Investing in the best binoculars for birding will make a big difference to your bird watching enjoyment. Magnification plays a big part in how well you see the birds and for birding a magnification of 8 times or 10 times is recommended. It’s not that simple though as there are other things you also need to consider.
Magnification works together with other features of binoculars to give you a clear and colorful view.
The magnification of binoculars simply refers to the number of times an image is magnified and is the first figure you will see when you look at the specifications. 7 x 35 means that those binoculars offer 7 times magnification. The optimal magnification for birders is 7, 8 or 10 times, with most bird watchers opting for 7 or 8 times as these provide great images and are easy to focus and hold.
You obviously want to use your binoculars to get a good, clear view of the birds, but don’t think that the higher the magnification, the clearer the view. There are advantages and disadvantages if you get the magnification wrong.
The right magnification will:
- Let you see colors brighter and clearer
- Give you a better image overall
- Allow you to watch flocks of birds thanks to a better field of view
- Help you identify birds easier
- Be easier to hold so that they don’t move
- Provide good eye relief, subject to the binoculars you purchase
If the magnification is too high it will:
- Reduce your field of view so you actually see less
- Allow less light in so your image will appear darker
- Mean the binoculars are heavier so you will have to hold them steadier
- Be harder for you to focus on objects in the foreground
- Mean you have to spend more time focussing them to see the birds
There are occasions when you will need a higher magnification, such as in marshes or lakes. In these cases you are better to remain stationary and use a tripod to help you keep your binoculars steady.
Before you invest in your birding binoculars, there are other things you need to consider first.
The objective lens works together with the magnification to give you the best image. In simple terms, the larger the diameter, the larger your field of view and the more light they allow in. But, of course, it’s not that simple. A good pair of binoculars for birding will be anything between 30-42mm.
When you’re birding you may want to cover a large area, but if you just go for the largest objective lens, you might find it doesn’t give the result you want. The size of your lens will also depend on:
- The size and style of your binoculars.
- Where you are planning to use them.
- The weight you are able to hold and carry.
Weight is an important issue when thinking about the objective lens. A larger lens can make them heavy to carry and harder to hold still when you’re using them. If you plan on using them locally or with a tripod, then a wider lens will give you a clear image and a wider view. If you plan on traveling around with your binoculars, you may need to settle for something a little smaller.
Binoculars also come in different sizes so you may have to decide on the right size rather than the lens size.
Compact binoculars are ideal for traveling and for longer days out in the field. They are lighter weight and the objective lens is usually less than 30mm.
The smaller lens does mean they allow in less light so your images may appear darker than they are and if you’re planning on birding later in the day you may find there isn’t enough light at all.
These are a good balance and are easy to carry around. The lens size is usually around 30-32 mm, which provides more light in than a compact pair. They are still not suitable for birding later in the day, as they will still not allow enough light at twilight or dusk.
These are larger binoculars with larger lenses of 40-42mm. The size means they let in the best light and cover a good area. They are ideal for using at all times of day and in all weather conditions. If you prefer to do your bird watching in low light or dense woods, then these are the best to have.
This does, however, mean that they are heavier to carry and they take up more room.
Another important consideration for bird watching is how easy it is to focus. Birds can move quickly so you need to be able to zoom on them easily.
A good pair of binoculars for birding will have a focus mechanism which allows you to switch from the far ground to near ground with just one turn of the dial. You don’t want to spend all your time turning the dial to focus on birds, only to find they’ve moved in the time it’s taken you to find them.
Style of binoculars
Once you have decided on the magnification, objective lens and size you then need to decide on the type of prism. Binoculars come as roof prism or porro-prism.
- Porro-prism are binoculars which are narrower one end and wider at the other. They can be quite heavy to carry but they do offer a wider field of view and allow more light in. They can also provide a reliable pair of binoculars at a good price.
- Roof prism binoculars are streamlined and lightweight but they do offer a smaller field of view. Overall they do cost more than porro-prism but they are also more weatherproof, which is an important birding consideration.
Other binocular considerations
This is an obvious consideration for everyone, particularly if your budget doesn’t stretch to the higher end of the range. You can still get good, reliable binoculars at a very reasonable price.
Buying cheap might be tempting, but if you do you may well find that your images aren’t quite as clear as you would like them to be and you could end up replacing them sooner. Whatever your budget, look for a pair with a good warranty of at least 10 years.
You must remember that when you’re out birding, you will not only have to carry your binoculars, but be able to hold them comfortably to focus them too. There are different sizes available, but always make sure that they are the right size and weight for you.
Most binoculars come with eye relief, but make sure they do if you wear eyeglasses. Eye relief means you can hold them way from your eyes and still get a good, clear image.