Leica Noctivid 8x42 review
Unexpected design flaws
11-6-2020, last revision: 8-7-2020
Serial Nr.: 2196211
Test period: started 29-5-2019.
Origin of sample: my own
I hope this review is only preliminary and for good reason I have procrastinated it again and again. Because the Noctivid as I had it for more than a year suffers from serious, unexpected design flaws - while the glass clearly has the potential to be the best 8x42. Probably some engineers at Leica were falling asleep in the design process.
I love using my Leica Ultravid HD+ binoculars, they deliver very beautiful images with a "deep" rendering of space and fabulous colours in very compact bodies. So my hopes for the 8x42 Noctivid - the latest step in the evolution of Leica binoculars - were sky high. After using a couple of samples in Leica shops I bought my own Noctivid. My grave mistake was to only use the Noctivid in subdued and low light in the shops, where it works very well.
Once I used it in brighter light, things changed. I was puzzled why the images often lacked the punch of my comparison bins, were a bit flatter and staler (although sharper). As a result I used the Nikon EDG more and more. In my opinion the Noctivid has a nasty veiling glare issue and therefore a somewhat mediocre global contrast when medium or strong light flows through it. It´s nasty as it is subtle and not blatantly obvious like in many Swarovisions. But you might understand once you play around with a hand shielding the objectives and especially if you directly compare to other bins - in my case the Nikon EDG 8x42 and the Ultravid HD Plus 8x32. The Nikon is an almost 10 year older design than the Noctivid...
Otherwise, impeccable build quality for sure. Jay approved.
In strong light there is a basic level of veiling glare which you just don´t find in the Nikon EDG or UV8x32 or 7x42. Sunshade will improve the performance, but not overcome this flaw.
Weak veiling glare is especially evil, because it ruins the image but you may not notice immediately what is wrong. The Noctivid images often drove me nuts. But looking at male blackbirds or my black dog it became obvious: Veiling glare in combination with yellowish colour reproduction made them both appear in a warm, brownish tone when they were supposed to be a cool black as seen by the naked eye. Even a bright flower in strong front light (in my case, whitish foxgloves) and in close up may introduce veiling glare. Changing to the Nikon EDG most of the times was a revelation.
Finally I lit a torch on the objective side of the Noctivid on my quest for enlightenment, and my heart sank:
Looking inside from the objective side - view is identical for both barrels. There is a metal knob guiding the focus mechanism axis. Its a non moving part made from totally unblackened, highly reflective yellow metal, probably brass. Light from below and at an angle can easily hit this brass and scatter, causing veiling glare - think watching birds on backlit water.
That´s not good, but it is getting worse.
I tortured my Nikon 8x42 EDG with the same torch, this is all I could provoke from it:
A reflection of the prism roof.
With the Noctivid it may look like this:
Holger Merlitz suggested and Henry Link confirmed in this Birdforum thread (posts #87 and #88) that this is a baffle between the prisms reflecting light.
In the Ultravid 8x32 HD+ it looks like this:
This is also a baffle, but smaller and less reflective.
While the Noctivid is extremely well controlled for peripheral crescent flares (a terminology I adopted from Birdforum) - and this is what a lot of users boast about - it has a level of veiling glare that to me is not acceptable, comparing both with EDG and Leica´s own Ultravids (7x42, 8x32). Images are very bright accordingly. I already could provoke surprisingly strong glare in the Noctivid 10x42 when comparing to my Ultravid HD+7x42.
It has happened before: severe flare issues in Leica lenses due to design errors. For example in the 50/2 Apo-Summicron, an 8000.- Euro/Dollar lens - probably the best 50mm lens.
User Hey You wrote: "When (the lens) was returned after correction, the edge of the last (innermost) glass element had been coated black. Previously this edge was uncoated, and the metal that it was bonded to would shine clear and bright. At the time I found it odd that Leica had neglected to deaden something so bright and reflective. I even asked my dealer about this and he was as puzzled as I was, but we both presumed that Leica knew what it was doing."
I have four other main issues:
Colours seem slightly off. I would rather check and discuss this using a glass that has proper global contrast though. Without global contrast, colour is nothing. But I see that the Noctivid has higher intensity coatings compared to the Ultravid HD +, to perceptual boost contrast by a skewed transmission curve, introducing a very slight, probably yellowgreen cast. This is what Zeiss almost always does (although more greenish), and Swarovski in the SLC line - good for hunting and low light, but not for daylight and colour accurate nature observation. Anyway, Ultravid and the EDG images look just better colourwise, for my eyes and taste.
The artificially boosted contrast (and/or other design choices) also makes the images look digitally oversharpened. It´s a very cold, extreme look. This high sharpness partially hides the veiling glare issue a bit, and is meant to wow the user.
Black outs at closed pupil. While I am totally comfortable when watching in low light, in bright light I sometimes get blackouts. Eyecups again are on the short side for my face, but moreover there might be some aberrations of the exit pupil which come into effect when the Noctivid is used with closed pupil, causing these black outs.
Ergonomy is a huge step backwards from the Ultravids. For example, at my interpupillary distance the gap between the barrels is to narrow to have a firm grip on the glass with one hand.
Mechanically, this is the best 8x42 I ever used, I rate it a 10/10. Focus, hinge friction, eyecup and diopter adjustment, everything perfect. All accessories have been designed with a lot of care, for example it is a pleasure to slip the ocular covers on and off with total ease. They just fit, come off easily but don´t slip off by accident.
The smooth focuser rivals the Nikon EDG and puts to shame the Swarovskis. The glass is still small, slim and Leica elegant, though a bit on the heavy side. But this weight just fits so well with the impressive build quality. It is exactly the weight you´d expect...
Optically, this glass screams precision. Diopter adjustment is just pinpoint exact with no doubt where you need to be. Collimation seems perfect, ease of view is superb, it is a very transparent glass that would be totally immersive with proper global contrast. Isn´t it ironic...
Close up performance is exceptional, best butterfly glass ever.
The Ultravids are not outdated at all. The offer more consistent global contrast, better 3D high fidelity, nicer colours, and much better ergonomy in a tinier package.
Is the view better elsewhere?
Build quality: Seems to be the best of the modern 8x42 binoculars I have tested. Tanklike yet refined, with 100% dedication of the designers to get all the details right (unfortunately I strongly disagree with some of their decisions in the optical department). Ocular and objective covers work like a charm, slip on easily and stay firmly where they should. Focuser and hinge friction are just perfect. Eyecups lock absolutely solid. The Noctivid is a bit heavier than most competitors but the weight is just what you expect given the extremely good build quality.
This should be an extremely reliable, long lived product. It simply puts to shame the Nikon EDG with its useless covers, loose hinge and loose diopter wheel. It makes the Zeiss SF look cheap. It ridicules the rough and uneven Swarovision focusers.
Ergonomy: I do have the impression this glass is harder to hold steady than lighter, single hinge designs. Ergonomically, Leica suggests on their website "the easy grip of the binoculars’ tubes with one hand offers the user the unexpected freedom of holding an umbrella or a walking stick – you always have one hand free." Not only is it a dumb idea to hold a binocular with one hand for observation, but also I am hardly able to hold the Noctivid in one hand while carrying it. The gap between the two tubes is way too narrow with my hand size and interpupillary distance. It is a double hinge but not a reasonably usable open bridge design for me. What probably happened here is that Leica insisted to have a double hinge (the Swarovision, you know...) and a compact design. In this respect the bulky Zeiss SF gets it right, and the Noctivid does not.
My hope for the Noctivid 8x32 is that Leica goes for a more compact single hinge design.
The double hinge is giving prospective buyers the impression that this is a serious Swarovision contender and totally new Leica design when in fact - so the Leica PR suggests - it is an evolution of the Ultravid design.
Safer birding with Leica build quality
The focuser is the best ever. Velvety smooth like in a Nikon EDG. Simply fantastic. It puts to shame any Swarovski glass. There must be some grease somewhere here. 1.75 revolutions from close to infinity.
Hinge friction is perfect.
Eyecups lock in 3 positions (plus zero position) and 1 "backwards" position. And they will stay there no matter where you go.
Diopter adjustment works perfectly by pulling out from the focus knob, +/-4 is displayed, but there is a bit of headroom, not very much though. Unlike with the Nikon EDG and many other glasses, you are never in doubt about the perfect diopter setting, the image just snaps when you reach it.
Internal blackening is inadequate from the objective side, but looks deceptively good from the ocular side, a very matte black everywhere in low light intensities.
Everything seems great from the ocular side, but...
Weight is 860g according to Leica, quite a lot, but it just fits with the build quality.
The Noctivid feels like a true top quality product and - as expected from Leica - the industrial design is superb. Why don´t Zeiss and Swarovski build such beautiful glasses?
Accessories: Objective covers work perfectly and stay where they should when closed. Ocular cover slips on almost automatically. Try this with a Nikon EDG, and you will fail miserably.
A small but important feast of clever engineering: Objective and lens covers are brillantly designed and executed and really work like a charm. Applause!
Smell: Irresistable. Chanel No.5 impregnated plastic shell.
Brillant design of the lens covers, so that they slip on without resistance but stay closed tightly.
PRELIMINARY DUE TO GLOBAL CONTRAST ISSUE
Global contrast and flare suppression: The Noctivid 8x42 offers superb suppression of peripheral, crescent flares flashing into the image from internal reflections of the sun. Especially in low light there are close to no flares, even when scanning dark woods with bright skies above. This a superb performance hunters and nature lovers who are observing a lot in twilight will appreciate.
In daylight the Noctivid image often breaks down, though. In strong backlight there is a lot of veiling glare, and very often just a touch of veiling glare making the images flat.
This glass in my view has a veiling glare problem, both compared to the Nikon EDG and the Ultravids 8x32/7x42.
The Ultravids suffer much more from bright peripheral flares but manage to keep the image center free from veiling glare pretty well. The Noctivid is opposite.
Flare suppression comparison is always a difficult thing because small changes in position may have huge effects. But the Nikon EDG puts the Noctivid to shame in the flare department.
Feels indestructible. Birdproof. My guess: decades of troublefree use ahead...
Microcontrast: Global contrast issues aside - which of course spoil microcontrast - high contrast from big to medium to small objects with an emphasis on sharpness (edge contrast of big objects).
This is a brutally sharp glass. Too sharp even for my eyes. Sharpness is easy to achieve, and it generally wows people, and counteracts deficiencies of the images. The Nikon EDG and the Ultravids for me give a more natural sharpness. This is of course dependent on your visual acuity, weaker eyes may profit from this high sharpness.
Brightness. Is the Noctivid very bright or does this impression come from extremely boosted contrast and high veiling glare levels? I cannot tell. The effect is very pronounced though, the Nikon EDG has definitely a darker, duller view than the very bright, sparkling Noctivid in subdued light. But in bright sunshine, the colours in the Nikon will necessarily be more saturated.
Colour reproduction. Leica claims: "The colour rendition of the Noctivid binoculars is (...) extraordinarily close to the point of absolute colour neutrality (achromatic point)." I doubt that. I consider the Nikon EDG 8x42 to be a very neutral glass with no cut in the blue spectrum. The Leica Ultravid Plus 8x32 has those beautiful colours a tad warmer than the Nikon. But with the Noctivid I feel uneasy about the colour rendering. Coating intensity in the Noctivid, especially on the oculars, seems a bit higher than in the 8x32 Ultravid HDPlus, suggesting a stronger contrast boost by skewed transmission. And the oculars show a strong blue reflection, there is definitely less blue in the 8x32.
Noctivid (on top) vs EDG objective coatings. Both low intensity and similar under overcast sky, tobacco and olive.
BUT: The Noctivid (on the top) has high intensity blue reflection on the oculars though, much bluer than the Nikon EDG 8x42 and the Leica Ultravid 8x32 HD Plus - see below. This may hint to more yellow in the transmission curve - which is what I see.
top: Ultravid 7x42, bottom: Noctivid 10x42. Note the tobacco coloured reflection in the NV, see also below:
Distortion is strong pincushion, panning behaviour perfect with no warping and quite a bit better than in the 7x42 Ultravid.
Apparent field of view is 135m according to Leica. Again, don´t let you ever be fooled by numbers in a specification sheet. This field feels very wide and immersive, due to pincushion distortion. Designs with less pincushion (Swarovision, Zeiss SF) seem to need wider fields of view to feel as wide as a pincushion distorted glass! And this leads to failures like the Zeiss SF - 148 meters apparent field of view but horrible panning behaviour - a very nervous image due to complex, uneven distortion.
Field curvature is slight but visible, the field curves towards the viewer (that is, when the image center is in focus, at the edges more distant objects than those in the center will be in focus). Leica claims: "Thanks to the modification of the radii at the lens surfaces, the sharpness towards the periphery of the field of view has been improved significantly." This seems true, but the few users who really need a flat field (mainly, star gazers) will probably be disappointed. This is no Swarovision.
Unfortunately, the flatter field (compared to Ultravids) visibly deteriorates the rendering of space. See below, 3D high fidelity.
Ease of view is excellent in low light and hints to very tight specs in manufacture. The view gets much more nervous in bright light with possible black outs at the image edge. Both too short eyecups and aberrations of the exit pupil could cause this.
Chromatic aberration control is at least as good as in the Nikon EDG so state of the art and seems to be much better than in the 10x42 Noctivid! So, one major issue of the 10x42 does not exist in the 8x42.
Astigmatism: There seems to be some and I see it mostly at infinity when it is not possible to clearly focus objects close to the image edges which are not in a plane perpendicular to the optical axes. I suspect that the EDG is a bit better in that respect but I would need to do some star gazing which is hard to do from where I live.
Residual aberations do not seem to deteriorate ease of view . This seems a fine and well balanced aberration control.
3D high fidelity. Leica claims on their website: "the latest optical calculations in sophisticated combination with state-of-the-art baffles and premium glass materials ensure image plasticity almost like in 3-D". WHY ALMOST? A BINOCULAR IS A STEREOSCOPIC DEVICE YIELDING 3D IMAGES.
It seems the Nocti has decent 3D rendering, better than Swarovision and EDG, but worse than Ultravid. Again, without proper global contrast it´s hard to tell.
I discuss the phenomenon of 3D high fidelity - or rather its absence - in a separate article. Photographers have long known this, mainly under the term of "Zeiss 3D pop"...
Eye relief is 19mm according to Leica. I measured 23mm. That is a lot.
Close focus with my eyes is a mere 1.6 meters and fully usable, similar to my Ultravid HD+ 8x32. A rare feature making the Noctivid a true macro glass. This also suggests a perfect collimation.
BEST CLOSE FOCUS PERFORMANCE EVER. APPLAUSE!!!
Compared to Noctivid 10x42
I had the Noctivid 10x42 only for a week to test it, and with no direct comparison which is always bad. But I noted a yellowgreen colour cast and flare issues. I found the 8x42 to have almost no chromatic aberrations where the 10x42 is troubled and a much better close up performance with respect to ease of view. The first should be a general feature, the second might have to do with a better collimation of the 8x42 sample.
The veiling glare issue spoils the Noctivid for me - I just grabbed the EDG more and more.
The EDG I have already discussed in detail and optically and ergonomically is a great glass. The Ultravid HD Plus 8x42 is still a lovely binocular, and even more so the 7x42. Both these Ultravids have qualities that the Noctivid does not have: a glare free image center under most circumstances, great colour rendition, 3D high fidelity, compactness, ergonomy, no blackouts.
So, the Ultravids are by no means outdated.
- very transparent view in low light - the binocular vanishes
- effectively boosted contrast in low light - a great hunting glass
- build quality
- best close up performance ever
- too high veiling glare levels spoil it for me
- colour reproduction worse than Ultravid HD Plus (maybe only an issue due to mediocre global contrast).
- sharpness (due to boosted contrast) is over the top, makes the images look digitally cold
Leica needs to solve the veiling glare problem and offer owners an upgrade.
For my taste they should also tweak the coatings and rethink their new strategy with artificially boosted contrast at the expense of colour beauty.
Then we can talk. There is great potential, great precision, and great beauty in the Noctivid design. But as it is now, it´s rather a seriously flawed design. An Ultravid or Nikon EDG might be a better choice.
About the bird
This is a jay, and it is a totally incorruptible bird. It never fails to call alarm whenever I enter its territory, and is extremely shy and wary. Probaby, centuries of being hunted have left their trace in the jays´ collective memory.
So I was stunned when a young jay suddenly appeared as a guest at our table. It acted with the bravery of the desperate and mental capabilities that left us speechless. Something was not quite right with its left wing and this bird was very hungry. Fortunately I had mealworms in store (to bribe all different sorts of creatures). The jay loved them, ate greedily, fell asleep, woke up and flew into our tree to take another rest. It reappeared - again very hungry - on my table when I had just started a little session of blue hour binocular testing. It had realized that I was the person with the mealworms, and - after it had refused worms and minced meat - followed me to a neighbouring plot of land where I caught grasshoppers which it took from my hands, sitting in an apple tree.
The jay returned for two more days for its share of mealworms. We named it "Quax the break pilot" (this is the title of a Nazi movie which I have never watched). Then it seemed gone and I was cursing the cats. One week later, the bird turned up again and my sister had found out the backstory. The injured young bird had been raised by a woman in the neighbourhood. She would let the bird into house in the evening and release it every morning.