“Are alpha worth it?” How I answered it for me (answering?) Swaro, Zeiss, GPO…Maven

Bluto

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Disclaimer - I am an amateur, probably slightly below average hunter. I am NOT Robby, Ryan, etc. No one pays me for reviews of anything, and would probably pay me not to.

I’ve done extensive reading, both here and a couple of specific alpha bino reviews, likely the same ones everyone else has read. It’s important to state (which sometimes I think gets left out) intended purpose and use. My purchase is for elk hunting. Anything else (whitetail) makes almost any purchase above Vortex Diamondback’s overkill. Which I’m fine with having. I don’t normally mule deer hunt, I’m not a guide, and if possible I prefer “any elk” tags so scoring isn’t really my thing. I also don’t change gear often. I used the same bow for 7 years, don’t switch camo or brands, and am still running a Kifaru bikini frame and high camp bag. Change even one of those factors, the whole calculus changes.

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I have had (all 10x42) Swaro EL, Zeiss Victory SF, and GPO Passion HD for about 10-12 days. I’ve attempted to use them at all times of day, lighting conditions, free hand/braced/tripod mounted and in different settings. I claim nothing scientific, but tried to vary conditions as much as reasonably possible (and still be able to return the optic.) Here’s what I noticed, and found. Which I find to be two different things. Also, here’s some bias confession because it’s impossible not to have some. There was no doubt in my mind Swaro were the best glass I had to look through. At least my expectation.

Appearance/quality impression:
Swaro. Next. (Kidding, kinda. While holding no objective value, they just look like expensive optics. The others do as well, but plain black doesn’t stand out.)

Ergonomics/weight/hand feel:
My hands felt the most “cramped” with the Swaro. The texture is phenomenally comfy, but I felt like I was trying to find the right place to put my hands. The Zeiss are lighter and felt even more so when viewing. Regardless of how I picked them up, or had them blindly handed to me, I naturally had a finger resting on the focus knob and they felt more balanced. The GPO’s were very close to the same as the Zeiss, but had a very weird trait. They felt far heavier held vertically, but are very well balanced holding to view almost like they lost weight. Edge to Zeiss, then GPO, then Swaro.

Optics part 1:
While viewing at the house, and my lovely bride was nearby, I would have her hand me a pair blindly and just start looking. This was after diopter set, adjustments made, etc. I began by looking for the rollerball effect of the Swaro. So much so that I tried for a bit, and was convinced I could find it. Then checked and I didn’t even have the Swaro’s in my hand. Not to discredit those that see it at all, but absolutely not a factor for me. (Talk about expectation bias.) At this point I was convinced that Swaro woild run away with it. I also expected the Zeiss to have some sort of “tint,” and the Swaro’s to be clearer/brighter or however you’d like to phrase it. But, I never saw this either. There were times I’d think I picked up color differential more with the Swaro, but then switched and saw it just fine with both the Zeiss and GPO. The Zeiss seemed almost “smoother.” Not the right word, but it’s the best I have. I think this is purely subjective to individual eyes, maybe due to lens coatings? Dunno, but during normal daylight, I honestly could not distinguish a view clarity differential between the three.

Edge clarity:
This is a notice versus find discussion. I agree with all reviews I’ve read; he Swarovski has better edge clarity. End of story? Eh, maybe. This went unnoticed to me for a while until I remembered it was a thing. When tripod mounted, and attempting to find it, it’s there. Swaro is clear to the absolute edge. I didn’t *notice* it, but I could *find* it. How much? To compare to the Zeiss I had to concentrate on edge clarity and not really look at the whole image. So I’m not sure how much of a factor this is when glassing for elk. Very slightly more with the GPO’s, but I still had to look for it. Again, subjective to how much this weighs in for you, but it exists and Swaro has it.

Slightly more on ergonomics:
Eye cups. This was a surprise, mostly that I noticed as much as I did. It’s as subjective as it gets, but my eyes are far more comfortable with the cups on the Zeiss and GPO. They are very similar.

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I also did not like the adjustment function of the Swaro’s. They feel mushy and undefined, and I was never sure if I had both at the same point. The Zeiss were smooth but sure, and had more adjustment than the GPO. The GPO has very defined adjustment. I actually really like them, they feel locked, but have one less position available. Zeiss were the best overall. Just purely on comfort once set I couldn’t tell much difference in them and the GPO.

Focus and resolution (optics 2):
While the focus wheel feel is different, I could find none that were necessarily better. They are all very, very good. No inadvertent movement, easy to use, resistance and rotation were all excellent. I found this to be a non factor for me. The only difference in getting an image to resolve was that the Swaro and Zeiss had what I would say is a wider range of focus. In other words (this is relative and has nothing to do with how much is actually required) if you had a 1/8” “window” to a clear image with the alphas, the GPO was 1/16. Just took a little more precision movement to get the same resolve. This took some finding as well, but it was there.

Low light:
Just when I was ready to box ‘em up, send ‘em back and go with GPO (at half the price of Swaro and a little over 1/3 of new Zeiss,) I finally got to a few evenings of an important factor for me - low light performance. Still initially surprised with the GPO. I expected this to be a definite difference, but it really wasn’t. Until it was. The alphas were as expected, great image clarity and detailed transition between colors in low light. So was the GPO, surprisingly, until the very last bits of light. This was a *notice* versus a *find* even though it took a while to get there. By pure estimation, I’d say you get a solid 7-10, maybe 15 in certain conditions, more minutes of picture clarity as low light approaches flat out darkness. Is that your last chance to find a herd the night before your last day to hunt? Could be.

So, now what?

I’m not a guide, I don’t need to score legal rams on a $60,000 stone sheep hunt, and I don’t pass 6 point bulls because “he’s not the one I’m looking for.” That’s not a dig at those that are/do - I wish I could say the same! That said, low light is a factor for me. Some that had the same experience as I did would say that the alpha glass isn’t $1000 (or $1800, Zeiss) better than the GPO. Correct. But that’s a linear answer to a nonlinear question. They are better, I just have to decide how much, for my use. I’m not convinced that’s the way I’m going, but I’m leaning that way for *my* use and *my* eyes. Also, I tend to hold on to gear if it works. This diminishes the resale value factor of the equation, but not completely. There’s zero chance that the alpha glass doesn’t win that category. That’s not subjective at all.

To my eyes, the Swaro and Zeiss are better binoculars in 10x42. The GPO’s are the better value - in the true sense of the word, not meaning “cheap and available at Walmart.” I have a pair of Maven B6 10x50 demos getting dropped off today. They’ll get due diligence, focusing on low light. And then I guess I’ll have to make a decision.

In my opinion, the phrase “just buy (brand x) and you know you have good glass” isn’t just a $2,000 and up answer anymore. The GPO’s are really, really good. And I suspect the Maven’s will be as well.

Or, with the FOV and the fact you can actually put an adapter stud in them, if I see another pair of NL Pure’s for $2,500 I might just buy them and move on with life.

Apologies in advance for length of post and probably typos. Just thought it might help someone who’s asking this question. Also hope I don’t get banned from Rokslide for not saying to absolutely buy Swaro 😂
 
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Bubblehide

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Good honest review. I have hunted with plenty of guys that literally in camp at least 1/2 hour before last light. They simply do not want to be walking backbto camp in the dark. It that is you (speaking generally, not about you directly), then do you really need last light glass? That may be an individual answer and notva one size fits all.
 
OP
Bluto

Bluto

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Agreed. I tend to find low light more critical. Worth $1000-$1700 or so for ~10 minutes?

Well, the elk tag was $1200, so… 😉
 

nobody

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Nice to hear these types of comparisons from "average joes," thanks for sharing. It's important to remember what you're saying about YOUR OWN EYES. To me, Swaro is dead last in color fidelity and contrast, and right in the middle of the pack for brightness. They work for some people, but I'll never own a pair. It'll be interesting to see what you think of those B6 Maven's when they show up!
 

eddielasvegas

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Great post and thanks for doing the review and the time to write/post it.

Also, some good comments too like not walking back to camp in pitch black. That's me for sure since I hunt solo.


Eddie
 

Bubblehide

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For me, limiting the cost difference to just one hunt doesn't seem realistic. What I mean is that for me, I use my bicnoculars lierally year round (limited in the summer though), season after season, for multiple species. So when I consider that cost difference being spread out over all those hunts, year after year, it becomes much more of an investment for years and years of hunts.
 
OP
Bluto

Bluto

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Totally agree. I absolutely use binos for more than just one hunt - but, I wanted to be clear about what is subjectively better to me, and why. I feel like that gets left out of many discussions and is important when buying the optic.

If I could hunt elk, mule deer, spring bear, and be around to help others throughout seasons, I would have an almost completely different take on some factors. Not to mention be happier during all of those seasons lol. My pinnacle hunt is known, so I want what will be effective for that and everything else is gravy (and just that much better.)
 

Team4LongGun

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Great write up! I appreciated your humble approach and well defined usage parameters. You may have broke a Rokslide record of only one usage of "run" :ROFLMAO:

If the testing ended today, what bino are you buying?
 

Matt G.

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Great review. Did you notice anything about the depth of view and how often you had to adjust the image to get in focus between the 3?

Sent from my SM-G981U using Tapatalk
 

Zackr

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I would love to hear about the depth of focus as well. I have heard high end alpha makes a difference.
 
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Bluto

Bluto

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Great write up! I appreciated your humble approach and well defined usage parameters. You may have broke a Rokslide record of only one usage of "run" :ROFLMAO:

If the testing ended today, what bino are you buying?

Thanks - and yup, quite possibly! 😂
Honestly? GPO’s unless I see another pair of Zeiss’ for $1500 which I didn’t buy because I’m also not very smart.

Great review. Did you notice anything about the depth of view and how often you had to adjust the image to get in focus between the 3?

Sent from my SM-G981U using Tapatalk

I honestly didn’t. I think that question would maybe highlight the part about the window of focus effort. While I didn’t find a need to constantly focus, the alpha glass was more forgiving of that effort, if that makes sense.

If someone defined that as depth of view, then yes, slightly. I personally consider that more of a question of discernment of depth, which was unnoticeable to me among all of them.

I think it’s important to note yet again my use and amateurism lol. If you’re spending hours upon hours trying to dig a bedded muley out of the sagebrush, this might show itself as a bigger factor? I could see that leading to fatigue a bit more. Maybe? I certainly wouldn’t argue with someone that said so.
 

rideold

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Great write up and some good food for thought. I've been struggling with the same decisions lately. I am demoing a pair of B.5 12x56 binos right now. I'm 95% sure I'm keeping them (out of stock to purchase right now) but then again I'm upgrading from Nikon Monarch 5 8x42 glass. Big difference but then again not as big as I thought it was going to be. I think there's no question that if you have the money to buy the most expensive then it is a pretty easy decision. If, on the other hand you have to save for a year to get the middle of the road glass then the buy once, cry once justification is harder to justify. As stated by the OP, there's a good enough line that is hard to identify sometimes. Throw that in with the difference in people's eyes and it truly is subjective above a certain level of glass. I went for the 12x56 because my eyesight is kinda crappy and the 8x42's have become a liability in some ways. I struggle to see game with just my eyes so I use my binos to "see" as much as I use them to glass. I'm feeling like a high quality of small and light binos may be the needed companion to the 12x ones. Maybe after one more purchase I'll have it figured out.....but there are those 11x45 Mavens that intrigue me too....sigh.
 

Matt G.

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There is a lot of info here and you are looking through good binos. Some things I noticed was when looking through the field flattening vs non if you look at a straight object like telephone pole, you should see the pole bend as you move it toward the edge of field. Els stay perfect.

I had the meopta b1 hds and they were great for chromatic aberration. When I tried a different pair of binos, I notice purple hues or halos on the edge of whites. It then got really annoying. I guess what I am saying as you use those and her use to them and go back a step it could annoy you.

I tried a pair of vortex db as a back up and had to sell. My eyes hated them.

Sent from my SM-G981U using Tapatalk
 
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Bluto

Bluto

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I would love to hear about the depth of focus as well. I have heard high end alpha makes a difference.

Thought about this and went back and read some reviews.

Doesn’t matter what I “call” it, that’s the discussion point I was talking about (depth of field, depth of focus, etc.)

But, comments remain the same. I do think the alphas are more forgiving here by a small but noted margin. I think it would require back to back comparison to really notice, but that gets into the realm of subjective as well. Plus to the alphas.

Overall, I don’t want it sound like I’m saying the GPO is just as good as alpha glass. I’m not. They are closer than I was expecting, but alpha is and should be better.
 

Zackr

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Thought about this and went back and read some reviews.

Doesn’t matter what I “call” it, that’s the discussion point I was talking about (depth of field, depth of focus, etc.)

But, comments remain the same. I do think the alphas are more forgiving here by a small but noted margin. I think it would require back to back comparison to really notice, but that gets into the realm of subjective as well. Plus to the alphas.

Overall, I don’t want it sound like I’m saying the GPO is just as good as alpha glass. I’m not. They are closer than I was expecting, but alpha is and should be better.
thanks, I appreciate it.
 
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Bluto

Bluto

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The Maven’s arrived in time for a good long session leading up to dark last night. Just goes to show, something appearing the same doesn’t really mean it will turn out the same. The eye cups on the maven just don’t really work for me. I struggle to get proper eye relief regardless of position or lighting condition. I think these are another *really* good piece of glass! Unfortunately, all this and my original posts do is confirm the nebulous advice of - it depends on what they look like to each person. I was positively biased that the Maven 10x50 would outpace the GPO in low light but it just didn’t happen. I’ll give it another shot tonight but then it’s time to wrap this all up.

Two things that aren’t deal breakers but not addressed earlier, I’ll bring up now.

Warranty:
This is a major hit against the alpha glass to me personally. The mindset of “yeah, brand X should have a better warranty cause you’re gonna need it!” is pretty silly to me. If I give you $2,000 - $3,000 because your glass (pinky out) “is an investment,” it had better perform and you’d better be willing to stand behind it. Looking at you, Swaro. 10 years? That’s a good guarantee of performance at $500-$750. Not $2500. Zeiss is better here with a lifetime warranty and a 5 year no fault policy on top. I can live with that.

GPO’s policy is leagues better. Lifetime, transferable, and any retailer is authorized to fulfill it on the spot. (Verbatim from their warranty info.) Nope, does you no good when they go out of business. Same thing everyone said about Vortex. Will GPO stick around? Dunno, but Swaro used to have a better warranty, too. I think if they work for your eyes and your mission with your glass, and you find some used for $600…you might have the best thing going, dollar for dollar.

Am I saying that would keep me from buying Swarovski? No. If you need the very best of every category (except warranty) AND the fit, features, and ergos work for you, I suspect they will be your best choice. Same for Zeiss.

The other thing is the adapter issue. It’s ridiculous to me that the alpha manufacturers haven’t figured this out. It’s not like they’re churning out updates to the EL and Victory frames every year, this would be a good and overdue update.

So I’ll wrap it up soon, but I had another odd to almost comical thought today. My order of preference for what I think is the best *for me.*
Zeiss
Swaro/GPO
Maven

The funny part is, the gap between the GPO and alpha, to me, is factor dependent. It’s there, no argument, but small. Well the gap from Swaro to Zeiss is also marginal. Maybe even a push. Except the same cost/value discussion is here. While Swaro shows the EL at $2500 retail, I think we can agree that they’re selling for about $2000-$2100 now while the Zeiss are still a shave under $2800. This makes the EL the…budget choice? 😂 Food for thought. And a chuckle.

Regrets:
If I am trying the GPO, it probably would have been prudent to also try the Zeiss Conquest. But I had to draw the line somewhere on the drug deal with my wife that I was about to “buy” north of $7000 in binos and return them. The elephant in the room is the same convo with the NL Pure. Same answer, but just noting that I do realize there are these and many more options. (Uhhh, Leica?! I know, I know.)

So, I’ve taken all of my notes, and my solution is?

I’m renting from @Rent Outdoor Gear for this upcoming hunt and I’ll sort out a purchase later.

I’ll shut up until I see what these are all about.
 

*zap*

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Very high quality gear is always 'worth' it if you can afford to purchase it with no troubles....if it is tight then sacrifice in other area's and 'save' the $.
 
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Bluto

Bluto

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Very high quality gear is always 'worth' it if you can afford to purchase it with no troubles....if it is tight then sacrifice in other area's and 'save' the $.

Totally agree. Someone will be mad even though I noted a couple of times that the alpha glass is better. It’s just not infallible, and not worth missing a year of hunting because one spent the tag budget on NL Pure’s. Which I think is exactly what you mean.

Spend a full day glassing (on a tripod) from before dawn to after legal light. Does that change your findings?

A strong “maybe.” Also, that was noted/answered a few times, along with the statement that the alpha glass is better. I wasn’t attempting to answer the “is it worth it” question for anyone else.

The Zeiss were the best to me. Also the most expensive. I’m curious as to what finding would change the most with those. (Zero chance I could sit beyond the Swaro eyecups for that long. But I could also find myself adjusting. Maybe we’ll see.)
 
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