Premier 7x42s - Leica Ultravid HD Plus vs Zeiss Victory FL vs Nikon EDG - reviews
3-8-2017, last update 27-2-2018
I bought these glasses new (Leica, Zeiss) or as demo (Nikon). Start of test period 3-6-2017 for the Leica, got the Nikon shortly after that for a couple of days only, 14-7-2017 for the Zeiss.
EXPECT A THOROUGH UPDATE SOON... I have had the Zeiss serviced to much tighter specs than Zeiss deems necessary for their alpha bins. Shame on them. I can only hope someone will manage to clean up the total mess their sport optics segment is in.
The Leica and Zeiss 7x42s are stunning, it´s a thrill and joy to use them and they offered me a lot of new insights into what great bins are about. In many ways they surpass the 8x42s I tested and real differences between them (EDG included) are easy to detect. I only wanted to keep one as my main glass, but which one?
I was impressed with the Nikon EDG 8x42 so I had to try the Nikon EDG 7x42, but this one was a disappointment. Firstly, I very probably had a lemon sample. Fantastic global contrast (great flare suppression), but somewhat underwhelming contrast at medium and small sized details. Secondly, the images look terribly flat. Really 2D flat. The Nikon has an extremely compressed rendition of space where the others offer steep perspectives with a great impression of threedimensional space (although the Leica has about the same stereo base as the Nikon, the Zeiss a couple of millimeters wider). The flat field also causes a tunnel view where the Leica with its curved field and pincushion distortion at the same apparent field of view feels like a wideangle. In the 8x42 shootout, the EDG was much closer to its competitors, would have been my second choice after the Ultravid. Brightness was about the same as in the Ultravid, which was interesting for me as the EDG 8x42 felt quite a bit darker than the Leica. I would love to give the Nikon a second chance, but my resources are limited.
I have tried the Noctivid 8x42 for an hour, and it is simply stunning. But I wanted to try the 7x42 Ultravid HD Plus since it has a reputation of being Leica´s best glass (before the Noctivid came out) with a proven designs and superb ergonomy. Indeed this glass has extreme contrast down to the resolution limit, surperb sharpness, vibrant textures, in short: sparkle - and offers perfect ease of view with superb ergonomy in an irresistibly delicious package (even in the smell department). The view is always relaxing, no searching for the right position, no hassle, no fiddling, no diopter compensations after the first one, but with generally an extreme contrast that puts to shame the Swarovisions and a pinpoint focus snap that indicates perfect manufacture. This is not a small achievement. Applause. Except one major issue: My little 8x30 Habicht with its 96% transmission is visibly brighter most of the time. Only late in the blue hour the Leica view becomes brighter due to the twice as large exit pupil. MAYBE it is time Leica gave us a 7x42 Perger porro or AK prism glass as the brightest in the 800g class. As Zeiss did 13 years ago...
Enter the Zeiss Victory FL 7x42. What a cool and beautifully designed glass, has real Zeiss corporate identity. Makes their newer offerings look a bit strange. 150m apparent field of view (very immersive), 2m minimum distance of focus (stunning), in daylight the same extreme contrast as the Leica, similar flare behaviour with a bit more veiling glare. But SO MUCH brighter due to AK prisms. In twilight (but with still good color vision of the user) this glass glows and renders color differences and edge contrasts that the Leica - though not consistently but in a couple of observations - cannot quite present quite like this. I doubt the 8x42 HT is visibly brighter.
The FL has one Achilles heel though. Ease of view is not the best compared to both the Leica and the Nikon. I attribute this to residual aberrations, especially astigmatism, in the outer field, about 50% of the field of view. This results fits very well with my experience with the Zeiss 8x42 HT, which - despite all it´s stunning glory - was always a bit more difficult on my eyes than the Ultravid and EDG! According to Bill Cook (check out his book on binoculars), a short minimum focus in a compact glass means the use of highly refractive glass, which gives rise to all sorts of aberrations which than have to be controlled... so there is a price for 2m minimum focus distance. Similar arguments would apply to the very wide field of view.
Unfortunately the success of the Swarovisions has has brought us SP prisms almost everywhere (if they are good enough to sell Swarovisions, they seem good enough for everything in the 42mm range or below). And quite ironic that the main advantage of SP prisms (compactness) is now vanishing with ever larger designs mimicking the Swarovision (Zeiss SF, Leica Noctivid). Even more ironic that Leica named their new flagship bins NOCTIVIDS without offering state-of-the-art brightness by use of AK or porro prisms. Then again, as the Zeiss FL shows, high brightness can also be a certain disadvantage in bright conditions. No matter how high the contrast, images will look whiter, and definitely less saturated than in darker bins!
The Zeiss FL´s transmission curve is skewed towards bluegreen, which moreover desaturates warm colours quite a bit. I love the industrial design in the Zeiss, not quite Ultravid class, but real classic Zeiss, much more pleasing than the somewhat strange SFs and HTs, and with very good ergonomy. Really not that much bigger than the Ultravid and nicely packaging the AK prisms.
The first curse of the Swarovision success story: FLAT FIELD as the paradigm for premium bins. But not for me. Nikon EDG is a telling example. I for sure do not want that, neither in binoculars nor in any lenses for imaging purposes.
The second curse of the Swarovision success story: SP PRISMS are good enough. Zeiss with the Victory FLs built very lightweight extremely bright and still compact AK prism glasses since 2004 whereas Leica in 2016 offers a somewhat heavy SP prism glass as their brightest. This is not innovative, because once you´ve seen a truly bright image, it´s hard to be happy with less. Would be great if Swarovski stepped in with premium SLCs with AK prisms in the 42mm class.
Leica Ultravid 7x42 HD Plus:
- Relaxed, most beautiful view ever due to perfect manufacturing, large exit pupil and not overstretched apparent field of view.
- Best colours. Very saturated, a tad on the warm side. I find them gorgeous, others find them oversaturated, which I would attribute to great contrast and less brightness than in the Zeiss Victory.
- Spectacular contrast down to the resolution limit. This probably causes the wonderful sparkle.
- Curved field and pincushion distortion for a threedimensional rendering of space with steep perspective
- Good field of view which FEELS much wider than in comparable flat field designs.
- Edge fall off is soft and very unconspicuous, I suspect good control of most aberrations
- Very good control of chromatic aberrations in the image center
- Perfect mechanics - hinge, smooth focuser, ocular cups with plenty of hard stops
- Superb ergonomics, it just fits me
- Most beautiful industrial design
- Not state-of-the-art bright compared with Zeiss AK prism design or my humble 8x30 Habicht porro.
- Minimum focus 3.3m - but how often do you REALLY need that...
- People who need high diopter compensation will find the focus throw may get too short due to that - needs factory service.
Nikon EDG 7x42
- Global contrast, due to very strong baffling and flare suppression
- Neutral colors
- Very good ease of view
- Flat field yields horribly flat impression of space. You look at a poster on a wall, not into space.
- Sharpnesswise a league below the other two, less microcontrast, probably a weaker sample.
- Some doubts about the focuser mechanics (grease in heat)
- Possible issues with losening hinge
- Susceptible for reflexions on the oculars
Zeiss Victory FL 7x42
- Contrast and microcontrast as good as it gets, with surreal performance and color differentiation in twilight (when the user still has good color vision) - best lightweight hunting glass ever.
- State-of-the-art brightness which feels very natural.
- Spectacularly good suppression of chromatic aberration on axis/in the image centre.
- Excellent mechanics, smooth focuser (!!!) and hinge
- Curved field and pincushion distortion for a wonderfully threedimensional rendering of space with steep perspective
- wide apparent field of view
- 2m close focus
- good ergonomy
- nice, classic industrial design including the Zeiss Z.
- LotuTec works really well, easy to clean lens surfaces
- Strong glare at low sun and a tendency for slight crescent flares at about 70% of the field of view
- Colours of the whole spectrum sometimes feel whiter/undersaturated due to high image brightness. The slight green especially desaturates reddish colours. The longer I used the glass, the more it´s colour rendition got on my nerves. When I watched a goldfinch and saw what the Zeiss does to its red cap compared to the Leica... well. This is the trade off for optimizing for contrast, especially for twilight and hunting.
- Residual aberrations, especially astigmatism (so it seems) lead ot a pronounced edge fall off and decrease ease of view compared to the other two.
- Only three hard stop positions of the eyecups. Friction is good though so inbetween positions work well
In the end, I liked the Ultravid 7x42 HD Plus most, due to ease of view, sparkle (microcontrast), colour, ergonomy, industrial design. It is a totally great and very underrated glass. My new master binocular.