Which are the Best Hunting Binoculars?
Get a group of dedicated hunters together for more than a few minutes and invariably the best hunting binoculars will become the topic of conversation. And yet, with so much focus on this topic, very few agree on what is the best make and model for our application. Many would agree however that the best place to start would be Swarovski binoculars. Swarovski is known for amazing glass and build quality. The two most popular models of Swarovski Binoculars are the SLC’s and the more expensive EL’s. We’ll save the 8x – 10x – 12x argument for another time and focus on the versatile 10x42s. So, which is the better set of binoculars for hunters, the EL’s or the SLC’s? Most people probably assume the EL’s are better since they are more expensive but that’s not necessarily the case for every person. There are a lot of factors to consider; cost, design, light transmission, weight, focus wheel, general feel in the hand, etc. In the below article we’ll break down all of the features and hopefully help you make the right decision in your next binocular purchase.
Even though this is likely a “money no object” comparison, it matters. Swarovski EL’s run $2629, and the SLC’s $1799. $830 is a lot of cash to pony up for the upgrade to the EL’s. So.. is it worth it?
Both the EL’s and the SLC’s are roof prism binoculars, with the EL’s having a double bridge design. While the double bridge is stronger, the benefit of SLC open bridge design is the ¼ 20 receiver that allows for many options of tripod mounting. One of our favorite ways to mount your SLC’s to a tripod is the Field Optics Adapter Bino Adapter. Relatively inexpensive at $35, lightweight (1.4oz), and quick to deploy. The EL’s require the Swarovski UTA bino adapter $115 and 5.5oz. There are other solutions out there, but this is our favorite.
The amount of lost light is remarkably small in both the EL’s and the SLC’s. The EL’s include Swarovision, a field flattening lens, that does technically give the SLC’s the upper hand in brightness. More lenses mean less light to your eye. However the difference between the EL’s 90% and the SLC’s 91% is so small, it would be difficult to tell the difference even in the lowest of light conditions.
Both binoculars use the SAME QUALITY GLASS. The differences are in the lens placement and coatings.
The SLC’s weigh 27 oz, and the EL’s come in at 29 oz. This doesn’t seem like much, but put them in your hands and the EL’s feel heavier. This is not a bad thing, as the weight is balanced and does feel easier to keep stable. Although most oz counters might disagree.
The shortest focusing distance of the EL’s is only 5 feet. And in practice that feels like the length of your arm. The SLC’s are almost double that. We think that lends more to the birding community who would need to fine tune the image when viewing very close objects. The EL’s also take 2.5 turns to get from up close to infinity vs the SLC’s shorter 2.25 turns. Interesting though that the EL’s feel much faster. The EL’s only require ¾ of a turn to get from 20’ to infinity vs the SLC’s 1 full turn. What does all this mean? Well, the EL’s focus allows for a much finer degree of adjustment for objects up to 20’ (1.5 turns). Again, this gives the EL’s the ability to really fine tune the focus up close, and allows a quicker focus for far away objects. The SLC’s feel a little less measured which is fine for most hunters looking at objects considerably farther away than 20 feet.
Field of View
The field of view is almost identical and doesn’t really give one an advantage over the other. However the image quality from edge to edge IS different. The EL’s include Swarovision which simply put is an additional lens that flattens out the field of view. One way to measure this is to look at a tree or log pole on the edge of your field of view. When viewing through the SLC’s this image is going to be slightly distorted at the edges with the pole showing a curve. There is no hint of any distortion through the EL’s. Some hunters may “ho hum” to the field flattening view of the EL’s. I say the more your eyes have to work to “normalize” an image, the less time you’ll want to spend glassing due to eye fatigue. When the entire field of view is equally crisp, clear, and distortion free, you will be a more relaxed, patient glasser, and less likely to miss that big buck hidden in the brush.
SLC’s and EL’s both have generous eye relief. The SLC’s have 16mm, however the EL’s win this category by a landslide having a whopping 20mm!
Color is the toughest to compare simply because everyone sees things a little differently. However color is very important for this comparison because I believe this is where the difference between the EL’s and the SLC’s lie. I am told that the coatings on the SLC’s are aimed at showing a brighter, crisper image in low light situations, specifically twilight, and it shows. The SLCs are brighter in the twilight hours than the EL’s but more importantly seem to have more contrast. The EL’s coatings are aimed at clarity and true color. This can make the EL’s seem crisper in normal light conditions simply because there is more contrast in similar colors. This is really beneficial when picking out animals, specifically mule deer when they seem to be invisible against the background of sage or brush. For me this is the real difference between the two models. Low light contrast or true colors in normal light. Which do you prefer?
Not many people have the same vision in each eye, including me. After a recent visit to the eye doc, I learned that an accident i had when I was 3 years old was still affecting the eyesight in my left eye. Turns out my “bad eye” has only 20/20 vision, while my good eye was much better. The two together gets me 20/15 vision which is pretty darn good, but makes me wonder how much better it would be without the damage. My point (besides bragging about my almost 50 year old eyes being pretty darn good) is that I need to make some adjustments to my bino’s in order to focus clearly. Even though it’s only a few clicks of the diopter to get both eyes in sync, it makes a HUGE difference in the image clarity.
Both the EL’s and the SLC’s have the same diopter adjustment. Cover the right side’s objective and get the image in focus. (TIP: if you simply close your right eye, you won’t be as comfortable focusing the left eye. Covering the objective will help get your images in precise focus.) Then cover the left side’s objective, but this time pull up on the focus ring before you focus. This engages the diopter adjustment and allows you to focus only the right side. Both the EL and the SLCs function this way. The EL’s have a clever way to lock the diopter by turning the inner ring on the top of the knob. The SLCs do not have this lock.
Allowing both eyes to be perfectly focused at the same time will drastically improve your experience and allow you to stay behind the glass for longer periods of time.
In late 2015 the EL’s got a nice little upgrade. Called the “Field Pro Package”, they include a new flexible strap connector, a quick adjust carrying strap, and built in objective lens covers. The lens covers can be removed, but they are such a great design, I would leave them on.
Do you want richer colors or better contrast in low light. And really, that’s what it boils down to between these two. The EL’s seem to be targeted towards true colors and fidelity, and the SLC’s are better in low light situations. Most people will look at the price on the EL’s and assume that they are the better glass. Truth is, the glass itself is the same. However with advanced coatings, Swarovision, and more features, the ELs really are the better binoculars. Are they worth the extra $800? As a hunter who has to pay for optics and all my other gear, I say no. But that is why we write these reviews, to help you become a better hunter and allow you to make your own educated decisions. Either way Swarovski undoubtedly makes the best hunting binoculars you can buy and you can’t go wrong with either choice.