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Binoculars for Bird Watching

There are thousands of choices and countless options available when it comes to picking out a set of binoculars.

A good set of binoculars can bring you years of use and enjoyment. Make sure you are choosing the right set of binoculars for your viewing needs so you’re sure to get the most out of your purchase.

Let’s start by breaking down some of the options you might want, along with an explanation of each.


Magnification, also referred to as power, is the first number listed on the binoculars. For example, if you are looking at a set of 10 x 50 binoculars, the magnification is 10. This means the objects you look at through the binoculars will appear 10 times closer than normal. The higher the magnification, the more details you will see on objects in the distance.

On that same set of binoculars, the second number – 50, represents in millimeters, the diameter of the objective lens. In this case the diameter would be 50mm.

A higher magnification does not always mean you will have a better viewing experience. The higher the magnification gets, the harder it becomes to keep the binoculars steady. A lower magnification of 8 or so, will provide a nice field of view, and are more practical for steady viewing.

enior Couple Bird Watching with Binoculars
Is it s finch? An oriole? If birdwatching is your hobby, let Blain’s Farm & Fleet help you find the right kind of binoculars for your next trip.

Field View

How large of a viewing field you want will depend on how wide of an area you want to be able to see without turning your head. The field view number will be known as the widest dimension in feet you can see right out in front of you. You will often see the field view represented like this: 240′ @1000 yd. This means the binoculars have a field of view of 240 feet at 1000 yards.

A degree number will also often represent the field of view on the binoculars itself. One degree will equal about 52.5 feet at 1000 yards. So if the binoculars you are looking at show a degree of 7, then the field of view would be 52.5 multiplied by 7. Also described as 367.5’ @ 1000 yd.

If you are going to be viewing sporting events or fast moving objects, you will want a larger field of view. For bird watching, hunting or more detailed viewing, you will want to be more concerned with magnification and being able to control what you are seeing.

Lens Coating

Some binoculars have lenses with specialty coatings that can help increase the amount of light let into the lens as well as help reduce UV glare. Anti-reflective coatings help to increase the amount of light that reaches your eye, helping you see a brighter, sharper image. “Fully Coated” lenses mean the entire lens has been coated, which will let the most light in and result in the best viewing.

Prism Glass

Most styles of binoculars use prisms to provide the correctly oriented images you see out of the lens. Without these prisms, the images would always appear upside down and reverse. There are two main styles of prism glass: porro and roof.

Porro prism binoculars are the classic, bulkier style of binoculars. They provide the most inexpensive option of prism style, but tend to not be as durable and are also not waterproof. For a smaller version, try to find the reverse porro prism binoculars that easily fit in your hand.

Roof prism binoculars are becoming more and more popular. The design allows great portability because they are much smaller units. They are also rugged and durable.

Eye Relief

Eye relief refers to the distance images are projected from the lens to their focal point. This can range anywhere from 5mm to 20mm. This becomes especially important for people who wear eyeglasses or who want to use their binoculars while wearing sunglasses. If this is important to you, then find a pair of binoculars that offer an eye relief of at least 15mm.

The eye cups will also help with eye relief. If you do wear glasses, be sure to roll the eye cups up so you can rest your glasses against the binoculars. If you do not wear glasses, you will still benefit from the eye cups being in the upright position to block any lateral light.

Exit Pupil

The exit pupil is the small opening of light on the end of each eyepiece. The larger the diameter of this circle, the brighter the view field will be. This is important if you are going to be using your optics in dark situations.

The normal diameter of the human pupil is approximately 2-3mm wide in bright conditions. You want to be sure you buy binoculars that have an exit pupil of at least 4mm wide for viewing in bright conditions. You will want a much larger exit pupil for use in dark conditions since the pupil will grow to 7mm in low light.

Focus System

There are three styles of focus systems available. Center focus, individual eyepiece focus and ‘no focus’ or focus free.

Center focus binoculars use a single wheel on the top of the item to help get them into focus. It can focus objects both near and far away. This is the most commonly used focusing system in a binocular.

Individual focus eyepiece binoculars will require that the user focus each eyepiece separately when looking at an object. Once focused for your set of eyes, there should be no need to focus the binoculars again, even for objects at different ranges.

Focus free binoculars are focused at the factory and cannot be adjusted. These binoculars cannot be adjusted to compensate for different eye strengths between the left and right eye and can also not be used to focus on objects closer than 40 yards. The focus is automatically done for the consumer.

Also note, there is a feature called “minimum focus” or “close focus.” This is the nearest distance at which binoculars will focus on an object. Binoculars will not focus on an object that is closer than this distance. This feature is important for some applications such as bird watching.

Other factors to consider when buying binoculars

How heavy are these binoculars?

Weight becomes an important factor when you are going to be carrying your binoculars around all day. You do not want a bulky, heavy pair if you are hiking or walking a far distance to a tree stand. Keep item weight in mind when purchasing. Most compact binoculars weigh about 10 to 15 oz.

Are these binoculars waterproof?

This is a great feature that is offered on most binoculars. This feature is important if you are going to be using your binoculars in all types of weather conditions.

Can it be mounted on a tri-pod?

Any binoculars with 10x or higher magnification should be tri-pod mounted to steady the image

How large is the objective lens?

Too large of a lens on the front can make the unit bulky and difficult to hold up for long periods of time.

What color should I get?

Color is only important if you want to blend in. There are camouflage binoculars available for hunters.

Since there are so many different options you can choose from when selecting the right binoculars, be sure you ask questions of the sales person you are working with. Make it known how you are going to be using your binoculars. This will help determine what exactly you need and also help determine how much you want to spend. Always keep in mind that you do not need to spend hundreds of dollars to get good quality optics for basic use.

Expert advice from Joleen at our Platteville location and Michelle at the Baraboo store. Together, they represent almost 40 years of Blain’s Farm & Fleet experience and knowledge.


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