When I saw the NL Pure in a webinar for the first time, immediately – before the webinar ended, I asked my Swarovski sales rep for a pair to test. Later I remembered to ask for another pair, of ELs, so I could compare them. I kept them in my backpack until yesterday, didn’t want to hold them, to get any impressions… I wanted to test them as a tabula rasa (a clean slate). And today I did.
Before I share those impressions with you, I should tell you that my standard set, that I am used to, is a pair of Swarovski 8×30 CLs (full-size, yet compact), plus a STX 25-60×65 (the smallest/lighest of the series).
And now I have 10×42 in both NL and EL version. They are about the same length (NL 6.2in / 158mm; EL 6.3in / 160mm) and weight (NL 30oz / 850g; EL 29.6oz / 840g), and obviously, the same lens diameter, hence, they should feel the same, right? Wrong. Nothing can be more wrong.
ELs are fat around the waist, their weight is more pronounced towards the front end, and when you raise your fingers, letting ELs rest only against your thumbs, they start falling down, front end first.
NLs are slim in the middle and holding them feels like they were made for your hands. And when you raise your fingers, well balanced NLs happily rest against your thumbs, not falling to either side.
Just about any roof prism binoculars in history (all of them, I believe) had circular barrels. ELs have circular barrels, too. Hence, it was quite a surprise to grip NLs not only to discover that they have a slim waist, but that they are flattened into ellipse in the middle section! I have never held anything mildly similar. And it feels good, it helps you to orientate your bins when holding them with one hand only (which is possible).
While ELs were marketed as a significant ergonomical advance because of their hollow bridge, I do not know which words to use to describe NLs: far more than merely ergonomical, they truly have an open bridge, are comfortable, user-friendly, and… lovely. You are hearing that from a birder who likes his binoculars lightweight: my CLs have only half the weight of NLs (CL 17.3oz / 490g; NL 30oz / 850g).
It was an overcast day and, sitting in a garden, I was looking for shadowy places on wood beams under my neighbour’s roof or the curvy patterns in his walnut tree bark. To my eye, both ELs and NLs appeared equally bright and sharp (light transmission NL 91%; EL 90%), but one other difference was visible immediately: the width of the field of view (field of view in degrees NL 7.6; EL 6.4).
Looking at my fence from some dozen metres, with the ELs I was able to see about 15 pickets at the same time, while with the NLs I could see about twenty (plus/minus one). That is my impression, though Swarovski webinar claimed that NLs have 20% wider field of view than ELs – and also the widest field of view of any binoculars ever! And it really shows (field of view taking ft @ 1000yds / m @ 1000m, NL 399ft / 133m; EL 336ft / 112m).
Not having any cooperative birds in the garden at the moment, I opted to follow a train of ants. They were passing by my table, soon disappearing from my eyesight. NLs can focus at 2 metres (6.6ft), so I couldn’t see those nearby, but once I focused on them, I stared to follow the train as it disappeared in the grass, appearing here and there again… At such a close distance, the depth of a field of view is very narrow and for maybe every two feet I needed to readjust the focus, but the focus being smooth and fast, all I needed was one “click” more to eventually find their nest in a hollow branch of an old apple.
In the afternoon, I went birding the Paljuvi Dam, south of Belgrade. Since I am used to 8×30 CLs, however impressive NLs field of view may be, it is about the same width as my standard 8s (NL 399ft / 133m; CL 396ft / 132m). But encouraged by the fact that I need not sacrifice the field of view, for the first time ever I took 10s.
And the impression was… okay, yes, bright and sharp, but it’s a Swarovski and I expected nothing less. It was like looking through my usual bins and having all birds being somehow “more” of themselves, larger than life, making the details more striking: finely graded colours of a female Whinchat, the Tree Pipit’s bold chest streaks, or the discreetly streaked chest of the Spotted Flycatcher. With just about every other bird I had one of those “wow” moments.
Next time I will try my local patch of Beljarica backwaters in Belgrade and check how much different the NL experience is. A Little Stint awaited me there this morning. I deliberately left my scope at home, so I’d focus only on NLs and despite seeing the Little Stint well with 10s (as opposed to my usual, lower scope magnification of 25x), it took me a while to ID it.
But the strangest bird was a duck, one that I have never seen before, that does not even inhabit Europe (apart from feral birds), and yet, somehow strangely familiar (probably not that much of a surprise after a lifetime of snooping through field guides). The beauty of birding is that no matter how good you get, you can always find a way to challenge yourself.
So I watched an unknown duck now, quite bright, clearly a male. I observed it and, at rest, took notes of its white face, blackish head with green iridescence, scaled breast, rusty flanks, back and folded wings black with whitish streaks. In flight, from above I noticed white forewing and white rump. All that with 10s from the distance of about 330ft / 100m. (I also digiscoped a few lousy photos.)
Once at home, I looked at Wildfowl by Steve Madge and Hilary Burn, to quickly discover that I was watching the Chiloe Wigeon, indigenous to Chile and Argentina. Well, an escapee it may be, but still something totally new and challenging (also, a first for Serbia). With Swarovski NL Pure I expected a lot, but it sure delivered way above my expectations.