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Beginner’s Guide to Birding Binoculars | Optics and Lab Equipment

Beginner’s Guide to Birding Binoculars

Last Updated: 17.11.19


Keen bird watchers are used to picking out the best pair of binoculars that fit their needs, but if you’re new to this hobby, you probably need some advice on how to pick the right items.

Observing birds in their natural habitat is almost impossible without the right lenses. However, with the right binoculars, the most vivid details of their appearance will become visible to you. It’s the perfect activity to enjoy on a sunny day outdoors.

Getting started

The best time of the day when you can go birdwatching is in the morning because the sky is typically clearer at this time and the birds are more active. Our advice would be to wake up before the sun and be out and about before the day officially starts.

Since many bird species typically become active around the same time the sun rises, getting up earlier will pay off, and you’ll be able to observe their routine as well as witness certain habits and bird songs and calls.

If you don’t want to get up so early, you might be lucky, because there are some species of birds that are most active around sunset. However, aside from these two times of the day, your chances are limited.

Some specimens live in specific areas that you need to determine beforehand, so you increase your chances of actually witnessing their habits. Climate and topographic surroundings are essential factors in this decision-making process.

Also, you should choose the spots that are closer to your area so it won’t be too difficult to get there early in the morning.

You can find countless bird watching guides in bookshops. Perhaps it will be helpful to buy one that’s about the area you live in, so you find out which species you would find there and more details about their typical routine.

Another way would be taking advantage of the modern technological age that we live in and using mobile apps to determine your bird watching strategy.


The debate around power

When you’re setting off to buy binoculars, perhaps the first decision that you need to make regards the magnifying power of the device. The two numbers that you will first notice on a product’s description file are the magnification and the objective diameter, which are indeed the essential features.

The most common mistake you can make is going for the pair that offers the most powerful magnification. Not only are they more expensive, but they have a significant drawback. The higher the magnification, the more noticeable small movements and vibration will become.

Translated into the actual image, this will look shaky, and it won’t let you focus on details unless the binoculars have a stable tripod to sit upon. Another problem that comes with high magnification is it significantly narrows your field of view.

Our recommendation would be to choose a value between 7x and 10x. However, most experienced users go for 8x, since it’s the standard value.

Choosing the objective diameter

This feature is crucial because the dimension of the lens determines how much light gets inside, and further influences the brightness of the image you receive. It may not seem like much, but once you’ve been on the field for several hours, you’ll notice this aspect is relevant.

Also, the weight of the binoculars is determined by the size of their lenses, and you will notice that fatigue might become a problem when your neck and shoulders start to hurt after a day on the field.

Most professional bird watchers tend to prefer a diameter of 40mm. Any dimension between 40 and 44 millimeters would be a good compromise concerning portability and low-light capability. Luckily, most birds are active during the day, so you don’t have to worry about nighttime gear.


Design and configuration

There are two standard models of binoculars that you can choose between. There’s either Porro prism and roof prism binoculars. The first alternative has the traditional shape and design most binoculars have. The roof prism, on the other hand, is slightly more compact, so it has increased portability.

The design for this latter option is narrower, but it has certain disadvantages too. For example, it’s more expensive than the Porro prism, but despite this, it seems to be a more popular choice at least around bird watchers.

Two types of prisms exist on the market, namely the BAK4 and the BK7. The first has a circular field of view and is usually the preferred option because the BK7 tends to give of a vignetting effect to the image.

Focal distance

Most customers typically overlook this aspect because it requires some basic optical physics understanding. Loosely explained, having a close focal distance can be used for observing birds and insects that are closer to the viewer, and it will allow you a higher level of detail, but it won’t work well for long distances.

Binoculars that allow you to observe targets that are far away have a longer focal distance, but they show magnified images of your point of interest.


Quality of the lenses

This feature mostly influences the budget. If you’re willing to invest in your hobby, you can afford to choose an alternative that will deliver excellent quality, and you’ll receive images with enhanced optical detail, vivid colors, and an overall improved birding experience.

If you’re not confident you’re willing to take up this activity, our suggestion would be to reconsider your budget and first invest in a less expensive option that will give you a taste. If you enjoy it, you can go on and invest in a more pricey choice, and if not, at least you haven’t spent an outrageous amount of money on it.

Regardless of the price of your binoculars, you should make sure they can withstand severe weather conditions such as rain. They should be waterproof to pass through the occasional rain shower.

Fog proof is also a feature that’s great to have since it will improve your vision and prevent temperature differences from affecting your sight.


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