Are you looking for binoculars that are specifically designed for bird watching? The following guide talks about what to look for when picking out a pair of binoculars and some of the features that top-notch bird watching binoculars have. We’ve also included our Top 5 Bird Watching Binoculars for 2017. (Note that these selected models are also suitable for wildlife and nature viewing, travel or general use).
What Do the Numbers Mean?
Binoculars are always represented by two numbers. The first number is the magnification, also referred to as the power or zoom, and the second number is the lens size. 8×42 binoculars, for example, means 8x magnification and 42mm lenses.
The Ideal Magnification for Birding Binoculars
Any pair of binoculars that you buy should have a powerful zoom feature, after all, you want to get close to the subject to get a better view. This is the number one reason for buying a pair of binoculars. As a result, a majority of people makes the assumption that they should purchase binoculars that have the highest magnification.
Big Does Not Make it the Best
There are many reasons why powerful binoculars are not always the best ones, especially not for bird watching. The following are just a few:
- The field of view (FOV) is not as wide
- The depth is not as focused
- The image is not as bright
- The slightest amount of movement makes it hard to steady the binoculars
To have a steady view using high magnification binoculars (generally above 10x), you will need to use a tripod. If you want to use the same pair of binoculars each time that you go out bird watching, then the 8x or 10x magnification is considered to be the best option for the following reasons:
Wider field of view: If a bird is in a tree, it would be easier to put your binoculars to your eyes and quickly see it. With a wider field of view, it won’t be as hard to focus. Basically, you won’t have to spend wasted time searching for the bird. Obviously, many subjects are not going to remain still and wait to be observed. Using a slightly lower magnification means that you will have a much wider field of view. This is why bird watchers opt for magnification in the range of 8x to 10x.
The image will have better stabilisation: When it comes to handheld binoculars, having powerful magnification is not always a benefit. A 12x or 16x magnified image will shake significantly more than an 8x magnified image.
Eye Relief: The relief is the amount of distance between your eye and the eyepiece when you can still see your subject. You will find more 8x binoculars that have a good amount of relief and can be used with glasses than you will 10x binoculars. The binoculars will be easier to wear if you wear eyeglasses. Your eyes will not need to be as close to the eyepiece.
All in all, 8x binoculars can be used with most kinds of terrains and many different environments. This applies to both heavily wooded areas as well as wide-open spaces. When using a pair of binoculars with a lower magnification, your images will come out brighter. You will have a wider field of view, which means that you can follow around birds that like to move fast and the ones that are off in the distance.
When you are using a slightly higher magnification, such as with 10x binoculars, you will be able to take in more details. This is very practical when you want to look at different types of wildlife. Slower moving birds will usually be in an open environment, which will not be hard to see even when your binoculars have a narrower field of view.
If you are using binoculars that have extremely high magnification such as 12x or more, you will need a tripod to help you gain a steady image. Also, do not buy the inexpensive binoculars that have a high magnification – they are significantly inferior in image quality, clarity and durability. Cheap, high magnification binoculars often produce distorted images.
For most people and their particular outings, the 8×42 or 10×42 binoculars are the best ones for bird watching as well as for general use.
The Field of View / Angle of View
The width of whatever you can see whenever you look through the binoculars is called the field of view, or FOV. As stated before, a wide FOV is essential and preferred by a majority of bird watchers and available with most binoculars made for bird watchers. Basically, binoculars with a lower magnification will have a wider field of view and vice versa. If the FOV is too wide, this will somewhat distort the borders of the images. This is usually the case when you buy cheaper binoculars.
So, it is recommended that you get a pair of binoculars that have a good amount of magnification. When you are trying to decide which pair of binoculars to get and magnification is not an issue, always go with the ones that have a wider FOV.
Size and Weight of Bird Watching Binoculars
When it comes to binoculars, you must also pay attention to the size and weight. As can be expected, this might play an essential part in many different instances. But, this will basically depend on what you like to do as a bird watcher. The lens size (also referred to as the objective lens size) is actually much more important than the weight and size of the binoculars.
A lot of small binoculars have lenses that are in the range of 20mm to 28mm. Obviously, it will be easier to carry around a lighter pair of binoculars than heavier ones. Also, being compact binoculars, you might take them along more often and come across more bird watching opportunities. Small binoculars are also wonderful for those times when you are travelling because they are portable and can easily be chucked into a bag or a suitcase at a moment’s notice.
However, one of the bad things about smaller binoculars is that they have smaller lenses and are not able to get as much light in as the bigger ones. This means that the images will not be as beautiful and bright as the ones that you can obtain with large lens binoculars. Unfortunately, this situation is even worse in low light conditions.
Standard Size Binoculars
Most standard sized binoculars have lenses that are 40mm or 42mm. These are the most popular choice by bird watchers. Some people still use full sized 50mm binoculars; they are willing to overlook the fact that their chosen binoculars are heavy if those binoculars provide benefits such as a brighter image or a wider view.
Eye Relief and Using Binoculars with Eyeglasses
If you are a regular eyeglass wearer and need to wear them when out bird watching, then the eye relief is going to be a very important feature to you. Simply put, it is the distance your eyes can be apart from the eyepiece and still allow you to see a focused image. For anyone who wears eyeglasses, the most suitable pair of binoculars would be those that have a longer eye relief.
So, if you are an eyeglass wearer, always try to get an eye relief that is a minimum of 15mm to see the entire image. On the flip side, understand that a longer eye relief is going to reduce your field of view.
A lot of people want to know if wearing your glasses is a necessity when using binoculars. If you use your glasses for near-to-far or far-to-near vision impairment (near sighted or far sighted), then it is possible to use binoculars without having to wear your glasses. The binoculars will already enhance and magnify the image, eliminating the need for glasses.
However, if you have astigmatism, then you must wear your glasses. The binoculars will not adjust your vision. The bird watching binoculars recommended at the end of this guide are suitable for use either with or without eyeglasses. They all have a long enough eye relief as well as twist down eyecups. These allow you to adjust the binoculars for use with glasses on.
Fog and Waterproofing
A decent pair of binoculars will be okay to use in light rain and humidity. However, you really should think about getting a good pair of waterproofed binoculars, even if you are not the type who likes to look at your subjects while out in the rain. Make sure that your binocular choice is not only waterproofed but also fog proof. If the binoculars have been sealed with O-rings, then they will be moisture proof.
Not only will this seal stop moisture from getting inside, but it will also deter dust and other debris from getting onto the lens and messing up your vision. Also, try to get binoculars that are either Nitrogen or Argon purged. This simply means that the inside air has been substituted with dry gas and will not fog up on the inside. Proper waterproofing will protect your binoculars from corrosion.
Anti-Reflective Lens Protection
A majority of binoculars are available with an anti-reflective lens coating. This helps to transmit light. Anti-reflective coatings can help enhance the amount of brightness that an image has. For instance, binoculars that have small lenses but good anti-reflection coatings can sometimes have a nicer image than large lens binoculars that don’t have as many coatings.
So, watch out for low-quality optics by listening to what the vendor says about its product. The definition of “coated” might mean one layer of anti-reflection protection per some vendors. This is usually just the top and bottom elements or the things that can be seen. The definition of “fully coated” is that all of the air on the glass surface has an anti-reflection coating. This is a good thing. The definition of “multi coated” is that some of the surfaces, normally the bottom and top one have a lot of layers of the coating.
A multilayer coating does a good job of reducing reflected light that cannot be eliminated with just one coating. It also transmits more light. Quite naturally, more than one layer will provide more protection than one. The definition of “fully multicoated” is that the air to the glass surfaces has more than one anti-reflection coating, which is very beneficial when it comes to binoculars.
Our Top 5 Bird Watching Binoculars for 2017
Here at Procular, we stock over 400 different binoculars. We are also incredibly passionate about testing, studying and reviewing every single one of them! Below are our top pick binoculars for bird watching:
** Note: All 5 binoculars recommended below are suitable for eyeglasses users **
Avalon 8X32 Mini HD Binoculars
Current Price: $189
If you like to travel light but still want to enjoy beautiful, sharp images while bird watching then we highly recommend the Avalon 8X32 Mini HD Binoculars. They are slightly larger than your average pocket size binoculars but much smaller than any standard size binoculars. We believe they are a perfect balance between small size (32mm lenses), lightweight (416 grams) and excellent quality optics. They fit in a jacket pocket, glove compartment or a small backpack pocket.
This model combines Avalon’s HD lenses, compact easy to use design and a wide field of view (6.9 degrees) to spot and follow moving birds or wildlife. Just to top things up, the Avalon 8X32 Mini HD binoculars are also 100% waterproof and fog proof. They currently sell for only $189, which is a bargain for a product at this level.
Avalon 10×42 PRO HD Binoculars
Current Price: $239
The Avalon 10×42 PRO HD are the world’s lightest professional level binoculars. They are not strictly bird watching binoculars but more of an all-around performer, suitable for any kind of wildlife exploration, site seeing or travel.
They combine good power (10x) with a wide field of view (5.4 degrees). These modern looking roof-prism binoculars are lightweight (550g), very durable and produce a beautiful image in nearly any setting. Their lenses are fully multicoated. This popular model by Avalon Optics is 100% waterproof, fog-proof and can easily handle rough weather.
The Avalon 10×42 PRO HD binoculars would be an ideal choice for someone looking for the best mid-priced bird watching or general use binoculars. With a solid image quality and attractive design, they can serve as the perfect gift for any nature lover.
Nikon Prostaff 8×42 and Nikon Prostaff 10×42 Binoculars
Current Price: $435
The Nikon Prostaff binoculars feature wonderful optics, fully multilayer coated lenses and are very affordable considering they are built with Nikon’s highest quality optics. These are perhaps the main reasons why this particular binocular is so popular.
The Nikon Prostaff 8×42 and Nikon Prostaff 10×42 binoculars are also 100% waterproof and shockproof. Simply put they combine a unique, comfortable design with superior image quality. As a result, this pair is one of our best sellers and is the number one seller in its class.
The Nikon Prostaff 8×42 are lightweight, offer a wide field of view, waterproof, fog-proof, highly durable and provide a clear, bright image even in very low light conditions. With beautiful colour reproduction, these binoculars by Nikon are a fantastic choice for bird watching or any type of nature observation. This is an all-around good pair of binoculars for a very good price.
Zeiss Terra ED 8×42 Binoculars
Current Price: $799
If we had to pick one mighty binocular without taking a second mortgage then these would be the ones!
The latest and greatest from high-end optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss. Unlike previous models of Zeiss binoculars such as the Zeiss Victory HT and the popular Zeiss Conquest HD, this particular model is actually quite affordable. Zeiss certainly didn’t compromised on optical quality here. Featuring their fully multicoated ED glass these binoculars practically produce crystal clear images every time. In our opinion just as beautiful and bright as their $1,500-$2,000 Zeiss Conquest versions.
Looking at the specs of the Zeiss Terra ED 8×42 Binoculars you will notice the immersive 7.1 degrees wide viewing angle for easily spotting and following moving birds and wildlife while still enjoying the 8x magnification. Excellent 18mm eye relief for optimal use with glasses/sunglasses, roof prism design for carrying and handling the binoculars single handed, easy central focus mechanism, solid durability, 100% waterproof and fog-proof and many other great features.
But what you will notice the most when looking through these binoculars is their superior image brightness and optical quality. An optical quality that can only be found in high-end European binoculars such as these. The Zeiss Terra ED 8×42 are excellent for many different uses but are specifically great for bird watchers. They are suitable from close-range (5 foot) up to long range maintaining exceptionally high quality crystal-clear images.
At 720 grams, they are reletivly lightweight and easy to handle. Everything about this product, including the build, focusing, stability and image quality, is simply flawless – as you would expect from the German manufacturer Carl Zeiss. Basically, the Zeiss Terra ED 8×42 is an ideal pair of binoculars for birding and nearly any other application.
Also available at this range are the Zeiss Terra ED 10×42 for those who prefer a little extra magnification.