by Peter Hanscomb
One piece of equipment that I have been looking to update is my old pair of Nikon binoculars. I find binoculars useful when out and about , not a first on my kit list to pack but they are always with me if I have room in my bag. So to celebrate the beginning of the end ( hopefully ) I decided on a pair of Vortex Diamondback binoculars, and my new addition to the kit bag have just arrived.
First impressions are really good . At £ 250 they aren’t the cheapest around , and off course a long way off mid range in price, but for me as an occasional user they fit the spec. They feel well made , and have a few nice features , especially the eye relief and captive covers. I just need to get out and about now and give the bino’s a really food field test.
BINOCULAR BUYING GUIDE
Are you looking for binoculars that are designed for bird watching ? If the answer is yes , here are a few tips to help you navigate all the technical jargon, numbers and feature to help you pick the perfect pair of binoculars and some of the features that top-notch bird watching binoculars have.
Binoculars are always represented by two numbers. The first number is the magnification, also referred to as the zoom, and the second number is the size of the lens 10×50 binoculars, for example, means you get 10x magnification and a 50mm lenses. The reason most people buy a pair of binoculars is to magnify their chosen subject matter, in my case wildlife. Being able to get up close and personal without the risk of disturbing the bird or animal and limiting the risk of an encounter. It’s easy to think you should buy a pair of binoculars with the largest magnifying value , and there are pairs on the market that offer magnification of 200x and more , but for bird / animal watching less is very often more.
There are many reasons not to chose a powerful pair of binoculars , especially not for wildlife watching.
- The greater the magnifying number normally means a narrow field of view.
- The depth seems shallow and not as focused
- The slightest amount of movement normally means you lose track of the subject.
When using high magnification binoculars above 12x magnification you will normally need to use a tripod to support your optics. This adds weight to your bag and restricts movement. So if your using a pair of binoculars for animal or bird watching, then the 8x , 10x or 12x magnification is considered to be the best option. When it comes to handheld binoculars, having more powerful magnification is not always a benefit. A 12x or 16x magnified image will shake significantly more than a 10x magnified image. ( exactly the same as if you try to hand hold a long telephoto lens ) With most 8x and 10x binoculars the field of vision is wider. This means If a bird is in a tree, it would be easier to put your binoculars to your eyes and quickly see it. With a wider field of view, it won’t be as hard to focus. Basically, you won’t have to spend wasted time searching for the bird. This is why many bird and wildlife watchers opt for magnification in the range of 8x to 12x.
So far so good , that’s the first number out of the way , now for the second number ,which is the size of the optic. When it comes to buying a pair of binoculars you also need to consider the size and weight. Probably the lens or objective lens size is more important than the weight and physical size of the binoculars..Small travel or pocket binoculars have lenses that are in the range of 20mm to 28mm. Obviously, it will be easier to carry around a lighter pair of binoculars than heavier ones. Also, being compact binoculars, you might take them along more often and come across more bird watching opportunities. However, one of the disadvantages about smaller binoculars is that they have smaller lenses and are not able to get as much light in as their big brothers. . This means that the images will not be as bright or clearly defined as the ones that you can obtain with large lens binoculars. Unfortunately, this situation is even worse in low light conditions. Most standard sized binoculars have lenses that are 40mm or 42mm.
So to summarise size , when it comes to magnification the best options are either 8x , 10x or 12x. If your not using the binoculars for travel the best lens size 42mm or 50mm for bird or animal watching.
So what else should you look for in a pair of binoculars ?
FOGGING & RAIN
A decent pair of binoculars will be okay to use in light rain and humidity. However if your out and about with our great British weather , you really should think about getting a good pair of waterproofed binoculars. Make sure that your binocular choice is not only waterproofed but also fog proof. If the binoculars have been sealed with O-rings, then they will be moisture proof. This will also help to keep dust and dirt out of your optics. Also, try to get binoculars that are either Nitrogen or Argon purged. This means that the air inside the binoculars has been replaced during manufacturing with dry gas and the lenses will not fog up on the inside. Proper waterproofing will protect your binoculars from corrosion and extend their usable life , not a bad thing considering your pair of binoculars could have cost you anything from a few underdogs pounds to a few thousand pounds !
ANTI REFLECTIVE LENSES
Binoculars are available with an anti-reflective lens coating. This helps to transmit light. Anti-reflective coatings can help enhance the amount of brightness that an image has. For instance, binoculars that have small lenses but good anti-reflection coatings can sometimes have a nicer image than large lens binoculars that don’t have as many coatings. The definition of “coated” might mean one layer of anti-reflection protection per some vendors. This is usually just the top and bottom elements or the things that can be seen. The definition of “fully coated” is that all of the air on the glass surface has an anti-reflection coating. The definition of “multi coated” is that some of the surfaces, normally the bottom and top one have a lot of layers of the coating. A multilayer coating does a good job of reducing reflected light that cannot be eliminated with just one coating. It also transmits more light. Quite naturally, more than one layer will provide more protection than one. The definition of “fully multicoated” is that the air to the glass surfaces has more than one anti-reflection coating, which is very beneficial when it comes to binoculars.
ROOF OR PORRO PRISM
There are two main types of binocular design: roof prism and porro prism. Each type differs in the way the prisms channel light through the binoculars to your eyes. Roof prism binoculars have an ‘H’ shaped design, where the eyepiece and the binocular tubes are in a single line. Roof prism binoculars tend to be more compact. Porro prism binoculars have a traditional ‘M’ shape design, where the eyepiece and the lens are not in line. Obvious from their wider shape, Porro prism binoculars use an offset internal prism to magnify an image. The wider distance between the two object lenses results in excellent 3D images compared to the narrower roof prism designs. Due to the simple engineering involved, Porro prism binoculars are easy to manufacture and so offer good optical quality at low cost. A downside to the larger size is that they are far less compact than roof prism models and so nowadays they are less favoured, particularly with improved optical quality of roof prism designs. By using a smaller type of prism than Porro types, roof prism designs allow all the optical elements within the binoculars to be aligned in the construction; this in turn allows manufacturers to produce far more compact and lightweight designs. Due to modern optical engineering, decent roof prism binoculars offer excellent image quality and are favoured by most users for their compact size and improved ergonomics. Almost all of the top brands’ high-end binoculars are now based around a roof prism design.
Eyecups are an essential part of a good binocular. They make them comfortable to use for long periods and help eliminate stray light from entering the optical system via the rear optical elements. Most binoculars feature adjustable eyecups that provide a range of eye relief depths to accommodate an individual’s preference. Good quality eyecups lock firmly in place and don’t move unless made to, while on some cheaper models you will find they can be knocked out of position fairly easily. For those of us who wear glasses, make sure you purchase a pair with eyecups that can be either folded, twisted or locked down. If you’re going to wear glasses when using your binoculars, try and purchase a pair with eye relief of 15mm or over to maintain a large field of view.
WEIGHT AND ERGONOMICS
Weight and size should also be a consideration when choosing a new pair of binoculars. Think about how you will be using your binoculars: how long you typically will be holding them in one period? Will you be travelling?
The problem with size and weight is that everything is a compromise. If you choose a large pair with large object lenses for the clearest images they will be heavy and a burden to carry. If you choose a compact pair with small object lenses they will be lightweight and perfect for travel, but you may soon become frustrated with the reduction in image clarity.
Size is an important factor, not only in terms of the amount of space your binoculars will take up in baggage, but also for the level of comfort they provide to the user. Large pairs that are heavy can be uncomfortable to hold if they do not fit your hands properly, and you will soon find they are far less enjoyable to use for long periods.
Weight comes with size and is not always a bad thing. After all, ultra-lightweight pairs can often feel cheap in the hand and weightier models can often feel more solid and stable in use. Weight and size will always be a compromise no matter how much you spend as larger object lenses will always require a heavier and larger build. For most people a mid-range pair of 8×32 or 8×42 binoculars are the best overall compromise, and these don’t have to break the bank.
As with all equipment for use the in the field, good build quality is paramount for longevity and comfort. Modern day binoculars are constructed in a range of ways and from a number of high-quality materials to produce designs that are strong and long-lasting, while at the same time light and comfortable to use. The base materials for the construction of today’s binoculars include polycarbonate resins and plastics, used for cheaper options, and magnesium alloys being used in more expensive models. The cheaper resins and plastics produce binoculars that are tough and resistant to knocks and bumps but are heavy in weight. Magnesium alloy designs have an excellent combination of strength and resistance to constant use, while also being lightweight, but this does come with a significant price increase.
Most people will, of course, want to use binoculars so its worth investing in a pair that are weatherproof to guard them against the elements. Most up-to-date binoculars are environmentally sealed and will be filled with an inert gas (often nitrogen) in order to reduce internal fogging, which stops the elements misting up inside and making them useless. Some pairs offer better levels of weatherproofing, with some being constructed to even allow full submersion in water down to around a metre; if you do a lot of watersports this may be something to consider. Most binoculars will be up to day-to-day use in the field, but if you use them regularly and keep them out in all conditions, consider investing in a pair with slightly better weatherproofing. It will be money well spent!
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