How To Buy Binoculars For Birding UPDATED
In fact, image quality can be so good nowadays that factors like ergonomics, feel, and build quality can make the difference between two similar models. If the sheer variety of models, brands, and specifications seems overwhelming, we can help. When testing binoculars, we use the following tips to zero in on what makes one pair better than another.
how to buy binoculars for birding
Most birding binoculars come in 8x and 10x versions. Personal preferences vary, but many find 8x binoculars are in a sweet spot: good magnification and a steady, wide field of view (for finding and following birds).
Do you get dizzy when you scan? In some lower priced binoculars, the image quality is good in static views, but scanning left or right produces a rolling distorted effect at the edges that can be disorienting.
Choosing binoculars is challenging. There are thousands of optics ranging across many price points. Regardless if your hobby is birding, hunting, or something else, this article will help explain the different specifications, technical data, and features of binoculars you need to know before making a purchase.
As much as you want to shop online and find the perfect choice without ever leaving your house, my recommendation is to go to a local store that sells optics and test and hold as many binoculars as possible!
The purpose of this section is to provide education. I want you to feel confident shopping for and choosing binoculars, and this starts with having a firm understanding of the terms, numbers, features, and specifications you will run across.
For example, look at the comparison table for the three different binoculars below. They all have the same magnification and objective lens diameter, but vastly different fields of view (and prices!).
Eye relief is the distance that a binocular eyepiece can be held away from your eye and still see the whole Field of View. If you wear glasses, eye relief is essential to consider when choosing binoculars.
In my opinion, a warranty is a reflection of how confident a binocular manufacturer is of their product. Do they have faith in their engineering? Will it hold up to the rigors and stresses of birding, hunting, or other outdoor uses?
Companies have developed complex coatings to apply to the glass to help fix the problem of losing light. These coatings can be as thin as a few millionths of an inch! Every company has their own unique coatings, and there is no industry standard, but here are some of the terms you will see when choosing binoculars.
Phase Correction Coating: This coating is also found on better binoculars and is only needed for roof style optics. A roof surface can cause a phase shift of light, which affects the image. The phase correction coatings help to minimize this occurrence and keep the picture clear.
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In this first segment of a four-part series, we will discuss what to look for if you are looking for binoculars for birding, or some things to consider if you are already a birder and looking to upgrade your optics.
Binoculars are almost de rigueur for anyone looking to observe birds in the wild. Some birders use spotting scopes and others use cameras with telephoto lenses, but you may be hard-pressed to find a serious birder without a pair of binoculars at the ready.
The first decision a birder needs to make when buying binoculars is what magnification binoculars to get. When looking at binoculars on the Web (and on the box and the binoculars themselves) you will usually see two prominent numbers. These refer to the magnification and objective diameter. An example is: 8x42. This indicates the magnification of the binoculars is 8x power and the objective (front) lens is 42mm in diameter.
The natural tendency for most people new to binoculars is to get the most powerful binoculars they can find. After all, the idea is that you want to get a view as close to the bird as possible. However, there is a drawback to high-powered viewing: image shake. The higher the magnification, the more small movements and vibrations will be translated into your image. Also, high magnification usually has an impact on minimum focus distance (more on why that is important later) and it also narrows your field of view.
Because of this, most birders prefer binoculars that are between 7x and 10x. In the past, 8x was the standard median power between 7x and 10x. Today, some manufacturers offer 8.5x and even 9x as a compromise between the power of the 10x and the steadiness of the 8x. In general, when 8x is mentioned, the term embodies these other pairs as well.
The larger the objective lens, the more light gathering power the binoculars have. The downside is that larger lenses are heavier. A difference of a few ounces on a specifications sheet might not look like much until you are several hours into your hike and the weight of the binoculars is starting to make an impression on your neck and shoulders.
Birders tend to gravitate toward the 40mm range for their binoculars. Binoculars with 40mm, 42mm, or 44mm objectives serve as a good medium compromise between low-light capability and portability. Objectives smaller than 35mm will lead to a more portable package at the expense of light gathering, and a 50mm or larger objective will give you a very bright image along with, potentially, the aforementioned sore neck and shoulders.
Another advantage of the larger objective diameter is a larger exit pupil at the rear element of the binoculars, where your eyes are focused. With two binoculars of the same magnification, the circle of light hitting your eye is larger, with a larger objective. Therefore, an 8x42 binocular will have a larger exit pupil than an 8x35 binocular. A larger exit pupil generally means a more comfortable viewing experience.
Binoculars come in two basic configurations: Porro prism or roof prism. The Porro prism gives that type of binoculars the traditional binocular shape. The roof prism binocular features a narrower and compact, straight design. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but, in general, the Porro prism design is less expensive to manufacture and, therefore, gives you more bang for your buck as far as optical quality and features. The relative compact size of roof prism binoculars makes them generally more popular for birders, as optically similar Porros will be larger.
Birding can be a casual activity or it can be exacting scientific field work. Because of this, optical quality in binoculars should be of great importance to you. Premium optics will allow you to discern subtle color patterns on the breast and mantle and examine plumage on the wing bars. If accurate identification is your mission, you will want the best view you possible.
Most importantly, regardless of your approach to birding, better optics means better viewing and that means an overall improved birding experience. There is an intangible, subtle pleasure that you experience when looking through crisp, bright optics.
Not all birding is done on sunny days. You will definitely want a pair of binoculars that is waterproof, as even fair-weather birders might get stuck in a passing rain shower from time to time. Fogproof is also a good feature to look for, as this will keep your binoculars from fogging up when transitioning to the outdoors on a cold day from a warm living room, where you were just perusing the latest Audubon magazine or Sibley guide.
A quick word on monoculars: There is certainly a market for these devices. Basically, the monocular is half of a binocular; one of two optical tubes that are connected to form a binocular. The monocular gives you half the binocular, less than half the weight (there is no bridge), and often a proportional cost savings. The disadvantage is that one-eye viewing is more tiring than viewing with both eyes, and you lose the stereoscopic advantage of the binoculars. However, if your vision is poor in one eye, or nonexistent, the monocular makes a ton of sense.
The way you carry your binoculars is going to have a big impact on your birding experience. You can carry them in your hand all day, or wear them around your neck with the included strap. However, there are more than a few ways to carry your binos. Chest straps, holsters, and quick releases all change the way you handle your glass in the field. Also, many binoculars have threaded sockets that permit attachments for mounting on a tripod or other fixed support.
One of the best ways to test a wide selection of binoculars is by visiting the Optics Department at the B&H Photo SuperStore in New York City. The store has a huge number of binoculars on display for you to look through and hold while you talk to optics experts at the counter. The B&H Used Department also has a constantly changing selection of great binoculars available at discounted prices.
In conclusion, the best binoculars are the ones you fall in love with and the ones that keep you excited about birding. To find that pair, do your homework, evaluate the options, try before you buy, and get the best pair your budget allows. Once you get your pair, we look forward to seeing you smiling beneath your binoculars out in the marsh, woods, or local nature walk!
The RSPB runs field days where you can try binoculars under field conditions. This will help you to make sure you are completely happy before purchase. The shops on reserves listed on this page keep a good range of binoculars. Contact them directly for details of products and events. You can also follow the link to see if there's an equipment demonstration near you soon. 041b061a72