, the hardest bit about reviewing the NL Pure was packing them up for their journey back to Swarovski.
From the manufacturer’s website:
|Effective objective lens diameter (mm)||42|
|Exit pupil diameter (mm)||42|
|Exit pupil distance (eye relief) (mm)||18|
|Field of view (ft/1000 yds / m/1000 m)||399 / 133|
|Field of view (degrees)||7.6|
|Field of view, apparent (degrees)||70|
|Shortest focusing distance (ft / s)||6.6 / 2.0|
|Dioptre correction at ∞ (dpt)||± 4|
|Dioptre correction at ∞ (dpt)||5|
|Light transmission (%)||91|
|Pupil distance (in / mm)||2.2-2.9 / 56-74|
|Twilight factor acc. to ISO 14132-1||20.5|
|Length approx. (in / mm)*||6.2 / 158|
|Width approx. (in / mm)**||5.1 / 131|
|Height approx. (in / mm)**||2.8 / 71|
|Weight approx. (oz / g)||30 / 850|
|Functional temperature||-13 °F to +131 °F (-25 °C / +55 °C)|
|Storage temperature||-22 °F to +158 °F (-30 °C / +70 °C)|
|Submersion tightness||13 ft / 4 m water depth (inert gas filling)|
|* Value with eyecups twisted in||–|
|** Dimensions at a pupil distance of 2.5 in / 64 mm||–|
I’d like to thank Swarovski Optik UK for providing the NL Pure 10×42 for review on Ireland’s Wildlife.
NB. Ireland’s Wildlife has no specific affiliation to any optics or gear manufacturer, and all reviews on the site are completely independent and objective. If you’re an optics or gear manufacturer and would like to submit your product for review on the site, please drop us a line using the contact form and we can take things from there.
Ed T says
Nice review, Calvin.
If not for the wider field of view, how would you compare the image quality of the NLP to the EL ?
Calvin Jones says
The NLP is better, but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why it’s better, if that makes sense. I think its a combination of lots of little things… a tad brighter, a smidgin sharper…small margins that combine with the incredible field of view and the sublime balance and handling to give the NLP a definite edge on its already outstanding stablemate. Whether it’s enough of an edge to fork out €3K for an upgrade, only you can decide.
I still use my SLC HD 10×42 as my main bins (the previous generation — the best SLC they ever made — not the newer one with the hobbled close-focus). I wouldn’t swap them for any EL model, but given the chance I’d exchange them for the NL Pure in a heartbeat.
Mac Delichon says
Hi – thank you for your very thorough and helpful review. Have you had a chance to compare the NL Pure 10×42 to the even newer NL Pure 10×32 (at least here, the former were launched before the latter) – I’m wondering whether the advantages in weight and price outweigh the other differences…