More about Birding Binoculars
We review the best birding binoculars available on the market and offer you our selection below. Do you have questions on how to choose bird watching binoculars for your specific application? While the typical optics consumer often favors high powered binoculars (16x is quite popular these days!), the more discerning birdwatcher has traditionally preferred relatively low power binocular models (7x, 8x and some 10x). High power certainly has its place in Bird Watching Binoculars, if you need to view small details at a greater than average distance, but lower power optics in your birdwatching binoculars have many advantages. One of these is exit pupil, which translates to binocular brightness. For example, when comparing two similar birding binoculars with the same objective diameter, such as an 8x42 and a 10x42, the lower power unit will have a larger exit pupil (42/8=5.25 vs 42/10=4.2), and therefore deliver more light to your eye. This is an advantage when you are out at dawn or twilight, or looking through binoculars at markings on a bird that is in the shadows of a tree. Lower power birdwatching binoculars typically provide a wider field of view, handy for scanning a large area for subjects of interest or more easily following moving objects, such as a bird in flight. Finally, you may have noticed that an 8 power binocular seems easier to hold steady than a 12 power binocular (we do have spotting scopes and binocular tripods and binocular tripod adapters that will work great with these binoculars!). The higher power, along with the narrower field of vision, makes small movements of your hands and body more noticeable, but larger objective and top quality lens coatings help to keep the view bright enough to be quite usable. Take a look below at our nature/birdwatching binoculars on sale and see what better fits your birdwatching needs. We guarantee you will not be disappointed! Don't forget to read why you should start birdwatching today, 10 Reasons To Start Birdwatching Today.
MAGNIFICATION - (the first number in a binocular, i.e. the 8 in an 8x40)
Any magnification (the first number in a binocular description) between 7 and 10 will work fine for an all-purpose birding binocular. Despite what some may claim, a 10x will not identify more birds for you than a comparable – quality 7x model binocular. (If you need more than a 7x or 8x binocular, you really need a spotting scope.)
A 10x binocular does offer slightly more image detail, but a 7x or 8x is easier to hold steady and offers a wider field of view. (A wider field of view will make it easier to line up a binocular on a bird for a beginner.) For birding, an 8x is a good compromise and is the most popular magnification these days.
OBJECTIVE SIZE – (the second number in a binocular, the 40 in an 8x40)
An objective of at least 30mm diameter is a minimum for an all-purpose birding binocular. For the best in image brightness and image quality, you should consider a model of 40mm or more. Compacts of 20-25mm can be very useful, especially for experienced birders, but should be avoided by beginners as a first binocular. For those who need to go light, an 8x30 or 8x32 is a popular choice and excellent compromise between size and performance.
Porro prisms are the older, traditional hump shaped body design, whereas roof prisms are the straight, sleek barrel body design.
Porro prisms are less expensive to produce optically and if price is a concern, you are more likely to get a good optics with an inexpensive porro-prism binocular than an inexpensive roof prism binocular. If you are looking at a Porro Prism Binoculars, get the type made with Bak4 glass for the best in image brightness and image quality.
On the other hand, most people prefer the way a roof prism binocular handles. In addition, the Roof Prism is also the easiest design to waterproof and seal. If durability and longevity are a concern, you are less likely to have problems down the road with a good roof prism.
If you are looking for a roof-prism, a PC (phase-corrected) roof prism will deliver sharper images than a non PC roof prism.
For an all-around birding binocular, a center focus model is a must. Birding is an activity that will require you to focus on birds that are very near as well as focus at birds that are very distant. Center focus is the only focus system that can handle all distances well. Individual eyepiece focus (IF) can be very useful for birds at medium and long range, but not short range. Avoid "no focus" binoculars all together.
Most people new to birding are surprised to find themselves watching birds that are less than 30 ft away and sometimes even less than 15 feet away. A binocular that does not allow you to focus at objects closer than 20 ft will cost you some birding opportunities. A close focus of 15 feet should be a minimum for a versatile birding binocular and a close focus of 10ft or less is even better.
SPEED OF FOCUS
A binocular that requires many turns of the focusing wheel to focus is fine for some applications, but not birding. You will be constantly focusing and refocusing as a bird moves from one location to another, and you will need to refocus quickly to catch up. A binocular that is too slow to focus will also cost you some birding opportunities.
OPTICAL QUALITY AND PRICE
This is a hotly debated topic with birders. You won't need the highest quality binoculars for birding if you simply wish to identify a species, but to better enjoy the view you'll want to take a step up in quality. With computerized technology, even an economy grade binocular will have enough optical quality to identify birds under good conditions for an hour or two at a time. On the other hand, a high grade binocular is much more likely to get you back out in the field to enjoy the birds and will be much more comfortable to use over longer periods of time. When in doubt, spend a little more, even if it is a stretch. At the end of a full day of birding, your eyes will know the difference.
For someone wanting to try birding on a casual basis, expect to pay at least $75-100 for a binocular with enough quality to ID birds for an hour or two at a time under good conditions. If you expect to be out all day, spending from $150-200 is a wise investment. At this price, you can also get a more durable, waterproof model.
If you will be birding on a regular basis, you should be willing to spend around $300. At this price, you get the most return on your optical dollar, at least initially. A $300 binocular will allow you to identify as many birds as the most expensive models, though it may not be as comfortable or durable as a more expensive glass. Still, a birdwatching binocular in this price range will provide many years of service with reasonable care.
For those who bird often, a top-of-the-line model from Zeiss, Swarovski or Leica is a relatively cheap investment when weighed against the many years of great performance such an amazing birding binocular provides. Models in this quality range allow you to view for long hours at a time without any hint of eye fatigue or strain and provide sensational views of birds in all their glorious color and form. Once you have used a binocular of this quality, you will never go back to a cheaper model.
This is a very subjective factor, but in general most people prefer the "feel" of a roof prism. Other factors include balance, grip, placement of the focusing knob, diopter adjustment and so on. The good news is that all manufacturers strive to please in this category and the odds of getting a real clunker in this category are low.
If you wear eyeglasses for normal distance viewing, you should always wear them when using a binocular. Fortunately, most models these days are made with the eyeglass wearer in mind. To be able to use eyeglasses, a binocular should have an eye relief of at least 14-15mm. Anything less, and an eyeglass wearer must settle for less than the entire field of view.
FIELD OF VIEW
For birding, an average field of view (the amount of territory seen when looking through a binocular) will do fine. Never sacrifice other features to get a wide field of view - a smaller, sharp window beats a wide, fuzzy one every time. Inexpensive wide-angle models nearly always obtain a wide angle at the expense of image sharpness. Also, when comparing two birding bino models of the same magnification, a difference in FOV (field of view) of less than 30 or 40 ft at 1000yds is not significant.
For most birding, a binocular need not be waterproof unless you live in a wet climate or will be birding under extreme conditions. Still, waterproofing is a good feature if you can get it. A waterproof model will not only be less likely to fog up internally, it will also be better sealed against dust and dirt.
Lens coatings increase light transmission and improve image brightness. With so many inexpensive models that are now "multi-coated lenses" (superior lens coating type), there is no reason to settle for a binocular model that is only "fully coated". The very best lens coatings are labeled "fully multi-coated lenses". This means every lens surface in the optical system that is exposed to air is multi-coated.
This is not a necessity for a birding binocular but it does make a binocular more comfortable to hold in extreme temperatures and it does help protect your investment from nicks and scratches. (Armoring does not make a binocular waterproof).
Thanks to technology and modern materials, there is no reason to carry a lot of weight around your neck anymore, even with a full-size glass. If you will only be birding for a couple of hours at a time, a 35 oz (995 grams) model will be manageable, but for all-day birding, a binocular that weighs less than 30 oz (8502 grams) is desirable.