Everything you need to know about buying binoculars for birding

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Binoculars, often referred to as binoculars / bins / nocs, are a bird watcher’s best allies in the field, helping them spot, identify and fully appreciate the beauty of birds. Just as a superior tool improves a craftsman’s craft, a good pair of binoculars improves the ability and overall experience of the ornithologist.

Binoculars come in all shapes, sizes, and more importantly, in price, which can get incredibly high. So the ability to pick the right pair for yourself is very crucial. While the more expensive binoculars tend to have superior image quality and durability, we cannot use this as the sole criterion as there are cheaper models with decent quality that are durable.

The amount of jargon-shrouded technical specifications one has to sift through when reading manufacturers’ marketing spiel is staggering for what one would have considered simple devices. So, a little education would go a long way in helping you make an informed decision and choose the part that is best for you.

Before you start looking for your perfect tubs, you need to set your budget. While you shouldn’t be pressured into spending more, set aside as much as you can afford. Believe me, you will thank yourself countless times for this on the pitch. Next, you need to determine how much weight you can comfortably carry, especially if you are watching birds in the field for a long time.

Remember that you tend to leave it out if the weight is over your threshold or worse; you literally end up with a pain in your neck. These two steps would have now given you a manageable set of viable options. Now separate the straw from the grain.

Photo credit: The Nikon Monarch M5 is available in 8×42, 10×42 and 12×42 models
Nikon

Let’s dive into the specs. You will notice that all bins come with numbers like 8×32 or 10×42. The first number means magnification, obviously the bigger the magnification the better, but it comes at a price. The higher the magnification, the heavier the tanks and the more difficult it is to keep them stable for a reasonable period of time.

Also, the higher magnification would make the jerking more noticeable. The second number is the size of the lens (the one that is far away from you), the larger it is, the more light it collects and the brighter your eyesight.

Again, the larger the number, the heavier the bins. Normally the 8×42 or 10×42 is considered to be a great place for bird watching tanks with good magnification, good brightness and good field of view. While these two models from the same manufacturer look, weight, and even price very close to each other, there are some nuanced differences between the two.

The 8×32 would generally feel brighter than its 10×42 stablemate in low light conditions and provide a wider field of view at the obvious cost of magnification. So if you are looking for a bird in the forests in the late evening, where you can’t see too far anyway, an 8×42 might look advantageous while in situations with a distant bird you might want the magnification of the 10×42. .

The glass used in construction is a major factor in the quality of sight. BK7, Bak4, HD, and ED would be the types you would read, with each successive cipher indicating higher quality. The coatings used on glass have a different set of acronyms. “C” – denoting a single coating on some lenses, “FC” – all lens surfaces are coated, “MC” – some lens surfaces have multi-layer coatings, “FMC” – all lenses have multiple layers of coatings. As you would expect, as you move up the coatings ladder, you move up the price ladder as well.

Then there is the form factor to consider, with traditional larger Porro prisms where the lens is offset from the eyepiece, while in newer roof prisms the binoculars barrels are straight, this which makes them more compact. Porro prism bins are cheaper today, but also grouped together at the bottom of the scale.

nikon nikon prisms

How are the different types of prisms arranged in the binoculars
Photo credit: Nikon.com/ Composed screenshots

Another specification that you should pay attention to is eye relief. For proper viewing, the eyepiece of the bins should be a comfortable distance from your eyes. So always look for tubs with eyecups that extend so that they rest comfortably over your eyes and if you are using glasses you can retract the eyecups to rest on your glasses while maintaining eye relief. .

Then there are boxes that you need to make sure they are checked if you want your investment to serve you for a long time. They must be sturdy and durable. Many come with a rubberized coating to protect them from impact and also provide good grip. They must be waterproof so that a little bad weather does not put a ray in your plans and finally they must be anti-fog so that your vision is unimpeded.

Now that you’ve arrived at your final list of candidates, the final step is beyond specification. Go to a store and grab the pair of bins and ask yourself; How do they feel in your hand, how well do they sit over your eyes, which produces the image that you find most pleasing?

All of the above will not be answered until you try them. If you don’t have a store nearby, you can check out your birding companion’s bins on a birding trip. Bird watchers are more than eager to show off their optics. This will give you real world answers to pick the winner.

Buyer’s guide to binoculars with “value for money” classified by price. We have selected them from models readily available in India. 8×42 and 10×42 are listed alternately and usually we can find a matching model for the same brand.

Olympus 8 x 40 DPS I

Entry-level ornithological tanks. Most bird watchers would have started with this.

  • Pros – Price (cheapest and most affordable usable bins), field of view (due to being an 8x)
  • Cons – Size, weight, lack of water resistance, oldest model on the list

Nikon Aculon A211 8×42 binoculars

The entry-level model from Nikon, suitable for bird watching, is very popular.

  • Benefits – Price, Brand
  • Cons – Size, weight (heaviest of the lot), lack of tightness

Celestron 10×42 Outland X

Good performer without major flaws

  • Advantages – Weight (lightest), Waterproof
  • Disadvantages – Field of view

Vanguard Veo ED 1042

Its specs meet or exceed all of this list while not being expensive. The most profitable purchase

  • Benefits – Weight, height, waterproof, eye relief (the best), min. focus distance
  • Cons – None at this price

Nikon Prostaff 5 8×42

Balanced performance, a model of value for money if you consider the brand

  • Benefits – Weight, Waterproof, Eye Relief, Brand
  • Disadvantages – Field of view

Carl Zeiss 10×42 Terra ED

This is the entry-level model for Carl Zeiss. He has a very good FoV and an extremely short min. focus distance which makes it ideal for seeing butterflies and insects.

  • Benefits – Brand, Min. focus distance, waterproof, field of view
  • Disadvantages – Weight, Price

Rajneesh Suvarna has been a compulsive bird watcher from a young age, more likely to forget to pack this toothbrush than his binoculars for a trip. Among other things, he currently runs a birding excursion company, Wayfarer, which organizes birding tours around the world. A well-published photographer, you can find some of his work on NatureChronicles.com. You can follow him on Insta, Facebook twitter


This series is an initiative of the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), as part of its “Nature Communications” program to encourage nature content in all Indian languages. To learn more about birds and nature, Join The Flock.


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