Binocular review of the full-size Swarovski Optik SLC 8x56. Perhaps the only pair you will need for a lifetime of wildlife watching.
In this second of our reviews of the top-quality Swarovski Optik binoculars we have been able to try out, both on the boat and on land this year, we move from the small and compact CL Companions, to the full-sized SLC range.
At the beach, in a bird hide, up a mountain - the Swarovski SLC's are guaranteed to give great views.
The Swarovski SLC's are offered with a choice of two objective lens diameters, the SLC 42 and the SLC 56. We chose the 8x56 model, but you could also go for greater magnification with the 10x or even 15x models!
The first person to be able to test them out was again Muriel Hallé, our lead guide at Hebridean Adventures on our Scottish wildlife cruises. Here is what she had to say...
"The Swarovski SLC binos are really good and the image is so bright and clear! I loved them for watching our local (white-tailed) eagles as those birds then really 'popped' out of the background. With these coastal birds the situation was quite ideal as we would normally slow down or even stop the boat and so there was usually not too much movement on deck when looking through the binoculars.
Also I think for the gannets and other seabirds it was nice to use these big binoculars for great views of them. One reason for that is that these birds are easy to find, even with the naked eye. Therefore I could lock on to them quickly and didn't really have to use the bins for long periods of scanning and searching. That then leads me on to the fact that for me personally, due to their rugged build quality, they were quite heavy I have to say, which on a rolling boat means they were a little hard to use for long periods of time, something I do need to do when searching for distant glimpses of cetaceans. However when stationery or when studying a bird or animal in detail they are exceptional, perfect for our shore excursions for example when they would be my first choice, but for my typical scanning needs on the boat, I would myself probably stick with the lighter and smaller CL Companions."
There is no doubt the SLC's are solidly built and that is for good reason, they are built to last you a lifetime. That 56mm objective lens also means they gather an amazing amount of light. They are an investment certainly at £1,740 for the 8x56 model, but with a functional operating range of -25 to +55 degrees centigrade, and submersion specs that show they are watertight down to 4 metres (13 feet), you should not be afraid to use them in the very worst that the British weather can throw at you. This is backed up by a very generous 10-year warranty as well.
Paul Sharman, our business development manager, is also a keen wildlife watcher as well as a long-time freelance outdoor writer and photographer. He was therefore also very keen to test this pair and took them on a trip to the Isle of Skye recently. Here are his thoughts...
"I have been using an old pair of generic 10x50 binoculars for my wildlife watching for longer than I care to remember. They are serviceable but I always knew I was missing out on seeing fine details, accurate focusing and despite the 50mm objective lens, they did not work well once the light dropped. To say I was keen to test the SLC 8x56's would be an understatement then and I have to say I was not disappointed.
The exterior finish is matte green and the body is contoured with extended depressions for a better grip.
Oh my gosh, talk about a night and day difference, literally! The images were so crisp and clear, and the brightness was absolutely phenomenal. I used them in several locations on Skye in all conditions from bright sun, picking out diving gannets from the top of the Kilt Rock cliffs, to using my car as a makeshift hide when it was dull and raining, checking out a small lochan, and then back here at home in the highlands at dusk, for amazingly bright close-up views of a flock of geese in the field next to us. They performed brilliantly each time not surprisingly.
They are solid but well-balanced, and although initially I wasn't sure about the weight, once I adapted my grip and stance to accommodate that it was no longer a problem for me. I loved using these and it was very hard to let them go. I will be thinking very seriously about investing in a pair of these for myself - they are definitely worth it if you are a mad-keen wildlife watcher like me."
Our most recent recipient of the SLC's has been our Director, David Lambie, who also runs a successful ecological consulting firm which means he is out in the wilderness a lot and relies heavily on quality optics. I will let him explain...
"With just over 30 years of Swarovski experience under the belt: from the original monster 8X56's which I used in the nineties, until now with my 8.5x42 EL’s plus the 20-60 STS spotting scope, I’m probably in a fortunate position to comment. When my EL’s went off recently for their well deserved R&R (repair and revival), after a decade of use under the harshest conditions on land and at sea, it was great to receive the new version of the SLC 8x56.
Yes they are heavier than what I have been used to with the EL’s, but that weight is reassuringly comforting and is so well balanced that actually it aids steadiness. I have used them during surveys this past couple of weeks, and as I wear my binos over one shoulder and not round the neck I really do not notice that added weight. Admittedly not ideal for a moving boat where lightness and field of view is more important than light gathering. For our survey work spotting target species such as golden eagles and looking for capercaillie during poor light, these are unbeatable.
To be honest I would be perfectly happy with these modern 8x56, it probably is a near perfect working companion for field work. Maybe time to let my EL's have a happy retirement."
- The Swarovski SLC 8x56 (from £1,740) are joined in the SLC range of binoculars by other options offering 10x56 and a huge 15x56 pair, as well as the smaller and lighter 8x42 and 10x42 models.
- Swarovski Optik binoculars come with a 10 year worldwide warranty, and you can expect them to last much longer than that. In fact these are built to last you a lifetime.
- Browse the full Swarovski Optik collection on their website at https://uk.swarovskioptik.com/outdoor and you can also find them on Social Media.
- If you come wildlife and activity cruising with us in Scotland at Hebridean Adventures in 2021, you will be able to try out these binoculars for yourself under real wildlife watching conditions. We will look forward to hearing what you think.
- Nice touches - the padded neck strap is very comfortable and adjustable of course. On full size bins like these you need to have a secure and comfortable grip and so there are extended depressions running along both sides of the barrels which your fingers slide into very naturally. Thanks to their superior build quality, they will also take the worst the weather can throw at them and carry on working perfectly regardless.
- Swarovski offer a range of accessories designed to enhance your use of their products, such as a suspender harness to distribute the weight over your upper body and off of your neck. Great if you are going out all day for example. Good value too at £46.