Okay, picture the scene. It’s about 19:30 and I’m in a hotel in Trujillo (Caceres) in Extremadura, Spain, sat with another eighteen people around a large dining table in a vaulted room that was maybe once used to make cheese or store wine. Amongst the group are some true birding legends: Tim Appleton (co-founder of the British Birdwatching Fair and one of the nicest people in conservation); Dick Forsman (a Finn, and perhaps the greatest living raptor expert); Pete Dunne (Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, V.P. of NJAS Natural History Information, and founder of the World Series of Birding); Scott Weidensaul (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his book Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere With Migratory Birds; Bill Clark (another raptor expert, this time from North America); and at least eight of Swarovski’s top-brass, including Dr Gerd Schreiter (Swaro CTO), Dale Forbes (Marketing manager Nature), Andreas Pittl (Head of Marketing Nature), and Peter Antoniou (Swaro’s UK Manager).
At the head of the table Dale Forbes (who is 32 today, so many happy returns!) is holding in his hands a pair of the company’s new EL50 Swarovision binoculars and comparing them with the already coveted EL42 Swarovisions while explaining why the former are even more ergonomic, even sharper, more detailed, why they had to have the same technology but needed to be even better. He’s obviously excited, passionate, and a little nervous (check the audience, who wouldn’t be?). The tagline he’s using to frame this explanation is ‘Seeing is Knowing‘. In front of each of the assembled guests are an array of glasses, bottles of water and wine, a full dinner service – and an unopened box containing a pair of brand new straight off the production line EL50 binoculars.
Not one of us have jumped the gun and opened a box: shaken them a little just to see if they’re empty, but not opened. I don’t think I’m insulting any of the assembled good and great to say that the atmosphere is a little like Christmas – at least that loooong moment between gathering the family together, settling down and handing out the presents, and actually opening them. For most of us being at the unveiling of a new pair of optics – especially ones made by Swarovski and due to retail at an eye-watering Euro2420.00 – is a once-in-a-lifetime treat. Add in the fact that we’re all here in Spain to spend four days using both the new 10x50s and the 12x50s under field conditions – not just standing next to a display stand at an optics fair where we can use them for a few minutes – looking at birds like Spanish Imperial Eagle, Great and Little Bustard, Thekla Lark, White and Black Storks, masses of Common Cranes…well, you get the picture: we’re fired and ready to rip the wrapping off and get the things into our hands.
Objects of beauty (non-birders won’t understand that descriptor at all I suspect, but to optics fans they are damn gorgeous) the Swarovisions swept the birding world when the 42s were released in 1999: the open bridge design, the classy badging, the curving lines cut into the green armour which somehow ‘slimmed’ down the barrels…okay, okay, I’m sounding like I’m drooling and that’s not pleasant for anyone…Anyway, the new 50s Dale was holding (and which were snuggled up in the boxes in front of us) were obviously closely-related, built with the same DNA as it were, another family member that had inherited their parent’s good looks.
But – and it’s a definite but – a 12x binocular? Anyone old enough to remember binoculars from, say, the 1980s will perhaps be picturing something that only Popeye could lift to his eyes, that focussed no closer than the next town, and effectively turned a bright morning into an overcast afternoon. Yes, we’ve come on a long way in the last thirty years – but far enough to make a 12x binocular an option for anyone other than, perhaps, a dedicated seawatcher?
Time to open the box…
Inside are an absolutely stunning pair of optics. I’ve been given the 12x, but in all honesty I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t read the label. They are no larger than a standard pair of 10x made by the other large manufacturers, weigh just 998gm, sit very comfortably in the hand, and are astonishingly bright. Remarkably they focus down to just across the table – not ‘down the other end of’, across! And most impressively – remember we’re inside in a room lit by artificial lamps – the colour reproduction is – it seems to me anyway – absolutely faithful. There are collective ‘wows’ and ‘gasps’ and Dick Forsman who is sat next to me and using the 10x models is pointing his binoculars directly at one of the lights and exclaiming that the coatings seem to be filtering much of the glare: I try it and can clearly see the lamp’s burning element through the binoculars but I can’t see it not without.
I hope I’m not making some huge cultural booboo here, but that chap in the painting does seem to be saying to the others “I’m about to show you something that will change your lives for ever…”
There is a noticeable relaxing of shoulders from the Swaro team as a roomful of birding experts give their new product a metaphoric and enthusiastic thumbs-up…and no surprise, a lot of money has been spent developing these things and they need to work and impress.
A few minutes of use in a fairly dimly-lit room is not an acid test of course, but so far I don’t think Swarovski Optik need have any worries at all: from what I’ve seen so far they work and they definitely impress. What on earth they’ll be like in the field, what birds will look like through them, I can only guess – but I can’t wait to find out!
Alone at last
(back in his room an infatuated blogger looks into the eyes of his new love…)
Tomorrow we’ll be mostly watching vultures: I’m determined to post something before I pass out so please come back and see how I get on with these beauties (and, no, I’m not referring to the vultures…)!
My thanks to the entire Swarovski Optik team for inviting me on this amazing trip, and don’t forget that as well as producing some lust-inducing optics Swarovski are great contributors to conservation and are co-species Champions for the Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwing – see eg ‘The Amazing Journey‘ for details.