There is so much in nature that is difficult to get close to, from badgers to birds to butterflies, not to mention far-away scenery and people. The answer is binoculars and here’s how to choose a pair.
Purchasing binoculars seems complicated, with all of the numbers used to classify them and the various claims of the manufacturers. Unless you are looking for an exotic pair of binoculars for some specific purpose, selecting the right pair of binoculars for you is fairly easy. First, notice that all binoculars are identified by two main numbers, in a pair and separated by an “X”, such as 8X24 or 10X40. Understanding the story of the numbers makes your selection job much easier.
The first number in the pair is the amount of magnification you can expect to get when you look through them. A “10” then means that objects will appear to be ten times closer than when viewed with the naked eye. A variation on this is for zoom binoculars. There will be two numbers before the “X” such as 8-16X40. The portion before the “X” in zoom binoculars means that the binoculars will zoom between a low magnification of 8 times and a high magnification of 16 times.
In one way, these magnification numbers in binoculars are a little counterintuitive. Usually, when we compare things, bigger is better. That is not necessarily the case with binoculars. That is because at high magnification levels, the usually imperceptible shaking of your hands is quite noticeable and it is difficult to hold the binocular steady enough to get a good view of anything without the help of a tripod. That point comes at about 10X. Anything over that might sound like a good idea, but your view will be so shaky that it will be hard to focus one what you want to see without a support.
The second number, the one after the “X,” is the width of the front lenses in millimeters. Thus, the “25” in “8X25” means that the lenses are 25 millimeters across. A larger lens will let in more light, thus giving you a brighter image of your target, easier to see and more clear. Thus, you want the second number, the one behind the “X,” to be larger to give you the best image.
At the same time, a very large lens size number will result in a very large pair of binoculars, all other things being equal. Look at pairs of binoculars in person. Think about how likely you would be to carry the largest pairs with you. If they are too cumbersome, you are likely to leave them in the car or at home because they are so much trouble. You will probably need to select binoculars which compromise on this point in order to get the most use out of them for your situation.
You should also consider the field of view, another number available in the specs of the binoculars. As magnification goes up, the field of view goes down. A 10X pair of binoculars will show you more detail in a fence 1000 yards away, but will not show you as much fence as will an 8X pair of binoculars. You may have to look through a few pair of binoculars to see how this parameter affects what you can see and how well you see it. A small difference in field of view is not critical, but a difference of 50 feet or so in 1,000 yards begins to be noticeable.
Understanding these numbers will give you a much better chance of getting a pair of binoculars that will work for you. There are a number of other factors that you could look into, such as the quality of glass used, lens coatings, prism type, focusing mechanism, diopter adjustment and more. Still, just understanding the numbers explained above will give you a much better chance of getting a pair of binoculars that will meet your needs.