Whether you’re up for game hunting, birdwatching, sea watching, stargazing, or planetary observation, a pair of excellent quality binoculars is an ideal accessory for a fun hobby experience. Having this optic instrument will make your adventures more terrific and enjoyable. With that, it’s always essential to get a pair that truly suits your needs.
The catch is that the world of binoculars can be a daunting realm to be in. With their widespread availability and with manufacturers flooding the market with lots of models to choose from, it can be an intimidating task to decide which binoculars are for you. That’s why we’ve listed all the key features that you need to consider when selecting this handy tool – eventually leading you to find the best binoculars for you. Let’s begin!
Key Features to Consider When Selecting Binoculars
One of the primary considerations that you need to take when choosing binoculars is magnification. Also called power, it refers to how large objects will appear when looking through the tool.
Note that binoculars are primarily categorized on the two numbers that you can see in the production description or beside the unit’s brand and model name, such as 8×42, 10×42, or 12×50, wherein the first number indicates the magnification. For instance, if it has a magnification power of 10, the object you’re looking at will appear 10 times closer than it would with your naked eye. A wildebeest that’s 600 yards away from you will appear like it’s only 60 yards away.
Though it may seem logical to opt for binoculars with more magnification power, that’s not always true. Be wary that magnification augments the movement of your hands, causing more sensitivity even on slight movements. It can be very difficult to achieve steady viewing on binoculars with over 10x magnification power. You can notably experience this if you’re on a boat, 4×4 safari truck, or any other moving platform.
For most hobbies, a pair of binoculars with 8x to 10x will already suffice. They are easy to use in tracking objects, game-watching, and birdwatching, as they provide a good view and keep shaking at a minimum. Very high power binos can be challenging to use for most people and are usually intended for professional use. For target objects that are further away, consider purchasing the best telescope instead.
2. Objective Lens
The second number on a binocular’s description denotes the size of the objective lens, typically measured in millimeters. The objective lenses are the huge lenses situated on the front of the binoculars, opposing the eyepiece. For example, in a set of 8×42 binos, the size of the objective lens is 42mm. For a pair of 10×50 binos, it’s 50mm, and so on and so forth.
Be mindful that the objective lens is crucial as it determines how much light the binoculars can collect. The bigger the size, the more light enters the binoculars. Between an 8×30 or 8×42 binos, the latter will capture more light, providing a brighter, sharper image. So, if you’re planning to use the tool in low-light conditions, it’s better to opt for one with a bigger diameter. Just be careful as the larger the diameter, the bigger and heavier the binos will be.
3. Field of View
Another important factor that you need to consider is the field of view, which pertains to the width of the scene you can view with a specific model. It is usually shown in feet (or meters) at 1000 yards (or meters). What you can see inside the circular frame when using the tool is the field of view of the binoculars.
Some binoculars can provide a narrow FOV, while others can have a wider FOV. Logically, magnification partially influences the field of view, given that lower magnification equates to a wider field of view. So, which is better?
The answer depends on your activity. For instance, if you’re spotting targets or game on large expanses of land, it is best to opt for binos with a greater field of view. You can easily track any animal without moving or scanning your binoculars too much, given that your binos cover a wider section of the landscape.
Chances are by now you’re seeing how choosing binoculars can be tricky. It’s a good thing as doing so is actually more of a balancing act wherein you need to weigh every factor to be able to determine the best pair for you.
With that, let’s go to another consideration to take – the size of the binoculars. Binoculars are available in three main sizes: full-size, mid-size, and compact. As mentioned earlier, the size of the objective lens is relative to the size of the binos themselves.
- Full-size binoculars: Binoculars under this size category have the largest objective lens sizes, measuring greater than 40mm (8×42, 10×50, 12×50, etc.) These models collect more light, offer more attention to detail, and are suited for serious wildlife watching.
- Mid-size binoculars: Models with an objective lens size ranging between 30mm to 40mm (10×30, 8×32, 10×40, etc.) are considered mid-size binoculars. They offer well-balanced magnification and light transmission capability, making them fit for sports and wildlife use.
- Compact binoculars: Compact binoculars are pairs with an objective lens size measuring less than 30mm (8×25, 12×25, 10×28, etc.) These are the most portable binos but have lesser magnifying power. While they are easy to carry for various outdoor pursuits, they can be uncomfortable to use for extended periods as they can be quite difficult to hold.
Weight is relative to the size of the binoculars. As full-size binoculars yield the largest objective lenses, they are also the heaviest. Compact ones are the lightest, as they have the smallest objective lenses, while mid-size ones are on average.
You should always take a look at the weight of the pair of binos you’re choosing, depending on the activity you’d be in. For instance, if you’d be hiking, it’s best to select a lighter, compact pair as heavy binoculars can easily weigh and tire you down. That’s the same case if you’re traveling light and wish to have binos that can easily fit in your pocket or pack.
However, remember that going for compact lenses will mean sacrificing some image quality as they have a small objective lens. That doesn’t mean that all compact binoculars are bad. Combined with other factors like lens quality and glass coating, there are still great options available for compact binoculars.
6. Prism Type
Prism type is a factor that may seem complex, but it can be easier to understand once expounded. Most people deem that binoculars are mainly composed of lenses (the objective lens and the eyepiece. Yet, there’s actually a set of erecting prisms inside the tool that primarily works on inverting the image collected, making it appear upright to the viewer.
There are two popular types of prism styles in binoculars: the “porro” and “roof” prism.
Roof Prism Binoculars
Roof prism binoculars are simpler and more straightforward as the objective lens and the eyepiece are in a straight line. The light enters the binoculars in a linear manner and passes through a straight plane, allowing the binoculars to have a more streamlined shape.
As such, they are also the smaller kind, and you can find roof prism binos to be smaller than their porro counterparts, even with the same specifications. Moreover, roof prism binoculars also provide a longer focal path, giving it greater magnification.
A drawback is that the roof prism style doesn’t reflect all the light that enters that path, making the image less bright and clearer. Meanwhile, roof prism binos are usually more durable and can endure more abuse. That said, just expect to pay more for them.
Porro Prism Binoculars
Named after the Italian inventor who devised the prism technology, Porro prism binoculars employ a more complicated yet more effective process. Unlike their counterparts, the objective lens and the eyepiece in porro prism binos are not aligned. Rather, the light enters through the objective lens and reflects on the first prism. It then hits a second prism lying at 90 degrees and then sent to the eyepiece.
Though the Porro prism style is older, it is more effective as it allows a brighter, sharper FOV from low to high magnifications. Porro prism binoculars offer better, clearer images, but the downside is that they are bulkier and less durable due to the arrangement of the horizontal prisms. If you drop them, the prisms can be misaligned and knocked off, rendering them unable to work. Still, they are easier to produce, which makes them less costly than roof prism binos.
Choosing between the roof and Porro prism binos is more of a personal preference. If you wish to get something that is durable and compact but you don’t mind the cost, go for the former. If you want something that’s affordable and effective, select the latter.
7. Glass Coating and Lens Quality
Expect to see dim, unclear images if some of the light that enters the binoculars is reflected away from the lens. To combat such, specific types of coating are applied to the lenses to reduce the reflection, preventing glare and cutdown of light that passes through them. Without coating, light transmission might only be less than 70%, but adding coatings raises the figure to around 95%.
Take note that binoculars have several lenses inside, and categories of coatings depend on the number of major optical elements that have a coating and the number of coating surfaces applied.
- Coated (C): It is the most basic type of coating, which means that there is one single layer of anti-reflective coating on at least one lens.
- Multi-coated (MC): Multi-coated means that multiple layers of anti-reflective coating are applied on at least one surface of one of the lenses inside the binoculars.
- Fully-coated (FC): Fully-coated means that the objective lens, the ocular lens, and the prism has at least one single layer of coating.
- Fully Multi-coated (FMC): It means that all lenses and surfaces have multiple layers of anti-reflective coating, which provides the best optical experience.
Meanwhile, binoculars can either be made of glass or plastic. Glass is superior to plastic and offers incredible quality. Plastic lenses are ineffective and impractical when used on binoculars, causing more loss of light and they also don’t work well with lens coating.
High-quality glass lenses will always be free from aberration, provide better contrast, and work great in low-light conditions. Thus, resulting in better color quality, clarity, and attention to detail.
8. Eye Relief
Eye relief pertains to the distance between your eyes and the eyepiece lens surface at which your eyes can still see the entire field of view. Should you move your eye farther away from the eyepiece lens surface, you’d be unable to see the outer edge of the picture, greatly reducing your field of view.
With that, it’s also important to consider eye relief. You should always aim for binoculars with longer eye relief as they are easier to use, especially for longer periods of time. The longer the eye relief, the better comfort. If the eye relief is short, you can easily strain your eyes when viewing through the binoculars.
Eye relief of 10 millimeters is recommended. However, if you’re regularly wearing glasses or sunglasses that take up space from your eyes and the eyepiece lens surface, the most comfortable eye relief is 15 millimeters. Beware that eye relief is something that most consumers take for granted. Never make the same mistake and always measure your most optimal eye relief prior to making a decision.
9. Focus Type
The next factor that you should consider is the focus type, which can be classified into three: center focus, individual focus, and fixed focus. Center focus is the most common system used in binoculars. It is very convenient as there is one central knob that you can use to adjust the focus of the entire binoculars. With a few turns, you’ll be able to view faraway objects with clarity in a breeze.
On the other hand, individual focus sports a mechanism that allows you to adjust the binoculars’ sides and focus the eyepiece separately. It isn’t ideal as it can be very difficult and may take time to do if you don’t have prior experience. They are ideal for experienced hunters who wish to view two different distances at once.
Meanwhile, fixed-focus binoculars are made to permanently focus at an exact distance. They aren’t very useful if you’ll not use them at the specified distance.
You can also find focus-free models. As their name implies, they have no focus mechanism. Instead, they depend on the magnifying power, objective lens, and the FOV. They are not recommended for focusing on specific objects that are farther away but are more suitable for viewing landscapes.
10. Frame Materials
Another crucial aspect is the material used for creating the frame of the binoculars. Aluminum alloy is the most commonly used material by manufacturers. It’s no surprise, as aluminum is light, sturdy, cheap, and easy to work with. Plus, aluminum is also naturally resistant to rust, making it ideal for the construction of binoculars.
Other manufacturers use magnesium alloy, which is also durable, inexpensive, and corrosion-resistant. What sets them apart from ones made with aluminum alloy is that they can be ounces lighter. Thus, making them more ideal for extended usage as they prevent fatigue.
Meanwhile, some models feature polycarbonate or polymer resin, which shares the same characteristics with the first two materials, such as being cheap, easy to work with, rust-resistant, and durable. The difference is that it is temperature-resistant, which means that the binoculars frame will stay at normal temperature at enough time during extreme conditions (heat and cold). At the end of the day, the material will depend on your overall budget.
A binocular’s rating tells under what conditions you should use your tool. Some models have no rating, while others can be water-resistant, waterproof, or fog-proof.
- No Rating: As its name suggests, models under this category have no waterproofing at all. That means that you should never use them in the sea or at rain as moisture can easily seep into the optical tubes and result in fogging. Apart from obstructing your view, water inside makes the tool prone to internal corrosion.
- Water-resistant: Some models will employ a gasket or “O-ring” that wicks moisture, as well small debris, away from entering the objective lenses. Though water-resistant binoculars can resist water, it is only up to a certain point of penetration. That means that they only have protection against rainfall, but not when submerged in water.
- Waterproof: Waterproof binos are impervious to water, which means they can be submerged for a varying amount of time. However, they can still fog on you. Different manufacturers usually rate their products depending on the depth and length of time the binos can be submerged. If you’re fishing or rafting, it is best to buy waterproof models.
- Fogproof: Fog-proof models are incorporated with fog-proofing elements like inert gasses (argon or nitrogen, or both) to prevent fogging. These elements help keep the atmosphere inside the tool dry and pressurized to avoid any temperature shift and fogging. While not all waterproof models are fogproof, all fogproof models are already waterproof in nature.
Same with any purchase, the price is always part of the consideration. In general, you should anticipate to shell out at least $150 on a pair of budget binoculars. However, as price is usually relative to quality, expect that the quality of the ones on that price tag is usually lower. Mid-range models can cost between $150 to $600, where there are already a lot of good options and will already suffice for most hobbies. Meanwhile, premium binoculars that cost $600 up are for the most serious hobbyists. When buying a binocular, it’s best to first assess what are your needs and your intended budget. Through that, you can narrow down your choices and have an easier time choosing the perfect pair.
To maximize your purchase, it’s also good to know what types of accessories come when you purchase a certain model. These accessories make the tool more versatile and help you get a better optic experience. Some of the basic accessories include:
- Cleaning Kit: These include pens, cleaners, solutions, and everything that you need to clean your binoculars properly. Remember that maintaining a pair of binoculars requires time and effort. You should clean them occasionally to keep it in tip-tip condition. If your binoculars don’t come with a cleaning kit, you can always request one.
- Straps: Same with a DSLR camera, it’s easier to carry binoculars by using straps, especially if you have the full-sized, heavier ones. You can simply hang it around your neck while walking or while resting, then simply grab should you see any target. If you’re not satisfied with the straps that come with your purchase, you can always buy longer, adjustable, and ergonomic ones.
- Rain Guards: These prevent the eyecup from flooding that can obstruct your view. It is often attached to the straps for easier access during unexpected rainfalls.
Purchasing a pair of binoculars entails weighing all these factors, prioritizing some, and sacrificing others.
For instance, if you need a pair for travel, go for compact ones but bear the mid-range magnification. If you wish to go bird and nature watching instead, opt for models with wider FOV and magnifying power of 7x to 12x. Are you bringing your binos for your outdoor adventures instead? It’s best to spend a little more for more rugged models with fogproofing capability.
Just blend all the specs and consider all factors until you meet what your hobby needs. After that, the task of finding your match should be a piece of cake. With that in mind, we hope you’re ready to buy your next binoculars!