Choosing Your Binoculars
If you want to fully enjoy bird watching and improve your bird identification skills then you will need to have a good pair of binoculars, particularly if you want to take your hobby further and watch birds out in the field.
A pair of good quality binoculars is essential, especially for professional bird watchers and you should buy the best binoculars you can afford.
Binoculars can range in price from just £10.00 to well over £1000.00 and when you are just starting out bird watching it may be tempting to buy a very cheap pair of binoculars. However, it is likely that they will lack features which are needed for bird watching and you will not enjoy your hobby as much so in the long term buying a pair of cheap binoculars is a false economy. Make an upfront investment in a good pair of binoculars which will set you on the road to many years of bird watching enjoyment. A high quality pair of binoculars will also last much longer and are likely to pick up less faults or get damaged meaning you will spend less money on repairs of replacements.
If you are on a tight budget or are a beginner who is not sure that bird watching is going to become a long-term hobby, you can buy some decent bird watching binoculars for around the £50.00 – £100.00 mark. Buy porro-prism binoculars rather than cheap roof-prisms, which require a more complex construction.
Many novice bird watchers make the mistake of buying binoculars with a high magnification thinking that the greater power will enable them to see birds more clearly. However, although the birds will appear closer and larger, as magnification increases your field of view decreases and slight movements made by an unsteady hand or a gust of wind will be greatly exaggerated.
High powered binoculars can also make the eyes tire easily so for general bird watching choose a magnification of 7x or 8x. If you are using a hide or viewing hawks and waterbirds over large expanses then choose a magnification of 10x.
Zoom binoculars are not the best for bird watching – they do not give as good an image and are more likely to develop faults.
The larger the objective lens, the more light can enter the glass and so the image will appear brighter. Binoculars with large lenses are useful for viewing birds in shrubs and woodland. A bird watching beginner will be fine with a lens diameter between 35 and 50 and remember a larger lens usually means heavier binoculars.
Field Of View
When you look through your binoculars the widest dimension of the image you can see is called the field of view. The field of view usually measures the area visible to you from 1000 metres away either in degrees or as a figure.
With a larger field of view you’ll be able to quickly locate birds and even follow them in flight.
Your binoculars will spend a lot of time hanging round your neck or in your pocket so it is important that you find a weight you are comfortable with. You don’t want to buy a pair of binoculars that are so heavy you are reluctant to carry them around with you and miss that rare sighting. Ideally you want a pair of binoculars that are light and small enough to slip into a pocket when you are not wearing them. Remember, the wider the objective lens is, the heavier and bigger the binoculars will be. However, very lightweight binoculars could be a sign that they have been poorly made.
A well fitting neck strap that supports the weight of your binoculars and does not rub is important too so spend some time trying on different styles to get one that fits you perfectly.
These are the basic things you should consider when choosing a pair of binoculars for birdwatching. For a more comprehensive list of the other terms used for describing binoculars take a look at our binoculars glossary.