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You can just barely make out the hazy image of your subject in the far distance. Carefully, you raise the binoculars to your eyes and relocate your target in the lenses. After a few moments, you finally get it centered in your field of view. But even though your subject is well within your viewing area, you can’t seem to make out any detail.
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one experiencing this problem – it’s called “image shake“. And luckily, we’ve got several solutions for you to ensure that you’re no longer plagued with an unsteady image when looking through your binoculars.
It was a bit of a hike up to this spot and you’re breathing hard now. Your arms are a bit shaky and your breath isn’t completely steady yet. Whether you know it or not, this shaking and hard breathing transfer into your binoculars in the form of image shake.
Image shake is all of the tiny movements of your body that are heavily accentuated in the viewing lens of your binoculars. Even the smallest of movements can result in major problems when you’re looking through those high-powered lenses. Why is this?
Mainly, the answer comes down to magnification. The higher the magnification level is on your binoculars, the more of an issue image shake will be. When your image is magnified multiple times, the tiniest movement of your hand can result in many degrees of movement in your image.
You might have noticed that your binoculars have a set of numbers on them. It might look something like 8×42. Each of these numbers represents an important measurement when discussing magnification.
The first number, in this case 8, represents the magnification level of the lens, which is why it’s followed with x. For an 8×42 set of binoculars, the 8x means that whatever you’re viewing will appear 8 times closer through the binoculars than when you look with your naked eye. Similarly, 10x would appear 10 times closer, etc.
The second number is a measurement of the width of the lens in millimeters. So, an 8×42 set of binoculars has lenses that are 42 millimeters in diameter and will magnify your subject by 8 times. Moreover, the objective lens diameter is directly related to your field of view – how much you can see around the subject.
When thinking of image shake, you can also imagine that your movements are magnified by the same amount as your subject. For example, with our 8×42 binoculars, whatever you’re viewing appears 8 times larger and closer than it does through your naked eye, but your movements will affect what you’re seeing 10 times more than usual as well.
In reality, this means that the stronger your binoculars are, the more of a problem image shake will be.
If you’re starting to feel like you’ll never be able to see a clear image through your binoculars, then fear not! We’ve got some great tips to help you start holding steady and seeing clearly today.
If you’re like most people, then when you look through binoculars you simply hold them up to your eyes and look through them. You likely don’t give too much thought to the technique you’re holding them with. But if you want to see a clear image through your lenses, you’ll need to learn proper body mechanics for holding binoculars.
Grip the binoculars with both hands and bring them to your eyes. Now, think about your elbows. They’re likely flared out to your sides as this is how many people hold binoculars. But this is wrong. In this position, you have very little leverage or stability as your arms must support the entire weight of the binoculars.
Instead, you need to bring your elbows in towards your chest. Allow your elbows to rest against your chest and upper belly. Just by using your body as a support for your arms, you should see a massive increase in your stability, allowing you to get much clearer viewing through your binoculars.
When you get tired and there’s nowhere to sit, what do you do? Most of us will lean against something hard to support some of our weight and allow us to rest. Well, the same thing applies when using binoculars. If you can find some support for your body, you can do less work, experience less fatigue, and hold your lenses steadier.
You’ll need to find something that’s solid and has no give. A railing, tree, wall, or big rock are all great options, but you’ll be limited to whatever is around you at the time. Be creative!
Once you find your support, lean your back against it so that you’re completely steady and stable. Then, following the proper technique instructions from our first tip, hold the binoculars steady with arms propped against your chest. You should now have a much clearer image than when attempting to just freely hold the binoculars to your eyes.
Standing might not seem like work, but if you stand for hours on end, you’ll probably want to take a seat. That’s because it is work and it takes some energy to keep standing. Plus, you only have two pieces of contact with stable surfaces when you’re standing; your two feet.
By sitting down on something solid and steady, you’ll be increasing the amount of your body that’s being supported by stable surfaces. Now, your feet and entire backside are all supported, allowing you to conserve your energy and use the support of your seat to help steady the binoculars as well.
Still, you should follow the proper holding technique laid out in the first tip with your arms against your chest. This should allow you to maintain a very steady image in your binoculars and will extend the amount of time that you comfortably view with them.
You want to have a firm hold on your binoculars so they don’t slip from your hand. But if you hold them too tightly, you can actually introduce hand movement into your viewing experience.
Rather than use your entire hand to hold each side of the binoculars, try using your thumb and index fingers with the remainder of your hand and fingers gently wrapped around the binoculars but not exerting pressure.
At first, you might feel like the binoculars are going to fall from your hands. But with a little practice, this will become much more comfortable for you and you’ll see much clearer without the extra movement caused by tensed arm and hand muscles.
This is pretty similar to using a tripod but more resourceful. Instead of carrying a tripod around with you, just use whatever is available in the area where you’re viewing. If you can find a rock, a tree stump, a rail, or even a picnic table, you can easily use any of these to your advantage.
Just place your binoculars on the steady surface and let it take the weight of your binoculars. Only use your hands to steady them and control the direction they’re pointing, but let the surface you’re using take all the weight.
You’ll find that this will give you better images and clearer subjects while also extending the amount of time you can comfortably view for.
If you’ve tried all of our tips and you’re still having trouble keeping your binoculars steady, don’t get frustrated yet. We’ve still got some more suggestions that can help you get a clear image. Tools exist to help out with this problem, and by implementing them, you can save yourself a bit of headache and probably some hand ache as well!
Most of them extend and collapse so they’re small and easy to carry with you but can also be used at multiple heights for convenience and comfort. They’re relatively lightweight and packable.
A monopod will provide stable support for your binoculars, but you’ll still have to hold it. Because it has just one leg, it won’t stand on its own. It’s meant to give you stability while still allowing absolute freedom of movement with your binoculars.
Tripods are most commonly used for cameras, but they work just as well with binoculars. As the name suggests, a tripod has three legs rather than the single leg of a monopod. This means that a tripod can hold your camera without the need for you to keep a hand on it.
This can be especially great if you don’t need to move the binoculars once you’ve got them focused. You’ll eliminate any type of image shake when using a tripod because you don’t have to touch the binoculars or tripod at all.
Tripods are also very adjustable so you can always find the right height for any situation, whether you’re standing, sitting, or anything in between. But they’re also bigger, heavier, and clunkier than a monopod. You’ll have to carry it out with you every time you get in the field, so it can be a bit of a nuisance in that sense. Still, you can’t beat shake-free images!
Straps allow you to hold binoculars from your neck, making them much easier to carry and freeing up your hands. But they can also help you to hold the binoculars steady while viewing through them since they provide extra points of contact.
To use straps for clear viewing, you’ll need to get them set to the exact right length. When you hold the binoculars to your eyes to view, you want to be able to push out on the binoculars, creating tension on the straps. This will hold them steady since now you have two straps and two hands holding the binoculars; all of which should be anchored to your torso if you’re using the proper holding technique.
The binopod chest harnesses are a newer tool for binoculars that combine a mounted stand and a chest harness. These harnesses strap to your chest and neck and hold the binoculars up in front of your eyes. Then, you can view without using your hands at all.
Naturally, by taking your hands out of the equation entirely, you’re reducing the instance of human error. But your body can still be shaky and unstable without your hands, so this isn’t a complete solution. That said, it can save your arms from getting tired after hours of binocular use and should provide a much clearer image than when holding the binoculars by hand.
The higher-powered your binoculars are, the more shake you’ll see from each of your tiny movements. Just like how the lenses magnify your image, they also magnify your movements. So, lower magnification binoculars will be less affected by your movements.
This means that by simply changing to a pair of binoculars with lower levels of magnification, you could reduce a lot of that image shake that’s currently hampering your viewing pleasure.
Shaky, blurry, unsteady images are something that all binocular users have to deal with at some point. By implementing the correct technique when holding your binoculars, you can drastically reduce the amount of image shake you experience. You can also try things like supporting yourself against a wall or tree, sitting down, or propping the binoculars on a solid object.
Alternatively, you can add new tools to your arsenal to help steady your binoculars for you. Tripods, monopods, straps, and chest harnesses are all effective tools at reducing or eliminating shaking subjects in your binocular’s lenses. You could also just opt for a pair of binoculars with less magnification, which will also reduce the amount of image shake you see.
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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