Binocular Buying Tips (2023)


jump pastprismaticit can be overwhelming. There are many numbers and many options. And the best binoculars for birdwatching are very different from the best binoculars for stargazing.

Modern technology has also changed the game a bit. Did you know you can get binoculars that will tell you how far you are from that peak across the valley? Or that some binoculars even have built-in GPS and ballistic calculations on board for hunters?

How to choose the right binoculars for you

What makes one pair of binoculars better than the other is primarily the quality of the glass in the lenses and prisms. But where do you start?

You're only halfway there once you know how you're going to use them. Maybe you just want to slip binoculars in your bag or backpack for a weekend hike, concert, or sporting event. Sometimes less is more.

The compact, lightweight binoculars that I keep on a shelf next to our rear window didn't cost much. They are not super powerful. But they are perfect when a bald eagle glides by or a fox runs across the cow pasture across the river.

High-end binoculars use anti-reflective lens coatings for brighter, sharper images. The finest binoculars can also have high-performance construction such as magnesium frames, waterproofing, and anti-fog protection. Some binoculars include technologies such as rangefinders, weather sensors, and image stabilization.

While you can tell a lot about a pair of binoculars by looking at their specs, it's great when you can find a way to try different pairs in person. As with headphones, some will fit you better than others. In the meantime, it definitely helps to understand some key features.

How do binoculars work?

Essentially, binoculars haven't changed much since the early 20th century. You use two magnifying lenses on each tube: a large "objective" lens that's closer to the object you're looking at, and a smaller "ocular" eyepiece or lens.

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Proven binocular design: Lenses magnify the image and prisms ensure you see it straight ahead.

This enlargement process turns the image upside down. Try looking through a magnifying glass held a foot away from your eyes and you'll see what I mean. Binoculars use internal prisms to provide your eyes with right-side-up images. This is binoculars in a nutshell.

What do the numbers mean?

Most binoculars have two numbers front and center, like the old Nikon 7x35 pair I'm holding right now. The first number tells you the magnification - these magnify anything you see seven times larger than it appears to the naked eye. Sometimes people call these binoculars "power" instead of magnification.

The second number, 35 in this case, gives you the size of the front "lens" lenses in millimeters. The larger the objective lens, the better its light-gathering ability. That means you'll get brighter images with 7x42 binoculars than with 7x35 binoculars, all other things being equal. It's worth considering if you want to explore in low light conditions like sunrise or sunset over the salt marshes.

With larger lenses you also get a wider field of view; more about the field of view in a moment.

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The first number is how much larger it is (7x) and the second number is the diameter of the lens in millimeters - the higher the number, the brighter the image.

How much magnification do you need?

Good question. For observing nature and wildlife in my garden I like to stick to 7x or 8x as at higher magnifications the slightest hand movement can mess things up. Also, as the magnification increases, the brightness and field of view decrease.

The highest-performing binoculars are also usually larger, heavier, and harder to hold still. For example, when observing stars, 10x50 binoculars that weigh more than two pounds can feel uncomfortable after a while.

If you want even higher binocular performance than 10x or 12x, you'll probably need a tripod. (In fact, some binoculars are so unwieldy that they actuallyrequirea tripod.) Or you can get binoculars with image stabilization, like those found in some high-end camera lenses.

field of view

If you look through binoculars you will see a circular image. Imagine you are looking at a dartboard. With a narrow field of view, you can only see the target. With a wide field of view, you can see the entire target.

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A wider field of view helps in spotting things from a distance and tracking movement.

The benefit of a large field of view is that it's easier to see and track things. This is useful when birdwatching or following an athlete on a field. As I mentioned earlier, higher magnification power decreases the field of view, and larger lenses increase it.

Field of view is usually given as the diameter of your binocular sight in linear feet at 1,000 yards. A field of view of 300 feet at 1,000 yards isn't bad. So-called "wide field" binoculars give you a field of view of up to 450 feet or more.

Some manufacturers also give the specification as "actual" and "apparent" "field of view". In the angular field of view, your eyes are at the vertex or point of the angle in question. The cone expanding away from you encompasses your vision. It's like the sight beam of your flashlight.

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The round, cropped image you see when looking through binoculars appears to have a much wider or "apparent" angle of view than its "actual" angle of view from your point of view.

Its apparent angle of vision is always many times larger than the actual angle of vision. To get a rough idea of ​​apparent angle of view, multiply actual angle of view by magnification power. With most binoculars, the “true angle of view” is between 6° and 7.5°.

The "apparent angle of view" is what you get when you look through the binoculars. Suppose you use a wide fieldNikon Monarch M7 8x30Binoculars with a true angle of view of 8.3°. The apparent angle of view is what appears through your binoculars: as if you were eight times (8x) closer to the object. That's 60.3°, a nice wide angle that gives you a field of view of 435 feet at 1,000 yards.

I know this is a bit technical. And despite the specific numbers and formulas, you don't need to do numbers to see through binoculars. You rarely know exactly how far away you are from your subject unless you're using rangefinder binoculars, which I'll discuss in more detail below.

eyes relief

Most high quality binoculars include a specification for "eye relief". This is the maximum distance you can get between your eyes and the eyepiece lenses before your field of view begins to narrow. Basically, as you move the binoculars away from you, you see a smaller and smaller part of the image, as if you are looking through a tunnel.

If you wear glasses, keep the binoculars a little further away than someone who doesn't wear glasses. With good eye relief, say 14mm or more, you won't miss the full picture even when you hold the binoculars eyepiece to your glasses.

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Your field of view begins to narrow as you get further from the eye relief specification. So if you wear glasses, make sure you have at least 14mm or more.

To adjust the distance between the eyes and also for comfort, some binoculars have rubber eyecups that can be folded down to bring the eyes closer to the eyepiece lenses. Some even have a twist and slide mechanism that smoothly extends or retracts the eyepieces.

Exit pupil diameter

The exit pupil isn't the most important specification when buying binoculars, but it's worth understanding how it works, especially if you think you'll be using your binoculars in low light conditions.

The first thing worth knowing here is that the human pupil has a diameter of about 2mm in bright light to 7mm in dim light.

Binoculars transmit a beam of light through each cylinder to your eyes. You can see it if you keep the binoculars a foot away; As long as you point them at something bright, you'll see a bright spot in the center of each lens. The diameter of the exit pupil measures this spot or ray.

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You want the exit pupil of your binoculars to match or be larger than your own pupils, which range in diameter from 2mm to 7mm.

You want an exit pupil that is as large or larger than your own pupils. On a sunny day, when your pupils are fully dilated to about 2mm, any exit pupil diameter of 2mm or larger will provide images that are as bright as they appear to the naked eye. If you're stargazing and your pupils are wide open at about 7mm, you need an exit pupil diameter of at least 7mm to get the same brightness.

You can find the diameter of the exit pupil yourself by dividing the diameter of the binoculars' objective lens by the magnification. My Nikon 7x35 binoculars have a 5mm exit pupil and deliver beautiful, bright images even in the twilight.

Sometimes you will see an indication of "relative brightness". This number is the square of the exit pupil (25 for these Nikon 7x35 binoculars) and the higher the number, the brighter the image.

diopter adjustment

Your eyes are probably not the same. It's likely that one of them is slightly stronger than the other. To compensate for this imbalance, many binoculars have a so-called diopter adjustment on one of the eyepieces. Rotate the setting to move the eyepiece lens slightly closer or farther from either of your eyes. Most diopter adjustments are +/-3 or 4 steps.

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One of your eyes is likely to be slightly more powerful than the other, so many binoculars have a diopter that you adjust by focusing on the non-adjustable eye and then rotating the diopter to fine-tune the other eye.

Start with the diopter in the middle of your range. Attach a lens cap to the barrel you are adjusting and focus the binoculars on the image you see for the other barrel (the non-adjustable side). Then put the lens cap on the other tube. If the image is blurry, adjust the diopter back and forth until the image is sharp. Then you have balanced vision with both eyes open.

You can also do this by closing one eye and then the other instead of using a lens cap. But when you close your eye, it can focus differently. It is best if you let both eyes relax equally when adjusting the diopter.

Price type

Without prisms, a pair on each barrel, the binoculars would show you upside down magnified images. You can usually tell at a glance what type of prisms are in a pair of binoculars: the eyepiece and lens are offset in porro prism binoculars, and straight ahead in roof prism binoculars.

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Easily identifiable by their offset lens barrels, porro prism binoculars produce brighter images than roof prism binoculars of similar specs, but you can get great binoculars in any design.

This is because the porro prisms on the tube must be perpendicular to each other to flip the image into the correct orientation in your view. Roof prisms can be aligned in a straight line.

It's a lot of science, but the main differences are that Porro prisms give brighter images and cost less. Roof prisms are more expensive, but they can make binoculars more streamlined and comfortable to hold, especially as magnification power and target size increase.

You can get great binoculars with any type of prism. You just have to pay a little more to get the same brightness from roof prism binoculars as porro prisms, all other specs being equal.

Waterproof/fogproof design

If you plan on using binoculars for hunting, bird watching, boating, or any other wet activity, which, when you think about it, can include most situations, you should be waterproof.

Some binoculars can withstand a little rain, and some are truly submersible (but not for actual underwater use).

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Waterproof binoculars can help you stand out in the field because there are often interesting things to see when the weather reduces crowds.

Fogproof binoculars are purged of any humid air and filled with sealed nitrogen or other dry inert gas to prevent fogging of the inner glass.

Sudden changes in temperature, e.g. B. taking your binoculars out of an air-conditioned car into the hot, humid Everglades to view the flamingos can cause the outside of the binoculars to fog up. Coatings like Leica's AquaDura® make it easy to remove water or oil from the lenses; Use only a lint-free microfiber cloth.

Range finder binoculars with GPS/ballistic calculation technology

Range finder binocularsallows you to calculate your distance from whatever you are looking at. It is a popular and useful feature for golf, hunting and forestry. Just focus on the flag, animal or tree, press a button and see your distance on the internal display. You can even get the altitude adjusted distance if the object is uphill or downhill.

If the rangefinder is your primary need, perhaps you only want it for golfing, consider a more compact oneRangefinder.

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Leica makes binoculars that connect to a range finder app with GPS and ballistic calculation.

Leica Geovid ProThe binoculars use onboard or external Kestrel weather sensors connected to the app and ballistic curves to help hunters calculate the best ammunition for the situation. They also have built in GPS that works with your favorite mapping program (Garmin, Google Maps, BaseMaps) via a bluetooth connection to your phone to give you the best route to whatever you find. Yes, there is a binoculars app for that.

Other features/specs to consider

Height and weight -Heavy binoculars put a strain on you. If you're hiking and want to wear them around your neck, they better be lighter, in the 1 to 1.5 pound range. You could also consider a comfortable neck strap. If you are really traveling with light luggage, for example by bike or to a concert, you should look at an ultra-compact one.Monokelthat can fit in your pocket.

glass quality —The best crystal is the clearest crystal. Poor quality glass can cause edge distortion and color non-uniformity. It may have microscopic bubbles or other impurities that obscure vision. You'll get exceptionally clear images with binoculars that have highly refined glass in their lenses and prisms, like the highly transmissive SCHOTT HT™ glass found in theLeica Ultravid 10x42 HD-Plus binoculars.

Coated Lenses -Coatings maximize light transmission by reducing reflection from lenses and prisms. As a rule, individual coatings only offer such an “anti-reflection coating” for part of the spectrum. Several coatings do this across most or all of the spectrum. If you spend more to get fully multi-coated binoculars, i. H. all lenses and all prisms are multi-coated, giving you clearer, brighter images.

Close focus distance:This tells you how close you can get to what you see. If you are closer than this distance, you will not be able to focus. If you sit very quietly on our back deck in the height of summer, the hummingbirds will come very close to our bird feeders. A relatively short minimum focusing distance of around two meters would be great for getting clear close-up vision.

Pupillary distance -Not all manufacturers give this information - the distance of the eye lenses from center to center. But look around: it's easy to see that not all eyes are equally distant. Because of this, most binoculars have a center hinge that allows you to set that distance.

image stabilization This is a feature worth considering if you want higher magnification without the inherent judder that comes at 10x, 12x and beyond. The technology in these means they tend to be heavy. But it can be really useful when watching from a moving ATV or from the deck of a boat bobbing on the waves.

Accessories for binoculars

A padded neck strap or even a binocular strap that keeps them close to your chest when you're not wearing them can be really helpful when hiking, biking, or in the water. Pro tip: Most camera straps will also work with binoculars. A tripod can be crucial for stronger or heavier binoculars.

No matter what, you'll want to keep onemicrofiber polishing clothUseful for cleaning lenses. Before polishing, blow any dust or dirt off the lenses with air (using a lens blower or compressed air) or distilled water (if your binoculars are waterproof). The smallest hard grain can easily scratch the lens if you rub it.

Which binoculars are the best?

That depends on what you will be using your binoculars for. I've never bought binoculars in my life, but I have two pairs that belonged to my father: Nikon 7x35s porro prism and Pentax 10x42s roof prism.

To spot birds and other wildlife outside my windows during the day, I reach for Nikons. Its wider field of view is also brighter, more stable, and sharper, in part due to the lower magnification and Porro prisms. However, Pentax binoculars are lighter.

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The best stargazing binoculars have higher magnification power and large objective lenses to make the most of the light from the moon and stars.

None of these would be as good for stargazing. For this you will need at least 10x50 binoculars to get the desired magnification and brightness. And if you choose 20x50 astronomy binoculars, you definitely need a tripod.

And of course, if your priorities are rangefinders, GPS, and ballistic calculations, you've really narrowed down your options.

The binoculars I inherited from my father aren't top-notch; they are not cheap either. But they still work the way they're supposed to. The point is, if you don't abuse it, a decent set of binoculars should last you a lifetime. A quality pair of binoculars should also come with a solid warranty to reflect this.

Here is a binocular magnification chart that can help you choose the right binoculars for some typical applications. These are basic recommendations, not hard and fast rules. And remember: trying different binoculars in person can really help you decide.

"I'm using binoculars to..." minimal increase minimum target diameter Minimum field of view at 1,000 yards
general use 7x 25mm 300 pies
theatre/concert 7x 25mm 300 pies
spectator sport 7x 25mm 325 cakes
marina 7x 25mm 350 cakes
Ornithology 8x 30mm 350 cakes
hunt 8x 30mm 350 cakes
study of the stars 10x 40mm 325 cakes

More questions?

Looking for more advice on choosing binoculars?Contact us!One of our advisors can help you find the best option to explore the places you love to explore.

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