28/03/2016
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Leica Ultravid HD-Plus 10x32 binocular

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From HD to HD-Plus, Leica's 32 mm Ultravid HD binoculars are the last in the series to be upgraded to a higher standard of performance. This is perhaps surprising as binoculars of this objective size have won considerable popularity across all brands in recent years, principally as a result of their improved performance, light weight and portability in the field.

The two binoculars in the range, 8x and 10x magnifications, are very small and compact. With the central hinge closed, they measure a mere 95 mm across the objectives and weigh just 535 g and 565 g respectively. While field-testing the 10x magnification model throughout the early part of winter, I frequently forgot I was wearing it, and on one occasion, when it was slung over my shoulder, a moment of panic set in when thought I'd lost it altogether!

The counter-argument is that users with large hands might find the models a bit too small to hold and operate with ease. They are nicely designed and engineered, though, with the strap lugs set high and away from the broadest section of the split dual focusing wheel. This operates as a single unit for general focusing and turns very smoothly, allowing your finger to be kept comfortably straight.

Pulling out the proximal part of the wheel operates the dioptre adjustment against a +4 to –4 incremental scale, which always remains on display and allows the optimum position to be set and recorded. Pushing the wheel back in locks the setting, while both wheels are adequately rubber-milled to enable use with gloved fingers.

The magnesium and titanium body is protected by a layer of non-slip rubber, which does not appear to attract particles of dirt, fluff or other undesirable items, with the same covering extending to the eyecups. When extended, there is more than enough softness and flexibility in the rubber around the rims of these to sit very comfortably against the eye.

The eyecups twist out, but they click-lock only when fully extended or retracted and not in any intermediate positions, which I found surprising. I was able to see the full field of view, 118 m at 1,000 m, in all instances. The latter is a fraction below the values of frequently compared top brands. As with the other HD-Plus models, there is only the narrowest of margins at the edge of the field where any image softness is evident.

I measured the close focus distance as 2 m, the same as the figure quoted by the manufacturer. The focusing system is fast, with just 1.25 clockwise turns between 2 m and infinity. Turning the focus wheel through just 120° — or one third of a turn — takes the focused image from about 6 m to long distance.

Not forgetting the magnification is 10x, this small model packs a punch. The image is pleasingly bright in both standard daylight and poor light conditions. This no doubt reflects Leica's remit to improve light transmission using a refined application process of newly developed coatings applied to the lens surfaces to significantly improve the transmission characteristics. When combined with new Schott HT glass in the prism system, the resultant effect is said to be a 5 per cent increase in light transmission over the original Ultravid HD.

The contrast and colours are also outstanding. The latter in particular appear to be well represented across the spectrum, with a strong degree of depth and saturation without the corresponding loss of brightness which is often evident in other models.

Birds are not always the best subjects to judge this feature and it's often easier to assess and compare colour characteristics using static features of the environment. In this instance the HD-Plus returned the strong, straw colours of Phragmites beds and the rich, deep copper colour of distant, sunlit Alder cones en masse — just two very different examples against which an image 'reality check' can be made.

I could detect no overall colour rendition in the form of yellow or bluish tones, and chromatic aberration varied according to conditions but was generally present at a low level. It appeared to be virtually absent in the central third of the image while watching wildfowl on reflective water, but was detectable to some extent across the whole image when subjects such as bare branches were backlit by sunlight. There was also some curvature of field evident at the image's periphery, but neither this nor the level of chromatic aberration could in any way be considered to be detrimental to the binocular's performance.

I found this binocular very comfortable to handle and a pleasure to use. Its performance is excellent — even before its size is taken into consideration. It comes with a very comfortable padded neck strap, an articulated rainguard and a soft carry case. As with the other models in the HD-Plus series (see Birdwatch 272: 66–67 for a review of the 10x42), the retail price of this model has been significantly lowered in comparison to the original HD, making it a very attractive potential purchase.

More info

Price: £1,375
Size: 116×120 mm
Weight: 565 g
Field of view: 118 m at 1,000 m
Light transmission: up to 5 per cent higher than Ultravid HD
Close focus: 2 m
Gas-filled: yes
Waterproof: yes
Guarantee: 10 years

Written by: Mike Alibone