Three best binoculars
You've waited patiently for weeks to catch a glimpse of a Painted Bunting in all its resplendent beauty. But when the moment comes and that tiny bird alights on a distant branch, your eyes are so sore and bleary from using the wrong type of binoculars that all you see is a multi-colored smear. You rub your eyes and try to force them to focus, but the Painted Bunting takes flight and is gone. If only you knew more about binoculars!
With this guide, you'll learn everything you need to know about binoculars. With the right pair, you can relish the nuances of nature without eye strain or enjoy a close up of the lead singer at your next stadium rock concert. For the quickest shopping, we've also included our three picks for the best binoculars available.
Considerations when choosing binoculars
Binoculars really aren't very complicated. The main difference between models is how much closer they make things appear and how much light they let in. Some binoculars are better for just a quick look, while others are less taxing on your eyes, so you can use them longer. Some binoculars are great in the afternoon but stop being useful around twilight. Some are great to carry along on a hike, while others are a bit too weighty to make a long trek by foot enjoyable. Let's take a closer look at the key considerations when choosing binoculars.
Binoculars are classified by two numbers. The first number is the strength of the magnification, or how many times closer an object will appear. The second number is the diameter in millimeters of the lenses. For example, a pair of 7x35 binoculars brings objects seven times closer and has lenses that are 35 millimeters in diameter.
Some lenses are capable of zooming. The magnification of these binoculars is indicated by two numbers. For example, a pair of 10-20x50 binoculars can zoom from 10 to 20 times magnification and has lenses that are 50 millimeters in diameter.
When it is dark, your pupil increases in size to allow more light to enter your eye. When it is bright, your pupil contracts to limit the amount of light it lets in. The pupil's range is from roughly eight millimeters when it's very dark to only 1.5 millimeters when it's very bright.
You can find a pair of binoculars' pupil size, or exit pupil, by dividing the lens size by the magnification. For example, a pair of 7x35 binoculars has a five-millimeter exit pupil, which is moderately large, making it good for darker conditions like at dusk or under dense tree cover.
Field of view
The field of view tells you how wide an area you can see at 1,000 yards with your binoculars. Usually, the higher the magnification of the binoculars, the narrower the field of view. When this number is expressed as a degree, it is called the angular field.
Binoculars are either Porro prism or roof prism.
If you think of an old-fashioned pair of binoculars--large, bulky, and wide--these are Porro prism binoculars. These binoculars are easier to adjust to accommodate the size of your face, and they are less costly to manufacture. However, they are not waterproof, and they can't withstand as much as sleeker roof prism binoculars.
Roof prism binoculars look like two straight tubes that are connected in the middle, giving them a narrow "H" shape. Because of their design, these binoculars are more durable and can be waterproof or fog-proof. Roof prism binoculars are more costly to make, though, which results in a higher price tag.
Understanding eye relief
Eye relief is the distance between the binoculars' eyecups and your eyes. If you place your eye too close to the lens, you will see a small crescent shadow along the edge of the image. If you hold the binoculars too far away, you will notice a ring around the entire image. The farther the lens is from your eye, the darker the ring.
The eyecups on binoculars can be set at different distances. People who wear glasses will want to set the eyecups at the shortest distance. People without glasses will want to set the eyecups at the longest distance. The ideal distance varies from model to model, but it is usually somewhere between 14 and 20 millimeters from the eyecups to your eyes.
Depending on your budget, you can spend anywhere from as little as $15 to thousands of dollars on a pair of binoculars.
If you want an inexpensive, entry-level pair of binoculars that you can take with you anywhere and use for fun, you'll find a good pair between $15 and $70.
If you're looking for something a bit more durable, you can expect to spend $80 to $150 for a high-quality pair of binoculars.
If you need waterproof binoculars that have multi-coated lenses and offer crisp images--a durable pair that you can take with you on a boat, for example--you'll find a good model in the range of $180 to $300.
Over $300, the price of binoculars starts jumping drastically for bells and whistles like electronic image stabilization. You're looking at anywhere from $500 to $3,000 for these high-end models.
Q. Can I use my binoculars on a boat?
A. If you want binoculars that can withstand a wet environment, you'll need to purchase a pair designated as either waterproof or weather-resistant. Waterproof binoculars are sealed with O-rings to prevent water and moisture from entering the barrels. Weather-resistant binoculars, on the other hand, are not waterproof and will not withstand being submerged.
Q. What about fogging?
A. Besides being an annoyance, fogging on the inside of your binoculars can permanently damage them. Some binoculars are constructed using an inert gas with no moisture content, so they cannot fog on the inside. The outside lenses, however, will still fog. An anti-fog cloth or glass wipe is your best option for fogging.
Q. What can I do with my old binoculars?
A. Instead of selling them or throwing them away, if your old binoculars are undamaged you can donate them to a nonprofit organization such as the American Birding Association or Optics for the Tropics. These groups will make your donated binoculars available in areas of the world where quality binoculars are not easily obtainable.
Binoculars we recommend
Best of the best: Nikon 7577 MONARCH 5 10x42 Binoculars
Our take: A durable pair of quality binoculars for the more serious user.
What we like: Nikon's MONARCH 5 binoculars offer a great balance between solid construction and lightweight functionality. They feature fully multi-coated eco-glass lenses, which offer a sharp image and brilliant colors. The intuitive design of the eyecups and central focus knob makes them very easy to use.
What we dislike: Although purposely designed to be loose-fitting, in certain situations the lens caps can pop off unexpectedly.
Best bang for your buck: Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15x70 Binoculars
Our take: These budget-priced binoculars are designed for long-distance, low-light use, making them particularly well-suited for astronomical viewing.
What we like: The large 70-millimeter lenses allow these binoculars to function well in low-light situations. The 15-times magnification can make it a little tough to keep the image steady, but these binoculars come with an adapter so you can purchase a tripod for stable, hands-free operation. For a beginner, these binoculars are easier to use than a telescope.
What we dislike: It can sometimes be difficult to focus and align the image.
Our take: A pocket-sized, lightweight, versatile pair of budget binoculars that are good for concerts and sporting events.
What we like: These binoculars are great if you use them for their intended purpose. The fully coated lenses help with image brightness, and the non-slip rubber coating offers a firm grip. These binoculars also function well at closer ranges.
What we dislike: These binoculars are not the most durable option. If you use them outdoors, remember that they are not waterproof.
Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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