What You Need to Know Before You Buy Bird Watching Binoculars

When you're buying bird watching binoculars, you're really buying lens quality. The better lenses, the better your view. Most lenses are covered in specialized coatings designed to help collect, not reflect light. But lenses aren't the only factor to consider when you're evaluating your options. You'll want to pay attention to prisms, magnification and field of view as they relate to where and how you bird watch.

Poro and Roof Prisms

Binocular prisms come in two basic types: Porro and roof. Porro prisms generally cost less than roof prisms, but what you save in dollars you pay for in added bulk and weight. They do however, offer a wider field of view than roof prisms and are generally easer to focus. Be sure you choose a pair that focuses well within the range you'll most often use them-some Porro prisms won't focus at distances less than 23 feet which renders them almost useless for backyard bird watching.

Roof prisms cost more, but what you gain is a pair of binoculars that is smaller and lighter weight. Binoculars that feature roof prisms also offer viewers sharper images at greater distances and some pairs are made to focus at distances as small as 12 feet which is ideal for bird watching.

What the Numbers Mean

Binoculars are marked by a pair numbers that measure performance. Let's use an example of 10 x 42. For this pair of binoculars, the first number-10-indicates the magnification power or how many times closer the binoculars make objects appear.

While a magnification of 8 or less might work for spectator events, for birding you'll want at least 10 or higher. Just be aware that the higher the magnification, the more challenging it can be to stabilize your view and you may want to invest in a tripod to increase stability.

In this example, 42 is the lens diameter in millimeters. Larger lenses collect more light which results in clearer detail and better performance at dawn, dusk or other times when light is scarce. Look for binoculars that feature a minimum lens diameter of 35.

Higher numbers in either case mean the binoculars that are larger in size and heavier to hold, so keep your comfort in mind before you fall in love with the view.

The other number you want to be aware of when you're buying binoculars is the Field of View (FOV) which represents the horizontal edge of the image you're viewing in degrees. For example, if your FOV is 350 at 1,000 yards, it means that from that 1,000-yard distance, the scene you view will be 350 feet across.

Make sure the binoculars you choose give you the ability to adjust your focus and look for up to three focus adjustments. If your budget allows, it's worth investing in a pair that allows you to adjust the focus of the left and right lenses independently as the binoculars will compensate for any natural difference between how your eyes focus. Be sure the focus adjustment is easy to reach and maneuver and doesn't result in constant fiddling to maintain the focus once it's set.

Getting the Right Fit

When it comes to fit, you want to choose binoculars that allow you adjust to fit the natural spacing between your eyes. Be sure the adjustment mechanism is sturdy and easy to use. If you'll be sharing your binoculars, you want them to stand up to repeated adjustments.

If you wear eyeglasses, there are a few other features you'll want to look for. Eye relief measures the distance you can hold the binoculars away from your eyes and still take in the full FOV. Look for at least 15mm of eye relief to account for the thickness of your eyeglass lenses. Look too for shallow, interchangeable or rubber eye caps that can help protects your eyeglass lenses and the binoculars' ocular lens from contact scratches.

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