Quality binoculars are expensive, and if you want to enjoy the exceptional quality of premium birding binoculars from the “big three” (Leica, Swarovski, and Zeiss), you typically have to dig deep into your wallet. The high price can be attributed to the binoculars’ exceptional components, superior craftsmanship by highly skilled workers in their respective German and Austrian factories, as well as innovations in glass that have raised the bar to almost “bionic” levels. These practicalities make the premium models worth every penny when you can afford it.
But what about the rest of us?
More recently, brands are striving for ways to offer models at lower, consumer-friendly prices without diluting their stature. The $1,000 price point seems to be a target that is as equally within sight of avid consumers as it is with brands. The ZEISS Conquest HDs, for instance, are a full-size “premium” binocular that came on the market in 2102, retailing at $1,077. In 2013 Swarovski released the Pocket CLs, a compact travel binocular, which retails at $910.
Vortex, already a consumer friendly brand with several entry-level options, went the other way, by offering a next-generation bin (Vortex Razor HD) that retails at $1,299. A look at the Eagle Optics website shows other entry-level brands – Meopta, Minox, and Opticron – also in this category.
With its new Trinovid HDs, Leica Sport Optics enters a seriously strong contender with “premium” offerings into the $1,000 market.
Last December (2015), I tested the Trinovid HDs under challenging tropical rainforest conditions in Honduras, at the magnificent Lodge at Pico Bonito in La Ceiba. A group of ten writers and naturalists convened at the lodge and spent six days trekking through a variety of habitats to observe birds, butterflies, moths, snakes, larvae, frogs, and other tropical delights. (Review: The Lodge at Pico Bonito).
The testing team had access to both Leica Ultravids (a full-priced premium binocular) and Leica Trinovid HDs during our expedition. Additionally, we were encouraged to test Leica’s innovative binocular harness, a neoprene wonder called the Adventure Strap. More on that in a moment.
The Trinovid HDs feature the same sturdy, waterproof construction as the Ultravids but in a slightly lighter package. On a rainforest adventure, waterproof bins are a bonus. You never know when you’re going to slip past your waist into a deep pool at the bottom of a three-story waterfall and ruin your gear. I mean, you never know.
The Trinovid design offers several conveniences to the traveling birder/naturalist, including a super close-focus (5.9 ft.), light weight (25.75 oz.), wide field of view (414 ft.), and a compact size (length 5.5 in.). This makes them great for traveling, packing, viewing butterflies and moths, and locating the famous Red Dot on the brim of a ballcap belonging to a slowpoke birder who wanders away from the crowd.
Though I am not a binocular connoisseur, I know a good binocular when I see through one. The new Leicas did not disappoint. The bins, which start at $946 for the 8×42 model, offer a very satisfying viewing experience. Under most conditions, it was hard to resolve difference in clarity or resolution between the new Trinovid HDs and the fully priced premium Ultravid HDs. The subject was clear and in focus and I didn’t struggle to identify field marks. When pressed under low light conditions, however, brightness became more challenging in the newer model. Deep under the canopy, some of our testers grew nostalgic for the Ultravid 7×42, which has incredible brightness, but the new Trinovids feature only 8- and 10-power magnification.
While binocular preferences are a very personal choice, a few mechanical things were a bit off for me. In these early release models we tested, the focus wheel was a bit long, taking 2+ turns of the dial to focus on a bird, which can sometimes get you there too late. As an eyeglass wearer, I found that the rubber eyecups were hard and didn’t settle comfortably against my lenses. And the diopter ring, which was situated on the right barrel, easily moved out of place. It didn’t help that our team kept trading bins so we could get more time with the limited number of Trinovid HDs, so I spent more time adjusting and readjusting than would be expected for a typical buyer. We carried these recommendations back to our host (Jeff Bouton, Marketing Manager at Leica Sport Optics), who carried it back to R&D, so it’s possible that the first phase of production may have addressed these issues.
Every new Trinovid HD model comes with an Adventure Strap. This neoprene harness doubles, when folded, as a carrying sack for the bins. The Strap drapes down the chest and attaches around the waist with thin straps. The Strap was extremely comfortable and soft around the neck. Ladies, especially those with greater “assets,” will appreciate how the Strap avoids the “smush and separate” of traditional binocular harnesses. The thin side strap was a bit “flyaway” when attaching, and the strap tended to bunch up when I picked up my bins to view a bird. These may be the faults of a newbie, however, unpracticed at the Art of Strap. With how comfortable it is around the neck, I surmise that the strap could have plenty of fans, especially people with neck issues and/or larger chests.
You might wonder how Leica was able to offer a premium model at this price point. The bins feature innovative glass that offers solid optical quality at a lower cost and less weight. They are manufactured not at the Wetzlar, Germany, plant, but at a Leica plant in Portugal. This is a decent compromise for those who bristle at the idea of their favored brand outsourcing to Asia.
In summary, the new Leica Trinovid HDs set a promising trend for quality and affordability. They are an excellent choice for birders who want near-premium quality at a more affordable price. If your budget is around $1,000 and the bins feel good in your hands, then the Trinovid HDs are a rock-solid birding binocular, especially when viewed with the competition at this price.
See other team reviews:
- Nature Travel Network –Review; The Lodge at Pico Bonito (Laura Kammermeier):
- BirdGuides.com: Leica Reveals all New Trinovid Range (Dominic Mitchell)
- ABA Blog – Review: Leica Trinovid HD Binoculars (Nate Swick)
- Eagle Optics Blog – The new Leica Trinovid HD Debuts in Honduras (Nina Cheney)
- Nemesis Bird – First Look: Leica Introduces new Trinovid HD (Drew Weber)