I have often been asked to recommend good binoculars for birding and wildlife-watching. Although not an expert on optics, I do have lots of field experience and hang out with other birders. I have purchased and tried many different types of binoculars and have my personal favorites. To enhance what I know, I have provided excerpts below from Birding.com’s Binocular Buying Guide below. My tips follow. I hope these are helpful!
Birding.com Binocular Buying Guide Excerpts:
Generally, the range in magnification for hand-held binoculars is from 6 to 10 in power. In a binocular designation (7 x 35, for example) the first number indicates the magnification, or how much larger, or closer, the object will appear than seen with normal vision. When considering magnification, more is not necessarily better. As magnification increases, brightness and clarity may diminish, depth of field can become shallower and the field or view is usually more restricted. More noticeable and disturbing at higher powers are fine hand tremors and the effects of atmospheric conditions, such as the distortion caused by heat waves.
If your observation is done primarily at close range, such as in woodland areas or in your backyard, then a good 6, 7 or 8 power binocular might be the best choice. This range of magnification generally gives you a larger picture (wider field of view) which is especially important for viewing objects relatively close at hand. Also, binoculars of this magnification usually deliver better performance under conditions of low available light, due either to the time of day, weather conditions, or shadows caused by dense vegetation or other structures.”
“For long distance viewing or where greater detail is required, a higher magnification of 8, 9 0r 10 should be considered. For example, the demands of observing in wide open terrain with little cover are best met with a binocular of 9 or 10 power. This generally holds true for situations where there is a need for critical field mark identification, as in observing raptors and shorebirds or when the object or animal is difficult to approach.”
The second number of a binocular designation refers to the diameter, in millimeters, of the front, or objective lens. The diameters usually range from 20 to 50 millimeters and this number will almost always be directly related to the size of the binocular. The objective lens size, or aperture, determines the amount of light that will enter the optical system.”
“A larger objective lens will gather more light and theoretically provide greater detail and clarity of the image. This is especially true under low light conditions. ”
A good,versatile pair of binoculars in the 8 x 40-42 range. Ten power magnification works well if you have steady hands, don’t mind the extra weight and are mainly birding or wildlife-watching in wide-open areas like wetlands, prairies, or over open water.
Moderately priced 8×40-42 binoculars ($250 – $600) include:
- Eagle Optics Ranger
- Nikon HG DCF or Monarch
- Pentax DCF SP
- Vortex Diamondback or Viper
- Zeiss Terra
If you are willing to swallow hard and pay $1,000 – $2,500 for even better binoculars, consider the higher end models of these brands:
Four more important considerations in selecting binoculars:
- How they feel in your hands. Try them before you buy them. Don’t buy them if you don’t like the way they feel – even if they are the finest quality binoculars.
- Weight: Think about carrying and holding binoculars for long periods of time. Generally, binoculars that weigh over 30 ounces are heavy.
- Waterproofing or water-resistant binoculars – important in many places – especially here in the rainy Pacific Northwest.
- Avoid tiny opera glass binoculars. Although they are light and compact, they also have a small aperture (a low second number or size of objective lens), and therefore sacrifice image sharpness in low light conditions. Compact binoculars also have limited peripheral vision making it more difficult to locate birds or wildlife.
Final Suggestion: Spend as much as you can afford on your binoculars. In general, you get what you pay for. The mid-price range binoculars have improved immensely in recent years, so you can get a very good pair for around $400. Keep in mind that binoculars are a lifetime investment and will deliver enhanced enjoyment of birds, wildlife and other natural wonders to you for years to come.