Leica Ultravid 8x42 HD Plus review

 

15-9-2015, last update 26-12-2015

Test period: 21-4 - 2-6-2015, and from 11-11-2015
Serial Nr: 1631618. Second sample: 1634025
Origin of sample: Leica Germany demo

 

 



The Leica Ultravids have now evolved for more than a decade. I remember how I looked through a first generation 10x42 Ultravid in in a hunting shop in my university town in 2003. As a student I had been a proud owner of a centersharp and featherlight 10x40 Optolyth Alpin porro and short of money, so fortunately for many years quick looks through all the Zeiss Design selections and Victorys and Leica´s fat Trinovids to satisfy my curiosity I never felt really attracted to any of the roofs. But the Ultravid excited me instantly. What an image! And the slim body in the most beautiful German industrial design.

12 years later it was high time to get an Ultravid in my hands again. How would Leica´s latest generation, announced at 15-9-2014, at the outside only different from the predecessor in the red "HD" engraving - compare to the rest of the best?

From the six premium 8x42s I compared I found the Ultravid to be the best one for my purposes and my taste. It is not perfect, but the combination of stunningly beautiful images, amazing brightness, superb ease of view and very good ergonomy proved irresistable.


 



Mechanical quality


Body

This glass just slips into my hands and then it is hard to put it away again. Mechanically, the Ultravid is the best 8x42 I had for reviewing, there is really nothing to complain about. Friction of the bridge is perfect. Weight is 780 gram.


Diopter adjustment

is possible for more than +/-4 diopters and works by pulling out the wheel, with the front half of the wheel changing the right eye diopter, the rear part changing the left eye diopter, quite unique.


 



Focusing

The focus wheel of the first sample was smooth going and with even friction at any focused distance. The second sample was rougher with a lot of friction, but became smoother and more even going after a couple of days. 1.1 revolutions focus from infinity to close.

 

 


Internal blackening and baffling

look perfect and help to produce outstanding contrast.


Eyecups

have 8 click stops effectively, as you can not only fix the cups into the stops going upwards, but lock them also against the stops going downwards. Thanks to Renze de Vries for pointing this out to me. Eyecups never unlocked by accident. They have a thin, soft rubber coat on the hard plastic making them more pleasing on the skin.


Handling

The Ultravid is so compact I just close my hands around it and use it with ease. Like the SLC, I very much prefer it to the double/triple bridge designs.


Industrial design and finish

Hands down the most beautiful, modern, grown up, tasteful and functional industrial design of all roof binoculars I have seen. Professor Achim Heine was responsible for it.The rubber coating has a nice velvety texture, it seems to attract fine dust, but can be cleaned easily with a wet cloth. Everything exudes premium quality. This binocular even smells good. Seriously. Did they mix some Chanel No.5 into the rubber?

 

 




 


Optical quality


Contrast

Macrocontrast together with the Nikon EDG is class leading. Sharpness is very good and natural. Contrast at higher frequencies is very high down to the resolution limit with a beautiful rendering of textures and fine details. There is really something totally great about this glass, how it manages to squeeze out contrast from any scene.


Resolution
testing with the chart showed this glass to be outstanding. Resolution at open aperture was 3.79 arcseconds at 8.56 m distance, and 4.06 arcseconds at 4 meters distance from the chart, surpassing the DIN ISO 1433-2 norm of 5.7 arcseconds by a good margin. Resolution with objectives masked to 20mm (2.5mm exit pupil size) was 6.77 arcseconds at 8.56 meters distance and 6.44 arcseconds at 4 meters distance as with all other tested glasses.


Daylight and low light use
The Ultravid is wonderful on a sunny day, making bright scenes look incredibly vivid. In low light colour vision the Leica shines with a warmer tone compared to the Zeiss HT, and it definitely is a great lowlight glass. With open pupil, sharpness fall off towards the edges and vignetting is visible, similar to the HT, but the view remains comfortable enough. The Nikon EDG seems to have a more even performance across the field with open pupil, but is much darker.


Flare suppression
There is a bit more peripheral crescent flaring then in the other four. This makes the image a bit nervous looking against the sun. On overcast days and especially in the twilight the image is very quiet. Despite the peripheral flaring the Ultravid manages to keep very low veiling glare levels in the image center under most conditions, yielding beautiful high macrocontrast.


Colour reproduction

is something to marvel at, in fact these are the nicest colours I have seen in a binocular. I am sure the high transmission is essential for this impression - see below. Fitting with the high macro- and microcontrast we have together with the Nikon EDG the most saturated colours of all six 8x tested, neutral with a little touch of warmth, chrystal clear, vibrant. These "plasma coatings" work extraordinary well. The Ultravid 8x32 HD Plus has a bit more red in its colour reproduction.






 



Brightness

I am finally able to see the beautiful high transmission sparkle in a Schmidt Pechan prism design. I don´t care about brightness really, even with the HT I cannot see more in the twilight, but I want that magic sparkle in daylight vision, and it is in the clarity and vibrancy of the colours. The Ultravid has it, the HT has it, the Habicht 8x30 has it. The EDG, SE porro, SLC, Swarovision and SF don´t quite have it.

One sunny autumn afternoon I was out with the Ultravid and the EDG, and almost immediately stopped using the EDG because it is visibler darker. But the real eyeopener came with twilight. I was watching the crowns of poplars with the last yellow leaves, just after sunset, with crows flying in to roost. While the Nikon EDG view looked colourful, extremely sharp and contrasty, it also looked dark and lifeless. Seen with the Ultravid, the leaves seemed to burn in a most wonderful, vivid glow. I have repeated such observations often since. This is exactly the same phenomenon which made me drop the Nikon SE in favour of the Swarovski Habicht.





 

 



Distortion

is a classic strong pincushion, so panning and tilting are without rolling ball issues, although somehow the Zeiss HT has a nicer behaviour with even less warping.


Field of view

is numerically on the small side with 130 meters, but it feels wide and immersive due to the curved field and possibly due to a not too long eye relief. The flat field EDG for example has 135 meters, but often feels smaller than the Ultravid...


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, but perceived 3D is better than the flat field design of the Swarovision.


Close focus

is 3 meters, and the view remains very comfortable at close focus.


Chromatic aberrations

The Ultravid is very similar to the Nikon EDG and Zeiss HT, so there are visible chromatic aberrations at contrasty edges even close to the image center. I would not really dare to say anymore that the SF and Swarovision are much better. CAs are obviously unavoidable in binocular construction.


Eye relief

is 15.9 mm, about 1mm shorter than both Zeiss, and 3mms shorter than the Swarovskis. Again it helps keeping the design compact.


Ease of view

Ease of view is excellent - "open window" like - which hints to superb manufacture and a mature optical design. I can totally relax using the Ultravid.



 



Conclusion


The Ultravid seems to be optimized for compactness, extremely high macrocontrast, superb microcontrast, and highly saturated, beautiful colours. This is all achieved splendidly with minor trade offs for compactness.


Pros:

1. Most beautiful image with my favourite colours, high contrast, perfect sharpness, and awesome high transmission sparkle.

2. Extremely compact with great ergonomy.

3. Very good mechanics.

4. Great ease of view.

5. Premium build quality, industrial design and finish. Special prize for the best looking 8x42 binocular. You can safely wear this one ANYTIME ANYWHERE.

 

Cons:

1. Against the sun, image can be nervous with peripheral flares, worse than in the other five 8x42 tested

2. Numerically, a small field of view

3. Close focus of 3 meters




70 years of excellence... Ultravid (2015) and Leitz Binuxit (late 1950s probably)



 


Opinion


Excellence is delivering the goods, not specs on paper. And the Ultravid delivers in spades. Here we have it, the praised and ridiculed, obvious and elusive "Leica glow". Quite addictive, and it does suggest a great deal of expertise and superb craftsmanship. It seems the Leica guys know what they are doing (maybe they could do with a bit more offensive marketing though).

Check out the Ultravid if you want outstanding contrast, extreme brightness and most saturated, brillant colours in a small and beautiful package with perfect mechanics and excellent ergonomy.

What could be improved? I wish the focuser could be as smooth as in the Nikon EDG. Otherwise, the Ultravid is a mature design. Of course I like to dream about a wider field of view combined with reduced weight by using new materials for the body (carbon fibre?)

The Ultravid offers a spectacular view and feels right in my hands. Maybe it is good that some things don´t change too quickly.