The Hawke Frontier ED 8×43
I know many of you have been waiting eagerly for a review of this new binocular. Steve, let me be upfront in saying that you are not going to like what I have to say. For the rest of you I think you are going to enjoy what you are about to read.
I purchased the 8×43 Frontier ED at the beginning of last week because of a little bit of prompting from Kevin Purcell. He managed to find the model after doing a little digging because of the Promaster Elite ELX ED threads on this forum. Judging by the pictures of both binoculars, and by what I have seen having both side by side there can be no mistake that they come from the same Chinese factory. The bodies are practically identical. They share that and some optical attributes. However, there are enough optical and physical differences to tell that each company had significant input into the specifics of each model.
This review is focused on the Frontier ED but because of the similarities between these two models and how recently they were both introduced I am going to compare the two in more detail.
This binocular utilizes the same open bridge design that originated with the Swarovski EL series of binoculars. The gap between the two hinges is not quite as wide as the Swarovski but the effect is much the same. The physical weight of the binocular feels significantly less than it actually is because the user is capable of wrapping his hands completely around the barrel. The texture of the binocular is highlighted by several areas of raised triangular “dots” on the side of each barrel. There are also two thumb indents on the underside of the barrel to again aid in hand positioning.
The focusing knob is large and well positioned on the central hinge of the binocular. Like the Promaster ED model the focusing speed is slow by today’s standards. It takes a full two and one half turns to go from close focus to infinity. As I had mentioned previously I have found this to be a benefit in that it allows the user to dial in the sharpest possible image. The focusing tension is a little stiffer than that of the Promaster ED model but the benefit is that there is not any of that “play” that I mentioned in the Promaster focusing knob comments.
The contouring of the eyecups on the Frontier ED is also noticeably different from that of the Promaster model. If you remember from my review of that model I had stated that I preferred the eyecups to be more rounded in order to get a higher comfort level with my eye sockets. The Frontier’s eyecups are perfect in this regard. They are well rounded and very comfortable against my face. They feature the same three-stop design as that of the Promaster…fully collapsed, and intermediate stop and fully extended.
Externally the other noticeable difference between these two models is the color of the multi-coating reflections on the eyepieces and the objectives. Both external lenses on the Frontier ED show predominantly green reflections. The Promaster Ed’s are predominantly purple. I would assume this to signify different coatings specified by each company. Also keep in mind though that the Promaster utilizes a water/oil repellant coating on the exterior lenses. This may or may not play a part in the color of the reflections mentioned.
From an optical standpoint these binoculars again share more similarities than differences. The view through the Frontier ED is bright with superb contrast and excellent apparent sharpness. The field of view is also incredibly wide and very “flat” in representation. Everything positive I said about the Promaster applies to the Frontier ED. The clarity of the image is stunning and, again, rivals that of the Alpha European models.
I want to key in on some key differences I have noted so far between these binoculars. Keep in mind I am splitting some pretty fine hairs here but I feel it worthy enough to comment on. For one, there is the color rendition. I mentioned that I thought the Promaster ED offered a very neutral color representation. Only in comparison with the Nikon SE and the Zeiss FL did I notice an ever so slight warm color bias. Even then I had to look a bit harder to notice it. In comparison to the Hawke Frontier ED I again noticed that ever so slight warm color representation. To put it more bluntly the Frontier ED offers as neutral of color representation as I have ever seen. It is easily as good as that of the FL and SE in this area.
Second, is the level of contrast. The Promaster ED again excels in this area. However, I believe the Frontier ED might even be a shade better. The image quality in this regard reminds me very much of the Leica Trinovid and somewhat the Zeiss Conquest series. I say that in that both of their images give a very relaxed and detailed level of contrast. The image provided by this level of contrast is very soothing on the eyes. It almost appears as if you could look at it for a very long period of time without becoming tired of it. The blacks just appear a bit “blacker” in relation to the brighter colors.
Third is the field of view and level of distortion in each image. The Frontier ED offers very much the same “Zeiss FL-like” view as that of the Promaster ED. The centerfield of the image is incredibly sharp (both because of the contrast and the low level of color fringing) but the outer portion of the image suffers from noticeable distortion. If I had to again use percentages then I would say it is very similar to both the FL and Promaster in that the center 65-75% is tack sharp. The next 15-20% offers moderate deterioration in sharpness but it is still usable. The outer 10-15% is distorted to the point where it isn’t in focus when the rest of the field of view is. The difference between this and the Promaster is that this almost appears to be field curvature in that I can get the outer portion in focus if I fiddle with the focusing knob a bit. Still out but the very outer edge of the field of view appears entirely “flat” in its representation of the image.
As for field of view, yes, the Frontier ED is wider than either the Promaster ED or the Meopta Meostar. In direct comparison I was able to see a noticeably wider true and apparent field of view with the Frontier ED model. What makes this really significant is how truly wide this field of view is. The listed specification is 426 feet. There is not another high or mid-price binocular that even comes close to touching that level of performance. The Meopta Meostar at 411 feet is the closest followed by the Zeiss FL and the Nikon EDG. As impressive as the true field of view is the apparent field is even more so. At slightly over 64 degrees it is actually better than many of the 10×42 models in this regard. Other than some very inexpensive roof prism designs on the market there isn’t another 8×42 model that touches this size of field of view. In their case they sacrifice a bit of centerfield sharpness and image “flatness” in order to achieve this performance. What makes the Frontier ED’s performance even more impressive is the quality of the view over a predominant amount of the entire field. The image is bright, sharp and very contrasty. Furthermore it is very addicting!
The only downside to this binocular optically is that it shows a bit more stray light in the image than that of the Promaster ED. I can see it as a bit of a ring of light around the outside of the field of view. This image characteristic reminds me a bit of a set of Bushnell Discoverer 7x42s that I recently parted with. It is not distracting and does not, in my opinion, take away from the overall image quality of the binocular but I did not it in direct comparison to that of the Promaster and the Meostar.
Other than that one attribute I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this binocular optically or mechanically. In addition this binocular also has a few nice “extras” that I have not found on any other model I have owned. For one it comes with a nice little neoprene-style neckstrap that makes wearing the binocular very comfortable. Second, it comes with an impressive “hard case” similar to that found with various Vortex binoculars. It also comes with a rather unique “half shell” case that covers the bottom half of the binocular when not in use. You can see them all in the pictures I am posting below.
For what it is worth I am very, very impressed with this binocular. It excels in every area and actually improves upon the Promaster ED design in several key areas I mentioned in my review of that binocular, namely the shape of the eyecups and the feel of the focusing knob. Oh yes, and Steve, the depth of focus is actually a bit better too. 😉
At the $425 that this binocular is now selling for there isn’t anything optically that will touch it…of course other than the Promaster Elite ELX ED. I respectfully submit this binocular to others for further evaluation. It is a keeper and most certainly is competitive optically with the $1000+ Alpha binoculars!