The new kids on the Leica block undergo our rigorous testing, but how do they fare?
THIS YEAR’S BIRDFAIR saw the unveiling of the Noctivids – billed as Leica’s best ever binocular and new contenders at the top end of the market. The German-made Noctivid range is small and very well put together, just like the bird that inspired it, the Little Owl, Athene noctua, which Leica describe as “a symbol of wisdom and perfectly adapted to its environment”. That’s quite something for the Noctivids (which come as an 8x42 and a 10x42) to live up to. Leica lent me a pre-production 8x42 binocular to check out.
These are open-bridge binoculars of a simple, elegant design with no indents or ridges to tell you where to put your thumbs, which is fine by me! The Noctivid feels solid and has substantial barrels to wrap your hands around – I liked that and could hold and focus with one hand, albeit with a little wobble. At 860g they are not light but the balance is very good and I never found the weight an issue. And, of course, they’re waterproof. The focusing wheel came to hand easily enough, is one-and-half fingers wide and moved very smoothly against light resistance, clockwise towards infinity. There are two revolutions of travel, and you do have to wind it in for very close focus; but for standard birding you won’t move it more than about a quarter of a turn. The eyecups have two intermediate positions and do something peculiar at around full extension – it’s hard to explain, but once I had them fully up they stayed there. And with 19mm of eyerelief, these should work for glasses wearers. Dioptre adjustment takes the traditional Leica approach – pull up the focus wheel, adjust, push down to lock.
The view is easy on the eyes, natural, comfortable and relaxed, with excellent focusing precision. The Noctivid can deliver a great view – clean and crystal clear, a view you can explore, letting your eyes wander around a little. It’s a binocular that you can enjoy birds with. Leica talk about “image plasticity almost like in 3D” and “uncompromisingly large depth of field”. I don’t know how they’ve done it but think I can see what they’re on about – a view that isn’t flattened onto one plane. Sharpness is excellent across the field of view with just a very small amount of fall-off at the edges. Plenty of light comes through. I tested them post-sunset in late October under a more or less clear sky. The Leica glass dragged colour out of the shadows 10 minutes after sunset. About 20 minutes later it struggled to pull colours from close shadows, but managed it further away, where more light hit the subject – impressive. Colour fringing seems very well managed. I did see some fringing on a wooden gate – but shifted my eye position and the gate returned to normal! The “complex and innovative baffle systems” do their job wonderfully – coping excellently against the light. Reflections were notable by their absence. I did see the occasional flare spot on the eyepieces, but these disappeared when I shielded the eyecup with my hand. Field of view is good but not excellent. I measured the close-focus as 1.86m, close to the quoted figure, again, good, but I’d like it a bit closer.
Yes, I’d like it a bit lighter, a bit closerfocusing and a bit wider. But in practice, for me, none of that is particularly significant. This is a very fine binocular. Leica’s best ever? I wouldn’t argue.