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Gear talk: the Leica 8×20 Monovid- probably the best quality small monocular ever made

Leica 8x20 Monovid
Leica 8×20 Monovid

Carrying a small optic can add a great deal of enjoyment to many a hike. However, the weight and size of binoculars can be an issue for many. If you can accept the limitations, a monocular may suit. The Leica 8×20 Monovid is probably the best quality small monocular ever made.

German optics specialist Leica first entered the monocular market with the release of their 8×20 Monovid in 2009. It is based on Leica’s highly regarded pocket-sized 240g 8×20 Ultravid binoculars but has a different focusing mechanism. This 109g monocular had been on my wish list since that first release. It is an expensive purchase, hence my waiting many years before I took the plunge. The quality goes some way to explaining the cost, but any purchaser must decide if their frequency of use is going to justify such expense.

While there are smaller monoculars, none pack as much quality into a small package as the Monovid does
While there are smaller monoculars, none pack as much quality into a small package as the Leica 8×20 Monovid does

The standard release of this monocular is with a black or silver (Silverline) finish. There has also been a red leather edition. Despite a price difference, there is no difference in the optics themselves so there is no advantage to choosing a colour variant beyond simple aesthetics. Three Points of the Compass has the standard model 40 390 Monovid Black. This black finish may show less knocks and dings over the years of use expected of it.

colour variations
Contents and packaging for Leica 8x20 Monovid on purchase
Contents and packaging for Leica 8×20 Monovid on purchase

Leica take care with the packaging of their optics. The Monovid comes in a large silver card box with hinged lid. the monocular is nested into closed cell foam padding alongside a rigid leather case, in which a wrist loop, plastic eyecup cap and close-focus lens are found.

In addition to the guarantee card and printed instructions that come in the box, an inspection card accompanies each monocular with the signatures of two Leica employees (and their Leica barcode), signifying that the instrument has been quality control examined and recording who packed it. Leica also provide an online instruction leaflet for the Monovid.

Parts
  • 1a. Eyepiece eye cup. Retracted for use with glasses
  • 1b. Eyepiece eye cup. Extended for use without glasses
  • 2. Eyelet for carrying strap.
  • 3. Focusing ring.
  • 4. Lens with
  • 4a. inner thread
  • 5. Close up lens
  • 5a. Close up lens with outer thread

The Leica Monovid has an aluminium body with a 34mm long section of leather covered barrel. There is a small yet instantly recognisable red and silver Leica logo at the end of the ‘scope. Internal optics are the quality coated glass that Leica are renowned for. This monocular has High Durable Coating (HDC) and water-repellent AquaDura coating on outer lens. There is no coating on the close focus lens. Internally, the roof prism has phase correction coating P40. The interior is sealed, and nitrogen filled, so resists rain and internal fogging. It is waterproof to a depth of five metres. This is a major step up from other lightweight optics I have carried on trail. Fuller stats for the Monovid are shown at the end of this blog but perhaps the most important from these:

Exit pupil2.5mm
Twilight Factor12.7
Field of View at 1,000 metres110 metres
Eye-Relief15mm
Objective angle of view6.3°
Close-focusing distanceapprox. 1.8 metres

Note a claimed eye relief of 15mm. This is especially important to a specs wearer like myself to enable the full field of view. This suits me but may not be sufficient for others. The eyecup simply presses shut, it is not turned, or ratchet swivelled as with some other optics. Pulling the eyecup out reveals printed detail on the barrel- ‘Monovid 8 x 20 Made by Leica Portugal‘, and serial number. In use, I rest the hard plastic ring around the eyecup against my glasses.

Light gathering in low light is impressive and I have watched a silent Barn Owl quartering a field at dusk with ease. Moon watching at night is OK if braced against a post however star watching and viewing constellations is almost impossible. The viewed image I have included here was taken in a particularly difficult situation that would have had other monoculars struggling. I was focusing into a very dark, in shadow, tree canopy, with a bright sunlit sky beyond. The sun is in front of me, beyond the tree and I might have expected total lens flare and a tree interior in darkened silhouette. However, I am able to see colour and some detail of leaf variegation, with slight fringing at the periphery of the image with some sun flare. This is possibly not the best image I have included here as it shows issues, however I have deliberately shown this optic at an extreme usage. In general use, an image would just reveal a simple clear image, which tells us little.

Looking into a darkened canopy with sun beyond and behind tree
Looking into a darkened canopy with sun in front and behind tree

The Leica Monovid has internal focusing via an exterior bulbous ridged central focusing ring. This focusing ring is a tad stiff to operate. I have seen reports suggesting it can be easily turned and focused with one finger, not so. This is probably one of the greatest faults of this optic. It is smooth, it is effective, but it is a two-handed operation to focus on an object of interest and the focusing does not make for quick work. It takes a bit of practice in order to avoid too much shake and losing the subject. I can accept this issue and actually prefer it to a loose sloppy action. I anticipate that this will loosen a little with time but that may take two or three years considering my occasional use of this monocular.

Leica Monovid provides superb optics in a small package
The Leica Monovid provides superb optics in a small package. Bracing against a wall, fence, post or tree will steady the image considerably
Steadying the wrist with the other hand can help with reducing shake when used for longer periods
If there is nothing around on which to lean, steadying the wrist with the other hand can help with reducing shake when used for longer periods.

Obtaining a steady image with a monocular can be a tricky exercise. Bracing against a tree or fence post can help a great deal but there is seldom one of those around when you need it. Using both hands and supporting one hand or arm with the other hand can help. Wrapping the entire hand around the Monovid and bracing the hand against the face or eye socket is probably most effective for many however I find that a little difficult as a glasses wearer.

Accessories weighing 11g. are included with the Leica 8×20 Monovid on purchase. These are a 7g wrist strap that attaches to both monocular and a 4g plastic protective eyecup cap (there is no cap for the other end of the monocular). The wrist strap has two thin loops at one end. The smaller of these is attached to the eyelet on the monocular, the larger loop is attached to the protective cap. The strap also has a sliding toggle to be tightened against the wrist to stop the monocular sliding off unintentionally. Together with the monocular, these three then total 120g.

The Leica 8×20 Monovid, without end cap and wrist strap weighs 109g/3.85 oz. The Monovid is 96.5mm in length and 35.3mm across the widest diameter (the focusing ring). The textured leather covered barrel has a 30mm diameter. For lighter backpacking purposes, some might prefer to just use the wrist strap and exclude the protective cap, or fashion a lighter wrist strap from guyline, or not bother with anything. Other users might actually prefer a longer neck strap. Leica also make one of these as an expensive extra purchase, I look at a cheaper alternative in my review of three loupes for nature study.

Leather case
A well-made rigid leather case comes with the Monovid, however this is a bulky item
Opening lid of leather case lifts the monocular within
Opening lid of leather case lifts the monocular within. The close focus lens is stowed under the lid

A quality protective case comes with the Monovid. In total black leather, with an embossed Leica logo, this is very well made, a bit classy in fact. It is also pretty bulky and heavy. Carrying the large case negates the usefulness of having a small monocular so I use it purely for home storage. The case is 126mm in length and 50mm diameter with a protruding belt loop. The lid is kept closed via a silent and hidden magnetic closure. It weighs 61g, with 12g close focus lens stowed, this is a total of 73g. In 2014 there was a limited-edition release with a different style of leather case.

In 2014 the Leica Monovid, was released as a special one-time Christmas edition with red strap and red leather carrying case
A special one-time Christmas edition, with red strap and matching red leather carrying case was released in 2014
Close focus lens
Optional 12g close focus lens

When not in use, a close focus lens screws on to a threaded holder on the underside of the lid of the leather carrying case. If that case isn’t being carried, few are going to risk losing the little close focus lens by carrying it loose. When it is used in conjunction with the Monovid, the outer thread of the close-up lens is screwed into the inner thread in the end of the monocular. Dependant on the position of the focusing ring, this then provides a focusing range of 25-30cm, which is a significant reduction on the 1.8m without. It cannot then focus beyond that range so has to be removed to use the monocular normally.

Note that magnification remains the same when the close-focus ring is used. Three Points of the Compass is not the greatest of fans of this accessory, which is of limited practical use, particularly on trail. Few people are, in truth, going to take the little close-up lens with them on day walks or on multi-day trails. Even if they do take it, it is still a bit of a faff to screw on for use. I would suggest carrying a hand lens for macro study of nature in the field. I talk about loupes in a separate post.

My Leica 8×20 Monovid has taken the place of an equally as small Opticron 8×20 Gallery Scope that has been carried on probably hundreds of hikes over the past two decades. While the 8×20 magnification remains the same, the additional weatherproofing that the Leica supplies is a welcome improvement. In addition to the major step up in optical quality, Three Points of the Compass eschews the eyecup cap but includes the wrist strap. This may be swapped out for something lighter in the future. The Leica is of ‘comfortable to use’ dimensions, it has a tactile leather barrel and focusing ring, and is easy to hold and use.

Leica 8x20 Monovid with Opticron 8x20 Gallery Scope
Leica 8×20 Monovid with Opticron 8×20 Gallery Scope
Leica 8x20 Monovid, with hand loop and DCF baggie- total weight 119g 4.2oz
Leica 8×20 Monovid, with Leica wrist loop and a DCF baggie- total weight 119g / 4.2oz

When Three Points of the Compass puts together a gear list for various trails and feels a monocular a useful addition (which is quite often) it is kept in a small DCF drawcord baggie in one of the backpack hip belt pockets to give some protection from dust and scratches. My weight penalty for the Leica 8×20 Monovid- ‘scope’, wrist loop and baggie together, weigh 119g.

The Leica Monovid comes with a ten-year guarantee which covers material costs for repair during that period. Labour costs are also covered for five years. Eyecup wear, leather covering and accessories are excluded.

In conclusion:

Binoculars are always going to be more comfortable and easier to use than any monocular ever made. Where the Leica Monovid excels however, is in the compromise stakes. If you want to take an optic out into the countryside, if you want to engage in nature study, moon watching, study the route on the other side of the valley or look to see if that pub a mile off trail is open, but also want something compact and as light as possible, that will withstand weather, temperature and humidity fluctuations, then the Leica Monovid is almost certainly the best quality monocular available and may suit. But think carefully before purchasing, it is an expensive option if you find you don’t use it or find it difficult to use.

Leica 8x20 Monovid- technical specifications
Leica 8×20 Monovid- technical specifications

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