Choosing Birding Binoculars-The Basics Guide

Every birder knows that binoculars and bird watching are inseparable. With a pair of field guide and binoculars in your hands, you ready to hit the road. But as a beginner choosing birding binoculars is almost like shopping for a car.

You would realize that when it comes to choosing binoculars for bird watching it all about personal preference. You would have to consider what fits your hands, your eyes, face, size and the way you bird. In order to get the right pair for yourself here is a guide to assist you:

Choosing Birding Binoculars


  • Research. When you plan to buy a car you first have to know the minimum requirements you need in your car and then you go to the showroom to look at them and possibly get a test drive. The same way when it comes to choosing binoculars you first have to have some specifications you need in your binoculars. If you are not sure, plan a visit to a birding club meeting in your local area or simple visit bird watching sites.


  • Cost. In the binocular world, you get what you pay for. You can get decent binoculars in the  $100 range, You can also get better and superb ones between the $200 to  $400 range. Anything in the $1000 range is excellent quality. Whether you are an occasional birder or you spend a lot of time birding, the price range you will choose depends on your budget and the quality you want to get when viewing through your device.


  • Field test. Unless you know exactly what type of binoculars you want, it’s a nice idea to test out a couple of binoculars in your local store to have a feel of them before ordering some. especially if it is your first time.

Choosing Bird watching Binoculars: The Basics to Consider


  • Magnification

The magnification tells you how many times the bird your are viewing with your binoculars gets magnified.  When the image gets magnified, the image of the bird appears closer to you. which then reveals more details to your eyes.

The standard bird watching binoculars have a magnification lever between seven (7) and ten(10). These numbers tell how many times the image gets magnified. For example, an 8×42 binocular tells you the image will appear  8 times closer to you. For general birding, most experts agree that 7x or 8x is best for most birders.

Higher magnifications are good but the field of view becomes smaller, the level of brightness decrease and the less the depth of the field or focus. High magnifying binoculars also tend to magnify your handshakes. Thereby creating unsteady images.

This will mean mounting them on a tripod or mounting device which will also limit your mobility.

  • Field of View

The field of view is the width of an area seen at 1,000 yards, expressed in degrees of arc or feet; determined by the eyepiece. A minimum of 6.3 degrees of arc or 330 feet at 1,000 yards is preferable for birding. A wide field of view makes it easier to find and track birds when looking through the binocular.

Binoculars with lower magnification are known to have a wider field of view but the trade-off you get is, inability to see more details compared to higher magnification binoculars. If the field of view is too wider too, distortions are likely to appear at the edges of the image.

Choosing Birding Binoculars

  • Focusing

If you are a beginner, then choose center- focus binoculars because it is easier to adjust both barrels at the same time than adjusting individually. How do you know this is good- focusing binocular?. You know this by the focusing speed and precision. A good focusing mechanism goes from close focus to infinity within one to two full turns.

IF the focusing gear has a slow gear ratio, it is easier to focus for close range than at a distance but if it has a fast gear ratio, it is difficult to focus in the close range but does well at long distances.

  • Close Focus

good birding binoculars should have a close focus of 10 feet or less. This enables you to see details of creatures that are close to your feet. All binocular can focus at infinity but it is however not easy to design binoculars that can focus at a close range.

  • Eye Relief

The eye relief tells you the maximum distance that your eye can be from the binocular eyepiece while allowing you to see the entire field of view.

The minimum recommended eye relief for eyeglass wearers is 16 mm. Because their glasses also create an additional distance between the eyepieces and the person’s eyes it is good to have longer eye relief to compensate for that.

Retractable eyecups are also important for people who wear eyeglasses while birding. Some retract by pushing them in, others twist in, and some newer eyecups have click stops for greater adjustability.

  • Objective Lens Diameter

The second number that you see after the magnification is the objective lens diameter of the binocular and its measured in millimeters. e.g. 8×42. The objective lens size is 42 mm (aperture). The objective lenses are the largest lenses in the binocular and the farthest away from your eyes.

These lenses gather lights from the target and the larger their size the more lights they are able to gather. This also means more details you can see. Larger objective lenses are better during low light conditions.

The larger the aperture also means the heavier the binos will be in your hands.

  • Glass Coating

As earlier on said that the objective lens size determines how much light is gathered. If this light gathered is not guided properly to the eyepieces to reach your eyes, you won’t get quality images. To prevent light loss or reduce light loss, binocular lenses are coated with anti-reflective coatings to enhance light transmission.

Binoculars have different levels of coatings and the more coating layers applied, the better the light transmission. Below is the type of coatings available.

Coated(C): At least one of the major optical elements has a coating on at least one surface. It is usually a magnesium fluoride applied to at least one surface.

Fully Coated(FC): At least one thin anti-reflective coating on both sides of the objective lens system, both sides of the ocular lens system, and the long side of the prism.

Multi-coated(MC): In this coating type. multiple layers of coatings are applied to one or more of the lens surfaces.

  • Exit Pupil

Exit pupil is the size of the image at the focusing point of the binocular. Judge the exit pupil by observing the small circle of light in the eyepiece when you hold the binocular at arm’s length. A larger exit pupil means a brighter, sharper and clearer image.

It also means that it is easier for your eyes to stay on the image when it is bright out and your pupils are
contracted and that you are able to see the image more clearly in low-light conditions when your pupils are dilated.

To determine the exit pupil, divide the width of the objective lens by the magnification. The result should be around five millimeters, but not less than four. But there is an exception though. Because elderly people pupils are not able to dilate to a larger extend like young folks, an exit pupil of less than four is good for them. An 8×42 binocular has an exit pupil of 5.25 mm.

  • Waterproof and Fog Proof

In my recent article of fog proof and waterproof binoculars, I explained in details how they work and why it is good to have your binoculars waterproof and fog proof. In waterproof and fog proof binoculars, the interior of the binocular is either Nitrogen or Argon gas purged and O-ring sealed to prevent moisture, air, dust and debris from entering and causing damage to the interior glass.

This also allows you to use your binoculars in harsh weather conditions such as rain and rapidly changing temperature environment without them getting spoiled or fogged up.

Along with weatherproofing, consider armoring. Usually made of synthetic rubber, armoring protects the body of the binocular from physical harm due to bangs, bumps, and corrosive elements.

  • Weight

When it comes to choosing birding binoculars, is always good to consider a pair that is lightweight to prevent fatigue at the end of the day. Choose a binocular that has the right balance for your arms, wrists, and neck.

If you prefer a pair that is heavier maybe you want to hang them around your neck, you should consider using a harness instead of the neck strap.

Are 10×42 Binoculars Good for Bird Watching?

Yes. 10×42 binoculars are good for bird watching. Just that it is easier to find 8×42 binoculars with a wider field of view and generous eye relief compared to the 10×42 binoculars. So with a bit of search, you should be able to get a good pair that also has generous eye relief especially for those who wear glasses.

What is the Best Magnification for Bird Watching?

The best magnification for bird watching is between  7x and 10x magnification with the optimum according to birding expects been 8x. The  8x gives you a good trade-off in terms of weight, eye relief and field of view.

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