Binoculars are an essential item for birdwatchers. Newcomers to birdwatching do not always appreciate that. A common misconception is that you only need binoculars for observing small and distant birds, like tiny waders way out on a mud flat. That is not so. Most of my binocular use is at close range, down to a metre or so at times.
Why would you want to use binoculars to look at a bird only a few metres away? It is because the view through the binoculars focusses on the bird and any fore and background objects, like foliage, essentially disappear. You are left with a sharp, unobscured view of the bird in question. The delicate shades of colour and every feather detail are accentuated.
What size binoculars do you need for birdwatching? You might think that you need a big set of binoculars with high magnification. That is not the case for everyday birdwatching. Big binoculars are for specialist application on distant subjects. There are a few key criteria in selecting binoculars for general birdwatching.
- Weight and dimensions. For comfortable carry and use smaller is better.
- Minimum focus distance. Less than 2 metres is preferred.
- Lens coatings for good optical clarity and colour rendition.
- Most birdwatchers find 8x or 10x is ideal.
- Objective lens diameter – bigger gives better light gathering but add to the bulk
So, what is a commonly chosen binocular for birdwatching? Binoculars of 8x40 are widely used by birdwatchers. That is, they have 8x magnification and a 40mm objective lens diameter. They are reasonable compact and not excessively heavy. Binoculars of 8x30 are smaller in size while 8x50 binoculars are getting large and heavy.
There are two common design types for binoculars. The roof-prism type is of the “H” configuration where the objective lens is in direct line with eye pieces. The porro-prism is the classical “W” shape where the objective lenses are more widely spaced than the eye pieces. These days, there are negligible optical quality differences between the two types and it just comes down to user preference. In general, the roof-prism type are more compact.
What do I use for birdwatching? I have two pair of roof-prism binoculars that I use on a daily basis. For watching from a stand or hide I mostly use Swarovski 10x42 EL binoculars. When hiking through the bush, gardening and kayaking I use a pair of Swarovski 10x25 CL pocket binoculars. These are true pocket binoculars, light in weight and can fit easily into a pocket for convenience.
The Swarovskis were my retirement treat to myself and I get a lot of use out of them. Over the years leading up to that choice I have had great service from the more budget makes, like Tasco, Hawke, Bushnell, Nikon and such. Pricing is an important facet of choosing a pair of binoculars and everyone has to work to a justifiable budget. The good news is that, with modern technological advances, even low-priced binoculars have good quality.