I started with Leica six years ago as a camera specialist. With a background and passion for photography, I was quickly swept into the world of Summicrons and Elmarits, but paid little attention to Leica’s purest optic: the binocular. After all, those were only for bird nerds and boaters, right?
Over the years, however, I came to realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now I always keep a pair of binoculars on hand. They’ve become an essential addition to my camera bag (see “What’s In My Bag” here). On a recent rock climbing trip to Utah, I used my Leica Noctivids to spot climbers high on Zion’s limestone cliffs. During a family trip to India, I used them to hone in on the architectural details of both ancient ruins and modern structures. At home in Miami I use them almost daily. Whether at the beach watching ships steaming into port, or hitting a local park and taking in South Florida’s plentiful wildlife, my binoculars are always within arm’s reach.
Whether a first-time binocular buyer, or a veteran birder looking to upgrade, researching and buying a new pair can be a confusing, frustrating experience. A big step in this decision-making process is choosing the right brand. For those of you who are familiar with Leica’s photographic lenses, you know the name Leica is synonymous with quality. Leica sport optics are no exception. Each binocular is assembled and inspected by hand, subjected to the highest measures of quality control.
Leica sport optics are built to withstand the harshest of conditions. All of Leica’s full-sized rubber-armored binoculars, from the entry level Trinovid HD’s to the high-performance Noctivids, feature a nigh-indestructible magnesium or magnesium alloy body and are shockproof. They’re sealed and filled with nitrogen making them waterproof up to 4/5m and impervious to fogging. Each outer element is finished with a water-repellent AquaDura lens coating, causing water to bead up and fall off. In short, they’re built to be used.
And Leica stands behind this. All Leica binoculars carry a no-fault 3 Year Passport Warranty and a Lifetime Limited Warranty. The Passport Warranty offers no-fault coverage; meaning if you do somehow manage to break your binoculars, Leica will repair them free of charge. The Limited Lifetime Warranty covers manufacturing defects and regular wear, as well as replacement objective (lens) covers.
So now that you’ve decided on Leica, the question becomes “Which Leica?”. Compact binoculars start at $499 and full-size binoculars run between $899 and $2,849. I often explain to people regarding Leica’s photographic lenses: Leica doesn’t make a bad lens. They only make good lenses and really good lenses. The same goes for Leica sport optics. Even Leica’s most entry-level binocular is considered a high-performance optic.
Breaking Down Binocular Basics
Since we’re going to be dealing with some complicated-sounding terms and a little bit of math, let’s talk about the numbers and lingo before diving into specific binocular models. For starters, every pair of binoculars is described by two numbers, for example: 8×32, 7×42, 10×25 (read: ten-by-twenty-five). Understanding these two numbers and how they affect your viewing experience is the first step in deciding which binocular is the best fit for you. Let’s break it down.
The first number denotes magnification. Leica binoculars range from 7x up to 12x with 8x and 10x being the most common. An 8×32 binocular magnifies the viewing image eight times the size of what your naked eye can see. In terms of a photographic lens, this would be equivalent to a 400mm lens. See, our eyes naturally equate to a 50mm lens in the full frame 35mm format, so when a lens is 1x magnification, it’s equal to 50mm. To calculate, simply multiply the magnification by 50.
MAGNIFICATION x 50 = EQUIV. FOCAL LENGTH
So, 2x = 100mm, 3x = 150mm, and so on. As a photographer, I have a tendency to put things into photography terms. I think of each individual ocular of the binocular as a camera lens, and our retina as the piece of film or digital sensor on which the image is being captured, the magnification of the ocular as the focal length of my lens, and the diameter as the aperture.
This brings me to the second number we see: the diameter of the objective lens where light initially enters the ocular (the front element). Think of this as aperture on a lens. The larger the lens opening diameter, the more light enters, resulting in a brighter image. While not a direct equivalence, there are many parallel concepts to a camera lens, which we’ll dive into deeper in just a bit. Full-size Leica binoculars range in diameter from 32 to 50mm, and compact binoculars range from 20 to 25mm. Basically, the bigger the number, the larger the lens diameter.
Now that we know what each of these numbers mean individually, let’s take a look at what they mean together. This is where a little basic math comes into play. Let’s take a pair of 8×42 binoculars as an example. If we divide the diameter of 42mm by the magnification of 8x, we’re left with a smaller number – in this case 5.25. This number is our exit pupil.
LENS DIAMETER ÷ MAGNIFICATION = EXIT PUPIL
What is the exit pupil, you ask? Let me show you.
The exit pupil is that tiny circle of light you can see coming through the lens. In the above photo, I lined up three binoculars, all with the same magnification (8x), but with different lens diameters. You’ll notice, not surprisingly, that the binoculars with the smaller diameter have a smaller exit pupil.
In terms of viewing experience, the smaller the exit pupil, the more your eye has to search (and strain) to see the entire image. Imagine being in a room with floor-to-ceiling windows. You can take in the full view while sitting on the couch. Now imagine being in the same room, but instead of expansive full-length windows, you have a single nautical bull’s-eye window. To take in the same view, you’d have get up close to the window and crane your neck up and down, left and right. Your eye, on a smaller scale, has to do the same when looking through a binocular with a small exit pupil.
Now let’s take a look at another series of binoculars, all with the same ocular diameter of 42mm, but with different magnifications. On the bottom we have a birding classic, the 7×42 Ultravid HD-Plus, in the middle the 8×42 Ultravid HD-Plus, and on the top the 10×42 Noctivid. You can see that the magnification of the lens affects the exit pupil just as much as the diameter, and that more magnification isn’t necessarily always better. By giving up some magnification, we increase the size of the exit pupil as well as the field of view. For those using binoculars for extended periods of time, the roomier exit pupil of a 7x or 8x binocular reduces strain on the eye, allowing you to stay out in field longer.
It seems like a no-brainer. Just get the binocular with the largest exit pupil, right? If only it were that simple. A larger exit pupil generally results in a larger binocular. This is where I equate binocular objectives to photographic lenses. If you’re familiar with Leica M lenses, you’ve probably heard of the legendary 50mm Noctilux-M f/0.95. Of the five 50mm M lenses Leica makes, the Noctilux has the widest aperture and lets in the most light, allowing you to photograph with almost zero available light. However, this see-in-the-dark lens comes at a price, and not just a monetary one. Tipping the scales at 1.54 lbs, it’s twice as heavy as any other 50mm M lens. While the Noctilux looks great on paper, once mounted on a camera body, some may find it too weighty for everyday use.
Just like a camera lens, the decision when buying a binocular comes down to weight/size versus viewing experience. For those who use binoculars casually and travel often, sacrificing some field of view for convenience and size makes sense. However, for those who will be doing more intense viewing, a full-size binocular with a wider field of view is a better solution.
Now that we have a decent grasp on lens magnification and diameter, let’s take a look at some of the other common terms we see thrown around such as field of view, eye relief and AquaDura.
Field of View (FOV) – Largely a function of magnification, field of view refers to how much of a scene you can see through the binoculars, and is measured in ft/m at a 1,000 yards. For instance, when looking through the Noctivid 8×42 at a scene 1,000 yds away, the binocular’s viewing image spans 404 ft of that scene. A binocular with a stronger magnification (10x) will have a smaller field of view than a binocular with less magnification (7x). While magnification directly affects the field of view, it is not the sole contributing factor. The optical design of the binocular also comes into play. We can see this with Leica’s line-up of full-size 8×42 binoculars. Even though the Noctivid, Ultravid HD-Plus and Trinovid HD all have the same magnification and lens diameter, each has a slightly different field of view. Generally, a larger FOV at the same magnification is preferable.
|Binocular Model||FOV at 1,000 yards|
|Nocitivid 8×42||404 feet|
|Ultravid 8×42 HD-Plus||389 feet|
|Trinovid 8×42 HD||372 feet|
Eye Relief – Measured in millimeters, eye relief denotes what the distance between your eye and the last optical element (where you place your eyes to look through the binoculars) should be in order to take advantage of the binocular’s entire viewing image. For eyeglass wearers,adequate eye relief is particularly important. Even though all Leica binoculars come with twist-down collapsible eye cups to adjust the distant between your eye and the lens, depending on the eyeglasses and the binoculars, it may not be possible to achieve the optimal eye relief distance, significantly reducing the field of view and overall experience. If you’re an eyeglass wearer, look for a binocular with greater eye relief (at least 15mm). The Leica Noctivids boast an incredibly comfortable eye relief of 19mm.
AquaDura® – A water resistant lens coating applied to nearly all current Leica binoculars, AquaDura® repels water and dirt and resists scratching. Raining? No problem, a quick flick of the binocular and the water beads practically jump off the lens.
So now that we’re experts, let’s take a look at Leica’s current line up of sport optics.
Released in August 2016, the Noctivids are Leica’s highest performing binocular and are a testament to Leica’s 110 years of experience in optical design. The Noctivid is the first of a new line of binoculars, boasting not only improved optics using 100% Schott glass, but also a completely new open-bridge construction for flawless ergonomics.
Even the naming is new. Take the famed Leica Noctilux-M again. I’m somewhat of word nerd and am always looking at how words are constructed. Notice the parallel prefixes: nocti-lux, nocti-vid. I can’t imagine this was a coincidence on Leica’s part. Noct- in Latin means “night.” Like the Noctilux-M, the Noctivids perform exceptionally well in low-light conditions. I often have people compare the Noctivid to the Ultravid HD-Plus by looking at a photograph at the end of a dimly lit hallway. The immediate response is always “wow.” The difference is staggering. The Noctivids’ light-gathering ability results in a viewing image brighter than what the naked eye can see. Even at dawn and dusk when light is fleeting, the Noctivids produce a sharp, contrasty image with perfect color reproduction.
Besides their optical brilliance, the Noctivids’ ergonomics set them apart. An open-bridge focusing shaft and thin optical tubes make the Noctivids easy to hold, even single-handed. Despite the Noctivids coming in slightly heavier (about 100 grams) than their Ultravid HD-Plus counterparts, they’re actually more comfortable to hold. The majority of the glass inside is positioned so that most of the weight rests in the palm of your hand. I find I am able to comfortably hold up a Noctivid to my eyes much longer than other binoculars of similar size and weight. Adding to the comfort factor, the Noctivids have a long eye relief of 19mm, making them ideal for eyeglass wearers.
Bottom line – the Noctivids are hands-down, not only the best binocular in Leica’s line-up, but currently the highest performing binocular on the market. If you want the best binocular out there, look no further.
Top Noctivid Picks – Both. The 8×42 Noctivid has a generous exit pupil, wide field of view, and a long eye relief making it great for boaters, birders, and just about anybody looking for an all-around amazing binocular. The extra magnification of the 10×42 Noctivid combined with easy hand-holding make it a great pick for hawkwatchers and hunters.
The first Ultravid (BR) was released in 2003 and updated in 2007 with the Ultravid HD. The Ultravid HD-Plus binoculars, introduced at Photokina in 2014, are the third generation of Ultravids and paved the way for the Leica Noctivid. The HD-Plus line introduced Schott HT glass, which substantially increased light transmission and redefined the viewing experience.
While the higher-end Noctivids are only available in 8×42 and 10×42, the Ultravid HD-Plus comes in eight different flavors, ranging from 7-10x and 32-50mm, making it Leica’s most comprehensive line of sport optics. The Ultravid HD-Plus’ are constructed using the same optical coatings and nitrogen-filled magnesium body as the Noctivids and deliver exceptional results. Because of the wide range of models available, Ultravid HD’s fit many different needs. The Ultravid 8×32 HD-Plus is Leica’s most compact full-sized binocular, making it ideal for serious birders and nature buffs who want to pack light. For those in need of a wide field of view, the Ultravid 7×42 HD-Plus with an FOV of 420ft/140m is the go-to.
Throughout the last 15 years, the Ultravids in all their iterations have been Leica’s benchmark binocular and several special editions were produced including collaborations with Hermes, Zagato & Aneas.
Top Ultravid HD-Plus Picks: The Ultravid 8×32 HD-Plus is the smallest full-sized binocular that Leica offers, making it great for hiking and travel. It’s the “baby bear” of binoculars – not too big, not too small – just right.
The original Leica Trinovid was announced in 1958 and was named it for its three (tri-) novel (-no-) innovations: a redesigned compact and ergonomic design, an internal focusing system, and of course ground-breaking optical performance. Unfortunately, this Trinovid – the first of this name – didn’t make it far. The cost of production was too high, rendering it unaffordable for even the wealthiest of consumers.
Sixty years of Trinovid designs have led to the current HD model. For this generation of Trinovid, announced in December 2015, Leica was not only able to reduce their production cost, they were able to develop the industry’s highest performing binocular under $1,000. Don’t let the lower price tag fool you though. The Trinovids feel and perform like a Leica should, incorporating Leica’s patented HDC and AquaDura lens coatings found in their higher end models.
Aside from the attractive price tag, the Trinovid HD’s offer several other class-leading advantages including an extremely close minimum focusing distance: 3.3ft for the 32mm models and 6ft for the 42mm’s. A close-focusing binocular allows you to dial in details of plants, butterflies and even the Mona Lisa.
Top Trinovid HD Picks – The Trinovid 8×32 HD is reminiscent of the much-loved Ultravid 8×32 HD-Plus. Similar in size and weight, the Ultravid HD-Plus of course has the optical advantage of the Schott HT glass, but the Trinovid HD actually offers a longer eye relief (17mm as opposed to 13.3mm) and a closer minimum focusing distance.
Compact Sport Optics
Leica compact sport optics appeal most to the casual binocular user – the theater goers and the sporting event attendees. Leica compact Ultravids and Trinovids offer high end optics in a pocket-sized package. Compact optics don’t offer the larger exit pupils and field of view of full-sized binoculars and will lead to eye fatigue sooner than their full-sized counterparts. However, for those wanting a just-in-case binocular, look no further. Weighing just half a pound and sized similar to a deck of cards, you’ll hardly notice these binoculars in your camera bag or travel pack.
Top Compact Picks – The Leica compact Ultravids are waterproof up to 16.5ft/5m, whereas the Trinovid compacts are only splashproof. This in itself makes the jump in cost worth it. Of the two compact Ultravids available, the 8×20’s has a larger exit pupil and wider field of view for a more comfortable viewing experience.
Now that you have a better technical understanding of binoculars, you can figure out which binocular suits your needs best. Below is a table comparing Leica’s current line up of binoculars using the different lingo and specs discussed in this article. Of course, at the end of the day, the best way to figure out which binocular best suits you is try them out for yourself. Leica Store Miami offers a test drive program for both local and out-of-state customers, so you can see what works best for you and your needs.
Field of View at 1,000yds/m
Close Focus Range
|Ultravid 7×42 HD-Plus September 2014||6mm||17||420ft / 140m||7.2ft / 2.1m||16.5ft / 5m||4.7 x 5.6 x 2.7in /|
120 x 141 x 68mm
|27.2oz / 770g|
|Trinovid 8×20 BCA||2.5mm||14||340ft / 113m||9.8ft / 3m||splashproof||3.8 x 3.6 x 1.5in /|
92 x 92 x 37mm
|8.3oz / 235g|
|Ultravid 8×20 BCR||2.5mm||15||341ft / 113m||6ft / 1.8m||16.5ft / 5m||4.4 x 3.7 x 1.5in /|
111 x 93 x 39mm
|8.5oz / 240g|
|Trinovid 8×32 HD May 2017||4mm||17||372ft / 124m||3.28ft / 1m||13ft / 4m||4.5 x 5.1 x 2.4in /|
115 x 130 x 61mm
|22.2oz / 652g|
|Ultravid 8×32 HD-Plus September 2014||4mm||13.3||404ft / 135m||7.2ft / 2.1m||16.5ft / 5m||4.57 x 4.57 x 2.2in /|
116 x 116 x 56mm
|18.9oz / 535g|
|Trinovid 8×42 December 2015||5.25mm||17||372ft / 124m||6ft / 1.8m||13ft / 4m||4.6 x 5.5 x 2.5in /|
117 x 140 x 65mm
|25.8oz / 730g|
|Ultravid 8×42 HD-Plus September 2014||5.2mm||15.5||389ft / 130m||9.8ft / 3m||16.5ft / 5m||4.8 x 5.6 x 2.6in /|
121 x 142 x 67mm
|27.9oz / 790g|
|Noctivid 8×42 August 2016||5.2mm||19||404ft / 135m||6.2ft / 1.9m||16.5ft / 5m||4.9 x 5.9 x 2.3in /|
124 x 150 x 59mm
|31oz / 860g|
|Ultravid 8×50 HD-Plus September 2014||6.2mm||17||352ft / 117m||11.5ft / 3.5m||16.5ft / 5m||4.7 x 7.2 x 2.7in /|
120 x 182 x 68mm
|35.3oz / 1000g|
|Trinovid 10×25 BCA||2.5mm||14.6||273ft / 90m||16.5ft / 5m||splashproof||3.6 x 4.3 x 1.5in /|
92 x 110 x 37mm
|9.9oz / 255g|
|Ultravid 10×25 BCR||2.5mm||15||273ft / 90m||10.5ft / 3.2m||16.5ft / 5m||4.4 x 4.4 x 1.9in /|
111 x 112 x 39mm
|9.4oz / 265g|
|Trinovid 10×32 HD May 2017||3.2mm||16||342ft / 114m||3.28ft / 1m||13ft / 4m||4.5 x 5.1 x 2.4in /|
115 x 130 x 61mm
|22.6oz / 640g|
|Ultravid 10×32 HD-Plus September 2014||3.2mm||13.2||352ft / 118m||6.6ft / 2m||16.5ft / 5m||4.57 x 4.7 x 2.2in /|
116 x 120 x 56mm
|19.9oz / 565g|
|Trinovid 10×42 HD December 2015||4.2mm||135||340ft / 113m||6ft / 1.8m||13ft / 4m||4.6 x 5.5 x 2.5in /|
117 x 140 x 65mm
|25.8oz / 730g|
|Ultravid 10×42 HD-Plus September 2014||4.2mm||16||336ft / 112m||9.5ft / 2.9m||16.5ft / 5m||4.7 x 5.8 x 2.7in /|
120 x 147 x 68mm
|26.5oz / 750g|
|Noctivid 10×42 August 2016||4.2mm||19||336ft / 112m||6.2ft / 1.9m||16.5ft / 5m||4.9 x 5.9 x 2.3in /|
124 x 150 x 59mm
|31oz / 860g|
|Ultravid 10×50 HD-Plus 10×42 September 2014||5mm||15||352ft / 117m||10.8ft / 3.3m||16.5ft / 5m||4.9 x 7 x 2.8in /|
125 x 178 x 70mm
|35.3oz / 1000g|
|Ultravid 12×50 HD-Plus 10×42 September 2014||4.2mm||13||299ft / 100m||10.5ft / 3.2m||16.5ft / 5m||4.7 x 7.23 x 3in /|
120 x 182 x 78mm
|36.7oz / 1040g|