One thing is for sure with birders—even beginning birders need more out of their binoculars than other binocular users. And unfortunately the old standard binoculars just doesn't measure up to the new designs when it comes to quality, performance and reliability.
So what are some of the warning signs that you need new binoculars? Well it could be a fuzzy image from poor lens quality, or many old binoculars are just out of alignment and can no longer deliver images that are straight and true. Or your eyes could be changing and you have grown out of your old binoculars and need new ones. What ever all the problems may be, the fact is it’s hurting or robbing you from a fantastic birding experience.
Bird watchers have learned that if you want to get the most out of birding, you must get the most out of your binoculars. They must be bright enough to show subtle features in poor light and sharp enough to resolve fine detail. They must focus quickly enough to zone in on fast-moving birds, and provide a field of view wide enough to rapidly locate birds and follow them in flight. Birding binoculars must also provide accurate color rendition, have no distortion in the center of the field, and should not fog up in humid or wet weather. And of course, they should be durable, reliable, and come with a good warranty.
Selecting the right birding optics can be challenging.
What should you be looking for when upgrading to new binoculars?
ED or HD lenses: Extra-low Dispersion (ED) or High Density (HD) lenses are used in the objective lens elements of premium binoculars. Their purpose is to correct color fringing. Color fringing can be an issue with standard binoculars, particularly when viewing high contrast subjects (birds that are against a dark background). ED or HD glass reduces or eliminates color fringing, improving the sharpness, clarity, contrast and overall color fidelity of the bird you are viewing.
Waterproofing and Fog Proofing: The first is waterproofing and fog proofing. It will obviously benefit you to have waterproofing and fog proofing added to your birding binoculars. Because being in nature, you want binoculars that can withstand any weather. Though waterproofing is important, the culprit you definitely want to avoid is binocular fogging. I don’t mean fogging on the outside of your binoculars, because that’s normal for all binoculars, especially in changing temperatures. But you want to avoid internal fogging, which can ruin your binoculars for good, as well as say goodbye to your wonderful bird watching adventures. The way to avoid this is to have binoculars that are nitrogen filled to prevent internal fogging. Technically, binoculars that are waterproofed and fog proofed are sealed internally with O-rings to prevent moisture, dust, and debris from getting inside your binoculars.
Resolution: Greater resolution gives your binocular’s ability to reveal the fine detail in the subject you’re viewing, like the detailed feathers and color in a bird, and enhanced detail is always better. The main factors that affect the resolution of a binocular are the size of the objective lens, the magnification, the quality of the optical components and the lens and prism coatings.
Phase correction coating: Phase correction coating is a coating that is added to the prism inside binoculars in order to keep colors as clear and bright as the picture you're seeing.
Actually, the technical explanation is that phase correction coatings on the binocular prism helps keep light in correct color phases. These coatings are added on roof prism binoculars to enhance resolution, contrast, and color fidelity.
Because these coatings keep the light in the correct color phases, they produce images that have better contrast, a higher resolution and have a better color reproduction.
Close focus: Some would say close-up bird watching is the best kind of bird watching. This is because not only can you see your bird magnified, but you can also see even more exquisite detail because you are so up close.
A short close-focus distance lets you view subjects that are very close to you. Most high quality binoculars have close focus capabilities which is very important for birding.
Adjustable Eye Cups, A.K.A Sufficient Eye Relief for Your Eyes: Eye relief is the distance between the eyepiece lenses and your eyes (exit pupil if you want to get technical), and which ultimately determines the right focal point of your binoculars to give you the best image.
Because the ideal eye relief distance is different for different people, (especially if you wear eyeglasses), it's essential to be able to adjust the distance between the eyepiece and your eyes to get a clear view. This is where adjustable eye cups come in. By being able to adjust the eye relief distance, you have the flexibility to get the perfect image for your eyes.
If your binoculars don't have adjustable eye cups, (and most big bulky Porro Binoculars don't), this will mean that you will need to settle for binoculars that are not a good fit for your eyes. This will result in either a blurry image, or the infamous black spots around the edges (known as the kidney bean effect). So, you'll either end up cramming the binoculars against your eyeballs, or spending all your time moving your binoculars around to get a clearer view. That is, until your bird gets away.
Wide field of view: The field of view describes how wide a view you can see as you look through your binoculars. But why is field of view so important? Well, if you’ve ever heard a bird singing, and tried to find it among the trees, you probably noticed how hard that can be. It’s because having a narrow field of view is like trying to find the bird with a telescope. But a wide field of view will give you a bigger, more panoramic view to scan the entire tree. And, the bigger view allows you to look for the bird on each branch, until ultimately find its nest.
Magnification: Unless you’re looking to use your binoculars for a particular specialist task choose something in the 8x to 10x range, is considered the ideal range for general bird watching and wildlife observation (Most perfer 8x). Try out different magnifications to see which suits you better. Generally if you’re doing a lot of long distance observation (like scanning wading birds on estuaries or lagoons, for example) you may appreciate the higher magnification of a 10x. If you do a lot of bird watching at close quarters, back yards or in enclosed places like woodlands trying to track small, fast-moving birds, then the wider field of view of an 8x may suit you better.
The diameter of the objective lens (the light-gathering lens) varies, but the 42mm full-size binocular or 32mm mid-size binocular generally offers the best balance of brightness and portability for birding. Generally speaking a full-size binoculars will outperform a comparable mid-sized binocular in low light early in the morning or late in the evening… but better coatings and optical components mean high-end mid-size binoculars will often outperform mid-range full-size binoculars, at a price.
Lighter Weight: Now let's talk about those big, bulky binoculars that your grandfather gave you, or that you found in the attic. Most of us believed for a long time, (and some of us still believe), that if the binoculars we have aren't a big pair of military looking, bulky and heavy pair of binoculars, (known as Porro prism binoculars), then they aren't really binoculars. The truth is that a whole new line of sleek binoculars, called “Roof” prism binoculars, have just about done away with the need for the big, bulky binoculars that cause major neck strain.
Roof prism binoculars are not only smaller, but they are more compact, lighter and easier to use. Even more, with roof prism binoculars that have all the essentials included in this article, you can have the most memorable bird watching experiences with binoculars that can even weigh under a pound. Not only are roof prism binoculars lighter, but they are also better in terms of clarity, brightness, and they are really user friendly. What does this mean? It means no more struggling with big, bulky and heavy binoculars on your bird watching outings.
A Lifetime Warranty: A Lifetime Warranty is essential to make sure you don’t just have one amazing birding experience, but many. Imagine you get the ideal pair of specially designed bird watching binoculars, and you are having the most memorable bird watching experience ever. All of a sudden, woops! Crack! Now, your perfect pair of binoculars are no longer perfect. Actually, they’re broken. And unless you're ready to shell out more money for a new pair, a Lifetime Replacement Warranty will come in really handy to get you back to fulfilling your lifelong hobby.
Not only that, but if you finally buy a premium pair of specially designed binoculars for bird watching; if they break or get damaged, you'll need to shell out more money for a new pair. On the other hand, with a Lifetime Warranty, you can feel safe that if your specially designed bird watching binoculars are ever damaged, you can get a brand-new pair for free…for life!
Cost: Cost and your budget is always a key factor when searching for better bird watching optics. But today, there are a few binoculars that are extremely good and will not break the bank. New advanced technology with ED lens (“ED” stands for “extra-low dispersion”), optical coatings and lens coatings has brought down the price of high quality bird watching binoculars.
A great example of this is Wingspan Optics. They recently entered the industry with a vast selection of bird watching binoculars and monoculars, with amazing quality and features exclusively for bird watchers - at very affordable prices. And to make things even better, they have binoculars for all types of birders, and all of their optics come with a 100% money back lifetime warranty.
So yes, now is the time for you to get rid of the old and bring in the new birding binoculars. You will be glad you did!