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Leica 8X32 Ultravid HD review

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/13/2008 at 18:49
RifleDude View Drop Down
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Leica 8X32 Ultravid HD Binocular Review

 

Count me among the outdoorsmen who subscribe to the “lighter is better” philosophy as pertains to gear – as long as there are minimal negative tradeoffs involved with trimming equipment weight.  Since there is “no free lunch,” the penalty for weight reduction is often decreased performance to some degree.  This principle usually holds true with binoculars just as it does with hunting rifles.  However, there have been times when my full sized binoculars felt like a brick hanging from my neck towards the end of a long day afield, and I would have happily traded some optical performance in exchange for lighter, less bulky optics. 

Enter the premium “midsize” 32mm binoculars, designed to bridge the gap between full sized binocular optical performance and compact binocular convenience.  I have long felt that a top-end 8X32 roof prism was an appealing configuration, at least on paper.  In my view, whether in full-size or compact binoculars, 8X magnification offers a good compromise between ample resolving power for everyday use, and wide field of view and depth of field.  Yet, 8X does not amplify image shake to the degree that 10X and higher magnification does, which is especially important with a very lightweight handheld optic.  At the same time, an 8X32’s 4mm exit pupil is still large enough for reasonably bright images and comfortable viewing.  Although the compact size would seem to suggest serious optical tradeoffs, reviews of the alpha-class 8X32s I have read have concluded that they give up very little optical performance compared to their 42mm siblings.  Not only does a 32mm binocular usually have greater field of view than a corresponding 42mm model of the same series, superb optics can compensate for the slight loss in brightness and resolution usually inherent with the smaller aperture.  Equipped with the latest generation extra low dispersion glass, broadband multi-coatings, dielectric prism coatings, and quality construction, a well-designed alpha-class 32mm objective binocular provides image quality rivaling, and in some cases, exceeding most high-end full-size binoculars of the same magnification.

With this in mind, I began a search for a new, lightweight “go anywhere,” general purpose binocular that concluded with me adding a Leica 8X32 Ultravid HD to my optics collection.  Prior to purchasing the Leica, I had narrowed my selection down to it and two other 8X32 binoculars – the Swarovski EL and Zeiss Victory FL.  As expected, all three are very nice and appeared to me to offer very similar optical performance.  Each had individual features I preferred over the others, and if it were possible to combine the strengths of all three into one optic, the result would be my idea of the elusive “perfect” binocular.  Both the EL and FL had slightly more field of view and eye relief than the Leica.  The EL felt the most comfortable in my hands and had perhaps the largest center field “sweet spot,” but it appeared to have the most chromatic aberration and was the least compact.  The FL exhibited almost no discernable CA and had excellent image brightness, but I also thought it was the most astigmatic of the group.  Though appearance is a very subjective attribute, compared to the beautifully built Leica and Swarovski, I also felt the Zeiss had a cheaper, more “plasticky” feel and appearance that to me didn’t seem representative of an optic in this class.  In the end, I thought the Ultravid HD combined many of the strengths of the EL and FL, and though the decision was very close, I narrowly preferred the view through the HD to the other two. 

 

Initial Impressions:

 

The 8X32 HD is amazingly compact for a “midsize” binocular, even by 32mm standards.  Below is a size comparison to other 8X roof prism binoculars, clearly demonstrating its compactness.

(L to R:  Leica 8X50 Trinovid BA, Vortex 8X42 Razor, Vortex 8X42 Viper, Leica 8X32 Ultravid HD)

Despite its small proportions, it has a pleasing heft for its size and a rugged feel.  Handling the instrument gives the immediate impression of extreme high quality that I’ve come to expect from Leica products.  Fit and finish is flawless, with no excess play in the hinge, focuser or eyecup movement evident in my unit.  It features very attractively integrated strap lugs that partially wrap around the body and architecturally clean lines that give the instrument a stylish, understated elegance.  In short, to these eyes, this is one good-looking, well-made binocular! 


Ted


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/13/2008 at 19:18
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Very nicely done.  
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/14/2008 at 06:44
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This is an excellent review Rifledude. Informative, and honest. Thank you.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/14/2008 at 13:46
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Very good review Rifledude.

Here is an interesting question for you, since you have the binoculars on hand.

Ignoring size, ergonomics, etc.  Optically, is a 8x32 Leica better than a 8x42 Razor? or a different sub-$1000 full size binocular?  Strictly in terms of image quality.

ILya


Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/14/2008 at 19:17
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Originally posted by koshkin koshkin wrote:


Here is an interesting question for you, since you have the binoculars on hand.

Ignoring size, ergonomics, etc.  Optically, is a 8x32 Leica better than a 8x42 Razor? or a different sub-$1000 full size binocular?  Strictly in terms of image quality.

ILya
 
I certainly can't speak to all sub -$1000 full size binoculars, but yes, in the center of the field, it does have a little better image quality than the 8X42 Razor, in my opinion.  The improvement is very slight, and the Leica's better resolution and contrast is somewhat offset by more CA.  Though my sample is better in an absolute sense, in everyday use, the difference isn't significant, as the Razor (as well as other good bins in this class like the Meopta Meostar) is incredibly good for its price.  So, I don't think based on optics alone that the Leica is worth the difference in price over the better sub-$1K bins.  IMO, the $1K class bins available today come so close to the top-level bins optically that there isn't much room for improvement without design measures that significantly increases cost.  Where I think the 8X32 Leica really shines is in the fact that you don't give up much optical performance for the incredibly small package.  In that respect, it's one of those "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" deals.  I think the midsize class is one area where a top-level bin really makes sense because the size tradeoffs are largely offset by the premium glass.
 
What I was hoping for with this purchase was a binocular that would at least equal the image quality of a good $700 - $1000 full size binocular except in a super light and compact package.  In that regard, it more than fits the bill.  So, in essence, reducing weight and bulk was worth the additional $700 to me when factored over a lifetime of use, considering I planned to use it as my mountain hunting and bowhunting optic, where I'm covering a lot of miles in steep, difficult country while carrying a bunch of gear. 
 
BTW -- Chris made me a very good deal on it, so I didn't pay anywhere close to full MSRP.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/14/2008 at 19:20
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Thanks.

It will be interesting to compare your Leica with a Meopta Meostar 8x32.

As a general comment: how come noone makes a high end 7x32?  I would take that over an 8x32 any day (for my needs).

ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/14/2008 at 19:31
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Originally posted by koshkin koshkin wrote:

Thanks.

It will be interesting to compare your Leica with a Meopta Meostar 8x32.

As a general comment: how come noone makes a high end 7x32?  I would take that over an 8x32 any day (for my needs).

ILya
 
That's an excellent question.  My guess is that the optics manufacturers don't think it would sell very well.  I know there are a bunch of birdwatchers that would love a high-end 7X32. 
 
Actually, I'm not so sure any of the 32mm bins sell as well as the full-size models do. 
 
I do know that 8X32 is a very popular config among birdwatchers and naturalists given the enormous popularity of the classic Trinovid 8X32 and Nikon SE 8X32 among that audience.  Those two are considered "reference" bins at some of the birding-oriented sites.
 
I would very much like to compare the Leica to the Meostar 8X32.  Maybe I'll have an opportunity to do so some day.  Are you considering getting a Meostar 8X32 by chance?
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/14/2008 at 19:52
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I looked at the 8x32 Meostar over at SHOT show and it seemed like a very nice binocular.  My biggest beef with Meostar before was the eyecups, but they have improved them.

In the past, I used to have  Fuji Polaris 8x30 porro as my alround binocular, so an 8x32 Meostar could work very well for me.

There are three binoculars that I hope to spend some time with with this year:

Swift Eaglet 7x36
Vortex Razor 8.5x50
Meopta Meostar 8x32
Nikon EDG 7x42
Zeiss RF 8x45

The last two are very expensive, so I am not sure I can swing that (but I'll try).

ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/14/2008 at 22:16
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I would be very interested in hearing your impressions of any/all of those bins.
 
When you looked at the Nikon EDG at SHOT, do you remember if it had the same flatness of field and to-the-edge sharpness of the SE porros?  I've heard that combining some of the SE's best qualities in a roof prism was one of Nikon's goals for the EDG.
 
I looked up some info on the Meostar 8X32, and I sure like the published specs.
 
 
 
 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/15/2008 at 02:15
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EDG binoculars looked VERY sharp edge to edge.  That is what impressed me the most.  We'll se what production samples look like.

ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/16/2008 at 03:31
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Rifledude, excellent review. Perhaps I missed this point in your very through review, however, sometimes bino users find lightweight bino's harder to hold steady than perhaps a bino in the 8x42 class. Rest sssured, you have one of the finest, if not the finest bino's ever produced. On a possitive note, their light weight will seem unnoticed during day long hunting. Best of luck with your choice of one of the very finest bino's ever produced.
 
Roy
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/16/2008 at 10:17
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Great review, Ted. I was surprised to see the results of your low light performance comparison. That makes for an interesting choice in my next binoculars. I want to go smaller and these sound like the top choice.
 
Doug
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/16/2008 at 12:37
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Originally posted by Roy Finn Roy Finn wrote:

Rifledude, excellent review. Perhaps I missed this point in your very through review, however, sometimes bino users find lightweight bino's harder to hold steady than perhaps a bino in the 8x42 class. Rest sssured, you have one of the finest, if not the finest bino's ever produced. On a possitive note, their light weight will seem unnoticed during day long hunting. Best of luck with your choice of one of the very finest bino's ever produced.
 
Roy
 
Surprisingly, I have had no more trouble steadying the view in these than I do with my full-size binoculars!  I can't account for why, but I would bet this would be a problem in a sub-20 oz binocular if they had been 10X.  I'm really impressed with them, and they are so handy, I find I'm carrying them everywhere I go!  I wish they had a little less CA, and the short eye relief may be a problem for some people, but other than that, they are spectacular.  Of course, I also wish they were less expensive, but it's the same story with all the really good stuff.  I rationalized the price by thinking of how long I would enjoy using them and that made it a little easier to justify.
 
Doug,
I couldn't believe how well this little gem did in low light!  They are unbelievably bright for a 32mm objective bino!
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/16/2008 at 12:51
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Very thorough review Ted - better than I have read in many outdoor magazines.  You should sell it!
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: May/28/2008 at 23:06
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Ted, thank you for taking the time to write such an informative and thorough review. That was excellent!!  Super
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: July/06/2008 at 23:44
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Thanks for the review.

I think Eye Relief might be an issue for  me, but its  compact size is attractive.   I am  a fan of the 8x42 Leica format, which is compact so I cannot imagine how  compact 8x32 is.


Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: July/08/2008 at 22:16
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Good stuff--thanks for the heads up
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/03/2010 at 00:22
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Wow... great review.  I found this AFTER ordering the Leica 8X32's earlier in the evening.  I know some of the numbers add up to favor a couple other of the top brands, but it sounds like these really deliver.  I hope so, or I'll have to keep trying.
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