Swarovski SLC W B 8x42 review NEW 2020
The last dinosaur. Swarovksi, please save the SLC - or the Great Barrier reef and the rest of the planet.
16-12-2020, updated 16-12-2021
First review was 11-10-2014. Since November 2020 I own an SLC, #C8951461191, and have written a new review.
Real dinosaur skin!
Dinosaurs, despite their complete extinction, were an extremely successful group of animals.
If I could only keep one binocular, it would probably be the - now sadly extinct - SLC 8x42.
It has a view that just makes me sing: Easy, friendly, warm, with a deep rendering of space that drags you into the image and lets the glass disappear. Immersive.
A unique combination of qualities:
1. A curved field with all other aberrations very well controlled (the Ultravids have worse, classic Zeiss binoculars like HT and FL havemuch worse aberration control).
2. A refined, clever boost of perceived contrast and brightness that I like better than the Zeiss way. There is a yellowgreen colour bias but very acceptable. It´s really amazing how bright and contrasty the images are. I always feel they are brighter than what I see with my eyes, whereas with most other glasses they feel darker...
Ease of view, ease of use of a flat field glas, but with curved field gorgeous 3D...
The SLC flares a lot in strong backlight, but there are also also a tendency for peripheral flares in sidelight. Internal blackening is definitely underwhelming.
The focuser, although it has improved with use, is a bit rough and has a too long focus throw.
The closest focus is 3.2 meters and was a mere 1.8 meters in the previous model.
It is a somewhat ugly glass, again unlike the previous model SLC HD.
As far as I understand (video from Swarovski) the SLC has now an evolution history of 25 years. The previous model SLC HD was only built between 2010 and 2013, and only USD 200 cheaper than the Swarovision. Swarovski then downgraded this model to the SLC WB, as described above, and lowered its price considerably.
The bad thing is that really all four things I don´t like about the SLC were seemingly absent or at least better solved in the previous, more expensive model.
Compared to the Leica Ultravids, the only other alpha curved field designs in 42mm still available, the SLC design feels more advanced, with better aberration control and a wider field of view. The Ultravids may flare a bit less in strong light, and give slightly nicer colours, at the expense of perceived contrast and brightness.
Ergonomy is excellent.
Build quality is very good, except for the focuser. The body feels very solid.
The focuser was very rough and uneven when new, but has become smoother after a couple of weeks. It is still far from the velvety quality of a Noctivid or EDG, but acceptable. The focus throw is too long, though: 1.6 revolutions from 3.2 meters to infinity. The Noctivid only needs 0.8 revolutions for this focus change. The long throw probably needs quite a bit less accuracy in manufacture, a part of the downgrade of the SLC HD probably. It is just acceptable but a major weakness of the SLC.
The hinge friction is perfect, a bit on the tight side but smooth.
Eyecups lock in 3 positions plus zero, but can be well used anywhere inbetween the hard stops as they don´t move much
The diopter adjustment (+/- 4) is very easy to use, perfect.
Internal blackening leaves much to be desired, flare suppression could be much improved.
Size: This is, as the name suggests, indeed small, light and compact.
Weight is 780g which is as light as it gets for 8x42s.
I have to give a special applause to Swarovski for the tripod adapter that goes with the SLC. It´s plain perfect with a very quick horizon leveling.
The SLC does not have the attractive appearance of the Swarovisions. Of course it´s a matter of taste, but "beauty" is not exactly what comes to my mind when handling the SLC. Some strange dinosaur skin? Were dinosaurs really THAT green? Well, the Swarovision 8.5x42 looks so much better, and I don´t think it´s a clever marketing move to differentiate the two lines by a much less attractive design of the SLC line. A binocular in this price league could definitely use some sex appeal. The previous model had it.
Global contrast and flare suppression are in low light but disappoint in strong backlight. Swarovski was too sloppy with the internal blackening and some internal surfaces are too reflective. I also see some unblackened screws. This could easily be improved and the allbinos review of the previous model suggests it was better blackened internally.
Microcontrast: Excellent, even outstanding for an SP prism glass. The SLC has the "washed clean" look I enjoy in AK prims glasses like the Zeiss HT or FL: great microcontrast all the way to the resolution limit without being artificially oversharp like for example the Noctivid. Excellent, rich images.
Field curvature is strong, necessary for excellent, deep and natural rendering of space. 3D effect is excellent and one reason for the SLC being the most immersive 8x42 available.
Aberration control is excellent (except of course field curvature), I was surprised how well I could focus on stars even close to the edges of the field. THIS IS A CURVED FIELD WITH FLAT FIELD COMFORT! A very clean, relaxed view. The SLC beats the Ultravids in that respect, and blows away classic Zeiss designs like HT and FL which suffer from strong aberrations towards the edges.
Ease of view is excellent, typical Swarovski, although the Swarovision might be a bit better if you want to roam the whole view just by eye movement.
Colour reproduction and boosted contrast: The SLC shows Swarovski´s superb expertise in a very clever contrast boost due to a slightly skewed transmission curve. The blue and red part of the spectrum is subdued, with a yellowgreen bias as a result. I find this less objectionable than the colder green cast of many Zeiss glasses. The resulting boost in perceived contrast also increases perceived brightness.
Brightness is superb, but as explained above, this might be more a perceived quality due to boosted contrast than due to high transmission. Swarovski claims 91% transmission.
Distortion is classic pincushion, and panning behaviour is very smooth.
Apparent field of view is a good and sufficient 136 meters.
Eye relief is excellent, 18.5mm according to Swarovski.
Close focus is a meagre 3.2 meters, which is so much worse as the previous model had 1.8 meters. I really love to observe from close.
Comparing to my results from 2014
I then had a sample with the serial Number C832544147, origin of sample: Swarovski testpool, thanks to Swarovski Austria! Review period started 29-6-2014.
That sample was definitely not a great one:
- It was much less contrasty and sharp, with one barrel being weaker, and visibly softer under 10 meters compared to infinity.
- Edge performance was much worse, I found aberrations towards the edges to be disturbing, especially at low light and open pupil. None of this to be found in the 2020 sample.
I concluded the SLC had seriously been downgraded and was not in the same league as the Swarovision. But a lemon sample will show aberrations that are not present in a good sample. I should have asked for another sample.
Moreover, Swarovski may have made some extra progress in the last six years or given the SLC a bit more love since I tested it. The coatings seem to look identical though.
- Great, immersive 3D due to field curvature
- excellent aberration control
... these properties combined already make the SLC unique. FLAT FIELD EASE OF USE BUT WITH GREAT 3D.
- Swarovski ease of view
- state of the art boosted contrast
- very bright
- superb microcontrast
- great ergonomy
- small, compact and light
- perfect tripod adapter
- exemplary panning behaviour
- rough focuser
- focus throw is very long (1.6 revolutions)
- close focus of only 3.2 meters
- flares a lot in strong backlight due to insufficient internal blackening
- quite a bit on the ugly side as far as outer values are concerned
- a bit on the yellowgreen side, which is especially noticeable on overcast days.
Finally I can recommend a still affordable binocular to anyone: hunters, birders, spectacle wearers.
Optically this is a high end alpha glass and my favourite 8x42. Price performance ratio is outstanding.
But the 42mm SLCs are now extinct species thanks to Swarovski.
It will be very hard for humanity to save the Great Barrier Reef and the rest of the planet, but it should be very easy for Swarovski to save the SLC!
So, Swarovski, please do save the SLC.
They have the optically very best classic curved field 42mm SP prism designs on this planet, and they should keep them alive. Now with the price of their new flagship NL Pure models they have more room to put the SLC again to were it belongs: into the top rank. They should go back to the predecessor design (SLC HD) with better close focus and faster focus, and update with new glass and new coatings for neutral colours, and a sexy as a Pure new finish. They could price them between the Pures and the downspecced 42mm Swarovisions. Anyone yearning for a modern porro should be very happy with the SLC, and anyone not quite ready for a Pure.
Even better: They should do two versions - one neutral for nature observation, one with yellow green cast for hunting. The hunting market is huge, and there will always be the need for a small but really glowing binocular. The Pure frankly can not be a perfect hunting glass without perceptual contrast and brightness boost. Hunters don´t need close focus and neutral colours. They need all the glow they can get in low light.
In the photography and cinematography world, more and more people appreciate the qualities of classic lens designs and the shortcomings of modern, flat field designs. Not a single legendary and sought after lens in high end film production is a flat field lens...
After one year of use
November 2021. The SLC keeps amazing me and has stood its ground so well in a lot of testing against great and much more expensive glasses. But I am a colour fanatic by heart and profession. So the SLC´s colour balance for optimized contrast - slight yellowgreen - is becoming more and more annoying, especially on overcast winter days.
I clearly see now that you can´t have it all. The outstanding perceptual boost with glowing contrast and brightness needs a yellowgreen cast.
I always love the Ultravids, colourwise, so I might switch back to the Ultravids (7x42, or 8x42, or even 8x50) just for colour and industrial design, although they are optically slightly inferior to the SLC. Lovely colours, but their images look darker most of the time because they don´t have that contrast and brightness boost.
Either way, it is a compromise.
The NL Pure seems to adress the colour vs. contrast/brightness problem with higher transmission glass and very neutral colour. In the end it cannot glow as nicely as an SLC in low light. It is just impossible.
The slow focuser and somewhat ugly design are the other two issues I have with the SLC.
Thanks to the inspiring members of birdforum.com who over the years have advocated the qualities of the 42mm SLC, especially Kimmo Absetz, Canip and SeldomPerched.