Review: Swarovski 8x30 CL Companion vs Nikon 8x30 Monarch HG

by Holger Merlitz

Swarovski and Nikon have recently introduced new 8x30 binoculars that are of extraordinary compactness and low weight. It is therefore instructive to compare these newcomers and see how they may differ. Note that in another set of reviews, I have compared the Swarovski 8x30 CL Companion with the Swarovski 8x30 Habicht and Nikon 8x30 Monarch HG with the Nikon 8x30 EII, and I may refer to these reports for further details.

Fig. 1: Swarovski 8x30 CL Companion (No. K880853981)

The 8x30 CL Companion of 2018 is a recent binocular design by Swarovski. It is currently offered for 1120 Euro (in Germany; street prices start about 850 Euro).

Fig. 2: Nikon 8x30 Monarch HG (No. 2000573); right panel: exit pupil

The 8x30 Monarch HG is a new binocular design by Nikon. At the time of writing, the 8x30 Monarch HG is not yet widely available so that street prices have not been settled so far. Its official price is 1049 Euro (Germany), but street prices about 800 Euro may soon become reality.

Fig. 3: The Swarovski CL Companion and the Nikon Monarch HG

The following table summarizes some of the specifications of the two contenders.

  Real angle Field of view Eye relief Exit pupil Close focus Waterproof Weight
  of view (deg) (m/1000m) (mm) diam. (mm) (m) (m) (gram)
Swarovski 8x30 CL Companion 7.6 136 16 3.75 3 4 490
Nikon 8x30 Monarch HG 8.3 145 16.2 3.75 2 5 460

Angle of view: With 145m/1000m, the 8x30 Monarch HG is of very wide angle, wider even than current competitors in the high-end sector (such as Swarovski 8x32 EL WB, 141m/1000m, and Zeiss 8x32 Victory FL, 140m/1000m). The CL Companion has a moderately wide field of 136m/1000m, which is certainly fine for most applications.

Image sharpness: Both binoculars offer a perfect sharpness near the central part of the image. Through the Nikon, the star test delivers almost point-like stars within the innermost 70% of the angle, and through the CL Companion, this sweet spot extends further out to 80-85% of the angle. Close to the edge, the CL Companion generates a sharper image than the Monarch HG. Although it is somewhat narrower, the CL's image is, far off the center, of superior quality. I have observed an asymmetry of sharpness in the right tube of the Monarch HG test sample: The area of maximum sharpness is shifted a bit toward the lower half of the image, the blur visibly worse near the upper edge of the field stop than close to the bottom. Since the distribution looks normal through the left tube, I suspect that the observed shift may be the result of a collimation procedure, during which the right light beam was slightly shifted off-center to match up the directions of both sides. That doesn't really affect observations in daylight, but under the stars, this asymmetry is obvious in the right tube.

Image color: Both binoculars show an almost neutral image. The white paper test yields for the Monarch HG a very slight hue that leans toward the warm (yellow) side, while the CL's image appears a tad cooler. Such differences are only visible when the binoculars are compared side by side and of no relevance in real life applications.

Rectilinear distortion: Both binoculars have a rather low amount of pincushion distortion, almost too low, since I can sense a slight globe-effect in both samples when panning. The amount of pincushion distortion is a designer's choice who has to balance straight lines vs. globe-effect, and in both binoculars the choice was made to keep the residual pincushion distortion on a low level.

Stray light: The Monarch HG is suffering a side-pupil (Fig. 2, right panel, to the left just outside the exit pupil) which causes stray-light contamination in some situations, notably during twilight or on fairly dark, gloomy days, when the eye-pupils are expanded and easily getting in contact with the side-pupil. If under such conditions the binocular is panning, then flashes of whiteout are sometimes disturbing the view. I suspect that this side pupil is generated inside the prism (it appears to be identical with a problem found inside the 8x32 EL WB by Swarovski). The 8x30 CL Companion shows a superior stray light resistance and performs rather well in difficult light situations.

Ghost images: If, at night, a bright object (street lantern, moon) is positioned into the field, reflections on the air-to-glass surfaces take place, which can lead to multiple 'ghost' images of the light source. A successful suppression of these ghosts indicates a high quality of the anti-reflection coating. Both binoculars are performing well here, which indicates coatings of high performance and roof-prisms that are machined to high precision.

Chromatic aberration (CA): I see a slight advantage for the Monarch HG here. The color fringes along edges of high contrast appear to be of lower intensity when compared to the CL Companion. None of the contenders is reaching performance values of the market leaders (with respect to CA-control), such as the Kowa 8x33 Genesis or the Zeiss 8x32 Victory FL.

Low light performance: Is very close. In some situations I got the impression of a minor advantage for the Nikon Monarch, but this was not consistently so. Both binoculars appear to have comparable total transmission values and are performing equally well in low light.

Mechanical robustness: Again a close competition. As far as I can judge, mechanical robustness and water-/dust resistance are about the same. Neither of these binoculars is likely to have a military-like ruggedness, but they are well built and they should survive many years of intensive use. It may be that the rubber armor of the CL Companion will turn out more durable after long-term use than the artificial vulcanite-like skin that covers the Monarch HG, but that would be pure speculation.

Usage/features: The first table of this report indicates slight but consistent advantages for the Nikon Monarch HG, notably the closer short focus distance of 2m vs. 3m of the CL Companion. The HG is also somewhat less heavy. What I dislike when handling the CL Companion is its diopter setting, a flat disk that has to be pushed in and turned in order to change the diopter. This procedure is hardly possible without taking the binocular away from the eyes. The diopter setting is better realized with the Monarch HG, i.e. following the traditional approach with a setting ring around the right ocular. On the other hand, I do somewhat prefer the ease of view offered by the CL Companion: Once put in front of the eyes, the binocular immediately shows the full view without any shadowing. Eye-placement tolerance seems to be higher with the CL, though the reason behind these differences may be the simple fact that the wider field of the Monarch HG is rather challenging to encompass.


The following table is supposed to summarize the above observations. The best performing binocular gets two points, the other one just a single point. In case both of them perform equally well, the scores are averaged.

  Angle of Image (edge-) Stray Ghost Color Low Usage/ Mechanical Final
  view sharpness light image fringing light features robustness score
Swarovski 8x30 CL Companion 1 2 2 1.5 1 1.5 1 1.5 11.5
Nikon 8x30 Monarch HG 2 1 1 1.5 2 1.5 2 1.5 12.5

The 'final score' is the sum of the individual scores and is intended to serve as an orientation only.

When summarizing the observations with both contenders, we arrive at practically identical optical performances and a certain advantage for the Monarch HG in terms of features and handling. None of them is a perfect binocular: The Monarch HG is suffering a little too much of stray-light, the CL Companion a little too intense color fringes. The HG has a wider field, the CL the superior off-center sharpness. Both are very compact and light, with an advantage for the Nikon. The latter does also, to some extent, allow insect studies with its close focus distance of 2m, but the CL has - at least to me who does not wear glasses - an ease of view that is rather appealing. Its dioper setting, however, should be improved as quickly as possible.


The information given in this report reflects the personal impression and opinion of the author only. I cannot guarantee for the accuracy of any given specification. I have neither been payed nor have I been supported in any other way to write this review. I thank Swarovski Optics for the CL Companion and Nikon Europe for the Monarch HG test sample.

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Last modified: October 2018