From astronomy lovers to bird watchers, binoculars are a great instrument to have handy for getting an exceptional view from a distance. Most people have used a pair, but not everyone has thought of investing in binoculars. There are so many choices and you can buy a simple pair or a more professional pair for a better, clearer view. Some are more suited to handle the rugged outdoors while others are preferable for indoor use as the people we've seen using them at the opera or indoor sporting events. People would want to purchase a pair of binocs for different reasons, whether to use for a hiking or camping trip, or part of your packing when going on a trip. They would also make for a nice and original gift for anyone young or old.
The view from your binoculars for outdoor use where objects are quite a distance from you should be crystal clear and like a 3D image that pops out at you, seeing the details you otherwise could not see with the naked eye. If that’s not what you’re seeing from them, then that could be because you're not using the right one for your needs.
Let's delve right in, to know more about binoculars, the types you can purchase, and which suit your needs better.
Binoculars have some terminology that not all of us are familiar with. Here are some of these terms so you know what to ask about and what to look for when you're shopping for a pair.
Types of binoculars
Binoculars come in three types, roof prism, porro prism and Galilean binoculars. The prism is one of the qualities that differentiate binocs from one pair to another. Almost any pair has built-in prisms. Prisms work like a mirror and reflect the light coming in between the objective lenses (we'll tell you shortly what those are) which are spaced widely, and the eye caps, spaced narrowly.
Roof Prism- binoculars are more compact, easier to hold and tougher than porro prism. Because of these qualities, they are more expensive to manufacture, roof prism types can be more costly than porro prism.
Porro prism- although cheaper do provide very good optical quality. You'll find that porro prism is often wide between the lenses, yet their length is not that long.
Galilean- binoculars are named after the Italian astronomer, Galileo Galilei, and can be found almost anywhere and are simple, if not too simple, because they don't provide a high degree of magnification and don't use prisms. The maximum magnification is 4x.
This is the lens that is further from your eye and closer to the object. Generally, binoculars with an objective lens diameter greater than 30mm are categorized as standard binoculars. Those with an objective lens diameter of less than 30mm are compact binoculars.
Objective lens diameter- The size is important because it determines the amount of light that enters the binoculars. So for low light conditions, you get better images if you have a bigger diameter objective lens. The lens size in mm is the number after the x. A ratio of 5 in relation to the magnification is ideal. Between an 8x25 and 8x40 lenses, the latter creates a brighter and better image with its bigger diameter.
The eye caps, which come in every pair of binoculars, can either be twisted or folded for adjustments. These caps adjust the distance between your eyes and the binoculars. If not set properly, you won’t be able to capture the entire view of the subject plus it will be unclear. If you wear glasses, twist the eye caps down, if you don’t, twist them up.
This is the magnifying power of the lenses. You will find numbers written, like 10x40. The 10 is the magnifying power meaning that you will see the subject 10 times larger than viewed with the naked eye. The second number, 40, represents the diameter of each objective lens in millimeters.
The number you get after dividing the lens diameter by the magnification is known as the exit pupil and this is the diameter of a beam of light when you point the binocs at any subject. Ideally, the exit pupil of the binocs should be the same or a bit less smaller than the eye pupil. This will often differ between a young person and older person as the eyes dilate less as we grow older.
Related to exit pupil, relative is how brightness measures up in an object you're looking at. The higher the number, the brighter objects will appear. This is useful in low-light situations and differs than nighttime binocs, which we'll be talking about.
When light passes through the lenses, some of that light is reflected away. Because of this, there is a loss in the amount of light passing, and this could make objects seem darker. To reduce reflection and ensure clearer and more vivid images, coatings are applied. Fully multi-coated lenses reduce the most reflection and increase light transmission.
Many people, whether they wear glasses or not, will have different visions in each eye. So you might see clearly with one eye, but see things more fuzzy with the other eye. The diopter of the binoculars needs good adjustment to help solve this problem. The diopter is made to compensate for our difference of vision. Find something stable to focus on. Shut one eye and adjust the diopter. Then shut the other eye and also adjust the diopter. When you adjust both the diopter and the central focus, you should have a clear view. The diopter needs to only be adjusted once.
There’s an ideal distance that should be between your eyes and the eye caps. You need to have long eye relief available on your binoculars. For eyeglass wearers, the eye relief should be at least 16mm. Eye relief distance is particularly important for those who wear glasses (not contacts). Some people prefer to take off their glasses and focus accordingly. But others don't have that choice and need to keep their glasses on. So it's best to try a pair of binocs and see how they suit you. Often the shape of your eyeglasses might work better or worse with binoculars. People who wear flattened types of frames and lenses might be more comfortable when adjusting their eye relief.
Field of view
This is the entire area that will be seen through the lenses. What the field of view is, will be indicated on the outside of your binocs. Obviously, some things would be better viewed with a large field of view such as the sky or a large area of land. Other objects or subjects would only need a narrower view.
This is the distance between both your eyes. Almost any pair of binocs can be adjusted for that. Some women and many young children tend to have a narrower distance than men and might not be comfortable viewing except with a pair of compact binoculars.
Now that you know about some of the main factors of binoculars, you'll want to know which binocs work best for various activities. Generally speaking, since binoculars are more of an outdoor instrument, you need to look for a pair that can handle different weather, and water or dampness conditions. You also need to know if you'll be carrying it more or using a tripod, or using it with a neck strap or shoulder strap. The weight of it will affect the overall usage and you don't want to invest in something that feels like you're carrying around a burden.
Hunters usually need to stay a far distance, lest they scare off their subject. So in this case, they would need strong magnification. Any of these ranges, 10x42, 7x50, 8x40,10x50, 12x50, would be a good choice.
Any birdwatcher needs a pair of binocs. It's recommended to buy a high quality, waterproof pair. Check these dimensions 8x40, 8x42, 10x42, 10x50 for a very good viewing experience. Bird watching can take hours, so you don't want something too heavy or clumsy to walk around with, and most likely you would use a neck strap for the binocs for quick and easy access. Geoffrey from Optics Addict published a perfect guide for choosing the best rated bird watching binoculars that I would suggest you to check it out.
If that is your passion, you need a pair that provides a high field of view. You can purchase hand-held binocs, but using a pair that sets on a tripod is more recommended. For more stability and long usage, 20x80 on a tripod is a very good choice.
Camping or travel
A compact one would suit this purpose since you need one that is considered light enough for packing, but strong enough for viewing. A good choice is 10x 25.
If your binoculars are needed for watery environments, it might be good to invest in this type of binocs. Needless to say, they are fully waterproof, and some can even float. They will come with other specs, but being waterproof and rugged are the minimum specs in them.
Besides knowing what you will be using binoculars for, put into consideration how you will be using them. You might want them for night use or to set them up with your smartphone.
Night vision pairs can turn night time into daytime. Before purchasing, consider the type of environment you'll be using the binocs in. Also, consider the climate of the area because weather that is foggy or rainy will affect the optics. Another thing to notice is that in some binoculars, the higher the magnification, the less clear night vision ones might get.
You will find a large assortment of binoculars and professional advice when you purchase from Outdoor Empire. They have a great review of the different kinds of night vision binoculars and it will help you understand the differences too.
Lenses have the potential to get fogged up. That is annoying and if moisture gets trapped inside, it can damage binoculars. Some binocs are specially designed with sophisticated material to protect the internal lenses.
Not all binoculars are waterproof, so if your use is mainly for outdoors, this should be a type to look for. Waterproof doesn't mean they're as hardcore as marine binoculars.
Some binocs come with a kit that can be mounted on the head, leaving your hands free. The head mounting may or not be used according to your preference, but it's there in case you need it.
We're living in digital times, so it makes perfect sense that digital camera binoculars are also available. They're perfect for getting a perfect shot. Digital binocs come with all the software you need to take pictures of subjects as they're seen from the binocs. Now, some come with a built-in camera, and others might come with a cable to hook it up to your smartphone. These types of binocs can also be night vision ones. Simply hook up your binoculars to your smartphone and get a shot of what you’re viewing. Imagine the perfect pictures you can snap with the perfect binoculars.
Cleaning and care
While it’s tempting to just wipe with the shirt you’re wearing, that could lead to several scratches on the lenses. Use specially made cleaning solutions or a wet, clean cloth. Binoculars are often waterproof, but don’t take that to the extreme. And try not to drop them to avoid damage inside and out. Also, keep them away from extreme heat and an overdose of sunlight.
Have come a long way
Binoculars have a come a long way since they were first invented in the 19th century. They are definitely not all created equal. As when purchasing anything else, the more specs you want, the more expensive it will be. Nobody knows what you need a pair for better than you. But an expert salesperson will guide you on the specific types used for your purpose and help you choose the best one for your needs. All types are available and increasing technology make binoculars very useful as well as fun to use.