4 hours, 15 premium binoculars
Regarding optics in general and binoculars in particular, my mantra is: Sample variation sucks. And after a 4 hour session in two shops in December 2018, having used 15 premium bins: sample variation still sucks.
My main objective was to get an idea which 7x or 8x42 glass to buy next for personal use - Ultravid 7x42 HD+ (again), Noctivid 8x42, or - probably last chance - a Nikon EDG 8x42. Unfortunately I couldn´t get hold of the EDG. Best prices in Germany are reasonably close for all models (EURO 1499.- for the Nikon, 1590.- for a good demo 7x42, 1888.- for the Noctivid).
Here are some observations that I found noteworthy. In shop 1 I only tested inside under artificial light, in shop 2 I took the Noctivid and my Ultravid outside.
Leica Geovid 8x42 HD-B
Superb image but I did not spend much time with it as it is too big and heavy anyway and close focus is 5 meters.
Leica Noctivid 8x42
First sample was not great, lacking the absolute focus snap of a premium binocular. Second sample was great but I would have prefered the UV7x42+ still. Third sample was stunning but I was not willing to pay 500.- more than necessary and the Ultravid 7x42+ was not available as a reference. Extreme contrast, very dark blacks, perfect colours and a really transparent, immersive, super relaxed view. The blacks remind me of the Nikon EDG 8x42. There is a hint of chromatic aberration in critical situations, just as in my 8x32 and most other glasses. Ergonomically the Noctivid is better than expected, although I do not like open hinge designs. It looks quite a bit slimmer and much more elegant than the Swarovision and the SF.
Leica Ultravid 7x42 HD Plus
This is an all time favourite of mine and I contemplate buying this glass again. It is not that the Noctivid is far ahead optically, and ergonomically the UV is better.
Leica Ultravid 7x42 HD
In shop 2 I compared this one to the Noctivid 8x42 and my Ultravid 8x32 Plus. The Noctivid is a far better glass, less warm and much more contrasty. I infer from this also that the 7x42 HD Plus is a much better glass than the 7x42 HD.
Leica Ultravid 8x32 HD Plus - TWO SAMPLES
My own sample is a very good one. I had reviewed another, basically identical Leica demo sample and used a third sample briefly, which seemed weaker than my own and which I would not have bought. A tiny but very powerful bin, which really stood its ground even against the 8x42s, except for ease of view, its biggest flaw. Very sharp, very contrasty, great colours.
Leica Ultravid 8x42 HD Plus
Was my favourite glass in the 8x42 shootout and I could still see why - a very beautiful, relaxed view in a compact glass. I was sure the 7x42 is an even better binocular, but had never compared them directly before. When doing so, I was puzzled why under reasonably bright viewing conditions the 7x42 was so much brighter and definitely less warm then the 8x42. Damn, was Leica using up components from the HD line instead of HD Plus glass??? I should have compared the 8x42 Plus to the 8x42 HD too, as there was a sample available.
Leica Ultravid 8x50 HD
A worn demo lemon sample. I did not inquire about it, it probably was a used one sold in commission.
Leica Trinovid 8x32 latest version
Surprisingly nice view, not Ultravid punchy, but probably good value. Ease of view might actually be better than in the Ultravid.
CL Companion 8x30 B latest version
Impressive, lovely view, crisp and with good ease of view. I was surprised about the size - much bigger than I anticipated. But a good glass with decent eye relief obviously needs to have this size. The diopter mechanism is a shame and a deal breaker though. The flat knob can hardly be turned with one finger while holding the bin. I mean, one should be able to look through the glass AND at the same time easily do the adjustment. Oh my. Diopter and minimum focusing distance would be my problems with this glass.
Swarovski Habicht 8x30
An all time favourite, but almost 10 years newer then my sample. Stunning view, but as with the Swarovision 8x32 I could not test for flaring.
Swarovision EL 8.5x42 latest version
As always, the view is a big wow. But with a very distinct bluish colour reproduction, totally different from the rest of the lot. Image seems very bright.
Swarovision EL 8x32 latest version
Great view but I could not test for flares which can spoil the experience, at least in the first version of this type. A bit bigger and heavier than the Companion 8x30, but not much.
One round of applause for Swarovski. THEY REALLY SEEM TO HAVE THE BEST QUALITY CONTROL IN THEIR BINOCULAR OUTPUT. And without a doubt the very best customer service. I have mostly used review samples from their demo pool so far, but these four samples all seemed worth buying.
Zeiss SF 8x42 MK2
A good sample, keeping up with the Swarovision. I am not sure I would be happy with the distortion and the bulk, but image is premium league and ergonomy and focusing excellent. BIG SURPRISE: the colour reproduction is now much more neutral and similar to the Leicas. The coatings are no longer high intensity purple, yielding a greenish cast to the image of the MK1, but lower intensity, also reflecting blue and yellow.
Zeiss Victory FL 8x32
A glass I am very interested in, but this is the second unacceptably bad sample. A real lemon optically, not a transparent premium view, and with a rough, stiff, sandy focuser. It seems the lemons increase on dealers´ shelves over time.
15 premium bins - two plain lemons (the Zeiss Victory 8x32 and the Leica Ultravid HD 8x50), and two doubtful and so for the price inacceptable ones - Leica Noctivid 8x42 and Leica UV 8x32+. The other 11 samples seemed very good to excellent and worth buying. A decent result but also a reminder to thoroughly check before buying.
Surprise of the day: Zeiss really changed the coatings/colour reproduction of the SFII.
Most important conclusion for me were:
- My Leica 8x32 HD+ is an extremely sharp glass and great sample. I did not feel anything else was blowing it away in sharpness terms.
- The Leica 7x42HD+ is indeed fabulous, and much better than its previous model.
- I am not sure about the Noctivid 8x42 yet, as sample variation seemed too high and with the very best sample I could not compare to the 7x42 HD+.
That means, I will get back to a dealer who stocks both soon.
- I was shocked how much darker and warmer the Leica 8x42 HD+ image seemed than those of the 7x42HD+.
- The probability of getting a good sample is probably highest when buying Swarovski. Leica quality control is far from perfect and Zeiss quality control is much worse.The Zeiss SF was the first sample in a long time delivering what I expect from Zeiss.
The market for premium bins seems very saturated and the dealers need to cut their big margin - probably one third or more of the list price - to sell at all.
Does buying a binocular at the cheapest offer increase your chance of getting an inferior sample? I know for sure that some demo samples will be brand new premium quality only being sold as demo to evade sanctions from manufacturers for price dumping. But do manufacturers and dealers also especially clear inferior samples - which should not have passed quality control - at reduced rates? I think (and even hear from dealers) that they at least sometimes do. And then, lemon samples will necessarily increase in number on dealers´ shelves with the passing of time, and will be sold as refurbished and demo samples at low price to get rid of them... so beware. Final quality control is with you.