Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Best BirdWatching Binoculars

Bird Watching can be a fun, community based hobby but it is easy to spend way too much on bird watching binoculars before you know that this hobby is something for you, longterm. I liken it to learning how to play guitar.....when you are first learning the basics, you don't really need to go with the best birdwatching binoculars...just a pair that is good enough to grow into. When you have made the decision that you like birding, then you can ante up on a good set of binoculars.

So what are the best birdwatching binoculars?

I am not here to sell you on any specific pair but there are several things that you need to look for when choosing binoculars for birding.

  1. The more powerful lenses are not necessarily the "right binoculars" for bird watching- While we, as Americans are obsessed with bigger, better, faster, stronger things, contrary to popular belief, the higher the magnification, the less you are going to see although the more focused you will have to be on a smaller object. And if you have the shakes, this can prove especially disastrous for the novice bird watcher. Bottom line: A set of optics that have 10x magnification is probably the limit for bird watching.
  2. You don't necessarily need "bigger" bird watching binoculars either- Once again, bigger should be better, right? Well, not is easy for a novice birdwatcher to naturally assume that if they buy one of the larger pairs of optics that they would be better but the truth is the power in binoculars is the design and magnification of the eyepiece itself, not the actual size of the binoculars. In fact, the only reason why a set of birdwatching binoculars would be bigger is because of the objective lens on the end of the binoculars.
  3. And while we are on the topic of bigger binoculars, except in dim light, there is no difference in the brightness of the image you are viewing- Common sense would tell you that the more light you can expose to the lens, the brighter the actual image would be that you are trying to view. The difference is negligible and unless you plan on birdwatching at night, there is really little difference between a 42mm+ pair of optics and a typical (and cheaper) 32mm pair of binoculars.
  4. The "Field View" has very little to do with the size of binoculars for birdwatching- Once again, bigger isn't necessarily indicative of best birdwatching binoculars. While it is easy for a novice to assume that a bigger pair of optics will equate to a larger field of view, in some cases, the opposite can be true. One thing to remember is that the lower the magnification, the greater the field view. So, let's say you are looking at a bird using 10x could easily get a better (although not closer) point of view by lowering the magnification down to 8x. And although you could get a larger field view at a higher magnification with some binoculars, expect to pay a premium price for these, usually at $1,000+...not exactly a good price for the beginner just exploring the hobby of birdwatching.
  5. If you have "special needs", you are going to have to pay more for your binoculars- This used to be the case a few years back but as technology has increased, the prices for these optics have gone down. Things such as waterproof binoculars, once a perk reserved only for the high end types, are now made available for the mid-priced binoculars. Now, even those birdwatchers who wear glasses can purchase a good set of binoculars without having it bankrupt their bank account.
  6. And speaking of waterproof binoculars, go ahead and invest in a pair that has this perk- Even if you don't think that you will ever have to brave the rain to watch your avian friends, go ahead and purchase a set that is waterproof. The reason is simple....although you may never go out into the rain, the fact is that moisture can build up in your birdwatching binoculars regardless of whether there is rain in the forecast or not. Think of it this way; if you have ever gotten into your car on a humid evening and had your windshield fog up when it wasn't raining, you can expect a set of binoculars to do the same from time to time. And this can ruin an afternoon of bird watching. Waterproof binoculars help deal with this common issue.
  7. Don't assume that just because your friend has a particular set of binoculars, that that set will fit you as well- Binoculars are like cars...there isn't an exact fit for everyone. If you wear glasses, you will need a set that will give you long eye relief. You should factor in the steadiness of your hands as well. Some binoculars are better for those who don't have a nice steady hand. If you have larger hands, a set of larger binoculars may be in order for you. Finally, there are intangibles like how the pair of binoculars feels in your hands. The bottom line is that different binoculars are made for different types of birdwathers. The good news is that there is a set out there for you.
The best birdwatching binoculars is more dependent on you, as an individual birdwatcher, and therefore there are a lot of "if, ands, or buts" involved when you are making your decision as to what set if good for you. The important thing to realize is that you don't necessarily have to go out and buy the most expensive set to get the most benefit and the best birdwatching binoculars for you could be a mid-priced set.

1 comment:

Chris Jacson (aka Artifact) said...

When deciding on the best binoculars for birdwatching, it is important to remember that a $500 set is more than twice as good as a $250 set. But a $1500 set will probably not be three times as good as a $500 set, or twice as good as a $750 set. Therefor, like mentioned before, go with the best that you can afford.