Binoculars with integrated laser rangefinders, providing both an observation tool and an accurate range assessment instrument, have been around for years now − at least since Leica launched the legendary Geovid model in 1992.
But it's been a long time ever since, and both technological advancement in both optics and electronics allowed manufacturers to miniaturize this category of product while at the same time vastly improving their performance.
A plethora of brands joined Leica in the field, and in the past years the market offer for rangefinding binoculars was boosted with the launch of budget-priced models.
In 2011, the Austrian-based Swarovski Optik company launched the revolutionary Swarovski EL Range rangefinding binocular.
Said model features a peculiar, patented optical system where the same group of lenses is used for both observation and rangefinding: the image rotation prism is supplemented by a second beam-splitter prism that separates the laser rangefinding beam from the observed image; furthermore, the electronic circuitry of the laser rangefinding module is integrated within the binocular body.
Swarovski's EL products line is the company's state-of-the-art range of hunting, sport shooting, and observation-oriented binoculars; the Swarovski EL Range rangefinding binocular indeed integrates some EL line-specific technologies − magnesium alloy construction, the general optical scheme, the Swarobright, Swarotop and Swarodur treatments and outer lens coatings − while others, such as the Swarovision and Swaroclean technologies, are not included.
More specifically, the Swarovision technology is based upon fluoride-based HD optical elements and field flattener lenses to reduce geometric distortion and chromatic aberrations; the Swaroclean treatment is an oleophobic and water repellent surface coating that makes lenses easier to clean.
We assume that the reason for the lack of these optical features and lens coatings to be a compromise due to specific technical reasons: the laser beam used by the rangefinding module travels through the main optical group of this binocular, and its wavelength ranges around 940nm (invisible to the human eye, in normal conditions).
This means that some of the technologies that would normally be used on a binocular to improve visible light transmission may not be used, otherwise they would interfere with the laser rangefinding module to the point of even blocking its operation altogether.
A signature feature of the Swarovski EL Range binocular, patented along with the technology it contains (patent no.US20110128619, “observation device with a range finder”), are the two protruding "fins", or bulges, under the body of the binoculars, one under each of the two optical tubes.
Said "fins" house the electronic circuitry necessary to the laser range-finding module, and overall they add some degree of "personality" to the final product: large-handed users such as myself may even find that they make the Swarovski EL range binocular more comfortable to handle and use.
Said "fins" have evolved in their shape, compared to the previous models: their overall line is well rounded, without sharp edges, and now includes ergonomic handling grooves.
This generation of the Swarovski EL Range binocular also introduces new standards in factory-issued accessories; the main body has been adapted over the previous variant in order to fit them at the best.
Called the "FieldPro package" by the manufacturer, the new set of stock accessories for the Swarovski EL Range includes a new sling attachment system that can pivot 360° around its own axis; the classic sling attachment strings have been replaced by a thin but extremely flexible cord that will adapt to any movement, and the overall lenght of the sling can be adjusted through a quick-use, totally silent rotating knob system located at each end of the sling.
The new sling itself has been ergonomically patterned to adapt to the user's neck, and is manufactured out of a soft mix of nylon and neoprene.
We tested the 10x42 Swarovski EL Range LRF binocular. The instrument weighs barely 880 grams; according to a Swarovski statement, the EL Range line of binoculars are the world's lightest in their class.
We're talking about top-end equipment here, addressing to a high market tier both in performance and retail price.
The body of the Swarovski EL Range rangefinding binocular is based on a double-bridge design; the focus dial is located in a central position on the rear bridge, which makes it easy to reach and operate with the index finger of either hand and allows adjustment even when the optical instrument is being operated with a single hand. Each eyepiece also features its own diopter adjustment rubberized ring, providing the best possible focus of both internal displays.
The field of view of the Swarovski EL Range 10x42 LRF binocular is an excellent 110 metres/1000m, with a 91% light transmission factor and a 4,2mm exit pupil.
These specs remain perfectly constant and identical on both optical tubes of the binocular, which is a great result since the laser beam of the rangefinder passes through the same optical components used for observation.
Likewise, the device offers excellent color, contrast, image quality and sharpness features.
The Swarovski EL Range features a slight geometric, "pincushion"-type distortion at the borders of the image − it can however only be noticed during the careful observation of architectural structures, and is basically non existent when used in the field or when hunting. There is instead no trace of the so-called "globe effect" (also known as "rolling ball" effect), which has somehow resurfaced on some binoculars in the past years (particularly those that would be free from angular aberration effects) and that is most noticeable when panning. In our opinion, an overrated optical defect, especially compared to much more noticeable artifacts such as coma, chromatic aberrations etc.
The laser range-finding module is based on the Swaroaim technology and system, featuring a built-in inclinometer and angle-of-slope calculation capabilities to return an accurate shooting distance that the user may set directly on his or her riflescope's ballistic turrets, such as Swarovski's own BT or the personalized PBC; that's a particularly useful feature when using long-range shooting reticles.
The LRF is activated through a rubberized button located on the left tube of the binoculars, close to the rear bridge; it is powered by a battery housed inside the focus dial − a 3V CR2 Lithium cell offering a battery life of about 1000 rangefinding operations.
A smaller button hidden under the rear bridge (in order to prevent accidental activation) allows the selection of four different programs: P1 − manual display brightness adjustment; P2 − activation or deactivation of the angle-of-slope detection and correction; P3 − feet or metres unit selection; P4 − automatic display brightness setting according to environmental light conditions.
The measured range, the circle-shaped aiming reticle and the angle-of-slope are projected on the field of view only when the laser rangefinding function is activated; the information is visualized using two individual red-colored displays. The reticle is displayed in the right eyepiece, while the information is displayed in the left eyepiece.
We tested the accuracy of the Swarovski EL Range's LRF module in collaboration with a technical consulting firm with access to the geographical and cartographical information system of the Region we live in; we could occasionally witness an error of more or less one meter on objects over 600 metres away from our observation point, but the performance is exceptionally consistent: we always obtained the exact same result when operating the rangefinder on objects at the same distance, even in different days with different environmental conditions.
According to Swarovski, the laser rangefinder would work between thirty and 1475 metres, but the maximum range we could measure (a reflective surface, basically the window of a building) was 1946 meters, once again with an enviable level of accuracy and consistency − and it should be pointed out that the declared performance levels of laser rangefinders are based upon standard tests on targets exhibiting 80% reflectance.
To sum up: our opinion on the Swarovski EL Range is truly positive, its performance is excellent for this class of instrument, both on the optics side and on the accuracy of the rangefinding module. The retail price of this optical instrument is more or less along the level of other top-tier competing products, but we feel it's still too steep for mid-tier users.
For more information: