Leica Noctivid 8x42 review
Leica magic... gone.
11-6-2020, last revision: 14-12-2020
Serial Nr.: 2196211
Test period: 29-5-2019 - 13-12-2020
Origin of sample: my own
Disappointed love is a strong emotion, so this review is going to be even more subjective than usual.
I love the Leica Ultravid HD+ binoculars I own (8x32), have owned and will hopefully own again (7x42) and have used a lot (8x42). Their only competitor in SP prims designs when a deep, natural rendering of space is paramount is the Swarovski SLC8x42.
So, my hopes for the Leica Noctivid performance were very high.
But Leica has made some bad decisions in designing the Noctivids, so that I consider them to be a step backwards from their predecessors.
1.The Ultravid HD+s are small (8x42) to very small (8x32) for their quality.
2.They have a classic curved field with excellent, deep rendering of space for a SP prism glass.
3.Their ergonomy is superb.
The Noctivid fails in all 3 categories. I could live with 1. and 3. being less than optimal. But what really killed the Leica magic is the improved field flattening in the Noctivid. It was enough to destroy the natural rendering of space (3D pop), but will not satisfy fans of a Swarovision flat field either, especially astronomers, as there is visible astigmatism.
I don´t have a clue if Leica is happy with the sales of the Noctivid, but they may have put themselves between a rock and a hard place with their design approach, chasing the Swarovision, instead of evolving their line adhering to their strengths.
Isn´t it ironic that Swarovski has just abandoned the double hinge for their top model, the NL Pure?
Binoculars can only be judged well in direct comparison, so:
Comparing the Noctivid to my Nikon EDG, the EDG
- has MUCH better flare suppression and global contrast in bright light
- much better ergonomy
- more neutral colour (more blue).
- a more pleasing microcontrast: the Noctivid is oversharp especially in daylight.
Comparing the Noctivid to my Swarovski SLC, the SLC
- clearly has a MUCH deeper, more natural rendering of space. This difference is so blatantly obvious it made me laugh at first. And then made me curse ever since.
- surprisingly feels MUCH brighter due to contrast boost with yellowgreen colour bias (Nocti has better colours instead, yellow but without green).
- a much more pleasing microcontrast without being oversharp. SLC has a beautiful washed clean look almost like an AK prism glass where Noctivid looks digitally cold.
For hunters, the SLC simply blows away the Noctivid at a fraction of the price, because of 3D and brightness.
Moreover, both competitors do not suffer from the blackouts I get with the Noctivid in bright light. In fact, this is the only glass ever in which I cannot manage blackouts sufficiently (and I never had issues with the infamous Nikon SE).
The Noctivid 8x42 has an excellent close up performance, much better than its 10x42 sibling I tested.
Otherwise, impeccable build quality for sure. Jay approved.
Mechanically, the Noctivid is simply gorgeous. Probably the very best 8x42 I have used in this respect. It feels indestructible, the focuser is as smooth as it gets, with a very good short focus throw, and all accessories are perfect except the thin plastic ring of the ocular covers which easily breaks if you should ever try to take them off again.
I trust this glass to perform well for decades, mechanically.
The Ultravids are not outdated at all. The offer more consistent global contrast, better 3D high fidelity, and much better ergonomy in a tinier package.
Is the view better elsewhere?
Build quality: Seems to be the best of the modern 8x42 binoculars I have tested. Tanklike yet refined, with 100% dedication of the designers to get all the details right (unfortunately I strongly disagree with some of their decisions in the optical department). Ocular and objective covers work like a charm, slip on easily and stay firmly where they should. Focuser and hinge friction are just perfect. Eyecups lock absolutely solid. The Noctivid is a bit heavier than most competitors but the weight is just what you expect given the extremely good build quality.
This should be an extremely reliable, long lived product. It simply puts to shame the Nikon EDG with its useless covers, loose hinge and loose diopter wheel. It makes the Zeiss SF look cheap. It ridicules the rough and uneven Swarovision focusers.
Ergonomy: I do have the impression this glass is harder to hold steady than single hinge designs. Ergonomically, Leica suggests on their website "the easy grip of the binoculars’ tubes with one hand offers the user the unexpected freedom of holding an umbrella or a walking stick – you always have one hand free." Not only is it a dumb idea to hold a binocular with one hand for observation, but also I am hardly able to hold the Noctivid in one hand while carrying it. The gap between the two tubes is way too narrow with my hand size and interpupillary distance. It is a double hinge but not a reasonably usable open bridge design for me. What probably happened here is that Leica insisted to have a double hinge (the Swarovision, you know...) and a compact design. In this respect the bulky Zeiss SF gets it right, and the Noctivid does not.
My hope for the Noctivid 8x32 is that Leica goes for a more compact single hinge design.
The double hinge is giving prospective buyers the impression that this is a serious Swarovision contender and totally new Leica design when in fact - so the Leica PR suggests - it is an evolution of the Ultravid design.
Safer birding with Leica build quality
The focuser is the best ever. Velvety smooth like in a Nikon EDG. Simply fantastic. It puts to shame any Swarovski glass. There must be some grease somewhere here. 1.75 revolutions from close to infinity. 0.8 revolutions from 3.2meters to infinity (the SLC has 1.6).
Hinge friction is perfect.
Eyecups lock in 3 positions (plus zero position) and 1 "backwards" position. And they will stay there no matter where you go.
Diopter adjustment works perfectly by pulling out from the focus knob, +/-4 is displayed, but there is a bit of headroom, not very much though. Unlike with the Nikon EDG and many other glasses, you are never in doubt about the perfect diopter setting, the image just snaps when you reach it.
Internal blackening looks great from the ocular side, a very matte black everywhere in low light intensities. Blackening seen from the objective side looks worse, a weak point is the quite reflective field stop baffle.
Weight is 860g according to Leica, quite a lot, but it just fits with the build quality.
The Noctivid feels like a true top quality product and - as expected from Leica - the industrial design is superb. Why don´t Zeiss and Swarovski build such beautiful glasses?
Accessories: Objective covers work perfectly and stay where they should when closed. Ocular cover slips on almost automatically. Try this with a Nikon EDG, and you will fail miserably.
A small but important feast of clever engineering: Objective and lens covers are brillantly designed and executed and really work like a charm. Applause!
Smell: Irresistable. Chanel No.5 impregnated plastic shell.
Brillant design of the lens covers, so that they slip on without resistance but stay closed tightly.
Global contrast and flare suppression: The Noctivid 8x42 offers superb suppression of peripheral, crescent flares flashing into the image from internal reflections of the sun, especially at the objective cell. In low light there are close to no flares, even when scanning dark woods with bright skies above. This a superb performance hunters and nature lovers who are observing a lot in twilight will appreciate.
In daylight the Noctivid image often breaks down, though. In strong backlight there is a lot of veiling glare, and very often just a touch of veiling glare making the images flat.
I even had a kind of slight halo effect when watching a white foxglove flower frontlit by strong sun.
This glass in my view has a veiling glare problem, especially compared to the excellent Nikon EDG, but also compared to the Ultravids 8x32/7x42.
The Ultravids suffer much more from bright peripheral flares but manage to keep the image center free from veiling glare pretty well. The Noctivid is the opposite.
Flare suppression comparison is always a difficult thing because small changes in position may have huge effects. But the Nikon EDG puts the Noctivid to shame in the flare department.
I am still comparing the flare issue compared to the Swarovski SLC, which is also a disappointing glass in strong backlight with too much flare.
Feels indestructible. Birdproof. My guess: decades of troublefree use ahead...
I am sure Leica tried to blacken this glass well, but doubt they went far enough. There are some nasty reflections when using an LED torch to inspect the inside.
When I managed to provoke especially strong veiling glare with the Noctivid on a tripod against the sun, the source of glare on that occasion clearly was the field stop baffle, which shone a bright, blinding white, and seemed more reflective than the rest of the barrel interior.
As I was shielding off the sun when photographing into the barrel, you will not see the intensity of the light being reflected.
The field stop baffle has - see below - a sharp, curved edge, and it moreover has a concave part and straight part below that. Light will be scattered at many different angles.
Two other less than convincing details:
A reflective baffle between the prisms. Seems to be bigger and more reflective than in the Ultravids.
An unblackened brass knob at the base of the focuser axis.
Microcontrast: Global contrast issues aside - which of course spoil microcontrast - high contrast from big to medium to small objects with an emphasis on sharpness (edge contrast of big objects).
This is a brutally sharp glass. Too sharp even for my eyes. Sharpness is easy to achieve, and it generally wows people, and counteracts deficiencies of the images. The Nikon EDG and the Ultravids for me give a more natural sharpness. This is of course dependent on your visual acuity, weaker eyes may profit from this high sharpness. It is generally also a good thing in low light.
My guess is Leica also did this because they did not boost the contrast much by introducing a colour bias, the way Zeiss always does and Swarovski does in the SLC line.
Colour reproduction. Leica claims: "The colour rendition of the Noctivid binoculars is (...) extraordinarily close to the point of absolute colour neutrality (achromatic point)." I was really doubting that but could not detect a strong cast by photographing through the glass. Gijs van Ginkel´s transmission curves suggest a slight yellow cast of the Noctivid. If Leica were right about a more neutral image that might also mean that Ultravids have slightly more boosted contrast.
Brightness. What we perceive as brightness differences in SP prism glasses is probably much more caused by boosted contrast by skewed transmission than simply more transmission. Most transmission curves are not flat but uneven, introducing a colour bias. The Noctivid seems to have some cutoff in the blue spektrum, but - unlike the Swarovski SLC or many Zeiss glasses - does render the full red spektrum. That means it has a slight yellow cast and slightly boosted contrast. The SLC has a much stronger boosted contrast by cutting off more red and therefore introducing a yellowgreen cast. This increases the perceived contrast, which is also seems to increase perceived brightness.
The SLC images look way brighter than Noctivid images.
Nikon EDG images with their very flat transmission curve look much darker and duller than SLC images, especially in low light, and a bit darker than Noctivid images.
Noctivid (on top) vs EDG objective coatings. Both low intensity and similar under overcast sky, tobacco and olive.
BUT: The Noctivid (on the top) has high intensity blue reflection on the oculars though, much bluer than the Nikon EDG 8x42 and the Leica Ultravid 8x32 HD Plus - see below. This may hint to more yellow in the transmission curve - which is what I see.
top: Ultravid 7x42, bottom: Noctivid 10x42. Note the tobacco coloured reflection in the NV, see also below:
Distortion is strong pincushion, panning behaviour perfect with no warping and quite a bit better than in the 7x42 Ultravid.
Apparent field of view is 135m according to Leica. Again, don´t let you ever be fooled by numbers in a specification sheet. This field feels very wide and immersive, due to pincushion distortion. Designs with less pincushion (Swarovision, Zeiss SF) seem to need wider fields of view to feel as wide as a pincushion distorted glass! And this leads to failures like the Zeiss SF - 148 meters apparent field of view but horrible panning behaviour - a very nervous image due to complex, uneven distortion.
Field curvature is slight but visible, the field curves towards the viewer (that is, when the image center is in focus, at the edges more distant objects than those in the center will be in focus). Leica claims: "Thanks to the modification of the radii at the lens surfaces, the sharpness towards the periphery of the field of view has been improved significantly." This seems true, but the few users who really need a flat field (mainly, star gazers) will probably be disappointed. This is no Swarovision.
Unfortunately, the flatter field (compared to Ultravids) visibly deteriorates the rendering of space. See below, 3D high fidelity.
Ease of view is excellent in low light, suggesting good aberration control and very tight specs in manufacture. The view gets much more nervous in bright light with a tendency for black outs at the image edge. As longer eyecups would vignette the image I attribute the blackouts to aberrations of the exit pupil.
Chromatic aberration control is at least as good as in the Nikon EDG so state of the art and seems to be much better than in the 10x42 Noctivid! So, one major issue of the 10x42 does not exist in the 8x42. Strange.
Astigmatism: There seems to be some and I see it mostly at infinity when it is not possible to clearly focus objects close to the image edges which are not in a plane perpendicular to the optical axes. I suspect that the EDG is a bit better in that respect but I would need to do some star gazing which is hard to do from where I live.
Residual aberations do not seem to deteriorate ease of view . This seems a fine and well balanced aberration control, but astronomers will probably not find it sufficient.
3D high fidelity. With the flatter field compared to Ultravids comes a much flatter image. It is a bit deeper than the Nikon EDG, but much less 3D than SLC and Ultravids.
I discuss the phenomenon of 3D high fidelity - or rather its absence - in a separate article. Photographers have long known this, mainly under the term of "Zeiss 3D pop"...
Eye relief is an ample 19mm according to Leica and I measured even a bit more.
Close focus with my eyes is a mere 1.6 meters and fully usable, similar to my Ultravid HD+ 8x32. A rare feature making the Noctivid a true macro glass. This also suggests a perfect collimation.
BEST CLOSE FOCUS PERFORMANCE EVER.
Compared to Noctivid 10x42
I had the Noctivid 10x42 only for a week to test it, and with no direct comparison which is always bad. But I also noted flare issues. I found the 8x42 to have almost no chromatic aberrations where the 10x42 is troubled and a much better close up performance with respect to ease of view. The first should be a general feature, the second might have to do with a better collimation of the 8x42 sample.
- state of the art build quality!
- best close up performance ever
- very transparent view in low light
- slightly boosted contrast in low light due to yellow bias
- good colours
- 3D pop and natural rendering of space MUCH inferior to Ultravids and SLC (but better than in Swarovision and EDG)
- veiling glare issues
- unconvincing ergonomy
- tendency for blackouts in intense light/at closed pupil
- exaggerated sharpness makes the images look digitally cold in good light
One and a half years of using this glass satisfied my curiosity. The Noctivid is not really my cup of tea.
I was even more disappointed when I started comparing it with the Swarovski SLC. As the SLC is the best 8x42 for my taste and mostly makes me smile except in bright backlight, I do not complain.
Hunters should prefer the SLC if they are looking for an 8x42. But I would also recommend the SLC to birders. The Noctivid will give more natural colours though, a better build quality, a more comfortable and faster focuser, and spectacular close up performance.
I hope Leica will make wiser design choices in a possible 8x32 Noctivid. They need to evolve keeping their brand´s strengths instead of trying to imitate the Swarovision. The 8x32 niche is wide open with no really convincing competitor so far.
About the bird
This is a jay, and it is a totally incorruptible bird. It never fails to call alarm whenever I enter its territory, and is extremely shy and wary. Probaby, centuries of being hunted have left their trace in the jays´ collective memory.
So I was stunned when a young jay suddenly appeared as a guest at our table. It acted with the bravery of the desperate and mental capabilities that left us speechless. Something was not quite right with its left wing and this bird was very hungry. Fortunately I had mealworms in store (to bribe all different sorts of creatures). The jay loved them, ate greedily, fell asleep, woke up and flew into our tree to take another rest. It reappeared - again very hungry - on my table when I had just started a little session of blue hour binocular testing. It had realized that I was the person with the mealworms, and - after it had refused worms and minced meat - followed me to a neighbouring plot of land where I caught grasshoppers which it took from my hands, sitting in an apple tree.
The jay returned for two more days for its share of mealworms. We named it "Quax the break pilot" (this is the title of a Nazi movie which I have never watched). Then it seemed gone and I was cursing the cats. One week later, the bird turned up again and my sister had found out the backstory. The injured young bird had been raised by a woman in the neighbourhood. She would let the bird into house in the evening and release it every morning.