Alaska is all about natural beauty. If you are planning an excursion to Alaska, especially by sea, taking binoculars with you is almost a must – you will miss out on so much without them.
Since Alaskan cruises are essentially all about the stunning views and majestic scenery, you might as well make sure that the views that you get through binoculars are just as stunning. It really doesn’t make sense to buy the cheapest pair only to see dim foggy images. The upside is that a good pair of binoculars costs a fraction of the price of the cruise and you get to keep them for future adventures.
I’d like to give you a quick buying guide. Let’s go over some points on choosing the best binoculars for the journey:
Magnification: first of all, you’re going to be spending most of time on a cruise ship. As big and stable as they are, they’re still bobbing up and down on the waves. Too much magnification power will mean that getting a stable image will be hard. The optimal magnification for marine use is considered to 7x or 8x. This will be perfect for watching whales, sea lions, and even bears on the shore, as well as bring you closer to the magnificent mountains, glaciers and waterfalls that the Alaskan shoreline is famous for. Anything over 10x can be difficult to hold steady even on solid ground.
Objective lens diameter: This is the size of the lens at the front of the binoculars. Don’t go for measly 25mm compact binoculars. Even though they’re small, the picture is not going to be nearly as bright and vibrant, the field of view will be narrow and they will not perform well at dusk. What if a group of whales shows up and starts playing near your ship in the evening – you’d want to get a clear view of that, wouldn’t you? The best option would be to get general purpose binoculars with 42mm lenses or proper marine ones with 50mm lenses.
Size and type: In general, I recommend getting 8×42 binoculars with roof prism design. These are small enough to hold up, to carry them around on the ship and at ports of call, and the optics on reasonable mid-range ones can be fantastic. These will also almost certainly be waterproof and fog proof as well.
Purchasing considerations: One thing to keep in mind is that you will have to set focus on your binoculars according to your eyesight. Your eyesight probably differs from that of other people you may be traveling with. This makes it difficult for two or more people to share one pair of binoculars – you’ll need to refocus them every time they switch hands. Also, having only one pair will mean that somebody will have to miss out on the action if there happens to be an interesting scene taking place (there will be plenty of interesting scenes on an Alaska cruise). As a result, it is highly recommended that you buy one binocular per person for your trip. Everyone gets to enjoy the view and no time is lost fiddling with the focus.
So, with that in mind, here is a short review of binoculars you might want to consider:
This is one of the best products for the purpose in terms of price to value, these are some of the best binoculars for cruising Alaska. They have stunning optics that use ED glass. This means crisp objects with no color anomalies around the edges. You get a very wide field of view of 393 feet at 1,000 yards, which is great for viewing scenery. Don’t mind the “bird watching” in their description, it merely means that the optics are of sufficient quality for birders – and that says a lot.
These binoculars are waterproof and fog proof, which is important in the often cold and humid climate of Alaska. The build is really tough, so they will withstand a fair amount of mishandling and yet they are relatively light. You can see objects up to 8 times closer with them. As I said above, when going on a cruise, 8x magnification is around what you need, since you don’t need to zoom into minuscule details of faraway objects, but simply want to have a better view of wildlife and landscape elements. You can adjust the focus using the center knob and they also have a dioptre by the right eye which allows you to adjust the focus according to your eyesight. The twist-up eyecups and a very good eye relief of 18mm make these binoculars comfortable to use both with and without glasses. The 42mm lens lets a lot of light in, which is good viewing in dimmer lighting conditions, such as at twilight.
Rather than getting good general purpose binoculars like the model above, you may also want to go for a serious marine-oriented product instead. Steiner is one of the top manufacturers of marine binoculars out there.
The Steiner 7×50 Marine is made specifically for use on boats and ships. The 7x magnification is the one that’s most recommended for use out on the sea and the huge 50mm lenses provide incredibly vivid images. In terms of construction, these binos are incredibly sturdy and of course, they are waterproof. You’ll notice that they are shaped differently from the 8×42 binoculars above. This is because they are of Porro prism design, which is more common among marine binos. Because the lenses are more spaced apart, you get better depth perception that with roof prism designs.
One thing to note is that this is an “auto-focus” model. You set the focus once for each eye and after that, everything beyond 20 yards will be permanently in focus. This can be incredibly convenient when scanning expansive scenes such as you would encounter on an Alaska cruise.
If you are looking for something simpler (and relatively cheap), then these binoculars are small and compact which make them very convenient for traveling. They come with BaK-4 prisms and multi-coated optics to provide excellent viewing given the size, but don’t expect the same clarity and viewing experience as with a mid-priced 8×42 model. They are waterproof and fog proof with adjustable eye cups and they come in a rubber case which is very practical as they will not slip out of your hands even if you are wearing gloves. They are luckily also very cheap, so might be a better option depending on your budget, as far as binoculars go. Not the best choice for an Alaska cruise, but certainly better than no binoculars at all.