surfbirds logo
The Best of Digital Birding
Surfbirds Home |

More Product reviews

Leica Ultravid 8x42BR

"If you want the best then these must be your starting point - the goalposts have just been moved."

Review by Brian J Small (brian At

September is a busy month for me bird-wise, so it was with delight that I was able to enjoy the local migrants through a pair of Leica Ultravid 8x42 BR binoculars kindly loaned to me by Leica UK. It was apparent from the outset that these are a special binocular.

First impressions mean so much, and as you would expect from Leica the build-quality of the BRs is exceptional. In the hand, they have a well-balanced feel, and are quite compact, smaller in tube length than the comparable Nikon and Swarovski, and feel really

light; they are comfortable, with smooth rubber armouring and slightly raised thumb grooves. The eye-cups twist out to click at two settings, and fit nice and snuggly into the sockets, letting in little or no extraneous light, which can cause reflection. The image is beautifully sharp, right across the image and has no apparent internal reflection, leaving the image bright, crisp and contrasting.

In my initial tests, using written texts at various distances, I found the image to be a touch more critically sharp than a pair of Nikon 8x42s. The colour balance of Leica optics is renowned for its neutrality, and the 8x42BRs are no different, offering a very neutral (perhaps erring very slightly to cyan) image, compared with the noticeably warm cast to the image of the Nikons and the yellowish cast of Swarovskis. The focusing wheel is smooth and light; the depth of field is good; and the pair I had focused down to 2.75m.

However, it was in the field, watching birds, where I really wanted to test them, so over the past few days I have been watching passage migrants along the Suffolk coast. In all situations the Leica 8x42s excel: watching Whinchats perched on fine thistle heads, looking into bright, hazy morning light, the image was fabulous - clear, sharp, and with no internal reflections. Hobbies that hunted for dragonflies across the marshes, looked simply stunning, and the neutrality of the image showed clearly the difference in the colour of the upperparts of adults and juveniles - through a pair of Nikons, the adults were much browner than they should have looked!

Modern technology, particularly in the coating of optics, has meant real improvements recently in the transmission of light through lenses and reflections off prisms. This is very apparent on the new Leicas. Some may feel that the improvement in image quality is only slight, but it is real. Coupled with the new lighter materials, then the whole 'feel' of binoculars is making them much more user-friendly - especially if like me you have them hanging round your neck a lot. There is also a certain amount of personal preference involved in your final choice of optics, however, being a bit of an optics freak, I can honestly say that the new Leica Ultravid 8x42BRs are the best I have looked through and worn around my neck. If you want the best then these must be your starting point - the goalposts have just been moved. It is hard to see how much better optics for birding can get, and though they may seem expensive, just think of the enjoyment of looking afresh at all those species you thought you knew.

Having now used the Leica Ultravid 8x42BRs for a week, I have come to realise that it is going to be hard to give these back!

Brian Small

Give Us Your Feedback. Add Your Own Review of The Leica 8x42 BRs