Knowing how to pick up the best binoculars even though you have never used or owned any before is the key to saving money without sacrificing quality, giving you the best product for your needs and very good value for the money.
To begin with, you will have to decide what you want the binoculars for. There are many differences between the models, according to their purpose. Astronomy binoculars are usually pretty expensive but have tremendous magnification power (usually between 10 and 20 times), and large objective lenses to brighten the image. Birdwatching or hunting designs are usually more portable and offer bigger fields of view but have less power, smaller objective lenses (a common value is 7×35 or 8×40).
The latter is easier to use since they have a central focusing system and are usually much lighter than astronomy or military designs. There are many more variants apart from the aforementioned ones, so decide what you will use the devices for before starting to search the market. Once you have figured this out, things are a little bit easier.
Take your budget into consideration since this is quite an important factor. Usually, high-quality designs are quite pricey, in the $100-$200 price range, while excellent designs suitable for extremely long distance ship spotting, train spotting or stargazing will be found at higher prices.
However, thanks to the latest developments in optic technology and materials, you can find very cool products at much more affordable prices. If you do not intend to use it a lot and reliability is not something extremely important, go for the not so pricey variants.
The next thing you have to think about is the image quality. This depends on a variety of factors – the lenses are the most important part of your binocular so we will treat them first. They can be made from glass or plastic, with the plastic ones being usually cheaper but sacrificing image quality.
Plastic lenses that yield the same results as the equivalent glass lenses are more expensive but there is almost no risk of breaking or shattering them in case of impacts. Coatings also affect the outcome; apart from those without this feature, the binoculars are divided into the following categories: C (only some surfaces have been coated with a single layer), FC (all glass lens surfaces have been coated with a single layer), MC (some surfaces have been coated with multiple layers) and FMC (all surfaces have been coated multiple times).
Low light performance is increased by using larger objectives – check this if you intend to use the items in low light situations such as dark forests of dawn/dusk activities. Clarity is also something that you have to look for.
Decide on what type of focusing system you want. Central focusing (abbreviated as CF) binoculars have a central ring or knob that is used to focus the two tubes simultaneously, and, to compensate the differences in eyesight that appear between the left and right eye, one of the eyepieces has a diopter adjustment ring used for fine adjustments and to obtain the clearest image possible.
Individual focusing (abbreviated as IF) is a system that has no central knob, but two diopter adjustment rings, each mounted on one eyepiece. This system is harder to focus but it will remain focused at long distances. It is more reliable as it has less moving parts, but close targets will appear blurry. The latter is a design usually found in astronomy, naval or military devices (and basically any other optical device intended for long distance use).
The eyepieces should be as comfortable as possible, especially if you will spend a lot of time constantly looking through them. When resting at a comfortable distance from the user’s eyes, the model will not tire his or her eyes.
Glass wearers have to take this factor (called eye relief) seriously into consideration since their eyes will usually rest at 14 or more millimeters from the ocular lens. Extendable eyecups are recommended in this situation, but also those who do not wear glasses will benefit from adjustable pieces.
There are other features that need your attention, some of them more important than others. Weight is a serious thing that influences image quality and influences enjoyable use. The more powerful and big the objective and other lenses are, the heavier the product will be.
This will induce a more pronounced hand tremor, and this natural, hard to control movement will make it hard to stay focused on one single target. If you still need high magnification power, wide field of view and bright image, consider buying a support for your device. However, common hunting, hiking or birding binoculars are not that big and heavy and can be easily used by pretty much anyone.
The environment where the device is going to be used is also important since not all designs are waterproof or dustproof. For obvious reasons, ship spotting binos should be water and sand proof, but this is no necessity for items destined for astronomy. If it rains, there are clouds in the sky and it will be impossible to stargaze that night).
Easy to carry hiking or birdwatching designs should also be resistant to impact since having them tied to your neck or backpack leaves them exposed to rocks, trees or other objects that you encounter along the way. Some producers issue a lifetime warranty; others only offer limited rights to a refund or replacement, while cheaper brands offer no guarantee at all.
After taking all the aforementioned features into consideration look at any other extras that might be offered. The best way to decide on a product after comparing it with many others in online or printed catalogs is to effectively go into a store and test it yourself. Sometimes, what is advertised sounds great but will not be suitable for your needs.