Serious bird watching requires good optics and many birders are prepared to spend thousands on their binoculars. If you think about your needs, you’ll likely find yourself making a little list which might include:
- The need to be able to see fine pattern detail, sometimes in dim light at dawn or dusk or even under a tree canopy.
- Unlike other binocular users you sometimes want to use your binoculars at close range so they have to have close focus ability too!
- You want excellent light and color throughput and you want a wide enough field of view to be able to see birds in flight.
- The clarity should be such that it allows you to identify birds over 100 meters away
- You sometimes keep them hanging from your neck for long periods so you want your birdwatching binoculars to be light yet sturdy
- Likely as not you’ll also want a waterproof and fog-proof binocular too. All this in a binocular which is compact enough to fit in a rucksack pocket – phew!
Fortunately there are many binoculars available in quite compact roof prism designs which are phase coated for excellent color throughput and rugged enough to survive a fall or a soaking. At the risk of making a broad sweeping statement, birdwatchers generally favor binoculars with 8 to 10 times magnification with an aperture of 40mm (sometimes a little more) in a roof prism design. Any more magnification and you’ll start to want a tripod to cut down on the handshake effect.
Phase coatings are a good idea as they ensure all colors are focused to the same focal point thus avoiding any unnatural color tinge to your viewing. Those terms are explained in a bit more detail on the Understanding Binoculars page if you want to check them out more.
Remember if you wear glasses while birding and using binoculars you’ll need to pick a model with eye relief (the distance from the eyepiece lens to your eye) of 15mm or more to allow for the extra distance caused by having your glasses in the way.
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