How to Know Which Binoculars are Best for You

When most people begin their search for a new product, they start with all the bells and whistles until they price it out. We all want to have the very best, but we also need to be realistic. We have listed below some of the most common activities that are enhanced by the use of binoculars. We then designated the binocular qualities that most enhance the experience.

Please take these suggestions as guidelines and not set-in-stone rules. You may forgo one feature to enhance another one. For instance, you may not need as wide a field of view if you're choosing binoculars with image stabilizer technology which make it easier to scan your surroundings.

We realize that many of the terms used in this article may be a little daunting, and for that we have a handy list of definitions.

Does Size Matter?

Binoculars come in a variety of sizes (defined by the objective lens size) for various outdoor pursuits. Here's a quick comparison.

Full-Size (common specs: 8 x 42, 10 x 50):

The full size binoculars capture more light and perform better in low-light situations. They usually provide steadier images and a wider field of view. That makes them popular for serious wildlife viewing and for use on boats. They are too big and heavy for backpacking.

Mid-Size (common specs: 7 x 35, 10 x 32):

The mid-size binoculars provide a balanced moderate size and above-average light transmission. They are a good all-around choice for wildlife and sports use. They are still a bit heavy for backpacking and long trips through the back-country, but manageable.

Compact (common specs: 8 x 25, 10 x 25):

The compact binoculars are the lightest, smallest binocular and an excellent option for extended birding trips and backpacking. They work very well during daytime outdoor activities, but can be less comfortable during extended periods of use.

Bird Watching

The standard binocular for birding is an 8 x 42 binocular. The minimum suggested is an 8 x 30 binocular with a field of vision of at least 350 feet / 1000 yards. To see more details on smaller birds at greater distances, you may opt for a 10x or a 12x magnification with a 42 or a 50 millimeter objective. Since inclement weather is not typically an issue for serious birders, waterproof and fogproof are suggested features. Longer eye relief and a close focus are also great features to have on your bird watching binoculars.

General Use Binoculars - Hiking, Stadium Sports, Outdoor

Compact and wide angle binoculars are ideal for general use, to follow the action at sporting events, hiking, and other outdoor activities. The minimum suggested is a 7 x 25 binocular with a field of vision of at least 350 feet / 1000 yards. Compact binoculars are usually found at 7x to 10x magnification ranges. Compact binoculars are easy to store in your pocket or on a strap around your neck and the wide angle presents a good field of view.

Concert/Theater Binoculars

Compact binoculars with a wide angle are recommended for music concert, opera, and theater viewing. Compact binoculars range includes 4 x 30, 5 x 25, 8 x 25 and 7 x 18 or 7 x 21. However, the minimum suggested is a 7 x 25 binocular with a field of vision of at least 300 feet / 1000 yards.

Binoculars for Travel

The compact roof prism binocular is light, compact and fits easily into a carry-on luggage or pocket. Since aids for support may be unavailable, power between 7x and 10x is recommended as magnification must permit handheld viewing. Travel binoculars are used mainly in the daylight and thus can have a smaller objective lens. Very high quality optics will help compensate for low light gathering.

Boating Fishing and Marine Binoculars

With all of the movement while on the water, a high magnification binocular is not advised. It is recommended that a 7 x 25 binocular with a 350 feet /1000 yards be the minimum. The navies of the world and most salt water fisherman generally use 7 x 50 binoculars on their ships. They offer a good field of view and as much magnification as is practical from a moving vessel. Most commonly used magnification among mariners is a 7x, but 8x and 10x are also used by boating enthusiasts. A 42 or a 50 millimeter objective lens should be used. Larger objective lens, rubber armoring, and waterproof/fogproof features are imperative for when you are looking for a marine and boating binocular.

Binoculars for astronomy

If you have a solid tripod, giant binoculars reveal spectacular views of large star clusters in the sky. The 20 x 80 size is the most popular, and perhaps represents the best compromise between magnification, brightness, and field of view for general astronomical observation.While most people believe that telescopes are the only means of viewing objects in the night sky, high powered binoculars with a large objective lens are very handy for locating objects in the night sky. Telescopes become the choice for a more detailed view once the object has been identified. The binocular astronomer needs very high quality, very bright binoculars. For general hand held use, pick the highest power that you can hold steady, 7 x 50, 8 x 56, and 9 x 63 binoculars will be excellent choices.

Binoculars for hunting

For finding things in the field, you need fairly bright binoculars. However, the hunter needs something more compact. Probably the most useful compromise for hunting is 6 x 30, 7 x 35, 8 x 30, or 9 x 35 binoculars. These sizes are compact enough not to be too much of a burden, yet are still bright enough to see in dim light or into shadowed areas. A mountain hunter will find a high power binocular, 8 x 30 or 9 x 35, favorable when locating game a great distance. The woods hunter will prefer a generous field of view like a 6 x 30. The 7 x 35 is a good common compromise for an all-around hunting binocular.

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