As you know there are many uses for binoculars, but bird watching is becoming an increasingly popular hobby amongst many people. With this activity it is preferred to use a low magnified model, anywhere between 7x to 10x. The most sought after for binocular for bird watching is an 8 x 42, giving you the capability to see the detail of the bird. Some may like the use of a high power instrument especially when wanting to view smaller details at a greater distance, but a lower powered instrument will serve you better in your bird watching activity.
An FYI you should know is that when you have a higher magnitude instrument any simple movement of your hands or body, will be reflected in the image you see. One the other hand, larger objective lens with excellent quality top coating lens will keep the image bright, allowing your instrument to serve you better.
When looking into binocular specifications, you will find two numbers with an “x” in between such as 7×50. These are the main specifications of the instrument. The first number you see, including the x represents the magnification or power of the instrument and this represents the degree in which the object is enlarged. For an all-purpose birding binocular, any magnification between 7x and 10x would suffice. Some people believe that the higher the magnitude the more birds or objects you will see, but that is not true. A 10x will offer more detail, but the comparison is not grand enough for you to comprise the steadier and wider field of view you will be getting with a 7x or 8x model. If you find yourself having an instrument larger than 7x or 10x, a spotting scope will be a handy accessory. The most popular instrument for birding is an 8x as it gives you details you are looking for with a wider field of view, which serves well for any leveled birding enthusiast particularly for beginners. Here are some advantages to using low powered instruments:
- Lighter and more portable
- Wider field of view, which makes watching birds move or fly much easier
- Steadier to hold allowing proper use without a tripod
- A better exit pupil which allows more light to your eye which gives a better view when out at dawn
- More comfortable to hold, especially for long periods of time
The second number that is presented in the specifications is the aperture. This means that it presents the diameter of the objective lens, and this determines the ability your instrument has to gather light. The larger the objective lens the brighter the image. For an all-purpose birding binocular, the minimum diameter you should consider is 30mm. If you want to achieve higher quality and brighter images consider buying a model that is equal to or above 40mm. If you are a beginner and want to travel light, the best option would be an 8×30 or 8×32 as its an acceptable balance between size and performance. For those experienced birders, compacts of 20-25mm can be very useful to have.
Porro and Roof Prisms
The Porro prism binoculars are easy to distinguish as the objective lens is offset of the eyepiece. They are relatively cheaper and it is more likely that you can get a good pair of inexpensive optics with porro prism than a same priced roof prism. The advantage to this specific instrument is that it gives the viewer a greater depth perception and a wider field of view. If you choose to get this less compact instrument, be sure to get one that is made is Bak4 glass for best image quality and brightness. On the other hand, the Roof Prism has its prisms overlapping each other in a straight line giving a sleeker streamlined shape. This instrument is compact, making it easier handle and take around. It is also quite durable and has a higher longevity than a porro prism instrument. If you choose to buy a roof prism, make sure that it is Phase-Corrected (PC) as it will deliver sharper looking images than a non-PC roof prism.
As you know bird watching is an activity that requires focus on the birds whether it is near or at a distance. This is why Center Focus models are a must have, as it is the only focus type that will allow you to clearly see at all distances. On the other hand, Individual Eyepiece focus (IF) is useful if viewing a bird at medium or long range, but will not be able to focus properly in short range. If the instrument is listed as “no focus” disregard it completely as it will not give you what you are seeking. Instead you should look for a close focus of a minimum of 15 feet, although a close focus of 10 feet or less will serve you better since you won’t have to sacrifice any birding opportunities.
You should take a physical look at the binocular as well. If you notice that the turning wheel requires many turns in order to focus on the object, know that this instrument is not the right one for birding. It will take too much of your time since it will require you to constantly focus and refocus every time the bird moves. This might cause you to loose birding opportunities, not to mention the frustration of having to adjust the wheel with every location move the bird does.
Now when it comes down to quality, birding in the means of just to identify species does not need the highest quality binoculars. Bumping up the quality of them will allow you to enjoy the view better and the finer details of course. However, these days with the technology we currently have, an economy grade instrument will give you enough quality to identify the birds, under good conditions, for a few hours at a time. With a high-grade optic, it will be more comfortable to use than the economy grade for longer periods of time, giving you more motivation to return again. It would be recommended to spend a little more, for better quality. You will feel the difference by how much time you spend in the field, what you can see in the field, the likeliness to return and the way your eyes feel afterwards!
This refers to the distance between your eyes and the binoculars while the whole field of view is still visible. Longer focal length of an eyepiece, gives greater eye relief. This is ideal for people who wear eyeglasses and fortunately most models nowadays are made to accommodate them. If you wear eyeglasses and want an entire field of view make sure the instrument that you purchase has an eye relief of at least 14-15 mm.
Field of View
FOV is the measurement of area that can be seen through your binoculars. In the case of bird watching, an average field of view will serve your purpose well. You don’t want to sacrifice image quality for a wider angle. So if you are comparing two different models with the same magnification and a difference in the field of view less than 30 or 40ft, is not significant. You may find cheap wide-angle models but know that with it comes the expense of your image clarity.
A Fully Multi-Coated lens is the best lens you could possibly get. It indicates that there are multiple layers on all air-to-glass surfaces, giving the binocular the possibility to achieve 95% light transmission. What this means is that 95% of the light absorbed by the objective lens will reach the eye. The more coating there is on an objective lens the better resolution you receive getting the image appear more clearly opposed to a less coated lens.
As a general opinion, most people find that a roof prism binocular fits more comfortably, as it is more compact and lighter, which makes carrying it around much easier and less of a pain. Of course there are other factors to be considered such as balance, grip, diopter adjustment, the placement of the focusing knob etc. Nowadays, manufacturers thrive to satisfy each factor so you wouldn’t end up with a bulky hard to-use instrument. It is advised to purchase an instrument 30 oz. or less if you are going to be using it all day. If it will be in use only a couple of hours at a time, a 35 oz. model is manageable to carry and hold thanks to modern materials.
Armoring and Waterproofing
For birding it is not necessary to get a waterproof instrument, unless you will be using it in a wet climate or under extreme conditions. It can be a useful feature to have since it has the proper protection against dust, dirt and fog! You don’t want to be admiring nature with a foggy or messy instrument. On the other hand, armoring is not necessary but it is a practical investment to keep your instrument protected from any nicks or scratches that could occur.
Now that you have a basic knowledge of the features and specifications of a birding optic it will be easy for you choose the right instrument. Remember if you are going to be using it for long periods of time a low powered instrument will be more comfortable allowing you to properly enjoy the activity. Also, a harness would be a great accessory to have for birding! If you would like to use your optic for more than one activity we have many “how to” guides that you can read to choosing the perfect binocular for you!