Leica Ultravid 8x32 HD binocular


It’s difficult to imagine how enhancements can be made to a product that is already pushing the envelope of optical excellence, but when you’re a top-of-the-range manufacturer it’s clearly unwise to become complacent. It’s debatable whether Leica is underlining its commitment to continuous improvement or simply keeping up with the competition, but the company has upgraded its highly successful Ultravid binocular range with the launch of its new ‘high definition’ (HD) models towards the end of last year.

On the face of it, the new models look identical to the ‘old’ ones – but are they? With the old model unavailable for direct comparison and my 2005 review of the original 32 mm Ultravid BR (Birdwatch 159: 47) a distant memory, I set out to see what the upgraded version had to offer.

There are a number of significant differences between the new and old models. Firstly, the weight has decreased from 560 g to 535 g as a result of different glass types used in the new HD binocular. This in itself is clearly, for Leica, the single most important enhancement to the range and sees the introduction of fluoride glass which is said to further reduce light dispersion and image aberration, thus improving colour fidelity and image contrast.

In the field I could not argue with this. The colours are indeed excellent, as is the contrast. There is an overall high degree of neutrality to the image which, to my eyes, appeared a little cold in terms of general tone. Edge-to-edge crispness and pin-sharp resolution – a measure of the latter obtained by resolving the lines of a 10-mm barcode at almost 15 m – are commendable features of this binocular’s image, although I wasn’t able to judge whether they show significant improvement over the original model.

The manufacturer’s bold claim that the application of new prism coatings has increased light transmission by 3 per cent may not be readily apparent or measurable in general field testing, but the performance of the HD in the rapidly fading daylight of winter afternoons was impressive. Such was the perceived brightness, I consistently forgot I was looking through a 32 mm binocular as opposed to a 42 mm model, an impression I seem to recall when testing the original model some years ago.

Although many optics manufacturers have made advances in image delivery in recent years, not even the best of them has been able to eliminate chromatic aberration completely. It is not present in Leica’s HD to any disturbing degree, but I would be surprised if there is a demonstrable improvement in this area over and above the level of the original model.

Other aspects associated with the image are the lavish field of view which, at 135 m at 1,000 m, is nearly 4 per cent wider than that of the 8x42 Ultravid. The depth of field is also very generous, resulting in minimal adjustment to focusing for all but very close or very distant subjects. In respect of the latter, the HD employs new material pairings and high-performance gliding discs within the focusing mechanism, which ensure that smooth focusing is achieved at any temperature.

With just under one and a quarter turns taking the field from close focus to infinity, I found the focusing wheel certainly turned smoothly in cold weather, but had no opportunity to test this in high temperature conditions. I measured the close focus at 2.1 m, which coincided exactly with the manufacturer’s specification.

As in the original model, the eye-cups click-lock securely in three different positions. What’s new, however, is the ‘hydrophobic’ coating applied to the eyepiece lenses and the objectives, which prevents the build-up of dirt and, more importantly, water on the glass surfaces. I found that birding in the rain was no longer a problem: most water simply pearled off and just one shake removed all residual droplets. This is perhaps the one enhancement to the HD that is most readily apparent.

So there it is – the new Ultravid HD. In simple summary, this is a terrific performance from a very small binocular – a quart in a pint-sized pot. But it is not cheap, and you will pay a premium for the upgraded model, which now costs £100 more than its predecessor, the BR.

Tech spec

Price: £1,210
Size: 116 x 116 mm
Weight: 535 g
Field of view: 135 m at 1,000 m
Close focus: 2.1 m
Gas-filled: yes
Waterproof: yes
Guarantee: 10 years