So you know you want a pair of binoculars but you have absolutely no idea where to start, right? After all every pair of binoculars seems to look the exact same except for two things: the price and the sheer size of them. Apart from that what goes on inside a pair of binocs is an absolute mystery to you, and believe us you’re not alone.
|Simmons ProSport 12x 50mm||Tasco Essentials 10×50||Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15×70||Pentax 62217 UCF II||Canon 12×36 Image Stabilization|
|Magnification||12x||10x||15x||Zoom: 8x – 16x||12x|
|Lens Coating||Fully multi-coated||Fully multi-coated||Multi-coated||Fully multi-coated||Multi-coated|
|Field of View||255-feet||367-feet||230-feet||261-feet||287-feet|
|Prism||BaK-4 Porro||Porro||BaK-4 Porro||Porro||Porro|
|Weatherproof||Water and fogproof||Weather resistant||Water resistant||Water resistant||Water resistant|
|Focusing||Focus knob||Focus wheel||Dioptric correction||Focus wheel||Focus knob|
|Warranty||Not speficied||1-Year Limited||Lifetime Warranty||Limited Lifetime||3-Year Limited|
The purpose of this guide is to help you understand what all the numbers and jargon involved with binoculars actually mean, so by the time you finish reading this excellent, if we do say so ourselves, guide you’ll be something of a binocular expert.
Basically there are more reasons for owning a pair of binoculars than not, and this guide will help you choose the perfect pair of binoculars for your own particular needs. So let’s get down to it!
As with most valuable purchases you need to decide in advance exactly what you need your binoculars for – which is obviously looking at stuff, we know! What we mean here is that if you’re only going to be doing some bird watching in your own yard then a pair of compact binocs will do the trick, whereas if you’re going to be looking at deep-sky objects then you’re going to need a set of full-size binoculars instead. Basically binoculars of a certain size will suit a specific purpose, so make sure you know exactly what you expect from your binoculars in advance. You can still use a pair of compacts to look at the night sky but the results won’t nearly as impressive as with a pair suited to that purpose.
What throws most people off are the numbers you see associated with binoculars, which probably has to do with most people’s almost pathological fear of mathematics and numbers. The good news is that these numbers are actually very easy to understand once you break them down.
So if we take the example of a pair of binoculars that has 8 x 42 printed on them this is what those numbers mean:
8 = the magnification level of the binoculars, so this is how much bigger they make something appear
42 = the objective lens diameter of the binoculars, which is how much light the lens actually allows in
So if you need to see objects which are far away in a lot of detail you’ll need a reasonably high level of magnification. With the objective lens diameter figure what you need to remember from this is that a larger objective lens size will perform better in low-light conditions, whereas a small object lens diameter will perform better in situations where there’s a lot more ambient or natural light. As you can see the numbers used aren’t that intimidating at all are they?
Binoculars come in 3 basic sizes, each of which are ideal for use in different circumstances:
Full-size binoculars are large, heavy and have excellent levels of magnification and reasonable fields of view. They’re ideal for use in all conditions and are perfect for astronomy or plane spotting. Binoculars of this type are also very heavy, so they’re not ideal for carrying around for long periods of time.
Mid-compact binoculars have most of the same features as full-size binoculars, and are ideal for wildlife and bird-spotting conditions where there’s a reasonable amount of light. These types of binoculars weigh a lot less than their full-sized counterparts, so are easier to carry around and/or hold still for longer.
Compact binoculars are ideal for sporting events or concerts and are light enough to use for hours on end, but you’ll need lots of ambient light to get the most from them.
Field of View
This is one of those features (and numbers) you’ll hear people using to refer to a set of binoculars, but again there’s no need to be intimidated here. The field of view rating of a pair of binoculars is how much of the area in front of you that you can actually see when you look through the optics themselves. If your binoculars have a particularly high level of magnification then your field of view (FOV) is going to be much narrower, and a lower level of magnification means you’ll have a much larger field of view, but not as detailed.
This is the distance between the surface of the last lens on your binoculars and your eyes, and will impact your field of view overall. If you take the example of somebody wearing a pair of glasses they will need the eye relief distance to be around 15mm to allow for the fact that there’s a gap between their eyes, the glasses they’re wearing and the eyepieces on the binoculars themselves. With most high-quality binoculars you’ll be able to dial the eye relief upwards or downwards to suit you. If you’re simply not sure what amount of eye relief you’ll need then play it safe by only buying a pair of binocs which offer at least 13mm of eye relief, but ideally 15mm.
There are three basic types of focusing possible with a set of modern binoculars:
Perma-Focus – this means your binoculars are permanently focused and never need adjustment
Focusing Wheel – a central focusing wheel allows you to manually focus both binocular barrels at the same time for sharper images
Dioptric – this feature allows you to focus each eyepiece separately, allowing pinpoint control of your optics
Another measurement worth paying attention to is something called near-focus distance which tells you how far you need to be from a given object before you can focus on it properly. With most modern pairs of binoculars this is between 10-feet and 40-feet.
Roof Vs Porro Prisms
Inside every set of binoculars is at least one prism which is used to focus the images you see in a specific way, otherwise everything you look at through your binoculars would appear to be upside down and skewed at odd angles. The type of prism inside your binocs will also affect the actual shape of them – a roof prism means your binoculars will be more streamlined and easier to store or hold, and a Porro prism-based set will be far chunkier and that little bit heavier too. Porro prisms do also tend to provide a much wider field of view, if that’s something which is important to you. You’ll also find a lot of binoculars boasting about having BaK-4 internal prisms, which is basically just a high-quality Porro prism.
As with any set of advanced optics the lenses need to be coated to prevent light reflecting off them and spoiling your use of any pair of binoculars. The type and quality of the lens coating your binoculars have will also tend to have an impact on how much they cost. Then again poor quality lens coatings mean poor performance, so you really do get what you pay for.
Your choices are as follows:
Coated – at least one of the lenses in your binoculars has been coated once
Fully Coated – all exposed lens surfaces have been fully coated once
Multi-Coated – at least one lens has been coated several times
Fully Multi-coated – every single exposed (air-to-glass) surface has been coated several times.
If you’re serious about getting the best possible performance from your new set of field glasses then you should be looking for a pair with fully multi-coated lenses.
These are the exact same as normal binoculars except you can dial up the magnification power when you need to. As you know a 10 x 50 pair of binoculars have 10x magnification and a 50mm objective lens size. If you saw a pair of binoculars with 10-22 x 50 stamped on them it means they have a variable magnification setting of between 10x and 20x, but still have a 50mm objective lens size.
Physically larger binoculars weigh an awful lot more than physically smaller ones i.e. you’ll be able to carry around a pair of mid-compact binocs with you all day for use whenever you feel like it, but a pair of full-size binoculars are going to tire your arms out very quickly.
Exit Pupil Diameter
This is one of the features of any set of binoculars which is likely to cause the most confusion for people. Basically the exit pupil size of a pair of binoculars is measured by taking the objective lens diameter and dividing it by the magnification level, so with an 8 x 42 pair of binoculars the exit pupil size would be 5.25mm.
Why does this matter?
Well the average human pupil varies in size from 1mm in bright light to around 7mm in low-light or dark conditions, so the exit pupil size of your binoculars needs to fall somewhere in between those numbers for you to be able to see anything other than a tiny image through the eyepieces. Don’t stress about this feature too much though – it’s something which optics purists can argue about for hours on end.
So what features are most important for the prospective binocular buyer to pay attention to?
Do you need a compact, mid-compact or full-sized set of binoculars? Compacts are easier to carry around but lack the power and versatility of a full-sized set of binoculars, which also weigh a lot more.
Bigger binoculars weigh more, and once you get into the larger full-size models you’re going to need a tripod to support them, but a mid-compact pair can be carried around all day long.
The more coating your lenses have then the better your viewing experience is going to be. Fully multi-coated lenses are worth the money if you can afford the price tag, but failing that having some coating on your lenses is better than having none at all.
You’re obviously buying a set of binoculars to see something which is further away from you than you’d like, but bear in mind that higher levels of magnification mean a narrower field of view. A general purpose pair of 8 x 42, or 10 x 42, binoculars offer enough magnification for most people and for most situations.
Objective Lens Diameter
This controls the amount of light that will reach your eyes, which means more is usually better. Unfortunately once you start increasing the diameter of the objective lens on any pair of binoculars their physical size and weight will increase too.
Field of View
The higher the magnifying power of your binoculars then the narrower your field of view will be, so you’ll need to find a balance between your desired FOV and just how much you need a specific object to be magnified.
Can the focus of your binoculars be adjusted, and if so how is this done? Typically you’ll have a choice of using either a focusing wheel located in the center of the binocular body, or in more advanced pairs you’ll have a feature known as “Dioptric Correction”, which allows you to focus each lens individually.
To avoid getting bogged down in details you should simply choose a pair of binoculars with at least 13mm of eye relief.
If at all possible make sure that any binoculars you intend using outdoors are weatherproofed to some extent – ideally waterproofed and fog-proofed too.
Our Top 5 Best Binoculars Reviews
Let’s take a quick look at what makes these particular pairs of binoculars so worthy of your attention, and your hard-earned cash:
1. Simmons ProSport 12x50mm Roof-Prism Waterproof & Fogproof Binoculars Review
This powerful and compact set of binoculars are ideal for outdoor use due to their rugged design and the fact that they’re also waterproof and fog-proof too. In addition to the 12 x 50mm configuration the actual optics are also multi-coated, offering very high levels of detail and minimal levels of image distortion. The eye relief distance of 16mm and the exit pupil size of 4.17mm makes the Simmons ProSport 12x 50mm ideal for the vast majority of users, including anyone wearing glasses. Tough, lightweight and high-performance binoculars from Simmons for under $100.
2. Tasco Essentials 10×50 Binoculars Review
Tasco won’t need any introduction if you know anything about optics and the Tasco Essentials 10×50 are a great example of the high-quality optical products this company still produces. You get a 10x magnification with a 50mm objective lens size, allowing for a 367-foot field of view, with enhanced imaging thanks to the fully multi-coated lenses. Focusing is taking care of by a central focusing wheel and the external rubber “armor” keeps these binoculars safe from accidental damage. Retailing at under $40 the Tasco Essentials 10×50 offer great value for money.
3. Celestron Skymaster Giant 15×70 Binoculars Review
This company is better known for manufacturing some of the best telescopes in the world, and they show their optics expertise with this pair of binoculars. The SkyMaster Giants are just that – huge, with a 15x70mm configuration and dioptric adjustment for fine-tuning these heavy-duty binoculars to your own particular viewing needs. The BaK-4 internal prism, combined with the multi-coated lenses ensures superior image quality, putting the Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15x70s well ahead of most other binoculars of this type. For a little over $60 you’re getting a whole lot of optical power for your cash!
4. Pentax Binoculars Review
If you’re looking for a more powerful and versatile pair of binoculars this set from Pentax might be ideal for you. Firstly they’re zoom binoculars so you can adjust the amount of magnification you need from 8 x – 16x, and there’s also a relatively small objective lens size of 21mm, which keeps the weight down. The optics used in the Pentax 62217 UCF II are fully multi-coated, so this minimizes light reflection while also improving image quality. A compact and powerful set of binoculars the Pentax 62217 UCF II can be yours now for less than $90.
5. Canon Image Stabilization Binoculars Review
These binoculars are definitely the most futuristic and militaristic looking in our roundup, and are also the most expensive by a pretty large margin. Priced at over $650 the Canon 12×36 Image Stabilization II binoculars gives you a 12x level of magnification matched to a 36mm objective lens, with fully multi-coated optics. As the name suggests these binoculars do also feature image stabilization technology, so if you’ve had too much caffeine any given day these field glasses can compensate for that.
It doesn’t matter if you’re just an avid ornithologist, or you love to spend night after night staring at deep-sky objects there’s a pair of binoculars listed here to suit you.
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