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Swarovski 8.5x42 vs Fujinon 7x50

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#1 ronharper

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 01:53 PM

My favorite bino for some time now has been the massively clunky Fujinon FMT-SX 7x50. Bought used for only $300, it provides daytime views that always impress me with clarity, color saturation, resistance to stray light, and comfort. The images give the impression of a great detail just under the threshold of the 7x magnification access, just screaming, if you know what I mean. At night, we here understand the limitations of the 7mm exit pupil, but the star images are extremely tight, star colors are shown well, and the view, provided you're not greedy for detail, is satisfying. In a very dark sky, of course, the 7x50 wakes from the dead.

But there's a new bino in the house, a Swarovski EL 8.5x42, bought for my wife who's an increasingly avid birder, and who has recently seen the light of day through my 7x50, compared to her modest former bino. The FMT, besides being mine, is no binocular for a lady! So a fool and his money....would that be me and mine? Anyhow, $1500 LNIB off Astromart, and oh my is she happy!

This is the first roof prism I've ever used, and I had to see with my own eyes if even one of the best made could equal or beat the famed Fujinon. We are comparing apples and oranges here, you might say, the racing sloop to the tugboat. But anybody who's looked through an FMT knows that optically, this could not be a cakewalk for the high-zoot roof. Many ardent birders have reviewed the EL vs similar Zeiss and Leica, and much has been said and argued in that arena. Next to that crowd, I'm hardly anything like an expert. But rarely do the top roofs and porros meet. They tend to live on different sides of the tracks. Simply being able to lay my hands on both puts me into the unique position, despite my inexperience compared to some here, to address this question which I have long wondered. I'll talk about ergonomics, then optics.

Both have plenty of eye relief for eyeglasses use. While the Fujinon's long, soft rubber eyecups are perfect for non-glasses use, in bright light the EL's eye relief is a tad excessive, resulting in slight blackouts if you snuggle up close and pan your gaze around. Thanks to member "etc." for recommending a higher upward-extending eyecup, which is on order. With the exception of this single issue, ergonomically, the comparison is a no-brainer of the first water, and I'll get this right out of the way. 29 oz for the roof vs 50 for the porro, close focus 7 for the roof vs 25 ft, smooth and properly resistive center focus taking me from infinity to 12 ft in one big finger motion vs individual focus, twist up/down eyecups vs tedious slow folding soft rubber cylinders, side-mounted strap connections so the roof hangs comfortably straight down vs angle inducing bottom connections on the Porro. The roof style is narrow, smooth profiled, and compact. The EL's open-bridge construction beats most roof bino's gripability, in that you can wrap your fingers securely around the tacky rubber armored barrels and confidently one-hand it in a pinch. For the birder, all this would be worth a nice bundle, even if optically you lost a bit going to the roof.

Which, well. You don't. In fact, you might even gain a tiny bit, depending on your taste. I am not making this up, Porro heads. The view is essentially the same knockout as that in the Fujinon, just 63 degrees wide instead of 53 degrees, and 8.5x instead of 7x. All differences are down to really nitpicking details. The EL's view is just as bright, just as apparently sharp and color rich. It just as well-shielded against bright light just outside the field of view. The Swaro's field is somewhat flatter, and sharper at the edge on an equidistant scene, but with a bit of astigmatism/coma that could not be focused out at the edge, instead of the Fujinon's almost pure field curvature. (The Swaro's field correction and edge sharpness does not quite equal the 10x50 Fujinon, not a subject of comparison here, but a standard of excellence in this regard.) Color cast is not a big deal to me, but is to many birders. If I point the Fujinon at a white field I see a very faint yellow-green (My 7x50 is the older model with the simple green coatings, the new coatings are better.) The Swarovski shows only pure white(The coatings on the Swarovski look excellent--dark and multicolored, similar to the new-style Fujinons). At the center of the field, with the eye centered behind the eyepiece, I can't see any lateral color in either, even under the most extreme contrast conditions, but, off center, it's there, to the same degree in both, which is moderate, given the normal-glass optics.

At night, the Swarovski's star images are tight and excellent. This is a very important thing to me, and the two binos aren't quite the same, if you really look close. The FMT's stars are just a tiny bit fatter, likely because they contain a bit more light (at 57 yrs, my pupils still open 6.5mm, enabling me to put 46mm of the Fujinon's objectives to use). While bright stars in the Swarovski look at first, tighter, they have, on close inspection and to a very tiny degree, a faint surrounding haze. This is such a weak effect that I, double-star lover that I am, have a hard time choosing which I prefer. But the difference is there--The FMT makes larger light spots which are, however, more cleanly contained. As you'd expect from the above discussion of the field, the Swarovski's wider apparent field and better edge correction is impressive. Across star fields whose size was measured on a good star chart, Swaro has a true field of 7.5 deg (vs 7.4 claimed) while the Fuj actually shows 7.3 deg (vs 7.5 claimed). The sky background looks darker in the 8.5x42, due to the smaller exit pupil I suppose, which is sort of pretty in a way, but more importantly, enables the 8.5x to show, to my eye, just as faint a star, with the same difficulty, as the larger 7x. As far as detail shown, the magnification advantage of 8.5x over 7x supercedes the light-gathering advantage of the effective-46mm 7x, and more is shown in celestial objects, both in revealing lunar crater detail, and in open cluster untangling ability.

Finally, I felt obliged to perform a measurement, something ought to be objective after all. I used a 7x loupe with a 0.1mm scale to measure the exit pupil of the Swaro at 4.95 +or- 0.05mm, vs 4.94 calculated from the specification, and used the loupe to look at a scale laid across the objective imaged in the exit pupil, and could see 41mm +or- 1mm. So, as near as I can measure, the specification 8.5x42 is correct. Such is also the case for the 7x50.

I don't really know if you have to spend quite THIS much to get this kind of performance in a roof. Probably not. I'm basically a tightwad, when it comes to my own stuff. This, however, was not for me, and I wanted to be sure she had the best. DO NOT try one of these, you'll be sorry. It is amazing but true, and I will shout it from the rooftops: the best roof is as good, optically, as the best porro.
Ron

#2 pcad

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 02:14 PM

Thanks for that great report Ron. You're right that it's not often a reviewer gets his hands on top-notch roof and porro binoculars of similar size. I'm glad the performance of the Swarovski was so good. For the smaller sizes the top roof prism designs are tough to beat.

Peter

#3 Mark9473

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 02:22 PM

That was a most inspiring report, Ron. I really enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing.

#4 KennyJ

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 02:25 PM

Thanks Ron , for a thoroughly interesting and well written comparison between two of the real top drawer hand - holdable binoculars available .

What a pleasure it was to read !

Your better half must be a very happy one :-)

Clear Skies
Kenny

#5 etc

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 04:46 PM

swarovski EL 8.5x42 is probably the best all-purpose bino you can find. It is great for astro and general viewing like birding.

Did you confirm the stated ER of 18mm? I tried to measure it but couldn't get an accurate reading.

#6 KennyJ

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 04:58 PM

< swarovski EL 8.5x42 is probably the best all-purpose bino you can find. >

A tough assertion to dispute , in my humble opinion .

One thing that I find slightly irritating about the otherwise outstanding Swarovski 8.5 x 42 EL ( apart from spelling the word Swarovski correctly every time I want to talk about it ) and indeed about current top of the range Roof prism binoculars available from main competitors Leica and Zeiss , is the " dual " locking right diopter / central focus arrangement .

It is the main reason I would still opt for a Nikon High Grade 8 x 42 ahead of the offerings from the others .

The fact that the top Nikons are a few hundred pounds less expensive wouldn't make my decision any more difficult either !

Kenny

#7 edwincjones

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 05:57 PM

I have/had both and certainly can agree with your assessment.
The only thing that I can add is the SW is 1/2 the weight and 2 1/2X the cost.

edj

#8 starramus

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 06:28 PM

Great report Ron. This is the most in depth review you have written. But from what I have gleaned from your comparison I will keep my trusty 7X50 FMTSX on the shelf ready for use and keep my $1500 in the rusty tin can buried in the back yard far away, of course, from the likes of Bear Stearns, WaMu, and Citi Bank. :grin:

Regards and clear skies,

#9 RHoward42

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 06:37 PM

Thanks for the comparison. I love my Fuji 10x50 FMTs. I felt guilty paying the $700 i paid for them, but believe in getting what you pay for. I also use a pair of roofs (bushnell legend 12x50) for bird watching when close focus is necessary. One thing i think people forget about is the almost 3D effect (not sure the terminology for everything being in focus after a certain distance) you get with the FMTs, or other comparable Poro binocs. I think it presents a real quailty to the view. Today i felt violated after paying 4500 for a nice dining room set. Cant imagine paying half that for a pair of binoculars. But who knows what the future holds. Let me find a pair of swaros to look through.

Rick

#10 EdZ

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 07:42 PM

Earlier this afternoon I added this thread to the minireviews. I thought it made very good points on the models mentioned. Tonight I returned to this thread and found a string of posts that added nothing to the content of this review and detracted from the value of this thread. That string of posts has been deleted, so that the original poster can enjoy the integrity of his post and the relative comments that follow.

edz

#11 chunki

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 11:13 PM

Ron,

Great review and I'm glad to see you and your wife enjoying those fine bino's...

JIM

#12 ronharper

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 11:27 PM

Thanks everybody for you nice comments, glad you enjoyed my report. You know darn well I enjoyed doing the shootout. And thanks Ed. Having missed the "detracting" posts, I feel so...protected!
Ron

#13 Swedpat

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 03:49 AM

Ron,

Your review and comparison was very interesting to read. I have tried both of these binoculars, but not side-by-side.
The EL 8,5x42 really is one of the most impressive binocular I have ever tried.
The feeling are quite similar to my SLCnew7x42, but the even larger apparant field of view and still practically equal eye relief makes them a true pleasure to use.

One issue you didn't mention is the star-filter effect which comes up with every roof-optics against bright light sources, especially with a dark background. This is noticable even with my SLC 7x42, when looking at the moon and strong street lights/car lights. It may be quite insignificant, however and maybe not a true disadvantage(this effect is more noticable with low and mid-priced roofs than these high-grades). It isn't visible when stargazing.

I have written before that I think there is a reason that the porro-construction dominates boating binoculars: ray of lights crossing the entire field of view isn't desirable when looking at dark sea against light houses, or other occations when using the binocular with strong light sources.
I can see no other advantage with using a bulky, uncomfortable to hold, 1,5kg porro 7x50, when it's possible to use a lighter weight roof model with comfortable holding, if it wouldn't for an optical improvement IN SOME WAY. Except from price of course...

What do you say; are there situations there you find the "star filter effect" of the EL 8,5x42 a disadvantage?

Regards, Patric

#14 BobinKy

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 04:25 AM

Ron--

Thank you for the well-written comparison.

Here is an update on the prices from www.eagleoptics.com.$1699.00 Swarovski EL 8.5x42
$528.00 Fujinon Polaris FMT-SX 7x50My Fujinon 7x50 arrived a few days ago and I am so impressed.

#15 ronharper

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 10:13 AM

Swedpat,
I had read about this "star filter" effect in roof prisms, but didn't know exactly what it should look like, so didn't comment on it. But, I think that is responsible for some of what I described as a "haze" near bright stars. I'd say it's hardly noticeable in this bino, not a problem.

Bob,
Given all the ergonomic advantages of the EL, I still love my FMT. I will continue to lug it through the woods, focus set where I hope a bird will appear, and get views that it appears cannot be beat for blood nor money. I am used to it, and am not about to buy another expensive roof for myself. At night, reared back in my observing chair, I find the soft rubber eyecups of the FMT, and it's great mass sitting securely on my face, somehow feels better than the light little firm-cupped Swaro. Nobody with the Fujinon need feel anything but overjoyed, provided you can handle it. As Dr. Henry Paul said in his now-quaint little book on binoculars and spotting scopes, "The individual-focus Porro is the binocular of the rugged individual." Grrrrr. Honest, he really said that.
Ron

#16 Swedpat

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 11:23 AM

Ron,

The effect is insignificant during the most situations. You can notice it also at daytime when looking at chromed parts like car bumpers, who reflects the sunlight. But do you agree with me: if the EL is optically equal to the Fujinon's best, could you imagine a better boating binocular than a 7x50EL?
I hardly can!

Regards, Patric

#17 Kimmo Absetz

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 01:47 PM

Patric and Ron,

What is here called the "star filter effect" is light scatter from the roof edge of the roof prism. This is visible as a thin diagonal pair of lines in the form of an X (or, actually, an X tipped on its side). If the roof edge is poorly ground the effect can be quite prominent, and if the edge is really well ground and very fine, the effect can be all but absent. It is thus also one of the aberrations or "flaws" that are quite prone to sample variation, and it is very possible that Ron's sample of the EL (which has very good prism quality on average)is almost free of it. Also in units that do show the "star filter effect" readily, it is only prominent when there is a bright light source that is located very close to the roof edge diagonal in the viewfield.

I recently acquired a pair of Leica Ultravid 8x20 roofs and was fortunate enough to be able to choose from a few samples. While all were excellent, one pair had significantly less of this roof edge scatter than did the others. On this pair, only the very brightest stars reveal the scatter and only if the star is centered on the diagonal, while in the other pairs the "X" was readily apparent on most stars, although not as thick or bright than in most mid-priced roofs I have tried.

On the separate (and off-topic) issue of boating binoculars, I beg to differ a bit with Patric on why the porros are more popular. Frankly, most boaters do not know anything about binoculars, and rather than buying what would be best for them they go by what other boaters use and by what is available at boating supply stores. Also, many choose a model with a built-in compass, and most would consider paying a thousand or two for a mere binocular foolish to put it mildly. In a boat, a binocular needs first and foremost to be waterproof and durable and accessible when you need it, and weight and size are really not an issue. You very seldom end up spending any real lengths of time viewing with it - there is something you need to check out, you check it out and then put down the binocular and do something more important. Also, since a boat is mostly rocking and shaking, ultimate image quality is pretty much lost to image shake anyway. And when the boat is still, there is also usually no urgency in getting the most information in the briefest possible time, so a less-than-optimum image suffices very well. Brightness, contrast and flare suppression are desirable and even crucial, of course, but the Fujinon and some other top Marine porros provide these qualities in abundance.

Having said all this, I come around and more or less agree with Patric in that my first choice as a boating binocular would indeed be something like a 7x50 EL (which does not exist, of course, so a 7x42 SLC or Leica Ultravid HD would do just about as well.) And, before anybody shoots me down for speculating on something I have not tried, I have used (and enjoyed using) a Fujinon 7x50FMTR-CSX, a Nikon 7x50 Marine binocular, a Canon 15x50 IS, a Canon 10x42 IS L and a Nikon 10x42 SE (and a few others of lesser note) on boats.

Kimmo

#18 Swedpat

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 03:35 PM

Thank you Kimmo for your thoughts!

I have noticed earlier that it can change of this so called star filter effect between different examples. Some year ago I tried a Swarovski 7x42 in which against a spotlight was visible through one of the eyeieces, but not the other. It seems that this effect to such a level isn't visible, and then suddenly it comes up. This will not affect the image quality otherwise, however.

I am convinced that my Swarovski SLCnew 7x42 is a great boating binocular, though I have never seen it advertised as a boating binocular. Even better would be an EL version. And my dream binocular is a 6 or 7x32 EL!

Regards, Patric

#19 ronharper

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 03:41 PM

Kimmo,
An "X", you say. This is starting to connect. I saw a bit of that in the slight haze around Sirius through the EL, but didn't notice it around any other stars. I think I'm pretty critical of star images, but this was the first roof I'd ever used, and I really didn't know what to look for, or the reasons for what I was seeing. I guess I got a pretty good one. But really, you'd think for that kind of money, every unit would be absolutely perfect every time. (HA HA, HE HE, HOO HOO!)
Ron

#20 Joe Ogiba

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 08:33 PM

I much prefer my 7x42 Zeiss FL's over my Celestron Oceana 7x50 WP-IF/RC Binoculars. :)
Posted Image

#21 etc

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 09:32 PM

Swedpat,

Could you explain this in more detail, what is this "star-filter effect"?

One issue you didn't mention is the star-filter effect which comes up with every roof-optics against bright light sources, especially with a dark background. This is noticable even with my SLC 7x42, when looking at the moon and strong street lights/car lights. It may be quite insignificant, however and maybe not a true disadvantage(this effect is more noticable with low and mid-priced roofs than these high-grades). It isn't visible when stargazing.



#22 etc

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 09:40 PM

Here are some pics of Swarovski EL 8.5x42

Attached Files



#23 etc

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 09:42 PM

Oculars

Attached Files



#24 John F

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 12:17 AM

Ron,

Congradulations on the getting the Swaro 8.5 x 42ELs. I've had a pair now for 7 years and they're still my all-around favorites. I also have a pair of high quality 7x50s like you do, only mine are the Nikon model instead of the Fujinons. In some ways the 7x50s outperform the ELs but not by much. However, as you found out, the 8.5x42s possess considerable advantages over them: (1) Wider apparent field. (2) Larger Image Scale. (3) Darker sky background. (4) Much lighter weight (5) Much better ergonomics. So overall I consider the ELs to be a better choice than the 7x50s for astronomical use and a much better choice for terrestrial use.

I've also grown quite fond of another 7x binocular that I acquired last summer - the Leica 7x42 Ultravids. They're just a little lighter than the ELs but are almost an inch shorter in length. In fact, they're not much larger than most 8x32s. However, their 7x power and large 6mm exit pupil make them very easy to observe with and to be able to hand hold steadily (which in turn contributes to a more relaxing view). For astronomical use they give fine views but the 8.5x42s are better because of their larger image scale and darker sky background that you get with them so I (or my wife) mainly use the 7x42s for terrestrial viewing.

John Finnan

#25 ronharper

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Posted 22 April 2008 - 12:30 AM

Jon,
Thanks for sharing your very similar experience. Since the Swaro is really my wife's, when we go out birding I'll still be using the 7x50, which I'm used to--love, actually. The birds don't seem to mind, but it scares the heck out of other birders!
Ron






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