How to choose binoculars

Binoculars; a safari essential. I often get asked about binoculars. Do I need them? Is it worth spending some money? What do the numbers mean? Well, yes, yes and it’s a bit complicated. If you’re going on safari you probably like looking at wildlife. Binoculars make looking at wildlife better. So by that logic, before you go on safari you should get yourself some binoculars. Here’s how.

The tech: 8x42, 10x50 and so on. 

The first number refers to magnification. If that leopard you’re looking at with your eyes is 1x, then using 8x binoculars will magnify the image 8 times. It will look 8 times closer. You get the idea. More magnification is not necessarily better, it’s really hard to hold 10x binoculars steady, although you might be able to handle this if you are a keen birder.

The second number is the size of the lens, the bigger that is, the more light is coming in. With more magnification, it’s good to have more lens. As with all things, balance is key. 

Now, if you really want to impress people you can tell them about something called the ‘exit pupil’ of your fancy new binoculars. This is essentially the brightness, divide the lens size by the magnification. This is one reason why 8x42 and 10x50s are popular, the image is nice and bright.

The field of view is not that important unless you are surveying a battlefield but what is good to check is how well you can see around the edges of the image as well as the centre. 

Enough complicated stuff, other things you should think about:

Firstly, try before you buy.

The eye cups. Push those in if you wear glasses, pull them out if you don’t. You’ll be amazed how many people with the most expensive binos don’t know this, and look at you like a god when you pull the eye cups out and they can suddenly see!

The hinge bit and the focus wheel. The weight. The feel. Pick them up and see what you think. If you have big paddle hands (like me), don’t go and buy a wee pair of travel binoculars that fit in your shirt pocket. If you’d rather not have a heavy pair of far lookers hanging around your neck you can get very good quality lighter, smaller 20 or 30 magnifications. 

How are you going to wear your spanking new binos? Round your neck? With a super bird nerd shoulder strap? Or in and out of your camera bag? I’ve gone through plenty of binoculars by dropping them on the floor or knocking someone else’s off the seat, very bad form.

Brands?

Like cameras, with binoculars you get what you pay for. If you can, spend a little more, it will be well worth it. A cheap pair will be more annoying than none. A good pair will last you for years. You might be using them everyday, you might only use them once, or once a year and then just to see what the neighbours are up to.

Some affordable brands I have used: Olympus, Nikon, Barr & Stroud , Bushnell & Opticron.

Expensive brands that I borrow from other people: Leica, Zeiss & Swarovski. 

And remember, binoculars are cool!

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