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Review: Leica Trinovid HD Binoculars

Leica Trinovids were the very first pair of “good” binoculars I ever saw someone using. These weren’t the newer sleeker models, but the old ridge-barreled green numbers that were as distinctive as they were heavy. They were the binoculars of choice for a local expert, a mentor I had as a kid birder growing up in the midwest. I didn’t know a lot about binoculars, but I knew that red dot meant something about quality. And it’s not for nothing that you still see those binoculars around the necks of birders today. Since then Leica has attached the Trinovid name to a handful of different binoculars, and they’re doing it again with the launch this year of the new Trinovid HDs, a binocular with the Leica name that comes in at under $1000.

Last month, I had the privilege of being part of a group of birders and writers to travel to The famous Lodge at Pico Bonito in Honduras at the behest of Leica Birding‘s Jeff Bouton to try out the new binoculars. The idea was that we would put this new glass through its paces under pretty serious birding conditions. We tried not to disappoint. Pico Bonito, and the whole of western Honduras, is a remarkable place for a naturalist. The birding was intense, as was the herping and insecting and mammaling. We tested the new binoculars alongside older Trinovid models and Leica’s flagship Ultravids in low-light conditions in dense wet rainforest. We tested the close-focus on insects and hummingbirds. And we carried the binoculars up mountains using the the Adventure Strap. Here are a few thoughts.

  • Overall impression of the binoculars is very positive. The resolution is excellent, even in low-light or otherwise challenging situations, and comparable to the Ultravids the vast majority of the time. They are well-balanced and not overly heavy, at least compared to the more expensive Leica models and my own Zeiss Victorys I use at home. I appreciate long eye-relief in a binocular and the Trinovids held up well in that regard, which is not something I could say of Leica in the past. For birders who prefer a shorter eye-relief, the eye cups on the Trinovid ratchet to intermediate lengths.

Leica bins

  • The diopter is located on the right eye piece, and it does not lock. Birders with large hands might inadvertently  knock it out of alignment with their thumbs depending on how you hold your hands. This was not a big problem, but something to be aware of.
  • Close focus is exceptional as advertised. I’m not quite 6 feet and I could focus on objects just beyond my toes. That alone makes this binocular a great choice for those who pair their birding with insect observations. That said, the focus wheel is long. It takes almost two full turns to go from closest focus to farthest. The focus knobs on a couple of the binoculars I tested were also a bit stiff, but that may have more to do with the fact that the bins were new. A more “broken in” prototype pair was a bit better.
  • If you’re looking for something like Leica’s last iteration of Trinovids, you might be disappointed. These Trinovids are an entirely different binocular from the ground up. The last Trinovids were essentially the same glass used in Leica’s premier Ultravid models in a less expensive wrapper. They also retailed at about 50% more than these new bins. The bins are still made in Europe (at Leica’s new plant in Portugal), but in order to get the price under $1000 Leica had to use lesser glass. It’s still high-quality and the binoculars are very good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as good as it was. But it’s also not as expensive.
  • As for the Adventure Strap, well, it’s different. The thick neoprene strap is comfortable, to be sure, and the idea of attaching the binocular to the “case” is one that has some merit.  How many of us simply toss the case in a corner and only seek it out when we’re planning on packing the bins in a carry-on bag? This strap is sort of a cross between a typical binocular strap and the harnesses that are very popular. In fact, some of the women on our trip noted that they found the strap to be more comfortable than harnesses. It’s not going to win you any style contests (as if birders care about that), but ultimately whether you like it or not is going to be a matter of personal preference.
Laura strap

Laura Kammermeier of Nature Travel Network tries on the Adventure Strap

  • Speaking for myself, I found it to be most useful for strapping the bins to my chest when tackling difficult stretches of trails, but when birding normally it served no clear purpose. It’s hard to shorten it to the length I find most comfortable, and I had no reason to “re-wrap” the bins when I was lifting my binoculars every few minutes to look for birds. It’s the sort of thing that might be more useful for a hunter, who would be traversing difficult terrain and only using the binoculars occasionally. In the end, I don’t think that very many birders will choose these Trinovids because of the Adventure Strap, but some may decide they like it. For those that don’t, the binoculars are still of high quality and a good replacement strap can be found pretty inexpensively.

All said and done, birders looking for quality optics at a price south of $1000 would do well to check these out closely. Leica calls these “entry-level premium”, and that’s about right. You can get a bit of that red dot quality for a price that won’t break the bank too much.

–=====–

Thanks to Leica Birding for inviting me to test the binoculars. Thanks to The Lodge at Pico Bonito for lodging, guides, and food.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
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