Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bird Worthy Binoculars

There is not a lot of equipment required to engage or stay engaged in birding. Yet, to think that one can get started using your favorite uncle’s old binoculars leads far more often than not to frustration and failure. It’s too heavy, too hard to hold steady, too slow to focus, too hard to locate the bird in time. So, while everyone else enjoys a grand view of the bird, you come away empty, confused, and maybe a little peeved. So, leave those relics to memories. You need a good pair of binoculars.

What should you know to find the right binocular for you? First, please consider that birding is something that can be enjoyed for many years. That’s the goal. We want to find something that lasts, gives us enjoyment for a long period of time, and is something in which we can engage under many different conditions and circumstances. Invest in a good binocular. There are many attributes that need to be considered before examining price.

Okay, first, do you wear eyeglasses? This is a huge consideration. If you do and you wish or need to wear your glasses at all times, then pay attention to eye relief. What is eye relief? It is how far the image is projected out of the ocular lens. A large eye relief is best for those wearing glasses. Look for binoculars with eye relief of 19-22 mm. Those who do not wear glasses can be satisfied with eye relief in the 15-18 mm range.

The next most important attribute of a binocular is its field of view. Beginning birders sometimes struggle finding the bird in the binocular. This effort is greatly assisted when the field of view is large. Field of view is measured in two ways, by degree or by feet. Field of view in feet is most easily understood. It is often stated in feet at 1000 yards, for example 345 feet at 1000 yards. This means that the area being viewed is 345 feet across the binocular objective lens if the area is 1000 yards away. As a beginner, one should consider finding a binocular with a field of view around 400 feet. More experienced birders will do fine with a field of view ranging from 315 to 350 feet. Below 300 feet presents many people with difficulty.

A subsequent attribute to consider is quickness of focus. Look for a center focus in which the wheel can easily focus near to far in approximately one and a half turns. This is critical when viewing such active little birds as kinglets, warblers, and wrens.

Now, let’s look at the numbers. What does 8 x42 mean? Is it better than 10 x 32?

The first number in both the above has to do with magnification. Magnification is somewhat misleading. Bluntly, it does not mean what it says. If it did, then a five inch bird in an 8x binocular would have an image of 40 inches—not possible. 8x means that is what the bird looks like in your naked eye at one eighth of the distance. 10 x means that is what the bird looks like in your naked eye at one tenth of the distance. Most of us do quite well with 8x. There are some good binoculars out with 7x and even 6.5 x. Higher magnifications may lend themselves to greater resolution and fine detail, but this decreases the field of view and the light gathering ability of the binocular.

The second number is the size of the objective lens. 42 mm is larger than 32 mm. The size of the objective lens affects the field of view, the light gathering ability, and the weight. There is no hard and fast rule here, though. Manufacturers have been able to affect these three characteristics several ways, such as coatings and the type of glass employed.

Finally, some recommendations—a beginner might start with a Vortex 8 x42 Diamondback for its wide field of view is tremendous. If cost is a consideration, look at the Vortex 8 x 42 Crossfire. If you are a birder that enjoys hiking and weight is something to think about, try the Vortex 6.5 x 32 Fury or the Vortex 8 x 28 Fury. A great, all-around binocular, whether a novice or veteran, would be the Vortex 8 x 42 Viper. High end quality and style at an affordable price can be found in the Vortex 8 x 42 Razor.

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