The 10 Best Binoculars For Bird Watching
This wiki has been updated 7 times since it was first published in November of 2018. If you're serious about bird watching, then any old pair of binoculars just won't do. The models we've included on our list boast some of the highest quality optics on the planet, along with features that prevent fogging, maximize color reproduction and light transmission, and ensure comfortable use for hours on end. We've ranked them here by their imaging performance, durability, and value. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best binoculars for bird watching on Amazon.
November 18, 2018:
There's a pretty significant jump in price when you get into the finer options in this category, with brands like Leica, Zeiss, and Canon offering the most expensive models. Zeiss turns out to be the company to beat here, however, as their Conquest and Victory models boast about as clear an image as you can imagine.
What Makes A Good Pair Of Binoculars
These are called the objective lenses, and the larger they are, the more light they can absorb, increasing the performance of binoculars in poor lighting conditions.
Buying a pair of binoculars to take birdwatching is going to expose you to many of the same features that would come under scrutiny if you were buying binoculars for pretty much any other activity short of military reconnaissance. There are a few particulars when it comes to birding that should garner more attention than they might otherwise, however.
Beginning with a discussion of more general binocular specifications, it’s important that you understand the most basic spec you’ll see on any given pair, which usually looks like 8x25, 10x32, or some similar set of two numbers with an x in between them. The number on the left refers to magnification, meaning that anything you see through any pair of binoculars with an eight in that position will be magnifies eight times, a 10 10 times, and so on. The number on the right refers to the diameter of the lens at the far end of the binoculars (where you don’t put your eyes). These are called the objective lenses, and the larger they are, the more light they can absorb, increasing the performance of binoculars in poor lighting conditions.
Generally speaking, you’d want your objective lens diameter (the number on the right) to be as large as possible, especially for birding in the early morning, late evening, or under a thick canopy of trees. But the larger your objectives get, the heavier and more expensive the binoculars become, so it’s best to find a good balance here. As for the magnification (the number on the left), that’s going to have to do with the behavior of the birds you like to watch. You may mistakenly think you want as much magnification as possible, but if you’re looking at a fast-moving species through 12x magnification, you might have a hard time tracking it. It’s better to utilize eight of 10x for most birds.
There are binoculars on the market with zoom functions, as well. These are often too heavy for most practical birding applications, but if you like to look at a wide variety of species from a range of distances, and you think you can handle the extra weight, they might be a good choice.
On the topic of weight, keep in mind that a lot of time birding is spent looking up through binoculars. The heavier a pair is, the more tired your arms are going to get holding them up. If you insist on a big, heavy option, look for one with a tripod mount, so you can hook it up to a birding tripod and let the stand take the weight out of your hands.
Tips For A Successful Birding Session
Whether you’re new to birdwatching or a seasoned pro, there are basic behaviors that everyone should follow if they want to have the best experience in the field. Some of these suggestions are made easier with a good pair of binoculars, as well. If there’s a particular bird you’re after, studying its habits and habitat is the best place to start, but once you’re out in the field, these are some of the best things you can do to maximize your chances of a sighting.
Many bird species — particularly the predators — have excellent eyesight, and will keep away from anything too busy, bright, or unfamiliar.
The first thing you’ll need to do is get good at staying quiet. Any loud, sudden, or unusual noises are pretty much guaranteed to scare off birds. This is why binoculars are superior to cameras for birding, as cameras are a bit too noisy (with the exception of some mirrorless cameras). If you really want to document you experience, the best tools are a pencil and a notebook.
You’ll likely find that hours spent on end in relative stillness becomes a big part of the draw for birdwatchers. There’s a real sense of peace to the practice, a kind of meditativeness. And that doesn’t mean it has to be a solitary activity, either. You’ll be able to share quality time with friends and loved ones without speaking a word.
And while you’re spending time in all that stillness, don’t forget to use your ears. Often, you’ll hear the bird you want to see before you actually lay eyes on it, and following your ears is a great way to spot something unexpected. Learning to differentiate among the calls belonging to the birds native to the area you’re watching will help you find interesting species while you’re at it.
Avoid brightly colored clothing, as well. Just as you want to audibly blend in with your environment, you want your clothes to hide you as much as possible. Many bird species — particularly the predators — have excellent eyesight, and will keep away from anything too busy, bright, or unfamiliar.
A Brief History Of Binoculars
Binoculars could not exist without there first being a telescope. In their most rudimentary form, binoculars are simply two telescopes mounted right next to each other, after all. In fact, when Hans Lippershey, the Dutchman who’s often credited with patenting the first telescope in the early 17th century, first filed for his patent, the office asked him to produce a binocular version, which he did. The big problem with these was that discrepancies in quality and even magnification in early telescope lenses made putting a pair up to both of your eyes at once a bit disorienting.
As advances in optics manufacturing over the next couple of centuries made this less of an issue, new inventions helped perfect binoculars into the modern tools we know today. One of those was the prism design created by Italian inventor Ignazio Porro, whose Porro prisms are still considered a height in binocular design, and are often included in more expensive models. The alternative to these, known as roof prism binoculars, are a little smaller and easier to weatherproof, but offer somewhat reduced optical quality.
Today, you’ll find additional modern features in binoculars, such as nitrogen purged tubes that are resistant to fogging even after getting wet; synthetic coatings on the lenses that can cut down on glare, ghosting, and aberrations; and adjustable diopters and eyepieces that are equally comfortable whether or not you use your binoculars in concert with a pair of glasses.
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