How to choose Binoculars

Having binoculars at hand on a hike can make your trip more pleasurable. There are many binoculars available in the market but the technical jargon is little intimidating for a beginner and making one wonder how to choose binoculars.

To make things easier, here is comprehensive binoculars buying guide discussing the specifications and every factor you need to consider before buying a binocular. I have broken down this into two parts.

  • Understanding Binocular specifications & features
  • Understanding your requirements

 

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Understanding binocular specifications & features

What do the numbers on binoculars mean?

The first thing you notice is two numbers (ex: 7 X 35, 10 X 50).  The first number 7 (in 7 X 35) represents magnification. Its 7X zoom i.e the object appears 7 times closer. In 10X50 binoculars, the object appears 10 times closer. The second part of the number, 35 (in 7X35) represents the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. The objective is the larger lenses away from the eyepiece.

How do these numbers affect the view?

As the magnification (first) number increases

  • the object appears bigger
  • but the field of view gets narrower. So, it gets harder to focus or stabilize.

If you pick one with higher than 10X, you would need a tripod or monopod.

As the objective lens size (second number) increases

  • More light gets in.
  • The image gets brighter. So, better for low light activities.
  • But the binocular gets bigger and heavier.

Most of the binoculars fall in 30-50mm. Compact binoculars have less than 40mm lens. Astronomy binoculars have greater than 50mm lens.

Eye relief

Eyepiece should be at a comfortable distance from your eyes while viewing. The distance of eyepiece of binoculars from eyes when viewing is called ‘eye relief’.

  • 5-15mm distance from eyes is comfortable for normal viewing
  • 12-15mm eye relief if wearing glasses.

Porro Prism Vs Roof Prism

Porro prism & Roof Prism differ in how they send light from objective lens to eyepiece.

Porro Prism is older one. They are there since world war II. These are “A” shaped. Cheaper but bigger size.

Roof prism is a new addition. These are “H” shaped. These are little costlier but compact.

Field of View

Field of view is measured in feet @ 1000 yards. Ex: 380 ft @ 1000 yards. Its also represented in degrees. Ex:  Angular field of view – 6.1 degrees.

As the magnification increases the field of view decreases.

Glass grade

  • BAK4 (barium crown glass) is the costlier ones and are effective.
  • BK-7 (borosilicate glass) is also good but the light at the edges is low and hence the view is a bit like a square.

Lens coating

Lenses and glasses are applied with anti-reflective coating. These are coated to stop the light that falls on the glass from reflecting. Some binoculars are multi-coated, fully coated…

Coated (C) – some glasses are coated.

Fully coated (FC) – all glasses are coated.

Multi-coated (MC) – some glasses are multi-coated.

Fully multi-coated (FMC) – Fully multi-coated.

Focusing ability

Binoculars focus in two ways.

  • Centre-post mechanism – both the lenses are focused by the common central control
  • Individual lens focusing – each lens has a separate control.

Image stabilization

Image stabilization a recent addition to the binoculars. They use the same technology used in cameras to stabilize the image. There are two main categories.

  • Active:  These use electronic sensors and adjust some part of the view to correct the shake.
  • Passive:  they use an internal gyroscope to minimize the shake from the hand of the holder. These are recommended for a view from

Night Vision

If you are more of a night person and use it for watching nightlife or hunting in the dark, you could choose the binoculars with night vision. These optico-electronic devices work by amplifying the available light. Some night vision binoculars come with digital cameras which record/shoot low-quality images/videos and with very minimal magnification.

Understanding your requirements

There are so many models available in the market that each of them is better designed to suit some specific activity. While some are good for bird watching, some are handy while hunting and some have better night vision and so on. So while looking at the specifications & other features, keep in mind the activity for which you are going to use it the most.

Binoculars for Sports, hiking & Birdwatching

This is the most general use of binoculars. Most of the binoculars made fit into this category. For these purposes, one prefers to have a compact and lightweight binoculars so that it is easy to carry around. At the same time power of the binoculars is also equally important.

Binoculars with the power 8x to 12x and objective lens of 25mm to 50mm are preferred for this purpose.

Binoculars for Hunting

This is another most use case. There are wide range of binoculars available with different features. Depending on the type of hunting, one can choose their gear. Most of the binoculars with 8x to 12x, which are also used for other common purposes can be used for daytime hunting. If hunting at night time or during early hours before sunrise, one could pick binoculars with night vision.

Binoculars for Stargazing – Astronomy

Most people usually overlook binoculars for stargazing but Binoculars are smaller and have certain advantages over the telescope. Unlike telescope, you don’t necessarily need to have a tripod for binoculars. Good astronomical binoculars are cheaper than basic telescopes and are a good start for beginner astronomy enthusiasts.

Astronomy binoculars need high magnification power. Usually, a magnification greater than 12x is preferred. These are bigger & bulkier. Sometimes you would need a tripod to comfortably use it for a long time.

Other things you need to consider

Budget

First thing actually, one would start their search with a budget in mind. You could get decent binoculars under 100$ price range and the features and the quality increase as you invest more money. In general, there are very good binoculars with high end features in the range of 200-500$ and we  wouldn’t  suggest going for a cheap one as we do not want it to break in the middle of a trip.

Would you need a tripod/monopod?

If you are going for a very heavy binoculars with magnification greater than 10X, chances are you might need a tripod or a monopod to be able to hold such heavy binoculars for a longer time. Usually, binoculars used for astronomy would need a tripod. Even some bird watchers use tripods.

Additional accessories

Carrying Case, Eyepiece and Lens Protection Covers, Cleaning Cloth, Binocular Neck Strap – these are some basic accessories you would need along with the binoculars. If you are going with a night vision binocular or a binocular with a camera, you would also need a power cable, memory stick. Some binoculars come with accessories included. If they are not included, well, you should buy them separately.

Brands

There are very good brands making the binoculars of very high quality. All these good brands make the binoculars in all the price ranges – low priced, mid-range, high end. Starting from under 100$, you can find them until 10,000$. Here are some of the popular brands producing binoculars. Bushnell, Carl Zeiss, Celestron, Swarovski, Nikon, Pentax, Steiner, Barska, Canon.

So, there are many many options out there with specific features for specific activities. We recommend you to first understand the binocular specifications and keep in mind the purpose you are going to use the binoculars mostly for.

James
 

Iam an outdoor enthusiast turned blogger. I help people with their outdoor activities & choosing the right gear. Here I help you pick a right binoculars for your needs.

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