A quick review of the Leica Ultravid HD-Plus 12x50

A very short review of the super-premium Leica Ultravid HD-plus 12x50 binocular

Every so often we get to have a look at unusual or interesting equipment. The other day I was working at my desk when a colleague pushed a large black pouch into my hands and said "what do you think of these"? There was a single label on the pouch: Leica. 

Leica Ultravid HD-plus 12x50

Inside I found a Leica Ultravid HD-plus 12x50 binocular. Normally I think bird watching when I consider binoculars, but a 12x50 makes me - at least - think of astronomy. I wasn't going to be able to test them for that though: the weather was cloudy for the next few nights. It was a pity - astronomy, with its pin-point stars spread over the whole field - is a real test of optical quality and sharpness.


My first impression was that of weight. Of course, they were going to be heavy, but while they didn't let me forget it, they could have been heavier. I understand that the skeleton is made from magnesium alloy and the prism is the smaller Schmidt-Pechan design, both of which save weight.

Of course, one advantage of the weight is that the greater angular inertia makes it easier to hold them steady. A small, light 12 power binocular will give you a pretty unstable view. Even so, astronomy involves prolonged periods of standing stock still, and a tripod would be very useful.

But comfortable

Compensating for the weight, the binocular is beautifully balanced, neither front nor back heavy. I could see myself holding these up for a while without a tripod and not getting too many problems. The "thumbprint" shape on the underside helps with that too, the design is quite ergonomic.

...and the quality!

Optically - as you would expect from Leica - the binocular is magnificent. Of course, Leica has done all it can to perfect the view, apart from the compromise on the prism design. Specific lenses are high in fluoride, there are coatings of all kinds in all places, including dielectric coatings on the prisms and hard water-repelling coatings on the outer lenses. Ultravid binoculars have triplet groups as objectives. This would really nail chromatic aberration.

Drawback: eye relief

My vision isn't awesome. I have astigmatisms, which means I can't take my glasses off. High power binoculars tend to have shorter eye relief (the Ultravid HD-plus 12x50 claims 13mm). With glasses on, and the binocular's eyecups retracted, I wasn't quite able to view the whole field. This isn't a huge problem for most people, but if I were buying binoculars, I'd be looking for a different geometry, such as the incredible Ultravid HD-Plus 7x42, which have 17mm of eye relief - enough for my glasses. These are not only easily the best binoculars I've ever looked through, they would be outstanding for birding as well as astronomy.


Yes, this really is the view from our showroom!
While this isn't a true test, I attached my phone to the Leicas and took a few photos. Our go-to view is down the car park to a very salubrious dumpster about 180 metres away. These binoculars would be excellent for phone photography, as the wide field allowed me to use nearly the whole of my phone's sensor. Many other binoculars cast a small circle, forcing me to zoom in.

For astronomy

Overall, these would be a great pair of binoculars for astronomy. The 50mm objective gathers a lot of light, and this counts for a lot when you're hunting deep space objects like nebulas. Finding Sigma Octantis (or Polaris Australis), that curse of the Southern Hemisphere astronomer, would be much easier with these, especially if they were on a tripod. The triplet objective would ensure nil chromatic aberration, so that stars are correctly coloured all the way to the edge of the field, but without having tested these ones at night I can't determine how these stars are affected by field curvature or astigmatism. If I know Leica, it's not noticeable.

The decision

At the end of the day, this super-premium binocular has a super-premium price tag, and the real question is whether the admittedly beautiful image you get is worth it. 

If you have good vision, my guess is that it’s probably absolutely worth it. For me, alas, with my poor-ish vision, it's probably not. 

My astronomy binocular is an elderly Nikon Monarch 8.5x56. They have a manageable price tag, but very intrusive chromatic aberration. But the long 19mm eye relief of the Nikon enables me to see the whole field with my glasses on, and the bright image produced by the brute force of 56mm of light gathering allows me to find what I’m looking for.

For those of you whose sight is better, though, the view would be different. Star-gazing with a high-quality wide-angle view is an hypnotic experience, and a pair of binoculars like these Leicas would draw you in, and you’ll find yourself wandering, fascinated, from one object to another. It’s no exaggeration.

So for you with good vision, therefore, I would heartily recommend the Leica Ultravid HD-Plus 12x50.


  1. Thanks, enjoyable, but how to you "attach" your phone to the binoculars?

    1. Good question! I use a common phone adapter. Here in Australia it's called a saxon ScopePix (https://www.opticscentral.com.au/saxon-scopepix-smartphone-adapter-2s.html), but it's sold in other countries under other names. There are other designs as well.

      The ScopePix can be used for telescopes, microscopes and binoculars, depending on the shape and size of the eyepiece. They're cheap and cheerful!


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