Choosing The Right Binoculars: A Complete Guide

Written by: Pete Luckhurst



Time to read 10 min

Choosing the right binoculars can greatly enhance your outdoor experience, whether you're observing wildlife, celestial objects, or enjoying sporting events. With so many options available in the market, it can be overwhelming to find the perfect pair that suits your needs. In this article, we will explore the essential factors to consider when choosing binoculars, the different types of binoculars available, and the features to look for in a quality pair. So let's dive in!

Understanding Binocular Basics

Before we delve into the specifics, it's important to understand the basics of binoculars. Binoculars consist of two telescopes joined together, allowing you to see distant objects with both eyes simultaneously. They are characterized by two numberssuch as 8x42 or 10x50. The first number represents the magnification, and the second number indicates the diameter of the objective lenses in millimeters. Understanding these numbers is crucial in selecting the right binoculars for your needs.

Binoculars have been around for centuries, with early versions dating back to the 17th century. The design and technology of binoculars have evolved significantly over time, with modern binoculars incorporating features such as image stabilization, waterproofing, and advanced lens coatings to enhance clarity and brightness. Whether you're a birdwatcher, a sports enthusiast, or an outdoor adventurer, there is a wide range of binocular options available to suit your specific interests and requirements.

When using binoculars, it's important to consider factors such as field of view, eye relief, and exit pupil diameter to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable viewing experience. Field of view refers to the width of the area visible through the binoculars, while eye relief is the distance at which the binoculars can be held away from the eyes and still provide a full field of view. Exit pupil diameter is calculated by dividing the objective lens diameter by the magnification, and it determines the amount of light entering the binoculars and ultimately affects the brightness of the image. By understanding these additional factors, you can make an informed decision when choosing the perfect pair of binoculars for your next adventure.

Guide to binoculars

Main Factors to Consider When Choosing Binoculars

When selecting binoculars, there are several key factors to consider:

  1. Intended Use: If you're a bird watcher or nature enthusiast, you'll need lightweight binoculars with good optics and a comfortable grip. Hunters, on the other hand, may prioritize features like durability, waterproofing, and a wide field of view. Astronomers require binoculars with high magnification and large objective lenses to capture the beauty of celestial objects.
  2. Magnification: Higher magnification allows you to see distant objects more clearly, but it can also make the image shakier if not paired with image stabilization technology. Lower magnification, on the other hand, provides a wider field of view and more stable images, which can be beneficial for activities like birdwatching where quick movements are common.
  3. Weight and Size: Think about the portability factor. If you'll be carrying your binoculars for long periods, when hiking or travelling for example, opt for a lightweight and compact design. However, if you prioritize image quality over portability and are likely to use a tripod for stability, larger and heavier binoculars with larger objective lenses may be the better choice.
  4. Field of View: The wider the field of view, the more scenery you can observe. A wider field of view is particularly beneficial for activities like bird watching.
  5. Weather Resistance: If you plan to use your binoculars in adverse weather conditions, look for models that offer water and fog resistance.

Different Types of Binoculars Explained

There are various types of binoculars available, each suited for different purposes:

Compact Binoculars

Characterized by their small size and light weight, these are designed for convenience and ease of transport, making them perfect for casual users who prioritize portability. Typically featuring lower magnification levels, such as 8x or 10x, these binoculars allow for a good balance between a wide field of view and sufficient detail for general use. Their smaller objective lenses, usually around 25mm, mean they are less bulky and can easily fit in a pocket or a small bag. They may not capture as much light as their larger counterparts, but compact binoculars are excellent for outdoor activities like hiking, sports events, and quick nature observation, where carrying minimal gear is desirable.

Full-Size Binoculars

The go-to choice for enthusiasts and professionals who require high-quality optical performance for detailed observations. With higher magnification options, typically starting from 10x and going upwards, and larger objective lenses, often in the 42mm to 50mm range, these binoculars excel in capturing vivid details and bright images, even in lower light conditions. The increased lens size allows for greater light gathering, enhancing visibility during dawn, dusk, or when observing in densely wooded areas. Ideal for bird watching, stargazing, and wildlife observation, full-size binoculars provide an immersive viewing experience, offering a closer, clearer look at distant subjects. However, this enhanced capability comes with added bulk and weight, making them more suited for stationary observation or use with a tripod or other support.

Zoom Binoculars

These binoculars offer the flexibility to adjust the magnification level, providing versatility in various viewing situations. While they provide the convenience of zooming in on subjects at different distances, zoom binoculars may sacrifice some image quality compared to fixed-magnification binoculars. This trade-off between zoom capability and image sharpness is a consideration for users who prioritize adaptability in their optical equipment.

Wide-Angle Binoculars

An expansive field of view makes these binoculars ideal for capturing vast landscapes or tracking fast-moving action at sports events. They allow you to take in more of the scene without needing to move the binoculars, enhancing your viewing experience during outdoor adventures or while watching large-scale events.

Night Vision Binoculars

Designed for optimal performance in dimly lit environments, night vision binoculars amplify available light to bring clarity to your observations under the stars or in other low-light conditions. These binoculars are a game-changer for nocturnal wildlife watching, camping, or navigating in the dark, offering a clear view where traditional binoculars might falter.

Once you've determined the type of binoculars that best suits your needs, it's time to dive into the technical specifications and features that can make a significant difference in your viewing experience. Factors such as lens coatings, field of view, and eye relief play crucial roles in enhancing the performance of binoculars and optimizing your observational ventures. Understanding these specifications will empower you to make an informed decision and select binoculars that align perfectly with your viewing preferences and outdoor pursuits.

Extra Features to Look for in Quality Binoculars

When choosing binoculars, pay attention to the following features:

  • Optical Coatings: Optical coatings, such as anti-reflective coatings, improve light transmission and reduce glare. These coatings are applied to lens surfaces to enhance contrast and clarity by minimizing reflections that can cause image degradation. Multi-coated lenses, for example, have multiple layers of coatings that further enhance light transmission efficiency, resulting in brighter and clearer images even in low-light conditions.
  • Prism Type: There are two main types of prisms used in binoculars: Porro prisms and roof prisms. Porro prisms provide better depth perception and a wider field of view, while roof prisms result in a more compact and streamlined design. Consider which type of prism aligns best with your viewing preferences when making your selection.
  • Objective Lens Diameter: The diameter of the objective lenses affects the brightness and light-gathering capabilities of the binoculars. Larger objective lenses can gather more light, resulting in brighter images, especially in low-light conditions.
  • Exit Pupil: Calculated by dividing the objective lens diameter by the magnification, the exit pupil represents the size of the light beam exiting the binoculars. A larger exit pupil means more light entering your eyes, which is beneficial for low-light viewing.
  • Eye Relief: Eye relief is the distance between the eyepiece lens and your eye. Sufficient eye relief is crucial for comfortable viewing, especially if you wear glasses. It helps prevent eye strain and allows you to see the entire field of view without vignetting.
  • Close Focus: Consider the minimum distance at which the binoculars can focus. This is important for observing nearby objects.
  • Image Stabilization: Some binoculars offer image stabilization technology, reducing image shake for a steadier view.
  • Lens Materials: High-quality binoculars utilize lenses made from materials like ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass, which reduces chromatic aberration. This type of glass is specifically designed to minimize color fringing and improve image sharpness, making it a popular choice for serious birdwatchers, astronomers, and photographers who demand high precision in their optics.
  • Durability and construction: Opt for binoculars with a sturdy build, preferably with a rubberized housing for shock absorption and a secure grip. Waterproof and fog-proof binoculars are also recommended to withstand various weather conditions.

Protection Features for Binoculars

Binoculars are an investment, so it's important to protect them from potential damage. Ensuring the longevity of your binoculars involves considering various protection features that can enhance their durability and performance in the long run.

One crucial feature to look for in binoculars is Water and Fog Resistance. Opting for binoculars with waterproof and fog-proof properties not only protects them from moisture and condensation but also ensures their functionality in various weather conditions. This feature is especially beneficial for outdoor enthusiasts who may encounter rain or fog during their adventures.

Another essential protective element to consider is Rubber Armor. Binoculars equipped with rubber armor provide an extra layer of shock resistance, making them more resilient to accidental drops or impacts. Additionally, the rubber coating enhances grip, preventing slippage and ensuring a secure hold even in wet or slippery conditions.

Opt for binoculars that include lens caps and covers to safeguard the lenses from dust and scratches. These accessories not only protect the delicate lens surfaces when the binoculars are not in use but also help maintain optical clarity and image quality over time.

Focusing Your Binoculars

Properly focusing your binoculars is essential to achieve clear and crisp views. Follow these steps for precise focusing:

When you have adjusted the interpupillary distance and the diopter settings, it's time to fine-tune the focus to get the best view possible. Take your time with this step, as it can make a significant difference in the clarity of your observations. If you are birdwatching, for example, being able to focus sharply on the intricate details of a bird's plumage can enhance your overall experience.

  1. Adjust the Interpupillary Distance: Hold the binoculars to your face and adjust the distance between the two barrels to match the distance between your pupils.
  2. Adjust Diopter Settings: Locate the diopter adjustment knob or ring and adjust it until the view appears sharp in one eye.
  3. Fine-Tune the Focus: Look at your target through the binoculars and use the central focusing knob to achieve a clear image.

Selecting Binoculars for Various Activities

When searching for binoculars tailored to specific activities like bird watching, hiking, or stargazing, the following advice can guide you in making an informed choice. Begin with magnification and dimensions, but don't overlook the importance of optical quality and additional functionalities as previously explained.

For Trekking and Hiking

Given the premium on space and weight for backpackers, opt for compact binoculars that offer an 8 or 10 magnification and have an objective lens diameter of 28mm or less (such as 8x25, 10x25, 8x28, and 10x28). Durability can be enhanced with a rubber-coated exterior, and opting for water-resistant or waterproof models can provide protection against the elements.

For Bird Watching

If the bulk and weight are of lesser concern, consider midsize to full-size variants like 8x32 and 8x42, which are favored by many bird enthusiasts. Although a 10x magnification may seem advantageous for observing smaller creatures, an 8x magnification will offer a broader field of view essential for spotting birds. Look for water-resistant options and those that prevent fogging when moving from warm to cooler environments.

For Observing Wildlife and Going on Safaris

Preferred choices include 8x32, 8x42, 10x32, and 10x42 models. A higher magnification (10x) is beneficial for viewing animals from a distance. If portability is a priority, select a midsize (32mm objective lens) over a full-size (42mm objective lens). For activities like whale watching from a boat, ensure the binoculars are fully waterproof, though water resistance suffices for most other wildlife observations.

For Water-based Adventures

When engaging in activities like canoeing, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding, a lower magnification (8x or less) helps maintain stability in viewing. Waterproofing is crucial for any water-related activities. An 8x32 model is a common and practical choice.

For Stargazing

Aim for the highest possible magnification and the enhanced light-gathering capacity of full-size binoculars to observe celestial bodies. Consider 10x42 or 10x50 models; however, remember that higher magnifications may require a tripod for steady viewing.

Tips for Maintaining and Storing Binoculars

To ensure the longevity of your binoculars, follow these maintenance and storage tips:

  • Clean with Proper Tools: Use a lens cleaning solution and a microfiber cloth to gently clean the lenses and remove any smudges or debris.
  • Keep in a Protective Case: Store your binoculars in a padded case to protect them from accidental bumps and scratches.
  • Avoid Extreme Temperatures: Avoid exposing your binoculars to extreme hot or cold temperatures, as this can damage the internal components.
  • Regularly Check and Regrease: Periodically check the moving parts of your binoculars, such as the focus knob, and apply grease if necessary.

In conclusion

Choosing the right binoculars is a balancing act between your specific needs, desired features, and budget. By understanding the basic principles and considering the factors we discussed, you'll be well-equipped to make an informed decision. Remember to check out different models and seek expert advice if needed. With the perfect pair of binoculars in hand, you'll be ready to explore the world with breathtaking clarity. Why not start by taking a look at Maplin's range of binoculars?

About the author

Pete Luckhurst is a Website Manager at Maplin.

After getting an early start in the world of computing with C64 & Amiga computers, Pete now spends much of his spare time in PC VR and dabbling in game development. He also has a strong interest in film, photography and music.

Among other endeavours, he previously worked in a Maplin store, so it was a no-brainer when the opportunity arose to work on the modern incarnation of Maplin online. Besides writing for the blog, Pete works alongside the Maplin team to help keep the online store running smoothly.