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Reviewed by Joe on 09/03/13
As lower price optics continue to improve, many bird watchers are beginning to look further than just the 'alpha' brands. Opticron have long held a firm reputation for high quality, mid price range instruments and now Hawke are building their own name as a quality supplier for inexpensive binoculars. In this review, we take a look at 3 pairs that all retail for under £400; pictured from left to right, Opticron ED-X 8x42, Opticron Countryman BGA HD 8x42 and Hawke Frontier ED 8x43.
As you can see from the image, the smallest (and lightest) pair of the three is the Opticron ED-X. In fact, the ED-Xs are just shy of 100g lighter and over 30mm shorter than the Hawke Frontier EDs. Opticron's Countryman is in between, with minimal size difference compared to the ED-Xs but about 30g heavier, still obviously a lot less than the Hawkes. The table below will give you an idea of how to specs compare between the three models.
|Opticron ED-X||Opticron Countryman BGA HD||Hawke Frontier ED|
|Field of View (°)||7.5||7||8.1|
|Min Focus (m)||1.9||2.3||2|
|Eye Relief (mm)||19||22||18|
|Made in||China||Japan||China||Warranty (years)||10||30||10|
Ultimately, size and weight are preferences that can only be decided by you, though don't base your decision on these attributes, simply use them to guide you. The Hawke Frontier EDs may be the largest and heaviest, for example, but offers fantastic ergonomics and a textured 'high grip' rubber section for extra comfort. With the open hinge design, they are also very pleasant to hold, much like the ED-Xs with their 'micro-bridge' assembly. The Opticron Countrymans felt none-the-less well balanced, the conventional roof prism design still possibly the most popular.
As you can see from the above table, both the Opticron ED-X and Hawke Frontier EDs are Chinese models, with the Countryman being Japanese made. For those who don't know, Japanese models tend to be better for build quality, the notion backed up by the significantly longer guarantee. 10 years is, none-the-less, more than re-assuring, with both the Chinese made models on test feeling robust and each element operating smoothly. Careful examination of the three does show the differences, however, with the Countrymans as expected coming out on top. The diopter is placed just above the focus wheel, clicking out to operate and back in to lock, compared to the click-stop diopter placed on the barrel below the eye cups on the other models. The eye cups themselves felt sturdier on the Countrymans too, twisting and fixing them in to place just seemed that bit firmer, though I for one wouldn't complain about either the ED-X or Frontier EDs. The focus wheel on each binocular ran smoothly, allowing for quick and accurate focussing, with very little difference between each model.
Before writing this review or even looking through a pair of Hawke Frontier EDs, I had heard many other birdwatchers rated them very highly for optical quality. Immediate impressions after first looking through them were very good and after now having spent plenty of time with them, the hype is certainly well founded. With the widest field of view on test, the Frontier EDs offer an impressive panorama like image with a decent centre sweet spot. As to be expected, there was some softening at the edges, perhaps a little more so than on each of Opticron's models. At 7.5° and 7° for the ED-X and Countryman BGA HD respectively, the field of view on either isn't exactly slacking anyway, each wide enough for comfortable track and trace birding. As the names suggest, both the ED-X and Frontier EDs feature extra-low dispersion glass, designed to eliminate chromatic aberration (colour fringing). Though the Countrymans aren't heavily affected by CA, when comparing the 3 models it does become noticeable with some very slight fringing on the edges of objects. They may have come off worst for CA but personally I found the Countrymans the best for resolution, brightness and contrast. Again, the differences between each of the 3 models on test were insignificant, all producing a fantastically clear, crisp image, though the Countrymans were for me just slightly sharper and brighter, with the Hawke Frontier EDs a close second. Colour rendition was fairly neutral, leaning towards the warm side, on the Hawkes with the Opticrons edging towards a slightly colder hue.
In terms of accessories, each model is supplied with a soft case, lanyard and cleaning cloth. Opticron models seem to fare slightly better with the cleaning cloths, both are supplied with a pro series microfibre version, rather than the seemingly basic cloth that Hawke offers. The cases are all of a similar league, each is well made and I'm sure for prolonged use would protect its contents very well. The winner of the lanyard, however, goes to the ED-Xs, a wide, padded neoprene strap provided more comfort than the other two, though each is still a more than decent quality as you'd expect from this price range.
Think long and hard about what you want from your binoculars! Each of these 3 models impressed me from the start, with conditions heavily overcast during testing it provided me with a good chance to really get down to the nitty gritty. If you are after a very small, lightweight pair of 8x42s that offer good all round performance throughout the day, the ED-Xs would be a good choice. If conventional styling and handling is your preference with resolution and contrast being top of your agenda, stretch your budget to the Opticron Countrymans. For those who prefer a larger, better gripped binocular with an unrivalled field of view, the Hawke Frontier EDs pack a hell of a punch.
Without a shadow of a doubt, each pair will not disappoint and feature many attributes that the 'alpha' brands (Swarovski, Leica, Zeiss etc) offer at a fraction of the price.
2014: Opticron have discontinued the ED-X binoculars
2018: Hawke have discontinued the Frontier ED range and have replaced it with the Frontier ED-X.
2018: Opticron have upgraded the Countryman BGA HD to the Countryman BGA HD+