Perching in a tree, camouflaged in vegetation, or soaring high up overhead, birds aren’t always the easiest of creatures to spot. So if you want to up your bird watching game and improve your identification skills you’re going to need a pair of binoculars.
If you’re new to bird watching the choice of binoculars on the market can be overwhelming, particularly if you want to buy online.
Our simple guide will help you cut through the jargon, weigh up the pros and cons of the different types of models, and understand the variation in price so you can find the best pair of bird watching binoculars and take your hobby to the next level.
If you’ve started your research, you’ll already know that the price of bird watching binoculars can vary enormously, from under £10.00 to well over £1000.00.
When you’re a new bird watcher it may be tempting to buy a cheap pair of binoculars just to see how you get on. However, very cheap binoculars will lack many of the features you need for proper bird watching and could, in fact, put you off your hobby if you’re struggling to get a decent view.
Our advice is to buy the best you can afford. Make an upfront investment in a good pair of binoculars and set yourself up for many years of enjoyment. A high-quality pair of binoculars will last much longer, and they are less likely to pick up faults or get damaged so you won’t have to fork out more money in the future on repairs or replacements.
If you are on a tight budget or still 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-£100 mark. For that price choose porro-prirm binoculars. Roof-prisms require a much more complex construction so models at the lower end of the market will be of a lower quality.
Once you have a budget in mind you can start exploring some of the other features that are required to make a pair of binoculars suitable for bird watching.
All binoculars are described using a pair of numbers such as 8x 40, or 10x 50. The first number represents the magnification, also referred to as the power or zoom, and shows by how many times objects viewed through the binoculars are enlarged. For example, binoculars with a magnification of 8x will make an object appear 8 times larger than it actually is.
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 binoculars with a high magnification will make birds 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 cause your eyes to tire more quickly.
Deciding on the magnification of your binoculars is personal choice. But broadly for general bird watching you should choose a magnification of 8x or 10x. If you are using a hide or tripod for viewing over larger areas then pick a magnification of 10x.
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.
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.