What to Look for in Binoculars: the Essential Features and Guidelines
Whether you are considering buying a pair of binoculars for casual use during a cruise or upcoming travel or for more serious uses in bird gazing or stargazing, here are the essential features to consider when buying a pair of binoculars.
- Magnification and objective lens. The optics of binoculars are designated using two numbers, for e.g., 10×50. 10×50 means that a binocular offers 10 times magnification—distant objects appear ten times larger than they would without the binocular.—and consists of a 50mm objective lenses. For general use during casual travels, cruises, bird-watching, and nature observations, something in the range of 8×32, 8×42, 10×42 would be more than sufficient. For sporting events, 10×50, 12×50, 10×42, 8×32 are recommended. Astronomy users need better magnification and a wider field of view and might find 7×50, 10×50, 15×70, 20×90 configurations helpful.
- Ease on the eyes, especially if you wear glasses. Good quality binoculars offer a comfortable eye relief. Eye relief measures the allowable maximum distance between your eye and the eyepiece before the field of view starts to diminish. Greater the eye relief, smaller the image (think of a tunnel) through the eye piece. This can affect you if you wear glasses: you must hold the binoculars a little farther away from your eyes than somebody who doesn’t wear glasses. Buy binoculars with eye relief of 14mm or more.
- Light-weight, compact in size and the ability to fold and store.
- Water-resistant or waterproof design can be handy features for use during damp or humid conditions.
- Image stabilization technology to diminish the effects of shakes and vibrations caused by hand motion.
Note that good eye relief, waterproof designs and image stabilization technologies will be absent in budget binoculars.
Budget Binoculars that Offer Value for Money
Below are my top picks for binoculars that are inexpensive and yet offer great optics and range for the average user. Most of these binoculars feature built-in diopter adjustments which can help you adjust for differences in your vision from one eye to the other. Many of the mid-range consist of an antireflective coating to reduce glare and maintain optimal image quality.
- Tasco Essentials Binoculars (10 X 25mm, Start at $9) feature fold-down eyecups for use with eyeglasses and come with black rubber armoring. These are perfect for use during casual travels where carrying normal-sized and heavy binoculars might become very cumbersome and for use indoors. Users of the Tasco Essentials binoculars tend to be especially like the clear vision that can zoom on a bird’s from as far as 150 yards.
- Bushnell Powerview Compact Folding Roof Prism Binoculars (10 X 25mm, Start at $12) are an excellent value. They are small and light and consist of extraordinarily sharp optics compared to the other low-end binoculars in its price range. The compact size of its design comes with a drawback though: to compensate for the short eye relief distance, users will have to roll down the eye cup. And for users who wear glasses, this can diminish the field of view. Great choice for children who tend to lose or break them more frequently than adults do.
- Coleman Binoculars (10 X 25mm, Start at $19) are well-made, compact in shape, and come with a belt-attachable carry case. When collapsed and fit in their case, they are just 2in X 3 in X 5 in. One drawback is that the Coleman consists of almost no eye relief. Therefore, expect long eyelashes to interfere with your view.
- Tasco Essentials Zip Focus Binoculars (10 X 50mm, Start at $33) promises the most superior optics among binoculars that cost less than $100. They are lightweight, easy to hold, and offer first-rate optics. Those who use this model for stargazing can gaze at constellations with sharp optics and no reflection of any kind inside, even with urban lights outside. Birdwatchers will be amazed at the clarity and sharpness of the lens.
- Bushnell Falcon Wide Angle Binoculars (10 X 50mm, Start at $34) are specially useful for people who have trouble focusing & adjusting binoculars, even to view objects that are 25 yards away. The lens caps on the eye pieces seem floppy and drop easily. The tilt focus (in addition to the knobs) can let an user change the focus without having to run a finger along a knob, shaking the view as it focuses. The quality of the strap and a bag are inadequate, but the binoculars are an excellent value for money.
- Olympus Roamer DPC (10 X 21mm, Start at $42) appeals to backpackers with their 6-ounce weight and compact size. Olympus Roamer DPC’s satisfactory optics is a great buy for value seekers who need binoculars for sporting events, opera shows and other short-medium range close-up viewing. Olympus claims that the special optical material used for the lenses can protect the eyes from harmful UV rays.
- Bushnell PermaFocus Wide Angle Porro Prism Binoculars (7 X 50mm, Start at $49) brag about a wide field of view consisting of 578 feet from 1,000 yards away. The most appealing feature is the Permafocus that can zero in on anything more than 50 feet away without requiring any adjustment. This feature can be especially handy for keeping an eye on sports action or an animal on the move. However, this model is heavier than the others in its price range.
- Nikon 7218 Action Binoculars (10 X 50mm, Start at $207) are perhaps the best binoculars that money can buy for an amateur user and a low-end for people seriously interested in bird-watching, star-gazing, and other recreational activities. Nikon’s aspheric technology offers a the particularly bright and sharp image. It’s wide angle design, a field of view of 446 feet at 1000 yards and a 12 foot-close focus range makes it an ideal medium-powered binoculars for back yard astronomy.