Indeed, there are so many choices out there and the prices range from, under $100 to over $2000. And then, beyond price, the specs range from magnifications of 6x to 25x, and close focus ranges from 3 feet all to way to 20 feet. Then there are prism types and lens coatings to think about. Its all enough to make you throw up your hands and just go for a nature walk….but it’s so much fun to go on that nature walk with a pair of binoculars…..
So, if you’re looking to buy a pair of binos….the big question is….what makes a good set of binoculars and how do you choose? I recently came across a couple of nice write-ups on this topic so over the next few weeks I’ll cover different aspects and features of binoculars and share what I learned. Today I’ll go over some of the broader features in selecting a pair for general nature adventures and birding.
The first thing to decide upon is magnification. Magnification for general nature observation and birding is best in the range of 7x to 10x. 8x is one of the more popular magnifications. Anything lower than 7x and you won’t have enough magnification to make using the binos very worthwhile and anything higher than 10x will be tough to keep steady when hand holding.
I’ll confess that until I was in my late 20s, I avoided using binoculars. I couldn’t understand why people used them. The pair my parents had were a high magnification and heavy and I could never focus on anything because my hands seemed to shake so much and my arms got tired from holding them. It baffled me as to why people went out with these…but then again, the pair at our house mostly sat in their case on a bookshelf. Conversely, the binoculars I had been given when I was younger was a pair of plastic kids binoculars and they wouldn’t focus either. I often wonder now….what if I had been exposed to a “good” set of binoculars when I was a kid…but that’s a post for another day….
After magnification, the next thing to think about is the lens coating. You should select binoculars that are fully multi-coated, meaning that all surfaces of the glass have been coated with the manufacturer’s special secret film. This will add sharpness and brightness to what you are looking at, making it that much better to see the fine details on bird feathers or wings of butterflies and dragonflies or petals on flowers.
The next thing to consider is the quality of the glass. Spend as much as you can afford to get the best glass possible. Ultimately, binoculars are all about the glass since that’s what will produce the image you see. Definitely try out the binoculars that you are considering by going outside of the store so you have real light conditions and try different brands and models side by side to check for sharpness.
The binoculars also need to feel good in your hands and one size does not fit all. Some binoculars are better for larger hands, while others are better for smaller hands. You’ll also want to get a good feel for the focusing ring and how fast it turns. Some models require many rotations of the focusing knob whereas others focus with fewer rotations. This is a personal preference so you need to try them out.
Another important feature is having binoculars that are waterproof and fog proof. I’ve had the experience myself where we’ve gone out birding and it’s started to drizzle. The birds don’t care, they’re still flitting around, and I don’t care because its a nice warm summer drizzle…but then that yellow-breasted chat finally pops up out of the scrub after chatting and calling at us. We all take in that deep breath of anticipation and the binos go up and then….deflation….nothing but fog on the lens and the bird goes back into the scrub….its such a bummer. This doesn’t happen a lot but it is disappointing when it does.
Other things to consider when selecting binos are good close focus (e.g. less than 6 ft or so is terrific), good eye relief if you wear glasses and general durability of the binoculars. Take a look at the warranty that the manufacturer. This will give an indication of durability as well as the degree to which the manufacturer stands behind the product.
So, in this economy there may not be a lot of people out buying binoculars but if you are, I hope this helps.