Leica Ultravid 8x32 HD Plus review

26-12-2015

Test period: starting 11-11-2015
Serial Nr: 1634973
Origin of sample: Leica Germany demo pool




 


The Leica Ultravid 8x32 HD Plus (announced on 17-8-2015) is the latest version of the Ultravid 8x32 from 2003. It is the smallest and lightest of the premium 8x32s, and as such a very interesting binocular. Surely it is small enough to be a constant companion, but is it really big enough to offer an uncompromised performance? What are the trade offs involved in the 8x32 Ultravid design compared with the much bigger Ultravid 8x42 HD Plus?






What´s in the box?













 


The Ultravid comes with a neoprene strap, rubber ocular and objective covers and a Cordura bag (which strangely does not have a strap of its own, just the same as in the 8x42). The European guarantee is 5 years including material and labour, and another five years material only. The box is typical Leica seduction, they have the best corporate identity and art direction of all binocular manufacturers. It gets even better once you touch and see the real thing - this 8x32 is a very beautiful binocular. And the first look through it is definitely an experience. Could this even be sharper than the Ultravid 8x42...?



Mechanical quality


Body

An incredibly small pair of binoculars, just weighing 560g. Friction of the bridge is a bit too stiff for my taste, otherwise mechanical quality seems excellent.

 

Diopter adjustment
is possible for more than +/-4 diopters and works by pulling out the wheel. This is one of the very rare cases when I adjusted diopter once and only once without ever thinking about it again.


 




Focusing

in this sample is perfect, with even friction. The Nikon EDG 8x42 is the only roof prism binocular I have used with a smoother focusing. 1.1 revolutions focus from infinity to a close 2.2 meters. I never had any doubts about focus, so synchronicity of the barrels is really perfect (see "diopter adjustment" also...). This is a central quality of a great binocular.







The faint light areas around the pupil are the reflections of clouds on the oculars. These barrels are extremely well baffled and blackened.



Internal blackening and baffling
look perfect and help to produce outstanding contrast.


Eyecups

have only two click stops and they are on the short side. I used the Leica eye relief data for both the Ultravid 8x42 and 8x32 and measured the distance from ocular lens to eyecup edge. The 8x32 has an almost 1mm shorter eyecups in comparison to the 8x42. After I unscrewed the eyecups a bit to make them 1mm longer I felt more comfortable (cups were fixed with gaffer tape). The thin, soft rubber coat on the hard plastic cup has excellent vibration dampening qualities, helping to hold the glass more steadily.


Ergonomy

The Ultravid is so compact that at the beginning I had some trouble of holding it without vignetting the left barrel with my hand. After I solved this I quickly became excited about the excellent steadiness of the image, I do feel I can extract a bit more details from the view than with any other handheld not image stabilized binocular. When walking, the Ultravid stays flat on my chest, it seems to disappear when not in use.


Accessories
The wide neoprene strap feels very comfortable, and the ocular cover can be pushed on the glass easily and then stays where it is. I did never use the lens covers.


Tripod adapter
The very bulky Ultravid tripod adapter just fits with this binocular, but I would much prefer to have a thread in the hinge axis for a more elegant and practical adapter solution.


Industrial design and finish

Hands down the Ultravids have the most beautiful, modern, grown up, tasteful and functional industrial design of all roof binoculars I have seen. Achim Heine was responsible for it.The rubber coating has a nice velvety texture, it attracts fine dust, but can be cleaned easily with a wet cloth.


 



 


Optical quality


Contrast

Macrocontrast (contrast ratio) is superb, often similar to the phenomenal Nikon EDG 8x42. Sharpness and microcontrast are simply perfect. This is one of the sharpest binoculars I ever used, one of the very few roofs that could dare to challenge my Swaroski Habicht 8x30, or the Zeiss Victory HT 8x42, in sharpness and contrast. The Ultravids images remind me very much of the Nikon EDG 8x42, but have a bit more sparkle in daylight, although they are not brighter really.


Daylight, low light and night use
The Ultravid 8x32 is wonderful on a sunny day, bright scenes look superb. In low light sharpness remains exquisite, quite a remarkable performance. Stars look good across about half of the field.


Flare suppression
A really outstanding performance, and even more so considering the small size of this glass. There can be some veiling glare viewing towards a high sun, but generally the image is very clean. It is fascinating to watch in difficult situations, for example towards a low sun, and still have the highest contrast with very black shadows. I could scan very bright backlit water without glare in the view. There were some shocking moments of disbelief and I started to wish my zoom lenses could offer this kind of flare suppression. For me this is the key to understanding the merits of the Ultravid 8x32, as there is no really great optics without efficient control. There is a price to pay for that though - see "ease of view".


Colour reproduction

has less yellow but a tad more red than in the 8x42 Ultravid. These are beautiful, rich, vibrant and extremely saturated colours with deep blacks. It´s a slightly different, even crisper look than in the much brighter Ultravid 8x42.

 



Brightness

The 8x32 Ultravid at daylight used with closed pupil is visibly darker than the 8x42 Ultravid. This is puzzling and disappointing, because the 8x42 HD Plus shows what prisms made from HT glass can do. The aggressive baffling with a truncated exit pupil and a slightly more skewed transmission curve with a hint of red in the 8x32 will make the view darker, too. In lowlight things get worse, of course. Is there really HT glass in the 8x32 at all? I do miss the lovely high transmission sparkle of the Ultravid 8x42.


Distortion

is a classic strong pincushion, so panning and tilting are without rolling ball issues.


Field of view

is a good 135m.


Threedimensionality

is as with most roof prism binoculars not a strong point. The Ultravid has zero difference in the spacing of the objectives compared to the oculars.






Close focus
is 2.2 meters at 0 diopters, and the view remains comfortable at close focus, so the Ultravid is a superb binocular for the observation of small things.


Chromatic aberrations

are very well controlled and hardly noticeable, I would dare to say they are on a slightly lower level than in the Ultravid 8x42.


Eye relief

is 13.9 mm, definitely on the short side. Of course it helps keeping the design compact. I guess this could be a difficult glass for spectacle wearers, see also "ease of view".

 





Exit pupils

are visibly truncated. It´s easiest to see from the objective side - there is a segment of the image circle missing towards the lower outer part of the barrel - check the right lower part of this image of the right barrel. This is probably caused by Leica´s approach to minimize size while keeping macrocontrast as high as possible by aggressive baffling.


Ease of view

Hyper sharpness and extreme contrast yield awesome images. But ease of view is not as good as I expected, being used to 8x42s. With its very tightly baffled, even truncated exit pupils the 8x32 Ultravid needs to be adjusted with care both with regards to interpupillary distance (IPD) and eye relief. The latter is made even more difficult by slightly too short eyecups with only two click stops. As I do a lot of close up viewing followed by observations at infinity, I constantly optimize IPD to account for parallaxe. To me, the beautiful images are well worth the effort. A Swarovision 8x32 is much easier in that respect, but simply flares horribly. In bright light ease of view is best in the Ultravid, but it deteriorates in low light, and at open pupil I feel it is becoming a somewhat uncomfortable glass, although sharpness in the center remains perfect. Even with closed pupil there is some nervousness in the image when panning which seems to be caused by a tendency for black outs. Closing one eye and panning, I sometimes had peripheral blackouts which get somewhat smeared when using both eyes, as they do not occur symmetrically in both barrels at the same time. Kimmo Absetz writes in his comparison of the Ultravid 8x32 with the Zeiss Victory FL 8x32: "...when panning their image is less coherent than in the Zeiss. Black shadows also appeared on the edges of the field if I pressed the eyecups firmly against my face. Eyecups that twist out further would certainly have helped."










Comparing to the Ultravid 8x42 HD Plus


The Ultravid 8x42 is much brighter and has a much better ease of view in all light levels than the 8x32, but there is probably more to it than just the bigger exit pupils - surely the 8x42 has higher transmission, and its smaller field of view might help, too. The 8x32 looks even contrastier and sharper than the 8x42, which might primarily be a perception caused by its darker image with more crushed shadows, although this might also suggest that 32mm objectives are so much easier to design than 42mm ones. Anyway, the 8x32 can really be a great everyday companion, whereas the 8x42 is the better choice when brightness and ease of view are paramount during long observation periods.








Conclusion


Pros:

1. Optical performance - except from ease of view and brightness - is really amazing: Sharpness, colour, contrast, flare suppression...

2. Perfect, absolutely reliable focus mechanism.

3. Extremely compact with great ergonomy.

4. Excellent close up performance, great for butterfly watching.

5. Premium build quality, industrial design and finish.

 

Cons:

1. Ease of view is good but not great in bright light, and decreases considerably in low light. This glass needs some routine to be perfectly adjusted to one´s eyes but never achieves the Ultravid 8x42s great viewing comfort.

2. A visibly truncated exit pupil.

3. Brightness is lower than expected.

4. Hinge is too stiff.

5. Eyecups are on the short side and have few clickstops.

How does the Ultravid compare to the other premium 8x32s? The 8x32 Swarovision is not for me due to strong flaring. I am curious to use the Nikon EDG 8x32 and the Zeiss Victory FL 8x32, they might offer better ease of view and at least the same brightness - but can they really get close enough to the great qualities of the Leica to be better choices?









Wishlist to Leica


The main quarrel I have with this glass is less than ideal ease of view. This is due to the extremely compact design which is the essence of the 8x32 Ultravid, so I don´t really expect changes here. But I definitely would like to see a brighter image in the footsteps of the 8x42. The eyecups should really be longer and have more clickstops.



Opinion


The Ultravid 8x32 HD Plus occupies a special niche - extremely small with best image quality possible for that size if your emphasis is more on high contrast than on viewing comfort - and is probably quite successful in doing so. On one hand I miss the brightness and ease of view of the 8x42 Ultravid, especially if not observing in bright daylight, on the other hand the 8x42 always feels like a brick around the neck whereas the 8x32 magically disappears while not in use. Despite its flaws the tiny Ultravid embodies what a really great binocular should be - a door to a new world and a joy for everyday.