By Chris Denham – Originally Published in Western Hunter, Summer 2012.
I honestly can’t remember a more anticipated new product than the Swarovski EL Range laser rangefinding binocular. Sportsmen have been begging for this product from Swarovski for almost 20 years! Finally, Big Green has delivered.
Two Important Functions
A laser rangefinding binocular is expected to serve two functions: 1) to deliver accurate range measurements; and 2) more importantly, to serve as your primary optical tool. Realistically, if a laser rangefinder were to quit working, I could continue to hunt and simply limit my shots to reliable distances. Conversely, if my binocular was to fail, I’d pull out all the stops to find a replacement. Thus, the optical performance of the EL Range (or any laser rangefinding binocular) is the most important component and was the first thing I focused on. The EL Range is in the same family of products as the EL Swarovision, so I wasn’t disappointed; the image was spectacular. The Swarobright prism coating, combined with Swarodur and Swarotop lens coating, deliver a pure color rendition and tons of light.
Specs and Practical Use
Remarkably, the EL Range weighs only 32.1 oz., just 2.5 oz. heavier than the 10×42 EL Swarovision. In all other measurements and dimensions, both products are identical, so if you love your ELs, you’ll love the EL Range. The only noticeable difference is the “bump” on the underside of each barrel that houses the hardware and software for the rangefinder. These “protrusions” actually force your thumbs into a forward and natural position.
The actuation button for the laser itself is on the top, inside portion of the left barrel. Since I’m a right-handed bowhunter (meaning I carry my bow in my left hand), the button would sure be easier to reach if it was on the right side, but with some creative handholds, I can still reach it.
Swarovski makes a tripod adapter, but I prefer the Outdoorsmans installed stud system, because it’s machined from solid aluminum; thus it’s much stronger and lighter. With the EL Range solidly mounted on the tripod, you can appreciate the edge-to-edge clarity of the 330’ field of view. I won’t waste space telling you how good the image quality is; suffice it to say it’s everything you’d expect from Swarovski.
The operation and function of the laser is different than competitive models. First, the aiming circle and distance read-out appear in separate barrels – the red LED aiming circle appears in the right eye and the distance in the left. This necessitates a dioptric adjustment ring on each ocular lens, allowing you to focus both the readout and aiming circle.
On the inside of the left barrel, just under the focus knob, is a mode button that allows you to scroll through the setup menu. The first option is to choose from five different brightness levels. This might seem like overkill, but when hunting in the Southwest, it’s a big deal. When you combine the intensity and volume of sunlight with light-colored landscape, it can be impossible to see some LED readouts. At the same time, if the LED is too bright during lowlight or in dark timber, it can be very annoying. All that being said, one option is the automatic brightness setting, allowing the computer to set the optimal brightness. So far it has worked flawlessly.
One push of the top button simultaneously turns on the aiming circle, emits the laser, and displays the distance, with a range of 33-1500 yards. The decision to start the range at 33 yards (30 meters) has been the subject of debate. There are undoubtedly some bowhunters, especially tree-stand whitetail hunters, who need to know exact yardages below this, but with the velocity of the modern compound bow, 95% of the time most western bowhunters aren’t worried about the difference between 26 and 31 yards. Please note that I said 95% and not 100%!
Having been in this business since the first laser rangefinders were introduced, I’ve been involved in many “accuracy tests”. In the early days (15 years ago), this was a relevant question, with many units unable to deliver consistent readings on anything but the most reflective targets. Over time, those second-tier products disappeared. Today, as long as you stick with the most reputable brands, you’ll find that each offers an extremely accurate product.
One Somewhat Harmless Nuance
Ten years ago rangefinders were dedicated to meters or yards. The EL Range can be converted from meters to yards in the program menu. Apparently the EL Range actually measures in meters and the software converts it to yards. A glitch in this process was pointed out to me and I was able to replicate the issue. Certain numbers won’t appear in the readout, such as 64 yards.
Dan Evans at Trophy Taker first brought this to my attention and offered an explanation. During extreme testing at precisely measured yardages, Dan discovered it was 100% accurate at every ten yards exactly, but in between the ten-yard increments, the one number wouldn’t appear. Dan’s conclusion is that the on-board computer is set to be exact on ten-yard marks, but during the conversion process, it’s forced to jump one number in between. To the rifle hunter, this is trivial; even most bowhunters won’t worry, but to a competitive archer, this can present a problem. The most obvious solution is to just use the EL Range on the meters and sight your bow in accordingly. It’s my guess that Swarovski will offer a remedy sooner rather than later.
The EL Range has an internal angle-compensating program and it works exactly the way it should; it displays the corrected shooting distance based on the angle and distance of the shot. Once activated, the actual straight-line distance to the target is displayed; just below, the corrected shooting distance is also displayed. This is the perfect system when combined with a ballistic turret or ballistic reticule; you simply make your adjustments based on the corrected distance and shoot.