- Neutral, natural colour image
- Solid, compact and no-nonsense
- Easy to ‘set up’ quickly - perfect for the beginner
- I can’t believe £100 bins can now produce an image like this
- Excellent focussing – precise and easy to find
Before they started causing a real stir with their £300 Frontier ED binoculars, Hawke made their name with their Black Watch 8x42s, which (in both porro and roof prism versions) were among the first to show that it was possible to produce an optically impressive model for around £100. I approached the new Nature-Treks, clocking in at around the same price, full of anticipation, then. And, at first sight, they’re very much in the mould of Hawke’s other recent successes. They strike you as really compact, with a solid, no-nonsense design.
Optically, they’re hugely impressive, and at the risk of sounding like a parrot, I yet again found myself marvelling at just how far budget optics have come even in the last five years. In most typical birding conditions, the image is certainly bright enough, although it obviously suffers by comparison to top-end optics in really low light. It’s pretty neutral, and natural, too, with no discernible colour cast. Against strong light, there is a certain amount of chromatic aberration (or colour fringing), which is noticeable right across the image, but always narrow enough not to be too distracting. And, again as so often with modern binoculars, it can be reduced to a minimum by using the adjustable eyecups to find the best eye position for the individual. Sharpness is impressive, too – I rarely found myself looking for that little bit extra, in the centre of the image, at least, although there is a fall-off towards the edges. That probably contributes to the most noticeable difference between these and a more expensive pair of binoculars – the narrower field of view. Not that, at almost 130m@1,000m, it could be called at all narrow, just that the ‘sweet spot’ is rather narrower than on some. Close focus, on the other hand, is really excellent, getting down to below 2m for me with no difficulty. Given how compact they are, that makes them a definite option for a bit of bug-watching.
The build quality seems to have kept pace with optical developments, too. There’s absolutely nothing fancy here, but neither do you feel you have to handle them with kid gloves. Instead, there’s a good, easy to grip rubberised coating, and two-position twist-up eyecups that offer an excellent 17.5mm of eye relief. The chunky, ridged focus wheel is about 1.25 fingers wide, and takes around two turns from close focus to infinity. Travel is smooth and consistent, and I found them very easy to focus quickly, with a good depth of field. The dioptre adjustment is a twistable ring on the right barrel that did its job. That all adds up to a pair of binoculars that emphasises ease of use – the fact that they felt rather less than their 665g helped, too.
Extras include removable tethered objective lens covers, a rainguard that fitted easily and quickly, a decent case, and a strap that, although I’d probably replace it with an old favourite, is perfectly adequate. It’s clear, then, that Hawke have taken a proven winner, tweaked it a little, and come up with a new model that does an excellent all-round job for just £100 (it comes in 8x32, 10x32, 8x42, 10x42, 10x50 and 12x50, with prices ranging from £89.95 to £129.95). That means that it’s not only an attractive option for the newcomer, but also for the older hand who wants a second or third pair to keep on the kitchen window-sill, office desk, or whatever. Compared to considerably more expensive binoculars (including Hawke’s own) there are certain limitations, but if you want a lightweight, durable, waterproof pair which do a reliable job while hardly hurting the pocket, look no further.