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Leica 8x40 Trinovid Classic Review

I just love travel. After Covid I was itching to get back to it, so I booked myself on a cultural tour in Greece. I pictured myself viewing Santorini harbour from Oia; sunset over Homer’s wine-dark Aegean from the Temple of Apollo at Naxos; the Acropolis from the Areopagus.

But having packed a smarter set of clothes than usual, I reached for a pair of big rubbery birding bino’s and faltered. Among the Instagram crowds these were gonna make me look... well, a bit of a dick frankly.

What to do? If you want full-sized bino’s with a chic look that doesn’t scream rubber boots and parka, Swarovski will sell you a pair with funky orange armour. Leica meanwhile might recommend these, their ‘Retrovid’ Trinovids.

I loved the 7x35 Trinovids, but these 8x40s are arguably more general purpose, albeit a bit larger. Could they be solution for my trip? Let’s find out...

At A Glance

Magnification

10x

Objective Size

40mm

Eye Relief

16mm

Actual Field of View

123m/1000m

Apparent field of view

~7°

Close focus

3.5m measured

Transmissivity

~88%

Length

146mm

Weight

640g

me/Leica.

What’s in the Box?

Older Leitz Trinovid 7x35 next to current Leica Trinovid 8x40.

Design and Build

These are a close copy of 1980s Leitz Trinovids and Leica have gone for a proper metal-and-leather reproduction with no cost-saving plastic or bits from the generic parts bin. Despite the authentically retro build, 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 a 7x35 (which I’ve reviewed) and a 10x40. 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 waterproof, fully-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 flawless quality, as the 7x35s were. 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 too.

Like the Trinovid HDs, Leica 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).

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.

Their weight of 640g is 50g more than the smallest 7x35 model, but much less than most premium 8x42s. They’re much smaller too, similar to a typical modern 8x32 birding binocular.

Internal build quality looks outstandingly high. The barrels are lined with some kind of foam-textured blackening and in the focuser tubes, that foam flattening is ridged into multiple baffles. This careful baffling is new to the rebooted Trinovids: my old Leitz 7x35s just have black paint.

Focuser

The focuser is the knurled and anodised knob at the eyepiece end of the bridge; the front wheel is for dioptre and is just a little smaller.

Focus action is oily smooth, accurate and free of shift or backlash, but it’s not the super-fluid feel of a modern birding binocular.

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.

Close focus of about 3.5m isn’t in the butterfly-viewing league of a premium birding model. But though the focuser isn’t as twirly as a modern pair, it’s actually quite fast at just 1.5 turns from close focus to infinity: fast enough to follow birds on the wing.

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 as we will see the view is as bright as all but the very best 8x42s.

Optics - Objectives

A laser test suggests the objectives are triplets, with 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 very low, as we’ll see.

Coatings are typical of recent Leicas, 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.

Barrel internals and focuser cages are unusually well flocked and baffled.

Optics - Eyepieces

The eyepieces are small and slim by modern standards, but the eye lenses quite large at 21mm diameter. I’m guessing the eyepieces are some type of modified Erfle, probably containing five elements; whether they’re the same as the originals I don’t know.

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 glasses. These don’t suffer from kidney-bean blackouts as some high eye relief eyepieces do, so overall eyepiece comfort is excellent.

The field of view is 123/1000m which equates to about 7°. It’s a decent, but not ‘wide’ field.

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 enough and they work well. 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 looks great, but it’s less protective than padded cordura. Classier than the soft pouch you get with the Trinovid HDs, it isn’t any more protective. It has a strap-flap and is designed to stay on; I found it quite convenient to use like that, but it wouldn’t last long in wet conditions.

The are no objective caps and the eyepiece cap is the most basic moulded plastic.

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. Instead, I bought a neoprene strap with a red Leica roundel that I think suits this model better than the standard one you see here.

 

In Use – Daytime

Ergonomics and Handling

These are an unusually small and light binocular for the aperture. I really noticed this when walking with them.

It’s a classic hold, with no sculpting or thumb indents, but I really like it, able to curl my fingers around the long barrels for a steady grip. But I have quite small hands and if you’ve got big ‘uns like J.S. Bach (who legend has it could stretch twelve notes where I can manage only eight), you might find they feel too narrow, the barrels too close together for a comfy hold.

The focuser is commendably smooth and accurate, with no play or backlash or variance when focusing in and out; but it’s not as quick and twirly as a modern premium birding bino’s and the small metal knob won’t fall as easily to numb or gloved fingers.

Plenty of eye relief, no significant blackouts and those easy-to-use pull-out cups mean eyepiece comfort is top-drawer, with glasses or without.

These are one of the most compact and ungeeky (is that a word?) full-sized binoculars to wear. If you’re in a hide in Norfolk that doesn’t matter; but if you’re looking out over the Santorini Caldera from the Thira cliff path amongst all the strutting Gucci, it just might.

The View

First impressions are often right when it comes to the view and these immediately impress, seeming bright and sharp and with a cool, vivid colour balance; loaded up with fine detail. The super-premium Zeiss 8x42 SFs I was testing at the time offered a wider field, better corrected off-axis for more ‘wow’, but the real differences weren’t huge.

Resolution seems outstandingly good. Focus snap is exceptionally good too, indicating high optical quality. Depth of field, a function of the traditional 8x magnification, is really excellent and adds to viewing comfort.

The low false colour, subjectively high brightness, high resolution and good depth of field make these great for following birds on the wing.

As with the 7x35s, these look retro, but there is nothing retro about the view.

Flat field?

As we will see when testing with a star, off-axis distortions – mainly astigmatism – start from 50% field width. But during the day you really don’t notice this much and the field edge is completely usable (see above).

Chromatic Aberration

As for the smaller model, false colour fringing is very well controlled and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s none at all. Actually, close inspection shows 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.

Stray Light and Ghosting

Ghosting isn’t a problem, even viewing bright lights (or a full Moon) at night. Even under a clear bright sky at dusk, I was unable to force any significant veiling flare out of the Trinovids.

In Use – Dusk

Dusk shadow penetration proved better than a (similarly compact) premium 8x32, but not quite at the level of the best 8x42s. The smaller objectives and slightly less transmissive optics means light gathering is perhaps 10% lower and that’s about how it seems.

In Use – Observing the Night Sky

The Trinovids’ field seems fairly wide and well-corrected by day, but at night it’s obvious they suffer ‘classic’ levels of off-axis aberration to match their classic look.

On axis, stars are very fine points due to the high optical quality. But off-axis, stars start to show some distortion at less than 50% field width. By the field stop they’ve stretched into arcs. In between, in a ~30% band around the edge, fainter stars are smeared into extinction, reducing the usable field width for astronomy.

This off-axis distortion turns out to be mainly astigmatism – trying to focus it away just turns linear stars into crosses – with minor field curvature.

That off-axis astigmatism means that my usual test of putting the sword and belt of Orion into a single field renders Mintaka and Nair Al Saif really quite distorted. However, the whole Hyades fits nicely into the field and then the outer stars, whilst distorted, aren’t badly so.

In terms of comfort, the news is good. Light weight and compact size, good eye relief and lack of backouts, make the Trinovids easy to use for astronomy. The longer barrels (than the 7x35s) make holding them around the objectives easier to minimise shakes.

They have noticeably less light gathering at night than the best 8x42s – slightly dimmer, less detailed DSO views - in line with that 10-15% lower overall transmission.

The Moon

The Trinovids may suffer old-fashioned off-axis aberrations, but optical quality on-axis is stunningly good and stray light protection first class. That means a very crisp view of the Moon – one of the best I’ve seen at this power, with lots of craters on view along the terminator and no false colour or flare.

Venus

Venus revealed a perfect, dazzling white crescent in both barrels – no flare, spikes or stray light of any kind and no false colour. This is quite unusual in a binocular and proof of the outstanding optical quality I’d already guessed.

Mars

 Just like a bright orange star at 8x, with no significant flare or spikes.

Jupiter

Jupiter isn’t as tough on optics as Venus, but here it showed a perfect disk.

Deep Sky

High optical quality, decent aperture and eyepiece comfort make these creditable deep sky performers – roughly on a par with a super-premium 8x32 like Zeiss’ 8x32 SFs, but with the ability to pick out some fainter DSOs.

A 40mm aperture is enough for brighter galaxies. Panning either side of orange star Mirach in Andromeda, I easily found M31; On the other side, M33 was easy too. After some averted-vision searching, I located M51 in Ursa Major, the Whirlpool galaxy, close to Alkaid: just a smudge at this aperture.

Some smaller and fainter DSOs are within reach. Panning through Cassiopeia, I happened upon the Owl cluster off Ruchbah and was able to just see its ‘wings’ and ‘feet’ with averted vision. I was surprised that after a bit of searching about and with some more averted vision I found the Crab Nebula in Taurus.

The obvious stuff looked good. The Pleaides were sparkly, with the sharpest pinpoint blue-white stars. The Double Cluster and nearby Stock 2 resolved lots of stars in a rich field. The band of blurring around the edge was very noticeable on the surrounding star fields, but not ruinous.

Orion’s Great Nebula glowed nicely with nebulosity, but fell short of the detail I’d seen the previous evening with Zeiss’ class-leading 10x42 SFs. Meanwhile, the belt region was densely populated with stars – more so than I expected. These do go deeper than a 32mm binocular (as you would expect).

The clusters in Auriga – M35, M36 and M38 were all starting to resolve with direct vision, once my eyes had fully adapted. Only M37 remained star-mist. The Beehive open cluster showed all the major stars in their distinctive pattern and I easily found smaller M67 below it.

Star colours weren’t a strong point, though. The Garnet Star, a rich amber in Zeiss’ 10x42 SFs, looked pale gold; ditto La Superba.

The 8x40 Trinovids are quite usable for astronomy, but performance falls noticeably short of the finest 8x42s, with a slightly dimmer view and more off-axis distortion of stars.

Leica 8x40 Trinovid vs Zeiss 8x42 SF

Zeiss’ 8x42 SFs are among the very best binoculars of this size available. They aren’t natural competitors to the Leicas, so why compare them? After all, the Zeiss are almost double the price. Because anyone interested in the Leicas will likely ask how much better a best-of-the-best binocular is.

·        The SFs have a significantly wider field of view. This is one of the major differentiators between bino’s in the first and second league

·        The SFs focus a lot closer. Again, this is a major differentiator. If you like close-in nature viewing this is a big deal

·        The SFs’ focuser is big, light, fast and super-twirly. The Leicas’ is smooth and precise, but in a slower, more old-fashioned way

·        The SFs are significantly larger and heavier; this is noticeable if you carry them all day

·        The SFs are of course fully waterproof, which the Leicas are not

·        The SFs’ rubber armour doesn’t have the classic look, but it will make them more robust against small knocks and scrapes

·        Both in fact have excellent eyepiece comfort, though the SFs have a bit more eye relief

How much “better” the SFs are will depend on your use case. If you’re a keen all-weather birder then you’ll want the SFs’ waterproofing and armour, never mind anything else. But if you use your bino’s in less severe conditions and don’t need very close focus, then the Trinovids are worth considering – they’re small and light and give a great view, are beautifully made and great to use.

Summary

The 8x40 Trinovid Classics are an odd one. They’re a really very fine binocular: fully competitive with the high end in many areas, but substantially smaller and lighter than most 8x42s.

With a bit less aperture and slightly lower transmissivity, the Trinovids probably get 10% less light to your eye than a pair of Zeiss 8x42 SFs and that’s kinda how they feel in general: about 10% less. But then they cost 40% less. They also weigh 20% less, something I noticed and appreciated when carrying them.

Many ‘serious’ bino’ users will reject them for their lack of armour and full waterproofing; and if you spend long days in the field in all weathers that’s right. But if your use case is honestly a bit more casual, perhaps including times when you don’t want to look like you just stepped out of a hide, these could make a lot of sense and don’t really have much competition.

Build quality is amongst the best I’ve ever seen – real heirloom quality in the two pairs I’ve tested (bought new and anonymously). These really triggered my fetish for the finest quality things.

If you don’t need full waterproofing, and/or just prefer the classic look and low weight, these 8x40 ‘Retrovids’ are an excellent choice for travel; for nature viewing, casual birding and occasional astronomy too.

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