In-Depth Binocular Buyer’s Guide

by Kevin Shank | Oct 26, 2023 | 0 comments

Two pairs of binoculars

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast and have not yet invested  in a good pair of binoculars, you may be wondering where to start. With a wide range of options available, how do you choose the right pair? To help you make an informed decision, we’ve compiled this in-depth binocular buyer’s guide.

Understanding the Basics

Let’s kick off our journey with a fundamental concept: the numbers on a binocular. These numbers are critical in understanding what you’re getting in a pair of binoculars. The first number represents the magnification power, while the second number is the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters.

  • Magnification (e.g., 10x): This indicates how many times closer an object will appear compared to the naked eye. Higher magnification is beneficial for observing distant subjects but may require stabilization.
  • Objective Lens Diameter (e.g., 42mm): The larger this number, the more light the binoculars can gather, leading to more brighter images, particularly in dim lighting situations. But diameter isn’t the only factor for brighter views—the quality of the glass is a bigger factor.

Choosing the Right Magnification

The magnification power plays a vital role in your binocular selection. Higher magnification allows you to zoom in on distant objects but can introduce shakiness. Here’s a quick overview:

  • 8x: This is a popular choice, and one I particularly recommend if a family is using it across a variety of ages. It is easy to hold steady, and the wider view makes it easier to find birds flitting in the trees, or to see a deer slipping through the brush.
  • 10x: If you want power but still wish to hand-hold the binocular, 10x is the highest we recommend. For looking across fields at distant deer, for example, we choose a 10x over an 8x.
  • 12x and higher: These binoculars offer powerful magnification but can be difficult to maintain a stable image by hand. Expect to stabilize your arms or mount on a tripod for extended use.

Pro Tip: When choosing magnification, consider your intended use and the conditions in which you’ll be using the binoculars. Higher magnification is beneficial for details but can reduce stability.

Objective Lens Diameter: A Critical Factor

The objective lens diameter plays a significant role in determining the brightness of the image you see through your binoculars. In low-light conditions, larger objective lenses are a game-changer. Here’s what you need to know:

  • 32mm to 42mm: Binoculars in this range are versatile and suitable for most daytime activities. They balance size, weight, and brightness effectively.
  • 50mm and above: If you plan on stargazing or observing wildlife at dawn or dusk, consider binoculars with larger objective lenses. These capture more light and deliver brighter views.

Quality Matters: Glass and Coatings

One significant factor that sets binoculars apart is the quality of the glass and coatings. Superior-quality glass delivers higher contrast and more vibrant colors, even in challenging lighting conditions. Here’s why quality matters:

  • Higher-End Glass: It cuts through haze, revealing more vibrant colors and sharper contrast in your views.
  • Dynamic range: There is a greater range of tones between white and black, providing higher contrast. If you are looking at deer across a field in low light, the white antlers against a dark background can more easily be seen with high-end glass compared to entry-level glass.
  • Coatings: Quality coatings on lenses reduce reflections and enhance light transmission, leading to brighter and clearer images. The quality of coatings can significantly impact your viewing experience, so opt for fully multi-coated lenses when possible.

Exit Pupil and Low-Light Performance

Exit pupil is a critical factor when assessing how well binoculars perform in low light. To determine the exit pupil size, simply divide the objective lens diameter by the magnification. As an illustration, a binocular with a 10×50 configuration features a 5mm exit pupil, which aligns well with our eyes’ low-light dilation of around 5mm. Examples of good low-light ratios are 10×50 and 8×42.

Understanding exit pupil helps you choose binoculars that provide excellent low-light performance without excessive bulk.

The Benefits of Using Both Eyes

Our brains are naturally wired to process information from two eyes, providing a more immersive and comfortable viewing experience. Using a single eye, as is common with spotting scopes, can feel limiting in comparison. Here are the benefits of using both eyes when observing through binoculars:

  • Depth Perception: Binocular vision provides depth perception, allowing you to judge distances more accurately.
  • Improved Peripheral Vision: Having two eyes expands your field of view, increasing your awareness of objects and movement in your periphery.
  • Enhanced Low-Light Vision: In low-light conditions, binocular vision can capture more available light, improving your ability to see in the dark. This is advantageous for nighttime activities like stargazing or wildlife observation.
  • Better Object Recognition: Binocular vision enhances object recognition and visual clarity. It enables you to discern fine details, textures, and colors more effectively, making it beneficial for tasks like reading, recognizing faces, or identifying objects from a distance.
  • Reduced Eye Fatigue: Using both eyes reduces the strain on each eye, leading to less eye fatigue during prolonged binocular use.
  • Wider FOV: Binocular vision provides a wider field of view, allowing you to take in more of your surroundings at once.
  • Improved 3D Vision: Binocular vision is essential for perceiving depth and three-dimensional space accurately.

The Vortex Advantage

If you’re enthusiastic about optics, you might be curious about the Vortex brand of binoculars and what makes them so popular. Well, aside from their outstanding optics and durability in the binocular world, here are the reasons behind their widespread acclaim:

  • No-Fault Warranty: Vortex offers a no-fault warranty, repairing or replacing binoculars regardless of the cause of damage. No need to keep sales receipts, making it a hassle-free warranty.
  • Combination Binoculars: Some Vortex models, like the rangefinder binocular combination, provide versatility for both observation and rangefinding, ideal for hunting.
  • Rangefinders: Vortex offers a range of rangefinders at various price points, catering to different preferences and budgets.

Quality Optics: A Lesson in Appreciating Lens Quality

An encounter with my 93-year-old mother and a hummingbird nest provided a profound lesson in the importance of investing in good binoculars.

The Hummingbird Nest Saga

My mother had been trying to catch a glimpse of a hummingbird nest located around 50 to 70 feet away. However, despite her efforts, she couldn’t spot the nest with her old, worn-out binoculars. I was determined to give her this unique experience, so I set out to help.

Quality Matters

Upon trying to use her binoculars to view the nest myself, I quickly realized why my mother had been struggling. Her 50+ year old vintage binoculars had seen better days. For all practical purposes, I couldn’t see the nest with her binoculars either. While I could vaguely make out the nest as a green blob, the intricate details of the lichens that camouflaged the nest were completely lost. This experience served as a poignant reminder that quality optics can significantly enhance one’s viewing experience.

Implications Beyond Birdwatching

The story extends beyond birdwatching. It has broader implications for those who appreciate quality lenses. Whether you’re a photographer, videographer, or simply someone who appreciates clear and crisp visuals, the lesson is clear: lens quality matters.

In photography and videography, the choice of lenses can dramatically impact the character of your shots, from the depth of field to lens flares. Just like in my experience with binoculars, low-quality lenses may struggle with issues like lens flares and low-light performance, leading to suboptimal results.

These insights serve as a valuable reminder that investing in quality optics, whether it’s binoculars for birdwatching or lenses for photography, can make a world of difference in the clarity, vibrancy, and detail of what you see through them.

So, whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, hunter, or hiker, the quality of your optics can significantly enhance your experience.

Tailoring Binoculars to Your Needs

Choosing binoculars that match your particular needs has merit. A backpacker may opt for a 8×25 or 10×25 binocular because it is small and lightweight. However, a deer hunter trying to evaluate antlers in low light will be very frustrated, as the binocular is not bringing adequate light to the eye, and the view will be very dark.

Additional Features to Consider

  • Image Stabilization: Some binoculars offer image stabilization technology, which helps compensate for hand tremors.
  • Close Focus Distance: If you enjoy observing objects up close, pay attention to the binoculars’ close focus distance specification. Some models excel in this regard.

Consider Your Budget

Binoculars come in a wide price range, from budget-friendly to high-end models. Your budget will play a significant role in determining the options available to you. While it’s tempting to splurge on the latest and greatest, there are excellent binoculars available at various price points.

Furthermore, you don’t have to break the bank to get quality binoculars. There are some fantastic options in the mid-range price category that offer great value for your money.

Key Takeaway

Selecting the right binoculars involves understanding magnification, objective lens diameter, glass quality, coatings, exit pupil, and the advantages of using both eyes. Vortex stands out as a brand known for its quality and warranties. Remember to choose binoculars that align with your specific needs and preferences, and you’ll be well-prepared for your outdoor adventures.

Whether you’re a parent eager to introduce your children to the marvels of the natural world or a grandparent keen on sharing your love for the great outdoors, a quality pair of binoculars can enhance your experiences and create lasting memories. 

We invite you to visit Nature Friend Magazine’s optics store. However, many optics are available that are not on our website. Give Kevin a call at 540-947-1636 to discuss your needs.

Author Bio:

Kevin is a passionate optics enthusiast with a lifelong love for nature. His journey into the realm of optics began during his childhood adventures with his dad’s Minolta camera and a binocular his parents gave him.

Today, Kevin and Bethany, along with their family, publish the Nature Friend magazine. You can “hike” with them in the magazine, and explore the fascinating world of birding, the outdoors, and even the beauties of the night sky. You might find Kevin in the field with his family and their cameras. They love to pursue birds, animals, insects, and scenery. Each month they share a nature photography lesson in the Study Guide edition of Nature Friend magazine.

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