How to Choose the Right Binoculars for You

Regardless of what outdoor adventure you have planned, a good pair of binoculars can make you feel a lot closer to the action.

Vortex binoculars
A good pair of binoculars can help you spot things that you’d likely miss with the naked eye.Vortex

Whether you like to hike, backpack, watch birds, or all of the above, a good pair of binoculars will make your outdoor adventures more fun. In fact, good binoculars can make a white-tailed deer or bald eagle that is hundreds of yards away seem very close, giving you the opportunity to more closely study and enjoy it. Unfortunately, all binoculars aren’t created equal, and if you get a sub-par pair of binoculars, you’ll likely never be happy with them. When you’re shopping for binoculars for your next outdoor adventure, consider these important aspects.

Lens Size

Vortex Optics Diamondback HD Binoculars
These quality binoculars from Vortex are available with objective lenses from 28mm to 50mm.Vortex

The objective lenses are the large lenses on the front of a pair of binoculars, measured in millimeters. The objective lens is the second number in the description, for example the 42 in a set of 8x42 binoculars. Typical sizes for objective lenses are 25mm to 28mm for compacts, about 30mm for mid-sized units, 40mm to 42mm for full-sized binoculars and 50mm and higher for long-range models. Larger lenses allow more light to pass through, and are typically better in low-light conditions. Exit pupil size also relates closely to brightness of the image you see through your binoculars. Exit pupil is determined by dividing the objective lens size by the binoculars’ magnification, and it is expressed in millimeters. For instance, a 10x24 pair of binoculars has an exit pupil of 2.4mm. Since the average pupil size for humans in regular light is about 3mm, an exit pupil of 2.4mm would make the scene appear darker. An exit pupil above 3mm makes a scene appear brighter.

Magnification

12x42 Powerful Binoculars with Clear Weak Light Vision
These 12x binoculars make an object 600 yards away appear to be only 50 yards away, making viewing much easier.Adorrgon

Magnification, or power, is one of the more important considerations in choosing recreational binoculars. Magnification is the first number in a binocular description, such as 8x42. In that case, it has a magnification power of eight, meaning an object you are looking at will appear eight times closer than it would to your naked eye. So, a deer standing 400 yards away will appear as though it’s 50 yards away through your 8x binoculars. Field of view is related to magnification and represents the area in feet that you’ll be able to see using your binoculars at a distance of 1,000 yards. A wide field of view makes it easier to search a large area for an object without moving your binoculars. A narrow field of view makes it easier to get a closer look at an object after you’ve located it.

Lens Coatings

Bushnell H2O Waterproof/Fogproof Roof Prism Binocular
The lenses on these Bushnell binoculars are multi-coated to enhance light transmission and give the user a brighter view.Bushnell

With uncoated lenses, light transmission from objective to ocular lenses might be less than 70 percent, but good lens coatings can raise that to 95 percent transmission. Coating categories include: coated, at least one major optical element has a coating on at least one surface; fully coated, all lenses and glass surfaces have a coating layer; multi-coated, at least one of the major optical elements has multiple coatings of anti-reflective compounds on at least one surface; and fully multi-coated, all glass surfaces have multiple coatings. Eye relief refers to the distance between the position your eyes can see the entire field of view while looking through the binoculars and the eyepiece lens surface. If you regularly wear glasses or sunglasses while enjoying the great outdoors, choose binoculars with long eye relief.

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