It is not uncommon for optics buyers to be both confused and discouraged by a list of binocular specifications. You may be thinking, “Don’t you just pick it up and look over it?” Yes, you do exactly that whenever possible – after you’ve set it up yourself by making up to three different adjustments (more on this below). It is important for bird watchers to have a basic understanding of how to operate bird watching binoculars because while most binoculars will work for most people, some may not work for you. I’ve used binoculars for years that made bird watching a struggle and when I see inexperienced bird watchers having a tough time in the field I feel their pain and want to help!
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when the ability to personally test the optics is limited due to the pandemic. There are literally hundreds of models on the market and dozens of optical brands. Many are clones of essentially the same product with a slightly different exterior. But many other well-known names have unique properties.
And then there are all of these technical sounding specs. What the hell are eye relief, pupillary distance, field of view, and twisted eyecups compared to folding down? Do I want 8x, 10x, 12x? Should I buy a 32mm, 42mm, or 50mm? I wear glasses, so should I be looking for specific features? Hey, I found binoculars online for $ 20. Does it work for bird watching? (The answer is definitely no.) How do I see the differences between $ 300, $ 1,000, and $ 3,000 binoculars? Should I get a spotting scope? Optics retailers like the Cape May Bird Observatory are ready to answer all of these features and questions. As you’d expect, there are real differences in these price ranges, as is the case with bikes, cars, golf clubs, and everything else.
Which binoculars are best for you depends on how you plan to use them. If you want a pair for occasional useoften a compact one is sufficient. Hunter Often use large objective lenses such as 50mm or 56mm for morning and evening light performance. A astronomer will want even bigger targets to collect shiploads of light; often they also need a higher magnification. As you’d expect, be sure to mount 15 × 70 binoculars on a tripod that will be used for stargazing. Bird watcher want something that they can use to follow fast moving little birds, often early in the morning or at dusk.
Those three adjustments that I mentioned earlier? First, rotate the eyecups up if you are not wearing glasses or down if you are wearing them. This will remove the vignetting and allow you to see the entire field of view. Second, move the hinge of the binoculars to adjust the interpupillary distance (the distance between the centers of the pupils) so that you see a circular image. Third, to get a sharp image in both eyes, look at an object through the left eyepiece and adjust the focus wheel so that it is in focus. Then look at the same object through the right eyepiece and adjust the diopter ring next to the eyecup so that the image is in focus. Then you’re good to go.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to binoculars, but the good news is that we’re living in a golden age of optics and there are many models out there that will fit you just right. In the July / August issue of BirdWatching you will find a detailed and hopefully entertaining overview of the choice of optics as well as a summary of the products available at different prices. We can’t cover every model, but you know what to look for. We will mainly focus on binoculars and also examine spotting scopes.
You can start your search for optics during the 26th annual CMBO Optics Sale this weekend from April 10th to 11th. In addition to the best prices, there’s a wealth of information on how to choose your optics, and representatives from the top brands are available LIVE for questions about Zoom from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Simply visit CMBO’s online store at www.FeatherEdgeOptics.org for all of the information.
Field leaders’ authors indicate which binoculars they use
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