I made a rare excursion to the Birdfair today. I have to say that it would not make the top ten of my 'must do this every year' list if I had one. I go irregularly, and only if compelled with a reason. In the past this has been to check a product out or to help out on the LROS stand. Once, and I still can't remember why, it was to play (badly) in the exhibitors football tournament.
Anyway, this year I decided to use the Birdfair as an opportunity to check out some new bins. I couldn't go on Friday (work) or Saturday (family stuff to do), so this morning I headed out early into what turned out to be a gloriously warm and sunny day.
I dropped in to the LROS stand a couple of times through the day, chatting with Paul Riddle, Alan Pocock, Ben Croxtall and Steve Lister. Good to pick up the newly arrived Annual Report - I've enjoyed getting back into writing for that eight years after I resigned as editor and we'll soon be starting again on the next report. It was also good to say hello to Iain Robson on the Birdwatch Northumberland stand, though he'll be gutted to have missed the Toon pasting Villa. I'm sure there were other bloggers about but I didn't recognise anyone.
Inbetween chatting and milling about, I managed to grab a couple of pints of Birdfair Bitter and do a bit of C-watching (Celebrities, Cretins and Capital Cs). A steady passage of Celebrities included Packham, Baker, King and Dilger, along with lesser known birding faces like Lindo + a hanger-on with video camera. Cretins included far too many wholly inappropriately dressed visitors such as those in cream slacks and bowling shoes (in the mudfest), whilst there were too many Capital Cs to mention, mainly with expensive bins hanging from their necks whilst still in the case.
Anyway, onto the main business for me. The porro-prism Pentax 8x40 bins that I've happily used for c16 years are, quite frankly, knackered. They are in no way nitrogen purged/filled or waterproof which is kind of useless for winter which is when I am most likely to be birding. I had a budget which precluded anything decent in the Leica, Zeiss, Kowa, Nikon or Swarovski range. I know you get what you pay for, but I also don't pander to the theory that owning expensive bins makes you a good birder. I've seen far more complete cocks with expensive bins than I care to mention.
I had in mind the Opticron Verano range, but when I tried them I was disappointed. They just didn't feel right to me, being almost too light and the focus adjustment felt a bit clunky. I tried some Bushnell bins and struggled to see them as being any better optically than my old bins. Steiner Skyhawk bins were picked up and put down quickly - the diopter adjustment is on the wrong eye.
I then went to the In-Focus stand to get side by side comparison. I tried a few different pairs, including the Opticrons again. However one that I hadn't considered before was the Hawke Frontier ED 8x43. I was immediately comfortable with them, maybe heavier than most comparable bins but still lighter than my old ones and I preferred the weight compared to others I tried. The image was bright and clear, and when I tried them against a very expensive pair of Nikons I couldn't see any difference optically - other than the Hawkes had much better close focussing! They are waterproof, phase corrected roof prisms and have multi-coated ED glass. At £299.00, they were in budget and I felt they were great value at that. I doubt they will last me a lifetime, but I reckon I'll get easily 10 years out of them.
Before I left at 4ish, I had a quick walk down to Harrier Hide, nothing exciting to see - Little Egret, Green Sand and not seeing plastic Ospreys being the highlights.