What the best binoculars have
- A magnification of 8x to 10x. Experts say that 8x is more than adequate for birding and
other pursuits. Those with a steady hand may prefer a magnification of 10x, but
if your hands shake at all -- which is normal for most people -- this degree of
magnification may create a blurry image.
- A wide field of view. The experts at the Audubon Society recommend that
birding binoculars should have a field of view of at least 341 feet at 1,000
yards. Having a wide field of view is especially important for beginning
birdwatchers because it makes it easier to track birds in flight without
scanning back and forth. Hunters will appreciate a wide field of view because
it's easier to track game.
- An exit pupil of at least 2 mm for day use, 5 mm or more for low
light. The exit
pupil gives you a rough guide to how bright your images will be in low light;
the larger the number, the more light will come through to your eyes at dawn,
dusk, at night, or in shadow. You can calculate the exit pupil of your
binoculars by dividing the objective lens size in mm by the magnification size.
For example, if you're using 8x42 binoculars, that gives you an exit pupil of
42mm / 8 = 5.5mm, which is good for use in low-light conditions.
- Fully multi-coated lenses. Coated lenses improve the brightness, contrast and color
accuracy of the images you see through your binoculars by reducing the amount
of light that's reflected away from them. Fully multi-coated lenses are even
better; this means that all light-receiving surfaces are coated, both inside
and outside the binoculars.
- A tripod socket. Although this isn't an absolute must, birders, astronomers and hunters
will find it handy, especially if you're using large binoculars or a high
magnification that lends itself to shaky images.
- Adjustable eye relief. If you wear eyeglasses, this feature is a must; look for
an eye relief of at least 11 mm. (Eye relief is how far your eyes can be from
the eyepieces before you start to lose field of view.) Adjustable eyepieces are
best because you can push them in to make room for your glasses, or pull them
out to give you a comfortable view without your glasses.
- Fog-proof features. If you're spending more than $200 on binoculars, look for
models that are fully waterproof and nitrogen-purged. These features keep
moisture from getting into your binoculars and fogging up the lenses.
- Quality prisms. Roof prisms are generally preferred because they allow for smaller and
more compact binoculars; however, for truly top-notch performance they must
have a dielectric coating. Some people look down on binoculars with porro
prisms because they make the binoculars larger and heavier, but they're also
inexpensive and, as long as the prisms are high quality, don't have to be
coated to function well.
- Rubberized armor coating. A tough, rubberized armor coating protects the sensitive
optics inside your binoculars from shocks and bad weather. This also makes it
easier for you to hold on to the binoculars, and generally makes them feel
better in your hand.
Know before you go
What will you use your binoculars for? This is what really determines
which sort of binoculars you should buy. If you're using them to watch sports
games or only occasionally while you travel or hike, consider buying compact
binoculars that will fit in your pocket. If you're using binoculars for
stargazing, you'll want a high magnification with even larger objective lenses,
and a tripod mount to keep the whole thing steady. Birders and hunters, on the
other hand, typically appreciate 8x magnification and objective lenses in the
neighborhood of 42 mm; this is the best balance between magnification, carrying
ease and field of view.
How often will you use them? If you're truly dedicated to a
lifestyle of birding, it might make sense to drop $2,000 on a truly expensive
high-end set of binoculars. However, our Best Reviewed birding binoculars get
you very close to the same image quality for around $600, and less frequent (or
less obsessed) users can find very good binoculars for less than $300.
How to take care of your binoculars
Regardless of whether you paid $100 or $2,000 for them,
your binoculars are an investment that should last. Never touch the lenses with
your fingers or clean them with paper products like napkins, towels or
newspaper; all of these things will scratch and eventually destroy the lens
coatings that make your binoculars work so well. Never use commercial glass
cleaners either; they contain ingredients that will damage the lens coatings.
Instead, go to an optics or camera store and purchase a
spray-on lens cleaner, a lens tissue or microfiber lens cloth, and compressed
air, all of which should be labeled as safe for use on camera lenses. Use the
compressed air to gently puff loose dust off the binocular lenses, spray on the
lens cleaner, wipe the lens, and then dry it with another piece of the lens
wipe or cloth. Keeping your binocular lenses or eyepieces covered with the
included caps will reduce the frequency of these cleanings and help preserve
your investment for the long term.