Awards: Best Compact Binocular 2013
Whilst the main reason for most people needing or wanting a compact is to have a binocular that is small enough so that it is easy to carry about wherever they go, it is actually quite difficult to get the whole equation right as there is much more to it than just miniaturizing everything.
This is because by decreasing the overall size, you also have to reduce the size of important optical parts like the objective lenses, which in turn means that they have less surface area with which to capture light, which then usually means that their low light performance is compromised and can mean a lower quality of image being produced.
These negative effects can be minimized by using very high end optical glass and coatings, but as you would expect these don't come cheap. On top of this if you are going to have a binocular that you carry about wherever you go, they will probably get used and ruffed up a little more than the pair that you keep on the shelf and only take out now and then. So it makes sense to ensure that your compact can handle all that you throw at it and so a quality metal casing is a much better, but more expensive option than a cheap plastic one.
One of the problems with all this is that in my experience, many people wanting a pair of compacts either assume they should be cheaper than a full sized bin, or because they are only buying them with a particular trip (like a safari) in mind, don't want to pay too much for them.
So to cater for the majority, most compacts are indeed smaller than full and mid sized bins, but the manufacturers have had to make many concessions in both their materials and the coatings that they use to make them and so their optical performance is obviously also affected.
This is be fine for most people in most situations, but what if you want to have your cake and eat it? Well the good news is there are some compacts made to the highest levels and in all but the poorest light conditions will perform as well as or even better than many mid to high level full sized binoculars.
Judging by their marketing and looking that their specs, the new Swarovski CL Pocket 8x25 binoculars have the potential to be one of these and so to see if they do perform as well as they promise, I arranged for them to be sent to me to review:
The CL Pocket has a fairly typical shape to that of most other roof prism compacts that have a duel hinge design. I my opinion this is the absolute ideal design for a compact, because they are usually very comfortable to hold, simple to use even with one hand, give you plenty of flexibility in adjusting them to match the width of your eyes, but most importantly it enables them to fold up into a very small shape making them a true pocket binocular.
Most bins currently on the market have almost their entire external surface covered in a rubber coating, which helps to protect the device from impacts, improves grip and it can muffle sound and make the body less reflective.
Swarovski Optik on the other hand has left a lot of the metal chassis exposed on the 8x25 CL Pocket, however the areas that they have coated (most of the top face of the bridge, the sides and undersides of the barrels) are the most important in regards to grip and even though the coating is very thin and hard, it does offer a more tactile and "grippy" surface than the rest of the body.
Available only in neutral colors (either black, green, or sand-brown) and by adding a fine texture to the visible metal, Swarovski have not only ensured that these parts of the body are less reflective than shiny metal, but the texture also helps a little with grip, especially when wet or when you are wearing gloves.
But whilst I do really love the very classy look to them, which is far more elegant and sophisticated than a full rubber armor, it must be said that it does provide the optics with a little less impact protection. Although compared to the many polyester ones on the market, the metal chassis goes a long way to countering this.
Swarovski Optik don't go into detail, but it is plain to see that the main body of the CL Pocket is made from a metal, which may be heavier than the polyester ones, but is far stronger and more durable.
The small eyelets that you thread the neck strap through are also made from metal and they seem to be far stronger than the plastic ones that I often find.
Swarovski have also set the objective lenses at about 5mm inside the ends of the barrels. For a compact this is quite deep and so offers the lenses some protection from light rain and will prevent dust and other dirt gathering on them.
The body of the Swarovski CL 8x25 Pocket binocular is fully sealed and according to the manufacturers they can be submerged in water to a depth of 4m (13ft). Remember this will not only protect them from moisture, but also prevents small particles like dust entering the system.
As well as being sealed, all the internal air is replaced with nitrogen gas, which prevents the internal glass surfaces from misting up, which can happen to unprotected bins when you get sudden and extreme temperature changes.
Inter-Pupillary Distances (IPD)
Apart from enabling you to fold it into a really compact shape when not in use, the two hinges give you a lot of flexibility when it comes to adjusting the eyecups to match the distance between your eyes.
Swarovski advertise the minimum IPD as being 5cm, however I feel that they are doing themselves an injustice as I measured it to be 3.5cm and they have a maximum IPD of 7.4cm. This range should mean that most people, including those with close set eyes like children will be able to correctly line up the lenses with their eyes to get the full view.
Located in the center of the bridge, the focus wheel at only 18mm in diameter and 16mm long is small. What is more, because it is embedded within the bridge, a lot of it is covered, with only a small part on the top and bottom left exposed. For the most part and in normal use this is not a problem, but it does make turning it accurately with thickly padded gloves on more difficult, which is something to consider if you often go out in very cold weather.
The wheel itself is made from metal and is covered in a ridged rubber track, which does help with grip.
The focusing mechanism was very smooth on my sample Swarovski 8x25 CL Pocket and it takes 2 full rotations of the wheel (720°) to move the focus from near to infinity. This reasonably low gear means that it takes a little longer to change from one extreme to the other, but does make it easier to be more accurate with the fine adjustments.
The diopter adjustment is located on the underside of the opposite end of the bridge to the focus wheel. This is an unusual location, but one that I really like because as you only really need to adjust it once to calibrate the bin to your eyesight, it is nicely out of the way, meaning that there is less chance of it being moved by accident.
Whilst it is not lockable, it is very small, which does make adjusting it a little tricky, but on the upside this once again reduces the chance of it moving accidentally.
Like the larger Swarovski CL and EL binoculars, the metal twist up eyecups on these compacts are excellent and a huge improvement on the fold-down ones found on many similar sized compacts.
They have an external diameter of 31mm and whilst the width of the ring that presses against your face is only 4mm wide, I found them very comfortable.
They twist up and down very smoothly and whilst there are no fixed intermediate stops, you can position them at any point between the two extremes and they will stay there. This gives you all the flexibility that you need to get your eyes set to the right distance behind the ocular lens to get the full uninterrupted view.
Combine this with the excellent 17mm of eye-relief which is better than many full sized bins and far more than most compacts offer, it should make these the perfect choice if you wear glasses:
As I don't wear gasses, I tested to see if there was enough eye-relief using my sunglasses. By completely twisting down the eyecups, I was able to get the full view with out any problem.
Body Construction Quality Rating: 9/10
|Swarovski 8x25 CL Pocket||Pentax 9x28 DCF LV||Opticron Taiga 8x25||Kowa 8x25 BD||Minox BD 7x28||Vanguard Orros 10x25|
|Weight:||12.2ozs (346g)||12.9ozs (366g)||10.7ozs (303g)||11.3ozs (320g)||12ozs (340g)||9.88oz (280g)|
|Length:||4.3in (10.9cm)||4.6in (11.7cm)||4.4in (11.2cm)||4.4in (11.2cm)||4.4in (11.2cm)||4.1in (10.5cm)|
|Width:||3.9in (9.9cm)||4.5in (11.4cm)||3.9in (9.9cm)||4.2in (10.7cm)||4.2in (10.7cm)||4.5in (11.5cm)|
|Height:||1.8in (4.6cm)||1.7in (4.3cm)||?||1.5in (3.8cm)||1.4in (3.6cm)||1.9in (5.0cm)|
Tipping the scales at 12.2ozs (346g), these are perhaps a little heavier than many similar sized compacts, but I feel this small amount of extra weight is a small price to pay for the extra quality and durability you get from a full metal body, hinges, eyecups and focus wheels.
They are nicely balanced and this weight also gives this Swarovski CL Pocket binocular a nice and somewhat reassuring feeling of quality, unlike some of the super lightweight cheap plastic compacts that I have come across that feel very flimsy and.. cheap!
The length of the Swarovski CL Pocket 8x25 binocular is 4.3in (10.9cm) long, with the eyecups twisted in, extending them increases their length to 4.7in (12cm). This is around about the same as with most roof prism compacts.
Swarovski advertise their width as being 3.9in (9.9cm), which I am not sure how they get this, because by fully opening their hinges, I measured their width as 4.3in (11cm), which once again is about the same as most compacts. But where these really excel is when you fold them up, their width reduces down to only 2.6in (6.5cm), which is very small indeed
Completely folded their height is 1.8in (4.6cm), which is what they state, but this reduces to 1.6in (4cm) when you open up the binocular..
Double Hinge Design
As you can see from the photos above, where I compare these Swarovski CL binoculars with that of the also very compact Minox BD 7x28.
They both use roof prisms and so both have a nice and small shape, especially with the hinges open when in use. But because the Swarovski has a double hinge design, it is able to fold up into a much smaller shape and so is much easier to carry about with you than most single hinge compacts, you can even keep it in your pocket. It is for this reason that I like to call these and other similar ones, true pocket binoculars.
For other bins that use this design, take a look at this article on the best compact pocket binoculars.
Body Stats Rating (compared to other compacts): 9/10
The Swarovski CL Pocket binoculars use roof prisms made from the best Barium Crown BaK-4 glass. This glass has a comparatively high index of refraction which ensures that less peripheral light is lost through the non-total internal reflection of the prism design. The result is an image that is brighter and of a better quality.
I measured the ocular lenses as having a diameter of 18mm, which for such a small compact is pretty large. However other than this fact and that they are multi coated (see coatings below), I have not been able to find out any more information on their exact make up.
Most compacts have objectives between 21mm and 28mm in diameter and so at 25mm in diameter, the objective lenses sit in the middle of the two extremes, which is good as they strike good balance between light collecting capability and the size of instrument:
However to help with this low light performance by increasing the transmittance levels, Swarovski add a number of coatings to the surfaces of the prisms and the lenses, which as well as brightness, also improves the quality:
As light comes into contact with each glass surface in the system, from the first surface on the objective lens, to the prisms, right to the last one in the eyepiece, there is the possibility of it being reflected in an unwanted way, which if left unchecked can can have a huge negative impact on the image brightness and quality.
To improve this, single or multiple layers of anti-reflection coatings are added to some or all of these glass surfaces. Because of their cost, only higher end optics will have
Swarovski state that their optics are "Fully Multi-Coated" which is the best as it means all the glass surfaces are coated with multiple layers of this material and so will outperform those with only "Multi-Coated" optics.
Whilst the straight through roof prism design enables manufacturers make a nice compact shape, it can have a couple of drawbacks compared to the porro prisms if left unchecked:
The first is something known as "phase shift" which occurs as the light reflects off the surfaces of the prism and splits into two marginally out-of-phase beams. On lower quality roof prisms, this is not corrected, but on these CL Pocket's Swarovski have added phase correction coatings which counter the phase shift and so produce and image with improved contrast and resolution.
The next potential issue is that one surface on a roof prism does not completely reflect all the light that gets to it. We have already seen that Swarovski help to improve this by using BaK-4 glass, but they also go one step further by adding more than 30 layers of layers of exceedingly thin dielectric coatings.
This is what Swarovski Optik call their Swarobright coatings and whilst this is an expensive and rather elaborate process, it creates a mirror on the surface which can now transmit more than 99% of the light.
Due to the costs and complexity involved, lesser roof prism binos will use cheaper alternatives like silver or aluminium coatings that will only reflect around 87% to a maximum of 98% and which can sometimes give the resulting image a slightly artificial looking yellowish tinge.
Optical Components Quality Rating: 8/10
Field of View (FOV):
Looking through these Swarovski binoculars you will see an image that is 357ft wide at a distance of 1,000 yards (119m at 1,000 meters), which translates to an angle of view of 6.8°.
For a 8x compact this is excellent and indeed is one of the widest that I have used (take a look at a few comparisons in the table below). This has many advantages, especially for birders who need to locate small, fast moving birds as quickly as possible.
Close Focus Distance:
Swarovski state the minimum focus distance on these is 8.2ft (2.5m), which I would describe as good, but not excellent. However on the pair that I was using, I actually measured it to a much closer distance of 6ft (1.8m) which is what I would describe as excellent, however I can't be sure if this distance will be the same on all pairs, so for my scoring, I will stick with their official distance.
Either way these will be fine for occasionally viewing things like flowers or butterflies from closer distances. However if this is your main intended use for them you would be better off getting a pair like the Pentax Papilio 8.5x21 binocular that is specifically designed for close observation.
The 17mm of eye-relief is excellent and is much more than you get on most bins this size. This and as I have already discussed, their excellent twist-up eyecups, make the Swarovski 8x25 CL Pocket an ideal choice if you want to keep your glasses on whilst binning.
Optical Stats Comparison Table:
|FOV at 1000yds||Min Focusing Dist||Eye Relief||Exit Pupil|
|Swarovski CL Pocket 8x25||357ft||8.2ft||17mm||3.1mm|
|Opticron 10x28 BGA T PC Oasis||258ft||12.8ft||15mm||2.8mm|
|Opticron Taiga 8x25||315ft||9.8ft||16mm||3.1mm|
|Steiner 10x26 Safari Pro||309ft||18.5ft||11mm||2.6mm|
|Pentax DCF LV 9x28||294ft||9.8ft||18mm||3.1mm|
|Kowa 8x25 BD||331ft||6.0ft||15.8mm||3.1mm|
|Minox 10x25 BV BRW||290ft||4.9ft||15.5mm||2.5mm|
|Vanguard Orros 10x25||330ft||8.2ft||10mm||2.5mm|
Optical Stats Rating: 9/10
The hardest section of all my reviews is judging the image quality. To help me be as consistent as possible, I compare a range of different aspects of the view of the bin I am reviewing with that of a number of benchmark binoculars that I have in the same sort of size and magnification category. It is in this way that I am able to place them and describe their performance as bad, ok, good, very good or excellent in each of these areas.
For this review I tested them against my 8 and 10x26 controls and for interest against my 8x32 and my 8x42 controls.
Image Brightness & Low Light Performance
To my eyes there was a small improvement in brightness between these and my 8x26 control compacts which is a little surprising as the Swarovski has a smaller exit-pupil. This is where the quality of the glass and their coatings makes the difference and it is impressive to see.
What is also impressive is that in these same conditions, it was very difficult to detect any difference in image brightness between these and my very high end 8x42 controls, although if I had to pick, I would say the 8x42 just edged it.
However in poor light, when my pupils were probably larger than the 3.125mm diameter (25 ÷ 8 = 3.125) exit pupil, the high end 8x42 did seem a little brighter, but I have to say the difference was less than I expected.
Compared to my benchmark 8x26mm , the Swarovski CL 8x25 Pocket was now producing an image that to me seemed quite a bit brighter, so overall I would rate image brightness on the 8x25 CL Pocket as excellent compared to others in this class and not at all bad when compared to mid to high end 8x42 bins!.
Colour Reproduction & Contrast
The colors produced are nice and vivid, yet still look natural and there is no hint of an artificial tint, like the yellow wash that you sometimes get on cheaper bins.
I also thought that the image contrast is good to excellent. For example you can see a nice difference between the shaded areas in the trees and the highlights on their leaves, which really does bring the image to life making it stand out.
Whilst it is present, the amount of color fringing caused by chromatic aberrations is very minimal and only just observable when you are actually looking for it.
This small amount of fringing is excellent ranks them up there with some of the best.
The amount of image softening right on the edge of the view is almost zero, which once again is excellent, placing them in with the other top performers.
I also though that the image looks nice and flat right across the width of the view.
Depth of Field
Depth of field was good and matched that of my 8x26 controls, which I tested by focusing on an object about 5 meters away and then taking my view back from that point as far as I could without changing the focus wheel until the image became fuzzy.
Image Quality Overall
Overall I would describe the image as excellent and up there with the very best compacts that I have ever looked through.
Image Quality Rating: 9/10
The pouch comes with a simple wrist strap, that connects to the top of the bag with a large ring and can be easily removed should you wish. On the rear of the bag is an excellent belt loop, that you can open up by lifting a small flap and tearing the Velcro connection, this means that you can take it on and off without having to remove your belt. For more se the walk-around video below.
Whist the nylon type exterior may not be completely waterproof, it looks like it will protect the connects from getting wet from all but the heaviest rain.
The inside of the bag is accessed via a large Zip that goes around most of the bag, inside is very well padded and it will protect the bins much better than most I see. The bins fit snugly inside after collapsing them, although not too tightly and you can store them without having to twist in the eye-cups every time, something that really annoys me on some bags.
Also inside the bag is a separate netted pocket that is perfect for storing a lens cleaning cloth and a few other small personal items.
Compare to the very luxurious straps that you get on larger Swarovski's, this one is pretty simple, but it is still better than most of the direct competition in this size class.
Whilst it does not have any padding, it is well made with lovely leather connectors that have a metal Swarovski logo embedded in it. The main strap is made from nylon and 2cm wide at the point that wraps around your neck. With bins this size and weight it is easily comfortable enough.
To connect it to the binoculars, you thread it through a couple of loops on the binocular and then through a commonly used slider buckle that makes it fairly simple to adjust the length to suit your preferences.
The CL Pocket, like many compacts does not have included lens covers or a rain guard as the carry pouch is designed with this in mind and I guess the idea is to return t to the pouch when not in use.
However for most of the time, I like to carry the bins in my hand or in my pocket, so that I have very quick access to them, so for me it is a bit of a shame. Another solution would be to fit the pouch to your belt and use it as a form of pocket, which will work very well.
Whilst many bins come with a decent cleaning cloth, the micro-fiber cloth that you get with this and indeed all the other Swarovski bins that I have reviewed is of really high quality. On top of this, you also get a disposable, moistened cleaning tissue for the lenses. However to really look after the device, I would recommend that you get a proper optic lens cleaning kit after you have used this.
Manual & Warranty Information
The CL Pocket comes with a reasonably comprehensive booklet that contains the most important information written in a number of languages regarding the setting up, using, care and basic cleaning of the bin. Also included, stored in a pocket on the inside cover is a technical data sheet.
The back cover of the instruction manual includes the warranty card and details of the worldwide 10 year guarantee.
Accessories & Attention to Detail: 8/10
I have included the main features and specifications of the Vanguard Orros 10x25 and the 8x25 version in table below as well as that of a number of other similar compacts in order for you to make some quick comparisons:
|Swarovski CL Pocket 8x25||Pentax 9x28 DCF LV||Opticron Taiga 8x25||Minox BD 7x28||Kowa 8x25 BD||Vanguard Orros 10x25|
|Approx Price:||$800 / £600||$200 / £180||£119||$300 / £200||$280 / £230||$90 / £90|
|Weight:||12.2ozs (346g)||12.9ozs (366g)||10.7ozs (303g)||12ozs (340g)||11.3ozs (320g)||9.88oz (280g)|
|Length:||4.3in (10.9cm)||4.6in (11.7cm)||4.4in (11.2cm)||4.4in (11.2cm)||4.4in (11.2cm)||4.1in (10.5cm)|
|Width:||3.9in (9.9cm)||4.5in (11.4cm)||3.9in (9.9cm)||4.2in (10.7cm)||4.2in (10.7cm)||4.5in (11.5cm)|
|Min Focusing Dist:||8.2ft||9.8ft||9.8ft||65.6ft||6.0ft||8.2ft|
|FOV at 1000yds:||357ft||294ft||315ft||384ft||331ft||330ft|
|Phase Correction||Yes||Yes||Not Needed||No||Yes||No|
|Optical Coatings||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated||Fully Coated||Multi-Coated||Fully Multi-Coated||Multi-Coated|
The most important feature of any compact is to be small and these Swarovski 8x25 CL Pocket binoculars are very small, especially once folded which makes them very easy to carry about wherever you go.
The quality of their build, body materials and the optical components and coatings is very high and this really shows in the finished product which not only looks and feels like a quality optical instrument, but produces a view that many full sized bins would be proud of.
Their wide field of view is well worth me highlighting again as this will be important in many situations and their long eye-relief and twist-up eyecups will please many, especially eyeglass wearers.
The quality and design of the included extras are also excellent and easily match that of the binocular.
As you would expect in this class, these bins do not have any major weak points, but there are a few points to consider:
Their lack of lens covers may be a slight concern to some and whilst I know that the way the focus wheel is almost encased within the bridge helps keep the total size down and enable you to fold them into a very small shape, it does make it more difficult to "feel" and accurately turn with gloves on.
Perfect For: Whilst they may not perform quite as well as a bin designed for a specific use or situation, most compacts can be used in a wide range of situations and perform to a good level, which is what makes them so useful. What I love about these Swarovski CL Pocket binoculars is that their outstanding optical performance takes them to another level meaning that in many situations they will definitely outperform most other compacts and compete optically with many larger bins.
These as you would expect considering their size are perfect travel partners and if keeping your luggage to a minimum will make a cracking safari binocular, especially if you plan on a few walking or hiking expeditions. These same characteristics mean they will be great on most camping trips and maybe even for skiing, but their small focus wheel may be a problem with your thick gloves on.
Their image quality, brightness and wide field of view makes them ideal as birding binoculars, but combined with their small size these are the ideal bin for many outdoor sports events, including horse racing, cricket, tennis, football and motorsports.
Good Value For Money?
As with everything in optics it is all about compromises, so because Swarovski have compromised a lot less than most in terms of their build quality, optical components and coatings quality, there is a price to pay and that is reflected in their price tag!
These CL Compacts, like most other Swarovski binoculars don't come cheap, but as they say in life you often get what you pay for. In this case you are getting a super high end compact that uses only the very best materials and coatings, made by experts to the very highest tolerances and standards.
So compared to others within this price range, I would say that you are getting good value for money as they are about as good as it gets.
Unlike some so called reviews I see on the web, written by people who have never seen or touched the bin under the spotlight, I wrote this review after extensively researching, using and testing the Swarovski CL Pocket 8x25 binocular, both in my office and out in the field.
I would also like to assure you that all the opinions that I have expressed above are my truthful thoughts on the binocular and I am in no ways biased towards these or any other product I write about.
Reviewed by Jason Whitehead
Main Specifications & Features:
Below are similar pairs of Binoculars that you may also want to have a look at:
The new Swarovision EL 10x32 binoculars combine the very best optics and coatings with a waterproof, lightweight and tough Magnesium open bridge body
General Price Range: (5/6) High Value Binoculars
Below is a link that will take you to a page with online retailers in both the US and UK that sell Swarovski 8x25 CL Pocket Binoculars this page makes it easy to compare prices and then to buy from your preferred option:
Buy & Compare Prices for the Swarovski 8x25 CL Pocket Binoculars
I would love to get your comments and well as your opinions on these optics. Do you want to or do you already own one of these CL Pocket Binoculars? If so please let us know what you think of them giving both the good and the bad points: