Welcome all to another review. Here I am looking at the rather posh Leica Ultravid 10x32 HD-Plus binoculars.
A quick preface as always: For the record I simply borrowed something from the good folks at Leica and used them as I would out in the field. I have not received a free pair to keep and there were no conditions of the review other than I return them in good working order.
Well once again you join me out on the African plains during of my photography workshops where I had the chance to test these ultra high end binoculars. Firstly thanks to Lucy from Leica for reaching out and seeing if I fancied giving them a whirl in the real world which, surprise surprise, I did.
As a short introduction, for my Safari spotting I am generally a 10x guy. Many if not most twitchers prefer the 8x range but for my use I am mainly after one thing, spotting cats across the plains. I was offered the pick of the Leica range to test and I instantly was drawn to their best 10x32 as that's my go to size. It offers far more light gathering abilities vs the very compact x25 sizes but still doesn't eat up tonnes of valuable packing space in my cabin baggage.
This extra 2x gives me that little bit of an edge over longer distances to spot the tell tale signs of feline activity. At some locations in the Mara you can see for many miles and we have to make a decision as to which way to head and this will dictate the photography for the day ahead so spotting the smallest clues can make all the difference. I do have a steady hand thanks to the years of practice getting sharp shots with the huge lenses so can deal with the extra jitter you may get with this magnification. Do be aware that Leica also offer an 8x option if that is your preference.
Followers my work and associated gear know I currently use the Kowa Genesis 10x33 bins. After my review of them I was very impressed and they have been my go-to recommendation for travellers that want a very, very good pair out on safari.
These Leicas could potentially change that and this review offered me the chance to see how a top of the price pile set would stand up. I was unfortunately unable to take both pairs away with me due to very tight luggage restrictions compounded by the few extras I was carrying for a project this time. I was more than confident these Leicas would allow me to get my job done so this is one trip the Kowas had to sit out.
DESIGN AND FEEL
I will qualify this and all the following sections with the fact I expect nothing less than the absolute best from these binoculars on all fronts and I will be judging these with a very critical eye. If you are spending £1300 on a 'smaller' (i.e not x40) pair of binoculars then they really need to be cream of the crop. As well in the aim of all honesty, they will be going toe to toe with the previously mentioned Kowa 10x33 Genesis.
In the hand they are solid, very solid. A smoother (black) finish compared to the Kowa's green armour. Not as 'grippy' but no slipping on the dashboard occurred and not even the slightest hint of bad workmanship is seen anywhere. They are very well made and a nice, appropriately solid weight. There is no overly weighty heft to them though and I feel very confident that these will take all I can throw at them on a 'regular' Safari trip and more (in fact they actually did). My gear sometimes has to deal with the rough and tumble of photographer life as my primary concern is positioning and getting the shot so I don't have time to baby sit my equipment in the car. The plains are dusty, sometimes soaking and the terrain rumbles the 4x4 unforgivingly on it's suspension every second we are moving. The Leicas took all this no problem and kept on going. Nothing came loose, nothing needed tightening and the only thing I needed to do is blow the dust away from the lenses every so often if I didn't replace the caps after use from time to time.
The viewing eye cups are great (for me at least, this is a very personal thing which I why I always recommend you try before you buy somewhere like the Rutland Birdfair as we all have different faces). I don't wear glasses when viewing but a few guests I had with me do and said they were comfortable to use. With some binoculars I need to jam my eyes right in there to get a clear view, these however allow a gentle placement on the face and my eye balls were completely enveloped and the view was comfortable and distraction free. Light leaking was certainly not a problem on these.
So onto the focus ring. This is one area where the Kowa really shined and I think still just outdoes these Leicas to be honest. The Lecia's was absolutely fantastic don't get me wrong, very nice resistance with the ability to focus exactly where you want to without the jitter that comes from a cheaper pair. A full focus range is achieved in just 1.25 turns and thanks to the tighter (but not too tight) tension on the wheel it makes focusing quick and very accurate. Clearly a lot of work and testing went into the mechanism. Personally I prefer the all metal knobs with the fine knurling vs plastic and rubber combination here but I know many who have the opposite opinion, it really is a personal preference. The Leica's certainly isn't fragile by any stretch though, I had no qualms with it's quality/durability at all.
Another nice touch is the diopter adjustment wheel. This is an extra focus wheel that allows you to tweak the right hand lens separately to compensate for differences between both eyes (we all have this difference). Obviously everyone is different so tiny adjustments are possible. The Leicas have a great locking mechanism used by pulling out the top of the focus wheel slightly. Once adjusted to taste it pops back in and can't be altered by accident as happens on some lesser pairs. The adjustment scale on the front barrel will come in handy if you regularly lend your pair to others, you can simply remember the number of your own adjustment rather than re-calibrating each time. A nice touch.
This is where I expect the Leicas to shine and for this price they should be nothing but the absolute best. They don't disappoint.
The view is as sharp as you could imagine it could get. Chromatic aberration (the odd colours you can get along bright edges, especial in the corner of the lens) is non existent. Certainly better than the 10x42 Swarovskis I also had access to on the trip as well (again, I compare them in the Kowa review as well), which have a fair bit of purple fringing going on along very contrasty edges in the view's periphery (I explain my disappointment with those particular Swarovskis in the Kowa 10x33 review). Compared to the Kowas I had the sense they were slightly, slightly out resolving them. As mentioned I didn't have both in my hand to compare at the same time, it is close, very close however but the Leicas may just... just edge ahead.
The Swarovskis were a touch brighter, but they are the bigger, heavier x42 model with a brighter spec so that is to be expected. However even at late sunset/early sunrise I didn't ever feel I could have done with switching over, the Leicas optical quality allows so much light through they had that feeling of actually being brighter than looking without them. I am sure that is a phycological effect perhaps where you brain expects the view to dim when looking through what is basically a tube, but it is something you only get with the very top end binoculars with 90% plus light transmittance. Once again seeing another high end pair going head to head with the Swarovskis and winning optically (the Leicas winning that is) makes me wonder if to get a tiny amount of additional brightness (Swarovskis are particularly know for their brightness) they sacrifice some other optical aspects such as chromatic aberration control? No such worries with these Ultravids though. Perhaps the sharpest image I have seen for a pair of binoculars. Every detail of your subject is apparent and I was able to find and subsequently identify big cat individuals (Malika and Fig for example) with ease at long distances and that is what I need these for so a huge tick there. I have reached out to Swarovski on a few occasions to compare their latest and greatest models but never hear back from them.
So in short, these Leicas are optically stunning, you will not be disappointed with the view no matter how picky you are.
One very nice touch is the water repellent coating applied to the objective (front) lenses. Leica call this "AquaDura". It basically means any water that comes into contact with the glass should bead and run off without collecting or smearing. If you have ever used rainex on your car windshield it is the same principle only a more permanent with no need to re-apply it ever.
We had very little rain on this trip but in one brief downpour I made sure to get those objective lenses wet and the coating worked very, very well. Most of the water did indeed run strait off and what didn't turned into small beads that flew off easily when gently shaken. No smearing was left and wiping was not required. This did work somewhat better than the Kowas and is a really nice touch. Especially if you plan to use them here in the UK during the summer 😉
I won’t dwell too long on this aspect as other sites (I recommend you check out Best Binocular Reviews and AllBinos) serve this purpose better than I. Suffices to say they stand up to their peers. Water/fog proof, great field of view and the like. Here are the highlights from the spec sheet…
Field of view
Field of view @ 1000m
Field of view at 1000 yards
Min focusing distance
I always find writing these sections about such high end products tricky in general. Usually because the product is of such a high standard you don't really have much, if anything bad to say about it. The one consistency (across many types of product, certainly not just binoculars) is the law of diminishing returns.
These binoculars are fantastic, pretty much optically flawless. They are solid, built to last and are comfortable to user for hours. Small enough to travel well yet big enough to deliver a bright view. Heavy and built well enough to last a lifetime but not so heavy you will ever leave them at home. You do however pay a premium. For some of you that really won't matter and for some of you it really will. If you are gunning for the absolute best x30 range binoculars you will not go wrong with these. If the price doesn't scare you then go and grab them, they will last a lifetime and do the job amazingly well.
If you are not the kind of person prepared to spend well over £1000 on a pair of binoculars then it's only fair to admit there are other options available that offer better value for money. Leica however never pretend to target this market and that's fair enough, they are a premium brand that screams quality. You do have to pay more for the absolute best simply because they are aiming for that last 5% which can be incredibly hard to achieve in an engineering sense and add of course that cachet the Leica brand certainly carries with it.
Stacked up against my current go to Safari binoculars (those Kowas) they certainly are just as good, if not a little better in the sharpness department. I never, absolutely never mind saving up a bit longer, or stretching the budget for gear that offers great quality that will last a long time, especially when it comes to my work tools. I do believe that if you buy cheap, you buy twice. However the improvements the Leica makes upon said Kowas (current average price on google around £650, half the price of the Leicas) are to be honest, reasonably minimal. They by and large keep pace with the Leicas in pretty much every department and in some areas (focus wheel) surpass them. As I said, the Leicas are a fraction sharper but not having the two to hand at the same time I couldn't confidently say by how big a margin. Whether or not that differences worth an additional £700 is something each and every one of you will have to decide for yourselves.
In short, if these were the ones you are thinking of buying, you will not be disappointed in any way. Be you a birder, ruggedly handsome Wildlife Photographer or Safari ranger these will serve you fantastically well and you will not miss a thing when using them. And do be aware the one and only reason I can come up with not to buy them is if value for money is on your radar. If it isn't, put your order in now.
Simply personal preferences as mentioned. Else I am stumped!
Top of the line, nab a pair if you are feeling flush! Great for anyone travelling on safari that doesn't want the heft of a larger pair. A superb score, if this is in your kit bag you will be happy.