Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Binoculars for Birders

With the beginning of Spring it is time to consider investing in new binoculars. This is a proposition that can present itself in daunting ways. Careful consideration needs to be made whether a new birder or one who has spent some time in the field and acquired some expertise. The optics field is quite large and the number of products is considerable. How does one choose a binocular? Here are my suggestions.

First, determine just how and under what circumstances you will be using your new binoculars. If you are going to be walking then full size binoculars are certainly worth your consideration. However, if you are a backpacker or will be doing your birding on a bicycle, then you may wish to consider mid size or even compact binoculars. If you bird by sitting in a favorite spot, then larger binoculars could be your choice. Size matters when one considers the mode of birding. Size is dictated by the objective lens. Generally, if the objective lens is 50 mm then it is considered to be a large binocular; if it is 42 mm, it is full size; if it is 32 mm, it is a mid size. Finally, compacts have objective lenses 25 mm or less.

The size of the binocular will probably affect the way they feel in your hands. One should consider the ergonomics of one’s choice. In other words, does the model you are examining have the right heft? Do you feel comfortable while holding the binoculars to your eyes?

Coupled with the size of the objective is the light gathering ability of the lens and the field of view. Of course, the larger lenses tend to gather more light. The more important consideration should be the field of view. Those new to the game should consider obtaining a pair of binoculars that posses a large field of view. Field of view is often stated in feet viewable at 1000 yards. For example, the Stokes Talon has one of the largest field of view for its size lens, 420 ft. at 1000 yards.

One of the most significant advances in optics is in water and fog proofing. This has been accomplished in two ways. The first of which is changing the prism design. Roof prism binoculars are so much easier to water and fog proof because of internal focusing. The older porro prism design has external focusing and, therefore, is not easily water or fog proofed. The other facet to proofing is the gas used to purge the binocular.
Two gases are currently being used, nitrogen and argon.

Nitrogen and oxygen, if you remember, are the major components of air. Oxygen is the active ingredient while nitrogen is not. This basic chemistry is the reason for choosing nitrogen as the purging agent in many models. However, the real advancement is in the use of argon. The Argon Binocular is the newest class of binoculars. Argon is a member of the Noble Gases. Noble Gases were at one time called the Inert Gases because of their inability to react. In fact, they are so unreactive that it was not until the 20th Century that they were even discovered. The point is that argon is now being used because it does not attack the o-rings and seals in the binocular, thus allowing for excellent water and fog proofing and extending the life of your binocular.

One more word…in my opinion, one should be prepare to purchase a binocular worthy of your endeavors. Spend the money on a pair of binoculars that you can afford. Do not waste your hard earned cash on a pair of cheap ones. This advice is given in much the same vein as buying all the house you can afford. Let’s face it; you are going to possess these binoculars for a long time. You want to be able to see the bird with clarity and ease. You want to become adept at identifying a bird correctly. So, you must be able to see it in all conditions, including some adverse situations. Your willingness to increase your budget will often provide you with a return in performance of your purchase.

These tips hopefully will lend themselves to your benefit. Enjoy your new binoculars and spend as much time as you can in the field.



At May 5, 2008 at 10:51 AM , Blogger Beverly said...

Thank you for your article...I'm considering a new pair of binocs or perhaps a scope; so my finding your blog was timely!

Besides...I love to read folks who enjoy life and do things they love. Good for you!


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