Binoculars Buying Guide 2024

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Written By Andrea Bullock
UPDATED:
Binoculars Buying Guide

Are you curious about binoculars and thinking about getting one for yourself? You’re not alone! Binoculars might seem like a special tool only for certain activities, but they can actually be useful in many situations. Some folks, like sports fans, nature lovers, and bird watchers, already have a clear idea of what they need. But what about the rest of us? This guide is here to help you figure out what kind of binoculars could be the right fit for you. Binoculars come in all sorts of types, sizes, and features. It might feel overwhelming, especially if you’re new to this, but don’t worry! I’ll guide you through everything you need to know in a simple way. We’ll start with the basics and work our way to more advanced stuff, so you’ll feel confident when you make your choice. Whether you’re looking for something budget-friendly or a bit more fancy, I’ll help you find the perfect pair without any confusion. Let’s dive into the world of binoculars together!

Exploring the Core Principles

In simple terms, binoculars harness the power of lenses, elements, and prisms to bring distant objects into a magnified view. Unlike spotting scopes or telescopes, which often require closing one eye, binoculars embrace the comfort of observing with both eyes open. This dual-eye observation maintains depth of field, creating an immersive experience that lends a lifelike, 3D quality to the scene.

As you browse through the binocular market, you’ll notice a spectrum of designs, from sleek to sturdy. The physical appearance of binoculars is shaped by the type of prism they employ. Prisms play a pivotal role in correcting the orientation of the view, ensuring a natural scene perception. Without prisms, binoculars would present an inverted and reversed view. There are two primary prism types: roof and Porro. Roof prisms align the glass elements, resulting in streamlined binoculars that are easy to hold. On the other hand, Porro prisms offset the glass elements, offering enhanced depth of field and a broader field of view. This is achieved by folding the light path, compacting the design and spreading the objectives apart.

The Price Spectrum

The price spectrum for seemingly similar binocular pairs can be vast. For instance, B&H offers 10×42 binoculars spanning from under $30 to nearly $3,000. This wide range stems from differences in optics quality, lens coatings, housing materials, and additional features. Prism type can also contribute to price disparity. Despite comparable quality and performance, the roof prism form factor often leads to higher costs. However, for those who prioritize optics over form, upgrading to a Porro-prism binocular might be a viable option within the budget.

The Prism Story

Technically, the double-Porro prism configuration used in binoculars is an extension of Ignazio Porro’s design from around 1850. The shortened term “Porro” pays homage to this inventor. By folding the light path and shifting the entry and exit points of the prism, the traditional binocular appearance emerges.

The term “roof prism” was initially applied to the Abbe-Koenig (AK) prism design, correcting image orientation while maintaining a straight path of light. Variations of the AK design, such as Amici and Schmidt-Pechan (SP), also correct image orientation through different optical routes. Among these, the SP design stands out for its compactness, resulting in slender optical tubes that are more ergonomic during extended observation. Zeiss is renowned for incorporating SP prisms into their designs.

Binoculars

Types of Binoculars:

Binoculars are remarkable devices that provide a closer look at the world around us. While they might seem similar on the surface, there’s a diverse range of binocular types, each with its own unique features and benefits. Let’s take a closer look at each type:


Porro Prism Binoculars:

Porro Prism Binoculars:

Roof prism binoculars have a straight-line optical path, creating a more streamlined and compact design. These binoculars are aligned in a way that requires precise engineering to maintain image quality. While their design can pose challenges in achieving perfect optical performance, advancements have made them much better in recent years. Roof prism binoculars are more ergonomic and often more durable than porro prism binoculars. Due to their sleek design and improved technology, they tend to be more expensive.


Roof Prism Binoculars:

Roof Prism Binoculars:

Roof prism binoculars have a straight-line optical path, creating a more streamlined and compact design. These binoculars are aligned in a way that requires precise engineering to maintain image quality. While their design can pose challenges in achieving perfect optical performance, advancements have made them much better in recent years. Roof prism binoculars are more ergonomic and often more durable than porro prism binoculars. Due to their sleek design and improved technology, they tend to be more expensive.


Foldable Binoculars:

Foldable Binoculars:

Foldable binoculars are designed for ultimate portability. They are compact and lightweight, making them ideal for situations where you want to travel light. These binoculars can easily fit into a handbag or backpack, making them perfect for events like concerts, theater shows, or even casual outdoor activities.


Wide Angle Binoculars:

Wide Angle Binoculars:

Wide angle binoculars are designed to provide a broader Field of View (FOV). This means you can see more of the scenery at once, making them fantastic for observing landscapes, panoramic views, or any situation where you want to take in a wide expanse.


Zoom Binoculars:

Zoom Binoculars:

Zoom binoculars offer adjustable magnification, allowing you to zoom in and out on your subject. Similar to how zoom lenses work in photography, these binoculars provide versatility in your observations. This makes them suitable for a wide range of activities, from bird watching to sports events.


Waterproof and Shockproof Binoculars:

Waterproof and Shockproof Binoculars:

Waterproof binoculars are designed to withstand exposure to water, making them suitable for activities around water bodies. Some models can even be fully submerged without damaging the optics. Shockproof binoculars, on the other hand, are engineered to handle rugged conditions and impacts. They’re perfect for outdoor adventures, like hiking, safaris, or boating trips.


Focus-Free Binoculars:

Focus-Free Binoculars:

Focus-free binoculars have a fixed depth of field, which means that everything within a certain range will remain in focus without needing any adjustments. These binoculars are user-friendly and excellent for quick observations, as they eliminate the need to adjust focus.


High-Powered Binoculars:

High-Powered Binoculars:

High-powered binoculars come with a significant level of magnification. They are especially useful for observing distant objects, such as celestial bodies or wildlife from a distance. Astronomers often use high-powered binoculars as an alternative to telescopes.


Tripod-Mounted Binoculars:

Tripod-Mounted Binoculars:

Binoculars with high magnification can be challenging to hold steady by hand. Tripod-mounted binoculars solve this problem by allowing you to mount them on a tripod. This results in a clearer and steadier image, making them suitable for detailed observations.


Night Vision Binoculars:

Night Vision Binoculars:

Night vision binoculars are equipped with technology that enables you to see in low-light or even pitch-dark conditions. They amplify available light, making it possible to observe objects that are otherwise difficult to see at night. These binoculars have applications in various fields, from security and surveillance to night-time wildlife observation.


When choosing the right binoculars, it’s essential to consider your intended use, preferences, and budget. Each type of binocular serves different purposes, so finding the perfect fit can greatly enhance your viewing experience, whether you’re exploring nature, attending events, or embarking on thrilling adventures.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Size:

Embarking on the world of binoculars unveils a diverse spectrum of sizes, ranging from compact companions to massive tools designed for celestial exploration or sweeping vistas from an ocean liner’s bridge.

You’ve likely observed the common description format for binoculars: two numbers separated by an ‘x,’ like 8×42. The first number denotes magnification, and the second indicates the objective lens size in millimeters. This objective lens size significantly influences the binoculars’ overall dimensions, effectively summarizing their size.

Bigger objective lenses allow more light to enter the binoculars, resulting in brighter images. However, this also means larger and heavier binoculars. Striking the right balance between brightness and portability is essential.

Objective lenses with a 42mm diameter are typically categorized as full-sized. These have become the standard for activities like bird watching and wildlife observation. A 42mm objective lens lets you discern subtle color variations in birds, even in challenging lighting conditions. However, such binoculars can often weigh around one and a half pounds or more, making them less suitable for extended backpacking trips.

Compact binoculars usually sport 28mm objective lenses. These are lightweight, often weighing less than a pound. Nonetheless, transitioning to smaller lenses often results in compromised low-light performance, leading to silhouette-heavy images with limited color detail.

Many binocular models offer a middle ground with a 32mm objective lens option. This size offers reasonable low-light performance without excessive weight.

For astronomy enthusiasts, maximizing light collection is paramount. Numerous binoculars come equipped with 63mm objective lenses tailored for stargazing. However, these models tend to be notably heavy due to the larger lenses.

Magnification

Following a binocular’s model name, the initial number signifies its magnification. For instance, an 8×42 pair magnifies objects eightfold, while a 10×42 model magnifies by ten. This number sets the stage for your viewing experience.

Binoculars commonly offer magnification between 8 and 12 times, a range well-suited for bird watching and wildlife observation. If you’re new to binoculars, leaning towards the lower end is advisable. Higher magnification, although providing a closer view, introduces challenges. Firstly, hand tremors become more apparent at higher magnifications, leading to blurry images. While experience mitigates this, starting with a forgiving magnification is prudent.

The second challenge is a narrower field of view with higher magnifications. Spotting and framing a critter through binoculars demands a skill of its own. Even if a bird fits within a 12x binoculars’ field, aligning it in view can be tricky, especially for beginners. A broader field of view offers more leeway in such situations. Mastery develops over time, prompting many birders to begin with an 8x pair and advance to 10x or 12x models.

If you seek magnifications surpassing 12x, binoculars might not be optimal. Beyond this point, even the steadiest hands grapple with unwieldy hand shake. For such scenarios, tripod-mounted spotting scopes become more practical.

Interestingly, excessive magnification is less crucial for large, stargazing binoculars. Given the vast distances of stars, the distinction between 10x and 12x is scarcely noticeable. These binoculars focus on gathering light to enhance brightness rather than achieving close-up views. For an intimate cosmic experience, telescopes or Neil deGrasse Tyson podcasts fill the void.

Lens Diameter Insights

Directly following the magnification in a binocular’s name, the next number holds the key to the main objective lenses’ size. These lenses, the larger ones situated at the end of the binoculars, are denoted in millimeters.

Applying the earlier examples, an 8×42 binocular possesses objective lenses with a diameter of 42mm. Similarly, a 10×42 model boasts the same 42mm lenses, coupled with higher magnification.

Conversely, the 10×32 binocular accommodates 32mm objective lenses, while the 10×26 model features 26mm lenses.

The significance of these lens sizes is multi-faceted:

Primarily, they contribute significantly to the overall dimensions of the instrument. Larger lenses equate to bulkier and heavier binoculars.

But why opt for larger lenses? A helpful analogy is envisioning these lenses as windows. A larger window permits more light to enter compared to a smaller one.

This principle extends to lenses: The expanded surface area of larger objective lenses enables them to gather more light, playing a pivotal role in determining the brightness and, more precisely, the low-light performance of the binoculars.

Diverse Binocular Blueprints

The fundamental blueprint of binoculars falls into two overarching categories, primarily determined by the prism type employed to rectify and upright the image after it traverses the objective lens.

The familiar configuration with eyepieces positioned closer together than the objective lenses is recognized by most individuals. This traditional structure owes its form to the utilization of porro prisms (as depicted in the left image above).

The evolution of roof-prism binoculars (displayed in the right image above) followed, characterized by a streamlined, linear body. This innovation stemmed from the new prism design, enabling the production of smaller, more compact binoculars.

As technology advanced and materials improved over time, the gap in size and weight between these two designs diminished. Nevertheless, based on your budget, each design retains specific advantages.

Broadly, porro prisms are simpler and more economical to manufacture. Consequently, lower-cost options in the market often yield superior optical performance when equipped with a porro prism.

Conversely, roof-prism binoculars, though pricier, adhere to stricter optical and mechanical standards, offering enhanced performance in the upper echelons of the market. The porro prism design remains more compact, particularly in binoculars featuring larger lenses (around 40mm and above).

Beyond these distinctions, personal preferences heavily influence your choice regarding visual aesthetics and ergonomic comfort when holding the binoculars.

Exit Pupil

When you observe the eyepiece lenses of your binoculars from a distance of around 30cm, a luminous circle emerges. This circle, known as the binoculars’ pupil, defines the exit pupil diameter. This metric plays a pivotal role in assessing the relative brightness that a pair of binoculars can offer.

For scenarios where brightness is paramount, such as well-lit environments, an exit pupil diameter of two or three millimeters becomes essential. Conversely, in low-light conditions, like darkness, an exit pupil diameter ranging from five to seven millimeters is recommended.

Lens Coating

The quality of lens coating plays a significant role in reducing light reflection while permitting a higher degree of light passage. This outcome translates into a brighter view of the observed object. When seeking vivid imagery, the consideration of this factor becomes imperative.

Field of View

In the pursuit of acquiring binoculars, the Field of View (FoV) they offer should never be underestimated. A smaller FoV delivers a wide-ranging panorama, aiding swift object location through orientation shifts. Conversely, a generous FoV can make object location challenging due to its narrow image scope.

The FoV is intricately linked to the binoculars’ magnification. Increased magnification results in a narrower FoV, while decreased magnification leads to a wider FoV.

For endeavors like birdwatching or tracking moving targets, a broader FoV proves invaluable, enabling seamless tracking through orientation adjustments. On the contrary, a narrower FoV proves advantageous when observing stationary objects from considerable distances.

Weight and Dimensions

The advantage of lighter weight and a more compact size in your binoculars ensures convenient portability. Additionally, the effective diameter of the objective lens has a direct influence on both weight and size. If prioritizing lightweight and compact design is a key consideration, there may be a trade-off with the effective diameter, affecting the overall brightness of the viewing experience.

Eye Comfort

Eye relief, denoting the distance from the eyepiece lens’s final surface to the eye, determines the comfortable visibility of the entire field of view through the binoculars. This aspect is particularly crucial for eyeglass wearers, as it facilitates binocular usage without necessitating the removal of glasses.

Price Considerations

The role of pricing in your binocular purchasing journey cannot be overstated, as your budget indirectly guides your desired specifications. For an optimal price range, we advise assessing your familiarity with binoculars before setting a budget:

  1. For Beginners: Regardless of your intended use, a decent pair of binoculars can be found within the $100 to $200 range. It’s advisable to avoid options priced below a hundred dollars.
  2. For Those with Prior Experience: Individuals who have used binoculars before, irrespective of their application, can consider mid-range choices ranging from $200 to $500.
  3. For Professionals and Experts: If you fall into this category, investing in high-end binoculars priced above $500 can be a prudent decision, provided they align with the specific criteria essential for your intended use.

FAQs

Q: What do the numbers on binoculars mean?

A: When you’re looking at binoculars, you’ll notice two numbers separated by an ‘x,’ like 20 x 60.
The first number shows the magnification.
The second number represents the size of the objective (front) lens in millimeters.
Larger objective lenses make images brighter. Although bigger lenses mean heavier binoculars, they’re excellent for low-light situations like stargazing.

Q: How to choose binoculars?

A: Choosing binoculars depends on factors like intended use, magnification preference, objective lens size, and budget. Consider your activities and the environment you’ll be using them in. Higher magnification is better for distant viewing, while larger objective lenses gather more light for low-light conditions.

Q: How to buy binoculars?

A: When buying binoculars, consider factors like magnification, objective lens size, prism type, field of view, and image quality. Test binoculars in-store if possible or read reviews online to make an informed decision.

Q: Where to buy binoculars?

A: Binoculars are available at various outlets, including outdoor stores, electronics stores, camera shops, and online retailers. Choose a reputable seller that provides information about the binocular specifications and offers a good return policy.

Q: When were binoculars invented?

A: The earliest form of binoculars, known as “field glasses,” were developed in the 17th century. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the modern concept of binoculars began to take shape.

Q: How to use binoculars?

A: Hold the binoculars with both hands, adjust the interpupillary distance to match your eyes, then look through the eyepieces and focus on an object using the center focus wheel. Once the object is in focus, you can adjust the diopter for your individual eyes.

Q: How to focus binoculars?

A: Use the center focus wheel to bring both sides of the binoculars into focus. Look at a distant object and turn the center wheel until the image appears clear. Some binoculars also have individual eyepiece focus, which allows you to fine-tune focus for each eye.

Q: How to adjust binoculars?

A: Adjust the interpupillary distance by moving the barrels closer or farther apart to match the distance between your eyes. Also, adjust the eyecups if they are adjustable, ensuring a comfortable fit for your eyes.

Q: What are the best binoculars?

A: The “best” binoculars depend on your specific needs. Look for reputable brands, read reviews, and consider binoculars that align with your intended activities and preferences.

Q: What does 30×60 binoculars mean?

A: The numbers “30×60” indicate that the binoculars have a magnification of 30x and objective lenses with a diameter of 60mm.

Q: How to clean binoculars?

A: Use a soft brush or air blower to remove dust, and gently wipe the lenses with a microfiber cloth. For stubborn dirt or smudges, use a lens cleaning solution and a lens cleaning cloth designed for optics.

Q: What are binoculars?

A: Binoculars are optical devices consisting of two telescopes mounted side by side. They provide a magnified and stereoscopic view of distant objects by using lenses and prisms to gather and redirect light to the eyes. They are commonly used for various activities like bird watching, stargazing, sports events, and more.

Q: How do binoculars work?

A: Binoculars consist of two main lenses: the objective lens, located closer to the object being observed, and the eyepiece lens, positioned near the viewer’s eye. The objective lens uses a combination of convex and concave lenses to gather and form an initial image. This image is then magnified further by the eyepiece lens, enabling you to clearly observe distant subjects or landscapes.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, navigating the world of binoculars requires a careful balance between your specific needs and the array of available options. By considering factors such as magnification, lens size, weight, eye relief, and pricing, you can confidently embark on a rewarding binoculars buying journey. Whether you’re a beginner seeking an entry-level pair or a seasoned professional in search of specialized optics, the guide has provided insights to help you make an informed decision. Remember, the ideal binoculars are the ones that align with your intended activities, preferences, and budget. With this newfound understanding, you’re poised to embark on a visual adventure that brings distant landscapes, nature’s wonders, and celestial marvels into crystal-clear focus.