How To Choose Binoculars For General Use (Best For All Round Use)

How To Choose Binoculars For General Use (Best For All Round Use)

A decent pair of binoculars will make pleasant trips out all the more enjoyable. Whether you’re going to the beach, safari park, walking in the countryside, hill walking, hiking, whale watching, bird watching, or fancy checking out the moon and the stars from your backyard. A good pair of binoculars will help you get the most from your expedition. Of course certain hobbies have differing requirements when it comes to optics but, keeping a general pair of binoculars handy will help you to see more wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

Considering the idea is to help you see things clearly through the lens of the binoculars, choosing the right pair can seem anything but clear. But don’t despair because we can help you identify all you’ll need to know to pick the perfect pair of binoculars for your lifestyle. Even though there are many hobbies and many types of binoculars to choose from to do those hobbies, many of the basics are the same. So here are the things to look out for in binoculars for general use.

The Size Of Binoculars

Binoculars come in three sizes and they’re determined by the size of the objective lens diameter, that’s the lens closest to the object you’re looking at. They are

  • Compact
    Compact binoculars have an objective lens diameter of less than 30mm and are more suited for hiking/backpacking etc where size and weight are important factors.
  • Mid Size
    Mid Size binoculars have an objective lens size of between 30 to 40mm and are the most commonly used binoculars for long term usage, as they’re not too large or too heavy to use for long time periods.
  • Full Size
    Full Size binoculars have an objective lens diameter of greater than 40mm and are more likely to be used for specific tasks like astronomy, or static bird watching (watching birds from a hide etc.

The Level Of Magnification

This is usually the first thing people think about when looking at binoculars and it’s also the main thing people get wrong too. That’s because too much power can cause problems such as high lighting the natural shake we all get in our arms when holding anything for too long. It’s not usually noticed but under high magnification that slight shake can appear to be a massive wobble that can make all images appear blurry.

For general use, a magnification of between 7x to 10x is usually recommended to prevent that arm shake from being too noticeable. We have noticed the most common size binoculars requested by our customers tends to be 8x, which is right in the middle of the generally recommended sized binoculars.

The Objective Lens Diameter

The diameter of the objective lens is one of the most important features concerning the specs of any pair of binoculars. Not only does the objective lens size determine the actual size of the binoculars, but it also determines how bright the image you can see through the lens will be. This is because binoculars rely on natural light to illuminate the image and this light can only enter the binoculars through the objective lens.

Exit Pupil

The beam of light that enters the binoculars is known as the exit pupil and it’s an important feature because the exit pupil should be as close in diameter as our pupil, to allow enough light for us to identify the image through the lens. During daylight hours the human pupil is somewhere between 2 to 4mm in diameter, and dilates to around 6 to 7mm at night. To calculate the exit pupil of a pair of binoculars just divide the objective lens diameter with the level of magnification, the answer will be the exit pupil in millimeters.

So a pair of binoculars with a value of 8×42 (which means 8 times magnification and an objective lens diameter of 42mm) will have an exit pupil of just over 5mm. The magnification and objective lens sizes are always stamped onto the body of the binoculars and always follow that basic shape of number(s) followed by X followed by numbers. With the second set of numbers indicating the objective lens size and the first set including the x indicating the level of magnification. In this example 8x means the image you’ll see through the lens will be 8 times larger than with the naked eye.

Why Are Some Binoculars With The Same Numbers More Expensive?

This is due to the internal components and the type of glass used for the prisms and lenses. With binoculars it really is a case of you get what you pay for. Precision optical equipment costs more money to produce and that cost gets passed on to the purchase price.

What Other Features Are Important When Buying Binoculars?

There are many features to consider when buying binoculars, we’ve listed a few above but there are more to come and all of equal importance for your overall enjoyment and enhanced viewing.

What Is Eye Relief?

There is a perfect distance between the ocular lens (the one closest to your eye) and your eye, where you can see the full image through the binoculars with no black circles or any other image blocks. The eye relief is commonly between 11 to 16mm.

What Is Long Eye Relief?

Long eye relief is anywhere between 16 to 24mm and is designed to accommodate eyeglasses while still being able to see the full image through the lenses.

Eye Cups

The eye cups are the soft plastic or rubber edges on the ocular lenses designed to keep your face comfortable when looking through the binocular lenses. The eye cups are adjustable, usually by twisting or folding them up or down. Some glasses wearers can get away with regular eye relief by adjusting the eye cups. But as some glasses are larger than others, you’ll probably need long eye relief if you regularly wear glasses.

Do Binoculars Need To Be Waterproofed?

With any outdoor activity undertaken in the UK there’s a strong possibility of getting wet. We tell the seasons here by the temperature of the rain, so it makes sense to buy waterproof binoculars. There’s an industry code set up to identify exactly how waterproof anything from electricity cables to binoculars and everything in between actually is. Unfortunately the coding system is quite confusing but for the purpose of binoculars IPX6 will stop any rain from entering from any angle.

It is possible to get binoculars that will remain dry even if dropped in a metre of water and left for 30 minutes. They come under the code of IPX7 but unless you’re planning on some waterbound activity, IPX6 will be fine.

Fog Proof Binoculars

The reason binoculars fog up is due to moisture (that’s contained in air) reacting to fluctuating temperatures. The temperature can change with the drop of a hat which can be problematic especially if you enjoy early morning or late evening viewing. Fog proof binoculars have all of the air removed and replaced with an inert gas that contains no moisture, and therefore cannot react to sudden changes in the weather.

Dust Proof Binoculars

Once the binoculars have been fog proofed, they are also dust proof. Once the gas is sealed inside the lens tubes, no dust can enter either, which also means no mould spores too. So the binoculars will always have clear vision. Of course the outside lens will get steamed up on occasion but these can be wiped with a soft lens cloth.

Better Light Transmission Means Clearer Viewing

Optical glass works better at allowing light through it if it has less imperfections. This means the better quality of glass used to make the prisms and the lenses the clearer, brighter and crisper the image will be. The best optical precision glass used for making the prisms for binoculars is BAK4 glass, this has the least imperfections and gives clearer viewing ability.

The most common optical glass used in binoculars is BK7 glass. BK7 glass has slightly more imperfections than BAK4 but is still precision optical glass. The actual lenses can also affect the light transmission, the best is Extra-low Dispersion glass, often quoted in the specs as ED glass.

Lens Coatings

Another feature that helps with better light transmission is the coatings added to the lenses once they have been ground to the correct size for the binoculars. There are many grades of lens coatings but the one to look for is FMC – Fully multi-coated lenses means all lenses have been fully coated in multiple coats of glare reducing, brightness and contrast improving coatings.

Which Type Of Binoculars Are Best For General Use?

There are two main types of binoculars and they both have good and bad points but there are certain activities that are suited better for one type over the other. Here are the highs and lows of each type;

Roof Prism Binoculars

Pros Of Roof Prism BinocularsCons Of Roof Prism Binoculars
Light WeightImages Not So Clear
Excellent Waterproofing CapabilitiesNarrower Field Of View
Superior MagnificationCost More to Buy
Much More RobustCost More To Produce
Compact Design

Porro Prism Binoculars

Pros Of Porro Prism BinocularsCons Of Porro Prism Binoculars
Superior Depth PerceptionLarger
Wider Field Of ViewBulkier
Improved Quality ImagesHeavier
Clearer ImagesLess Able To Fully Waterproof
Cost Less To BuyEasier To Damage (prism Misalignment)

What Are The Best Binoculars For…?

When it comes to specific uses, there are certain features that are absolutely imperative and others, not so much. So If you are buying general purpose binoculars we would advise buying the very best pair your budget can stretch to, as you really do get what you pay for with binoculars. Below are a few pointers for various specific activities and the sort of features to look for that will be best suited for each one.

Binoculars For Stargazing

When choosing binoculars for stargazing or astronomy, you’ll need a good light to magnification ratio, we would suggest 10×50 as a good starting point for handheld binoculars and if you’re considering using a tripod, then 15×56 will help you see more.

Binoculars For Backpacking

The main consideration when choosing binoculars for backpacking will probably be size and weight. They have to fit in your pack with everything else, and you’ll have to carry it all. But that said, modern binoculars are fairly lightweight and we would recommend 8×42 binoculars for hiking. Even though they are classified as large, they weigh in at less than 1 kilo and are not over large either.

Binoculars For Bird Watching

Binoculars for birdwatching allow plenty of scope when it comes to size and weight. The best magnification for birdwatching binoculars depends on the types of birds you want to watch. For instance slow moving birds or waterfowl that spend long periods of time floating along the same spot of water will be easy to see with a magnification of 10x. Whereas faster birds like songbirds will be easier to see with a lower magnification probably 8x due to their speed and agility.

Binoculars For Whale Watching

When choosing binoculars for whale watching you’ll need to consider where you’re going to be watching from. If you’re going to be viewing whales from land then you’ll need a higher magnification than if you’re viewing from a boat. This is because binoculars magnify any slight movements which means anything above 7x will cause the image to shake too much and will result in a blurred view. From land you’ll need at least 10x for clearer views, but any higher than 10x will need to be supported by a tripod.

Binoculars For Opera

Binoculars For Opera need to have a very low magnification level, definitely no higher than 6x. Opera glasses tend to be only 3x and are usually far more ornate than binoculars but with so many compact binoculars available there are plenty to choose from.

Binoculars For Ship Watching

When choosing Binoculars For Ship Watching you’ll need to decide whether you’re likely to be watching ships from land or sea. Because different situations call for different binoculars. From sea we recommend a magnification of no higher than 7x due to the movement of the sea causing blurry images above 7x magnification. Whereas from land we would recommend 10x or for watching ships on the horizon, 12x to 15x, but these high mags would need a tripod to keep the image stable.

Binoculars For Trainspotting

Trainspotting binoculars should be fairly compact and lightweight as you’ll be carrying them on and off trains pretty much all day. We would recommend something like a pair of 8×25 binoculars for trainspotting.

Binoculars For Archery

If you’re a keen archer, and are considering buying a pair of binoculars to help you spot your targets our top suggestion would be a pair that allows plenty of light in to help spot those awkward shots and angles. Binoculars for archery should be no higher than 8x as many competition rules won’t allow any higher mag than that.

Binoculars For Cricket

Nothing beats a warm Summer’s day sitting watching a good game of cricket. But to make the day more enjoyable a decent pair of binoculars will help you to see all of the action without having to squint or wait ‘til you get home to watch the highlights on TV. Choosing binoculars for cricket is easier than you might think, in fact we’d recommend a decent pair of either 8×42 or 10×50 binoculars; these will both give you great magnification whilst also allowing enough light to enter so you can see the images clearly.

Binoculars For Football

When going to a football match, it’s not always easy to get seats as close to the field as you’d like  so a decent pair of binoculars will make your afternoon far more enjoyable. When choosing binoculars for football we’d recommend 8×32 binoculars as they’re small enough to not bother your neighbour but have a high enough magnification to see all of the game wherever you’re sitting.

Binoculars For Butterfly Watching

You’ve probably never thought about binoculars for watching butterflies or moths, but there are some exceptional pairs of binoculars with a close enough focus to make butterfly watching so much more interesting without having to hurt your back bending.

Binoculars For Wildlife

Choosing binoculars to watch wildlife can be quite confusing, because there’s more than one way to watch wildlife. Are you planning a safari, a day at the park or do you just want to watch the wildlife that visits your garden. Either way a decent pair of binoculars can really help you to get the most from your viewing. Our recommendations would be either 8×32 or 8×42 depending on your specific needs.

Binoculars For Golf

Whether you’re playing golf, or watching a tournament a decent pair of binoculars for golf will definitely make your day more enjoyable. Golf courses cover large areas and keeping an eye on the ball can be difficult especially for long range shots, and that’s where a decent pair of binoculars will come in very handy.

Binoculars For Horse Racing

A day at the races can be a great day out especially if you back a few winners. To make sure you know the form of the horses running that day, using binoculars for horse racing will help you to get ahead of the game.

Binoculars For Plane Spotting 

Spotting planes is an interesting way to spend an afternoon, whether at your local airport, air show or just overhead in your garden, a decent pair of binoculars for plane spotting will add to your day’s fun. For regular plane spotting we’d recommend 10x to be a good magnification level but for high altitude plane spotting you’ll need 12x unless you have a tripod when you’ll do better with 15x or even 20x.

Zoom Lens Binoculars

One last word concerning zoom lens binoculars, these are just starting to get more popular and this is because the better quality brands are starting to produce some good quality zoom lens binoculars. In the past, zoom lens binoculars tended to lose some of the clarity of the image due to the high zoom feature. But now some of the big boys are tackling these problems head on so our advice would be if zoom lens binoculars are something that interest you, look for the better brands zoom lens binoculars.

Frequently Asked Questions

What binoculars are best for general use?

For general use 8×42 binoculars are the best choice. They allow high enough magnification with enough light to illuminate the image for a clear view.

How much does a good pair of binoculars cost?

A good pair of binoculars will cost you anything from £50.00 to £ 6000.00 depending on the brand and model.

How much should you pay for binoculars?

You should pay between £50.00 to £350.00 for a good pair of all round, general use binoculars.