Hi!! I know there are tons of other articles on binoculars (for birding) out there, and ive skimmed a number of them but I really respect your opinion on any bird related matter so, if you have the time for it, what are your thoughts on binoculars? (leaving it pretty open ended. I really want to try picking up birding for the first time) are there any brands or specs that you’re loyal to? general tips on purchase/use?

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Okay, first things first: for your first set of binoculars, my personal opinion is that it’s worth saving up until you have around $200 to spend. Your optical quality is going to go up exponentially until you hit around the $300 mark, and after that your mileage may vary.

Okay, so that was step one: waiting until you have some money squirreled away. Now, time to actually pick your bins! For birding, you want the following:

  1. Roof prism optics
  2. Medium magnification (8x, 9x, or 10x)
  3. A large optical lens (a classic diameter is 42mm)

1. Roof prism optics: this is a modern lens prism construction that allows manufacturers to get more light from the world to your eyes while taking up less space. This is great for birding because you get better optics in a smaller package. Virtually all modern binoculars are roof prism.

2. Magnification: everyone has their own opinion here. I use 8x magnification, because I like to keep the “big picture” visible. However, this means that far away birds are hard to look at! For a beginner, go for the lower end of magnification. Lower magnification is easier to use, because the wobble of your head/hands is less amplified and it’s easier to find your subject in the first place. No use getting those high-powered bins if you can’t even see the bird through ‘em.

3. Optical lens. When you buy binoculars, they’re sold as “NumberxNumber”– for example, 8×42 or 10×52. The first number is the magnification, which we talked about above. The second is the diameter of the optical lens, which is directly affecting how much light gets through to your eye, OR how good the image is. The short answer for picking your optical lens size? Get a nice and beefy one. 42mm is great.

Some brands and models to consider…

Premium binoculars are dumb. If you’re spending over $1000 on binoculars, they’re a status symbol instead of a tool. And if you’re anything like me, you treat your tools like tools– they get dirty, they get banged around, etc. 

When you’re birding, you’re in the woods, the desert, the mountains, the ocean. My binoculars have been through Tanzanian dust storms, a barrage of seabird poo, Amazonian downpours– you get the gist. So I prefer durability to near-imperceptible increases in optical quality.

I personally use a discontinued 8×42 model called the Atlas Intrepid ($309). They’ve been through a lot over 4 years, that’s for sure. But for what it’s worth, I still have people pick them up and marvel at the optical quality! So, being biased, I recommend a similar model to these.

  • Vortex Diamondback 8×42: Vortex is a “mom n pop” newcomer to the optics market. Their products are guaranteed for life, so you can always send them to the factory and get them hand-repaired! 
  • Nikon Monarch Series: Nikon is frequently revamping their popular Monarch line, which is the binocular for young field scientists. Water and fogproofing is one of the many features of this staple line!
  • Maven Optics: probably my top pick for when I invest in a new set of bins. Maven is a newcomer heralded for competitive image quality, and you can customize your bin colors!

My next purchase will probably be Vortex or Maven, and I’ll probably be moving up a 10x model– but that’s because I do a lot of color band resighting and every bit of magnification helps! You can’t go wrong with a solid set of 8×42 bins, and they’ll get you up close to the wildlife around you. Hope this helps!

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