Paul Austin sets his sights on the latest incarnation of a hunting classic
In a break from tradition, I thought I’d start with the conclusion. The Swaro Z8i is without doubt the best lightweight hunting scope I’ve ever had the pleasure to use.
The overall design is flawless, the 8x mag range is ideal, the glass is alpha all the way with a feature set that leaves absolutely nothing to be desired… and on top of all that it’s drop dead gorgeous.
The price for all this perfection is exactly that, the price. At a toe curling £2,590, it’s expensive.
The real question isn’t what it can or can’t do; it can do it all and is probably the best scope in the world in its class. The question is: does all of the above warrant the price tag?
If you want onlookers to say, “Wow!” rather than “What’s that?” when you open your case, get yourself a Swaro. Swarovski is acutely aware of its brand equity and what shooters expect from it, which is why this isn’t a typical technical review. For this kind of money you would expect a scope to be outstanding, which these are. The only slight disappointment is the 10-year rather than the 30-year warranty that used to be the norm with Swarovski scopes.
However, they don’t just appeal to the ‘shooting set’. I know several serious foxers (200-plus per year) who shoot exclusively with Swarovski due to their exceptional clarity, depth of field and low-light/lamping performance. We’re talking farmers and farriers, people who hate handing over hard cash unless they have to. Needless to say, the 8x and 56mm objective of this Z8i takes things to a new level – especially in low light.
Design and performance of the Swarovski 78i 2.3-18×56 P
- There’s plenty of adjustment on the dioptre and ample eye relief. Above sits the illumination controls with a small rocker switch to toggle between day and night illumination, with plus and minus buttons to adjust the power. All perfectly implemented to guarantee the ideal level for the centre dot.
- The new illumination unit is also much more elegant than that of the Z6i series as the battery compartment has migrated beneath the side parallax.
- There’s also a choice of four reticles, ranging from Christmas tree variants to classic crosshairs.
- Another great feature is the automatic shut-off of the illumination. If the rifle tilts beyond 30 degrees horizontally or 70 degrees vertically, it turns off, essentially detecting that the gun is on the back seat or over your shoulder. It then turns itself back on when the rifle is levelled.
Moving forward to the turrets, we arrive at a major upgrade over the Z6i scopes. Unlike its predecessor, the Z8i offers interchangeable turrets courtesy of the BTF system (ballistic turret flex). Via a single push-button release you can now swap effortlessly between set-ups. A hunting turret, a standard dialler or a user configurable range selection turret, all featuring 70 clicks of elevation.
In addition to the configuration options, you have zero stop and a rotating collar to lock in your settings. The BTF turret ships with a dedicated ring so you can add a dialling function to windage. It’s not what you’d call a true dialler but the combination of options makes it a superbly flexible system.
I particularly liked the user-ranging set-up for quick alterations. Simply set zero, punch your ballistic data into the Swarovski online app and it will spit out dialling data for your preferred ranges. Dial the turret accordingly and drop in the appropriate range markers – ‘2’ for 200m, a ‘dot’ for 250, a ‘3’ for 300m, etc. It’s a simple but ingenious idea that means you’re never fumbling with your phone when quick alterations are required.
Parallax adjustment sits alongside with 50m to infinity with a soft click to indicate when you’ve passing the 100m mark. With the scope wound out to 2.3x parallax goes all the way back to about 6m to 7m, only increasing to 50m as you make your way to 18x.
Image isn’t everything
Image quality isn’t everything but it’s a massive part of any serious scope and the Z8i’s glass is stunning. The resolution, clarity and contrast are world class but a less obvious benefit is the immense depth of field this scope generates.
During testing, I zoomed in on some barbed wire in a hedge 300m away. At the edge of the image I spotted a patch of weed in the foreground. After ranging the weird weed it turned out to be 200m way but through the scope it was only fractionally less sharp than the wire I was focused on. The scope also has an astonishing 92% light transmission, delivering superb low-light performance plus a whopping 18.6m FOV.
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This is the real strength of the Swarovski. The image is superb, zero chromatic aberration, razor-sharp edge to edge, no tunnelling, astonishing depth of field and incredible low-light performance make the Z8i the ultimate hunting scope. No matter where the prey appears, 99% of the time you’re happy to take the shot without any adjustment and that’s why they’re the optic choice for so many serious shooters.
Without doubt the best lightweight hunting scope I've ever had the pleasure to use