Top 3 recommended binoculars
Zeiss TERRA ED 10x42
To buy the perfect set of binoculars you must first consider exactly what you plan to use them for. Whether you are birdwatching, boating, hiking, hunting, golfing, or viewing the stars, there is a device for you. Every set of binoculars specializes in a few elements, with trade-offs as necessary, so it is absolutely worthwhile to invest in the set that best fits your needs. It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the details unless you get a basic understanding of what each feature does. Use our guide to consider everything from magnification to lens coatings, materials used, and eye reliefs available.
With the overwhelming options, features, and price points available, it can be downright scary to buy your first set of binoculars. While it is certainly worthwhile to do deep, investigative research, advice from the pros who have been there and done that can be much more valuable.
Most “research” has been offered by companies who want you to buy their binoculars, and you need good advice that isn't biased. Well, fear not, I have the tips you need to make a good purchasing decision, so you can avoid getting scammed and end up with a decent set of binoculars for your needs.
You may wish to consider contacting friends and local groups that use binoculars. Ask your hunter friend about his scope or binoculars, look in the phone book for birdwatching groups, or see if there's an astronomy club nearby. The advice and tips you can get from others in the know is always valuable. Discussion forums and online groups are also an excellent way to learn about specific models and get reviews from those who have used them.
On your own? You need to know about:
- Objective lens sizes – The bigger they are, the more light they take in, and the better they are in low-light. But, the bigger they are, the heavier they are, and the more expensive.
- Coatings – Coatings dramatically improve image quality even compensating for other features that are lower. Fully multi-coated binoculars are treated with coatings on every air-to-glass surface, making the best quality possible.
- Prisms – Porro prism binoculars are typically larger and heavier, but perform better at lower price points. Roof prisms may be more compact, but are often more expensive. Porro prisms are often great as a first set of binoculars, while Roof prisms will be in the binoculars that last a lifetime.
- Magnifications – It would seem that higher magnifications, but in fact, this is not always so. Do not get conned into buying higher magnifications. The higher the magnification, the smaller the area you can view at once, and the more likely your image could be distorted by the slightest shaking of your hands. 8x and 10x are perfectly fine for most normal uses, and are preferred by hunters and those who use binoculars to get up close at the game.
- Glass types – The two main types of glass used in binoculars are BK-7 and BAK-4. BAK-4 is recognized as higher quality, but can be more expensive. If you want to invest in the best quality, BAK-4 is the choice. If you want to buy a first set, second set, or a set for your kids, BK-7 is fine.
- Armor and eye cups – Comfort is perhaps the least appreciated aspect of using binoculars, yet is absolutely paramount. You're not going to use those binoculars if they hurt your eyes after a few minutes, don't fit in your hands nicely, or are too heavy to hold up. Try those binoculars in store.
- Focusing – Both center focusing and independent eye focusing are available, and which you choose is rather subjective. You need to investigate the focusing mechanism in-store to appreciate how it works, how easy it is to use, and if you're going to use it. If your picking up a set for casual birding, you may not be as concerned. But if you're in the military or need to do bird counts by focusing in on moving raptors, you need to be able to quickly and easily focus.
If you do have more time to research, it is highly recommended. While high-pressure sales people can make you feel you need to buy a set of binoculars this very moment, a little extra time will offer you a much better investment. The reality is, in terms of binoculars and scopes, higher prices do reflect better quality.
While that is somewhat of a relief, ideally you want to choose a set that meet your needs perfectly. To that end, we have binocular buying tips for those who want to go birdwatching binoculars,astronomony binoculars, hunting binoculars, and recommend you check them out to ensure you get the best binoculars for you.
More advanced features are often available too; for example, night vision technology is prized for surveillance, and giant binoculars with their extra wide lenses are great for observation during the day. Some prefer to use telescope binoculars since they allow for interchangeable eyepieces and can be more comfortable for astronomy, whereas some prefer the ultra-compact and low magnification available in monoculars.
While these added features may incur a higher cost, they are inevitably worth the extra investment, as long as they meet your needs. Therefore a little added time considering your options can go a long way when buying binoculars.
Hunting binoculars offer an added edge while you are out tracking game and putting food on the table. You just don't have the time to waste on choosing a pretty little set of binoculars that'll break on that hunting trip, so how can you find a set that will stand up to hiking, camping, or fishing on the lake? What's the difference between waterproof and weatherproof, and how can you choose binoculars that will work well when the sun starts going down? Read on, we've spelled it out here.
While hunting, your binoculars can be invaluable. They allow you to track game more easily and alter your movements to ensure the best position for good shooting. Whether you’re on the hunt or setting up camp, binoculars can help you plan ahead and work strategically.
When out hunting you need tools that are tough enough to stand up to the environment and to the odd bump or scrape. Exterior armor is a must along with choosing binoculars listed as waterproof.
Weatherproof, water-resistant, rainproof or other claims are not good enough. Only waterproof binoculars are guaranteed not to fog inside or leak. This will also indicate that all parts are sealed to prevent damage from dust and dirt as well.
You will want to look for lens caps that are attached so they can protect the lenses without being lost mid-hunt. Finally, there’s a wide range of harnesses, straps, and cases that provide an extra layer of protection and keep your hands free. They can also make a big difference in comfort and usability during long hikes or when carrying a lot of equipment.
Lens size is another important consideration to the hunter for two reasons – field of view, and light. Larger lens are heavier and more expensive, but offer a wider field of view when game is moving, along with allowing more light to move through the binoculars.
This ensures your set will be useful if you hunt at dawn or dusk or in poor weather conditions. Since game is moving at these times, you don’t want binoculars that only offer a dim image because of the low light. With the wider field of view, you will be able to scout more area at once.
If you are hunting during legal shooting hours, 40 to 42mm will do well. For scouting at night a 50 to 56mm lens will be worth the added investment. That said, 30 to 32mm can work relatively well while remaining fairly compact.
Finally, some lenses provide aiming references known as scaled reticles. These reticles appear as crosswires or other shapes, allowing you to zero in on your target, and when a scale is shown alongside them it’s much easier to estimate distances. This added feature may be well worth a look when you plan to track game over distances.
Hunting is one time binoculars can be better at lower magnifications. A 7x or 8x magnification is often best since it provides a wider field of view with less adjustment to focusing. In short, this allows you to see more terrain quickly and easily without fumbling with focusing adjustment. It also means when game are moving, you need not adjust focus constantly to keep them sharply in sight.
Larger magnifications are more prone to problems with movement – in other words, the slightest trembling of the hands or body make getting a clear image impossible. This is another reason why lower magnifications can be an advantage, since they’ll better adapt to a little unsteadiness when you stop for a moment mid-hike.
That said, in open country and when hunting small game, you might find a slightly higher magnification hits the mark. If you’re hunting prairie dogs it can be worthwhile to have that higher magnification and spot them at a longer distance, whereas such strong magnification is of no benefit in close quarters like the bush or for big game.
Zooming is a feature of some binoculars, yet these type are never waterproof and are often more delicate, meaning they don’t stand up as well in hunting conditions. Finally again this may add weight, and you don’t want to be stuck using a tripod to use the zoom effectively.
Roof prism binoculars are more compact and easier to waterproof well. They are also more durable and less likely to get damaged. For best results also look for phase-corrected coatings on your roof prism. Alternatively, Porro prisms can be higher quality at a lower price, so the trade-off may be worth it for you.
There are two main focusing options – center-focused, which focuses both eyepieces at once, and individual eyepiece focus, which requires independent focus for each eyepiece.
Center focus is more common and quicker to work with. Independent eyepiece focus is more easily waterproofed but not effective at close ranges. Again you will need to make this choice by considering your preferred hunting strategy.
When hunting, binoculars can be as sturdy and useful as your rifle. They can offer you a competitive advantage, allowing you to spot and track game more effectively. Investing the time and money in a strong, durable set of binoculars allows you that extra bit of strategy to get the job done.
Best Astronomy Binoculars
Astronomy binoculars allow you to view the Heavens by maximizing light, offering plenty of magnification, and making fine focus possible so you can see those distant universes clearly. Light is maximized through high-quality prisms, wide objective lenses, and carefully designed exit pupils. The result is a clear, crisp picture of distant stars and planets so you can stargaze effectively. Check out our tips to choose astronomy binoculars that traverse the mysteries of the universe.
Viewing the night sky offers some interesting challenges for binoculars.
While telescopes are a popular choice for astronomy, binoculars can provide views that are just as powerful while remaining more portable, lighter, and easier to use.
The trick is to carefully consider the best binocular features for this purpose. A dark environment and strong contrast between sky and stars requires optimum use of light, magnification, and focus.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LIGHT
Light can be maximized through choosing the best prism type, objective lens, and exit pupil.
- Porro prisms are the best choice here – they transmit the most light and offer the sharpest image. The glass type used for the prism is paramount, and Bak-4 is the preferred option. Bak-4 is available in almost all astronomy binoculars.
- The objective lens must be as wide as possible, ensuring again that the most light will be picked up by the binoculars. A higher diameter, which is given as the second number in specifications such as “7x50”, will maximize your viewing experience.
- The exit pupil is an opening inside the lens through which light can pass on its journey through the binoculars. Since your pupils will be dilated in the dark, you need your binoculars to have a larger exit pupil as well. To calculate the exit pupil, divide the objective lens diameter by the magnification. For example, if your binoculars are “7x50”, divide 50 by 7, to get an exit pupil of approximately 7mm. For the best results look for an exit pupil of 7mm or less, as this is the average size of the human pupil at night. By contrast, binoculars meant for day use would need to be even smaller.
WHAT KIND OF MAGNIFICATION DO YOU NEED?
Magnification must be considered against both focus and light. Very high magnifications in binoculars are as effective as those in telescopes, yet require as large an objective lens as possible to keep that viewing area wide.
The magnification, which is given as the first number in specifications such as “7x50”, can be anywhere from 7x up for effective astronomy use. Yet a magnification of 25x or 30x combined with “giant binocular” objective lenses of 60mm or more will reveal an amazing view of the stars that can rival a telescope.
On the other hand, obtaining this level of magnification and lens size requires a heavy set of binoculars that must be supported by a tripod to ensure they remain steady and usable.
Focus is perhaps the least imperative for a good view, yet still can make the difference for your astronomy experience. Both center- focus and individual eyepiece focus can be used. However, while center focus is more flexible and easier when you use your binoculars by day as well, individual eyepiece focus is more robust and practical otherwise.
You will also want to consider eye relief (ie. how far you can hold the binoculars from your eyes) for greatest comfort, especially if you use glasses.
Binoculars are an excellent choice for gazing into the night sky, wondering what mysteries exist in the universe around us. They offer a portable, easy to use option for night time viewing, when the right features are available.
Take the time to consider optimum light, magnification, and focus, so you can contemplate the infinite sky.
Best Birding Binoculars
Birdwatching requires binoculars that are not only powerful but also comfortable to use for extended periods. While higher magnifications and bigger lenses will optimize your birding experience, you also need to balance these elements with a set of binoculars that won't give you a back ache just by using them. Flexible focus so you can get a wide field of view across a large area of the forest, then zoom in on that rare bird, is absolutely necessary, along with superior image quality so you can get a good look at features and coloring. Here are some of the most important things to consider.
Birdwatching takes you far and wide, through a multitude of environments and experiences to spot and identify birds of all kinds.
These particular elements of birdwatching can guide your choice to find the best binoculars possible. Here binoculars must be portable and flexible along with offering image quality.
Because you will be birdwatching in so many environments, it is important to find a pair of binoculars that are comfortable and easy enough to use anywhere.
While you could choose higher magnifications and wider optical lenses for best viewing, these will significantly change the weight of your binoculars.
While choosing binoculars be sure to give yourself some time to handle them, so you are able to judge how balanced they feel and how the weight is distributed through your arms. Keep in mind that harnesses and special straps can be used to help you comfortably carry your binoculars; however consider that the highest quality binoculars will be of no use if you can’t carry them with you.
Beyond balance and weight you will need a pair of binoculars that can survive movement through forest and rough areas as well. Weatherproofing is a necessity, so look for sets that are clearly labeled waterproof or weather-proof, and if possible choose binoculars with internal focusing.
As carefully designed as external focusing can be, there is always the chance that dust or moisture might get in, ruining your binoculars. Still, if your set is clearly listed as waterproof or weather-proof the manufacturer may repair them if they get damaged during normal use (ie. in fogs or light showers).
Check your binoculars for the rubber armoring provided as well – this can help protect them from small bumps and drops, scrapes and nicks. You don’t want to worry about delicate equipment when you’re about to spot that bird you’ve been looking for.
Flexible focus is another important element while birdwatching; you just never know if that bird is going to appear across the meadow or directly above you, so it’s important to know you can quickly and easily adjust your focus. This feature is one you will need to explore by actually using the binoculars, since every set has its own dials and number of revolutions for accurate adjustment.
Sharper focus through finer adjusting must be balanced with being able to focus quickly in that pivotal moment. Some binoculars offer two separate focus controls – one fine and one coarse – whereas others offer a touch-sensitive control that offers coarse adjustment when turned quickly, and fine adjustment when turned slowly.
Another element to consider here is magnification. Although it would seem that higher magnification should always be preferable, having an 8x magnification means less adjustments to your focus then with a 10x magnification, especially at a distance and with moving creatures such as birds. You may find that you are more comfortable with a lower magnification because it offers sharper images with less focus adjustment. If viewing birds casually this may suit your needs, and you may prefer it to having to adjust your focusing controls constantly.
Image quality is the result of many factors in binoculars. While higher magnifications and larger lenses will improve quality, these incur their own cost in weight and balance. It can be worth the added expense, however, to choose binoculars that are manufactured with higher quality parts that can withstand a lot movement yet provide sharp images with strong contrast.
The curvature and quality of glass used within the binoculars, along with its careful alignment and lack of defects and aberrations will make all the difference without sacrificing so much portability or flexibility.
Roof prism binoculars are the favorite for birdwatchers, as they are more compact and usually use internal focusing, along with being more durable and less likely to suffer alignment problems. Porro prisms, however, are less expensive and certainly effective for the casual birdwatcher.
Some also like the heavier size of the Porro prisms and find them more comfortable in terms of weight and balance. Even compact binoculars can be stowed in your backpack or glove compartment for quick, easy, inexpensive birdwatching.
Choosing the right binoculars for birdwatching allows you to spend your time enjoying nature rather than worrying about sensitive equipment or blurry images. A little investment here to find the set that feels most comfortable and usable to you is well worth it for life-long birdwatching expeditions.
It is worth the effort to consider portability, flexibility, and image quality to ensure a really great experience.
Night vision is possible through some interesting techniques. In short, night vision devices work by increasing either the spectral range or intensity range at which human eyes can already see. Whether they maximize existing light or offer infrared illumination, night vision binoculars are a worthwhile investment for night-time surveillance, hunting, or use in the military. Learn all the ins and outs of how they work, how the different types are described, and how far they've come since World War II.
Night vision devices first appeared during World War II, and gained widespread use during the Vietnam war. They can be mounted on a helmet or on vehicles to give soldiers that extra edge while moving at night, and use various technologies to make sight possible in the darkest environments.
Night vision requires a greater spectral range or intensity range than needed for everyday bright sight. Some animals can see better in the dark than humans either because they can detect light closer to the ultraviolet or infrared range, or because their eye anatomy lets them see when light is less intense.
Night vision devices such as scopes, binoculars, and goggles, all use one or more methods to increase intensity range and/or spectral range. Typically any unit is built on an image intensification tube that maximizes available ambient light, whereas some also use infrared light.
During the Second World War, the first night binoculars could only work by increasing light intensity range. By having an objective lens diameter of 56mm or higher, they allowed as much light as possible through the binoculars. They also used a very large exit pupil – so large in fact that it was too big to be used by normal human pupils, and soldiers were issued eyedrops to compensate. However, these resulted in a very large, heavy set of binoculars that could be difficult to maneuver easily.
SOME INITIAL CONSIDERATIONS
These days night vision equipment can also increase spectral range by using infrared lighting. Although active infrared lighting is not appropriate for use in the military, since it can easily be detected by others with night vision goggles, it is useful in surveillance cameras. Some night vision equipment can be switched back and forth between active infrared lighting and passive magnification of existing light so you can choose the mode appropriate to your needs.
Typically night vision equipment is described using a “Generation” which refers to the technology used, from the Generation 0 sniper scopes used in World War II through to Generation IV devices. They can be found asmonoculars or binoculars, with various magnifications, and in different mounting options. You can find hand-held portable night vision scopes, rifle mounted scopes, or night vision goggles to be worn on the head.
Battery usage can be pretty heavy with night vision equipment that uses infrared illumination. If possible, look for a set that allow you to turn the infrared lighting off and on as needed, so you can avoid draining the batteries where possible. People often find night vision devices only work with freshly charged batteries as well. Still, you may find it is worth the investment to keep a charger and several spare batteries on hand.
On the other hand, some night vision sets have proximity sensors. These can be used to only activate infrared illumination when the device is in viewing position.
CHOOSING A SET
There is a wide range of night vision equipment available, and your first concern should be how a particular device can be mounted or used. For in-hand use, the ergonomics of the shell along with the weight of the unit can be most important.
Rifle scopes on the other hand need to be slim and streamlined as well as being durable and rugged. Night vision goggles may be preferable if you want your night vision equipment to always be available and hands free.
Bushnell offers a unique feature with their 2.5x42 Night Vision Monocular - a high-sensitivity microphone and earphones so you can detect sound up to 90 yards away. Although nicely designed for in-hand use, this unit also comes with a tripod mount. It includes a built-in infrared illuminator, takes only 2 AA batteries, and weighs in at just over one pound.
Fujinon offers a super compact night vision monocular that weighs only 13oz and is ergonomically designed to be comfortable and lightweight. Yet it's nearly indestructible, made of aircraft aluminum, and includes a built-in infrared illuminator as well.
Field of view and depth perception vary from unit to unit, and while there are inexpensive goggles for kids, there are also high end scopes for hunting and camping. If possible look for reviews or talk to people who have actually used the set you are considering to see how they hold up and how well they work. When it comes to night vision, image clarity is so subjective that you really need to try the device to see how well it works for you.
Outdoor enthusiasts demand rugged, durable binoculars that won't fall to pieces with real use in the field. Learn about waterproof binoculars and how they compare to other types, along with when to use them, and how they work. Also take a look at possible pitfalls including difficult focus controls or confusing labels, and see the exciting features included in some models. Why not get a set of binoculars that has a built-in compass or extra wide lenses for use at dusk and dawn? Here's how.
Waterproof binoculars offer optical improvement in every environment. Not only do they protect against rain and leakage, they also prevent fogging. This can be an essential feature, whether you’re on the family yacht or hiking when rain hits.
They’re also great when in high-humidity situations or when dew is heavy at dawn, ensuring your birdwatching trip is not canceled by a little bit of rain.
By using waterproof binoculars you can hike without fear, hunt whenever it’s convenient, or safely see better while out fishing. The self-contained parts of a waterproof set of binoculars will also be safe from crumbs, dust, and dirt.
Finally if you store your binoculars on the boat or in the campsite for easy access, waterproofing will ensure mildew cannot possibly affect your binoculars’ performance.
CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITIES
Waterproofing is achieved through the use of rubber O-rings and nitrogen gas purging. Although rubberized casing can help durability please ensure your binoculars are listed as waterproof. The rubber exterior does not guarantee safety from fogging or water leakage. Still, consider looking for waterproof binoculars with rugged shells for use while boating or in other environments where a drop may be possible.
Also be sure to choose sets designed to be easily and safely gripped while remaining comfortable. Some sets are offered in high contrast colors such as yellow and black to help keep them easy to find in foggy or rainy conditions while boating.
If you plan to be outdoors hunting or hiking or on a moving boat it can certainly make a big difference to invest in straps that are comfortable and a case that is durable as well; again you need to balance ease of use with protection from knocks and drops.
Waterproofed binoculars are available both in regular sizes as you’d expect and in compact sizes for ease of use. And if you want to get compact ones, take a look for binoculars with Roof prisms, which are often smaller.
You don’t want to worry about flimsy, delicate equipment while on your adventure, and uncomfortable binoculars will simply not get used. You might also consider monoculars or the extended optics choices available such as scopes.
For marine use 7x magnification is usually considered the maximum strength to work with since they can be more easily handled, will have a wider field of view (FOV), and won’t need lots of fussing with focusing.
Focusing using waterproof binoculars can be a pain since the added protection involved in preventing leaks can make the focusing instruments hard to work with, so a wider FOV will help minimize that. Still, there are models offered with both center focus and individual eye focus, so be sure to try various kinds to find the one that you find most comfortable.
Another excellent feature for marine use is the built-in compasses available with some binoculars. Some sets even offer beta light inside the compass so it is usable while night sailing, which ensures that magnetic parts remain uncompromised. Be sure however that the compass in your set works world-wide, as some models have a compass only usable within the northern hemisphere.
While yachting you can also consider the benefits of night-vision binoculars that can keep land in sight and identify objects during low-light situations. These are often used by the military and can be used along with infrared equipment to keep track of breaking waves and wash, day or night.
You will also want to choose binoculars with a large objective lens size such as 45mm and up if possible, to ensure your set will work whether you’re in poor boating conditions or its twilight.
Stabilized binoculars may be of benefit too when available, as they help keep images steady during the minor bouncing you can expect in high-speed boats or regular sailing. Although they can’t compensate for bucking and rolling during a storm, they can be very helpful during everyday use.
Be sure to check the label carefully, as some binoculars will be listed as water-resistant, weather-resistant, or splash-proof. Although these types will have some protection against moisture, only binoculars listed as waterproof will be guaranteed against water damage.
Binoculars aren't just for watching the flora and fauna there is a myriad of other possible uses that extended beyond the obvious. Here we take a look at some practical real world uses for binoculars and highlight the best types of binocular for each application. Find out if there's a set of binoculars that fits your need.
After spending the past fifteen years professionally, and literally surrounded by binoculars, I have developed a knack for applying them to activities that may not seem to require binoculars. Putting aside the pursuits for which binoculars are an absolute necessity—bird watching, hunting, and spying on the neighbors (kidding of course; some hunters prefer spotting scopes)—there are many other popular activities for which they are not a necessity, but to which they can add substantial value and enjoyment.
Whether it’s a professional basketball game in a major arena, auto racing at a sprawling outdoor track, or little Jenny’s soccer match, catching the details of the action in any spectator sport requires getting the best look possible at what’s happening on the field. Unless you have really top notch seats (which, for professional events, come at a top notch price) you need binoculars to get the best view of the event.
There are two approaches to choosing what binoculars to use for watching a sporting event. The first is to take along as small a model as you can, a compact model, in order not to be weighed down or have it get in the way while also trying to balance a hot dog and a drink. The challenge here is that for the best performance, you need to keep the magnification level fairly low to compensate for the smaller objective diameters common in compact models.
The second approach is to go for one of the “big dogs,” something like a 10x50mm or even a 12x50mm model, to be able to see all the action even from the nosebleed seats. The problem with this goes back to that weighing down and snack-balancing challenge. Fortunately, there is a compromise that solves the dilemma—Pentax 9x28mm DCF LV binoculars. At 9x, they have the magnification to catch all the action, while the 28mm objective lenses allow sufficient light to pass through the optical system for a clear image even in indoor stadiums or night baseball games.
Hiking and camping
One of the joys of hiking along wilderness trails is the opportunity to enjoy the magnificent scenery. From mountain peaks in the distance, to wildflowers blooming just down the hillside, scenes like these are so prized by hikers and campers that few of them would think of going on such a trip without a camera, yet many fail to take along binoculars. This is really a shame as most pocket cameras, while great for recording your adventures, cannot give the detail necessary to really enjoy watching a mountain goat on a hillside, or an eagle soaring over a canyon.
While weight is always a factor with hikers, there are many good binoculars that weigh very little yet have the potential to add enjoyment to the trip. For example, either the nine-ounce Nikon9x25mm Travelite V binocular, or the even lighter and palm-sized Minox Miniscope 8x25mm (even though it’s a monocular rather than a binocular), would provide a handy optic that can be carried in a cargo pocket or a belt pack with minimal encumbrance.
Growing up the son of a commercial fishing family, there were two things taken for granted about everyone I knew: their family had a boat, and binoculars were always kept on that boat. Binoculars were not an optional piece of equipment on these boats, they were an absolute necessity. Whether for checking net lines, identifying other boats in the distance, or locating navigational buoys in the fog, leaving the dock without binoculars was simply not done. But recreational boaters don’t always carry binoculars with them on their own vessels, which is unfortunate as binoculars can add much to any amount of time spent on the water, whether for navigation, or simply enjoying the scenery.
To help compensate for the pitch and roll of the boat, most skippers opt for lower magnification binoculars with large objective lenses, something like the Steiner 7x50mm Marine, or the Bushnell7x50mm Marine. The combination of low magnification and large objective lens diameter provides a very large exit pupil that’s easy to keep in front of the eyes while in motion. It also allows viewing in foggy or rainy conditions. Higher magnification in poor viewing conditions more often hinders rather than helps.
While photographers have long used polarizers to reduce the reflection shown on the surface of water in photographs, fishing enthusiasts have only recently taken this technique to heart. Once they did so, they did so in earnest. Stop into any fishing supply shop or browse the web for fishing gear, and you will find a remarkable variety of fishing sunglasses fitted with polarized lenses. Naturally, some forward-thinking sports optics companies quickly determined that polarized binoculars could be particularly useful tools for locating fish at greater distances in open water, or those that were hiding in the shadows of mountain streams. While still not particularly common, there are a few binocular models available that feature polarized lenses, like the Celestron10X50mm OptiView LPR, or that at least offer polarizing filters as accessories, as does the Fujinon10x50mm FMT-SX Polaris.
Book and antique shopping
Taking along binoculars on a book or antique shopping trip can save considerable time and effort. In the case of bookstores, especially used bookstores where the aisles can often be narrow, the shelves high, and the lighting poor, binoculars can make checking out those volumes above your reach quick and easy. No need to find the one stepladder the store has hidden somewhere along the aisles. A quick look through your binoculars will help you confirm the book you think you’ve found on the top shelf is really the one you want.
The same principle applies in antique shopping. No need to find a clerk to bring forward that small and possibly valuable i
Looking for Deals on Discount Binoculars?
When choosing a first set of binoculars or an extra pair to keep on hand, you might consider selecting lower-priced options at a discount. You can buy binoculars online for your young adventurer without breaking the bank, but you don't want to end up with a piece of junk. How can you find a set that won't cost an arm and a leg yet won't sacrifice power or comfort? Consider floor models, wholesale sets, or military surplus options. We offer even more ideas and guidance to make discount binoculars a possibility for you.
The best way to choose binoculars without breaking the bank is by educating yourself on what elements are important to your needs. While you don't want to sacrifice quality nor comfort, you do want to try out binoculars and yet not spend a fortune.
First, visit our articles on choosing binoculars for astronomy, birdwatching, hunting, marine, and military use, to see which features are the most important for your needs. For example, if you want to hike, having a strong, rugged, waterproof shell is important, but you can forego high magnifications, large objective lenses, zooming, digital camera binoculars, and large, heavy binoculars. If you want to see distant stars, bigger lenses are important, but waterproofing may not be.
Second, consider binoculars made for your kids if you are just introducing your child to birdwatching, hiking, and general use. There are also kids' telescopes that are made for smaller faces and hands at a lower price then top-end models. Do not feel you must spend a fortune as your child or you first start using binoculars.
Even as you use them, you may find a lower priced model is good to start with so you can use them until you know exactly what parts you want to invest in later. For example, you might eventually realize you love astronomy and buy a more impressive set later. Many serious binocular users upgrade their sets later on as they come to find what features they like most and which they can do without.
Third, forego the newest features that, while fun, aren't absolutely necessary. This is the time to avoid zooming binoculars, night vision,rangefinders, built-in compasses, giant lenses, image stabilization, and waterproofing. Consider pen-sized monoculars that are cheap enough to be stocking stuffers as gifts or when you only need magnification of about 2x to 5x in the lecture hall. Also take a look at compact binoculars which are often less expensive since they're smaller.
Finally, consider alternative buying options, such as the following:
- Buy floor models. As long as you don't mind choosing binoculars that may not be brand new, you can ask your local hobby shop or check an electronics store for discount models that were used for demonstration. These are often still in great quality, but will have a discount up to 30% off since they've come out of the box. Leave your name and number at the hobby shop for when they need to move a demo model off the shelf, and you might get a great deal.
- See if your local birdwatching or astronomy club members also want binoculars, and whether you can get several at a wholesale price. If you've already joined a group and want to upgrade your current set of binoculars, you might find this is a good way to share a deal. Talk to the group leader or simply ask if others in your group are interested.
- Military surplus is sometimes available, particularly online. These binoculars may be in excellent condition, and although they may be in camo print, you're not likely to mind at all. This may be a neat way to check out the highest end features such as new zooming and range-finding technologies without making a huge investment.
- Buying online may be the easiest way to get inexpensive optical devices. Since retailers are online, they don't have to worry about store overhead. Therefore they can pass the lower price down to you, particularly if their web presence is the major face of their warehouse. Sales staff and other middlemen are avoided, and your binoculars are shipped right to your door.
Choose retailers that are very well-known and proven. You can often find great, online only deals from major chains when you buy from a website, so definitely consider it. Often retailers offer huge discounts on the same products when they're sold from the website rather than in store.
You might also go second-hand this way. If you're buying through eBay, check out the seller's reputation and comments people have made in their previous sales. Be sure to investigate condition, shipping costs, and find a seller you can trust.
Also some retailers operate through eBay, and again you can get the advantage of no overhead, no sales staff, and shipment straight to your door. It's a good and easy way to take advantage of floor models too, regardless of what store they were demonstrated in.
Types of Binoculars
Compact binoculars need to be powerful enough for what you need despite their portability and slim size. Some sets fold easily or come with straps to make them easy to carry and use at a moment's notice, whereas others are ultra slim and simple so they slip in and out of your purse or glove box. That said, there may be some trade-offs in terms of magnification or lens size, so don't get caught by a great looking pair of binoculars that won't meet your needs later on. Check out our suggestions to successfully choose compact binoculars.
People either love or hate compact binoculars. While many say avoid them, others love having them on hand, even if only as a back-up pair. Typically compact binoculars have a lens size of about 20mm to 25mm. Examples are 8x20 and 10x25. As always there are some pros to using them, however, there are certainly cons as well.
- They are excellent for keeping as a second pair, stashed in a pocket or glove compartment, since they are so slim and lightweight.
- They are great for kids because their smaller size easily fits small faces and their light weight is perfect for little hands. Compact binoculars can have a smaller distance between the lenses that larger binoculars just can't achieve. This is great for little faces. Women may find them comfortable if they can't use other binoculars as well.
- They are often used in the opera or theater, to help viewers feel closer to the show even when they're in distant seats.
- They often allow close focus so they can be used to magnify objects that are closer.
- They can be put in your fishing vest and used to get a quick look when you aren't sure if that bump in the distance is a branch or trout in the water.
- They can be pulled out of your pocket quickly while hunting white tailed deer, and are often the preferred binoculars for doing so, particularly at 7x to 10x magnification.
- Some sets fold up easily so they are even more compact and out of the way, and they're so light it's easy to carry them 'round your neck while you're hiking. You might keep a more powerful pair in your knapsack for later, but these are easy to have right at hand at a moment's notice.
- They are often less expensive then standard sized binoculars, especially if made especially for kids.
- Compact binoculars are often lower quality both because parts must be smaller and because mechanisms are restricted to a tighter space.
- The smaller objective lenses (typically 20 to 25mm compared to your 35mm and up standard sets) naturally have a smaller field of view.
- The smaller objective lenses permit less light to enter the binoculars, making compacts fine for full daylight use, but completely ineffective in low light or dark environments.
- Exit pupils are reduced in compact binoculars. Again, minimal light is directed into your pupils. For example, if you have a set of compact 8x25's you determine the exit pupil by dividing 25 by 8. The result is an exit pupil of 3.1mm. Although the human pupils are dilated to about 2.5mm during the day, they expand to compensate for low light. In the evening one's pupils may dilate up to 7mm, so if the binoculars only send light through a diameter of less then half that, the image is just not optimal.
- Compact binoculars are harder to hold steady, and the smallest vibration can distort images.
- Smaller focusing devices can be hard to operate if you have large fingers.
- Compact binoculars may not include features such as image stabilization and other elements you could expect in standard sized models.
- Zeiss has a pair of compact models known as Victory Compacts, available in 8x20 and 10x25. Either of these sets will work well for opera and theater use, or as back-up binoculars during hiking, mountain climbing, or nature observation. They weigh in at 8-9oz, and are only 4 and 5 inches long respectively. Their 2.5 mm exit pupils make them ideal for daylight use. Although some consider these to have superior optics, they are priced as high as standard sized binoculars.
- Nikon also offers a set of compacts, although theirs zoom as well. Their Eagleview binoculars are available in 8-24x25. The field of view is a narrow 80m, but they offer close focusing at 4m, and are only 119mm long, 110mm wide, and weigh in at only 350g! They have a slightly larger exit pupil of 3.1 mm, meaning they can be used in slightly dimmer environments than the Zeiss models.
- Bushnell offers several compact options as well, including their 8x21mm Powerviews, which fold up neatly as well as weighing in at 7oz. They are center focus, have roof prisms in BK-7, and are fully coated, although their exit pupil is 2.6 mm. Again, this is fine for full daylight use. They are only about $17.00 so while they may not be of the highest quality for professionals, they would be a good first set for a child's Christmas stocking or to go in your glove compartment.
Giant binoculars are often the best option for astronomy or viewing in low-light situations such as dawn or dusk. That said, their size and weight can range considerably, and some sets are optimized to use mounts or tripods. In most cases you will want to choose some sort of mount or tripod option, to eliminate any kind of shaking or discomfort caused by using these in hand. However, some sets are fairly portable too, combining extreme power with easier handling. Learn what makes these monsters work so well and why you'll want a pair.
Like a lot of magnification technology, giant binoculars were originally developed for the military. These binoculars feature a super large objective lens size for maximum light collection, making them one of the best choices for astronomy and other low-light use.
While lens sizes vary, typically giant refers to those 70 mm and up, with 100 mm being perhaps the most popular option. When compared by lens size, and assuming magnification is the same, binoculars with 125 mm lenses can reveal double the stars seen using an 80 mm lens. Even on the lower end, 16x70 binoculars may show 600,000 more stars than 16x60 sets.
WHEN SIZE MATTERS
Naturally the barrels of these binoculars are often long, and the entire unit tends to be large to contain the prisms and other mechanisms that make best use of the large lenses. As a result of their size, many giant binoculars are quite heavy. They can easily weigh in at 20 to 30 pounds, and are almost always meant to be mounted on a tripod or other device.
They simply are not comfortably used in hand for long periods. Although you will not want to carry giant binoculars while hiking or hunting, they are excellent for sky-gazing, offering a two barrelled design that for many is more comfortable than the single barrel telescopes, particularly when examining galaxies for long periods.
Apart from lens size and weight, you will want to consider magnification and ultimately field of view (FOV). As with all optical devices, very high magnifications result in smaller fields of view. When you want to observe a broader range of night sky, you may find using a lower magnification is helpful. Many giant binoculars offer interchangeable eye pieces with various magnifications; that way when you do want to take a closer look at stars within a universe you've spotted, you need only switch the eyepiece and focus once again.
Oberwerk offers an excellent set with its Giant Long Range Observation Binoculars. At a weight of 26.5 lbs, this device comes with Oberwerk's own tripod. It includes triplet objectives, which maximize light use, and fully multi-coated optics to eliminate reflections. With its 25x eye pieces, the FOV is 44 m, and with its 40x eye pieces, the FOV is 26 m. The Giant Long Range Observation Binoculars also offer a good long eye relief and adjustable inter-pupil-distance.
LENS QUALITY IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS SIZE
Not surprisingly, lens quality becomes even more important when objective lenses become giants. Not only do you need big diameters, you need good quality lenses. With bigger size, there are more opportunities for distortions.
If possible, take a good look at giant binoculars while considering them, so you can get an idea of their lens quality. Many models will have double or triple lenses to help prevent any aberrations and make best use of light. Higher end, more expensive binoculars are worthwhile when objective lens size and quality are top-notch.
Optical quality is also kept high through the use of coatings. With extra large lenses, and as above, perhaps two or three of them, each can be coated to eliminate reflections. Again, you may find more expensive models make the extra investment quite worthwhile when the are fully multi-coated. There just is no excuse to buy giant binoculars that don't have coatings for best lens use.
OTHER FEATURES AND CONSIDERATIONS
Giant binoculars sometimes offer the same features found in standard sized models. For example,Barska has giant zooming binoculars called Gladiators, which have 70 mm lenses and magnify from 12x through 36x. Celestron has their SkyMasters, with a 100 mm lens and individual focus for those who prefer it, although some users have found these devices can arrive with poor collimation and low quality optics.
Barska's Cosmos binoculars are actually waterproof, and have extra long eye relief, while weighing only about eight pounds. On the more unique side, some giant binoculars offer a 90” viewing angle. Alternatively you might want to consider higher end mounts with angles that can be adjusted for comfort. Despite the added expense, these may be perfect for you during long-time use.
Telescopic binoculars are yet another excellent result of combining binocular features with telescope features to optimize image viewing. These are as powerful as any telescopes, but have two eyepieces which will be specially designed for maximum comfort and ease. You'll get multiple eyepieces as you'd expect with your telescope, but in pairs, and they'll be softer and smoother. Telescopic binoculars often contain very fine focus controls as well as super high quality mechanisms to make them excellent investments for astronomy. These will generally be much bigger and heavier than spotting scopes, and you'll likely want to mount them rather than carrying them by hand. Read on to see more of the benefits.
Telescope binoculars offer the best of both optic worlds – a true telescopic performance, but with the comfort and ease of binoculars.
By using this type you can see the stars without straining your eyes or squinting, and end up with a “stereo” view.
This can be the biggest advantage of telescopic binoculars, and you may find once you switch to them you’ll never go back to a monocular design such as in a regular telescope.
Although telescopic binoculars can be harder to find then regular models, you might find it’s well worth the effort. With their ability to easily be mounted and particularly with image stabilization, you can use these models to make astronomy exciting but also comfortable.
Telescopic binoculars will have two eyepieces, often with soft, molded cups, and a sleek, comfortable to use design. By using a tripod or other mount you won’t have to worry about keeping them held up, and can focus on enjoying the view.
And if you’re unsure, or already have a telescope, you can also choose to use a binoviewer, which is a tool that can be mounted to your regular telescope and spreads the image across two sides. This way you get the extra comfort of binoculars without giving up your existing equipment, or compromising on buying a really high-powered telescope.
With all the options available there is no reason you should be stuck with a unit that is uncomfortable or doesn’t meet your needs, so take a look!
Telescope vs Binoculars
If this is the first time you’ve heard of bino telescopes, you might wonder what the difference is between binoculars, telescopes, and ultimately bino telescopes that combine the two. What’s the advantage of each, and why would you choose to buy telescopic binoculars?
Binoculars are often described as “two telescopes in one”. They offer magnification and use objective lenses and prisms just like a telescope, but have a side for each eye. For many this is more comfortable, and binoculars tend to be smaller and cheaper than telescopes while still offering magnifications and powers that are appropriate for astronomy.
So what do telescopes do that binoculars don’t? Telescopes are more flexible, often providing several different eyepieces that are interchangeable to give different focal lengths and ultimately different power levels.
Telescopes usually have larger apertures which allow them to collect more light and provide brighter images. This allows astronomers to see distant galaxies more clearly and makes gas clouds and start clusters more easily visible.
They usually offer high resolution which means greater image detail at higher distances as well. That said, the extra pieces of a telescope including eyepieces and other equipment adds weight, size, and price to these tools, which just will not work for birdwatching, tracking game, hiking, or boating. Even while stargazing, binoculars can offer the amateur astronomer a great deal of power for a relatively small tool.
This brings us to the question: How do telescopic binoculars merge the two tools, and why would you choose them over one or the other?
WHY CHOOSE TELESCOPIC BINOCULARS?
Bino telescopes combine the benefits of both worlds, offering telescopic power with binocular comfort. In other words, using telescopic binoculars allows you to use that high magnification and big lenses while using both eyes. Eyepieces are perhaps the biggest advantage borrowed from telescopes.
While bino telescope eyepieces are usually made to be extra comfortable and easy to use over long periods, more like binoculars, they are also as versatile as telescope eyepieces. Several eyepieces will be included with your purchase, and each can be used to modify the image as needed. Instead of one set of built in eyepieces as with binoculars, you get the benefit of a telescope’s interchangeable pieces.
By using different eyepieces, you get different magnifications and therefore different fields of view (FOV) so you can watch a meteor travelling through the sky or pick out that distant, faint galaxy.
Each eyepiece often includes built-in focusing mechanisms so you can use them independently, for perfecting that view of distant galaxies or examining the moon’s surface. And focusing on telescope binoculars is usually more fine-tuned, borrowing from the telescope’s precise nature.
Bino telescopes also borrow the very high quality mechanisms, glass, coatings, and other elements of telescopes. While this increases size and weight and often demands that they be mounted rather than held, the precision and performance of this type will be much higher than regular binoculars.
Still, apart from astronomy, telescopic binoculars cannot be used for other activities that binoculars master, such as birdwatching, racing, and the like. Their bulk, precise collimation, and expensive parts make them completely impractical when they need to be moved often or can’t be handled delicately.
The high-end nature of bino telescope parts also means increased price. You will find that prices are closer to those found in telescopes, and may be even higher due to the extra parts that make telescopic binoculars more comfortable to use.
While these offer a truly amazing experience, you will need to invest at least a couple thousand dollars for them. Look for options that come with tripods or mounts included, or that have extras such as spotting scopes, where applicable.
Also consider what eyepieces will work with your set to avoid problems later on. All in all however, bino telescopes offer a very worthwhile combination of binocular and telescope features that make them the high-end choice for stargazing.
In the military, nobody has time for flimsy binoculars or shoddy equipment. Binoculars need to be rugged, strong, and durable, to survive soldiers on the move. Straps and armoring are all-important here, but weight and power need to be considered as well. Military binoculars may be the hardest working of all kinds, because they need the heaviest duty shells along with the highest quality mechanisms. You won't settle for less, and you don't have to.
Military binoculars are perhaps the hardest working devices in high-quality optics. Just like our soldiers, they never rest, and inferior quality is just not an option. If you want to cheap out, you need to look elsewhere. If instead you want to invest in the highest quality, greatest precision, and toughest models out there, you need to look at military binoculars.
The first order of business here is durability. Military binoculars need to be the most rugged, strongest, and have the most protective armors. Go in a store and get a feel for different sets to check out binocular balance, weight, and grip.
It will be worth your time to get a set that fit your hands perfectly, and that have heavy-duty casing. Rugged, thick armor is an absolute must. You don't want to worry about dropping your dainty binoculars in the field. Military binoculars need to survive being on the move and even being dropped from time to time. You might choose camouflaged armor as well.
AVOID FANCY FEATURES
Because these binoculars have to be tough, you may want to avoid extra, fancy features when unnecessary. As convenient as it might be to have a digital camera built in, the extra mechanisms involved make such sets too flimsy for military use. The added weight and cost of a digital camera are simply a drawback here, so don't bother.
Furthermore, while zooming binoculars might seem like a great idea, you'll want to avoid them. Because these require specialized mechanisms on each barrel that are connected using a thin wire, they are prone to breakage and mis-alignment. Drop one of these and chances are your zoom and focus are broken for good. It'd be smarter to have a set of binoculars with interchangeable eyepieces that alter magnifications, although even then you don't want to lose tiny pieces. You might consider simply having more then one set of binoculars to avoid this.
Image stabilizing binoculars may also incur too much added weight and delicate machinery for the benefit. If you're on surveillance on the water, these might be useful. But in general, when you need something sleek, simple, and rugged, you might not want image stabilization.
Focusing also needs to be simple and efficient. Who has time to mess around with individual eye focusing when it can be flimsy? You need to check various models out and decide what focusing equipment works for you. Don't waste time fumble fingering on the field.
SEEK, STRIKE, DESTROY
What do you want in military binoculars? Look for a built-in compass or rangefinders which offer useful features with less equipment. If these functions are useful, they will be worth the added weight and not so flimsy as to cause problems. Consider looking for binoculars with reticles if you don't want rangefinders, so you can estimate distance.
While you likely won't want tripods or mounts, will it be useful to get a set that can be mounted to your helmet? Do you want to invest in night vision capabilities such as infrared illumination, or just buy big lenses to make your binoculars useful as dusk falls?
Military binoculars are an investment, but they're well worth it. Just like you, they're tough, durable, and dependable. Choose a set that will meet your needs without being prone to breakage and you've made a choice that will keep on working for a long time.
Marine binoculars for boating or fishing can make all the difference on that trip. Not only do you want them waterproofed, you also need a set that are durable and able to stand up to hard knocks. There are binoculars that will float if they accidentally get dropped out of the boat, and several models also offer built-in compasses or rangefinders. We take a look at choosing objective lenses and magnifications that will fit your boating needs without weighing you down.
Whilst choosing marine binoculars you want to consider some very important factors that will maximize the marine experience without sacrificing durability or versatility. There are a wide range of binoculars available, and while there aren’t too many specifically labeled as for marine use, you can easily find the set you need if you look for these critical factors.
Marine binoculars must first and foremost be durable, to survive use whether you are on calm waters or in a raging storm. This means they must stand up to a few knocks without being knocked out of sync, and maintain optimum viewing quality regardless of weather conditions. Take a look for rugged and durable armors, which are often made of rubber, and will offer various grips and textures. You might choose one with good tread grips so they’re easier to hold when your hands are wet, and you’ll definitely want to look for self-contained, sealed binoculars that don’t seem flimsy or delicate.
It may go without saying that you will need waterproof binoculars on your boating adventure. Although some models are labeled weather-resistant or weatherproof, only those that carry the waterproof label will be guaranteed to prevent any leakage or fogging of the lenses whether you’re dealing with fog or spray. Bushnell offers a great all around 7x50 marine model, which is durable and contains good quality mechanisms to optimize your marine viewing experience.
Choosing accessories for your binoculars can make a big difference on the boat as well. Many will offer straps or cases that make it easy to suspend your binoculars from your neck so they’re out of the way when not needed, but easily in reach when you spot that whale off starboard. Look for binoculars such as Steiner’s 7x50 Marine model which has attached lens caps; that way you aren’t fumbling with your lens caps when that once-in-a-lifetime view appears, nor worrying that you’ll drop them in your haste.
There are even floating models of binoculars, so if you do happen to drop them in the water, you can easily pick them up without worrying your investment has sunk. For example, Barska offers their Floatmaster 12x30 binoculars, along with their Deep Sea 7x50 sets as well. These sets are lightweight and compact as well as affordable.
You’ll want binoculars that are versatile and can handle what you need whether you’re looking at distant buoys or surprised by the dolphin that just swum up beside the boat. Look for those with auto-focus features, and if you do choose manual focus, be sure to give those binoculars a try in store to be sure you find the focusing easy and comfortable. Many marine options offer a great depth of field with auto-focus however, so do consider going this route.
Also important to versatility is objective lens size. You can choose wider lenses here to ensure you have excellent image quality whether you’re at dusk or simply under overcast skies. Choose big lenses and you’ll find that your binoculars work even when a storm is blowing in at a moment’s notice. On the boat, you simply can’t afford to lose the ability to see the water just because skies are grey.
Once you’ve handled all these basics, there are many exciting features that go above and beyond what is essential and take you into fun and even more functional binoculars. This is the time to invest in a set with a built-in compass, simply because it saves you the extra step of carrying a separate compass with you.
Bushnell offers a binocular model known as Navigator in 7x50, with a built-in compass andrangefinder too. You can use these to estimate distances to buoys or shore, or keep yourself oriented in open waters. They have the suregrip rubber armoring you’d expect along with a rugged case and neck strap and a lifetime limited warranty, plus the nice 50mm objective lenses are exactly what you need in any kind of weather or time of day.
Leupold offers an extensive line of rangefinders as well, which give you great accuracy over a long distance, and 8x magnification. The Leupold rangefinders often have a built-in compass as well, are fully armored, and are particularly loved by hunters as well.
Image stabilization (IS) can be very handy when you’re on the yacht as well. Although IS may not stand up to bucking and rolling in the open ocean, it can certainly help maintain a great quality image in gentle waves.
You may also consider digital camera binoculars so you can actually get that amazing whale photo and keep a life-long reminder of your vacation. If you’re enjoying a holiday, why not invest in the binoculars that will help you treasure it forever?
Image Stabilizing Binoculars
Image stabilizing (IS) binoculars are rare yet can be a strong advantage for your viewing experience. There are so many times when IS sets can provide a huge improvement, especially when you're supporting them in-hand rather than on a mount. What are the pros and cons of these devices? We've explained how they work, why they improve image quality, and when they're worth the investment. We've also covered all the cons; there are trade-offs, and you need to consider ergonomics and comfort along with battery usage.
Image stabilizing (IS) binoculars offer the advantage of a clearer, sharper image with less work and more flexibility. However, trade-offs need to be considered as this type offers its own unique characteristics. Here are the pros and cons so you can choose the best set for you.
The inescapable reality of using binoculars is that simply holding them by hand will lead to some degree of shaking or movement. This is particularly true if you are using them for any period of time whether stargazing, watching cars at the track, or following your favorite sports game. The result is smearing of your image view.
When binoculars are stabilized, they result in sharper images, better clarity, and clearer contrast. While mounting equipment is available it can be heavy and awkward, along with restricting your binoculars to being mounted on the ground. Image stabilizing binoculars offer better quality without a lot of added weight and fussing.
Beyond image quality, even the slightest waver in your regular binoculars can lead to eyestrain and headaches. Movement causes your eyes to strain, and just like a low resolution computer, a lot of time staring at that image will cause significant discomfort. If you intend to use your set for long periods it will be worth the effort to choose image stabilizers simply to ensure greatest comfort.
Because quality is so improved, image stabilizing binoculars offer a significant difference even for a less powerful set. For example, Canon offers excellent binoculars for car racing. Magnification of even 8x works beautifully, as it allows for a wider field of view (FOV). This wider FOV means you can keep your eye on the cars as they move across the track, while the magnification is still strong enough to put you right in the action. With image stabilization, images remain crisp during the entire race; your car wins and you catch every moment.
Image stabilization requires more parts to be added to your binoculars. The trade-off is in weight and durability – a slightly heavier set of binoculars may need extra support for carrying, and may not withstand as much bumping and bruising as your regular set. That said, there are models with more armor and protection available which may be worth the added expense for your needs.
Be sure to spend some time handling the binoculars in-store; you will find that various sets have different ergonomics and balance, which can compensate for the added weight with repeated use.
The initial investment for IS binoculars is obviously higher. Added machinery and technology, particularly as these binoculars are rather new, will undoubtedly increase the cost. However, there is a wide range to choose from and you can certainly balance features with price.
Furthermore, batteries are required for image stabilization so be sure to check your binocular requirements and keep some spares. In most cases you will need to hold down a stabilization button to activate the feature, which is generally rather easy to do and helps keep battery use as low as possible.
IS binoculars will work very well even when batteries are dead; although image stabilization won’t be available, the binoculars are still functional and perform quite well. Consider investing in high quality rechargeable batteries and a charger for frequent use.
While image stabilizing binoculars inevitably incur a heavier investment in weight and expense, the improvement to quality and comfort are very high. If you are investing in an Alaskan trip or season tickets for football, you may find taking it the extra mile by choosing IS binoculars will absolutely maximize your experience. For long-term use these can’t be beat both for high image quality and premium comfort.
Digital Camera Binoculars
Digital camera binoculars offer a unique combination of photography and distance viewing, making them an excellent gift or impressive gadget for your own use. Not only can you watch the game in the stadium, you can quickly snap a picture of the winning goal. That said, obviously there are some extra considerations in terms of camera features as well as everything you need for a useful set of binoculars. How can you choose a set that is both powerful and functional? Read on!
Digital camera binoculars are a revolutionary new technology for gadget-lovers. They combine a digital camera with your binoculars so you can share images of that rare bird or beautiful night sky with others.
By using these, you can keep a real record of that pivotal moment with wildlife or the winning goal at the hockey game. Bushnell offers an excellent selection in their Digital Cameras Line, including their Instant Replay Digital Binoculars with 8x magnification, and a “what you see is what you get” image.
Camera quality varies as well from model to model, with specifications usually between 1 and 4 megapixels. This variation comes out in better resolution and being able to print larger photos.
In terms of binocular manufacturers offering digital camera binoculars, there are three major brands from which to choose: Barska, Bushnell, and Celestron. Barska offers their 8x32mm Point N View 5.0 Mega Pixel Digital Camera Binoculars that features a flip-up viewing screen to review the images that have been recorded, and an SD card slot to expand the memory of the camera beyond its internal memory. They also offer a smaller 8x22mm Point N View model, as well as a 10x25mm VGA Binocam model, both of which lack either the flip-up screen or the SD card slot.
Bushnell includes five digital camera binocular models in their product line-up, making them the company with the largest selection of these products. Their Imageview line consists of four models: an 8x 30mm 2.1 megapixel model, an 8x30mm 3.0 megapixel model with a flip-up LCD screen, a 10x25mm model, and a10x 25mm model with an inset LCD screen. All Imageview models offer video as well as still image recording, and an SD card expansion slot. All Imageview models also incorporate an 8x magnification digital camera, including the 10x binocular models. In their Instant Replay line, Bushnell offers a single model—the Instant Replay 8x30mm. With a 5.0 megapixel resolution, SD card expansion slot, and Bushnell’s trademark SyncFocus™ system, this digital camera binocular is not only at the top of Bushnell’s product offerings in the category, it may very well be at the top of the category of digital camera binoculars across the market.
Celestron offers three models of digital camera binoculars: the VistaPix 8x22mm model, VistaPix 8x32mm 2.0 megapixel model, and the VistaPix 8x32mm 3.0 megapixel model. While the 8x22mm model is fairly basic, both 8x32mm models offer video, still image recording capability, and SD card expansion slots. The 3.0 megapixel model also offers a flip-up LCD viewing screen to enable users to review images and videos recorded by the camera. All offer an 8x magnification camera to match the 8x magnification of the binoculars.
You may choose the higher end here if you intend to print large prints, whereas photos meant for your album will be clear even with few megapixels. For example, to print a high quality 300ppi, 5” by 7” photo, such as you might submit to a magazine contest, you’ll want your camera to be at least 3 megapixels. That said, you can print a decent 5” by 7” photo for your album with only 1 megapixel.
Here are some things to consider when looking for a pair of digital camera binoculars
These are often included allowing you to quickly and clearly see the image as the picture is taken. These sets make moving digital pictures from the camera to your computer or printer a snap. The result is great shots that are easily ready for printing, email, or your website.
Typically are available from about 7x to 10x. This range is good for regular use, although long-distance viewing such as stargazing can benefit from greater magnification.
OBJECTIVE LENS SIZE:
Digital camera binoculars runs the gamut up to about 42mm and even 50mm. As with any binoculars, the larger the lens, the better the set will work in lower light situations such as dawn, dusk, and in darker environments like concert halls and heavily wooded forests.
There are even specialty sets for night-time viewing, whether you’re scouting at night, stargazing, or keeping an eye on the neighbors. Bushnell offers extra wide lenses perfect for when you need a large field of view (FOV) – for example, at the horse races or while watching football. The FOV in their wide angle lens is double the size offered by their classic sets, and is even available in a compact set.
Some digital camera binoculars offer the option to record video. When you are looking to record video, be sure to check this option carefully and ask about video editing.
Often you will find software is included so you can transfer the video to your computer and edit as needed – that way you can start shooting when they start calling students with “S” names, and cut as necessary later to only include your little Smith receiving his kindergarten diploma.
Using digital camera binoculars you can catch the winning moment in your favorite car race or golf game – simply point, shoot, and edit later to share the tour-winning shot with your friends.
Added storage is often available when you may be recording quite a bit of video or many photos. Typically about 16MB of onboard storage is included within the binoculars themselves, and the number of photos this will cover will depend on the set.
For example, taking decent photos on a 3 megapixel camera with this amount of memory may allow only about 23 to be stored. If you regularly move your photos to your computer and get rid of bad shots, this may be enough for you. However, it can be great to have a couple memory cards on hand, and they are fairly inexpensive.
If you are a serious photographer it is worth it to grab a few cards; just be sure you take a close look at which kind your camera needs.
Not only is it absolutely necessary to use a Secure Digital (SD) card if required by your binoculars, you will get the best value by choosing a memory card size that will suit your needs. Again, actual results will vary depending on the camera and card, although Lexar offers an excellentcapacity chart for memory sizes and photo storage.
OTHER DIGITAL CAMERA FEATURES:
Although the nature of combining both a camera and binoculars may sacrifice a few of the highest-level features of both, there are specialized sets that will cover your needs.
Some digital camera binoculars feature a keypad for controlling extra camera features, so it can be worth taking the time to check out this keypad. You’ll want one that isn’t too tiny or frustrating to manipulate.
Other sets offer auto focus, allowing you to simply put the binoculars to your eyes and instantly see a crisp, clear image, without adjusting. Take the time to choose the best features for your life, and you will be making an excellent investment for years to come.
Season tickets and betting at tracks demand nothing but the best, and digital camera binoculars will take you there.
Zoom binoculars are perhaps the most controversial type. They offer a wide range of sizes and zooming strengths, making it possible to use binoculars for objects in the distance as well as those up close. Zoom binoculars are often used during butterfly watching or to zero in on the finest details of plants and other insects, so they tend more towards microscopic views then telescopic. That said, the mechanisms involved can make them rather fragile and there are other ways to get the zooming functionality. Read on to learn more.
Imagine making your out-door stargazing experience like a trip to the planetarium, or reading players’ lips as you watch your favorite football game. Or spotting a bird in the distance then zooming in to examine the finest features of its feathers.
Zoom binoculars can do this for you. Look for binoculars that have two numbers before the “x”. For example, 12-36x70 marks a set with magnification that can zoom from 12x through to 36x, with 70mm objective lens.
Do consider however that zoom binoculars will require extra focusing as you zoom in or out. You can use these typically from lower magnifications such as 15x while birdwatching or hiking, or zoom them right in so you feel you can touch that star with a magnification of 120x.
Keep in mind however that extreme zooms will narrow your field of view (FOV) significantly, and therefore re-mounting may be necessary as you zoom in, or while watching heavenly bodies such as the moon which will appear to move during earth’s rotation.
Therefore it can be worthwhile to also consider mounting equipment, tripods, and built-in features that make mounting those binoculars easy.
ALL BINOCULARS, GREAT & SMALL
While many zooming binoculars fit easily in the palm of your hand, there are ultra large options available as well for more power. Bushnell offers a nice compact zoom option in their Powerview binoculars, which are 7-15x25. The magnification range is optimal for so many uses, and the objective lens diameter is decent too. Perhaps most importantly, they are sleek and streamlined, making them easy to use at the game or while on a road trip.
If you want even more power in a lightweight package, check out Nikon’sAction Zoom XL, offered in 10-22x50. While these are a little over 2lb, they do come with a tripod adapter and tripod for mounting them. You can easily put them on the tripod for extra stable viewing while zooming in and out, or just keep them in hand.
And if they don’t excite you, try Nikon’s 8-24x25 EagleView Zoom Binoculars. The much smaller objective lens size will still fit your bright light viewing but be much slimmer. They feature central focusing, diopter adjustment for comfortable viewing, and weigh in at only 12.3oz.
There are certainly large size zoom sets as well. Consider Barska’sbeautiful Gladiators, which at 12-60x70 offer extreme magnification, extra giant lenses, and of course a built-in tripod adapter. These are high quality, yet not too expensive either.
THERE ARE SOME CAVEATS
That said, zooming binoculars are not for all. There are so many small, moving parts involved in zooming that the potential for damage and misalignment are higher. Since binoculars operate as two separate telescopes, the zooming mechanism must be installed into each side and kept in alignment using a linkage band. Naturally this small band makes it difficult to keep each side of the binocular in alignment, and is particularly prone to damage over time.
Zoom binoculars offer a small FOV at all magnifications too. By looking closely at the specifications you will find that these models tend to offer as little as half as much FOV as fixed magnification options. And while very high magnifications are often available, image quality can be very degraded at such magnifications or when binoculars are subject to the slightest wobbling involved in being held by hand.
Zooming features are relatively new and in many cases can still use improvement. The cost in weight and functionality caused by zoom can reduce the quality of other features, so shop carefully. Beware of inexpensive zoom binoculars as many models do not do the feature justice, and where a price seems too go to be true, it probably is.
If you’re unsure about investing in zoom binoculars, consider specialized eyepieces instead. There are different eyepieces available to show various levels of magnification even while using fixed magnification binoculars. Fixed magnification binoculars will be less expensive and more versatile, without the performance limitations of some zooming binocular models.
Binocular models with specialized eyepieces will be listed with a “/” symbol rather than a hyphen, as in “25/40x100”, which suggests eyepieces are included with magnifications of 25x up to 40x. You can also easily find eyepieces separately; just be sure they will work with your binoculars.
Binoculars for Harsh Environments
Choosing the right optic equipment for your chosen activity is essential. Even more so if you plan to be out in harsh weather conditions. Understanding how binoculars and telescopes are sealed against the elements can help you make the right decision about what kind of optic you need. It can also help you care for them properly to ensure years of use and proper function. Is just choosing a waterproof pair enough? Does it matter which gas is used to fill the barrels? Find out before you take that next hike in the rain.
Whether the activity is bird watching, hunting, hiking, or any other outdoor activity, the gear used must be able to endure the elements. From the cold rain and snow of a northern forest, to the blistering heat of a southwestern desert, to the humidity of a tropical jungle, any equipment taken on the trip must be able not only to withstand the conditions encountered (including accidents), but also function properly despite them as well. For boots, packs, and other gear, this is pretty straightforward. Sophisticated optical instruments such as binoculars and telescopes rely on a number of fragile glass lenses placed in very specific positions. How can they be protected against all the bumps, jolts, humidity, rain, dust, dirt, and changes in both atmospheric temperature and pressure without interfering with their ability to function?
The answer to this question can be summarized by two key words: “fit” and “seal.” While reams of paper and gigabytes of Web site space have been devoted to the variety of environmental protective measures employed by binocular and telescope manufacturers—armor, hard coating for lenses, nitrogen/argon purging, and others—none are particularly effective if the designers and assemblers did not pay sufficient attention was to the proper fitting of the component parts, and the effective sealing of joints.
In binoculars or telescopes designed to withstand harsh environmental conditions, the proper fitting of all the component parts is crucial and begins at the very first stages of the instrument’s creation. Tolerances (the allowable margins of physical variation by which a mechanical part can be manufactured and still work properly) as close as 1/10,000th of an inch are sometimes required to ensure the instrument’s effective long-term performance. Lenses and their associated holders (the machined parts into which the lenses are fitted) must not only be fitted precisely in order for the entire optical system to work, they must be kept there without slipping, rotating, or changing position in any way, even after being bumped, dropped, or subjected to rapid changes in temperature or pressure.
In addition, precisely fitted mechanical parts are more resistant to breaking—especially parts that are designed to move regularly, such as those that make up the focusing mechanism in binoculars. With poorly fitted parts, constant movement over time will gradually grind down the part’s material, weakening it and increasing the chance that it will either break or compromise a seal. In fact, without closely fitted parts, effective sealing—the second crucial element to environmental protection—is very difficult, if not impossible to achieve.
Because optical instruments such as binoculars and telescopes are designed to present their users with a magnified view of objects, their lenses naturally show an enlarged view of anything seen through them. This includes dust, dirt, and other seemingly tiny particles that might accidentally find their way inside the optical path of the instrument. When caught between the many lenses that make up a single optical path, even a grain of pollen or a speck of dirt can seem like a boulder in the field of view. Such undesirable objects, particularly dust with a high mineral content, can also shorten the lifetime of moving mechanical parts if they find their way between them. Think sandpaper and the reason will be perfectly clear.
Seals are not only created to keep unwanted material out of an optical instrument, but to keep desired substances, particularly gases, inside them as well. Marcus Leupold and his team of engineers at Leupold & Stevens created the first effective nitrogen-filled optic back in the early 1940s as part of a U.S. military project to build targeting sites for high altitude U.S. bombers. Since then, the method of effectively sealing optical instruments has been an essential element in their design. Ambient air, which contains both oxygen and hydrogen, is removed from binoculars’ or a telescope’s internal space, and replaced with an inert gas such as nitrogen. If the instrument is exposed to a rapid change in temperature—for example, from moving outside from a warm cabin on a cold, rainy day—condensation will not form inside the optic instrument, and the view will not be fogged. Should internal fogging occur, it will not only reduce the effectiveness of the instrument at that time, it will leave water spots on the lenses that will be magnified, reducing clarity and obscuring portions of the visual field.
Once fit and sealing have been addressed, there is a range of additional features that can be added to a binocular or telescope in order to improve its overall resistance to harsh conditions. Shortening the overall length of the instrument can offer structural advantages against bumps and falls. A short, squat object is likely to be more durable than a longer, thinner one. External armoring, where the instrument is coated in a layer of durable rubber or other material, can also help to protect it against physical impacts. Particularly effective armor is enhanced in areas of likely impact should the instrument be dropped, such as at corners, and particularly around the objective lenses.
As for lenses, new coatings to protect against scratches and external condensation are constantly being developed. While many such coatings have been developed and proved highly effective in laboratories, they must not interfere with the optical performance of the instrument. Because of this, many have never been released to market as they were shown to distort the visual image by adding unwanted colors or decreasing light transmission. Incidentally, don’t look at the objective lenses of a binocular or telescope for proof of one type of coating or another. The colorful, reflective sheens seen on the objective lenses of many optical instruments are a result of their particular construction or coating type.
Even with protective coatings, keeping external lenses free from dust, rain spotting, and scratches requires good lens covers. Binoculars and telescopes designed for harsh conditions are sold with effective covers to protect the lenses at all times when the instrument is not in use. Case covers, the simple plastic disks that fit loosely and fall free as soon as the instrument is removed from its storage case don’t count. Good field lens covers will stay in place while the instrument is being carried, and even remain tethered or otherwise connected to the instrument while actively in use.
So who makes the optical instruments that satisfy all these conditions? There are many fine manufacturers of binoculars and spotting scopesthat produce and sell products well suited to harsh conditions. Go on a birding trip to Panama, a hunting expedition to Africa, or a trek up one of the many great mountain ranges of the world, and you will no doubt see your colleagues toting a Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica, Nikon, or Leupold binocular, and with good reason. But when it comes to over-the-top design intended to protect the structure and operational integrity of their binoculars, one name is particularly well regarded, so much so that they are the primary binocular supplier to military and law enforcement organizations around the world: Steiner. Whether the popular Merlin or Peregrine product groups, the innovative Wildlife Pro series, or the new high performance Predator C5 models, users will find each to be a remarkable combination of superior optical performance combined with military standard, and the ability to withstand the elements.
Not everyone needs military specification binoculars for everything from physical impact to underwater submersion, but if your purpose for the optic is a once in a lifetime trip, over-preparedness is never a bad thing. Over the past decade, market forces have pushed all the upper-level manufacturers to include features that allow their products to withstand harsh conditions. Keep these features in mind when making a selection, and choosing the binoculars or telescope with the appropriate level of environmental protection should not be a difficult task.
When packing your bags for that much needed vacation, it's not always practical to be weighed down by your best set of optics. When selecting a pair of binoculars for traveling, size is everything. But before you reach your destination and pick up the cheapest pair of compact binoculars you can find, there are numerous things to consider. Read on to see some of our recommendations for good travel binoculars.
One of the greatest challenges faced by travelers is the age-old question of what to pack. While in years past this has been a tricky exercise, in these days of airlines charging for even a single normal suitcase, and imposing penalties higher than a traffic ticket for that suitcase being overweight, the decision of what to bring and what to leave behind has taken on a whole new level of importance.
As anyone who has ever set out their belongings across a bed or table in preparation for a trip knows, looking at the assembled items causes a thousand questions to run through the mind:
“Will I really get any time to use the pool and need my swimsuit?”
“If the weather is as warm as the reports predict do I really need that jacket?”
“I wonder if I’ll get any time to (see that monument, do any bird watching, take in a ballgame) and want my binoculars with me?”
That last question is a particularly tricky one. For anyone interested in an activity that requires binoculars or a telescope to fully enjoy – bird watching, arena sporting events, sightseeing – travel binoculars are the answer. There’s always the option to dash off to the local sporting goods store at your travel destination and pick up a cheap pair to tide you over. But this means an additional expenditure of time and money, and the optic obtained will most often be less than satisfactory for the purpose. Still, unless the trip itinerary has time included for participation in one’s favorite optic-requiring activity, bringing along a standard binocular (not to mention a spotting scope and tripod) is likely to be a waste of effort, space, weight, time, and possibly even money should it be lost, stolen, or damaged during the trip. Of course, with a standard binocular, if you do bring it along it will likely be back at the hotel when you most want or need it.
There is a solution to this conundrum – obtain an optical instrument in advance that is suited to your particular activity or activities and also ideally suited to traveling. What constitutes ideally suited to traveling? If it is to be an optic that will not take up valuable space in, or add potentially expensive weight to your luggage, but will also be an optic that can be carried with you at all times during your trip, it must truly be pocket or purse-sized. It must also be of sufficient optical quality to allow it to perform at a level that makes it worthwhile to bring along. For that reason, maximize your optical value by looking to a monocular as an option for your designated travel optic.
Due to their single optical channel design, monoculars employ fewer total lenses and other materials than binoculars, and don’t require some of the manufacturing and assembly processes common to binocular production. Because of this, companies producing high quality monoculars can invest more into the materials they do use, including better glass, higher quality lens coatings, and sophisticated designs to produce an optical instrument that performs on par with a binocular often costing hundreds of dollars more.
One of the finest monoculars presently on the market and one that all travelers should seriously consider is the Minox Miniscope 8x25mm monocular. This palm-sized optic offers many features not commonly found in conventional monoculars, including a twist-up eyecup, 3-1 objective lens diameter to magnification ratio, and even a discretely positioned tripod mount, perfect for use on table-top camera tripods or the camera mounting studs atop trekking poles. Its ingenious front-mounted focusing ring that encircles the entire objective lens makes one-handed, as well as fine detail focusing very easy. With an 8x magnification, a 6.5 ° field of view, and a stated close focus distance of 35cm (it’s actually even closer but that’s the number Minox publishes), the Miniscope is suitable for everything from theater performances and stadium sporting events, to bird and even butterfly watching. At just over 3 ½ inches at its longest dimension and weighing just over 5 ounces, the Miniscope is a superb travel companion on any trip.
Another innovative monocular very well suited to traveling is theOpticron Gallery Scope. Available in three different models – 4x12mm, 6x16mm, and 8x20mm – the Gallery Scope combines an amazing close focus distance of between 20 to 30 centimeters, depending on the model, with very respectable distance magnifying quality. While the Gallery Scope is designed to accommodate both close and long distance focusing in standard field use situations, it can also be adapted, through the use of an optional attachment, to function as a table-top or field microscope of between 12x and 24x (according to the Gallery Scope model). Because of this, its focusing system actually extends or shortens the optic’s overall length. The benefit of this for travelers is that it can be compacted down to its minimum length for carrying and will truly fit comfortably inside a shirt pocket.
On the subject of shirt-pocket-sized optics, the Nikon 5x15mm High Grade and 7x15mm High Grade monocular models offer a straightforward, highly portable optic for the traveler seeking high performance from a minimum-sized device. With eyeglass-friendly eye relief, multi-coated lenses, a sub-two-foot close focus distance, and, thanks to their moderate magnification levels, a wide field of view, either high grade model is a great optic to have along on any trip.
Rounding out the monocular recommendations is a quartet of pocket-sized optics from Carl Zeiss Inc. The Zeiss Design Selection monocular series offers four options for those seeking Zeiss-quality optics in a miniature package. The 4x12mm B T*P* and 6x18mm B T*P* models employ a push-pull focus system while the 8x20mm B T*P* and 10x25mm B T*P* models offer a more conventional rotating eyepiece to control the focusing mechanism. While all four models offer both Zeiss’s famous “P*” phase correction coating and “T*”multicoating treatments to their optical systems, due to the focusing mechanisms employed, only the 8x20mm B T*P* and 10x25mm B T*P* models are waterproof.
For those who insist upon using binoculars rather than a monocular, there are dozens of compact models on the market that make great travel binoculars. For maximum portability, binoculars that feature dual hinges will almost always allow for them to be folded and stored in a smaller space than those with a conventional single center hinge. But, as both optical paths of any binocular must be properly aligned and remain so for the binocular to work correctly, and as dual-hinge design binoculars add moving parts which could allow the binocular to become misaligned, selecting dual-hinge design binoculars can be more challenging than selecting standard binoculars. For this reason, it is worth spending the extra money to obtain one from an optical firm with a strong record of designing and manufacturing high-quality optics.
The most affordable options in this category are the Minox BD 8x25mm BR W and BD 10x25mm BR W models. Dual hinges allow both optical barrels to be folded underneath the main chassis for coat pocket portability, and an Argon-filled waterproof design allows them to be used in a variety of environmental conditions. An optical system that employs both phase-coated prisms, as well as multicoated lenses helps to provide a bright, sharp, and vivid image to the user, even in poorly lighted conditions. This is a particular benefit when using them to watch arena sports under artificial lighting.
Moving up the price scale, Nikon offers a compact version of their Premier LX L binocular line with their 8x20mm and 10x25mm compact models. Also following the model of twin hinges allowing for each optical chassis to fold under the main body for storage, the Nikon Premier LX L compacts feature Magnesium-alloy body construction and eco-friendly glass to make them both easy to carry as well as easy on the environment.
The compact binoculars long favored by optical aficionados are those offered by Leica and Swarovski. Expensive? By comparison, yes. But ask anyone who has ever used either of them if they are worth it and the answer will be an equally resounding “yes.”
The Leica Ultravid BR 8x20mm and 10x25mm compact binoculars (“BL” for those who prefer a more classic leather-trimmed chassis over a more modern protective armored design) are starkly yet beautifully minimalist in their dual-hinged, fold-under barrel design. Created using one of Leica’s masterful optical designs that features six glass elements in each optical channel, all treated with Leica’s trademarked HDC coatings, as well as phase coated, HighLux prisms, the Ultravid compact binoculars provide the user with an image far superior to that commonly found in most standard-sized binoculars.
Also offering users a choice of either standard or leather-trimmed models, the Swarovski 8x20mm B-P—8 x20mm B TYROL for those preferring their binoculars trimmed in fine Italian leather—and 10x25mm B-P pocket binocular models feature an astonishing eight glass element per optical channel system in their exceptionally compact dual-hinge, fold-under design. SWAROBRIGHT coated lenses and phase-coated prisms allow every bit of color and detail to be transmitted to the user, even in challenging lighting conditions.
Are there other designs and models that, allowing for a bit more weight or size, might serve well as travel binoculars? Of course there are, among which could be included a selection of inverted Porro prism compact models, the currently very popular 32mm objective designs, including a new Traveler model of the EL 8x32mm model from Swarovski, and even a small group of smaller (40-50mm objective) spotting scopes. But for maximum portability combined with a high level of optical performance, the optics presented here are the optimum choices for the purpose. Whether your preference is monocular or binoculars, any of the models outlined here will serve as superb travel companions, regardless of your destination or length of trip.
How Binoculars Work & FAQ
It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the features, functions, and options available when considering binoculars and other devices such as monoculars and scopes. With so many tools out there, how do you choose the one that is best for your use? How do binoculars work, and why do they range so much in price? What are all those numbers on the box, and what does FOV stand for again? Don't get lost in sales speak about eye relief and coated lenses – we've got all the explanations here for you.
Binoculars come with a wide range of features. Each uses lenses and prisms in slightly different ways, and choosing carefully can mean the difference between an excellent experience and a blurry image.
Galilean binoculars are the simplest, and each use four lenses – two convex and two concave. Although these lenses automatically provide an upright image, only low magnification is possible, along with a very narrow view. Therefore this design is only used for inexpensive binoculars along with opera and theater glasses.
More modern binoculars are designed using prisms in conjunction with lenses. In this case the lenses offer a better field of view and higher magnification, but result in an upside down image. Consequently prisms are used to set the image upright again for viewing.
Porro prism binoculars are created by placing prisms in a double Z-shape. This prism placement requires more area, resulting in wider binoculars, and allowing for bigger lenses and thus, better light collection. After time the prisms may need to be re-calibrated to ensure they work effectively, however this design is less expensive than Roof prism binoculars, and more popular.
Roof prism binoculars are created by using shallow, small prisms and result in more compact binoculars. Their smaller size makes them a more durable option for hunting or as a spare pair to stay in your glove compartment. They can also be lighter in weight and easier to hold for long periods. Consider them when optimum quality is needed along with easy carrying.
Roof prisms are collimated more tightly and securely when they are produced, so they tend to take rougher handling better without the need to be recalibrated. However, these prisms require special coatings to use light effectively, including phase coating, aluminum coating, silver coating, and dielectric coating.
What do all those numbers mean?
Ultimately Porro prisms and Roof prisms can offer comparable images. In fact, the following details define quality for both types of binoculars.
Magnification and objective lens diameter
These are always described together using a pair of numbers such as “7x50”. When described this way, the first number refers to the magnification amount, and the second to the diameter of the objective lens. For example, “7x50” means that images are magnified 7x, and the objective lenses have a diameter of 50mm. These measurements are of greatest importance to image quality so need to be considered carefully.
Higher magnification will allow you to see objects further away, but will narrow your field of view. So you’ll see further, but for objects close to you, you’ll be restricted to looking at a smaller area and refocusing if that object is moving. A lower magnification from about 7x to 10x is fine most of the time, whereas magnifications of 20x to 30x are necessary forastronomy.
Larger lens diameter allows more light to enter the binoculars and reach your eye. While they increase weight significantly, bigger lenses are best for night-time viewing, hunting at dusk or dawn when game move, and even low-light environments such as heavily wooded forests.
How do I choose the right magnification?
Magnification is shown on binoculars as the first number in labels such as 7x50, 8x25, and 10x42. If you see two numbers separated with a dash, that means the binoculars zoom (ex. 7-25x42). If you see two numbers separated by a slash, that means there are different eyepieces to allow different magnifications (ex. 7/25x42).
Higher magnifications let you see further, but reduce how much area you can see through the binoculars at one time. Therefore lower magnifications are better for some uses.
- Magnifications of 2x to 5x are great for monoculars.
- Magnifications of 7x to 10x are perfect for most uses, including hiking, hunting, andbirdwatching.
- Spotting scopes will have higher magnifications around 20x.
- For astronomy binoculars, magnifications of around 10x are fine. You may wish to look for telescopes or binoculars with magnification from 20x to 30x and up though. Some telescopes have magnifications as high as 160x and interchangeable eyepieces so you can use different magnifications, but often the larger options also need to be mounted on a tripod.
How do I choose the right lens size?
Objective lenses collect more light as they get larger, making binoculars and other optical devices effective even in lower light. That makes them more effective when skies are gray, the air is foggy, or at dawn and dusk. However, larger lenses are both more expensive and heavier, so the largest ones can require mounts or tripods to be used. 20 mm lenses are often fine for birdwatching and hunting during the day, while 60 mm, 80 mm, and even 100 mm and larger lenses are best for stargazing.
Should I choose binoculars with Porro Prism or Roof Prism?
Porro prism binoculars are designed using prisms in a Z-shape. The prisms themselves encompass a wider area, so the objective lenses are spaced further apart. This type is usually more bulky but often perform better at a lower price. They yield a better three dimensional and wider field of view, but may be more likely to be knocked out of collimation when bumped or dropped. Roof prism binoculars are more streamlined, compact, and lightweight, but must have anti-reflective coatings to work effectively. They are more durable, less likely to fog up or allow dust into inner mechanisms, and their internal focus system gives them better integrity as well.
You may wish to choose Porro prisms when you want to start with a lower priced model that still performs well. If you are hunting or using binoculars on a boat or in the military, the extra investment in tougher, lighter roof prism binoculars is worth it. Ultimately either type can give clear images and offer good magnification and light collection, as these are more a result of objective lens size and all the mechanisms working together rather than one prism design or another.
Although not as popular as they used to be the Porro prism binocular still continues to provide many advantages over the now common roof prism binocular. Porro binoculars offer a superior depth of field and stunning contrast yet there popularity is still on the wane. Find out why this classic design is still one of the best and why they still pack a big punch when it comes to price versus performance.
Take a casual look at the binoculars for sale most anywhere today, and you will notice one striking pattern—they are predominantly roof prism models. Not originally well received when introduced to the market around a century ago, roof prism binoculars have made tremendous gains in popularity over the past two decades as consumers have come to prefer the slimmer, smaller profile the roof prism design makes possible.
But while it is now somewhat out of favor, the roof prism’s predecessor, the Porro prism, offers particular features and benefits that roof prism models are not as good at providing. For this reason, anyone considering buying new binoculars would do well to add a few Porro prism models into their potential choices.
The Porro prism binocular—named for its inventor, Ignazio Porro—was the first major improvement upon the original Galilean binocular design, which was essentially two telescopes connected together with a hinged bracket. Not a poor design as long as the magnification levels were kept fairly low, the Galilean design suffered from the problem of needing to be made longer (to provide a lengthened optical path for the higher level of magnification) and larger (to increase the overall amount of light needed for that lengthened optical path) if a higher level of magnification was required. Without modern lens design technology or lightweight synthetic materials available for the chassis and other mechanical parts, a larger binocular meant a much heavier one as well.
Porro’s solution to this problem was ingeniously simple: use prisms to bend the light in the optical path of each half of the binocular so that a longer optical path could be contained in a more compact physical structure. Two identical prisms of a simple right triangle shape were used in each half of the binocular. These prisms were positioned midway between the objective and eyepiece lenses, perpendicular to one another and with their longer sides (hypotenuses) facing together at one corner. The Porro prism binocular design bends the light path of each optical channel in the binocular five times, greatly lengthening the distance the light travels without requiring the binocular itself to be made physically longer.
By using triangular prisms and positioning them in such a way, the objective lenses were no longer directly in front of the eyepiece lenses. In the classic Porro shape, the objective lenses are further apart from one another than the eyepiece lenses (which must be kept within a distance that is adjustable to the same distance apart as a person’s eyes). Thus, while the overall length of the Porro prism binocular was reasonably easy to handle and balance, the width was increased to accommodate the Porro prism assemblies.
This greater width was not necessarily bad. By spacing the objective lenses wider than human eyes, the visual image transmitted through the binocular to the user is one with greater depth of field, and of superior contrast. Just as the eyes of a predator, such as a lion, are set closely together in order to concentrate all attention on whatever it selects as its prey, so the eyes of prey animals, such as a gazelle, are set widely apart on its head in order to take in a wider view of the world in order to keep a sharp lookout for predators. Humans, being predators, have forward looking eyes that allow us improved perception of movement and focused vision, but rob us of the more three-dimensional view of the world that enables prey animals to discern the shapes of potentially dangerous predators, even when those predators are motionless. Likely without intending to do so, Porro solved not one but two problems with his innovative binocular design—make a more powerful binocular shorter, and enable that binocular to provide its user with an enhanced three-dimensional image of the object being viewed.
Sadly, the popularity of the roof prism has left all too many classic Porro prism binoculars neglected. In fact, just this year Nikon removed one of its most famous Porro models, the Superior E, from its product line. Fortunately, some fine Porro prism binoculars are still on the market. In fact, one of the finest Porro prism designs ever made is presently available from one of the optical world’s great names: Swarovski. The Swarovski Habicht 7x42mm, 8x30mm, and 10x40mm binoculars combine the classic European binocular design with state-of-the-art optical quality to produce an optical instrument of superb quality, as well as a true work of art in its physical design. Providing the user with an exceptionally vivid, three-dimensional image, Swarovski Habicht binoculars can bring out the subtle details in objects that most other binoculars on the market today simply cannot.
Taking the power to produce a three-dimensional image to unprecedented levels, the Opticron HR WP 8x42mm and 10x42mm binoculars are designed with exceptionally wide spacing between the objective lenses for one of the widest image triangulations of any binocular design presently available. Thanks to some creative engineering, these binoculars’ comfortable and ergonomic design allows them to be well balanced and very easy to use.
Steiner offers lines of military, marine, and law enforcement binoculars, nearly every one of which is a Porro prism model to provide those users with the ability to see objects or people that are intentionally trying to remain hidden. The company also offers the innovative mid-sized 8x30mm Wildlife Pro CF, which features the benefits of Steiner’s renowned automatic focus system, as well as their new Ultra-Sharp focusing system for making critical refinements if needed.
There are times when the ability to focus on an object from a very short distance is critical, such as when observing wildflowers, butterflies, orbirdwatching in a thickly forested area where the line of sight is limited to a few yards off the trail. Traditional Porros, due to their widely spaced objective lenses, cannot allow very close distance observation without the image being divided. However, by flipping around the Porro prism assemblies inside the binoculars, designers have been able to create inverted Porro prism models that, thanks to their objective lenses being even closer together than in roof prism models, can provide astonishingly close focusing abilities.
Among the best of these ultra-close focusing binoculars is the Pentax Papilio. Available in 6.5x21mm and 8.5 x21mm designs, the Papilio incorporates a revolutionary convergent lens design that allows focusing on objects from as close as 18 inches. In addition to the remarkable Papilio, Pentax also offers a wide selection of other inverted Porro designs, such as the UCF R and UCF WP series models. While not capable of providing the close viewing opportunities of the Papilio, they make good travel, event, and pocket binoculars thanks to their compact size.
Another reliable inverted Porro prism binocular designed with a relatively close focusing distance is the Nikon Travelite EX. Available in 9x25mm, 10x25mm, and 12x25mm models, the Travelite EX binoculars offer a small, easy-to-carry binocular that, thanks to their higher magnification levels relative to their close focus distance capabilities, can also be used for short distance observation of butterflies, birds, or perhaps even museum displays. An interesting recent addition to the Nikon line modeled on the Travelite EX series is the Nikon Ecobin, a 10x25mm inverted Porro prism binocular that uses lead-free glass, non-chloride rubber, and no harmful inks or dyes in its construction, making it one of the most green binoculars ever brought to market.
Before dismissing the idea of a Porro prism model as your next pair of binoculars, consider whether it what it can provide would be applicable to your intended use. Would an enhanced three-dimensional image make what you are viewing in the field easier to locate or observe? Might you need an ultra-close focusing distance in order to get a better look at insects or plants? While the answers to these questions might lead you to choose a model that isn’t widely popular, the basic rule of binocular choice should always be observed: the best binoculars for you are the ones that best match your ability to use them, and what you intend to do with them.
What is Field of View? (FOV)
Refers to the area visible to you as you use your binoculars. The number given tells you how big an area you can see when viewing objects 1000 yards away. For example, a FOV of 372 ft. means you will see an area of 372 ft. 1000 yards away from you. Wide angle lenses are available to increase that FOV for game hunters and sports fanatics.
This is the minimum distance at which you must hold the eyepieces away from you. This is important especially for those who wear eyeglasses, so make sure to test this in store to find a set of binoculars that are comfortable for you to hold to your eyes.
What is eye relief?
Eye relief refers to the distance you must hold binoculars or scopes away from your eyes to use them. Larger eye reliefs mean you can use your binoculars while wearing glasses.
What is an exit pupil?
Is the virtual opening at the center of each lens through which light can move on its journey through the binoculars. Optimally this exit pupil needs to closely match your own pupil, as light that travels outside yours is lost. Therefore this becomes important when you use binoculars at night – your pupils dilate to take in more light, so a bigger exit pupil of about 7mm is ideal for astronomy. However, during the day your pupil will be about 2.5mm.
Calculate the exit pupil by dividing lens diameter by magnification – so binoculars at 7x50 have a lens pupil of about 7mm and are good at night. Binoculars at 20x50 not only offer more magnification but a smaller exit pupil of 2.5mm which is ideal for bright daylight use.
What is phase shift?
Phase shift is a problem that is unique to roof prism devices. The prisms within these devices can cause a shift in light rays, leading to low contrast and poor resolution. In short, poor light focus within the binoculars results in a dim, blurry image. That said, high quality roof prism devices will use special phase coatings throughout. The coatings force light beams into phase again, making a sharp image where fine details are visible.
BAK4 and BK-7 are common types of glass used in prisms. Both are types of crown glass, but BAK4 has a slightly higher level of refraction than BK-7. BAK4 is more expensive but is considered the better option because it creates a smooth, rounded exit pupil and a sharper image.
How do I find an optical device that is comfortable to use?
Try to handle binoculars and scopes in store to get an idea of their weight, shells, eye cups, and so forth. Soft eye cups and focusing mechanisms are important when you use your device a lot. For carrying binoculars in hand, you will want a set that weighs up to about 2lb to 3lb. Otherwise you may need to choose a mount as well. Binoculars are often more comfortable to use since they have barrels rather than the one found on a scope or monocular.
When you look through an optical device such as binoculars, you are limited to viewing a certain area at one time. This area is known as the field of view (FOV). Wide angle lenses allow for a larger FOV than seen in standard binoculars. They achieve this using lenses and prisms to take advantage of light across more degrees. While you may see a FOV of 350 feet at 1000 yards in regular sets, wide angle models could offer a FOV of 500 feet. This is particularly useful when you are surveying the sky or watching a race, and need to see over more area at a time.
Read our guide on the types of binoculars and scopes for explanations and advice. Also look at our detailed guides for astronomy binoculars,birdwatching binoculars, hunting binoculars, marine binoculars, andmilitary binoculars.
There are many binocular accessories out there, from cases to straps, specialized mounts, comfortable eye cups, interchangeable eye pieces, cleaning kits, and so much more. When using your binoculars on the move it can be worthwhile to look for heavy duty harnesses and straps to help keep them comfortable to carry. If you're planning to stargaze though, choosing a heavy duty mount with adjustable angles is a great idea.
Interchangeable eyepieces are often available for bino-telescopes and other scopes, and can allow you to view objects at different magnifications as needed. Since zooming is still considered imperfect and problematic, interchangeable eye pieces are a cost-effective and useful accessory to consider buying. Just make sure your binoculars and eye pieces will work together.
Lens cleaning kits are almost inevitably a great idea if you are using high-end optical devices such as telescopes or high powered binoculars. You don't want to scratch up your lenses when you've invested in a good set of binoculars. You might also get one for stashing in your glove compartment or tent if you use binoculars while birdwatching, hiking, hunting, or on a boat.
What are coated lenses?
You may not realize it, but the cost of a pair of binoculars is greatly influenced by the type of coating on the lenses. But just what do lens coatings do? And how do you know what kind you need? In addition to your budget, that decision depends on your viewing habits, and what kind of binoculars you need. Read up on the basics of binocular lens coatings, and you’ll be better informed when you make your purchase.
Coatings are described as follows:
- Coated - One or more surfaces are coated.
- Fully Coated - All air-to-glass surfaces are coated but plastic lenses may not be.
- Multi-Coated - One or more surfaces have been treated with multiple coats.
- Fully Multi-Coated - All air-to-glass surfaces are treated with multiple coats.
Among all the topics discussed in regard to binoculars and spotting scopes, one of the most common is lens coatings. What is applied to lenses (and prisms), how it is applied, and what it accomplishes makes up a large portion of the claims sports optic companies make about their products. As a result, it is of great interest to their customers. The subject of lens coatings can get complex very quickly, and as a result, become confusing. An understanding of lens coating basics will benefit anyone contemplating the purchase of a new spotting scope or binoculars. But first, a few things about light must be understood.
When thinking about how light behaves when it comes into contact with the lens of a binocular or spotting scope, the concepts of reflection, refraction, and transmission are important to keep in mind. When a wave of visible light encounters a glass lens, it may be partially reflected, partially refracted, and the remainder of it may pass through to the opposite side. In an optical instrument with multiple lenses, and perhaps even prisms included in it, it isn’t hard to understand how difficult it is for optical engineers to create the right balance of lenses and prisms.
Every image is composed of visible light waves, and must pass from the outer surface of the objective lens all the way through to the opposite outer surface of the eyepiece lens, and then into the observer’s eye. It must also be sufficiently magnified to be useful to the viewer, and at the same time remain sharp, clear, and bright. When you consider the challenge, it’s just half a step short of miraculous that it can even be done at all.
When Galileo created his first telescope, it was likely around 3x in magnification, and yielded an image that was most likely quite blurry. If modern engineers had only the quartz crystal available to that ancient astronomer for lenses, and no lens coating technology to enhance its qualities, we would likely not have progressed much further than Galileo’s design. Fortunately, we now have a dizzying array of types of glass and other materials out of which lenses can be fashioned. We also have a host of different types of coatings that can be applied to them in order to produce a seemingly infinite number of qualities and effects.
Simply put, each substance out of which a lens or prism can be made has certain qualities that produce a specific effect upon a visible wave of light when coming into contact with it. Coatings can then be applied to finished lenses or prisms in order to enhance, diminish, or slightly alter these effects. Why not simply choose a different type of lens material that provides the desired effect? Because while a particular type of lens material may have the precise light management properties desired for a specific effect, that material may lack another needed quality such as durability, it may be too expensive to use, or it may simply be too difficult to obtain in the quantities needed. Coatings can be applied to a type of lens material that, in combination with the coating, produces the exact effect upon the light desired by the optical engineer.
Metallic coatings are most common to the average person’s experience. In their simplest form, they are what make common household mirrors possible. In binoculars and spotting scopes, metallic coatings may applied to glass or other materials in order to increase the amount of visible light reflected from it. This process is often used on one or more faces of a roof prism assembly—the auxiliary prisms generally—in order to cause the light not to pass out through the face of the prism, but to change direction and travel on to another prism surface. The most common substances used for this are aluminum, and silver, which is preferred because it reflects visible light more efficiently.
Another type of lens coating often used in creating binoculars and spotting scopes is multicoating. The term multicoating, like many other technical terms encountered in marketing materials, can be tricky. While its benefits and capabilities have been explained correctly by some, others have misused or overstated them. Multicoating is, as the name implies, multiple layers of a coating applied to a lens surface. But unlike metallic prism coatings, the purpose for this type of coating is to reduce reflection when visible light comes into contact with the lens so that more of the light passes through it. While multiple coating layers are often beneficial, in some circumstances, a single layer coating may be better for the specific purpose the lens in question serves. As with most elements of optical design, the key is to use the right coating on the right lens, which in turn is made of the right material and placed in the right position in the optical system for the desired effect on the light to be achieved.
Multicoating commonly uses such compounds as magnesium fluoride, or calcium fluoride. A number of other more exotic, closely-guarded substances are also employed. In addition to the reduction of reflection in lenses, multicoating can be used to alter the way light is refracted as it passes through the lens. Simply put, these coatings, in combination with the substance of the lens itself, can help reduce the amount of separation of the visible light waves comprising the image to prevent distortion of the color, loss of clarity, or lack of sharpness in the final image perceived by the viewer.
The type of coating that has recently generated the most press coverage, but which still confuses many people, is phase coating. Applied to the roof prism in binoculars or spotting scopes, phase coating helps keep the image carried in the wave of visible light from being altered or rendered “out of phase” when it leaves the prism assembly. Roof prisms are somewhat tricky. Developed to allow a long optical path to be contained in a small space, roof prisms have the potential to disrupt an image composed of visible light by splitting it and recomposing it with the longer wavelengths out of phase to the shorter wavelengths. Phase coating helps prevent this by changing the speed of one portion of the split light waves so they are “in phase” with the rest when exiting the prism.
In addition to metallic coatings to improve reflectivity, and anti-reflective multicoatings to reduce it, an assortment of new coatings have been developed recently that can help reduce dust or water drops from accumulating on lenses. An example of the first of these is the proprietary Swaroclean coating found on Swarovski binoculars and spotting scopes. With this coating applied to the lenses, the surface energy is reduced, and the lenses are thus less adhesive to dust, water spots, and other residue, which helps keep them cleaner, and makes them easier to clean when necessary.
Regarding water on lens surfaces, Zeiss coats the lenses of many of its products with LotuTec, a proprietary water repellent coating that causes rain or mist to form small droplets on the lens surface rather than sheeting. Small droplets have less surface adhesion than water sheets, and can be more easily shaken free of the lens, leaving it dry and clean.
There is a lot more to lens coatings, but the basics are all you need to help you make the best decision about what you need, and what to look for when purchasing binoculars or spotting scopes.