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Binoculars buying guide

binocular-550

If only our eyes were as keen as an eagle’s. Eagle eyes can see up to eight times better than the sharpest human eyes, and a golden eagle can even watch its prey from a mile away.

If you could see that well, what would you do?

Besides zooming in on birds and other wildlife, you could use your super vision to check out a campsite from a long way off, or see the stitches on a baseball as your favorite pitcher hurls it toward home plate.

With binoculars, all of that is within reach. But first you have to pick the right pair for the job. It’s easy if you know what to look for—and what to look out for. To make the shopping easier we hooked up with Jim Wilson, an award-winning birder (you might call him a Super Bird-Watcher).

Here are Wilson’s tips:

THE LOWDOWN

Binoculars are like a pair of telescopes strapped side-by-side. Here’s basically how they work: A pair of convex (or curved) lenses bring the image closer while a pair of prisms (like chunks of glass) flip the image so what shows up in front of your eyes is a true—and much zoomed in—version of what you’re looking at.

There are three sizes of binoculars: standard, compact and pocket. Standard binoculars provide the best magnification and clarity, though they can be bulky and heavy. Compact binoculars are smaller and more manageable while still providing relatively good performance. Pocket binoculars are small enough to fit into a pocket but won’t provide as much magnification and clarity.

PRICE

In general, the more you spend the better the optical quality. Sure, there are $1,000 binoculars, but you can still get a good pocket pair for around $50. About $300 will get you a pair of quality full-size binoculars that should be all you’ll need for many years.

SIZE MATTERS

When shopping for binoculars, you’ll see numbers like 7×32 and 8×42. The first number refers to the magnification, so a 7-power binocular gives you roughly seven times your normal eye’s power. The second number is the size of the lens in millimeters. The wider the lens, the more light that comes through, so the brighter the image appears. When it comes to magnification, more isn’t always better.

“The higher the magnification, the more shake you’ll get while handholding them,” Wilson says. “You’ll also have less of a wide field of view,” meaning you’ll zero in and see less of the overall scene. Look for binoculars in the 7 to 8 power range.

Anything over 10 will require a tripod to keep them steady.

GOOD GLASS

The difference between models in binoculars often comes down to lens coatings. “A lot of coatings give you higher contrast for a sharper image and more definition between colors,” Wilson says. If you can afford it, choose fully coated optics.

FIND YOUR FIT

“One of the most important things is how they feel,” Wilson says. “Does your finger sit comfortably on the focus wheel? Does the distance between your eyes match the eyepiece?” Also, if you’re a small guy, don’t pick a huge pair of binoculars that are so heavy they weigh you down. If they aren’t comfortable, you won’t want to use them.

SEEING IS BELIEVING

“Try before you buy,” Wilson says. Go to a store that sells lots of binoculars and try as many as you can. Focus on things way across the store and look out the window. Online stores are fine, but Wilson recommends making your final purchase at a local store. “You want to test out the exact pair you’ll be buying because optical quality can vary even between two pairs of the same binoculars.”

31 Comments on Binoculars buying guide

  1. i have Rugged Exposure comes with case

  2. Reventon98 // July 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm // Reply

    I have a pair of expensive tasco binoculars. it is better just to buy a cheaper
    version.

  3. Bushnell & Tasco are both good starter optics. Inexspencive and good mid-range spotting.

  4. Off-Trail Monkey // March 26, 2012 at 8:29 pm // Reply

    I love Bushnell’s. They work great and do not cost an arm and a leg.

    • valleyraider // October 10, 2012 at 2:31 pm // Reply

      i have a pair of stiener binoculars the are very nice and are good short and long distance binoculars but the will cost you and arm and a leg my dad got mine for me for xmas

  5. i got some from a stl cardinals base ball game once

  6. wildlife watching Will // October 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm // Reply

    I just use the 50$ binocs from LLbean, cheap and pretty nice.

  7. Bushnell optics binoculars are around 40$ and very good can buy anywhere

  8. the tender to be // November 28, 2010 at 12:27 pm // Reply

    the L.L. bean ones are fairly nice-compact-and cheap-50$

  9. anyone know some cheap bionoculars
    that r decent

  10. extreme beatles fan // June 24, 2010 at 11:59 pm // Reply

    I have a cool pair of Barska binocs.

  11. this is very frusterating as it does not recomend anything like they usally do

  12. get up and go // April 4, 2010 at 4:57 pm // Reply

    I really like those big expensive eagle eye binoculars, but like I said, their big, and expensive.
    If you want a good pair of binoculars, that aren’t too big, or expensive, try the Binolux 8×21 binoculars.
    Their small, light, you get a crystal clear image, and their not too expensive!
    I’ve used mine for bird watching, scout outings, capture-the-flag, and that’s just too name a few things.
    I would highly recommend them!

  13. I wish BL would just choose, test and review several pairs of binoculars in different price ranges and tell us which pair worked best in each price range.

  14. Bushnell makes cool binoculars, but Luepold makes the best. The bad thing though is that their binoculars and hunting scopes are very expensive. Nikon also makes good binoculars, but I think they should stick with making cameras instead.

  15. i like bushnells

  16. Osprey Eyes 824 // July 2, 2009 at 4:58 pm // Reply

    Most of the time, the most magnification that someone needs while camping is less than 125x power on a person’s binocular. Some really good binoculars with about 50x magnification power have 35 millimeter photography film cameras as attachments to the binoculars. If you see a large, rarely seen bird such as a condor or egret, you can always focus the binoculars and capture a picture with the small camera attachment to the pair of binoculars.

  17. how can i get cheap and good pair dude.

  18. Graystripe // April 21, 2009 at 2:02 pm // Reply

    I have camera binoculars

  19. tascos binoculars are really good

  20. tankmaster94 // January 31, 2009 at 4:37 pm // Reply

    buy a good pair of binoculars that are good and the one you like.

  21. NightVisionCindy // January 14, 2009 at 11:28 pm // Reply

    Did you try a pair of Night Vision Binoculars? My 4 year old enjoys them more than anybody in my family for deer watching.

  22. i got the Bushnell PERMAFOCUS i love them

  23. Thanks a lot, Jim Wilson!!! I’m a budding birdwatcher myself. I’ve seen 17 different types of birds and I’ve only been watching for 1 month!

  24. Hey guys the reason you don’t need a telescope for the merit badge or star gazing is summed up in 3 words “Field of view”. Are you looking at the outer most reaches of our galaxy or the constellation of Ursa Minor? That’s the difference.

  25. Binoculars instead of a telescope? Weird… =P

  26. when I was doing astronomy merit badge the guy said to geta good pair of binoculars in stead of a telascope

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