Favourite binoculars 2018
These three is what I own and use most (and there is a couple of vintage 8x30s, more on those another time). Subject to change as I get to know more glasses. You live, you learn. That´s the main point of the exercise.
If I had to choose only one... this would be it:
1st 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. Not for the lazy or faint hearted. Those should get a Swarovision instead (but then not complain about frequent flares and a distinct TWOdimensionality of the imagery). With the Leica, you really have to get your ocular cup length right to bring the binocular´s exit pupil into your pupil. "Eye relief" (ER) that is. And Leica screwed that up. Because the ocular cups are simply way to short. I guess because their diameter is on the small side, so they rest deeper in the average eye socket than wider ocular cups, say from a 42mm glass. I had to partly unscrew the cups to get them about 1.5 millimeters longer, fix them with gaffer tape, and suddenly: a great view. Of course not Ultravid 7x42 great. But definitely something to enjoy everyday.
So get your ER distance right with this glass or you will be embarrassed fiddling around with it forever. Owners might want to check my review for a possible procedure.
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. It is probably not the best glass for spectacle wearers, nor for people with big hands. If Leica designed an 8x32 Noctivid with longer eye relief, it would surely be a considerably bigger glass, probably similar in size to a Nikon EDG 8x32 (650g)...
2nd 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. 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´s a more interesting complement to my Leica 8x32. But I do miss that 7x42 Ultravid. And I really need to test the Noctivid 8x42.
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 not as good as in the more modest Leica 7x42. Also I suspect that the massive Zeiss quality control problems already started with the Victory FLs and that there are a lot of lemons 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.
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". Probably there is no such thing as a "fond tradition"... native speakers, please enlighten me. 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 mostly take the Zeiss Victory 7x42 out instead - both views are as transparent as it gets, but the Zeiss has much better flare control.