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Buying Binoculars

To get the most out of birding it is essential that you get a good pair of binoculars. Not all binoculars are good for birding however, so use the tips below to find the pair that best fits you.

Full-sized Adult Binoculars
General requirements: The problem for most beginning birders is simply finding the bird. Look for binoculars that have a wide enough field of view to locate a bird and then follow its movements. The instrument must provide a bright enough image to allow you to distinguish subtle features, particularly in dim light, and also focus quickly so that you can get a sharp image of a fast-moving bird. If you wear glasses, look for binoculars that have a long enough eye relief to provide an unrestricted view.

Specifications: Binoculars are described by two numbers, 8x32, or 10x40, or 8x21 for example. The first number tells you the magnification while the second tells you the size of the objective lens, in millimeters. Binoculars, that have a bigger ratio between the magnification and the objective lens size will always give a sharper, brighter image than ones with a smaller ratio. (For instance, 8x42 provides a brighter sharper image than an 8x32 or 10x42.) Most birders agree that 7 or 8 power is about right for most birding. We generally recommend against purchasing 10 power binoculars because they have a smaller field of view and a dimmer image. Binoculars with a bright wide field will also be much easier to hold steady; higher magnification also magnifies the movement of your hands. You may want to consider purchasing mid-size binoculars, such as 8x32s since they are bright enough and easy to carry and pack, may have a field of view as good as many 8x42s.

Mid-sized Equinox Binoculars
Pricing: You get what you pay for. Always spend as much as you can afford when buying binoculars; you will never be sorry to have purchased high quality binoculars. Pay attention to what experienced birders around you are using. Better yet, ask to look through their binoculars and question them about the pros and cons. Never buy a binocular before trying the actual instrument you plan to purchase. You need to be certain that you are comfortable using a particular brand and model, and individual instruments do vary within a brand and model.

Get Comfortable With Your Binoculars. Before you go birding, make sure you know how to use your binoculars - practice! Don't try to locate the bird with your binoculars. First find the bird with your unaided eye, then keep your eyes on the bird while you raise the binoculars to your face. Focus and enjoy.

Compact Adult Binoculars
Involve the Kids! Have a budding birder in your family? Start them off with their own kid-size binoculars, designed with smaller features. Birding is a terrific way for children to bond with nature and with you. Help raise a new generation of conservationists.

Binocular Doníts:

  • Don't buy compact, or pocket-sized binoculars (typically 8x21, or 10x21) as your primary pair for birding. The size and weight are attractive, but no matter how good the optics, compacts provide a lower quality image than mid- or full-size binoculars. Another drawback is that most compacts have a narrow field of view, which makes it very difficult to locate and follow birds.

  • Don't buy zoom binoculars. Expert birders report them as being inferior.

  • Don't seek advice on buying optics from non-birders. Hikers, hunters, and boaters have different needs than birders. Looking at birds is not the same as looking at other wildlife. Pocket binoculars are fine for looking across a savannah at an elephant or a cheetah, but they are not suitable for birding. Marine binoculars provides a sharp, bright image, but are too big and heavy to carry around all day.

  • Don't buy binoculars until you have tried them. Make sure they feel comfortable in your hands. Look through them and be sure you get a clear, unobstructed view. Different models suit different people, and each instrument varies. If ordering by mail or online, make sure that you can exchange them.

For a line of Audubon-tested and approved optics, visit our licensing partner, Sheltered Wings

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