Birding Binoculars

I am not an expert on binoculars, but that is not going to stop me from giving you some excellent advice.

Wildlife watching requires binoculars, and although I’m focusing on birding here, everything we’re talking about applies generally. So this advice may be useful for your Safari to Africa where birds will be only one component of your viewing.

Here are a few guidelines that I’ve found to be useful. I’d love to see people add comments.

1) The person in the store knows crap.

2) Bigger binoculars will always be optically better all else being equal. In other words, whatever you are looking for optically will be more easily achieved if the designers do not have to make it all happen in a miniature binocular. Or, putting it yet another way, similar optical results can be achieved for less money with a larger pair of binoculars. Bigger is better.

3a) Big binoculars are a pain to carry around, won’t fit in your carry on as easily, and in general are less convenient. Small is better.

3b) Almost all small highly portable binoculars under $150.00 are unsatisfactory, even if they carry a famous name brand. They might seem OK when you try them out, but once you use actually good binoculars you won’t like them so much.

4) You need to have one pair of binoculars per person, so if you are a couple, get two.

5) A really nice compromise between size, quality, and price is the Orion Savannah 8×32 Phase-Coated Waterproof Binoculars or one that is like it. This is what we use and we have a hard time switching to anything else. We only have one, and our other binoculars are small Nikons that are very nice. There are also some large klunky unknown name brand sets that work OK but you would not want to be seen in public with them.

For our second pair, I think we are going back to the Orions.

My final piece of advice: 7) Use the binoculars. Spend time looking at the creature. After you’ve had it in view long enough to get the distinguishing marks down, and to know what you are looking at and what it is doing, keep looking for a while longer. Interesting things sometimes happen.

Comments

  1. #1 Russell
    April 28, 2009

    I’ve really enjoyed my Brunton 6 x 30 monocular. The advantages of a monocular are: a) More optics in smaller package. The Brunton fits in a pocket. A large pocket. b) Never out of alignment. c) Other eye remains available to see the background.

    The Brunton is waterpoof, a quality I’ve had the opportunity to test when misstepping in a Costa Rican river. It is, alas, one of the very few monoculars available in between toys and large spotting scopes.

  2. #2 Arj
    April 28, 2009

    you’re right about one thing; you’re “not an expert on binoculars” ;-)

    1) sales people in ‘general’ stores that happen to carry binocs may not know much, but salesmen in specialty stores that focus on optics can know a LOT and be VERY helpful.

    2) Bigger binocs are definitely NOT inevitably better by virtue of their size — poor optics can come in any size and so can good optics. Most experienced birders will argue against the bigger binocs (10×50 and larger) for birding in general, for a variety of reasons, even when they have fine optics.

    3) The variety and price range of binocs is huge and no one set of advice will suit all birders or all purposes/uses. Weight and ergonomics can be very important to some people and not at all important to others. To me, “field of view” (which varies greatly between models) is very important (and quality of optics is at best only my 3rd priority), but others pay no attention to it.

    Anyway, I do agree that the 8×32 is a nice compromise of a lot of factors. I happen to like the Celestron brand, and Nikons as well, and finally, online, Eagle Optics has their own in-house brand that is quite good, but a lot of it very much comes down to personal tastes.

  3. #3 Richard
    April 28, 2009

    I’m not an expert but a seasoned user. Bigger is definitely not better. Better is better. Bigger just means the binoc’s will be increasingly more difficult to hold steady. Too big and you need a tripod or you might just want a spotting scope.
    Make darn sure the tubes are parallel. If they aren’t you will end up with a headache or vague discomfort and will not use them no matter how “nice” they are.
    Finally, use the heck out of them and enjoy.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    April 28, 2009

    Richard: What you say is correct. What I’m trying to convey is that smaller with equal quality and similar characteristics can be expensive, so it is not uncommon to have two choices between different size binoculars where you may need to get a larger pair to have the quality you can afford.

    I’m not speaking (though I did not specify this) of binoculars so big that they need to be held with tripods. That is a whole other thing. And in my view, you might as well get a spotting scope if you’re going for the whole tripod thing.

    (Because, in this case, “bigger” is more expensive. If you want a certain set of optical characteristics at a certain quality level, a BInocular will = twice the cost, roughly)

  5. #5 Silver Fox
    April 28, 2009

    I love the anti-shake binocs I have, but they are of the large variety, and so I don’t carry them around as much as very small ones. Image stabilization becomes more and more necessary as I approach older middle age. ;)

  6. #6 Lassi Hippeläinen
    April 29, 2009

    Buy a 7×50, unless you know what you’re doing. 7x can be used handheld, and 50mm lenses work also in the evening. Besides, 7×50 is the most popular size anyway, which means best price vs. performance.

    But things are a-changing. After hooking my digicam to my telescope, I started wondering how long it will take until telescopes with LCD screens become the new standard. The image can be seen by many, it can be stabilized, and even recorded for later use.

  7. #7 Brent
    April 29, 2009

    In regards to #1, National Camera downtown mpls is actually pretty good. I’d say 3/4 clerks know their stuff pretty well.

    Very much agree on #7!

  8. #8 BlogKing
    June 4, 2009

    I prefer the Vivitar Binoculars, because they are comfortable to use not to mention the great vision.

  9. #9 compact binoculars
    June 22, 2009

    I prefer compact binos which can be kept in pockets with sufficient magnification. The Nikon 10×42 ATB Monarch which im using is good for newbies costing around 230$.

  10. #10 gary hall
    January 31, 2010

    I want bigger binocs for tripod on my balcony for marine ship viewing. Is 7X50 better than 10X50. In other words which give more distance. I want to see a mile out and read 6″ letters on names of ships?
    thank you for you info
    G

  11. #11 Pankaj Bahmba
    December 19, 2010

    Binoculars for Birding in my suggest should not be less than 40mm Objective Diameter and Magnification should not be less than 8x. It should have a Central Focusor so that you can easily focus on the subject. Ligth Weight Binoculars will be preffered over heavier. The optics should be Bak4 Prism type. This is all you need for a good binoculars. Nikon, Steiner, Space Binoculars are the best.

  12. #12 wild birds
    February 17, 2011

    We have some general rules of thumb that we follow to determine the best binoculars for birding…

    Generally binoculars ranging anywhere from 7×30 to 8.5×50 are preferred and considered the most popular range in magnification and objective lens diameter for bird watching. Overall our preference is 8×42

    For those who wear eyeglasses, consideration should be given to the Eye Relief measurement. As a general rule, at least a 14mm eye relief measurement is needed to see the entire field of view of the instrument.

    Field of View is the size of the area visible while looking through a pair of binoculars is referred to as the Field of View. Greater magnification will produce a smaller field of view. The angular field of view, expressed in degrees, is indicated on the outside of the binoculars. The linear field of view refers to the area that can be viewed at 1,000 yards, and is expressed in feet. A larger field of view translates to a larger area seen through the binoculars. Depending on your bird watching needs, a significantly larger linear field of view may not be important. Please remember, in most cases, the larger the field of view, the poorer the image clarity becomes, especially around the edges. Bear this in mind when making your choice. Bigger does not always mean better.

    We like Vortex Optics very much, whether binoculars or spotting scopes. Enjoy watching wild birds everyone.