How To Choose Binoculars For Opera (Best UK Guide)

How To Choose Binoculars For Opera (Best UK Guide)

The first ever advertised “opera glasses” in the 1730s would not now be recognised as opera glasses. In fact, they were monoculars, actual opera glasses as we know them today didn’t really evolve until around 1800. Over the years the design’s changed and improved until during the 19th century they reached their hayday.

Nowadays, if you go to the theatre, opera or concert you have so many different types of compact binoculars to choose from and they have improved to such a level that they can be used for other events and activities not just once or twice a month for a night at the opera. However, they’re not the same as regular binoculars.

That’s because regular binoculars are for looking at the great outdoors, whereas theatre/opera binoculars are only used inside a relatively small area. This means a lower magnification and objective lens size, plus the actual binoculars will be smaller too.

Many modern opera glasses take their design from the early models, which were ornate and made from metal and glass. Many had a leatherette coating to increase grip and also for decorative purposes. One feature of original opera glasses was a handle attached to the right side of the casing making holding the glasses more convenient.

These were called “Lognettes” and really give an insight into the fashions of the day. Many early opera glasses had mother of pearl inlay and were built to look luxurious, and decorative as well as being functional.

What Magnification Do You Need For Opera Binoculars?

When  it comes to magnification for going to the opera or theatre, lower is better. The original opera glasses would have had a top magnification of 3x. This would have ensured a clear image with no blurring due to our natural shake through our arms when holding objects for extended periods of time.

The recommended magnification for theatre goers is 5x or 6x. This means the image you will see through the lens will be 5 times or 6 times larger than if seen through the naked eye.

What About The Objective Lens Diameter For Opera Binoculars?

The objective lens is an important factor to consider when buying binoculars for going to the opera, theatre or concert. It’s important because the size of the objective lens determines how much light can enter the binoculars which affects the brightness of the image you can see through the lens. As the binoculars used for opera/ theatre/ concerts will by necessity be small, the best you can probably hope for in an objective lens is around 25mm to 30mm.

We wouldn’t recommend an objective lens diameter below 25mm because natural light will usually be in short supply. This means you’ll be making do with whatever artificial light is available from the stage. The higher the objective lens value, the brighter your image will appear through the binoculars.

Is A Wide Field of View Necessary For Theatre Binoculars?

When it comes to binoculars for use in a theatre or concert hall, a wide field of view will allow you to see more of the show whilst looking through the lenses. So the wider the better really, that way you can check out the costumes worn by various cast members in close detail, while still being able to watch the whole drama play out at the same time. 

Is Weight A Factor For Opera Glasses/Binoculars?

As we’re looking at very small binoculars here, this might seem like an obvious question, but the overall weight of binoculars for opera or theatre use is an important factor to consider. In the first place, you’re going to have to carry them into the auditorium, plus you will need to hold them up to your face in order to use them during the performance. As operas can go on for upwards of three hours, holding something as light as 140g will start to feel quite uncomfortable after a while.

Opera glasses tend to weigh anywhere between 100 grams and 350 g which although not heavy, can feel considerably more over the course of the evening. Plus when you consider that quite a lot of that weight is purely for decorative purposes and has very little to do with functionality, it’s worth shopping around.

Gone are the times when a night at the opera said more about your status than your appreciation of a style of musical theatre. Back then the best opera glasses were ostentatious to say the least, because it was more about being noticed than enjoying the show. In fact people often went to become the show, not watch the show.

Thankfully those shallow days are gone (hopefully) and we require function over appearance. So we can focus on magnification, objective lens size, field of view and comfort in opera glasses and not how dazzling they are so that we get seen to be attending.

Are Opera Glasses Needed For Theatrical Events?

By this we mean as opposed to relatively compact binoculars, bearing in mind that traditional opera glasses have a magnification of just 3x and even the smallest binoculars feature more than 3x magnification. Let’s take a closer look at modern opera glasses and see how they compare.

Brands Who Make Opera Glasses

Most modern opera glasses are based on those produced during the heyday of opera and theatre based entertainments, even sporting the same ornate look with some even having the handle featured on Lorgnette binoculars. Most have 3x magnification, 25 mm objective lens and some even have a built-in light feature which makes finding your seat in the low-light auditorium so much easier.

It’s surprising just how many brands produce opera glasses in the 21st century. Companies like;

  • LaScala Optics
    Named after the world famous opera house in Milan, LaScala features five ranges of opera glasses all produced with hand assembled features. Available in a wide range of colours and designs with prices starting at around £50.00 there will definitely be a pair of LaScala to suit your style and taste.
  • Levenhuk Optical Instruments
    The majority of Levenhuk opera glasses have a size of 3×25, a wide field of view, central focussing, adjustable interpupillary distance, fully coated optics, are supplied with a carry pouch,  suede glass cleaning cloth and a lifetime warranty. Many feature a carry chain or extendable telescopic lorgnette style handle and some have integrated LED lights for making seat location easier. Many feature BAK-4 glass (the best optical glass used in binocular manufacture).
  • Braun theatre Glasses
    Braun opera glasses look like traditional opera glasses with the added feature of a built-in light for reading programs etc and finding your seat without bothering your neighbours. They weigh around 140g, have a close focus of 3metres, 3x magnification, 25mm objective lens diameter, central focussing knob, decent FoV of 6° (105 m/1,000m), soft pouch and cleaning cloth, and costing around £35.00.
  • Eschenbach Opera Glasses
    Another German manufacturer of optical equipment, with objective lens choices of 18 to 25mm, they produce various opera glasses with prices in the region of £50 to £100.00.
  • Bresser Opera Glasses
    Very popular brand for UK opera goers, Bresser produces opera glasses with two objective lens diameters 25mm and 27mm, black and gold designs, and prices range between £30 to £50.00.
  • Zhumell Opera Glasses
    Zhumell opera glasses come in a range of designs and styles including a range with lorgnette handles. With prices around the £50.00 range.
  • Vixen Opera Fold-Up Glasses
    Vixen produces a range of futuristic looking opera glasses that snap open and shut into their own case. Conveniently sized to fit most average pockets or handbags. 3×28 and costing around £20.00.
  • Kabuki Glasses
    These Japanese opera glasses were originally designed to watch Kabuki which is a traditional Japanese dance/drama shown in theatres the length of Japan. They look like a cross between opera glasses and conventional eyeglasses. With 4x magnification, 13mm objective lens diameter, 2 prisms in each lens, BK-7 prismatic glass, a FoV of 225 m per1,000m and a fixed focus of 10m to infinity. They are the ultimate in hands free opera glasses but they’re also quite expensive, coming in at around £280.00.
  • Pentax VD 4×20
    Probably the most innovative design for opera glasses ever invented, the Pentax VD binoculars look fairly standard for compact opera glasses. With impressive stats including, 175m per 1,000m FoV, fully multi-coated optics, roof prisms using both BAK-4 and BK7 glass, close focus 0.5m (1.6ft), fully waterproof, and twist up eyecups.

    The really impressive features however, are the detachable single hinge body with metal bridge which allows them to convert from binoculars to two monoculars or, by joining the monoculars lengthways, converts into a spotting scope. They are quite heavy, weighing in at 354g and costing around £250.00 making the price quite heavy too!

    But as they have a 4x magnification which increases to 16x when converted into the spotting scope, these optical hybrids can be used in many situations not just for the opera.

Standard Compact Binoculars For Use At The Opera

Many standard compact binoculars will have too narrow a field of view to make them viable for taking to the opera or theatre. But there are a few that will double up for opera goers and birders alike. The most important features for using standard compacts at the opera are;

  • A Compact Design
  • Wide Field Of View
  • Relatively Low Magnification

Here are a few of the better compact binoculars that we feel make the cross over into the world of theatre goers and opera buffs especially.

  • Bushnell Xtra-Wide 4×30
    These feature a field of view 900ft per 1,000 yards, 4x magnification, objective lens diameter of 30mm, BAK-4 prisms, fully multi-coated lenses, and cost around £100.00
  • Pentax 6.5×21 Papilio
    Designed for close focus butterfly watching, with 6.5x magnification, 21mm objective lens diameter, and a field of view of 393 ft per 1,000 yards the Papilio will work well at the opera. The average price for these is around £90.00
  • Eschenbach Club W 8×25 B
    With their mother of pearl effect body coating, BAK-4 prisms, fully multi-coated lenses, 100% waterproof and fog proof 8x magnification and 25 mm objective lens these compacts wouldn’t look out of place at any event, from hill walking, tennis tournaments, horse racing or a night at the opera. Priced at around £250.00.
  • Swarovski 8×20
    These top quality optics have a field of view of 345 ft per 1,000 yards, 8x magnification, 20mm objective lens diameter, a truly stylish and precise pair of compact binoculars from one of the top brands available for around £400 to £450 or for double the price they are available wrapped in Swarovski crystals for extra style.

The Bottom Line

To enjoy a night at the opera it’s not necessary to own a pair of opera glasses, but it will enhance your viewing pleasure. With many opera glasses available at a wide range of prices, no one should feel left out of this traditional opera accessory.

From £20.00 to £1,000.00 there are many reasons to convince yourself that opera glasses are not worth bothering with. But think just how much more involved you’ll feel looking through your own specially designed opera glasses to survey the crowds, check out the set design, take a close look at the costumes or even check out the orchestra.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between opera glasses and binoculars?

Opera glasses use a simpler system internally to magnify the image than binoculars, this allows opera glasses to be smaller and cost less to make.

Why do people use binoculars at the opera?

People use binocular type opera glasses at the opera to see the action clearer, the expression on the performers faces, the detail of their costumes and the design of the set.

Can you use opera glasses as binoculars?

You can use opera glasses as binoculars but you won’t see anywhere near as much through opera glasses as you can through binoculars. Opera glasses typically only have a magnification value of 3x whereas binoculars can have 8x 10x or higher.

What is the best magnification for opera glasses?

Most opera glasses have a magnification of 3x any higher would result in a narrower field of view. Which would make it harder to observe the whole of the stage.

What are glasses on a stick called?

The glasses on a stick are called a lognette. It comes from the French word Lorgner which means to take a sideways look at.