How To Choose Binoculars For Cruises (Alaska etc.)
If you’re planning an Alaskan cruise don’t forget to pack a decent pair of binoculars. Where else will you get the chance to see a black bear in its natural environment? Or imagine witnessing a 30 ton humpback whale breaking through the waves in the early morning light. There is so much to see on an Alaskan cruise (or any other cruise) and you’ll be so pleased you invested in a decent pair of binoculars.
Most people come back from an Alaskan cruise with tales of spotting the “big five”. These are the famous five Alaskan land mammals which are;
- The Bear (Black & Brown)
- The Moose (The State Animal)
- The Wolf
- The Caribou
- The Dall Sheep
Then there’s the Orcas (killer Whales), Puffins, Polar Bears, Bald Eagles, Humpback Whales, and Reindeer all in their natural home environment. With a good pair of binoculars you’ll get to see all of these and more, in far greater detail than you’d imagine was possible.
What Features Do You Need In Binoculars For Cruises?
Although most of the following information will apply to any cruise ship excursions, we’ll be focussing on Alaskan cruises specifically in this article. So let’s consider what you need in a pair of binoculars for cruising, they need to be;
- Compact & Lightweight
Going on a cruise in general usually means unlimited luggage, but as you’ll probably be flying to connect to the cruise ship, there will be luggage restrictions. We would recommend either compact or mid size binoculars as these are lighter and take up less space. However, for Alaska, they will need a fairly wide objective lens (see below).
- Waterproof & Fog Proof
We always recommend waterproof binoculars for general usage, but for Alaskan cruises, waterproof binoculars are essential. Once any water gets inside the binoculars they’ll never be the same. The best type of binoculars for waterproofing capabilities are roof prism binoculars. Due to the design of both the exterior and the internal mechanisms roof prism binoculars can be fully waterproofed.
- Wide Field Of View
The field of view (FoV) is the area you can see (width) through the lens at a distance of 1,000 metres. It’ll be in the specs as FoV 140m@:1,000m or similar. The higher the FoV the more you’ll be able to see without having to move your head.
You’ll find that there will be more and more opportunities for using binoculars once your cruise begins. So the binoculars you choose should be comfortable, comfort comes in many ways, not too large to hold, not too heavy, easy to grip, soft padding around the eyepiece, decent eye relief, and crisp, clear images.
- Excellent Light Transmission
Binoculars rely on the transmission of light to produce the bright, crisp sharp images you see through the lenses. Better light transmission comes through top quality optical equipment like the prisms and the lenses. BAK4 glass is used in the production of the prisms of top quality binoculars as it has less imperfections than any other glass.
The most common glass used in binocular prisms is BK7 glass, which is still quality precision optical glass but with slightly more imperfections than BAK4. The lenses themselves contribute greatly to the transmission of light so look for ED or Extra-low Dispersion glass lenses. ED glass allows for better colour rendition, so no colour fringing or haloing. Another contributor to better light transmission are the coatings applied to the lenses. Look for FMC (fully multi-coated) lenses as these will have multiple layers applied to every lens, inside and out.
- Rugged Composition
Rubber or polycarbonate coatings are used to protect the binoculars from accidental damage due to dropping or scraping or bumping the binoculars onto railings etc. All of the top brands supply all of their binoculars with a protective coating that also helps with gripping the binoculars as these coatings are also anti-slip.
Always a major concern when it comes to binoculars, but all too often people assume greater magnification is better. It is, up to a point, but too high and any slight movement is magnified to such a degree that you won’t see any image through the lens clearly. This is of great importance on board ships where the swell of the sea is inescapable.
But most cruise liners have roll stabilisation systems to combat the motion of the sea so the image shake at higher magnification is neutralised to a degree. We would still recommend no greater magnification than 10x for an Alaskan cruise, in fact, we’d really recommend 8x magnification. 8x magnification means the image seen through the lens of the binoculars will be 8 times larger than with the naked eye.
That shake might be all but eliminated by the boat’s roll stabilisation system but we all have a tendency to shake slightly when holding anything for long periods. The higher the magnification, the more exaggerated that shake appears.
Magnification & Field Of View
One final word on the magnification, the higher the magnification, the narrower the field of view becomes. This is because when you close in on an object, you lose the surrounding area in your view.
Objective Lens Diameter
The lens closest to the object you’re looking at is called the objective lens. It’s the diameter of this lens that determines the brightness of the image that can be seen through the binoculars because the objective lens is the only way light can enter the binoculars. The larger the diameter of the objective lens, the brighter the image, but also the heavier the binoculars will be.
For Alaskan cruises we would recommend the perfect size for your binoculars to be 8×42 as these will enlarge the objects seen through the lens by 8 times and allow enough light to enter to brighten that object. Without making the overall size and weight of the binoculars too high.
Eye relief refers to the comfortable distance between your eye and the eyepiece while still being able to see the full image through the lens with no black rings etc. The average eye relief on binoculars is between 11 to 16mm which is fine for most people. If you need to wear glasses whilst using binoculars you’ll probably need more space to accommodate the glasses and still see the full image. In which case you’ll need a pair with long eye relief (between 16 to 24mm).
What Type Of Binoculars Are Best For Alaskan Cruises?
There are two main types of binoculars available, Porro prism and Roof prism. They both have good and bad points but as you are going on an Alaskan cruise, it’s only really worth thinking about roof prism binoculars. This is because Porro prism binoculars are far larger, bulkier, heavier, easier to damage, virtually impossible to fully waterproof and if the prisms get misaligned, the binoculars will cause you eye strain and headaches.
Roof prism binoculars are lighter, smaller, far stronger, have better magnification and are easily waterproofed due to the improved design. A decent pair of roof prism binoculars will cost more than a comparable Porro prism, but you’ll be surprised by just how much value you will get in terms of image quality and overall performance.
As you will be paying at least £150.00 for a good pair of roof prism binoculars you’ll expect them to last for many years. As long as you buy a pair manufactured by a good brand they will last for at least 20 years. Most of the top brands offer a lifetime guarantee, which means for as long as you own them if they develop a fault, the manufacturer will repair or replace them.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best size binoculars for cruising are 8×42 this gives ample magnification, and allows enough light to illuminate the image clearly.
You should take binoculars on a cruise as you will miss the opportunity of seeing many animals in their natural environment without binoculars.
Binoculars will help you to see many incredible animals and birds in their natural environment in Alaska.