The 2014 Audubon Guide to Binoculars

The 2014 Audubon Guide to Binoculars

When it comes to birdwatching, what you choose to look through makes all the difference.

Wayne Mones
Published: 11/18/2013

Author Profile

Wayne Mones

Wayne Mones has been an avid birder since childhood, and leads bird walks. He has written about birding optics for Better View Desired, Bird Watcher's Digest, and on The Perchthe Audubonmagazine blog.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

Permafocus binoculars are

Permafocus binoculars are useless for most birding. The problem is lack of close focus. The best permafocus binoculars can only focus down to about 45 feet. Bird-worthy binoculars should focus to 8 feet or less, and I would personally never buy a binocular that didn't get down to about 6 feet - but I also study butterflies and dragon- and damselflies. To understand how permafocus binoculars work, look up the term "hyperfocal distance".

It is not true that 8x

It is not true that 8x binoculars are brighter than 10x binoculars of the same make and model. That statement ignores the physics. Let's say we're looking at a bird that is completely within the field of view of both an 8x and a 10x binocular, and that the glass and coatings are identical, i.e. both binoculars have the same percentage of light transmission. A certain number of photons strike the bird and are reflected towards the observer. A percentage of those photons are seen by the 42mm objectives on each. The same percentage of light is lost at each air to glass surface as the light goes through the binocular, so the number of photons reflected from the bird that reaches the observer's pupils is identical. Do more photons reach the 8x observer's eyes? Yes, but those are photons coming from the objects in the wider field of view, not from the subject bird. Here's the real kicker: as light levels fall, the observer's pupils dilate until they reach a maximum dilation. This is controlled by the total amount of light striking the retina, not only the light from the bird. This means that the observer's pupils will dilate more slowly with the 8x, and less light from the bird will reach the observer's retina until maximum dilation is reached. Try this experiment. Take and 8x and 10x binoculars from the same model series into a darkened room and try to read some text across the room. Which binocular makes it easier to read the text?

It sounds like something I

It sounds like something I would kike to share with the grandkids.

Great article. Only

Great article. Only exception I would take is that whenever I spend time with a group of really skilled birders, I nearly always find 10x42's around their necks. However, all your recommendations are 8x or less. I fully understand the advantages of lower powered binoculars, but just wanted to point that out.

I've used Leitz 10x40s for

I've used Leitz 10x40s for thirty or more years and have always found them perfect for me. Small enough to backpack and large enough to see what I'm looking at and great color.

Great tutorial for newcomers

Great tutorial for newcomers to the complicated world of birding optics--thank you! I would like to have seen Eagle Optics' Ranger line included among your recommended binoculars. While I have no affiliation with the manufacturer, I have become a loyal EO Ranger user after owning Steiner and Swift binos earlier in my birding "career." For my money, Rangers offer the best quality view and functionality for hundreds less than the high-end German brands. I regularly recommend them to friends who are new to birding as a binocular that will grow along with their identification skills without breaking the bank. I guess it's no surprise, though, that I would also prefer to drive my Honda than a Mercedes Benz. ;-)

Why don't you mention

Why don't you mention permafocas binoculars? They're great, light, easy, etc. As well as basically inexpensive.

I agree with Wayne,

I agree with Wayne, concerning the Zeiss Victory 7X42. On the less expensive end look at the Nikon Action EX 7X35. Also excellent is the Swarovski Habicht 7X42. Older models - Leitz Trinovid 7X35, or 7X42 are super. Also try to find Nippon Kogaku (Nikon) 7X35, and Mirador 7X35, second hand. Also check out Swift Ultralite 7X42 - just amazing, hard to separate from the Swarovski mentioned.

I agree with Wayne,

I agree with Wayne, concerning the Zeiss Victory 7X42. On the less expensive end look at the Nikon Action EX 7X35. Also excellent is the Swarovski Habicht 7X42. Older models - Leitz Trinovid 7X35, or 7X42 are super. Also try to find Nippon Kogaku (Nikon) 7X35, and Mirador 7X35, second hand. Also check out Swift Ultralite 7X42 - just amazing, hard to separate from the Swarovski mentioned.

You failed to mention Kahles

You failed to mention Kahles which would fall into your Almost Alpha Class Binoculars and were purchased by Swarovski several years ago and are wonderful sold by Amazon for $1,150 in the 8 X 42 and $921 for the 8 X 32 both have a near focus of 8 feet.

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