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You are a person who enjoys watching birds and this             C     hances are, you already own                         ...
require optics that are               If the binocular you are              Roof prisms, which became    impervious to wea...
Shape directly relates to how      leather-type or guttapercha        focusing binoculars. These would    easily and stead...
closer than they really are; a             Almost all active birders use          s   Your hands are steady;    10x binocu...
made about binoculars and            that exits the binocular to fall       The important consideration    brightness and ...
A wide field makes it easier      With rubber eyecups rolled down       fogged binoculars upon the    to pick up and ident...
guards with their optics                  equipment warranty. Quality        The Bottom Line    package. Rain guards keep ...
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Binoculars for Birders and Wildlife


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Chances are, you already own a pair of binoculars – a pair you inherited or bought without much thought; a pair that has served, but maybe did not excel. But now you are ready to move up to quality optics... binoculars that will make it easy to get into those hyperkinetic warblers and treetop vireos.

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Binoculars for Birders and Wildlife

  1. 1. You are a person who enjoys watching birds and this C hances are, you already own a pair of binoculars – a pair you inherited or bought without puts you in good company. much thought; a pair that has In the estimates of the United States Fish and served, but maybe did not excel. Wildlife Service, over 60 million North Americans have discovered the pleasure and challenge of birding. But now you are ready to move up to quality optics... binoculars that will make it easy to get into those hyperkinetic warblers and treetop vireos. Binoculars You need binoculars that are sharp enough to resolve the details that separate look-alike For Birders flycatchers and bright enough to disclose the facial pattern of an “olive backed" thrush stalking the shadows. In short you are ready to buy a pair of “birding For more nature habitat information binoculars." Visit these helpful websites: Won’t Just Any Binocular Do. Binoculars are the primary A Plants Home tool for bird watching. Different A Birds Home “User Groups" (hunters, A Homesteaders Home yachtsmen, backpackers, concert goers) use binoculars as an accessory to their activity or sport. But binoculars are not just an accessory to birding. Binoculars are the instruments that define birding – the functional equivalent of the first baseman’s glove, the musician’s instrument, the plow in the hands of the frontier farmer. Every user group has its own peculiar needs and constraints that binocular manufacturers translate into binocular makes and models. Hunters, for example, demand rugged, durable, optically precise binoculars that perform well even in the low light conditions of dawn and dusk. Yachtsmen© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 1 A Plants Home
  2. 2. require optics that are If the binocular you are Roof prisms, which became impervious to weather. considering is flawed in popular in the late ’60s and Backpackers want optics that performance or design (i.e., ’70s are longer and sleeker in are light and portable. they do not focus close design, with the objective and enough…they do not fit your ocular lenses falling in But birders demand all these hands…the ocular lenses alignment along the same tube. attributes and more. For cannot be adjusted close binoculars to be birder worthy, enough to offer a single Both designs have they must not only be durable image…) do not buy them! If advantages and and precise, but also you do buy them, you will only disadvantages. Because Porro weatherproof and portable. replace them later. prism binoculars have fewer They must focus fast and focus internal “elements" (lenses and close. They must offer a FOURTH – There are very prisms) and more generous generous field of view and cheap binoculars and very tolerance specs, they are provide exceptional depth of expensive binoculars. There are generally brighter, less field even at close quarters. binoculars that are good for expensive to manufacture, and This article has one objective: birding, and binoculars that are less expensive to repair in the to give you the information you not good for birding. event of a mishap. need to choose true birder worthy binoculars and spotting There are no good cheap Roof prisms, though more scopes. birding binoculars. It takes expensive, also tend to be more quality materials and rugged with elements more Forewarned is Forearmed sophisticated engineering to firmly anchored within the There are several things you craft birder worthy binoculars. barrels. Many people also find should know even before talking Expect to pay a commensurate Roof prism binoculars easier to to a salesperson. price – three to four hundred hold steady for extended dollars at least. periods. FIRST – As a bird watcher, you represent the largest “user What Are Binoculars. Binocular Shape The important thing about group" in the optics market. Binoculars are twin barreled binocular shape is how they feel Over 30 percent of all telescopes whose barrels are in your hands. binoculars purchased are used aligned to fall on the same for birding. spot. They are superior to a If you grasp a pair of telescope insofar as they can binoculars and bring them to SECOND – The needs and be used with both eyes open – your eyes and your finger does constraints of birding are well making long-term viewing easier. not fall comfortably upon the known to binocular Since binoculars are usually focus wheel, or if you have to manufacturers, but they might hand held, they are also more shift your grip to move the not be known to the sales portable and faster to use than focus wheel, then the person you deal with. telescopes. binoculars are poorly designed or too large for your hands. Chances are, after reading Binoculars are divided into Put them back on the shelf. this article, you will know much two basic design classes: more about birding binoculars Likewise, if you bring the than any non-birding s Porro prism; and binoculars up to your eyes but salesperson you will meet. Don’t s Roof prism. find that you cannot draw the let them confuse you. eyepieces close enough to offer Porro prism or “traditional a single image, put them back THIRD – All equipment, binoculars" are wide-bodied. The on the shelf. The minimum including binoculars, is designed big lens in front (the objective “interpupillary distance" to compensate for a human lenses) and the smaller one in offered by some models is short-coming. People should the back (the ocular lenses) are simply not close enough to never be forced to compensate offset – i.e., not aligned along a accommodate people with for their equipment. vertical axis. closely-set eyes.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 2 A Plants Home
  3. 3. Shape directly relates to how leather-type or guttapercha focusing binoculars. These would easily and steadily binoculars covering. be fine, if birds never may be held, and this directly approached closer than 50 feet affects image quality. Focusing – which is about as close as Birding demands binoculars permanent focusing binoculars “Mini" binoculars, favored by that focus quickly. When can offer a clear image. backpackers because of their attention is diverted from a reduced size and weight, offer close-at-hand warbler, to a But as birders know, birds do little to anchor a shake-free distant, fast disappearing appear closer than 50 feet. In grip so birders generally avoid hawk, time spent spinning the fact, sometimes – in cattail them. focus wheel to go the range of marsh, dense woodlands, or focus is, well, time spent tropical forest, a bird might be Large, bulky or “Marine" spinning your wheels. no more than ten feet away, binoculars force users to hold and because of poor light or their elbows high and widely A binocular that can go obstructing vegetation, an spaced, decreasing stability from close focus to infinity identification cannot be made and increasing muscle fatigue. quickly and smoothly is with the naked eye. Birders avoid these, too. invaluable in the birding arena. At times like these a Binocular Weight Birding binoculars should be binocular that offers super- Binoculars are literally a center focusing binoculars. This close focus may make the weight around your neck. How means that by moving a well difference between a Life Bird much you want to bear is up to positioned wheel, both barrels or a shoulder shrug – which is you, but in general, 20-30 oz. is of a binocular are adjusted to say, all the difference in the about as much as most people quickly and simultaneously. world. care to consider. An individual eyepiece Birding binoculars should be The elements contributing to adjustment ring (or knob) is able to focus down to 15 feet. the overall weight in a pair of available to compensate for Binoculars that offer a close binoculars include: the small differences that focus down to nine or ten feet exist between an individual’s are prized. s the optical elements; eyes. It is set once – then s the body; and never again. If you do a great deal of s the outer covering. woodland birding, or watch Some military or marine birders coming to your feeders High quality optics, made of binoculars offer individual at very close quarters, close barium crown glass (BAK-4), eyepiece focusing – a system focusing binoculars are a must. are denser and heavier than that employs adjustable rings optics made of the cheaper that encircle both ocular Magnification boro-silicate glass (BK-7). The lenses. This system is slow, Binoculars come in different quality of the image you see is cumbersome, and therefore, ill powers designated by the first directly related to the quality of suited for birding. number of the binomial legend the optics. etched on all binoculars Some binoculars offer levers (examples: 8x30, 7x42, 10x42). To reduce overall weight, instead of wheels for “quick quality binocular bodies are focus." These are appealing in The second number refers to cast out of aluminum or rugged theory but in fact require a the diameter of the objective space age synthetics. two-handed grip and a bit of lens in millimeters and will be dickering to get a sharp image. discussed in the section dealing To help protect the internal They also tend to not be very with “Light and Brightness." elements many binoculars are durable. “armored" – covered with shock Simply put, a 8x binocular absorbing rubber or Some manufacturers also (eight power) makes distant polyurethane shell instead of a offer permanent focus or non- objects appear eight times© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 3 A Plants Home
  4. 4. closer than they really are; a Almost all active birders use s Your hands are steady; 10x binocular makes the object binoculars that offer between 7x appear closer still – ten times and 10x. What magnification you s Most of your birding is closer. choose hinges on a number of conducted over great considerations. distance and open spaces; The tendency is to believe that bigger is better – that the In general, lower magnification s You do not commonly include more “power" a binocular has, is to your advantage if: a spotting scope in your the better it will perform. This optical arsenal. is not necessarily so and there s You are a beginning birder, are several reasons for this. unpracticed at locating If you are still undecided birds with binoculars; between 7x or 10x binoculars, First, although higher consider a compromise – like magnification will increase the s You are a birder having an 8x but NEVER BUY A ZOOM size of a distant bird and difficulty holding higher BINOCULAR! They are optically enhances the details that will magnifications steady; inferior and even at the lowest be seen, increased magnification, offer a magnification also magnifies s Much of your birding is comparatively limited field of the effects of hand shake and conducted at close view. heart beat. quarters – in woodlands or rain forests, or from the If you look at the optic lines The image may well be bigger deck of a moving boat; offered by the finest optical but details, as measured by companies or if you look at the image perception, will remain s You are a highly skilled birder instruments in the hands of the essentially the same. more interested in speed finest field birders, you will never than in seeing “field marks" see a zoom binocular. This Greater magnification also of birds you recognize by should send a clear message to results in a smaller field of view, their JIZ (general impression the discerning consumer. a darker image, and a shallower and shape). depth of field – all of which Light and Brightness directly affect binocular Ten power binoculars get the Once – and not long ago; and performance. nod if: not without reason – much was Purchase Quality Binoculars© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 4 A Plants Home
  5. 5. made about binoculars and that exits the binocular to fall The important consideration brightness and light loss. upon the human eye. when buying binoculars is to Guides to purchasing optics make sure the optics are “fully expounded upon the mysteries This shaft of light, seen as coated" or, better still “fully of the “twilight factor," and the bright dot swimming in the multi-coated." The operative “relative brightness," and center of the ocular lens is word is “fully" because this “relative light efficiency." Sales called the “exit pupil" and is means that all air to glass people who know little about still an important surfaces both inside the binoculars except, perhaps, how consideration when buying binocular and out have been to read charts still expound optics. Here’s why. treated to reduce light loss. upon these mysteries. The human eye has a pupil, Different manufacturers use Certainly a bright image, too – one that opens and different, patented names to offering sharp contrast and contracts in response to light distinguish their coatings. The accurate color rendition is conditions. In bright light it can important thing is to be sure important to birders – in fact, expand to about 7 mm that all glass surfaces, inside it is essential. The fact of the (depending on your age), thus and out, are single or “multi- matter is that since the advent establishing the functional limit coated" to reduce light loss. of coated lenses…and multi- of the binocular’s exit pupil – coated lenses...and phase because any light falling The process used to coat coated Roof prisms...all the old outside the maximum limit of binoculars lenses is exacting rules governing glass and light the human eye serves for and costly. It accounts for have been bent. nothing. much of the price difference between quality binoculars and If you are willing to pay the Beginning in World War II, it less expensive binoculars. But a price for quality binoculars, was discovered that a coating commensurate price can also be you are virtually assured of of reflection reducing material your assurance that your are owning binoculars that offer (like magnesium fluoride) buying binoculars that are superior brightness. applied to the surface of glass bright and sharp enough to could reduce light loss caused perform in the field. The problem used to be this. by reflection from 5% to almost Every time light strikes polished 1%. This coating appears as a Field of View glass (like a lens; like a prism) blue, or purple, or green glaze and Depth of Field 5% of it is lost, reflected away. on the lenses. Field of view is the measure of In every binocular there are 10- the distance from one side of a 16 glass surfaces whose Later it was discovered that binocular’s image to the other cumulative loss of light equaled by applying multiple, thin as seen through a stationary about 50%. The net result was coatings instead of a single binocular. a dark image. coating, light loss could be further reduced to a mere This measurement, either In partial compensation, fraction of 1%. inscribed on the binocular or binocular manufacturers could included in the accompanying increase the size of the Recently, several literature, may be designated in objective lens. The size of the manufacturers of superior degrees of arc (ex: 6, 7); feet at objective lens is measured in quality Roof prism binoculars 1,000 yards (ex: 415 feet at millimeters and appears as the have begun coating the “Roof 1,000 yards); or meters at second number of the legend prism" with a material that 1,000 meters. stamped on binoculars compensates for the modest (example: 7x42, 8x30, 10x50). wave length shift inherent in However the measurement is the Roof prism design with the noted, a wide field – one that Larger objective lenses allow result that “phase-corrected" offers no less than 6 degrees more light to enter the Roof prisms offer the same of arc (or a minimum of 300 binocular, increasing the sharp image contrast found in feet at 1,000 yards) is diameter of the shaft of light Porro prism binoculars. essential to birding.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 5 A Plants Home
  6. 6. A wide field makes it easier With rubber eyecups rolled down fogged binoculars upon the to pick up and identify fast or otherwise retracted, swallow-tailed kite soaring flying birds. It makes it possible eyeglass wearers can enjoy the overhead will make you a to scan a sky, an ocean, or an same wide field enjoyed by non- convert. open marsh quickly. It’s also eyeglass wearers. easier to locate birds at close Other Important Considerations quarters in a maze of NOTE: Just because a pair of Whether you are a World branches. binoculars comes with rubber Series of Birding combatant, a eyecups does not mean they rock climbing hawk watcher, or Birding binoculars should offer good or even adequate eye a casual backyard birder who is also offer good depth of field – relief for eyeglass wearers. The meticulously careful with a sharp, adjustment-free test is in the length of the equipment – accidents do image from near to far. A actual eye relief. happen. All birding binoculars generous depth of field assists should be able to shrug off the when trying to locate a close- Weather Resistance/ occasional bump and ding. at-hand bird in a maze of Water Proof branches. A generous depth of Birding is an activity Superior binoculars are field mitigates the need to conducted outside, and from impervious to airline baggage make focus adjustments every the moment a birder takes his handlers, children, and time a bird moves a little or her binoculars outside, the tumbles onto pavement closer or a little farther away. outside is trying to get inside precipitated by a combination those binoculars. of motion, gravity, and a fall Both field of view and depth to the roadway after being of field are closely related to In general “Internal Focusing" left on the roof of a car. magnification. In general, binoculars are better sealed binoculars with lower against dust, pollen, and Well constructed, well sealed, magnifications offer greater moisture than “external armored binoculars offer depth of field, and a wider field focusing" binoculars. To tell another advantage. They need of view than binoculars with the difference, move the focus no special care – they don’t higher magnification. wheel and see whether or not even need to be returned to a the ocular bridge moves. case after use! Hang them up Eye Relief on the hook by the back door. Very closely related to field of A very few superior binoculars Put them under the front seat view, eye relief refers to the are waterproof (not “water of the car. They are there when distance between the ocular resistant," not “weather you need them. Ready at a lens and the human eye. This resistant," not “splash proof"). moment’s notice without having distance is measured in They are waterproof – able to to run to the closet...and grab millimeters. withstand complete immersion the box from it’s place on the and remain dry inside. This is a top shelf (out of the reach of Eye relief is a very difficult (and expensive boast) the kids)...and open the important consideration for and binoculars that really are case...and remove the birders who use eyeglasses in waterproof/submersible will binoculars...and extract the the field and who do not certainly tout this. plastic plugs that protect the remove their eyeglasses when lenses...and run back to the fitting binoculars to their You need not bird regularly in kitchen study the eyes. pouring rain to appreciate the vibrating branch where the bird benefits of well built, well sealed (that just left) had been Because the eyes of eyeglass optics. perched. wearers are already set 10-15 mm behind a glass barrier, they The day you jump from your Lens protection is important, demand a very “high" eye point air conditioned car into a so most manufacturers of – a binocular that offers a steamy Florida afternoon and quality birding binoculars minimum of 15 mm of eye relief. train your now completely include custom fitted rain© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 6 A Plants Home
  7. 7. guards with their optics equipment warranty. Quality The Bottom Line package. Rain guards keep optics come with a warranty Birding is an activity that things like rain drops, salt that covers materials and offers challenge, excitement, spray, sandwich drippings, and workmanship. and a lifetime of pleasure. The hot breath from obscuring better your optics, the less optics in the field. They also Again, a very few superior frustration you will know and keep dust off lenses when the optics offer lifetime warranties more pleasure you will get out binoculars are not in use. Some to the original owner – a of birding. binoculars also come with special bonus for those who protective cups for the purchase optics designed and When buying binoculars objective lens. built to last a lifetime. (and spotting scopes), the rule of thumb is simple. Buy Binoculars should come with Spotting Scopes the best binoculars you can durable, supple, and adjustable In time, after the birds of possibly afford and buy them neck straps. Leather straps are woodland and field have been as soon as you can afford chic, but crack and rot under mastered and savored, many them. normal field use. birders feel compelled to reach for the horizon. They turn their If you can’t immediately Plastic straps loose their identification skills upon afford the quality binoculars suppleness in cold weather and migrating hawks, wintering you want, tolerate the ones will loop when binoculars are you have or borrow a pair from seabirds, or feeding shorebirds. raised – invariably falling a friend. Save for the optics directly between the ocular lens you really want. This kind of birding involves and your eye. careful study over great If you settle for less, you will distances for extended only regret your half-step Most quality binoculars now periods, and in this arena, a come with straps made of purchase until the day you spotting scope is ideal. braided nylon. Wider straps replace them with the help distribute weight evenly, binoculars or spotting scope Spotting scopes rest upon a that you really wanted all saving wear and tear on a tripod, a shoulder stock, or birder’s neck. along. specially designed window mount. Thus stabilized, they Good Birding! Speaking of wear and tear, make higher magnification perfection is an ideal that possible, bringing birds on the optics manufacturers strive for. horizon within reach. Popular Filling the gap between powers include 20x, 30x, 40x technical precision and ideal and 60x. WindStar Wildlife Institute is a perfection is the manufacturers national, non-profit, conservation organization whose mission is to Zoom eyepieces are popular help individuals and families and do not, as a rule, suffer establish or improve the wildlife the short-comings inherent in habitat on their properties. About the Author... zoom binoculars. In fact, a few Pete Dunne, of the New Jersey For more information or for the spotting scopes with zoom name of a Master Wildlife Audubon Society, is one of eyepieces offer exceptional birdings better known figures and Habitat Naturalist in your area, authorities on the optical needs optical performance. please contact: of bird watchers. He is author of The Feather Quest, Tales of a Low Like binoculars, spotting WindStar Wildlife Institute Rent Birder, and Hawks in Flight. scopes come in a range of His regular columns appear in quality and price and also, like E-mail: American Birds, Birding, and Living Bird. He and wife, Linda, live binoculars, you get what you near Cape May, New Jersey. pay for.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 7 A Plants Home