ED vs HD Binoculars – What’s the Difference?

As I am sure this will be of use to many who are looking at buying binoculars and trying to sift through all the marketing jargon Here is my answer to a question sent in by a long time BBR Patron Supporter Warren:

What does HD mean on binoculars & is it different to ED glass binoculars?

I am a bit confused by the terms HD and ED when referring to glass. I just read an article that says they are interchangeable. That does not sound correct to me but maybe it is?

Guide to HD binoculars: what it means, how it is different to ED glass binoculars with examples, reviews & recommendations.

GPO Passion HD 10x50 Binoculars - click for full Review
GPO Passion HD 10x50 Binoculars Review

HD Binoculars, Scopes & Monoculars

I agree it is confusing and not at all clear: in my experience, the brands that use the HD reference on their binoculars (as well as scopes, and monoculars) mean it to stand for one of two things: either High Density or High Definition!

In the case of High Density (Vortex is a good example here), they are referring to the high-density, extra-low dispersion (ED) glass used in their lens elements, while other brands use HD as an indication that this particular model or series uses their own idea of a High Definition Optical System and they are referring to the entire optical pathway from the objectives to your eyes and not just the objective lenses!

So what makes up a High Definition Optical System certainly means different things to different brands and as such, it is a mistake to assume HD Optics from different brands are of the same quality.

Usually and as a base, but not always it indicates that the instrument in question has a fully multi-coated optical system, incorporates ED (extra-low dispersion ) glass elements in the lenses, and if roof prisms are used, they are both phase-corrected and dielectrically coated.

As I say, this is just a guide and is most certainly not always the case: Some manufacturers will use it to indicate they also have also included protective coatings on the outer lens surfaces. Others will simply use it to differentiate it from the ED version in their lineup and as such their HD instruments will have all the same optical coatings as the ED version, but either omit ED glass in their lenses or use different ED lens designs!

Example 1:
A good example of this and where a brand used HD to signify a higher level model than an ED one comes from GPO binoculars and their excellent Passion HD and ED instruments:

As well as a fully multi-coated optical system with water & oil phobic outer lens coatings and phase-corrected, dielectric mirror-coated prisms, their Passion HD Binoculars like the 10x50 Passion HD pictured above also incorporate not one, but two extremely high-grade fluorite-containing ED elements within each lens.

Whilst the less expensive GPO Passion ED binoculars like the 8x42 Passion ED I have pictured below use the same level of optics and coatings (to my knowledge) except for the fact that the lenses “only” have one ED element contained with them.

GPO Passion ED 8x42 Binoculars - click for full review
GPO Passion ED 8x42 Binoculars Review

ED Binoculars

The ED term is less ambiguous and simpler to understand as it simply indicates that at least one element in the lens is made from Extra-low dispersion glass, and as such you would think it would be more comparable across different brands.

But even now you need to be very careful in making snap judgments as it is certainly not true to say that all ED glass is equal and then on top of that just using ED elements in the lenses does not instantly guarantee image improvement.

For ED glass binoculars to perform well and reduce chromatic aberrations as intended, these extra-low dispersion lens elements need to be used in the right way in a very well-designed optical system as a whole.

Indeed I have often remarked how very well-made non-ED glass binoculars can and often do show the same or even less color fringing (the result of chromatic aberrations) than less well-made ED glass instruments.

Also, keep in mind that many brands make binoculars that use ED glass in their lenses, but they don’t indicate it in the name. Here names like Swarovski, Kite, and Maven spring to mind.

Hawke Frontier 8x42 ED X on the Left & the Hawke Frontier 8x42 HD X on the Right

Example 2:
In the first example above, GPO uses HD to indicate a range of theirs that is at a higher level than their ED version of it. However, don’t always assume this to be the case.

Here a good example comes from Hawke Sport optics and their award-winning Frontier HD and ED binoculars and scopes:

As with GPO, both the Frontier ED X and Frontier HD X ranges use a very similar optical system, except this time, it is only the ED X, which as the name implies uses ED glass lens elements.

The less expensive Frontier HD X instruments use “standard” and not “extra” low dispersion glass to make up the lenses.

As a point of interest when I tested them, the level of color fringing that I observed through the HD X was very minimal, and whilst like any binocular some color fringing is evident when you really look for it, the amount would certainly not be something to be overly concerned with.

However, when taking it to the extreme, like very closely examining the edges of a black telephone cable against a bright blue sky in the background, color fringing is easier to notice.

Here, I was able to notice that the ED X did perform better than the HD X, but I have to say that the difference was very minimal and you have to look very closely for it.


So to sum up, I only use HD and ED as an indicator of quality and it is only really useful to compare or differentiate quality within a particular brand.

So whilst this may not be the answer we were all are looking for, I hope this sort of helps clear things up!

Related Content

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] HD binoculars offer exceptional image quality and durability. With fully multi-coated lenses and an HD optical system, these binoculars deliver outstanding clarity and color fidelity. They come with adjustable […]

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x