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Zeiss Conquest HD vs Swaro EL: My observations

Bulldog0156

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Well, it's miserable out, so I figured I'd provide a binocular comparison that I have failed to find a good writeup on.

My first foray into nice glass was about 9 years ago when I bought some Zeiss Conquest HDs in 8x42. These were a significant upgrade in my arsenal and started me down the slippery slope of high quality glass. The Conquest HDs are a really nice binocular and I would highly recommend them to anyone looking at binoculars at the $1000 price point. Fast forward to fall of 2022; I started getting antsy about upgrading to new binoculars that are recognized as truly at the top end of what you can buy. I staved off the urge to buy something "better," mostly because I was looking for SLCs and didn't realize they had been discontinued. This fall, I got the itch again, and this time I had to scratch. Right before the rifle opener I ended up buying some Swarovski ELs in 8.5x42's on sale for $1999. I bought them brand new, but without ever looking through them. The NLs were a consideration, but with the ELs being on sale, I couldn't justify the additional cost. I had a chance to look through some NLs this fall and feel like I made the right choice. They're ergonomically amazing, and have a great FOV, but otherwise I couldn't see a difference between them and my ELs. Maybe more time behind them would have teased out additional differences.

I'm still developing all my thoughts on differences between the Conquests and the ELs; for me it takes time to truly get a feel for the differences in quality glass. On initial impression, I didn't see that many differences. After a few months, I can say that I prefer the ELs overall, but the Conquest HDs are a really excellent binocular that should not be overlooked.

  • Image crispness: Crispness at the center of the image I think is equal, but it's more work to focus the Conquests (see below for further discussion). This makes the ELs feel like the image is more crisp.
  • Brightness: This one is complicated. I think the ELs may perform better in low-light conditions, but I would have to do some more testing to build certainty. I think the image/colors pop more with the Conquests. This makes them feel brighter to me. The ELs have a much more muted color pattern in my opinion. Can't really say if it affects spotting critters, more research is necessary here.
  • CA: I am not highly sensitive to CA, and it doesn't bother me a ton, but the ELs are better. CA on the Conquests is pretty noticeable when glassing in bright snowy conditions. I really didn't see any CA in the ELs this fall.
  • Edge-to-edge clarity: ELs have the edge in edge-to-edge clarity. To me, edge-to-edge clarity is tricky because the binocular has to be adjusted properly to get a good comparison. It takes me time to get the ajdustment on a new optic really dialed in. For me, better edge-to-edge clarity reduces what I can only describe as a "tunnel vision" feeling, similar to the feeling I get if the diopter is not correctly adjusted. Due to taking time to get my adjustments correct, the edge-to-edge clarity differences are more noticeable now than it was when I first got the ELs. I really like the field flattener of the ELs; I don't have any rolling ball effect. Ironically, I feel like I do with the Conquests, which doesn't make sense to me since the rolling ball effect is allegedly due to the field-flattener in the ELs.
  • Focus adjustments: EL is significantly better in my opinion. The EL has a much wider range of what is in focus in the field of view and requires much less adjustment when bringing things into focus. It feels like at longer distances the ELs keep everything in the field of view in focus, even when you have a field of view that covers a wide range of distances. I've noticed that I do not have to adjust the focus knob much, and adjustments are smooth. The Conquests require a lot of adjustment of focus within the field of view of the binoculars or when glassing at different distances. I find I am constantly adjusting the focus of the Conquests. They seem to adjust quickly too so I am often "searching" to get the focus correct for whatever I am looking at. This is not something I noticed or that bothered me until I bought the ELs.
  • Eye relief: EL eye relief is better but I like the eyecups on the Conquests better. The intermediate settings are much more "crisp" or obvious. I use the "fully out" setting on the Conquests, and the "3/4 out" setting on the ELs.
  • ELs seem to fog up more than the Conquests. I have to firmly push the Conquests into the tops of my eye sockets to get the sight picture correct (no blackouts), and the ELs I hold so they are barely touching my face to get the sight picture correct. Air movement should be better with the ELs given how I hold them but somehow the Conquests fog up less. I compared both on the same day/same conditions and found this to be true. To be fair, both fogged, but it was more common and noticeable with the ELs. I actually thought there might be something wrong with the ELs because of how often they were fogging. Temps were single digits and I think humidity must have been pretty high when I noticed the issues because I had similar cold weather situations after that where I didn't have as much of an issue. It was definitely less humid in the later situations.
  • Ergonomics: It's a draw. I'm not sensitive to ergonomics on a binocular. They all feel the same to me, except for the NLs-those things are ridiculously ergonomically pleasing.

All this being said, would I make the same choice to upgrade? Initially, I would have said no, but now I would be inclined to say maybe. The price difference is significant for the perceived differences.

Other parting thoughts: I definitely think when it comes to alpha glass, the differences are more in the personal preferences of features vs actual clarity. For how much people rave about Swarovski being the best, I think 70% of the argument (if not more) is people convincing themselves they bought the best brand and justifying the amount of money they spent. That said, I am a bit of a glass snob from the standpoint of sticking with good European brands or high-end Japanese made products.
 
I really appreciate this write up. I really like my Zeiss Conquest 10x42’s, but can’t help but wonder sometimes what I’m missing with the true alpha stuff. Sounds like probably not a ton, unless it would be a significant jump in price point.
 
Had 10x42 conquest HD and the shallow depth of focus was too annoying for me. They were very sharp optically when adjusted correctly but required way too much input to get there. This was painfully obvious compared to leica geovid HD-b 10x42 I owned at the same time because the geovids depth of focus was incredible[Edit to add: I think the Zeiss were able to resolve images a little better than Leica but to me the depth of focus tradeoff wasn't worth it]. I replaced the Zeiss nockers with Nikon monarch HG 10x42. Also have swaro EL 12x50 for when I'll be doing more tripod glassing than moving.

To me the main difference with top of line vs $1000 class binos isn't as apparent in center of image peak image quality as it is in how easy it is to get peak image quality. The alphas just seem to be more foregiving of eye position and such and dont need to be as perfect to get a clear image.
 
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in your review did you have binos on two tripods for the crispness, focusing, low light brightness etc part of the review. That would seem a good way to really dial in the focus etc you spoke of having some challenge with. And for quickly comparing each glass looking at exact same view.
 
I have 2 4x12x56 Zeiss conquest scopes that have lost the ability to group. Has anyone else had this problem?
 
I made a similar change and went from the EL to a conquest, and to be honest I am very happy with the change. The glass is definitely not as nice as the EL’s are but the performance to cost ratio makes the most sense for me. I don’t feel like I am giving up too much by using the conquests.
 
I have a couple pairs of conquest HD, never used the EL but my brother has SLC that you mentioned earlier. I’ll be honest I’ll take the HD any day. To my eye they’re better. I’ll also say binos, cameras, scopes, gets to a point where you pay lots more for minimal improvement. Good review btw
 
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