Binoculars are a basic tool for wildlife viewers. They allow an observer to gain a close-up glimpse without intruding into the animal’s space. It is important to stay far enough away that your presence doesn’t cause the wildlife stress or scare it away. Binoculars also allow better visibility into deeply shaded areas and in poor light conditions. They enhance the view when our unaided eyes are inadequate.
If you are shopping for binoculars, consider these features.
Size and Shape
- Are the binoculars comfortable in your hands? Are they bulky or compact?
Location of the Distance Focus Device
- Since you will focus and refocus your binoculars hundreds of times, make sure your fingers can reach the focus adjustment mechanism easily without changing your grip.
Adjustment to Fit Your Eyes
- Can you easily swivel the eyepieces closer or further apart to fit your eyes? Not all models accommodate all sizes of faces and eye distances.
- How much larger do you want the object to appear compared to seeing it with the unaided eye? “Seven power” (7x), or seven times normal eyesight, to “ten power” (10x) are practical levels of magnification. Keep in mind that the greater the magnification, the more the image will shake when the binoculars are hand held.
- Are you willing to carry the binoculars for long periods of time? Can you hold the binoculars up to your eyes without getting tired and shaky?
Field of View
- Without moving the binoculars or scope, how much of the landscape can you see?
Brightness of Image
- Can you see the subject matter in poor light at dawn or dusk? A pair of 7x50 binoculars gathers more light than an 8x40 pair.
- Besides focusing on distant objects, are you able to focus on near objects, such as a bird or a butterfly outside your window? About 12 to 15 feet is probably acceptable for those activities, but some binoculars will only focus on objects 30 feet or more away.
Protection Against Dust and Moisture
- Can you easily protect the binocular lenses and keep them clean?
Accommodation for Eyeglasses
- Will the eyepieces accommodate your eyewear? Rubber eyepieces on the binoculars can protect your glasses from scratches.
- Examine a number of binoculars to see which pair fits your needs. Buy the best pair you can afford. The extra money spent for special coatings and more robust construction can be well worth it.
A spotting scope is like half of a binocular, but with much higher magnification and a larger objective lens. Magnifications range from 15x to 60x. A spotting scope is a good tool to use when wildlife is very far away. However, they usually require a tripod or stabilizing mount to hold the scope steady at the high magnifications. Many wildlife viewers prefer a more powerful pair of binoculars (15x to 20x) on a tripod to a spotting scope, especially when doing extended viewing or habitat searches.
The most common support for spotting scopes and cameras is the tripod. They come in a variety of types, sizes, weights and prices. The tripod should be tall enough for the viewer to see through the scope while standing. It also must be sturdy enough to hold the viewing device steady, yet light enough to carry around all day. The tips of the tripod legs should have rubber cups for hard surfaces like rocks or roads and retractable spikes for softer surfaces like the ground. Many binoculars can be attached to common tripods for better stability using a special attachment.