How To Choose Binoculars For People With Poor Eyesight (Best UK Guide)
If you search the internet, you’ll find literally hundreds of binoculars either for sale, or recommended for pretty much every activity under the sun (and moon for astronomy). However there’s not too much information on buying binoculars for people with poor eyesight. It can be confusing, and frustrating, all you want is a decent pair of binoculars to allow you to pursue your favourite pastime.
Ironically, that’s the place to start your binocular search, think which activity you want to use your binoculars for. Once you identify your need, it’ll become easier to identify the correct pair of binoculars to use for that purpose. Different power and light settings are best suited to different hobbies so start with what you’re going to use your binoculars for.
Problems With Eyesight Due To The Aging Process
As we get older our eyesight starts to develop problems, there are a number of common eyesight problems commonly associated with old age. I suppose it’s a trade off between dying young with great eyesight or living to a ripe old age and losing your 20/20 vision.
What Are Some Common Age Related Eye Problems?
The majority of these problems are not that serious, by which I mean they’re not life threatening, they are annoying and inconvenient, but not life threatening.
This refers to not being able to see close objects or small print. Presbyopia is a normal process and is all part of getting old. It commonly begins to affect you in your early 40s, when you suddenly find yourself holding printed paper at arms length so you can barely see the print but at least you can make out enough of it to get the gist of it.
Some people with Presbyopia get headaches or eye strain or they complain of having tired eyes. Presbyopia is commonly called short sightedness and can be eased by a visit to the optician to get the correct strength reading glasses.
These present as tiny spots that float across whatever you are looking at. They are most often noticed in bright sunlight or well lit rooms. They are caused by parts of the eye getting old. Although annoying, floaters on their own are not a serious problem.
Floaters only become a problem if they are associated with light flashes, as this could indicate a partial detachment of the retina. Contact your GP as soon as the flashes show up with the floaters.
Commonly known as dry eyes, this condition happens when the tear glands don’t make enough tears. Dry eyes can cause discomfort, itching,a burning sensation and it can also lead to slight vision loss. keratoconjunctivitis sicca is often treated with eye drops but if it becomes a serious problem, surgery might be required.
Commonly called tearing, or your eyes creating too many tears due to light sensitivity, wind or even temperature fluctuations. Wearing sunglasses or eye glasses to protect your eyes often solves this problem.
Epiphora can also indicate an eye infection, or a blockage in the tear duct. It can also be a symptom of keratoconjunctivitis because dry eyes can cause excessive tears when irritated. See your GP if you have any symptoms.
This can affect people of any age but is more common in the over 40s, the common name is long-sightedness. Symptoms include; Seeing far off objects clearly but nearby objects are out of focus, eyes become tired after reading, working on a computer or writing,squinting for clearer vision, or persistent headaches. Get an eye test if any of these symptoms sound familiar.
Above are a few of the more common and less serious eye problems that can affect people as they age. Quite a few of these conditions will result in us needing to wear glasses for day to day activities, so what about when using binoculars? If you suffer from Hypermetropia, Epiphora, and Presbyopia it is usually possible to remove your glasses while using binoculars, as the binoculars will counteract any eye sight problems you have.
What About People That Have Astigmatism?
Astigmatism basically means your eye is shaped more like a rugby ball than a football. Which causes light to focus in more than one place in your eye. This can cause; blurred vision, eye strain, and headaches. Opticians can correct this condition by prescribing glasses that have to be worn constantly.
As a result of this, you will need to find a pair of binoculars that will accommodate your glasses as well as your eyes. This is not a problem as there are quite a few binoculars that have been designed specifically for this sort of thing. You will need to be aware of certain aspects of the binoculars so read on for all you will need to know on binoculars for people with poor eyesight.
Binoculars For Glasses Wearers
Once we’ve established what we want to use binoculars for, be it;
- Bird watching
- Nature Watching
- Whale Watching
- Looking At Scenery
- Plane Spotting
- Or Any Other Activity
We then need to check on one important feature and that is eye relief.
What’s Eye Relief?
The eye relief of binoculars is usually included in the specs and is expressed in millimeters. The eye relief is basically the distance between the eyepiece and the eye for optimum viewing of the full field of view. For non glasses wearers the acceptable eye relief is anywhere between 13 to 16mm but for those of us that need to wear our glasses all the time, we need an eye relief of at least 16 but up to and including 22mm is best.
Why Is The Correct Eye Relief Important?
Having incorrect eye relief will cause the image to be unsatisfactory. You will see black spots in front of the image when you look through the binoculars lenses. Once you get the perfect eye relief, the image through the lens will be crystal clear, with no black spots and no black framing either.
The eyecups are the rubber or plastic bits on the end of the eyepiece on binoculars. These should either twist or fold to create a greater eye relief.
Magnification And Objective Lens Size
To find out the magnification power and the size of the objective lens diameter, look at the printed numbers actually on the body of the binoculars. They will say something like; 8×32 or 10×42. These are the magnification followed by the x which stands for times, followed by the objective lens size in millimeters.
So 8x means everything you see through the lens will be 8 times larger than it is through the eye. The 32 refers to the objective lens diameter size in millimeters (32mm). Likewise 10×42 refers to a 10 times larger image through the lens with an objective lens diameter of 42mm.
This might be obvious but we want to be thorough, the objective lens is the large lens, the one closest to the object you’re trying to look at. The higher the objective lens number is, the more light is allowed to enter the binoculars and the brighter the image you’re looking at appears to be (making it easier to see).
While we’re on the subject of lenses, the other smaller lens is called the ocular lens. This is because it’s the one closest to your eye – ocular means of the eye.
What Magnification Is Best?
You might well think that bigger is better and in some ways you’d be right. But not with magnification. This is because any magnification above 10x will exaggerate the natural shakiness we all have when holding relatively heavy objects in front of our face for a long time.
Of course being slightly older, this is more apparent anyway, so our advice would be to choose nothing higher than 10x. Plus for many activities a lower magnification is better anyway. Take bird watching for example, if you want to see those fast moving songbirds, an 8×32 binoculars will do better than a 10×42 because of the field of view.
What’s The Field Of View?
The field of view (FoV) is everything you can see through the binoculars from side to side without moving your head. So it’s the width of the image you can see through the binocular lens. Due to some science, the field of view drops as the magnification goes up. That’s fine if you’re watching ducks on the pond, that don’t move around too fast.
But if you want to look at those lively little songbirds which are hopping about, travelling from branch to branch, you’ll have more chance of keeping up with them with a high field of view. Check the binocular specs to see what the FoV is, you really need a field of view of at least 90 metres per 1,000 metres but higher is better. 115 metres per 1,000 is quite common on better brands of binoculars.
If the field of view is quoted as an angle instead of in metres you’re looking at anywhere between 6° and 8°. If you’re interested in how to convert the angular FoV to the Linear FoV just multiply the degrees by 17.5, because 1° is equal to 17.5 metres or thereabouts.
ED Lenses What Does This Mean?
Some of the better binoculars have ED lenses; this means the glass they are made from has Extra-low Dispersion lenses. If you see a prism, it lets white light in and out comes a rainbow of colours. The higher the dispersion the more diluted or dulled those colours become. Sometimes they are so diluted that you can see a halo around the image. ED lenses are designed to keep that dispersion to a minimum, which leads to a clearer, crisper, sharper image.
There are as many claims about lens coatings as there are types of binoculars. It can get a bit confusing so let’s keep it simple. For all the different names and types of lens coatings, the only type you want are fully multi-coated lenses. This means that all of the lenses have been fully coated with multiple layers to reduce glare and help to improve brightness, contrast and light transmission.
Other Points To Consider When Buying Binoculars For Ocularly Challenged People
We’ve covered the main points for looking through the binoculars but what about other issues? Things like;
We live on a planet that is 71% water (or thereabouts) and to make it worse (or better) we live in the United Kingdom. So at some point or another we’re likely to get caught out in a rain shower. For us, big deal we get wet, but for our optical equipment it could be devastating. So we recommend investing in waterproof binoculars.
There is an industry coding system that can be confusing but basically anything with an IPX rating of 6 or above will prevent any water from entering your binoculars. So IPX6, IPX7, or even IPX8 is good.
This sounds so much like a gimmick but it’s not. If you intend using your binoculars whilst on a boat or kayak or anything that floats on water, and they end up overboard, you’re going to want to retrieve them. The floating strap fits around the binocular strap and, you guessed it, floats. Not only does the strap float, but it prevents the binoculars from sinking to the dark depths of the puddle you’re floating on.
As you can pay anything from £250 to £3,000 for a decent pair of binoculars, and as the floating strap costs around £15.00 to £20.00 it seems like a no brainer really. For less than 10% of the price of your optical equipment you can save it from Davy Jones’ locker, never to be seen again.
As well as waterproofing, it’s well worth buying fog proof binoculars as fogged lenses are pretty hard to see through. They remove the air from the lens tubes and replace it with either nitrogen or argon. These gases are moisture free so they will not react to temperature fluctuations, like getting out of a warm car and standing in a cold, damp field watching birds, planes or whatever.
As no gases can escape from the lens tubes no dust or other unwanted foreign bodies can enter either. So it’s a win, win really.
Robustness – How Much Abuse Will The Binoculars Take?
If you are accident prone, or even just a little clumsy, it makes sense to buy rubber coated binoculars. Contrary to many internet claims, being coated in rubber will not make your binoculars waterproof.
But it will prevent too much accidental damage and stop any scratches or scrapes damaging the body of the binoculars. They will bounce instead of break.
Porro Prism Or Roof Prism Binoculars?
Without bombarding you with a bunch of facts and figures you don’t need, let’s quickly explain these two popular types of binoculars. Porro prism binoculars look like the letter M and weigh more, are larger, are easier to damage, harder to waterproof, but cost less (for a decent pair) than roof prism binoculars.
Roof prisms are smaller, more compact, weigh less, are easy to waterproof, easy to hide, easy to hold but cost considerably more (for a decent pair) than porro prisms.
What Size Binoculars Are Best For People With Impaired Vision?
Binoculars come in three size groups which are determined by the size of the objective lens diameter. They are;
- Compact – Objective lens of below 30mm
- Mid-size – Objective lens between 30mm to 40mm
- Full size – Objective lens of more than 40mm
For those of us that wear glasses, compact binoculars usually have an eye relief that is too low to use with glasses. We would recommend either midsize or full size binoculars with a magnification of no greater than 10x preferably 8×32 or 10×42. Check also that they feature either twist down or fold down eyecups and have an eye relief of above 20mm.
Should You Try Binoculars Before You Buy?
You would think this is a no brainer, of course you should try before you buy right? Well, not really, even if you do go to a high street shop that specialises in binoculars you will usually find they only stock a few different types. Plus they are usually promoting one particular brand which means whatever choice you make, you’ve not really made your choice, just the choice that shop has allowed you to make.
On top of which, how far can you see inside a shop? Even if they allow you to take them outside, your distance is still limited by other shops and buildings. So for far more choice and your own personal choices search online. Don’t take the first pair that might do, take the time to do your homework.
Monoculars For The Visually Impaired
If your eyesight issue is only a problem in one eye, you might like to consider buying a monocular instead of binoculars. A monocular will be lighter, easier to carry, easier to store, and generally easier to use.
Monoculars are available in a range of sizes and magnifications making them the perfect choice for long or short sighted people. They are often seen being used in art galleries, museums and other public galleries. Monoculars are great for bird watching, hunting, sailing, spying, and many other applications.
Pretty much all of the features available on binoculars can be found on monoculars including ED glass, fully multi-coated lenses, adjustable eye cups, waterproofing, fog proofing, and a large objective lens (to allow extra light and keep images bright).
To Summarise What To Look For In Binoculars For Poor Eyesight Users
We’ve covered a lot of ground here so just a quick refresher of the main points covered;
The eye relief is the optimum distance from the eye to the eyepiece. For glasses wearers you will need a longer eye relief than non glasses wearers. Anything from 16mm and above will be best suited for those of us that need to continuously wear glasses. If you can remove your glasses to look through binoculars the eye relief is not so important.
The eyecups are where your eyes meet the eyepiece. For glasses wearers, an adjustable eyecup is needed to allow for better eye relief.
Magnification And Objective Lens Size
These are recognised by the numbers stamped onto the binoculars and is a number followed by the letter x followed by more numbers like; 8×32 or 10×42. The first number(s) followed by the x gives us the magnification 8x means 8 times the actual size without the binoculars so the image will appear 8 times larger through the lens than with just our eyes.
The last number is the size of the diameter of the objective lens. The higher this number, the brighter the image will be.
Best Size For People With Eyesight Difficulties
We would recommend no higher magnification than 10x, and the highest objective lens that you feel comfortable holding for long periods of time. Because the larger the objective lens the heavier the binoculars will be. So we suggest the best size would be either 8×32 or 10×42.
The field of view is how much you can see from left to right without moving your eyes whilst looking through the binocular lens. A good FoV is anywhere between 6° and 8°.
This means the glass used for the prisms is extra-low dispersion glass which basically means a clearer, brighter, sharper image.
To reduce glare and give an improved image you should choose binoculars with fully multi-coated lenses.
Always a good idea especially living in such a wet country with such unpredictable weather like the UK. IPX6 or above ensures full protection from the worst of the British weather.
For the sake of around 10% of the purchase price of your binoculars (or less) you can get a strap that if the worst happens and your binoculars end up in the drink, at least they will not sink, and you have a good chance of retrieving them.
Well worth having as it not only prevents the lenses from fogging up due to temperature fluctuations but also prevents any dust or microbial debris from entering and messing the lens up.
Rubber Coated Casing
This will protect your binoculars from accidental bumps and scrapes but doesn’t waterproof them.
Roof prism or Porro prism, the choice is yours and it will often be dictated by the activity you wish to take part in. Porros are on the whole, heavier, bulkier, and easy to damage. Whereas roof prisms are lighter, more compact, more robust, easier to waterproof, easier to carry but a decent pair will cost considerably more than a decent pair of Porros.
In our experience, compact binoculars never have a long enough eye relief for comfortable use with glasses. So we would recommend either midsize or full size binoculars.
If only one eye is affected by sight problems you might consider a monocular. Monoculars are lighter, smaller, easier to carry, easier to store and have as many features available as binoculars. Monoculars are not out of place in galleries and museums or bird watching etc.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can use binoculars if you wear glasses just make sure they have long eye relief (16mm or more).
Long eye relief is anywhere between 20 to 24mm, this allows enough room for glasses wearers to comfortably use binoculars and see the full image through the binocular lenses.
Eye relief is the distance between the lens of the binoculars and your eyes while still keeping a full, clear image.