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Since I started writing this column about two years ago, it has always been called “Practical Optics”, and my aim has been to help you folks figure out what you need in your optics to see what you need to see without falling into the depths of marketing hype with dubious “features” or cresting the heights of “The Best” with it’s accompanying price tag for unjustified reasons.


Ponder this:  What’s the best car made?  Bentley, Lamborghini, Aston Martin?  Maybe so, but I’ve heard some pretty compelling arguments for the Suburu, and you can have three in every color for the price of one of the others!


I just finished reading an article on why Swarovski is worth the price (quoted in the article as $1,665 for a 3.5-18x44 riflescope and $2,754 for a 10x42 EL bino), and please let me make two observations up front: First, he makes a living writing about optics – I don’t make a penny for this column, so I will concede to his expertise, and second, he’s writing from the perspective of The Best, while I’m looking at Practical.


I’ve said in past articles that if I wanted a scope with the least chance of failing on me, Swarovski would definitely be on the short list, and the author wrote about the 4 coil spring mechanism to stabilize the erector tube and how strong – and expensive – it was, and I agree, but after that his article went on about Swarotop, Swarovision, Swarodur, chromatic aberration, true colors, edge-to-edge sharpness, etc.  While Swarovski is at the top of the list, truth is there are top-end optics available from many companies that will give you functionally the same image for one half to one third the cost, and from a Practical point of view, you’ll never notice the difference in the heat of a stalk or when it’s time to work the trigger!


Once you get into and above the $500-700 price range, the scopes and binos are delivering outstanding images and are built to last.  To improve either aspect starts getting expensive really fast and for minimal improvements.  There’s just not that much room for improvement between “really good” and “state-of-the-art”.  I get tickled when optics manufacturers talk about edge-to-edge sharpness.  When was the last time you studied a trophy with the edge of your binocular?  The human brain subconsciously centers an object being viewed in an optic – that’s why aperture sights were the rage before scopes took over.  Image softening might be a problem with Blue Light Special optics, but in the range we’re discussing, it’s rarely noticeable.  Same thing with true colors, and does it really matter when you glass a sable if he’s a bit redder than life, and will you actually notice?  Throw a little late afternoon sun-in-your-eye and everything is redder!  How many of you wear sunglasses or shooting glasses with interchangeable lenses – what happened to true colors?  Truth is, with hunters, it just doesn’t matter!  If you want the Best, definitely consider the 10x42 EL, but do yourself a favor and look at what else is available at a substantial savings.  I recently sold a $600 Vortex Viper binocular to a top British Columbia outfitter.  He showed it to another top outfitter up there who called me up and ordered two for him and his wife.  They make their living with them and can afford whatever they want.


Kevin Robertson says “there are no shooting benches in the veld”. Neither are there any optics resolution charts nailed to any trees.  If you’ve purchased quality optics, you’ll be hard pressed to see a difference in most of them, and if you do, is it worth the cost of a pretty good rifle?  It won’t be the difference of whether or not you can make out a critter. 


Think about that top-of-the-line $4500 HD television versus a $600 HD model.  First off, is the difference really noticeable and next, is the difference going to keep you from watching Days of our Lives?


There is absolutely nothing wrong with having the Best.  Swarovski, and others are in that category.  My point to all of this is that there are scads of quality optics at much more affordable prices that will allow you to do exactly what the Best will allow you to do, which is see what you need to see and shoot what you want to shoot, and you won’t notice the difference in the course of a hunt.  That’s Practical versus the Best.  Is Swarovski worth the price?  That’s for you to call; I believe you know what I think.


The article I read also mentioned that Swarovski has reduced the minimum focus distance on the new EL down to 4.9 ft. from the previous 8 ft. minimum.  C’mon!  When was the last time you glassed a critter at 4.9 feet let alone 8 feet?  (He did say that this feature is mainly for the birders…)