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Leica Trinovid 7x35 Classic Review

My mum was a keen photographer and she was very proud of her beautiful 1950s Agfa Ambi Silette 35mm rangefinder camera. She travelled around Europe with it, documenting what she saw. I still have it, a treasured possession. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always liked the leather-clad look of optics from that era: it’s what fine optics looked like when I was growing up. So when Leica re-issued their original Trinovids, from that era and with that look, I was always going to buy myself a pair.

I tried all three formats – 7x35, 8x40 and 10x40 – before buying, but settled on these the smallest, lightest model because I love 7x binoculars and it’s a rare magnification among premium binos nowadays.

Leitz’s original Trinovids came out in 1958 and they were revolutionary at the time, their internal focusing, compact design and superb optics the three new innovations their name promised. In 1969, a pair (of the 10x40s) even went to the Moon on Apollo 11. Presumably these new Trinovids were released for that anniversary in 2019 and the promo’ video includes shifting black ‘Lunar’ sands and rocket sounds: enough already, I’m sold!

So these re-booted Trinovid classics are an evocative design for me and certainly look the part, but I expected them to be a retro-indulgence, a bit like my valve Luxman hifi amplifier (see below). In other words, I expected them to work well, but probably not up to the best modern designs. Let’s see if that assumption was correct ...

The originals were from the 1950s, like my mum’s Agfa Ambe Silette.

Leica’s re-booted Trinovids: retro indulgence or serious optics?

At A Glance

Magnification

7x

Objective Size

35mm

Eye Relief

16mm

Actual Field of View

8°

Apparent field of view

~56°

Close focus

3.5m (4.0m – Leica)

Transmissivity

88%

Length

132mm

Weight

590g

Data from Leica/Me.

What’s in the Box?

These Trinovids get the standard Leica classy green and silver packaging which gives unboxing that real sense of occasion without going down the artwork route of Swarovski and Zeiss.

Design and Build

These appear to be a close copy of 1980s Leitz Trinovids (the 7x35s were sold from the 1960s into the 1980s), in both appearance and materials. Nonetheless, Leica make a point of saying they incorporate ‘modern, premium optics’ (as we’ll see that’s absolutely true).

Other models in the range include an 8x40 and a 10x40, both of which are just a little larger and heavier. Like the originals these come with a rubber armoured option, but I’m not convinced they’re still available, here at least. And don’t confuse these with the new Trinovid HDs, which come in the standard sizes and a much more typical armoured body.

These are not a cheap binocular - a lot more than the armoured Trinovid HDs - and so you might expect premium build quality. You get it, and then some. These really are just beautifully put together, with simply flawless quality. They’re just like a 1950s Leica Camera and it’s an aesthetic I love. For what it’s worth, I thought build quality was at a more premium level than Swarovski’s (admittedly much cheaper) leather-clad Habichts.

Like the Trinovid HDs, they’ve opted to manufacture these in Portugal and not Germany, but I’m guessing that’s just to make them affordable as a small-batch luxury item. Make no mistake, it doesn’t mean quality is in any way lower (and in fact I found the Trinovid HDs to be well made too).

Trinovids old and new (Leica marketing image).

Body

The body appears to be made entirely of black anodised aluminium and covered in real leather (not suitable for vegetarians, I’m afraid). Even the focus and dioptre knobs are knurled and anodised and engraved, just like the original even down to the style of knurling, with no corners cut anywhere that I can see. Of course, the thin leather isn’t as protective as rubber armour and these won’t take brutal field use like a modern armoured design.

Leica say that these are ‘splashproof’ and they look quite tightly sealed, but they won’t resist immersion.

These new 7x35s weigh a little more than the Leitz originals. Still, a claimed 590g (570g on my scales) is less than most full-sized binoculars, less than many 8x32s (which collect 20% less light). What’s more, they are physically tiny too, so very compact to carry or travel with. These 7x35s are the smallest of the three retro Trinovids at just 132mm long and 115mm wide with the bridge flat by my ruler.

Internal build quality looks outstandingly high. The barrels are lined with some kind of foam-textured blackening, not just paint. In the focuser tubes that foam flattening is ridged into multiple baffles.

Focuser

You focus with the knurled and anodised wheel at the eyepiece end of the bridge; the front wheel is for dioptre and is just a little smaller.

Focus action is silky smooth, accurate and free of shift or backlash, effectively perfect. The front dioptre wheel has engraved markings for zero and +/-. Again, the action is ideal – accurate and smooth and just stiff enough to prevent you shifting it by accident.

I measure close focus at 3 ½ m (Leica claim 4m), but at that it’s still easy and comfortable to view and fine for most nature viewing, except maybe butterflies. Close focus to infinity takes exactly 1 ½ turns – plenty fast enough for birding (including birds on the wing). They focus well past infinity to cater for all and any prescription.

Optics - Prisms

These have a standard Schmidt-Pechan (a.k.a. Roof) prism design, presumably with phase coatings. This is a departure from the original, in line with that ‘modern optics’ claim: the originals had a special prism type called an ‘Uppendahl’.

Transmittance is claimed to be 88%, a few percent less than most modern roofs, but this doesn’t translate to a noticeably dimmer view and it’s worth noting again that 35mm objectives collect 20% more light than 32mm.

Optics - Objectives

The objectives appear to be triplets consisting of a cemented doublet at the front and a single element behind separated by a large air gap. Leica comment that these include ‘the latest glass types’. Whether that means an ED element I don’t know; but false colour is low, as we’ll see.

Coatings are typical of recent Leica’s, with a greenish-tobacco hue and low reflectivity. Leica have included their premium hydrophobic ‘AquaDura’ technology too.

Despite the careful stray light treatment in the barrels, the objective hoods and lens rings aren’t blackened or baffled.

Modern coatings include Leica’s premium AquaDura technology.

Barrels have internal foam baffles to kill stray light.

Optics - Eyepieces

The eyepieces are small and slim by modern standards, but the eye lenses quite large at 21mm diameter. As always, Leica are a bit shy about optical details, but I’m guessing the eyepieces are some type of modified Erfle, probably containing five elements.

Leica claim 16mm of eye relief and that’s about what I measured from the rim of the eye cup. It’s enough to be able to (just) see the whole field with my spec’s on. These just don’t suffer from kidney-bean blackouts as some high eye relief eyepieces do.

The field of view is 140m/1000m which equates to about 8°. That’s more than the majority of binoculars, even if the apparent field is just ~56°. Binoculars with 7x magnification always tend to have smaller apparent fields of view. Note that though this is a bit less than the Leitz original, this new version supposedly suffers fewer edge aberrations.

The eye cups are small and pull out (rather than twist) to accommodate viewing without glasses. They are another example of subtle updating – the Leitz originals had fold-down rubber cups. There are four settings, i.e. three clicked-out positions. Their action is smooth if a little less refined than the best twist-out examples. They have a fine rubber lip to rest your glasses on and only extend a mm or two beyond the glass, so don’t ruin the eye relief as some do.

Accessories

The logoed soft leather and plush-lined case is classy and retro, even if less protective than a padded cordura case. It’s a big improvement on the soft pouch you get with the Trinovid HDs.

The are no objective caps and the eyepiece one is the cheapest style, but doubtless authentic.

The padded neoprene/fabric strap is standard Leica - well made and practical - but I’d expected a retro leather strap to match the style of the case, like you get with Swarovski’s Habichts. I can’t find an aftermarket one either. Leica are missing a trick here.

In Use – Daytime

Ergonomics and Handling

Leica call these a pocket binocular and that’s the truth, they are very small and compact, perhaps more so than anything this side of 10x25s. They are very light to carry, with only the very lightest 8x32s coming in under these on the scales.

The focuser is very smooth, progressive and accurate, but the small knob is noticeably less speedy and twirl-worthy than the best ‘modern’ units with their big wheels and super-light action.

One downside of the Trinovid’s small size is that big hands might find them a bit fiddly, gloved hands struggle with the small focuser wheel.

These are, by my tastes anyhow, the most elegant of binos to hang around your neck, if that matters to you. I reckon they are small and classy enough for the Opera at a pinch.

For me the most elegant binoculars currently for sale.

The View

The view is very good indeed and first impressions are bright, sharp and comfortable.

Typical of most 7x binoculars, the apparent field is fairly narrow at only 56°, but it doesn’t feel too tight. Usable true field width is actually near the maximum you ever get at 8°. Of those I’ve tested, only Zeiss’ 7x42 FLs had a wider true field, but they also suffered more severe edge aberrations, so the usable field was likely similar.

The eyepieces have enough relief for spec’s and with no nasty blackouts, so comfort is spot on. There is plenty of extension on the cups and they snap out easily and precisely, so comfort is good for non-spec’s viewers too.

Resolution seems outstandingly good. Watching a crow strutting in the rain, I can see every detail of feather and beaded droplets shining on his back. Colour is naturally rendered and sharpness outstanding. Focus snap is exceptionally good too, indicating high optical quality.

The low false colour, wide real field of view, high resolution and good depth of field make these great for finding and watching birds on the wing and I have fun watching my local Jackdaws wheeling about in stormy winds.

Let’s get this straight: these look retro, but there is nothing retro about the view.

Flat field?

Leica tend to be old skool when it comes to field curvature, but these don’t have the big field-edge distortions some do – it’s all usable to the field stop. Aberrations creep in progressively from about 60%, but are really only noticeable in the outer 20% and never descend into complete blur. However, it’s not just field curvature (you can’t entirely focus it away). There is minor distortion too. I really noticed it panning through a filigree of winter branches, but not otherwise.

The whole field is usable and aberrations only noticeable in the outer 20% or so.

Chromatic Aberration

False colour is very well controlled and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s none at all. Actually, there is a trace of purple edging a chimney pot in silhouette, or when panning through branches under a bright dusk sky; but even the field edge, where other distortions creep in, doesn’t reveal too much. Viewing birds in high branches is never an issue.

False colour levels are actually slightly lower than the Trinovid HDs I reviewed.

In Use – Dusk

With an exit pupil of 5mm, these work well deep into dusk and in bright moonlight too, noticeably better than 8x32s. If you’re not as young as you’d like, you might find your own pupils can’t dilate to much more than 5mm anyway.

In Use – The Night Sky

As I’ve said before, I really like 7x binos for deep sky, but the caveat is dark skies. When I bought my first binoculars, 7x50s, I couldn’t understand why Patrick Moore recommended them. The problem was the polluted suburban skies where I grew up.

Living as I do now under quite dark country skies, 7x gives wonderful views for sweeping star fields and constellations, if not so much for hunting through the Messier catalogue (but see deep sky section below). The low magnification and light weight also make for an easy, shake-free view.

I had no problems with stray light. Even the full Moon yielded just a one dimmish ghost, a security light ditto. This is another area they beat the Trinovid HDs, which produced long prism spikes when set on a very bright light.

The off-axis aberrations (some curvature but astigmatism too) affect the edges of star fields a bit, but not enough to really spoil them. You can easily fit both Orion’s sword and belt regions into the field with room to spare, but with both Nair Al Saif and Mintaka distorted by astigmatism. I didn’t really notice this too much until I’d been using Swaro’s new NL Pure. After that the Leica field curvature and off-axis astigmatism seemed much more obvious.

Centre field though, stars are particularly pinpoint and star colours notably intense, with Betelgeuse a burning orange – a result of the fine optics.

The Moon

7x isn’t a great magnification for the Moon, but the Trinovids give a super-sharp, dazzling bright view. There is no significant flare or stray light around a full Moon and just one fairly dim ghost, well off-axis. The full Moon generates no significant false colour.

Planets

Again, low mags don’t reveal much on planets, but a dazzlingly bright Mars near opposition shows its orange hue perfectly, with no significant spikes flare or false colour, ditto Jupiter which reveals its Galilean moons.

Deep Sky

Perseus, the Double Cluster and surrounds, the Pleiades: all wonderfully sparkly and pinpoint. These are all about effortlessly sweeping a dark sky and many smaller constellations fit in the field whole.

The North American Nebula above Deneb is about as defined as I’ve ever seen: the wide field and fine optics pulling it out of the background Milky Way.

As I’ve said, this magnification isn’t ideal for finding smaller DSOs, but I went hunting for brighter globular clusters and easily found the brighter ones, including M15 above Enif in Pegasus and M2 below; I easily picked up M13 and M92 in Hercules as well. Just fuzzy stars at this low power, but easy to find given the excellent contrast.

Other brighter Messier objects were easy too. M35 and the Auriga clusters were small but easily found and resolved. The Trinovids fitted in the whole of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) with ease and found nearby M33 as well. But I did notice that smaller nebulae, even M42 in Orion, were less interesting than at higher powers, even at a similar aperture (e.g. Canon’s 12x36s).

The Trinovids gave great views of Comet Neowise in late July 2020, with its fuzzy head and twin tail just beautiful. Again, that wide true field and great contrast framed and picked out the comet to great effect.

Overall, the Trinovids make nice deep sky sweepers, but only under dark skies.

Leica Trinovid 7x35 vs Swarovski Habicht 10x40

These seem a perfect comparison – both are leather clad retro binoculars from premium European makers.  So let’s compare them:

·        The Leicas have a more luxury and premium build and look/feel

·        The Leicas are significantly more expensive

·        The Leicas are much smaller and a bit lighter

·        The Leicas have a smoother, faster focuser and better dioptre adjust too

·        The apparent field of the Leicas is narrower (usual for 7x binos – the 7x42 Habichts are much narrower still), but suffers much less at the edges

·        The Leicas have more eye relief and are much better suited to spec’s wearers

·        The Swarovski’s are brighter, day or night, due to their larger objectives and low-loss porro optics

·        The Leicas case is a much classier item, but the Habichts’ leather strap is more in keeping with their classic look

These differences reveal a basic truth: the Leicas are a cleverly packaged modern binocular that looks like the 1950s model, whilst the Habichts are in a sense original – they’ve never been out of production and though they use the latest coatings, their design is essentially 1950s.

Summary

I love to be surprised when I review and these Trinovids did just that.

I expected to love the look and feel of them and I do. But I didn’t expect their excellent overall performance. The view really is right up there – sharp, high contrast, high resolution and brighter than the numbers would suggest. The field is deep and quite flat, the true field of view wide. False colour is very low. Eyepiece comfort with good eye relief and no blackouts is excellent. Focus and dioptre action is first rate too. The icing on the cake is their very compact size and light weight.

Leica has managed to retain the exact look and feel of the old classics, whilst updating everything to exacting modern standards. Yes, they’re chic and retro, but the old way of doing things does make them more compact than a fully modern equivalent.

Forget any idea that ‘Made in Portugal’ means build quality is second rate. These are some of the most beautifully made binos, optically and mechanically, I have ever seen, with flawless build and operation.

The only issue is the one you already know about: that lovely anodised and leather exterior won’t take knocks like a fully armoured binocular. And though these are likely rain proof, you can’t go dunking them in the river. But before dismissing them, ask if you really need protection against those things (and I’ve had a pair of sealed binos fog and need to be repaired after a few years anyway).

If the honest answer is that you keep your binos well shielded in the field, or if you mostly use them outside for just short periods (for tourism etc), then these are a wonderful all-purpose distance viewer. They’re great for birding and nature viewing, but for stargazing (as opposed to more ‘serious’ DSO hunting) too.

These get my highest recommendation for all but heavy field use. Please don’t think of them as just some hipster retro chic. They do look every bit as gorgeous as you expect, but performance is outstandingly good day or night and they’re wonderfully compact and light too.

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