Not everyone needs binoculars, but since you are here, you probably do. They are one of the most used optical instrument other than eyeglasses. From birding and wildlife watching, sports events and concerts to sailing, there is a long list of activities where binoculars are needed. However, buying binoculars is not an easy task. Since there are so many different types of applications, you must figure out what is best for your specific purpose. If you’re a neophyte to binoculars, this binoculars buying guide is for you. I will share some tips on how to choose the best binoculars for the money on the market today.
Before you can decide what kind of optics you need, it is best to go back to the basics first. Let us start with the fundamental parts of binoculars – what they are made of:
- Eyepiece – when using binoculars, you look through the eyepiece. Generally, it is smaller than the opposite end, the objectives.
- Objective Lenses – this is the part that magnifies objects that are in focus. For example, it makes insects larger for the viewer. Its main purpose is to capture enough light and feed it to the eyepiece. If this part gets damaged, your binoculars are virtually useless.
- Diopter Adjustment – this is a ring-like part directly behind the eyepiece. Your eyes have probably somewhat different eyesight and this is the knob that allows you to adjust the optics to this difference, so you get a good view in both eyes.
- Focus Wheel – this dial allows to slightly move the lenses to adjust the focus. Generally, it is located near the eyepiece in between the lenses.
- Prisms – this part is located in the handle of binoculars. Usually made of glass, prisms receive light from the objectives and reflect it. The more prisms an optics device has, the more magnification you get.
How to Choose the Right Binoculars
When shopping for binoculars, you might be overwhelmed by the wide selection of almost similar looks and sizes. I mean really, they do look all very similar. That doesn’t mean they are though. This is where a deeper understanding of the parameters involved comes into play. When selecting the right product, you must consider the following:
Your purpose for buying binoculars must be the primary basis for deciding the size thereof. Below is a quick guide for appropriate binocular sizes and applications:
- Full Size (8 x 42, 10 x 50) – this size is best for things like shipspotting and wildlife watching. This size generally captures more light and performs better in low-light situations. You can also expect a steadier image and wider field view. However, they are quite big and may too heavy for backpackers.
- Mid Size (7 x 35, 10 x 32) – this is considered to be an all around choice for both wildlife and sports. If you’re a football, golf, or baseball fan, this size of binoculars can be your go-to option. It provides above average light transmission.
- Compact (8 x 25, 10 x 25) – this type is best only for daytime, outdoor activities and sports watching. They are also the lightest and the smallest among the sizes, thus the name. This size is ideal for adventure seekers since it can easily fit in your backpack.
By convention, magnification power of a binocular is identified by two numbers. Generally, the first number indicates the number of magnification. The second number stands for the diameter of the lens. For example, 7×35 binoculars have a magnification power of 7 using a 35mm lens. Thus, an object will appear 7 times larger than it would be using a naked eye. Although higher magnification is better in that it gives you more detail of the object you are looking at, anything higher than 10 may be too sensitive to your hand’s movement – you simply won’t be able to keep the image steady enough to get a good view.
Objective Lens Diameter
The lens diameter determines the amount of light that enters your optics. Meaning, if you are choosing between two binoculars with the same specs but different lens diameter, the one with wider diameter will provide a brighter view, especially in low-light conditions.
Exit pupil determines how bright an object will appear when viewed in minimal light. A higher number means brighter images. Furthermore, binoculars with higher exit pupil numbers negate the effects of shaky hands. Usually measured in millimeters, you can get the exit pupil by dividing the lens diameter by the magnification number. If night travel or cruise is your cup of tea, you may want to consider binoculars with exit pupils greater than 7mm.
Eye Relief is the distance you have to maintain between the eyepiece and your eyes while maintaining a whole view. Longer eye relief brings you more comfort since you don’t have to place the optics too close to your eyes. Similarly, it is more beneficial for people who wear glasses. In general, eye relief should be no less than 11mm for those wearing spectacles.
If you’re in a shooting range, you may want to use binoculars with excellent focus. Most products have an adjusting wheel in the center to adjust the clarity of the image seen through the eyepiece. Normally, they also include a diopter adjustment ring. This allows users to adjust one barrel independently of the other. This feature is best for people with varying vision between their two eyes.
Resistance to Weather
There are endless possibilities as to where you can use your binoculars. You may want to use them while watching a Formula One race in Monaco or while skiing in Japan during winter. Thus, you need to ensure that you’re buying a product that can stand extreme weather conditions. Many models are waterproof and some even float when dropped in water – great for kayaking or boating. However, do note that weather-resistant products are not necessarily waterproof. Meaning, they can resist light rains but not submersion.
Pro Tip: look for binoculars with O-rings that completely seal the lenses to prevent moisture from entering.
Although the price may vary depending on features and specs, it should still be a part of your considerations. Logic says that binoculars with better magnification may cost more, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Reviews of Some of the Best Binoculars for the Money
Now that you’re fully equipped with the basics, let us evaluate the pros and cons of some specific products.
If you are expecting high-quality optics with high definition that will not drain your wallet, this product might be the best choice for you. At a very affordable cost, you’re getting a quality product that has been extensively tested and reviewed. It features 7x magnification with an auto focusing Porro prism. More importantly, it is ideal for a wide variety of applications. A result of emerging technologies and innovative design, the Bushnell Falcon was best seller in 2016 and will likely continue to dominate the market in 2017.
This is a big heavy binoculars model, but it’s perfect for certain application, e.g. if you want to stargaze or view Jupiter in the night sky. One of the most prominent features of this model is its multicoated optics. In addition, it has BaK-4 internal prisms for a stunning image. It also allows you to see better with a brighter display. Furthermore, it includes an adapter that enables you to connect it to a tripod. That way, shaky hands will never be a problem. Although it is a bit more expensive compared to low-range products, you are getting good value for your money. Despite the size, the model is light enough for you to carry anywhere over an extended period of time.
This model offers you an extra wide viewing angle making it perfect for bird and wildlife watching. They’ll work great for watching dolphins or stalking deer. Expect to be able to zoom into your object of choice and get superior detail from far away. To provide an optically sharp view, these binoculars use phase protection coated high index prisms. Since you will be using these mostly outdoors, it is smart that they are waterproof, fog proof and can sustain tough weather. A bit pricier than other models, but this is definitely a much more “serious” device as well and most certainly one of the best binoculars for the money.
Unlike many other models on the market, these binoculars include a multi-coated prism – this increases light transmission and creates a brighter, more detailed image. To make it more light and portable, but also durable, it was built with an improved magnesium chassis. This model is fog and dust proof thanks to its specially designed O-rings.
Just like in buying anything, it is always a must to do your homework. Meaning, try to learn more about the product you want to purchase. The last thing that you want to happen is spending huge amount of money on a product and later realize that it’s not bad as such, but it’s simply not suited for you. It’s always useful to read a binoculars buying guide, but also, it helps to just sit down and patiently read some legit customer reviews in order to know what customers say upon using the product. This is one the best ways to know if the manufacturers can walk their talk. From my own experience I can tell you that once you know what it is you’re buying, you will eventually save time and effort and get the product that you want the first time around.