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Binoculars are the main accessory for bird watching. But choosing the right one can be quite daunting considering the large number of options and types.
Below, we discuss top tips for choosing the right binoculars. Keep reading to learn about the features you must consider when binocular shopping.
Nowadays, there are hundreds of binoculars, each with the latest features. So, how do you pick the one that meets your needs? Here are three pointers to keep in mind.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that you get what you pay for. The price points for binoculars fall into three categories: starter, intermediate, and expert.
Introductory models fall in the starter range and cost $100 to $150. These binoculars mostly have rubber body armor. They are also fog-proof and waterproof.
If you need more image clarity and brightness, opt for mid-level binoculars. They cost $150 to $350 and come with a decent warranty. Most of these binoculars are lightweight, easy to hold, and multi-coated.
The expert-level options cost $350 and above. In this range, you can expect to find premium features like water-repellent coating, ED glass, and high-end optics.
The key to setting a budget for binocular shopping is to determine the following:
Start and mid-level binoculars are suitable for most bird watchers. Only pay above $350 if you prefer the extra bells and tassels or need to bird watch for professional reasons.
Binoculars come in two main body types: roof prisms and Porro prisms. Most high-end models are roof prisms due to their aesthetic appeal. Porro-prism binoculars have an angled body and a stepped shape. Meanwhile, roof-prism binoculars have a straight-through shape. They are also lighter and more comfortable. Since they have an internal focus, they are protected from weather elements.
Roof-prism binoculars also come with waterproof bodies. If you are birdwatching in harsh weather, these binoculars are the right choice. Since their lenses are coated, you’ll get sufficient light transmission even in rainy conditions.
If you plan to bird watch in bright conditions, you can use miniature compact binoculars too. They are lightweight, so you can hold them comfortably for long periods.
The downside to miniature models is their reduced field of view and light-gathering ability. But if that’s not an issue, they’re better than their larger counterparts.
If you have a physical disability, the right binocular will depend on your personal preference and the type of disability. It’s best to try different models and decide which is most comfortable.
If you use low-magnification binoculars, they will need little refocusing. They are also steadier, which makes them easy to hold. Meanwhile, stabilizing binoculars are heavy and may cause fatigue.
You can also opt for electronic binoculars with a tilted head and sound amplification. Or talk to a specialist optical supplier to find personalized solutions.
The best magnification for bird watching is 8x or 10x. Any weaker, and you’ll have trouble locating and tracking birds. Anything higher will make it difficult for you to get a steady view if you don’t have a tripod.
If you watch birds in open stretches or open countries, choose binoculars with 10x magnification. But if you stay in the woodlands or watch birds from close quarters, 8x should be enough.
When it comes to magnification, bigger is not always better. Binoculars with high magnification are more prone to movement. They are harder to stabilize, giving you a shaky view.
Since binoculars with high magnifications create a darker image, they’re not good for low-light conditions, such as evening bird watching.
People who wear glasses should buy binoculars with sufficient eye relief. Here are two features that allow this:
Even with these features, using binoculars may be uncomfortable for some people, especially those who wear bulky glasses frames. Wearing contact lenses during bird watching might be a good alternative for such individuals.
Binoculars may be fully, partially, or multi-coated. Here are the common types:
Besides these basic coating types, you should also know about specialized options. For example, many roof-style binoculars have dielectric high-reflective multilayer prism coating. These binoculars have excellent light reflectance and show brighter images.
Another type is the phase correction coating. It is also present on roof-style binoculars in the high-end price range. Phase correction can help reduce chromatic aberration and enhance sharpness.
If the binoculars are too big, they will take up more space in your bag. They will also be heavier and uncomfortable to carry for long periods.
Meanwhile, binoculars that are too compact will have a poor field of view. They may also lack features like waterproof bodies and rubber armor. Also, you won’t be able to use them while wearing glasses.
Choose the mid-ground when buying binoculars—not too big and not too small. A mid-sized binocular will be easy to carry and have the most features you need.
It’s important to purchase binoculars from reputable brands to get the best value for money. Some good options include:
You can also find second-hand options on online marketplaces. But again, buy second-hand binoculars from top brands since they are long-lasting and durable. You should also ensure all features, such as magnification and coatings, are in working condition before buying.
Saving the best tip for last, you should try some binoculars before choosing your final pair. Many retailers let you try multiple options with no pressure to buy. You can also talk to the in-store professionals who can help you in the selection process.
If you want to buy binoculars online, read customer reviews on the company’s website and third-party sites. You can find detailed reviews by customers on Amazon. The product pages also have Q&A sections where you can find the answers to most of your queries.
There are three main places you can buy binoculars from:
Other options include getting a pair from your local astronomy club or borrowing from friends. Some national parks may also have visitor’s centers or shops where you can purchase binoculars.
Buying the best binoculars for bird watching can be tricky if you don’t know what to look for. Per the expert tips in this guide, you should consider your budget, bird-watching conditions, and comfort level.
The best options are binoculars with 8x to 10x magnification, 42–50mm objective lens diameter, and fully multi-coated lenses. Make sure you buy from reputable sellers, online or in-store.
Featured Image Credit: HTWE, Shutterstock
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Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.
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