Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Bring Nature Closer with Binoculars
April 06, 2019
By Steve Grinley

     As the weather changes and we spend more time outdoors, we are always looking for ways to get closer to nature. For that reason, spring is a good time to repeat my annual refresher on binocular and spotting scope basics:

     If you watch birds at the feeder outside your window, the birds are usually close enough to see with your naked eye. But if your feeders are away from your window, or you want to see a bird in a tree further away in your yard, you may want to invest in a pair of binoculars that will bring birds closer for easier viewing and identification. If you venture into the field, binoculars will enhance your enjoyment of birds and all the nature around you. 

     Binoculars have come a long way from the World War II vintage that your grandfather left you. Today’s optics are lighter, brighter, and sharper and they have a single center focus, rather than having to focus the individual eyepieces. You don’t need to start out with the best pair as there are some fine lower priced binoculars, and you can always graduate to better optics as your interest grows. Or, as most experts advise, you can invest a little more money now and buy the best binoculars that you can afford and they will bring you many years of enjoyment.

     Binoculars that are 8×42 or 10×42 are the most popular for birding. Magnification of 8 or 10 power, the first number that you see printed on the binocular, will bring birds 8 or 10 times closer, or appear 8 or 10 times larger. Higher power may sound better, and it can be, but the higher the magnification, the harder it is to hold steady. The lower power usually gives you a little more light, and a wider field of view. The wider the field of view, the easier it is to find a bird in a tree (because you are seeing more of the tree.) Ten power does bring birds closer, but it is the practical limit that experienced birders can hold steady without the aid of a tripod.

     The second number (i.e. 42 ) is the diameter of the objective lens, the lens that is furthest away from you, in millimeters. The larger that lens, the more light enters the binocular, which is important when birding in the shade, on cloudy days, or at dawn or dusk. My first pair of binoculars was 7 x50 – a little less power, but a larger objective lens that let in a lot of light. But the added weight of that much more glass in the binocular sure made my arms tired, especially watching those warblers in the tops of trees!

     Be careful of going to the other extreme with small compact binoculars such as 8×20 or 10×25. Compacts are great for hiking or for a second pair to throw in your glove compartment, but I don’t find them very useful for general field use. The small objective lens limits both the field of view and the brightness of the image.

     Other factors to consider are the close focus (how close you can focus to see birds and butterflies a few feet away), waterproof capability (for birding in the rain, in the tropics, or in a kayak), and eye relief (important for eyeglass wearers to be able to have the full field of view of the binoculars). Binoculars vary greatly and these factors, as well as how they feel to YOU, is important! Binoculars come in all price ranges, from under $100. to $2500. It is best to try them before you buy them, to find the one that feels good to you and is within your budget!

     Binoculars are versatile for other uses, such as at sporting events, concerts, and while boating. But if you want to see the shorebirds on the mudflats this spring, or the eagles perched in a tree across the river, you might want to invest in a spotting scope. While binoculars magnify 8 or 10 times and will allow you to spot the distant bird, a spotting scope will bring birds 15 to 70 times closer – important for seeing color and detail at far distances. Such high magnification is impossible to hold steady without the use of a tripod, so scopes are much less portable. But they are necessary for long distance viewing and are great to take photos with a camera or smart phone as well!

     Like binoculars, with scopes you get what you pay for. You can get a decent spotting scope for $200-$400, or you can pay as much as $3000-$4000. Again you’ll want to look through different brands and models to see which works best for you.

     If you would like the opportunity to look at and compare various binoculars or scopes, we are hosting a Swarovski Optics Day tomorrow, Sunday April 7. A representative from Swarovski Optik will be at the store with their latest products, including their new BTX binocular eyepiece module for their ATX Scope, and they will answer all of your questions. This is a FREE event where you can view and compare Swarovski products, and any of our other binoculars and scopes, in all price ranges, from Zeiss, Kowa, Nikon, Opticron, as well as Manfrotto and Velbon Tripods. There will be discounts and specials, and we will pay the sales tax on all binoculars, scopes and tripods purchased this weekend. 

     So come by and take a look at today’s binoculars and scopes. I hope to see you there!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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