Binoculars. Truth be told, they aren’t something I have ever really spent much time contemplating. As a photographer I spend a great deal of time peering through bits of glass with one eye, rather than enjoying it with both!
This isn’t to say I’m not familiar with binoculars of course. I grew up on a small island in the Seychelles called Bird Island, which was famous, as you might imagine, for its hordes of nesting seabirds, not to mention being home to many passing migrant species.
My parents and many of their friends were avid bird watchers, and I have certainly spent some time with my eyes up against binoculars having the virtues of various birdlife explained to me.
I was also lucky enough to travel to Africa on a variety of occasions, where my parents would also have binoculars to hand for spotting the further off wildlife, which was always very handy.
You could say that between those expeditions and my passion for photography, I have had a good amount of practice at looking at things through polished pieces of glass.
Where is this going you ask?
Well, Swarovski Optik recently contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in trying out their CL Pocket binoculars, to see how they fit into my travelling lifestyle. These are a super small pair of binoculars, designed for the traveller who wants something they can easily take with them whilst still getting excellent optical quality.
You probably recognise the name Swarovski as being synonymous with well polished pieces of crystal, from giant swans through to jewellery. Well, Swarovski Optik is the part of the business that focuses on making high quality optics, from binoculars to telescopes. Founded in 1949, it built on the experience that Swarovski had developed from polishing the world’s clearest crystals, with the goal of making the world’s finest optics.
That goal appears to have been achieved – if you’re familiar with the world of binoculars or scopes, you’ll likely already be familiar with the Swarovski Optical name.
If you’re like me, you have probable just learnt something, because I was fairly sure Swarovski just made big shiny swans and other things that make Jess go “ooo”.
I said yes, because I was interested to see what a really top quality pair of binoculars was like, and also to see if someone like me would find them useful when travelling. With trips to Finland and California planned out, I was sure I’d find some ways to put them through their paces.
When they arrived, I was straight away impressed by how small they were. They came with a handy carry case that protects them when not in use, and they are light and easy to use, particularly after setting them up properly. Which the included instructions do a fine job of explaining.
Of course, there are two real questions to answer. First – are they any good as binoculars. Second – is there a place in my already overstuffed digital nomad packing list for them?
Well, the answer to the first question is a resounding yes. Actually, a slightly awed and mind-blown yes.
I spend a lot of time looking through bits of glass as a photographer, and I use some fairly expensive pieces of Canon equipment – much of which is expensive because producing high quality glass that doesn’t distort or create image aberrations is an expensive endeavour.
The quality of the image that these binoculars produce is, in a word, stunning. Bright, sharp, clear – putting these little binoculars to my eyes was an imaging experience like none I’ve had before. They just made the far away objects feel like they were right in front of me. They were just that good. I kind of wish Swarovski Optik would get into making camera lenses actually.
The second question is a bit trickier for me to answer. These binoculars offer staggering image quality, and clearly come from a manufacturer who make things that are designed to last. For a lifetime. And possibly someone else’s too.
The price tag, which initially seems steep at just shy of a thousand US dollars, is to be expected when dealing with pieces of glass that perform like this. Good camera lenses cost, and I wouldn’t expect these to be any less expensive. They are, for sure, an investment, but one that will last you a lifetime, a fact which is obvious from the build quality.
From my point of view, the bottom line is that they fall into the category of “I wish I could justify the outlay” rather than “they need to be in my bag”.
Personally I love looking at birds or wildlife, but my travels tend to require me to do it through my camera, and capture the moments to share with you. So in my personal case, they don’t fit into my workflow. Don’t stop reading yet though, because you aren’t me.
Travel offers us so many amazing things to see, and not all of them are going to be easily in view. From getting a clear view of the close up detailing on high-up pieces of classical European architecture, through to wildlife and far away landscapes, I can absolutely see how a pair of binoculars would easily fit into a traveller’s essential items bag.
In addition, if you are a keen wildlife watcher, then you will obviously want a great pair of excellent binoculars, and you might as well have something light to take with you everywhere.
So if I was going to pick up a pair of binoculars, then these would be the binoculars I would invest in. The image and build quality of the Swarovski CL Pocket binoculars make them something I can unequivocally recommend, and I’m fairly sure you won’t be needing to replace them, ever.
Disclosure: I was supplied a copy of the reviewed binoculars for a limited time. Thoughts remain mine.