Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Compare Binoculars at Optics Event
April 07, 2018
By Steve Grinley

     We are hosting a Swarovski Optics Day tomorrow, Sunday April 8. 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, Ricoh Pentax and Opticron, as well as Manfrotto Tripods.

     That makes this 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 other wild creatures. Binoculars are versatile for many other uses as well, such as sporting events, concerts, hunting and boating.

     Today’s optics are lighter, brighter, and sharper than they were even ten years ago. You don’t need to start out with the best optics – there are many fine lower priced binoculars and scopes, 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 optics that you can afford and they will bring you many years of enjoyment.

     The most popular size binoculars for birding are 8×42 or 10×42. Binoculars with magnification of 8 or 10 power, the first number that you see printed on the binocular, will bring birds 8 or 10 times closer. Higher power may sound better, and it can be, but the higher the magnification, the more difficult it might be to hold the binocular 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. Ten power does bring birds closer, but it is the practical limit that even experienced birders can hold steady without the aid of a tripod.

     The second number (i.e. 42) is the diameter, in millimeters, of the objective lens – the lens that is furthest away from you. The larger that lens, the more light will enter the binoculars. More light is particularly important when birding in the shade, on cloudy days, or at dawn or dusk. Larger objective lens (i.e. 50mm) let in more light, but the added glass also adds weight. So 40 or 42mm are the most popular.

     Be careful of going to the other extreme with smaller compact binoculars such as 8×20 or 10×25. Compacts are great for hiking or for a second pair to leave in the car, but they are not practical for general field use. The small objective lens limits both the field of view and the brightness of the image. But for those who just want to carry a pair in their pocket or for a sporting event, they might do just fine. Binoculars with 30 or 32mm objective lens are increasing in popularity due to their lighter weight while still providing good light and field of view.

     Other factors to consider are the close focus (how close you can focus to see birds and butterflies only 5 to 7 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).

     Another important consideration is your budget. Binoculars come in all price ranges, from under $100. to $2500. You pretty much get what you pay for. The higher the price, the better the lens and the better the coatings that are placed on every glass surface to allow light to transmit through to your eyes rather than reflecting off the glass. The result is brighter, sharper images that are more comfortable to your eyes.

     Binoculars vary greatly and these factors, as well as how they feel to you, IS important! It is best to try them before you buy them, not only to match the binocular to your need, but also to get one that feels good to you!

     While binoculars magnify 8 or 10 times and will allow you to spot even the most distant bird, a spotting scope will bring birds 15 to 70 times closer – important for seeing the color and detail of shorebirds in the harbor or an eagle perched in a tree across the river. Such high magnification requires the use of a tripod, so scopes are less portable. But they are necessary for long distance viewing and they are great for taking photos through with a camera or a smart phone!

     Like binoculars, you get what you pay for in spotting scopes. You can get a decent spotting scope for a few hundred dollars or you can pay $4000 or more. The latest scopes are amazing, drawing in distant birds for you to see detail that you never thought was possible. Again, you will 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 binoculars or scopes, drop by our store, Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift, tomorrow April 8 from 11 am to 3 pm. There will be discounts and specials, and WE will pay the sales tax on all optics purchased during our Swarovski Optics Day. So whether you come to just look and learn, or to purchase, we hope to see you there!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 23 years of service to the birding community!
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