Comparison of Swarovski and Zeiss Compact Binoculars for Birdwatching

Whether you enjoy the great outdoors or just want a closer look at the visitors to your bird-table, a good comfortable pair of binoculars makes for a more pleasurable experience.

Photo 1: Great Tit Landing on Nut feeder

Mary is the more avid birder (and much better at identifying our feathered friends) whereas I have a greater interest in avian behaviour. For years we managed with some cheap pocket-sized bins and this lumbering pair of Minolta Zoom binoculars weighing in at just over a kilogram...

Photo 2: Minolta Zoom Binoculars

The Minolta binoculars had a 7x to 21x zoom which was useful for general viewing although not so much for birdwatching because the image was not very bright despite the 50 mm objective lens. And you needed some support to stabilize the image on the higher magnifications. I've no idea what happened to the pocket bins but we still use the Minoltas occasionally for bird-table watches.

Back in 2015, while on holiday in Guernsey, we splashed out on a 'proper' set of bins for Mary. It may have been a joint birthday/Xmas present. Mary wanted a lightweight pair that offered a clear and bright image. After trying out a few different types, we plumped for the Swarovski CL Pocket 10x25 Binoculars (Photo 3, on the left) costing £479.95. That is quite a lot of money but they do ooze quality. These same bins are currently on sale for £700 (new) and even second-hand ones have kept their value (£450).

Photo 3: Binoculars under review

These Swarovski binoculars are robust, beautifully engineered, lightweight (350 g) and easy to use. The image is remarkably bright and sharp and they still feel as good as new after nearly 7 years. 

About 9 months ago, I decided to treat myself to a better lightweight pair of binoculars (compared with the Minoltas). My budget didn't stretch to the £700 of the Swarovski CL Pockets but I still wanted something half-decent. After doing the usual internet search/review, I opted for the Zeiss 522503 Terra ED Pocket 10x25 Binoculars (Photo 3, on the right) costing £319.

The Zeiss bins come in at less than half the price of the Swarovski's so some corners had to be cut. The build is solid enough and the engineering is decent though not in the same league as the Pocket CL. The focus wheel is large and easy to use but not as smooth running as the Swarovski's. Thankfully, Zeiss has not cut too many corners with the optics and the image is sharp and bright; not quite as sharp and bright as the Swarovski's but not too far off. On the plus side, the Zeiss offering comes in 10 % lighter (310 g vs 350 g) and you get a semi-hard case rather than the soft case with the Swarovski.

Using a mobile adapter for binoculars, telescopes, and microscopes (Photo 4), I have tried to compare the viewing experience of the Swarovski and Zeiss binoculars...

Photo 4: Mobile Phone Adapter

... by retaking the garden photograph from my View from the Rear Window series.

Photo 5: Rear Garden Photo (6th March 2023)

I was attempting to focus on the painted (by Mary) blue board at the bottom of the garden which is about 30 metres (100 feet) away. Note that Photo 5 was taken with a Lumix FZ38 camera whereas Photo 6 and Photo 7 were taken using the adaptor (Photo 4) and a Moto G(7) Play mobile phone. Both photos were taken within 45 minutes of each other on a sunny afternoon (24th March 2023) between 2.30pm and 3.15pm.

Photo 5: Zeiss Binoculars

Photo 6: Swarovski Binoculars

Hopefully, the differences will show up on the blog post but I would summarise as follows;

  • Swarovski image is brighter than the Zeiss
  • Image clarity is similar for both
  • Depth of field is greater with Swarovski (compare image definition of the foreground cherry blossom approximately 10 metres away). 

The above test should not be considered definitive because it is certainly not trivial trying to achieve the same photographic conditions for both sets of binoculars. For example, the adaptor is a better fit for the Zeiss eyepieces and light conditions change between photo shots. Here are a couple of photos taken indoors to try and negate the effect of the lighting conditions.

Photo 7: Zeiss binoculars

Photo 8: Swarovski binoculars

As noted earlier, the mobile phone adapter fits the Zeiss binoculars better and you get a more defined circular image. The Swarovski image is a little brighter with slightly better clarity but the difference is not great (law of diminishing returns). If you can afford it and you want the best experience then you should go for the Swarovski bins. If you are happy to go with 'excellent' rather than 'perfect' then the Zeiss binoculars will give you many happy hours of birdwatching.


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