Binoculars can be used for hunting, bird watching, astronomy, or watching sports or concerts. However, not all binoculars are made equal, and knowing how to choose binoculars for your money and your needs makes a significant difference in the long term. You’ll be able to buy the correct type of binoculars if you know what to look for in a pair of binoculars and how to evaluate them.

First thing first – Know what you plan to use binoculars for

How to choose binoculars for general use

For general use, you can choose binoculars with a magnification of 7x to 10x. When describing binoculars, the number preceding the “x” refers to the magnification factor, or how much closer objects appear to be (you can see details about the definition of the specifications later). Binoculars with a magnification of 7x to 10x are ideal for general use. These will provide appropriate magnification for most activities while remaining stable if your hand shakes slightly.

How to choose binoculars for hunting

Binoculars with higher magnifications, such as 10x or 12x, are recommended for hunting in the mountains or wide open ranges.

Keep in mind that the higher the magnification of your binoculars, the brighter the image. Although your image will be larger, your field of view will be narrow, and keeping the image focused will be more difficult. If you buy binoculars with 10x magnification or more, be sure they have a tripod socket so you can attach and steady them when needed.

Binoculars with a magnification ratio of 7x to 10x may be better ideal for hunting in a forested area.

how to choose binoculars

How to choose binoculars for birding

When bird watching, binoculars with larger objective lenses have wider fields of vision and are useful for finding and following birds. 8×32 and 8×42 binoculars are popular with birders. They can also gather more light, which is useful in low-light activities like hunting at dawn or dark. 

If you want to view the details of smaller birds from a distance, binoculars with higher magnifications and smaller lenses are a better choice. 

Keep in mind that the larger the lenses, the heavier the binoculars will most likely be. Standard-sized binoculars have objective lens diameters greater than 30mm, whilst compact-sized binoculars have lens diameters less than 30mm.

How to choose binoculars for hiking and backpacking

Because pack space and weight are important considerations, you’ll want lightweight binoculars with magnifications of 8 or 10 and objective lens diameters of less than 28mm (8×25, 10×25, 8×28, and 10×28 are all fine choices). A pair with a rubber coating will last longer, and types that are water resistant or waterproof will protect you from the elements.

How to choose binoculars for whale watching and water sports

Popular sizes include 8×32, 8×42, 10×32, and 10×42. When you’re going to be far away from the animals, choose a greater magnification (10 instead of 8). If you want something a little more compact, go for a midsize (32mm objective lens) rather than a full-size (42mm objective lens). Water resistance is also important; however, for whale watching from a boat rather than from shore, you need to choose totally waterproof models.

How to choose binoculars for stargazing

You want to get the most magnification and light-gathering power out of your full-size binoculars. Consider 10×42 or 10×50 binoculars; if you go with higher magnification, you’ll need a tripod to keep the binoculars steady.

Other key considerations when choosing binoculars

Price

In general, more expensive, top-of-the-line binoculars provide better image quality and are more durable. However, there are several inexpensive binoculars that are both durable and have good optical quality. As a result, choose a price range within which you feel comfortable purchasing binoculars and do not feel obligated to go above it.

Consider how you intend to use your binoculars; a pair you intend to keep at home to look out the window does not need to be as sturdy as a pair you expect to take trekking.

Weigh

High-magnification and large-lens binoculars are heavier than normal binoculars. If you intend to travel long distances or do not have much storage space, you may choose to go for less powerful but lighter binoculars.

You may compensate for the weight and stabilize the binoculars by placing them on a tripod or wearing them around your neck with a strap.

The way you intend to utilize the binoculars is particularly important here. Heavy binoculars might be a significant burden if you plan to wear them around your neck while trekking.

Weatherproof

If you don’t intend to use your binoculars in poor weather or where they will get wet frequently, water-resistant (totally waterproof)  binoculars will suffice. Instead, acquire waterproof binoculars if you intend to take them whitewater rafting or skiing.

It is important to note that waterproof binoculars are typically more expensive than water-resistant binoculars.

How to evaluate binoculars quality before buying

Choose glass lenses for higher image quality

Most binoculars feature glass lenses, which produce higher-quality images. Glass also reflects some of the light that strikes it, however, this can be mitigated with the correct coating. If the image quality is your top priority, make certain that the binoculars you intend to purchase have glass lenses.

It is also worth noting that glass lenses are often more expensive than plastic lenses. Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass binoculars give the highest quality image, but they are also one of the most expensive forms of lens material used in binoculars.

The following codes are used to describe lens coatings: C indicates that only some surfaces have been coated with a single coating layer; FC indicates that all other glass lens surfaces have been coated; MC indicates that some surfaces have been coated with multiple layers, and FMC indicates that all glass lens surfaces have been coated with multiple layers. Multiple-layer coatings are often preferable to single-layer coatings, although they increase the price of binoculars.

Some tips to check glass lenses:

Binoculars mechanics work smoothly

Binocular mechanics are made up of only a few moving elements, including the hinge of the central bridge and thread-driven focus, and dioptre adjustments. Precise workmanship and durable materials, as well as some care and cleaning, usually ensure that the mechanics will perform reliably for many years.

High-quality models from leading manufacturers are subjected to a final inspection before delivery to ensure flawless workmanship and the absence of manufacturing flaws. This is rarely the case with low-cost binoculars, therefore you must conduct a thorough examination to determine the quality of the binoculars.

Source: Nikon

Test the collimation function 

It is critical for the fatigue-free vision that the optical axes of the two binocular barrels are correctly aligned to each other – a process known as collimation. The projected images do not overlap properly if the axes are not perfectly aligned. The brain can correct for minor misalignment, but this is exhausting and might result in a headache.

To put it to the test, aim at a distant target and focus. If you see double pictures or double contours, the optical axes are not collimated, and either the prisms need to be readjusted or the hinge-bridge is broken. Examine a straight line, preferably the horizon, as an additional test method. Alternately close and open your eyes. The horizon bounces vertically up and down if the instrument is not precisely set.

Quality And Size Of The Prisms

The optical performance of binoculars is significantly influenced by the quality and size of the prisms.

Prisms are necessary components because they reverse the mirrored and inverted pictures. Prisms that are too small (to save money) and do not match the optical values of the instruments cause light loss and shadowing in the exit pupil.

The usage of less expensive BK7 vs BaK4 glass varieties has an impact on the instrument’s optical performance. BK-7 prisms are used in less costly binoculars, which tend to square off one side of the image, but BAK-4 prisms are used in more expensive binoculars, which offer more light and crisper, rounder views.

How to check prism

Holding the binoculars about an arm’s length out in front of a bright background allows you to check the prisms.

Then, from a distance, look into the eyepiece lens to inspect binoculars exit pupils, making that they are perfectly round and uniformly lighted.

If the exit pupil seems truncated, square, or with bars around the edge, this suggests that the prisms are too small and/or that BK7 glass was used instead of BAK4 glass, which has a higher refractive index.

Examine the manufacturer’s reputation and warranties

Consider how long the company has been in business, what other optical items they produce, if any, and how they will manage the situation if the binoculars are broken. Consider whether the manufacturer provides a warranty for the binoculars.

If you purchase an expensive pair of binoculars and they become damaged, having a manufacturer’s warranty or guarantee can make it much easier to repair them.

Ultimate guides to test binoculars in the store before you buy

  1. Examine the objective lenses thoroughly. If you notice damage or dirt, return the binoculars.
  2. Look at the exit pupil, the small beam of light that comes out of the eyepieces, while holding the binoculars 6 inches to a foot in front of you. It needs to be completely circular. Reject it if it is obviously deformed in any manner.
  3. Examine the exit pupil carefully for any straight edges cutting into the spherical exit pupil. Extremely minor edges chopped off of the round exit pupil will not cause much harm but reject any with edge cuts in a premium binocular.
  4. The IPD will need to accept relatively narrow set eyes if the binoculars are to be used by children as young as 7 or 8.
  5. Shake the binoculars. If you hear anything rattle, reject it.
  6. While holding the eyepieces up to your eyes, press against them. Reject the binoculars if the eyepieces are loose and move in, allowing you to change the focus.
  7. Check that the diopter has a wide enough range to accommodate your prescription, both with and without glasses. Some binoculars lack adequate right diopter adjustment.
  8. Using the binoculars, locate a high-contrast item, such as a tree against the daytime sky, and center it in the field. If you notice prominent green or violet fringes of light along the margins of the object, the binoculars have chromatic aberration. The greater the magnification, the greater the chromatic aberration. This inaccuracy is not crucial for astronomical use, but it can be a significant issue for birders and other wildlife enthusiasts who require correct color rendition.
  9. If you choose binoculars with broad fields of view, you may notice that the field’s margins are noticeably warped. This optical flaw is known as distortion, and it is most noticeable during daytime use. Even high-quality binoculars have some distortion, but it is barely perceptible, especially when observing the night sky.
  10. Take your binoculars outside at night and look at a bright star for the ultimate exam. Take a careful look at the star after you’ve centered it in the field of vision and brought the binoculars into good focus. The star should be a crisp near-pointlike image with no uneven spikes or rays projecting from it.
  11. If you don’t like the way a binocular feels in your hands, it’s generally not a good pick for you, regardless of the specs. The comfort and convenience of use of binoculars over telescopes is one of their key advantages. No matter how fantastic a binocular’s optical performance is, if it isn’t comfortable for YOU, it’s probably not a good choice.

Conclusion

There are many high-quality binoculars available. Choosing the best one is determined by a variety of criteria. As previously demonstrated, you must decide whether you want stronger magnification or a wider field of view. You should also evaluate the durability of the item. Price is another important consideration, perhaps the most important. Will you use them sufficiently to justify a few hundred dollars? Is a pair for less than $100 sufficient? The decision will be much easier now that you understand how to choose binoculars and how to evaluate them when buying in the store.