Classy magnification ideal for safari, wildlife and stargazing trips, but the iPhone adaptor for taking photos is a challenge to master
If you’re not travelling with binoculars, you’re not travelling properly. Find yourself in some of the world’s most beautiful locations, and you want to get a closer look, whether you’re hiking, at observation points, or a safari area where it’s common to see animals in the far distance. Of course, you can buy a cheap pair of binoculars for as little as £50/$70, but if you want the absolute best, you’re going to have to spend a great deal more. What brand do most birdwatchers and safari enthusiasts go for? That would be Swarovski Optik, who loaned TravGear a pair of its sumptuous 15×56 SLC binoculars for a proper trial. Are they really worth £1,700?
Swarovski Optik15x56 SLC binoculars: quality
With 15x magnification and an objective lens diameter of 56mm, these binoculars are designed not only to get a close look at animals and objects far away, but also to let a lot of light in. That makes a real difference at dusk when on a safari, for example, when most binoculars start to fail. These give a bright, sharp image even in low light, and the detail is stunning. It’s really hard to fault them, although we did find that when pointed at the moon there was a noticeable glare. That didn’t extend to stargazing in general, which they excelled at.
Swarovski Optik15x56 SLC binoculars: build
The build quality is exceptional. The objective lens caps on the end of the binoculars (which so often get lost, or don’t fit properly), not only fit snugly but are attached, so can’t get lost. They do flap around the sides while using the binoculars, though that’s not a massive problem. The only time it is an issue is when you’re trying to lean binoculars on a hard surface to get some stability. The eyecups come with a double lens cap that covers both lenses, with a click wheel adjusting the width to match that of your eyes (the likely position you store your binoculars in). Elsewhere, the bottom of the binoculars has moulded grooves to put your thumbs. These are very welcome, but I feel slightly misplaced, given that the weight of these binoculars is hefty 1.2kg. I preferred to place my thumbs in the middle of the tubes, not quite as close to the lenses as Swarovski has put them.
Swarovski Optik15x56 SLC binoculars: pouch
The pouch that comes with the binoculars is excellent. Two good quality zips cover the top of this padded pouch, which can be used either as a clutch or with a shoulder strap. On the outside of the bag is not only a metallic Swarovski emblem but on the back is a small pocket for storing a small guidebook or a notebook, though it’s really too small for either. We would prefer a full-length pocket.
Swarovski Optik15x56 SLC binoculars: iPhone adaptor
Rather excitingly, Swarovski has made it possible to take photographs through these binoculars using just a smartphone. Supplied to us for use with an iPhone 8, the system comes in two parts. The first the PA-i8, a machined metal wraps around frame the phone on two hinges. Once that has been put in place around an iPhone (which has to be naked, no cases allowed), you simply screw a PA Adaptor Ring onto the frame, then push the frame onto one of the eyecups. It fits really well, it’s very snug and safe, but it’s not a very easy system to use. The reason is that everything you look at through binoculars is pretty wobbly, and sadly there’s no tripod thread on the binoculars’ bottom. Without recourse to a tripod to get some stabilisation, it’s almost impossible to take a decent photograph through the eyepiece. Besides, it only creates a small circular field of view on an iPhone screen, which has to be zoomed-in digitally to get a photo. The result is not only blurry but low resolution.
Swarovski Optik15x56 SLC binoculars: conclusion
These are excellent binoculars for wildlife and general use. Take them on a safari, on a birdwatching trip, or out stargazing, and you will not be disappointed. Impressive in low light and with plenty of detail right to the edges of the field of view, we only ran into a slight problem when we tried to use them for moon-watching. We are also not convinced that the iPhone system for taking photos is worth bothering with (it’s also very expensive). However, there’s no doubt that these superbly built binoculars will bring years of peerless service for anyone doing observing of almost any kind anywhere in the world. If you’re going on safari and you want the absolute best binoculars, the Swarovski Optik 15×56 are really hard to beat. However, they do get beaten by the Canon 18×50 Image Stabilizing binoculars, which remain TravGear’s top all-round binos.