Hands-On Review: Swarovski Optik CL Companion Binoculars
Swarovski Optik has just announced two new CL Companion binoculars, a 10x model and an 8x model. Designed for crisp imagery in a lightweight and highly portable package, the CL Companion binoculars easily find the mark.
Like a fast camera lens, good binoculars let in a lot of light—more specifically, they let a lot of light reach your eyes. It all boils down to the quality of the lenses: the larger the lenses and the better their coatings, the brighter a pair of binoculars will be. But it’s not just brightness that makes binoculars great, it’s also the sharpness of focus, the range of contrast, color accuracy, the elimination of glare and many other factors that determine how one pair of binoculars might compare to another.
Last summer I tested a $1500 pair of Swarovski 10 x 42 binoculars. The best way to describe the difference between ordinary binoculars and Swarovski binoculars is like an old CRT TV compared to a new HDTV. The only complaint I could make is that, at 31 ounces, they were a bit too heavy to carry around all day. That’s why I’m so impressed with Swarovski’s new CL Companion 10 x 30 binoculars, which are roughly half the weight of the 10 x 42 model.
What makes the CL Companion 10 x 30 binoculars so much lighter than the 10 x 42s? It has to do with the diameter of the objective lenses. Binocular specifications indicate the magnification strength followed by the diameter of the objective lenses. So 10 x 30 binoculars have a magnification factor of 10x and an objective diameter of 30mm. It is a tradeoff, because the 10 x 42 binoculars let more light through, making them more usable when it’s not so bright outside, but at the expense of nearly doubling the size and weight of the binoculars.
The objective diameter also determines the exit pupil diameter, which should always be larger than the pupil of your eye. The pupil of a human eye ranges from about 1mm in bright conditions to about 7mm in the dark. It will feel like you’re looking through a small peephole when the binoculars’ exit pupil is smaller than the pupils of your eyes, and centering the image for each eye becomes crucial.
A binoculars’ exit pupil diameter is determined by dividing the second specification number by the first. In the case of the CL Companion 10 x 30 binoculars, the exit pupil diameter equals 30÷10, or 3mm. That’s a bit smaller than the 10 x 42 model (4.2mm), but it won’t make much of a difference if you usually use binoculars in broad daylight, say for bird watching or watching a yacht race. If you use binoculars on moonlit nights at sea, you would definitely want the pair with the larger exit pupil diameter.
The Swarovski CL Companion 10 x 30 binoculars are simply amazing. Looking out the window of the B&H office building in New York City, I could make out fine details on faraway buildings and see all sorts of activity going on in the local surroundings. It was hard to put the binoculars down. Obviously the high-quality glass in these binoculars has a lot to do with their performance. But so do Swarovski’s advanced optical coatings: Swarotop is an anti-reflective multicoating that enhances light transmission, while Swarobright is a mirrored prism coating that improves brightness and color reproduction. Swarodur makes the lenses scratch resistant.
The CL Companion 10 x 30 binoculars are 4.7 inches long and they weigh about 18 ounces. They’re small enough to keep in a jacket pocket and light enough to carry around all day long. And you don’t have to worry about bad weather; they’re dust proof, fog proof, waterproof and submersible to a depth of 13 feet. Individually adjustable twist-in eyecups provide 14mm of eye relief; no rubber eyecups to fold and unfold. A full rubber coating on the binoculars, combined with thumb depressions on their underside, provides a firm grip and prevents damage. They are very comfortable to hold, well balanced and light enough to avoid wrist and forearm fatigue during extended viewing, which is good because these binoculars do not have a tripod mount. The binoculars come with a padded nylon case, contoured neoprene neck strap, a wrist strap, eyepiece cover, tethered push-on lens caps and a lifetime warranty. They’re available in black, green and tan.
Everyday binoculars should offer between 7x and 10x power. Theatergoers should choose 7x, while big-game hunters might want 10x or higher. Anything higher than 10x is very difficult to hold steady without a tripod. If you want the quality of the CL Companion 10 x 30 binoculars in something a bit less powerful but with better low-light performance, consider the Swarovski CL Companion 8x30 binoculars. The 8 x 30 binoculars offer the same features as the more powerful model but with an exit pupil diameter of 3.8mm, 15mm of twist in/out eye relief and a weight of less than 18 ounces. They, too, are available in black, green and tan.
Swarovski binoculars are pricey, but they offer top-shelf performance and come with a lifetime warranty. Perhaps best of all is that they will never become obsolete. Computers, TV sets and digital cameras are always getting better and better, and they can fail with age. But these binoculars will never fail and will always outperform ordinary ones.