This year, I received the chance to visit Swarovski Optik’s headquarters and production facilities in Absam, Austria and take an early look at an innovative new product from the company: the Swarovski AX Visio 10×32, labelled as the world’s first smart binoculars. Swarovski had already introduced the dG monocular in 2020, merging their classic optics with digital technology so they are not completely new to the game. The AX Visio builds on this concept, serving as a successor to the dG.
Known for their global presence in sport optics manufacturing, Swarovski Optik’s latest product is a large step forward as they once again presented an innovative device packed with intriguing quirks and features, sparking our team’s curiosity about its potential impact in the sport optics market. My visit offered a detailed insight into the technology and processes behind the design, development, and manufacturing of the AX Visio.
What Sets the AX Visio Smart Binoculars Apart
The AX Visio is the result of a five-year investment in development and construction by Swarovski Optik. The device is built of no less than 390 parts which is quite impressive given its weight which is just roughly over a kilogram (2.2 lb). Swarovski decided to go well beyond the traditional functionality of high-precision binoculars with several additional features. For now, the device is available in the 10×32 configuration.
The binoculars are complemented with intelligent technology that assists the user with real-time identification of more than 9,000 birds and other wildlife, a compass and a shared discoveries function. Using the accompanying SWAROVSKI OPTIK Outdoor App, users may instantly manage and share the images and movies taken by the integrated camera with a smartphone that is connected. The devices are produced in the company’s main location in Absam, Austria and were designed by a renowned industrial designer Marc Newson.
What Is in the Box
In the box, users will find a useful set of accessories and essentials to get their device started. Included are a charger and a USB charging cable for powering the device, a rechargeable battery, a functional side bag, a carrying strap and the instruction manual. To protect the binoculars, there are objective lenses and eyepiece covers. A cleaning cloth is provided for maintenance, along with a strap loop connector for secure attachment. Additionally, the package contains soap and a brush for thorough cleaning.
Swarovski uses some of the highest-quality materials for the AX Visio – the main frame is made from high-grade aluminum which is anodized and covered with a polymer housing that offers a secure and firm grip. The device is quite compact and fits in the hand well despite the added camera in the middle.
The smart binoculars currently come in a 10×32 configuration, with a field of view of 112 m/1000 m and diopter adjustment from -7 to +5. It was no surprise to see the product fitted with premium Swarovski lenses with a light transmission of 88%. According to the manufacturer, the AX Visio has an IP67 rating and can be safely stored in temperatures ranging from -30°C to +70°C (-22°F to +158°F).
Battery and Controls
The AX Visio comes equipped with a 3000 mAh battery that can be easily removed by opening the cover on the left bottom side of the device. The controls are straightforward, which many users will appreciate. There are three main operation buttons conveniently positioned on the top right side of the binoculars, all easily reachable with the index and middle fingers of the right hand.
At the rear end of the center camera tube, above the eyecups, there is a selection wheel with eight different profiles users can choose from, including two customizable profiles to be joined with third-party apps. Above the wheel is a focusing knob that merges nicely and sits flush with the integrated camera module.
The biggest technological advancement of the AX Visio lies in the object-identification system. This system allows users to join their observation experience with the smart feature that identifies and displays the name of the recognized bird or another animal through the lens.
Currently, the device supports around 9000 bird species, however as the software progresses, more species will be added to the list. Ultimately, the system is designed to support the identification of birds, various mammals and insects but also allows countless possibilities for third-party developers to build their own software around it. These integrated identification systems are based on the Swarovski Optik Wildlife app and the Bird ID app is based on Cornell’s model and learning data of the Merlin Bird app.
How to Identify an Object
The identification process is intuitive and straightforward. First, users select the identification function using the selection wheel, then focus on a bird or other object using the focusing knob. Next, by selecting the frame and pressing the release button with a dot symbol at the top of the device halfway in, the camera starts focusing on the target object. The circle surrounding the object is divided into four parts. These parts light up and become bold based on the probability of the object’s recognition. If all four parts are bold, the identification is highly likely to be successful. Users then press the button fully, and if the identification process works, the name of the bird, other animal, or object appears at the bottom of the screen. We had the opportunity to test the devices in the field, identifying numerous birds, and are pleased to report that the results were quite impressive.
Compass and Shared Discoveries
The identification option is one of the most advanced attributes the AX Visio has to offer. However, there are several additional features worth mentioning. For instance, the device is equipped with a fully functional digital compass displayed on the augmented screen during observation. However, one of the most advanced and convenient new additions in our opinion, is the ‘share discoveries’ button. Surely, everyone has faced the frustrating situation of observing an object through binoculars and, while passing them to the next person, finding new creative ways to describe the exact location and position of that object in nature. Sounds familiar?
Swarovski came up with a clever design that allows users to share their experiences with others at the touch of a button by guiding them directly to the observation point. This is done by selecting the ‘share discoveries’ profile on the selection wheel and marking the object by pressing the dot-symbol button on top of the device. Then, the binoculars can be handed to another person, and the viewer is guided to the object by arrows displayed on the screen until they reach visual contact with the observed object. It is a smart way of resolving the ever-present problem of sharing binoculars with another person.
The Camera and Connectivity
The built-in camera on the AX Visio, which is positioned in the middle of the device, has a 13 MP sensor (4208 x 3120 pixels) that can record films at 4K resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels). An hour of full-quality video or almost 1,700 full-quality images can be stored in the 8 GB internal memory. The Wildlife ID, Merlin Bird ID, and Outdoor apps can all be used to upload photos. All photos are then automatically sent to a special AX Visio folder created in the smartphone memory. The device offers Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. During our testing, the connection was stable, which was also a noticeable improvement in comparison to the Swarovski dG.
The Price and Final Thoughts
Turning to the price, the device is currently listed for sale at 4,600 € which is to be expected for a premium Swarovski device but might still be on the higher end for some recreational users. Swarovski offers a 3-year warranty for the instrument and charger and 1 year for the battery worldwide. Given the build quality of the product, it is highly unlikely to expect any major issues, however, users will be reassured to know that in case of any problems with the device, Swarovski offers a customer repair service in their EU facilities in Absam, Austria, where the binoculars are manufactured and assembled.
The device has the potential to attract a varied audience. However, despite the numerous functionalities the AX Visio will likely offer in the future with the software upgrades, we believe that the device will be targeted primarily at birdwatchers, which was also Swarovski’s main goal. Taking this into consideration, this significantly narrows the market for the device, as in the current state, target groups such as hunters will likely see no real use in it.
We have managed to take some impressive photos with the device during our testing. Nevertheless, we would appreciate seeing an improved post-processing stabilization software integrated into the compatible apps, since it takes quite a lot of practice and a steady hand or the use of a stand to get the optimal results. The same goes for video stabilization. The size of the device is impressive given all 390 components but despite the ergonomic design, we found the front edge of the upper body profile a tad sharp as the fingers rest on it naturally.
The bird identification feature was impressive, working perfectly fine in most cases and showing the extensive development effort and work hours poured into the project. Another feature likely to attract public attention is the ‘share discoveries’ profile as it cleverly solves the long-standing issue of sharing binoculars with others. We hope to see this feature become a standard in the market, as it operates flawlessly without needing any changes.
Swarovski once again managed to present a head-turning product which will surely go down in history as the first in a line of many. It will be interesting to see how the public accepts the device and how the competition catches up in the long run.