Just because you’re a beginning birder doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a good quality binocular. In fact, when you think about it, beginning birders benefit more from good quality glass. Why? Because better glass means better resolution: clearer, brighter, and sharper images than in less expensive models. While more experienced birders are familiar with birds’ flight patterns, coloration and characteristics, beginners are just learning these things. So, seeing the best detail possible now, combined with lots of practice time in the field, will get you on a fast track beyond the greenhorn stage.
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. Before you buy, it’s good to educate yourself about the basics of optics. If you’re more of a visual learner, many of these concepts are explained in our YouTube videos on the Eagle Optics web site (see “Understanding Optics” in our playlist).
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 8×42 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 than the 8x. That’s why we give the nod to 8×42 for those new to birdwatching.
Magnification also greatly affects the field of view, the distance seen from side to side through the binocular. This is something that is built into the binocular’s optical system, but generally speaking, the higher the magnification, the less bright, and more narrow the field of view will be. A wide field of view is beneficial when trying to locate a bird or animal and 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, and the less need to upgrade in years to come. Therefore, 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 recommendations of our binoculars in various price points:
Eagle Optics Kingbird 6.5×32 Binocular $119.99 (especially recommended for children)
We stock nearly every major brand, and we’ll be happy to consult with you one-on-one! Please give us a call. Happy birding!
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.