Birding Binoculars & gear to enjoy Birding
Recent improvements in optics have made binoculars much less expensive - but choose a good pair wisely.
Binoculars are one of the most important tools for bird watching. Like most people, you’ve certainly used them before. But if you haven’t invested in your own pair, and maybe have been given an old pair, there’s a lot you should know. Recent improvements in how lenses are made optics have made owning a good pair much less expensive.
Binoculars use two numbers to notate their difference. The first number, magnification, is the power times 1. So an 8x is eight times closer. The higher the number, the more the magnification. However, the more magnification also means the image looks darker and is less steady from a narrower field of view. Therefore, most binoculars are 8x or 10x magnification. The second number, the diameter of the lens, is measured in millimeters. The bigger the diameter, the more light is let in, but bigger lenses are also heavier. And more expensive.
Most binoculars come in these popular configurations: 8x or 10x magnification with a 32mm or 42mm lens, or the following sizes best for birding: 6x32, 8x32, 7x35, 8x40, 7x42, 8x42, or 8.5x44. These options provide the best magnification to price and quality.
Choosing a pair of binoculars
The cost of binoculars varies tremendously, with some of the higher-end models selling over $3000. If you’re just starting out, you should be able to get a good pair for $200-$500, depending on the size, weight, and clarity.
Before you buy you will want to try out a few pairs to compare size, weight, and clarity. Visit a store that has a selection or try out your friend’s binoculars. In general, buy a pair that suits your lifestyle and how much you want to spend.
Size: Choosing the right size depends in part of how you intend to go birding. Will you mostly be going on long hikes or are you more likely to be doing short walks? Large binoculars will provide better visibility are harder to carry, and vice-versa.
Weight: Less weight is always preferable, but lighter pairs are unlikely to have good optics unless you are will to spend for an expensive pair. Larger lenses will increase the weight, so judge where you stand on the trade-off.
Clarity: Smaller binoculars with lower quality optics will have softer images, harder to spot patterns, and see colors that are helpful to identify a bird. Using a mid-size provides a good balance of clarity at a reasonable price.
Other optics and gear
Sometimes binoculars just don’t have the magnification to see a bird up close, particularly if you’re far away. The solution is the spotting scope. Like binoculars, scopes come in both angled and straight versions. Many have zoom options and can above 60x magnification. They also vary in price depending on size, weight, and clarity. Along with a scope, you will need a tripod to hold it and keep it steady.
TELESCOPES & CAMERAS
Advice on telescopes & cameras is provided under other articles.
A casual birder need not go out with expensive outfits – casual is where it’s at! Thankfully, you don’t need to own or wear any special clothing to go birding. What matters is color and comfort, to suit the conditions. But if you are inclined to purchase an item or two, most birders would suggest the following:
Wide-brimmed hats for sun protection (safari hats).
Multi-pocketed vests to carry gear
Shirts with vents in the back
Pants that can be zipped at the knew
Taking notes in the field is a great way to remember what you witnessed. If you are so inclined, equip yourself with a waterproof journal so rainy weather or humidity won’t ruin your carefully-recorded notes.