How To Choose Binoculars For Older People (Best UK Guide)
As we get older, we tend to find we have more time on our hands, but often, we can’t find too much to do with that time. Well, bird watching is one of the greatest hobby’s you could consider. It gets you outdoors in the fresh air, can be done at a comfortable pace, and if mobility is an issue, it’s possible to bird watch from the comfort of your own home.
After the initial cost of a decent pair of binoculars, there’s no expense involved, and you’ll be surprised just how rewarding bird watching can be. Even the common garden birds take on far more interest when viewed through the lens of a high powered lens.
What Binoculars Are Best For Older Adults?
The short answer is, if you’re looking for the best binoculars for older adults, make sure they’re:
- No More Than 8x Magnification
- Roof Prism
- BAK-4 Glass
- Fully Multi-Coated Lenses
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What You Need To Know Before Buying
Let’s start by getting familiar with the optical equipment available nowadays from good binocular stockists. The most important item you’ll need is of course, a pair of binoculars but which pair of binoculars? If you’re new to the world of binoculars don’t worry, we have all the information you need to be sure you get the perfect binoculars to meet your needs.
Let’s start with the basics and take it from there. The best binoculars should help you to see objects far off into the distance without causing you eye strain, headaches or any other discomfort. They shouldn’t cost a fortune but they do need to be of a certain level to be worthwhile. There are binoculars on sale on some online marketplaces that claim to have all of the features that top quality binoculars have, but at a fraction of the price.
We would advise you to steer well clear of them, if it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true. Binoculars costing £15.00 will probably look OK but if they work at all, it won’t be for long. They will let you down in more ways than one.
Any binoculars that are worth having will cost you a minimum of around £90.00 for a compact pair including BAK-4 prisms, waterproof and fog proof with a fully multi-coated lens. Any less than that will probably put you off binoculars for life.
Porro Prism Or Roof Prism Binoculars – Which Are Better?
These are the two main types of binoculars used for many different activities and they both have good and bad points. The main differences between the two are the positioning of the prisms which in turn affects the shape and some other key features too.
What Are Porro Prism Binoculars?
Porro prism binoculars are the classic M shape binoculars that have been around since the 1800s. They are bulkier, heavier, larger, more difficult to waterproof and easier to damage than roof prism binoculars, but they are priced more reasonably than roof prism binoculars. The shape is caused by the positioning of the prism arrangement, as there are two offset prisms for each lens.
It’s due to this prism arrangement that Porro prisms are easier to damage. The problem is the prisms can get misaligned just slightly which can cause eye strain, headaches and migraines. It doesn’t take too much of a knock to misalign the prisms and possibly the first you would know of it would be when the headaches start.
What Are Roof Prism Binoculars?
As the name implies the prisms are situated in the roof of the lens tubes on this type of binoculars. Which allows for a smaller, more compact, lighter design, but, as the technology used calls for more precision optics and a skilled alignment, roof prism binoculars are more costly than the equivalent Porro prism binoculars.
Shaped like a capital H roof prisms are far easier to waterproof than Porro prisms and due to their smaller design, they’re easier to carry and conceal (should the need arise). There are two camps for roof prism binoculars, the incredibly low priced and not so good, and the relatively expensive but far better quality.
Which Type Of Binoculars Are Best For The Elderly?
Taking all things into consideration, including the size, weight and extra features, we would recommend roof prism binoculars. They are far lighter and easier to carry than Porro prisms plus we believe that waterproofing is an important feature for anyone that lives in the United Kingdom.
The only problem that some roof prism binoculars have is the prisms are slightly out of phase. This is to do with light reflection and the speed the light rejoins to create a clear image. Without getting too technical, manufacturers have solved this problem by coating the prisms in a reflective coating. They use one of three different coatings; aluminium alloy which provides a reflectivity of between 87 to 93%, silver alloy which provides a reflectivity of 95 to 98% and a dielectric coating that provides a reflectivity of more than 99%.
Obviously the dielectric coating is preferred as the greater the degree of reflectivity the brighter, crisper and clearer image you will see through the binoculars. The P in p-coating stands for phase so you might see roof prism binoculars with p-coating in the specs as any of the three will greatly improve the image you can see.
The glass used to make the prisms has to be high quality precision optical glass and the very best is BAK-4. This has the least imperfections and is of the very highest quality. The more common glass is BK-7 and this has slightly more imperfections but is still precision optical glass. BAK-4 is the very best but BK-7 is still high quality and both are acceptable for binocular prisms.
When searching for binoculars you need to check the specs for fully multi-coated lenses. This means that every lens, both inside and out has been fully coated with multiple layers to reduce glare and improve light transmission, image brightness and contrast.
Is High Magnification A Good Thing?
With many things in life, bigger is better, but with the magnification of binoculars, lower is better than higher. We all have a natural shake when holding any relatively heavy object for any length of time. But when looking through a magnified lens that shake becomes more apparent. This is a problem we all have but like most things, it increases with age.
Now any magnification above 10x exaggerates that shakiness to the point of blurring the image, but as we get older that shake becomes apparent at even lower magnification. We recommend a magnification of no higher than 8x which effectively means the image you see through the lens is 8 times larger than seen with the naked eye.
The magnification also affects the field of view on binoculars too (see below) basically as the magnification increases, the field of view narrows.
How To Tell The Magnification Of Binoculars
On the actual binoculars you will notice a set of numbers separated by the letter X. These indicate the magnification and the size of the objective lens diameter. They’ll look something like this;
This tells us they have a magnification of 8 times (the X represents times) with an objective lens diameter of 42 millimeters.
Why Is The Objective Lens Diameter Important?
The objective lens (the lens closest to the object you are looking at) allows light to enter the binoculars. It’s this light that illuminates the image you can see through the binocular lens. The bigger objective lens your binoculars have, the clearer you can see objects in low light situations (dawn, dusk and cloudy days).
The objective lens diameter also affects the overall size of the binoculars. Binoculars with an objective lens lower than 30mm are classified as compact, an objective lens diameter of between 30 to 40mm is classified as mid size and full size binoculars have an objective lens diameter of above 40mm.
What Is The Field Of View?
The field of view (FoV) is all that you can see through the binocular lens from left to right, without moving your head. For most activities where binoculars are required, a wide field of view is recommended. Think of it this way, once the binoculars are in front of your eyes, all you can see is through those lenses. With a wide FoV, you’ll be able to locate what you are looking for without removing the binoculars, finding the object, then replacing the binoculars.
For instance, ahead is a pretty rare bird sitting on a fence between two fence posts, you lift the binoculars to your eyes and can’t see either of the posts because of a narrow FoV, so how do you locate the bird? You’ll have to remove the binoculars and start again. But if those binoculars had a wide FoV you would see both posts and the position of the bird through the binoculars.
As we said earlier the FoV is directly related to the magnification. As magnification increases, FoV narrows, so a wide FoV is obtained with lower magnification binoculars.
What Is Eye Relief?
Eye relief is the optimum distance between the ocular lens (the one closest to your eye) and your eye to see the full image through the lens of the binoculars. Most binoculars have an eye relief of around 14 to 16 mm and that’s usually fine for most people.
Glasses wearers however, need what’s known as long eye relief. This allows for perfect eye relief when wearing your glasses. Long eye relief is usually between 16 and 24mm and will be stated in the specifications of the binoculars. For those of us who are advancing in years, long eye relief will become more and more important.
What’s Exit Pupil?
Firstly our pupil size changes in different light conditions, but they also change as we age too. Below is a chart indicating the average pupil size at various ages, you’ll notice that the average night time pupil size decreases by one mm every decade.
|Age||Daylight Pupil Size||Night Time Pupil Size|
|20 years old||4.7mm||8.0mm|
|30 years old||4.3mm||7.0mm|
|40 years old||3.9mm||6.0mm|
|50 years old||3.5mm||5.0mm|
|60 years old||3.1mm||4.1mm|
|70 years old||2.7mm||3.2mm|
|80 years old||2.3mm||2.5mm|
To see the full image clearly the exit pupil of binoculars should be around the same diameter as our pupil diameter. To see the exit pupil on binoculars, hold them up towards the sunlight at arms length. Look through the objective lens, the diameter of the light you can see is the exit pupil.
To calculate the exit pupil size of binoculars divide the objective lens diameter by the magnification. For example the exit pupil on binoculars with 10x magnification and an objective lens diameter of 32 is 3.2mm – 32÷10=3.2 So our 8×42 roof prism binoculars from earlier have an exit pupil of 5.25
Assuming your age is 60 you will need a pair of binoculars with a minimum exit pupil of 4.1, which means our 8×42 will be more than sufficient.
What Does Close Focus Mean?
Close focus is how close you can be from the object you are looking at and still see it clearly. Many binoculars are built for high magnification and have no mention of close focus at all. But more and more are now recognising that sometimes the action is going on right under the binocular user’s nose. Many now have a close focus of 2 metres which means you can clearly see an object that is just 2 metres away through the binocular lenses.
Some companies have taken this one step further and introduced binoculars specifically for close focus work. Useful for butterfly spotters and others with a general interest in insects. They have close focus values of 0.5 of a metre.
Do Binoculars Need To Be Waterproof?
Here at Binocular Base, we are often asked this question, and our answer is always the same. Binoculars should be waterproof to the highest available (or affordable) level. There is an industry code for waterproofing to cut out any confusion, unfortunately that code is quite confusing on it’s own. So suffice it to say that any binoculars with an IPX6 code will be more than able to handle anything the Great British weather sends your way.
Fog Proof Binoculars
Leaving a warm car and entering a cold field is the perfect scenario for your binoculars to steam (or fog) up. To prevent this manufacturers have found a way to remove the air from the lens tubes and replace it with an inert gas. As the gas contains no moisture it doesn’t react with temperature fluctuations and the lens remains un fogged. To seal the gas in, there are no holes, not even microscopic, so no dust can enter the lens tubes either.
Protective Coatings – Are They Necessary?
When buying binoculars with a value of above £100.00 it’s a good idea to protect them with either a rubberised or polycarbonate coating. This will prevent any dents or scratches if they are accidentally dropped or bumped on a fence post, rock face or whatever. Most of the better quality binoculars are covered in a protective coating, check before you buy.
The top quality binocular brands have lifetime warranties on their binoculars. This means that as long as you own them and don’t deliberately mistreat them, they will repair or replace them with no quibbles.
What Are The Main Benefits Of Birdwatching?
Watching the birds has quite a few benefits for us at any age but especially as we grow older. Listed below are 5 benefits of birdwatching for those of us who are advancing in years.
- Bird Watching Stimulates Your Brain
It’s not just watching the birds, it’s learning their feeding habits, how to sex them, recognising their calls, memorising their names and types, remembering which habitats they frequent. All of which is keeping your brain active. Dementia patients can benefit from bird watching. In fact, according to a leading charity  spending just 10 minutes outside, birdwatching can improve concentration and memory. If bird watching is beneficial to dementia sufferers, it stands to reason that it will be just as beneficial (if not more so) to those of us without dementia.
- Bird Watching Reduces Stress & Anxiety Levels
Bird watching can be a very meditative activity, and provides us with time to be alone with our thoughts, in peace and quiet without any distractions. Purely focussing on nature has a measurable calming effect. We all know that expression “a healthy mind, a healthy body” and bird watching encourages both.
- Bird Watching Encourages Fresh Air & Mobility
If we have even a limited mobility, just being outdoors in the fresh air and walking for just 10 to 15 minutes can improve our health. According to the NHS  walking can reduce the risk of many so-called age related illnesses like dementia, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, depression and many more. Once you start bird watching you will soon find it becomes slightly addictive, which means you will be addicted to a healthy addiction.
- Bird Watching Can Be Done Anywhere
If you really struggle with your mobility, watching the birds from the warmth and comfort of your own home can be just as much fun as walking in the woods. As long as you have a decent pair of binoculars that allow you to observe the birds closely, you’ll find it can be just as enjoyable as going out bird watching.
- Bird Watching Can Be Done At Any Level Of Mobility
If you need a walking aid, it is still possible to watch the birds. Many RSPB sites have wheelchair access, lots of pathways through local woodlands are passable with care regardless of how mobile you are. And if you really can’t access the outdoors, there’s always the garden birds to look at.
Ways To Watch The Birds From Your Home
We advise going outdoors if possible but if mobility prevents you accessing the outdoor nature spots here are a few tips to get you started bird watching from home.
- Get Familiar With Common Birds In Your Area
Search online to find birds that you can expect to see in your locale, find a website that makes bird identification easy.
- Attract Birds By Providing Their Preferred Food
Once you are fairly confident you know which types of birds to expect to see in your garden, hang some feeders to attract them, and better yet, a bird bath.
- Set The Furniture To Get A Clear View
Get someone to rearrange your furniture so you can get a comfortable view of your garden and any birds that visit.
- Invest In A Notepad To Record Your Finds
Keep a clear record so you can notice just how many new species visit your garden.
Frequently Asked Questions
This depends on which activity you are going to use your binoculars for. In most cases 8x is more than enough magnification.
We recommend 7x or 8x magnification for bird watching.
If you need to wear glasses when using binoculars you will need to find a pair with long eye relief to accommodate your glasses.