How To Choose Binoculars For Beginning Birders (Best UK Guide)
If you like the idea of watching the birds, but don’t have any clue on what binoculars you need or if you’re going to be keeping the hobby going then you’ve found the right article. Decent bird watching binoculars can be expensive, but if you’re not sure about birdwatching being for you, there’s no point investing in an expensive pair of lenses. On the other hand, if you buy a really cheap and nasty pair of binoculars (please don’t), they won’t focus clearly, giving you poor images that will probably put you off before you even begin.
You need to find that happy medium between quality and price, then you’ll have a better idea if watching birds is going to be a hobby you’ll enjoy. Without having spent an arm and a leg on binoculars which will become dust collectors if birding’s not really for you. So what do you actually need in your first ever pair of birding binoculars?
Table of Contents
What Type Of Birds Do You Want To Watch?
This is the first decision you’ll need to make because different birds move in different ways and this will influence the size of binoculars you’ll need to buy. For instance, waterfowl that spend most of the day floating around on a pond, lake, river, sea, or any other type of body of water not mentioned so far, will be best viewed through 10×42 to 10×50 binoculars.
Whereas the faster songbirds that flit from bush to bush and tree to tree in search of food will be easier to watch using 8×32 or 7×25 binoculars. This is all down to the magnification and objective lens diameter.
Magnification And Objective Lens Diameter Size (Where To Find Them And What They Mean And Do)
Look along the body of the binoculars (or in the specifications) you’ll notice a series of numbers separated by an X, for example 7×25, 8×32 or 10×42. Let’s look at the 10×42. This tells us that a particular pair of binoculars has a magnification of 10 times (10x) with an objective lens diameter of 42 millimeters. The first number (s) followed by the X gives the magnification (10x) the second set of numbers is the objective lens diameter in millimeters.
10x means the image seen through the lens will be 10 times larger than through the naked eye, 7x will be seen 7 times larger and so on.
These numbers are important because they tell us a lot about that pair of binoculars and if they’re suitable for our purpose. Too much magnification is as bad if not worse than too little. Like we said earlier, waterfowl tend to be less hard to follow than songbirds, this is because on the whole waterfowl move slower.
A 10x magnification will show these slower birds in all their glory and really closeup. Plus with an objective lens diameter of 42mm there will be enough light allowed to enter the binoculars for the waterfowl to be seen clearly and brightly.
Binoculars For Songbird Watching
Songbirds or common garden birds are far more lively than most waterfowl which means you will need a wider field of view to spot them in the first instance. A wide field of view will also make it far easier to keep up with the movements without having to remove the binoculars from your eye, locating the birds and replacing the binoculars to your eyes for a close up view.
As magnification increases, the field of view decreases so 10x will be too high for songbird watching. We recommend a lower magnification, either 7x or 8x with an objective lens of either 25 or 32 respectively. Our top recommendations for watching songbirds will be 8×32 or 8×42.
Both of these allow enough light to see a clear, bright object.
Magnification And Shaky Images
Any magnification above 10x will exaggerate the natural shakiness we all have when holding an object up in front of our face for a long while. Imagine that shake magnified 12 times or more! The image would be so blurry as to be useless. That’s why we never recommend binoculars with a higher magnification than 10x unless you’re using a tripod to keep the binoculars steady.
Objective Lens Diameter And Image Brightness
The size of the objective lens diameter affects how much light can enter the binoculars, and the more light that enters the binoculars the brighter the image appears through the binocular lens. Also the larger the objective lens the more you will be able to see on dull days or at dusk and dawn.
Objective Lens Diameter, Size & Weight
There is a direct correlation between the objective lens diameter and the overall size and weight of the binoculars. In fact binocular sizes are determined by the size of the objective lens diameter.
Binocular sizes are classified as follows;
- Compact binoculars – compact binoculars have an objective lens diameter of less than 30mm
- Mid size binoculars – mid size binoculars have an objective lens of between 30 to 40mm
- Full size binoculars – full size binoculars have an objective lens diameter of greater than 40mm
The objective lens, the large lens (closest to the object you’re looking at) increases weight as well as size so the weight of binoculars increases with the increased size of the objective lens. Or to put it another way, 7×35 or 8×32 are relatively speaking, light enough to carry but big enough to see plenty of birds.
8×42 or 10×42 will be quite a bit heavier without allowing you to see too much more. The higher objective lens size will be good for really dull days, but for averagely sunny days an objective lens of 32mm will be perfect (and lighter to carry).
What about Fixed Focus Binoculars?
Fixed focus (or focus free as they’re sometimes labelled) binoculars or even zoom lens binoculars might be great for sporting events, but not for bird watching. All you will get is eye strain and headaches. Also you are better off with central focussing binoculars which will allow you to focus both eyes at once.
What Should You See Through The Lens?
Unlike what’s shown on the films, where they look through binoculars and see two circular images side by side, in reality you should see one clear image. Your brain compensates for the bifocal image and creates a 3D image.
What Is The Field Of View?
The Field of View (FoV) in plain English, is the width you can see through the binocular lens from left to right while looking straight in front of you. It’s one of those things that sounds complicated, but once you get your head around it, it’s simple. In the binocular specifications the FoV will be written in one of two ways, either the angular FoV or the linear FoV. They are both the same value but expressed in a different way.
You’ll see something like FoV 6°, or FoV 315 feet per 1,000 yards or sometimes it’s expressed in metric – FoV 105 metres per 1,000 metres. All three of those FoV values are exactly the same, just expressed in different ways. If you’re comparing a few pairs of binoculars and they all have the FoV expressed as a linear value apart from one that’s expressed as an angular value, just multiply the angular value by either 52.5 to get the feet per 1,000 yards, or multiply the angular value by 17.5 to get the metres per 1,000 metres. Because 1° is equal to 52.5 feet or 17.5 metres.
A decent pair of binoculars will have a field of view of between 6° to 8° or between 315 feet per 1,000 yards to 420 feet per 1,000 yards, or 105 metres per 1,000 metres to 140 metres per 1,000 metres (which are all the same, expressed three different ways).
As The Magnification Increases The FoV Decreases – Why?
We could go into a long drawn out mathematical equation that would explain why the FoV diminishes as the magnification increases but we like to keep things simple here at Binocular Base so here goes.
Hold a book in front of your face, and position it so you can see the whole of the front cover. Now move the book closer to your face, what happens? You can see less of the cover (probably just a couple of words from the title). What you’ve just done is increased the magnification and decreased the field of view (albeit on a smaller scale).
What Else Do You Need To Know About Birding Binoculars?
From a first pair of birding binoculars point of view, we’ve covered a few of the basics, so now we’ll have a look at some other features that will be worth having in any pair of binoculars. Let’s start with the type of binoculars.
What Type Of Binoculars Are Best?
There are two main types of binoculars, that look totally different to each other and are designed differently too. Without going into too much detail, and giving you a headache. Let’s sum up the pros and cons of both types. The older design and the ones that look like a capital M, are called Porro prism binoculars. They are larger, bulkier, easier to damage, harder to waterproof, but a decent pair will cost less than comparable Roof prism binoculars.
They’re the other type – roof prisms. And as the name implies they house the prisms that cause magnification in the roof of the lens tubes. Shaped like a capital H roof prisms are more compact, lighter, easier to waterproof, more robust, less likely to get damaged but a decent pair of roof prism binoculars will cost considerably more than a similar quality Porro prism.
Roof prism binoculars are at both ends of the scale, the cheap roof prisms aren’t all that good at all whereas the top quality roof prisms will cost plenty of money.
Even if you don’t plan on spending a fortune on your first pair of binoculars, it’s well worth getting a pair that are waterproof. If the internal workings get water trapped inside, the binoculars will never be the same again. There are many levels of waterproofing but when it comes to binoculars a coding of IPX6 will prevent any rain getting into the workings. IPX7 can be submerged for ½ hour in 1 metre of water without causing any damage, but as there are no birds to watch underwater, IPX6 will do fine.
Fog Proof Binoculars
If you’re planning on leaving home early in the morning, even in Summer, a fog proof pair of binoculars will be a good idea.If the temperature changes too quickly from warm to cold, the lenses on binoculars can fog up. But if they’ve had the oxygen purged from the lens tubes and replaced with nitrogen (or argon) they won’t ever fog up.
Protective Rubber Coating
This is a handy feature as it stops the body of the binoculars from getting knocked about or damaged. Even if you dropped them accidentally they shouldn’t get dented with a rubber coating.
When reading the specs you might see lens coatings mentioned. The only coatings worth while having are fully multi-coated lenses. This means that all of the glass, inside and out has been fully coated with multiple layers of protective coatings. To reduce glare, and improve the brightness, contrast and light transmission.
You might also notice ED glass in the specs too. Extra low Dispersion glass keeps the colours bright and the images clear and crisp.
The eye relief is the perfect viewing distance between the eyes and the eyepiece and still being able to see the full image. Not so important unless you wear glasses permanently. Standard eye relief is anywhere between 13 to 16mm. Long eye relief (essential if you do wear glasses) is between 16 to 24 mm.
All of the top quality binocular manufacturers offer a lifetime guarantee on their binoculars. That means as long as you are the original owner, and you haven’t mistreated them. If anything goes wrong with them, the company will replace them or repair them without any argument.
How Much Should You Pay For Binoculars For Beginners Birding?
You can pick up some binoculars for around £15.00 and they might be good for banging nails in, but not much good for birding. With binoculars it really is a case of you get what you pay for. With that said for around £130.00 you will be able to pick up a really good pair of roof prism, waterproof, fog proof, mid size, fully multi-coated lens, rubber coated bodied, 8×32 binoculars from Hawke with a FoV of 7.4° that will last you a lifetime as long as you treat them right.
The reality is for better viewing quality, you need to invest at least £100.00 Much below that and you’ll probably be put off for life. However, any more than that, unless you’re prepared to go into the £400 to £1000.00 range won’t be that much better (for beginners at least).
Frequently Asked Questions
The strength binoculars you need for bird watching are 8x magnification for songbirds (garden birds) or 10x for waterfowl.
A good pair of binoculars will cost anywhere between £80.00 to £1600.00 depending on brand and model.