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Take Care Selecting the Right Binoculars for You

Posted On
Jun 05, 2015


By Terry Thomas

Binoculars are the most important tool available for garnering extra pleasure from just about any outdoor experience.

Selecting a proper binocular is important, but with the wide variety of choices these days, it can be a daunting and confusing task. With dozens of brands and models, prices that range from under $50 to almost $3,000, different shapes and sizes, where do you begin?

As I will soon be in the market for a new pair of binoculars, I checked the Cornell University All About Birds website ( for some advice.

With so many excellent choices today, Cornell’s first recommendation was to decide on a price range.

In general, the more you pay, the better the product will be. However, a binocular made by Swarovski or Zeiss just may not be in the budget. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a quality set of binoculars for under $500 or even under $300. But only you can decide how much you can afford.

Cornell’s next recommendation was to select the magnification. But first, a little education on what the numbers, such as, 7x32, 8x42 or 10x50 really mean.

The smaller number of the pair is the magnification or power. My current binoculars are a 12x42 meaning they are 12 power, which is more magnification than is generally recommended. More magnification does bring the object closer but the trade-offs include: a narrower field of view, making it harder to find your target, a slightly darker image in low light and increased perceived handshake. Eight power is the most commonly recommended magnification for birding use.

The second, larger number is the diameter of the objective lens. The bigger the number, the more light it gathers, improving performance at dawn and dust. However, there are tradeoffs. The bigger the objective end, the more expensive, heavier and bulky the binocular. Conversely, going small, such as with pocket-sized 7x21 binoculars, can make them difficult to use in low light. The majority of binoculars recommended for extended use have a 40-42mm objective lens.

Cornell’s third recommendation is to test a lot of different models in your price range. With so many choices, you might as well find one that really fits your hands and face. Other features to look for will include: High Definition or Low Dispersion glass (multicoated glass that dramatically improved performance) eyecups, weather proofing, shock protection, warranty and weight.

Cornell recommends that you pay close attention to the color, clarity and brightness of the image, testing binoculars in different light conditions inside the store. Look at colorful objects and determine how true the colors are. See if you can discern detail in backlit subjects and how crisp or sharp the lenses are. This step can be as technical as you want to make it, but be sure that you compare each binocular in the same way.

If you take the time to carefully choose your next binoculars, it is very likely to be a purchase that will add immeasurably to every subsequent outdoor experience.

Originally printed in the Post Register on Thursday, June 04, 2015