Big Country with Big Glass
- Swarovski NL Pure 12x42 -
As a hunter who spends several weeks per year pursuing big game from the vast expanses of the Alaska tundra to the cactus laden desert flats of New Mexico, I am always looking for more efficient ways to accomplish my goals. This year, I had an urge to reduce my optics footprint from a dual binocular 10x/15x system to a hybrid one binocular approach. With this concept in mind, my thoughts and curiosity constantly wandered towards an optics system utilizing the newly released NL Pure 12x42 in tandem with the modular Swarovski ATX/BTX.
“what is the compromise?”
I don’t consider myself a sporting optics connoisseur by any means, but I know excellent glass when I see it and the NL Pure binocular line intrigued me. When examining the NL Pure for the first time at a local optics dealer, the small frame of the NL Pure fit into my hands like they were made to be there and the image they provided along with the largest in class Field of View (FOV) of 339 feet at 1000 yards for a 12x binocular was so spectacular, I was left wondering how anything could get away. My first question after handling the NLs was “what is the compromise?”
For me, the first area for compromise was cost. While I’m not a stranger to dishing out thousands on top tier optics, exceeding the $3000 retail price tag for a pair of binoculars was a new feeling with significant shock value.
The second compromise, at least on paper, was the exit pupil. It is a generally accepted standard that an exit pupil of at least 4mm is the magic number to retain maximum low light performance with binoculars. For 12x binoculars, a common sized objective lens is 50mm to achieve a 4.17mm exit pupil. The 42mm objective of the 12x42 NL Pure limits the exit pupil to 3.5mm. Which, on the surface, appears that users are compromising low light performance to carry the smaller form factor NL Pure. This, however, proved to be a non-factor in the overall performance of the binocular.
The test bed for my maiden voyage with the NL Pure 12x42 happened in mid-September sitting high atop a bald knob overlooking miles of prime moose habitat in remote interior Alaska. With the new NL Pure securely mounted to my tripod in the early morning light prior to sunrise, I dissected every inch of the valley below noting the spectacular FOV that the NL Pure delivered to my eye. With most binoculars, I can usually detect some distortion around the edges of the FOV, not so with the NL Pure. The precision of the image quality from edge to edge was astonishing and I spent several hours looking through the NL Pure without a hint of eye fatigue.
While scanning through my hunting area, I noticed the subtle movement of small animals and birds through busy vegetation under the low willow canopy on the extreme edges of my view. This movement commonly went unnoticed with previous glass unless it occurred closer to the center of the view.
For longer range glassing that I previously conducted with 15x binoculars, the wider FOV in concert with the brilliant color contrasting ability of the NL Pure became more valuable to me than the 3x magnification difference between the 12x and 15x.
During the evening twilight, I effectively identified critical details like wind direction caused by swirling breezes blowing through the leaves of the distant autumn-colored birch trees along with the ability to discern similar shades in color beyond comfortable shooting light. I was now convinced that if a smaller exit pupil is a factor for low light performance, Swarovski overcame any perceived detriment with optical superiority.
In the afternoon of the second glassing day, we located a medium sized bull moose traversing the valley floor alongside a traveling cow. I viewed the bull for several minutes through the NL Pure, dissecting the minute details of his antlers from over 600 yards. With a phone adapter attached, I collected detailed images and video of the bull that would make the most scrutinizing digi-scoper drool. A few minutes later, we seized the opportunity and executed a well-placed shot to anchor the bull where he stood. The NL Pure allowed me to obtain the information I needed to critically evaluate the bull over several minutes of viewing.
Unsteady viewing is a common complaint with 12x binoculars due to the amplification of involuntary body movement into the optical system along with the generally increased size and weight of most 12x binoculars in comparison to their 8x and 10x counterparts. To combat this, Swarovski rotated the prism design of the NL Pure to slim down the physical dimensions and they introduced a headrest device that attaches to the focus bridge to provide additional support while viewing from a handheld position. I didn’t use the headrest, and I am not convinced I need it, but it is something I may evaluate in the future. That said, I had no problem getting a steady view with one or two hands wrapped firmly around the binocular body. I did, however, occasionally use my hat brim for added support to relieve arm fatigue.
At 6.2” long and 5.1” wide with an ergonomic design that perfectly matches the human hand, the NL Pure 12x42 fits nicely into standard sized binocular harnesses and at 29.5 oz weight, this binocular a dream to carry.
As a hunter looking to create additional efficiency in my glassing setup, with its small form factor, edge to edge optical precision, and overall low light performance, the NL Pure 12x42 is the finest binocular I have placed my eyes against. The NL Pure is exactly what I desired to achieve in a one binocular glassing solution.