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A Guide to Buying Binoculars

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Buying binoculars means considering many different options and tradeoffs.

Buying binoculars means considering many different options and tradeoffs.

Photo © Daniel H. Bailey / Getty Images.

I was recently in the market for a new pair of binoculars and when I first started shopping around, I was bewildered by the vast number of makes and models available these days. Since I received my first pair of binoculars as a gift more than twenty years ago, I lacked experience shopping for the gadgets myself. I knew I had a lot to learn if I was going to invest my money wisely.

I started by scouring the web for insights and product reviews. The good news is that there is a wealth of superb information out there, from tips and technical details to product reviews and side-by-side comparisons. The bad news is there is so much information available you may end up more confused after reading it all than you were to begin with.

To temper my own confusion, I decided to put together a summary of the information I gathered from various sources (you'll find a complete list of my sources at the end of this article, each is well worth checking out).

It's All About Trade-Offs

A recurring theme in binocular design is that there are trade-offs. You simply can't get everything all the time with one set of binos. For instance, if you opt for high magnification, you forfiet some of your field of vision and a bit of brightness. If you opt for low magnification, you forfiet detail but gain field of vision and brightness. We'll get to the nitty gritty of these trade-offs later, but for now, remember that when it comes to binoculars, to gain something usually means you have to give up something else.

Put Yourself First When Buying Binos

When selecting binoculars, it's easy to get bogged down with prism type, magnification, field of vision and an assortment of technical specifications. But remember to always put yourself first when buying binoculars. Think in terms of what you want out of your binoculars. Let that determine what you need in them. For instance, you should focus on:

  • Image Quality
  • Viewing Conditions
  • Comfort and Ease of Use
  • Price

Don't insist on having 10x50s if they are too heavy for you to pick up. Or don't get obsessed with roof prisms because they are the latest design. Focus instead on the image quality, level of comfort, and the price you seek, then decide on which set of features meet your needs.

Binocular Basics

Having said that, you should still be familiar with the nuts and bolts of binocular technology. The basic factors to consider include:

  • Prism Type
  • Magnification
  • Field of Vision
  • Minimum Close-Focus Distance
  • Eye Relief
  • Exit Pupil

These factors differ from one model of binoculars to the next and influence what you get out of your binoculars in terms of image quality, viewing conditions, comfort, ease of use, and price.

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