Premier 7x42s - Leica Ultravid HD Plus vs Zeiss Victory FL vs Nikon EDG - reviews
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. Maybe the Swarovski Habicht will join later. Detailed reviews to come, but not soon.
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. They surpass the best 8x42s and real differences between them (EDG included) are easy to detect. I only want 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 it was a major disappointment and I threw it quickly out of the game. Fantastic global contrast (great flare suppression), but underwhelming microcontrast in the face of the competitors, and most of all, the flat field is horrible and for my taste spoils everything. 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 exactly 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. The focus mechanism of the EDG uses grease and on a hot day in strong sunshine was not reliable anymore, getting asynchronous especially in close focus. EDG stands for EDGE. EDGE of extinction probably (in the 8x42 shootout, the EDG was much closer to its competitors, which also shows how good the Zeiss and Leica 7x42s really are).
I was not attracted by the Leica Noctivid design (double bridge, focuser position, Swarovision shape and price), and really wanted to try the 7x42 Ultravid HD Plus since it has a reputation of being Leica´s best glass (before the Noctivid came out). Indeed it has 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 perfectly easy, no searching for the right position, relaxing for hours, no hassle, no fiddling, no diopter compensations after the first one, but with a consistently extreme contrast that puts to shame the Swarovisions and a 100% sharpness snap that indicates perfect manufacture. This is not a small achievement. The best bins I have used so far. 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.
Enter the Zeiss Victory FL 7x42. 150m apparent field of view (a nice bonus, but not that spectacular), 2m minimum distance of focus (simply 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 the Leica simply cannot present like this. Weird and wonderful (later with black and white vision these differences vanish). This glass has changed my view on the importance of brightness. I doubt the 8x42 HT is visibly brighter.
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. This marketing lie ridicules their own brand and the intelligence of their customers as the Noctilux with its SP prisms inherently cannot excel in dim conditions as the name clearly suggests.
Back to the Zeiss FL. Biggest surprise for me were the neutral colors, I was expecting more of a visible green bias, but no. This is adorable Zeiss tradition before they went over the top with the coatings of the first SFs (probably to counterbalance a bit too high tolerances in manufacture). The darker Leica glass understandably has more saturated colours which are lovely but less natural, fantastic in bright situations but lacking a bit of sparkle in twilight. I love the industrial design in the Zeiss FL, not quite Ultravid class, but classic Zeiss, much more pleasing than the somewhat strange SFs and HTs, and with very acceptable ergonomy. Really not that much bigger than the Ultravid and nicely packaging the AK prisms.
Some conclusions for now:
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. With all respect, Leica should offer more than repackaging an evolved Ultravid into Swarovision shape. I would love state-of-the-art bright binoculars in the 800g range from them. They can choose from their own Perger Porro technology or rely on AK prisms as Zeiss did and Zeiss and Swarovski do for their 54/56mm glasses. Get rid of with the compactness paradigm which they did anyway with the Noctivid. Would be great if Swarovski stepped in with premium SLCs with AK prisms in the 42mm class. If only the SLCs were not so ugly.
Some conclusions so far:
Leica Ultravid 7x42 HD Plus:
- Easiest, most beautiful view ever due to perfect manufacturing, large exit pupil and not overstretched apparent field of view.
- 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 very bright compared with Zeiss AK prism design or my humble 8x30 Habicht porro.
- Minimum focus 3.3m
- People who need high diopter compensation will find the focus throw may get too short due to that - needs factory service.
- Colors are a bit on the warm side and some people find them unnaturally oversaturated.
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
- Doubtful 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)
- State-of-the-art brightness which feels very natural.
- Excellent mechanics, smooth focuser (!!!) and hinge
- Curved field and pincushion distortion for a wonderfully threedimensional rendering of space with steep perspective
- Neutral, natural colors
- Excellent control of chromatic aberrations in the central image circle and even in unsharp image parts (spherochromatism).
- 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
- Pronounced edge fall off due to wide field of view
- Only three hard stop positions of the eyecups. Friction is good though so inbetween positions work well