Want a quick overview of the various binocular and scope models in an easy to read, bulleted format? If you're just starting out you may want to begin here to get a quick introduction, before you dive into the heavy-duty information we've provided in other articles. Consider the relative advantages of standard binoculars as they compare to those that are compact, giant, zooming, stabilizing, or waterproof. Here's your guide.
Binoculars and scopes are categorized in a number of different ways. Scopes and monoculars are single-barreled and held up to one eye. while binoculars are double-barreled and held up to two. In general, both binoculars and scopes are designed to meet various needs, and often have features and functionality to directly meet those specific needs.
Standard binoculars may be used for a variety of common purposes, and work equally well for birdwatching, spectator sports, etc. While they may not have the extra bells and whistles, they can be versatile and usable wherever you are. By choosing standard binoculars, you get a set that will work well for many different uses. You might also choose these when you are starting out, and select higher end binoculars with special features later, as you learn what extra features will be most beneficial.
Compact binoculars are small in size, light in weight, and easily tucked into pocket, purse, or glove compartment. Their major advantage is their size, although they may trade off high end or extra features for small objective lenses, lower magnifications, and smaller exit pupils. While they remain great for daylight use at a moment's notice, they aren't your choice for viewing in low light situations. They are however great for kids and as a back-up set.
DIGITAL CAMERA BINOCULARS
Digital camera binoculars combine binoculars with a built-in digital camera. This can be used to take photos while on your vacation, so you have a life-long memento of that moment you spotted dolphins in the distance. Quality for both the camera and binoculars varies greatly, and these are typically heavier, bulkier, and more expensive since they are effectively two gadgets in one. Extra options include wide angle lenses, night vision, and video capabilities in some sets.
Giant binoculars have large objective lenses, making them great for low-light and no-light situations. They allow you to see a wider field of view; for example when you are watching a race and want to see the entire track. That said, they can be more expensive, and are heavier, making them a poorer choice for hiking.
IMAGE STABILIZATION BINOCULARS
Image stabilization (IS) binoculars stabilize the image as you look through them. They compensate for the tiniest shaking in hand-held binoculars, allowing you to see a much sharper, clearer image even when you can't hold them perfectly still. This can be great especially when you're on the move, on a boat, or in a car. However, IS binocularsare naturally more expensive then standard sets.
Marine binoculars will combine waterproof armors with other features such as ergonomic, easy to hold grips, and some models will float if dropped in the water. These type can be fairly durable and flexible, and may have large lenses for low-light situations such as when there is overcast sky or fog. They are often lightweight and often include auto focusing features.
Military binoculars are typically very durable, with strong armors and heavy duty cases to stand up to knocks and bumps. They are usually waterproofed, and often weighted well with very high quality glass and optics. Military binoculars often have a built-in compass, or night vision technologies, making these feature-rich and perhaps the hardest working binoculars out there.
Monoculars are often pocket sized, and have lower magnifications. Although they may only magnify about 2x or 5x, they're great for lecture halls, projection screens, and grabbing a quick look at objects such as signs in the mall. They are inexpensive, they can be pulled out of your pocket at a moment's notice, so are often a good choice for a back-up magnification when your bigger binoculars are packed away.
NIGHT VISION BINOCULARS
Night vision binoculars and scopes use one of two methods to make night-time vision a reality. Some simply maximize use of available light, whereas others offer infrared lights that they then process to show an image. These are great for surveillance and viewing birds and animals at night as well as night-time hunting. They are also often used in the military.
Rangefinders send out a beam and measure the reflected beam to estimate distance. Some offer a scanning mode to search for objects within a field, and these are great for target practice, golfing, and hunting game. While you won't find an inexpensive rangefinder for your stocking, they are excellent investments.
Spotting scopes are like smaller telescopes that can be hand-held and used easily in bush or in the car. They are for terrestrial (land) use only, and may have higher magnifications than binoculars while remaining lightweight. Spotting scopes are mainly used during target practice, and that's the use for which they were originally designed.
Telescope Binoculars, also known as Bino Telescopes, are a combination of binocular and telescope. They offer power and an objective lens sized like a telescope, but with two barrels so they are comfortably held against both eyes. Some prefer the dual barreled view as it offers a truer to life (stereo) image and won't require covering one eye. They often need to be mounted as they're heavy, but they are often less expensive and more comfortable than telescopes. Their strongest feature may be their eyepieces, which are often soft and comfortable yet interchangeable as with a telescope.
Waterproof binoculars are best for hiking, naturalism, hunting, and marine use. They have an entirely sealed, waterproof shell that eliminates fogging and leaking. While some binoculars may be listed as weather-proofed or water-resistant, only waterproof binoculars will be guaranteed. Some models made for marine use can even be dropped in the water, and will float, so you don't lose them. Look for waterproofed sets if you're on a boat or dealing with any amount of fog or misty weather, to ensure your investment is protected from damage.
Zoom binoculars allow you to zoom in on objects using different magnifications. You might get a set marked for 8-25x30 which means it can magnify from 8x through to 25x. You can use this while birdwatching as having them at the lower magnification will mean you can see a wider area at a time. Once you do spot that rare bird as it lands, you can then zoom in to 25x to see it up close. However, zooming technology could still use work and not everyone likes these binoculars.