If you are an outdoors lover or you enjoy watching birds you will agree that you will need a great pair of binoculars to help you get the world around you much closer and for that you need to do the correct choice. For this we are here to explain how to buy binoculars.
Did you know that, besides glasses, binoculars are the most used optical instrument in the world?
Since they have various purposes, finding the right type and model can get quite tricky. You need to know what each part does and how to choose them based on your needs.
There are many models available on the market that takes too much time to research. Luckily for you, we decided to write this article about how to buy binoculars to help you get a better insight into the world of binoculars and know what to pay attention to.
First of all, you need to get familiar with them, how they function and what are the most important parts and what they do. So, let’s start.
In this section of the article, we will take a look at the important things when it comes to how to buy binoculars.
As you might have noticed, each binocular model have 2 numbers in their name. These numbers represent their magnification power and the diameter of the lens (aperture). The first number is their magnification power. For example, in a pair of binoculars with 7x 35, the 7 means that they magnify what you are looking at 7 times with a diameter of 35mm.
To explain it even better, imagine that you are looking at an animal that is 100 meters away from you. If you use binoculars with a magnifying power of 7x, the animal will appear as if it’s just 14.28 meters away from you. We get these numbers when dividing 100 meters with 7.
However, for great magnifying powers you have to take in consideration that the movements of your hands the will amplified too. As well, you will reduce the field of view. So, for hight magnification you will need a tripod to have a good observations (consider hight magnification more than 15x).
As we explained above, the second number represents the objective lens diameter (the bigger glass at the front of the binoculars), and the number is actually the diameter in millimeters. We will take the same example as we did in the previous part, the 7x 35 binoculars. As you might have assumed by now, the number 35, means that the front lenses are 35 millimeters in diameter.
Now, why is this important? Well, the bigger the lens diameter, the more light will go through them, and the brighter the image will appear.
The next important spec is the exit pupil of the binoculars. This is a value you get when you divide the objective lens diameter with the magnification power. So, if you have a pair of binoculars that says 7×35, the size of the exit pupil will be 5 millimeters.
So, what does this mean to you? Well, you need to know that when you are in dim light conditions, your eye pupils are capable of widening up to 7 millimeters. So, if your binoculars have a lower exit pupil value, you won’t be getting enough light into your eyes and the image will be dark.
So, if you plan on using your binoculars in mostly low-light conditions, the ideal choice would be binoculars with 7 x 50 markings, because they come with the exit pupil size of 7.1 millimeters, which is ideal for human eyes.
When it comes to using your binoculars during the day, this value isn’t that important to consider actually, because our pupils get narrower when the light is bright, and they can go down to a size of 2 millimeters, and the majority of models come with a larger size of exit pupils than that.
The relative brightness value of binoculars is related to the exit pupil value. This value also determines how bright will an object appear when looked at through binoculars. Again, this is important to know if you plan on using your binoculars in low-light conditions, because the higher the value, the brighter the image.
So, when you want to determine the relative brightness value of a certain pair of binoculars, all you have to do is square the exit pupil value. For example, again the 7x 35 values, these binoculars will offer the relative brightness value of 25.
However, when it comes to relative brightness value, exit pupil is not the only factor that determines it, because there are other factors that need to be taken into considerations and those are optical coatings, component quality, lens elements and prism type.
The binocular eye relief represents the distance that eyepieces have between each other, and the distance from the eyepieces to your eyes, while having the entire field of view still visible.
So, the bigger the eye relief value is, the further you will be able to keep your eyes from the binoculars while seeing the whole picture in them. This is especially important because eye relief directly influences how stressed your eyes will be, and should be as big as possible so that you can use your binoculars for extended periods. Also, it’s important if you are using glasses so you can use without take out them to see all the picture (normaly a minum of 16mm is required).
Field of view
Field of view is a spec that tells you how much area you can cover from where you stand to 1000 yards, while looking through the binoculars. It is usually marked in feet, and you need to know that the higher magnifying power means that the field of view will be narrower.
Nearly all binocular models come with a focusing wheel located in the center, and its role is to simultaneously focus both barrels of the binoculars.
The focusing system also includes a ring for diopter adjustment, which means that you can also focus each barrel separately. This is a quite important feature because it allows you to adjust the focus of the barrels, according to vision levels of your each eye.
Each pair of binoculars has a prism inside, so that when you look through the binoculars, the image doesn’t appear upside down. Thanks to the prism, the light that normally passes through the lenses and inverts, reverts back to normal view after going through the prism.
There are two different types of prisms:
Models that use Porro prisms are the classic model and the standar until 70’s. They deliver a good image and they are chepear than roof for same quality. But they are heavier, usually non waterproof and less durable.
Binoculars that use Roof prisms are lighter, more compact, and more expensive than models with Porro prisms. They are ideal for outdoor activities and don’t take too much gear space in the backpack.
Whether you are aware or not, not all the light that hits the lenses passes through. Some portions of it are reflected, which influences the brightness and sharpness of the image you see through the binoculars.
In order to minimize that reflection, manufacturers use coatings. For example, lenses that are multicoated, reduce the amount of reflected light almost completely.
Weather-resistant and waterproof
This is a choice you need to consider based on the conditions where you plan to use your binoculars. Will you use them on a boat or just the dry land?. Is the environment you will use them known for wet climate conditions or hot, dry weather?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you will know if you need waterproof binoculars or with a water resistant will be enough.
The difference between the waterproof and water resistant binoculars, is that the first ones, come with O-rings, which create a seal and don’t allow the moisture to get inside the barrels. Also, they protect the barrels from small debris and dust.
On the other hand, water resistant binoculars don’t come fully waterproof, and can withstand light splashing water, such as rain, but cannot be completely submerged into the water without getting damaged.
Cameras and other gadgets that use lenses as binoculars, can fog up if they experience sudden temperature changes. For example, when you are out in the cold and go back into a warm house, your binoculars could fog up.
This is something that is annoying but more important if moisture appears and stays inside the lenses, it could damage the binoculars.
In order to don’t worry about sudden temperature changes, you with barrels filled with inert gas instead of air. The gas can’t condense because it has no moisture content. However, this applies only for the inside of the lens, not for the outside side. So, if your binoculars get fogged up make sure you wipe them dry immediately.
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How to buy binoculars: Types of Binoculars
Now that you are familiar with all the important parts and specs of binoculars, the next step is to get a better insight into all binoculars types. So you will be abel to make a choice that will definitely fit your personal preferences and needs.
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It’s time to get familiar with binoculars for bird watching and how to buy binoculars in that case. The most used binoculars for bird watching are the 8x 42. But, if you want to watch small birds and notice details at relatively greater distances, you can likewise opt for the magnifying value of 10x to 12x, with an objective size of 42 millimeter or 50 millimeter.
Another thing to keep an eye on when shopping for binoculars for bird watching is the high eye relief value, as well as close focus.
As we just mentioned, having a close focus feature in your binoculars is rather important if you are a bird watcher. This is a feature that allows you to see the birds with a sharp image, at relatively close distances. The official definition of the close focus is that this represents the shortest distance, at which a pair of binoculars can focus on a certain object.
However, you also need to know that the more magnifying power binoculars have, the higher the close focus distance will be. This brings us to an issue, because you have to choose between being able to see further, or see sharper up close, as you can’t have both. This represents a special problem for bird watchers, because sometimes you will want to look at a bird that is further away, and sometimes a bird that is just some 10 feet away.
But, if you chose a model that has a close focus, besides birds, you will also be able to look at reptiles or butterflies as well, and that is something to keep in mind.
Ease of Focusing
If you are a bird watcher, you will want to shop for binoculars that allow you to have a quick focus (by quick we mean being able to quickly sharpen the image) on your desired bird. And, as a bird watcher, you are familiar with how birds can quickly change their position, and that means constantly changing the focus.
Furthermore, having the ability to focus fast means that your binoculars need to have a focus mechanism that allows you to fully sharpen the image with just one dial rotation, or even not a full rotation. If the focus mechanism isn’t that good, you will need to turn the dial more times and you won’t be able to sharpen the image quickly, which is, as you probably already know, quite frustrating.
Also, you need to keep in mind that a pair of binoculars with the focus dial in the center, will be the easiest to use, with the index finger, and allow you the quickest focusing. And, it should be able to turn easily, without making you put too much effort into it.
In general, most bird watchers use binoculars with a center focusing dial, however, no one says that you can’t use binoculars with separate barrel focus, but it will take more time to focus on a bird. However, these do come in handy if you are watching a bird that is under 30 feet from where you are.
Which Binocular I need?
If you are looking for the finest, high-end models, you should consider brands such as Zeiss, Leica, as well as Swarovski (prices of their models are over $500, but the lens and the build quality, not to mention the performance, fully justify that price), while for the mid-range brands, we recommend Nikon and Atlhon (their models usually go from $300 to $500, and they are becoming more and more well built and with better performance).
At the end, if you want to have the best possible experience while watching birds through binoculars, you should invest in models that have a fine-tuned mechanism for focusing, and our recommendation is the Nikon Monarch 5 ATB 8×42 model.
Here you can read more about our recommendation: best birding binoculars.
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General use models – Outdoors, hiking, stadium events
General use binocular models are wide and compact, and are great for outdoor activities such as hiking or watching a game from a high seat at the stadium. They usually come with magnification ranges of 7x to 10x, and thanks to their compact design, they are easy to carry in a backpack or around the neck.
How to buy binoculars for general use? you can read our article about the best binoculars under 100 or:
Here are the things you need to consider before buying a pair of binoculars for general use:
Unlike for activities that don’t involve moving in the outdoors, when it comes to hiking, you will want binoculars that are as lightweight as possible. Of course, if you plan on using them for watching the game, you won’t care if they are heavy to transport.
The most important indicator of the weight of the binoculars, is the lens diameter. Therefore, if you are a hiker, you should try and find the golden middle by choosing the smallest possible diameter lens, so that the binoculars won’t be too heavy, yet offer enough image sharpness and brightness. Our recommendation is not to go over 36 millimeters.
When it comes to optical performance, the math is simple, the higher you pay, the better they will perform. You have to keep in mind that it is better to invest in a more expensive, higher-quality model and use it for years, than opting for a cheap model that will not only probably fall apart after a few outings, but also perform horribly.
Compactness and water tightness
If you are a hiker, it is very important that your binoculars are compact. That way, you can easily place them in your backpack, without cutting free space for the rest of your gear and so that you don’t have to worry about them getting damaged.
On the other hand, if you are a bird watcher, you will want your binoculars either around your neck, or at your belt, and in both cases, they shouldn’t be too big and be more of a burden than a useful watching tool.
Furthermore, since you will be suing them in the outdoors, where you can always get surprised by a rain fall, it’s better to have waterproof binoculars, or at least water resistant ones.
Types of outdoor activities
The choice of binoculars for your outdoor activities should also be based on how you hike. For example, if you like hiking slower and not that far, so that you can make longer stops to enjoy the nature, then weight is not your primary concern as you will be taking regular and longer breaks, and have time to rest. In this case, your choice of binoculars should land on models that are a bit heavier, such as 10× 42, as they offer great performance when it comes to observing.
On the other hand, if you tend to hike longer, faster, and in more demanding terrains, then weight is one of your most important concerns. In this case, your binocular choice should be models that are lightweight, such as 8x 32, or even lower.
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Binoculars for hunting
When it comes to binoculars for hunting, the best magnification power range is from 7x to 10x. But, if you are a long range hunter, then you will be better off with the range of 12x to 16x. But, keep in mind that the larger the magnifying power, the more shaky the image will be, and that you will probably need to use a tripod just to have a clear, and fixed-on image.
How to buy binoculars for hunting?
Here are the most important things, other than magnification, you should consider when shopping for binoculars for hunting:
Size of the objective
When it comes to hunting and choosing the size of the objective, experienced hunters usually opt for the 40 millimeter or 42 millimeter objectives. But the truth is, the larger the size, the more details it will offer. So, by following that rule, a 50 millimeter objective size would do wonders, which is actually true, especially for night-time hunting.
However, not only that a 50 millimeter objective size will be much heavier, but it will also be much more expensive. So, if you plan on hunting only during day time, when it comes to details, there won’t be much difference between the two sizes, but you will save money.
On the other hand, if you are concerned about the weight, since both 40 millimeter and 50 millimeter lens binoculars are quite heavy, you could go for a 32 millimeter lens size. But, keep in mind that it will be counter productive as the level of detail will be low, especially if you choose to buy under 30 millimeter lens size binoculars.
To sum it up, for hunting, it’s always better to go bulkier than compact, for many reasons.
Field of View
When it comes to choosing the right binoculars FOV for hunting, there no general rule that says “You need this field of view when hunting”. So, based on that, it actually all comes down to your personal preferences.
For example, hunters who are planning on using their binoculars for hunting in wide-open areas and praying on a fast-moving game, should opt for a higher field of view value. On the other hand, if you are not that type of a hunter but are more of a slow-paced and a slower game hunter, you don’t actually need a high field of view value.
Furthermore, in general, the quality of the image is considered as a much more important parameter when it comes to hunting application and the standard field of view used for most binocular models nowadays, is suitable for most types of hunters.
As we explained earlier, binoculars can come with either a center positioned focus, or with each barrel having its own focus. For hunters that are hunting on long or medium distances, binoculars with a separate focus on each barrel have proved to be very efficient, and when the game is more than 30 to 40 yards away from you, there won’t be any actual need for focusing.
However, this is not the main reason why dual focusing binoculars are that popular amongst hunters. They are much more durable than center focus binoculars because they don’t come with external parts, are much easier to make waterproof in production, thus more effective.
On the other hand, with binoculars that have a center positioned focus, and the game is under 30 yards from you, it will be much easier to sharp the image because they are much faster for close range than the binoculars with separate barrel focus.
If you are a hunter that uses glasses, or like to hunt with sunglasses, eye relief is one of the most important things you should consider when buying binoculars. Our recommendation for hunters that wear glasses, is to opt for binoculars that come with an eye relief value that is minimum 14 to 15 millimeters because a smaller value, or no eye relief at all, will stress your eyes due to a narrow field of view.
We have already explained what coatings are and what they do. However, we also need to say that for hunters, models without coatings will not be of much use in the field. High-quality coatings will provide clear and bright image and it will be much easier to spot the game.
Now, some models are rated as “coated optics”, which actually means that they have one layer of coatings on at least one glass surface. As you might have guessed, these coatings are not the best and will not provide much protection from light reflection.
On the other hand, models marked as fully coated (FC), multi-coated (MC), or fully multi-coated (FMC) offer much better protection from light reflection. But, the fully multi-coated models are usually very expensive, and the multi-coated models will do just fine as they have plenty of coatings layer on all glass surfaces of the binoculars.
The more the layers, the better the image you will have, and when thinking in the long run, it might be better to invest more in your new binoculars, and opt for at least a multi-coated model.
If you plan on ending up with a few hours of active looking through binoculars, great image quality is extremely important. On the other hand, if you don’t use them that much while out in the field, but use them occasionally to check if what you see in the distance is a deer or a rock, spending a bit less on the binoculars and getting a pair that offers a medium image quality, will be a smarter idea.
Nowadays, finding a binocular model that is high quality made, reliable, and with with optics that are capable, is difficult to find, especially if what you are looking for is a model that offers both waterproofness and great image quality. The models that can be listed in that group come with a price tag of around $100, but if you are looking for excellence, we recommend looking at the over $300 group.
The manufacturers that make binoculars that come with reliability, great image, and the fact that you will be using them for a long time, are Nikon, Leica, Zeiss, and a few more. The best thing about their models is that, no matter how long you use their binoculars, your eyes won’t get tired.
Waterproofness and rubber coating
When it comes to waterproofness, for hunters, this is an extremely important feature to consider because during the hunt, both you and your binoculars, will be exposed to dust, grime, dirt, and many other elements. And, waterproof binoculars are exactly the type of binoculars that will put your mind at ease in such conditions. Also, when binoculars are waterproofed, it usually also means that they are fog proof, as this comes as a by-product of the waterproofing process.
Having a pair of binoculars with rubber coating is a really great idea as these models are easy to hold and won’t slip out of your hands no matter how wet the conditions are. Also, having a rubber coating on your binoculars means that they will be protected and prolong the life of the binoculars in the long run.
In some cases, some brands like to surprise you by including a set of accessories in your package. These accessories sometimes include either a body harness, a case, or a strap, and sometimes even all of the mentioned. However, if the package doesn’t include them, you can usually buy them separately.
This is an accessory that allows you to hang the binoculars around your neck, but keep in mind that if you buy a pair of binoculars that are big and heavy, you will feel rather uncomfortable.
This accessory, allows you to carry your binoculars without stressing your neck as it evenly spreads the weight across the shoulders and your upper body. This is a rather useful accessory for hunters that carry bulky binoculars model.
This accessory is the best option for keeping your binoculars protected from getting scratched or damaged, especially when you don’t have the need to use them. However, keep in mind that it will take more of your gear space than a harness or strap would.
Furthermore, even though the case will protect the binoculars from scratching and it won’t allow them to get damaged, shocks and drops will eventually damage the waterproofness of the binoculars, so investing in a pair that is shock-proof, and combining them with a case, is the best way to keep them safe and operational for a long time.
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Boating and marine binoculars
If you are looking how to buy binoculars that you will use while on the water, we advise you not to choose a model with high magnifying power. People who are into boating and marine observation, mostly use binoculars with the magnifying power of 7x. However, the magnifying powers of 8x and 10x are not uncommon among mariners and boaters.
When it comes to objective lens size, we recommend going for the 42 millimeters and 50 millimeters. As for the rest of the features, you should look for models that are waterproof and come with rubber armor.
When choosing a model, more precisely the type of prism for marine binoculars, we recommend opting for the Porro prisms, as they are, by many, considered as superior to roof prisms, when optical performance is considered.
Also, there is another reason why these are more popular among boating enthusiasts, and that is because, usually, binoculars that come with Porro prism, are capable of easily accommodating a compass or a range finder, and you have to agree that this is quite important for when on the open water.
It goes without saying that for binoculars that are going to be used while on the water, it’s best if they are waterproof. Not just saying this because they will survive if they fall in the water accidentally, but because waterproof binoculars, as we mentioned earlier, are usually fog proof as well, and considering that there is plenty of moisture all around the boat, or near the water, this feature will come quite in handy as it won’t allow condensation, which is dangerous for binoculars.
This isn’t actually about focusing as much as it is about waterproofing capabilities again. For example, binoculars with the center focusing dial, are hard to be made waterproof, and if you use them while on the water, they might get moisture inside.
On the other hand, with binoculars that have separated barrel focusing mechanisms, waterproofing comes much easier, and they are much safer to be used for when on the water.
Field of view
When it comes to filed of view when choosing the binoculars for marine use, we recommend getting the model that has a large FOV, because when on the water, where everything looks exactly the same, it’s much easier to lose the sight of an object if the field of view is narrow.
Therefore, having binoculars with a large field of view, will allow you not just to more easily spot the object you are looking for, but to recover faster if you lose it.
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If you are looking for a pair of binoculars that you want to use for the theater, a concert, or the opera, we recommend getting a pair of compact ones, with a wide field of view. For watching sports events, as well as for concerts, you need a pair of binoculars that have a field of view wide enough to allow you to see the entire “action”, without the need to move them left or right, and even risk of missing something important.
As for the specific numbers we recommend, well, the best, for such occasions are 8x 25, 7x 21, 7x 18, 5x 25 magnifying powers.
Compact binoculars with a wide angle are great for concert and theater viewing using a binocular. 4×30, 5×25, 8×25 and 7×18 or 7×21 are great for venues such as opera, theater and music concerts.
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The final type of binoculars we have in our guide are the Zoom binoculars, which are also known as binoculars with variable zoom, because, just like a camera, they allow you to zoom in or out.
However, when it comes to this type of binoculars, you need to keep in mind that even though they are capable of achieving multiple magnification levels, what doesn’t change is the diameter of the objective lens. What this means is that the value of the exit pupil decreases as the magnification increases. As a result, the more you zoom in, the darker the image becomes. With these binoculars, you will have the magnifying power, but not the brightness when you zoom in.
So, what can you do in this case? Well, for example, if you plan on viewing mostly at low magnifications, and sometimes zoom in to get a better view, these will do the job fine.
On the other hand, if you plan on mostly looking at objects that are far away, and you need high magnification, then it’s better to invest in standard binoculars with large size objective lens and higher magnifying power, to fully enjoy the experience.