Saturday, February 26, 2011

Binoculars for Beginning Birders

What is a birder's best friend? Their binocular, of course! Whether you're a beginning birder or a seasoned expert, your binocular is the crucial tool needed to bring in the details of birds for closer inspection. Since part of the fun of birding is to study and identify birds, a high-quality binocular allows us to see and appreciate what we can't see with the naked eye.

When recommending binoculars for the beginning birder, we first consider size and specifications. With a wide variety of shapes and sizes available, the choices can seem daunting. Beginning birders may be tempted to get a compact binocular, something small and inexpensive, or think they're not worthy of a large binocular yet. Before you buy, it's good to educate yourself about the basic concepts of optics.

Let's start with the numbers on a binocular. What do the numbers mean? The power and size of a binocular is defined by numbers. A full-sized 8x42 binocular is by far the most popular choice for birders, for several reasons. The first number, 8, refers to the magnification, which in this case enables you to view something 8 times closer than you would with the naked eye. While some birders may prefer a 10-power (10x) magnification for more detail, there are tradeoffs. The 10x is harder to hold steady and is less bright than the 8x42 of the same model. That's why we give the nod to 8x42 for those new to birdwatching.

Magnification also greatly affects the field of view, the distance seen from side to side through the binocular. Field of view is built into the optics of the binocular, but generally speaking, the higher the magnification, the more narrow the field of view will be. A wide field of view is beneficial when trying to locate a bird or follow its movement.

Objective Lens Size
The second number, in this case 42, is the size of the objective (front) lens, measured in millimeters. The objective lens is the light gathering lens; the bigger the lens, the brighter the image. That brings me back to the newcomer with the low-quality compact: the small lens of a compact binocular gathers less light, making it difficult to see details, especially in low light conditions. Remember, birds are more active during dawn and dusk. Also, birding often takes place in the woods or under a canopy of trees where sunlight is diffused.

Eyeglass wearers, take note: If you want to use your binocular with eyeglasses or sunglasses, look for one that offers 15mm or more of eye relief. Eye relief refers to the distance images are projected from the ocular lens to their focal point, and the measurement can vary from 10mm to 23mm.

Close focus is another feature to consider when buying a binocular. Many prefer a close focus (3'-6') in order to observe butterflies, dragonflies, and wildflowers. For birdwatching, consider a binocular with a close focus of 10 feet or less. Also, waterproofing and fogproofing are fairly standard in today's optics. We recommend buying a waterproof and fogproof binocular; you won't have to worry about using your binocular around water and in any type of weather.

While it isn't necessary to spend a lot of money on binoculars, be aware that the more you spend, the better the quality of the glass. High-quality glass, lens coatings, and prism coatings afford a view with better resolution, allowing you to see more vivid colors, contrast, and a crisper, cleaner image. It makes sense to spend as much as you can afford. While it's possible to spend upwards of $2000.00 for a binocular, here are a few of our favorite recommendations of binoculars popular with beginning birders. We wish you many happy hours of viewing birds!

Eagle Optics Kingbird 6.5x32 Binocular $119.99 (especially recommended for children)

Eagle Optics Kingbird 8.5x32 Binocular $129.99

Eagle Optics Denali 8x42 Roof Prism Binocular $179.99

Vortex Diamondback 8x42 Binocular $219.99

Eagle Optics Ranger 8x42 Binocular $299.99

Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

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