Choosing Binoculars For Bird Watching In The Garden (Best UK Guide)
If you’re reading this article, it’s safe to assume you want a pair of binoculars specifically for bird watching in your garden. Over the years, we’ve experimented with various size binoculars for watching garden birds, and we always come back to our original choice, a pair of 8 x 42. This size of binoculars are a great all-round choice because;
- Functions well in low light conditions
- Not too heavy
- Not too large
- 8 x is the perfect magnification for watching garden birds
- Decent field of view
Binoculars For Specific Needs
8 x 42 binoculars are great as a general all-round type of binocular, but certain circumstances dictate different binoculars. Let’s look at some situations that merit something different.
Early Morning Or Late Evening
If you have a limited time frame for bird watching, like before you leave for work or after you get back home in the early evening, or your garden is particularly shaded. You’ll do better with a pair of binoculars with a larger objective lens (see below). This is because the larger the objective lens the more light can enter the lens tube and illuminate the image you can see through the lenses.
If you do go for a pair with a larger objective lens, bear in mind that they will be heavier because the lenses are made from glass and obviously the larger the lens, the more glass used to make it and the heavier it is too. As you’ll be only using them at home, heavy binoculars aren’t so much of a problem, you won’t have to carry them while you hike through fields and hillsides in search of birds.
We would recommend something like a 8 x 50 for shady gardens or use at dusk or dawn. These will give you an exit pupil of 6.25 mm which allows far more light in than the 5 mm from an 8 x 42 pair of binoculars.
If you have a particularly large garden, or a very long garden, we would recommend a pair of 10 x 50 or 12 x 50 binoculars. This is especially relevant if you intend to watch the birds at the very end of your garden whilst sitting indoors or on the patio close to the house. As you’ll be using the binoculars at home, going larger and heavier is not going to be a problem plus you will be advised to invest in a tripod too.
This is particularly important if you’re planning on buying any binoculars with a magnification greater than 10 x. This is due to the natural tremor that we all have when holding a fairly weighty object for any length of time, exaggerated by the high magnification. This will render any image as almost impossible to distinguish due to it being shaky and blurred.
Prefer Something Lighter?
If you’re buying binoculars for an older person, or you just don’t relish holding heavy binoculars for long periods of time, there are plenty of smaller options available. And don’t think that means compromising on how much detail you’ll be able to see. A decent 8 x 32 pair of binoculars will do well in most gardens during daylight hours.
Objective Lens Size
The size of the objective lens dictates how bright the image you can see through the binocular lens will be. The objective lens is the lens furthest away from your eyes (closest to the object you’re looking at). The only way light can enter the binoculars is through the objective lens so the larger it is, the brighter the image will be.
But, the larger the objective lens is the heavier the binoculars will weigh and this can be a problem with long term usage. Or though, not such a problem if you only intend to use the binoculars at home. Binoculars need to be held perfectly still to obtain the best view through them which can also be difficult if they’re too heavy.
The magnification level of binoculars is actually stamped onto the body somewhere. You’ll see a series of numbers, something like this; 8 x 32 or 10 x 50. The number up to and including the “x” is the magnification level.
8 x indicates the image viewed through the lens will be 8 times larger than seen with the naked eye (with the “x” indicating times). The other number is the size of the objective lens in millimetres. For hand held binoculars we recommend a magnification no greater than 10 x as anything greater than this will exaggerate the natural shake of your hands so much as to be unrecognisable.
As we said earlier anything above 10x will need a tripod to steady the binoculars and keep the image clear. For watching garden birds 8 x is usually more than sufficient and you’ll soon notice just how much detail looking through 8 times magnification can reveal on the markings of a garden bird.
Field Of View
The field of view (FoV) is the area you can see from left to right, without moving your head and it’s expressed in the following fashion; 142m@1000m. Which indicates (in this particular case) that using that pair of binoculars you will be able to see a width of 142 metres from a distance of 1000 metres. The FoV can be of great importance when it comes to watching fast moving birds (although possibly not quite so important in your garden, unless you have a massive garden).
The Cost Of Binoculars (how much will a decent pair of binoculars cost?)
Decent binoculars tend to have three price ranges which are;
£50 To £150
This price range used to be sneered at but as technology has advanced there are some great binoculars available in this range. Look out for oxygen purged, waterproof & fog proof. As well as rubber or polycarbonate body protection.
£150 To £350
These are what are known as mid-range binoculars and you’ll find far more choice in this range. Many brands you will have heard of with decent warranties, some lightweight, compact models, better image clarity and brightness.
With these top priced models you can expect many more features and extras, but in all honesty, they’re not necessary for backyard bird watching. Plus a lot of what was only available on higher priced models is now commonplace on lower priced examples. Take for instance the Hawke Nature-Trek 8×42 binoculars, which can be purchased for less than £150 and include features such as;
- Fog proof
- FMC lenses
- 18mm (long) eye relief
- 130m@1000m FoV
- 5.3 exit pupil
This refers to the beam of light that enters the objective lens and reaches your eyes. The greater the exit pupil value, the brighter the image appears through the lens. The exit pupil should at least match the diameter of our own pupil which changes depending on different light conditions. For instance, in bright sunlight our pupil will have a diameter of around 2mm, as the light fades, our pupil dilates until at dusk, it’s around 5 or 6mm. So for early or late bird watching you’re going to need binoculars with an exit pupil of around 5mm (or more).
This feature can be particularly important for garden bird watching. It is how near to an object you can be while still keeping it in good focus. Any binoculars with a close focus of 2m (6ft6) is considered to be good.
As we said earlier, the only way the object you’re looking at is illuminated is via the objective lens. However, the quality of that image is determined by the amount of light transmission which is determined by a number of factors. Including;
The prisms are responsible for magnifying the object you’re looking at through the lens. The best binocular prisms are made from BAK-4 glass which is a high quality precision optical glass with the least imperfections and therefore the best light transmission. Closely followed by BK-7 glass which has slightly more imperfections.
The better the quality of glass used to make the lenses the better the light transmission. Look for binocular lenses made from Extra low Dispersion (ED) glass. These lenses have less imperfections which means better light transmission.
To improve light transmission even more, binocular manufacturers use various coatings to reduce loss of light due to reflection. The amount of coating determines just how efficient the light transmission for each lens is. Look for Fully Multi-Coated (FMC) lenses as this indicates that every surface of the lens has been coated with multiple layers of chemical coatings to reduce glare and improve light transmission.
This can be especially important during early evening or early morning light. Especially in gardens which suffer from heavy shade with just small amounts of sunlight appearing through hedges etc.
Do Binoculars For Use In The Garden Need To Be Waterproof?
If you’re only going to use binoculars indoors or from your garden you might think it’s not necessary for them to be waterproof. However, the techniques used to make binoculars both waterproof and fogproof will increase the life of your binoculars and your viewing pleasure. Manufacturers purge the lens tubes of oxygen replacing it with an inert gas, usually nitrogen or argon.
As these gases are sealed inside the lens tubes nothing else can enter. This keeps the binoculars dust, mould and other microbial debris free. So as well as being waterproof and fogproof, they will also be dust and mould proof too.
Do You Need To Wear Glasses?
If you need to wear glasses while using binoculars, you’ll need to look for binoculars with enough clearance to accommodate your eyes and glasses while still being able to see the whole image through the lenses. The distance between your eyes and the lenses at which you can see the full image with no dark rings is called eye relief.
The average eye relief is around 16mm, for those of us that need to wear glasses, look for long eye relief which is anything between 18 to 21mm.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best binoculars for garden bird watching are 8 x 42 binoculars with a close focus of around 2m.
The best magnification for bird watching is 8x to 10x anything above 10x will need to be supported by a tripod.