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Optical superiority - the Swarovski Z8i 2.3-18x56

By Hayden Sturgeon

The Swarovski brand was first brought to the market in 1895 when the family business began producing high quality crystals and jewellery glass - it wasn’t until 1935 that the need to see further than the naked eye brought about the start of the optical range.

 

Throughout the years the company has continued to innovate and uphold its position as one of the market leaders in optical technology. The Swarovski range is imported by Swarovski NZ Ltd and when they offered up the latest Z8i scope for review I was more than happy to check out its new features, and more so, to test them in New Zealand’s alpine conditions.

 

What has the Z8i got over the Z5 and Z6 series which also have many great features? What makes it better than the rest? Swarovski states that this is an all-new scope - it is not the Z6 jazzed-up which some people might think. The Z8i model I received sports 2.3x-18x magnification with a 30mm main tube, ending with a massive 56mm objective lens that delivers bright images in low light or other challenging light conditions.

 

Interchangeable rings matched to your rifle’s ballistics are part of the Z81 package. Custom rings can also be ordered.

 

Anti-reflection fully multi-coated glass delivers a staggering 93% light transfer! It’s differences like these that Swarovski are famous for. The Z8i operates in the second focal plane which allows the reticle to stay the same size throughout the magnification range, with a very smooth 50 metre to infinity parallax adjustment. This allows sharp, clear viewing at any distance.

 

Another feature that Swarovski has gone for to keep the package sleek, is to use the parallax adjustment knob as the battery housing for the next feature, the “Swarolight” illuminated reticle. The Swarolight reticle has some very clever features, eg; if the scope is tilted more than 70 degrees up or down (like with the rifle hung over your shoulder) or tilted sideways over 30 degrees, the tilt sensor will turn off the illumination and in turn save battery power.

 

The supplied rings that you can calibrate to your ranges thus making for fast dial-up on any rifle

 

However when the rifle is straightened or moved from a slung shoulder position into a ready to fire state, the reticle instantly turns back on.

 

Other features are its twilight and daylight setting that can be alternated by a click of the selector located on the rear housing. Further adjustment for brightness can be made by pushing the + or – settings which gives you the option of 64 illumination brightness levels. The illumination settings you have selected will be automatically restored when the rifle comes into use from an off position.

 

“Parallax was smooth, making for fine adjustments, and before we knew it we were shooting 700 yards without too much trouble.”

 

The reticle we had for review was the 4A-1 which is a fine crosshair suited for those long-range applications, matched up with a very generous 95mm eye relief. Swarovski took the Z8i to the next level in scope innovation with the new ballistic turret flex (BTF) which is fully removable.

 

The turret cap houses a spare battery for the illumination reticle.

 

First off, this turret can be removed by pushing down the small detachment button on the top, by utilising the likes of the tip of a live round, perfect in the field. The turret can be refitted without losing zero. Simply lock it into position by turning the locking feature 90 degrees clockwise. This secures it at the zero point, handy especially if you think there’s a chance of bumping your turrets in rough country.

 

“The great thing about this turret is you can match your own ballistics using the supplied rings numbered from 2-5, and two with just white dots for different ranges for fast precise dial-up.”

 

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The great thing about this turret is you can match your own ballistics using the supplied rings numbered from 2-5, and two with just white dots for different ranges for fast precise dial-up. If you would prefer to use the supplied 7mil ring, with one click being equivalent to 0.36 MOA, use your ballistics calculator for accurate dial up in MILS or MOA with 64 MOA or 7 MIL available in one turret revolution.

 

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Swapping over the ballistic turrets is easy - simply use a pointed object to press down on the release button. In the field?! No sweat, just use the tip of your bullet!

 

You can also buy an additional turret for windage which again has 3.5 MIL or 36 MOA available in one revolution. If you would like a Personalised Ballistic Ring (PBR) customised to your rifle’s ballistics, you can contact Swarovski direct and have this made to order.

 

With all of that said above it can sound a bit confusing, but it’s not, I assure you that it’s a user-friendly system. For those who just want to keep it old school basic there are low black turret caps for both windage and elevation with the windage turret cap housing a spare battery for the illumination reticle.

 

IN THE FIELD

With the scope arriving a week out from hitting the West Coast for a seven day Tahr Ballot trip, I wasted no time in getting the Z8i on my .28 Nosler and range testing the setup. Zeroing of the rifle at a 100 yards was made easy by removing the BFT turret and shifting the internal ring back to zero.

 

With the adjustments made to the ballistic program to suit MIL we were all set. The scope was super clear with the elevation and windage turrets being very precise and trackable. Parallax was smooth, making for fine adjustments, and before we knew it we were shooting 700 yards without too much trouble.

 

The total package had performed well and the fine illuminated cross hair was very nice and crisp to the eye. With the total weight of the scope being 725 grams (or 25.5 ounces) this made the combined gun/scope weight just over 8.3lb which was a very usable unit in the high alpine environment we were heading to.

 

HUNTING

A somewhat rare beautiful West Coast day greeted us as the helicopter departed for the week and the lack of snow was very evident, but as usual on the coast that was all to change. With a luxurious camp set up we headed off to hunt the upper reaches of the block but it seemed it had been hunted hard by the party before as only young bulls were seen and the animals were hiding high.

 

With this new-found knowledge, we packed up four days of gear and took off for the lower reaches which was no easy feat and after wading through the near impenetrable West Coast jungle we broke out and set up a fly camp for the next few days. The Z8i had taken a few good knocks bashing through, however the new turret lock hadn’t moved leaving me confident that the gun’s zero was sound after the assault.

 

Over the next few days we worked hard, climbing all over the valley and putting the Swarovski spotter on plenty of bulls but we still saw nothing in the true big boy category we were after. That afternoon we got a weather update via the sat phone – the weather was about to change big time so we packed up camp and started to head back towards our main campsite, glassing around with the binos as we walked.

 

“The last few days were spent hunting in icy conditions as torrential rain had turned to snow. The Z8i was near frozen solid but it never fogged or failed to operate.”

 

Not too long into our river hopping/bush bashing trip we picked up a bull that looked to have the head gear we were after so we dropped packs and took off in his direction.

 

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After an hour he still hadn’t come into a shootable range and we were running out of light when we picked up a bull just as good as the first one further up the valley. I could clearly see him in the Z8i in the fading light but the shot was too far for any mistakes so we decided on another night out and hoped the weather would hold - wishful thinking!

 

"We jumped under a rock for cover while I got the Z8i dialled in for the 480-yard shot and quickly rechecked him over in the spotter which confirmed he was a shooter."

 

Waking to torrential rain with every creek on the rise we decided to just pack up and high-tail it to our main campsite before we got stuck. The chance of seeing the bull from the night before seemed very unlikely as we clambered our way up yet another side creek.

 

Rounding a bend further up the creek to our surprise there was the bull with his nannies in the same place from the night before, but looking as drowned and miserable as we were. They were heading for the scrub so we needed to make things happen fast. We jumped under a rock for cover while I got the Z8i dialled in for the 480-yard shot and quickly rechecked him over in the spotter which confirmed he was a shooter.

 

As I set up for the shot the rainwater was pouring down the front lens but I could still pick him out and as he turned side-on I took him cleanly through both shoulders putting him down for good. The result was a solid 13.5” bull with great shape and character. The Swarovski Z8i had performed faultlessly, I was stoked to say the least.

 

Hayden dropped the bull with a single shot at a distance of 480 yards.

 

The last few days were spent hunting in icy conditions as torrential rain had turned to snow. The Z8i was near frozen solid but it never fogged or failed to operate. Was the Swarovski Z8i built to handle New Zealand’s worst conditions? It sure was!

 

CONCLUSION

Swarovski has delivered again with the Z8i. It has heaps of features that make up a total package that’s hard to fault. This scope got a baptism of fire in the very worst conditions that New Zealand could throw at it and came through with flying colours.

 

Stand-outs for me were the new ballistic turret setup which make for an easy and reliable dial-up system, and of course the usual glass quality that really shows up in low light conditions. The Z8i series offers four model options with five reticle choices, so there’s something for everyone, but as we know quality doesn’t come cheap and at around NZ$5300, the price will put off a lot of potential buyers.

 

However, if you’ve got the dollars and you’re after true optical superiority plus the latest technology, check this scope out.

 

Hayden

 

For more info on the Z8i range visit: www.swarovskioptik.com

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