Favourite binoculars 2018
last update 15-1-2019
You live, you learn. And I have to admit that few binoculars keep impressing me over the years. Then there is the seduction of new models and the technological progress they bring.
But even more, priorities change with mood, experience and maybe even the seasons. The Leica Ultravid 8x32HD+ is such a beautiful, tiny glass and my everyday companion. But on the other hand, whenever I use it I miss the total ease of view of the Leica 7x42.
Anyway, these four I owned and used most in 2018, so they are my personal favourites:
1st place: Leica Ultravid 7x42 HD Plus
The view is a revelation. The contrast, the colours, the ease of view. Everything just a league above most 8x42s. I had to choose between keeping this glass and the Zeiss Victory 7x42, and reluctantly sold the Leica to a good friend to concentrate on the Zeiss for a while - and soon regretted it. The Zeiss is much more flawed but at the same time more spectacular due to its AK prism design - even sharper, and much brighter. It seemed a more interesting complement to my Leica 8x32 - but it never gave me quite the relaxed view of the Leica 7x42.
The one bad thing about this glass is the minimum focusing distance of 3.3 meters - I have really become fond of close observations. Maybe the Noctivid 8x42 would be a better choice? I will find out soon.
2nd place: Leica Ultravid 8x32 HD Plus - SEXIEST BIN ALIVE
Fell in love with this tiny but powerful glass when reviewing it in 2015. I finally gave up resisting and bought my own one this spring. As obviously the best bin is the one you have with you, the little Leica is easily the best of the whole lot. It fits in any pocket, and nicely into my midsized hands. And all at 535 grams.
It is a somewhat difficult glass though as ease of view is not state-of-the-art. The Leica is extremely sharp, contrasty, and with the most lovely, saturated colours over the whole spectrum - also the deep blues of shadows which I miss in some other glasses. Leica beauty. It also compared favourably to the Nikon 8x42 EDG, with a similar image. Build quality and industrial design are top notch. Although this is not a flat field glass, the edge performance is very good. And due to good aberration control you can fully use the enhanced depth of field due to field curvature.
Leica claims an eye relief of 13.3mm, but I measured a solid 15mm. Leica should release a 8x32 Noctivid as soon as possible, with longer eye relief, although it would surely be a bigger glass.
3rd place - Zeiss Victory FL 7x42
The brightest, sharpest, contrastiest, with widest field of view, least chromatic aberration, and the most threedimensional image in any roof prism I used. I doubt the 8x42 HT is brighter. I love the mechanics, too - really a wonderful Zeiss worthy industrial design, compact, and perfect in my hands. The plastic shell feels warm and velvety. Hinge friction and focuser are as good as it gets.
Main issue is that beyond the central 50% of the field the image gets soft due to increasing aberrations, especially astigmatism. The much more conservatively designed Leica Ultravid 7x42 behaves better in that respect - refocusing, you can even get the edges reasonably sharp, which is not possible with the Zeiss. The Victory´s spectacular specifications seem to be a bit of an overstretch from the optical design point of view (same with the Zeiss 8x42 SF). So ease of view in the Victory is far inferior to the more modest Leica 7x42 and that was the reason why I finally sold the Victory. Same happened with the otherwise fabulous Zeiss 8x42 HT - the Leica competitor had a much easier view. Why the Zeiss Victories behave like that I don´t know - maybe it´s in the eye piece design, maybe it´s in the aberrations - or is it just me? It is a telling fact though that the Dialyt 7x42 is still very much sought after especially due to legendary ease of view. I also suspect that the massive Zeiss quality control problems already started with the Victory FLs and that there are a lot of lemon FLs and even more HTs on the used market.
And then, the colour reproduction. Coatings are high intensity purple and a bit of blue - see above - suggest the image should be on the yellowgreen side (some - like Roger Vine - say bluegreen). Anyway colours still puzzle me, I feel just a bit paranoid about them, but it might be the main factor is actually the high brightness which necessarily decreases colour saturation. It is hard to compare with the much darker Leica Ultravid. Although I miss some magenta/red in the Zeiss, I even more miss the "shadow blues", like leaves in the shade reflecting a blue sky. Which sparkle in the Leica and are just a bit of a colder green in the Zeiss. Then again, comparing to the extremely bright 8x30 Habicht, I think well maybe I am just wrong. But then I take a Leica and a deep breath enjoying the colours...
Would be interesting to compare the Zeiss colour reproduction with Swarovskis latest SLC glasses which seem to feature a similar, although less intense colour spectrum of the coatings. Basically it is about boosting perceived contrast with a slight green tinge, which is good for hunting purposes, but not for nature observation.
I am glad to say that I recently played around with a good sample of the SF8x42 MK2, which seems much improved to its predecessor, especially in colour reproduction.
4th place - Swarovski Habicht 8x30 (2009)
The view can be totally state-of-the-art transparent (Gijs van Ginkel measured a transmission of 96%). On axis, contrast is reference. But the 8x30 is plagued by a strong tendency for crescent flares and ghosting (much less so for veiling glare though) due to non sufficient internal baffling. It´s a shame that Swarovski does not improve on this, although their marketing slogan for the Habicht line is: "a fond tradition"/"conscious of tradition". The 10x40 Habicht is said to be more resistant to flare, and might be a better choice.
The 8x30 Habicht is the glass which, even in its much inferior version from 1961, sparked my interest in binoculars. So yes, I am still very fond of this Austrian jewel - although I now mainly use the Leica 8x32.
What next? Ultravid 7x42 vs Noctivid 8x42, and I might even give the Nikon EDG 8x42 another chance before it vanishes...