How To Choose Binoculars For Racing (Best UK Guide)

How To Choose Binoculars For Racing (Best UK Guide)

However you spend your free time, if it has to do with outdoor activities, then a decent pair of binoculars will help you make the most of your day. Horse racing is known as the sport of Kings, but you don’t need a King’s ransom to buy a decent pair of binoculars. Whether you prefer the flats or the jumps, there’s a pair of binoculars that will suit you.

What Are The Most Important Features For Racing Binoculars?

A good pair of racing binoculars will actually share many of the features found in many good sporting binoculars and even some bird watching binoculars, but there are a few differences.

What Size Should Racing Binoculars Be?

This should always be the first consideration when it comes to racing binoculars, bare in mind you’re going to have to carry them all day. Compact binoculars however, can have a few drawbacks and some ardent race goers prefer mid size or even full size binoculars. The sizes of binoculars are based on the diameter of the objective lens and run as follows;

  • Compact Binoculars
    These have an objective lens of between 21 to 28mm
  • Mid Size Binoculars
    These have an objective lens of 30 to 40 mm
  • Full Size Binoculars
    These have an objective lens above 40mm.

As the objective lens diameter increases, so does the overall weight and size of the binoculars and compacts are often the first choice for race goers. Larger binoculars do have some advantages however, because they have larger objective lens sizes, mid size and full size binoculars can gather more light. This means the image you see through them will be brighter and therefore clearer than the image through compact binoculars.

On bright sunny days the brightness is not affected too much by the objective lens size but on dull, cloudy days this can be an important factor. There are other factors that can affect the quality of light like the type of glass used for the prisms and lenses and the type of coatings applied to those lenses. 

In cheaper binoculars, Full size Porro prisms are usually better (for the money) but a top quality compact roof prism will give you a far better image quality if you can stretch the budget that far. The compact roof prism will be far smaller and easier to carry too.

The best of both worlds would be a mid size pair which allows extra light to enter through the objective lens, with enough magnification and field of view to see the whole meet, but still be small enough to carry with comfort.

If you are worried about the size and where to put them between races, there are compacts available with double hinge designs that fold away far smaller than single hinge compacts.

Which Style Of Binoculars Are Best For Racing?

While talking of the size and style of binoculars, once you start looking you’ll soon see there are two different types of binoculars, that both have good and bad points when it comes to racing. They are;

Porro Prism Binoculars

Due to the fact the objective lenses are farther apart on Porro prism binoculars, they tend to have a wider field of view, and give a better stereoscopic image. Porro prisms have an offset dual prism design for each lens which is the reason for their bulkier, larger heavier design. As they have so many moving parts, they’re far more difficult to make waterproof than roof prism binoculars. This makes them less likely to be fog proof or dust proof either.

On the plus side, they are cheaper to produce and that saving is reflected in the purchase price. This means for the same money as a mediocre roof prism, you’ll be able to buy a far better Porro prism.

Roof Prism Binoculars

As the prisms are set into the tube of each lens, roof prism binoculars are more compact by design regardless of the objective lens diameter. They also have less moving parts which makes them easier to fully waterproof, fog proof and dust proof. The prisms are set in such a way that they cannot become misaligned (unlike Porro prisms) so no chance of eye strain or headache due to the misalignment of the prisms. 

This means on the whole roof prism binoculars are more longer lasting and robust than porro prisms. However, a cheaply made and priced roof prism will be of inferior quality than a cheaply made and sold Porro prism. Not only due to the alignment of the dual prisms in Porro prisms but also due to the necessary phase corrective coatings needed to keep a clear bright image in roof prisms. As these phase coatings are expensive, they’re not applied to the cheaper end of the market and that’s also why top quality roof prism binoculars are more costly than comparable Porro prisms (which don’t need phase coatings).

What Does It All Mean?

This means that overall Porro prism binoculars will be heavier, bulkier and cheaper but will not be as waterproof, dust proof or fog proof. Whereas Roof prism binoculars will be smaller, lighter, far more compact, fully waterproof, dust proof and fog proof (usually), less likely to cause eye strain or headaches, but more expensive for a good quality pair.

Why Is The Correct Magnification Important For Racing Binoculars?

The reason for taking binoculars to the races is to see more, and get close up views of the runners and riders. That doesn’t mean you need a very high level of magnification, in fact there are two very good reasons why too high magnification will be bad for racing binoculars, they are;

  1. The Field Of View
    The field of view (FoV) is how much you can see through the binocular lenses at any time. With the correct FoV it’s possible to watch nearly the entire race without moving your head (or binoculars) obviously this depends on the size of the track and where you’re positioned. But the thing with the FoV is it narrows as the magnification increases. This means to see a horse or rider in detail will mean you lose the rest of the picture. Alternatively to see the full picture you’ll lose some of the finer points of detail.
  2. Blurred Images
    It’s not so much that the image becomes blurred, it’s more that the natural shake we all have becomes more apparent when it’s under high magnification. Any magnification above 10x will result in that slight shake interfering with the clarity of the image. So there has to be a compromise between being close enough to see what’s going on, without seeing so much detail that the image shakes. We recommend anywhere between 7x to 10x to be perfectly adequate for watching horse races.

Eye Relief

This is one of those terms that often gets quoted when binoculars come up in the conversation, and it sounds like a really technical, confusing thing. In reality the perfect distance between your eye and the eyepiece of the binoculars whilst still being able to see the full image clearly, is the eye relief. For most people eye relief is unimportant, it only becomes an issue if you wear glasses.

This is because you will need to account for the size of the glasses plus your eyes and the eyepieces when looking for the full view with no black rings or other optical obstacles. If you think you’ll need extra clearance space to accommodate your glasses look for binoculars which are quoted as having long eye relief.

For a more detailed look at the best binoculars for horse racing follow this link.

Binoculars For Formula One

So far we’ve looked at horse racing but there’s more than one form of racing. Formula one racing is an unforgettable day out for most F1 fans and to make even more of the day a decent pair of binoculars will allow you to see even more of the action. So let’s look at the features needed for watching F1 from the grandstand.

Firstly the number one most important factor has to be the size and weight of the binoculars themselves. Grandstand seats are fairly closely packed together which means you are close to the person sitting next to you. If you have a pair of binoculars that are too large it will likely cause your neighbour some issues with watching the race. Plus as Grand Prix race days include lots of walking to get to your allocated seat, you won’t want to be carrying heavy binoculars, along with everything else too far.

So we would recommend either compact or mid size binoculars for F1 race days. The next important factor to consider is the Field of View. To see as much of the action as possible you’ll need the widest FoV you can in smaller binoculars which will probably be around 6°. When it comes to F1 and motor racing in general, there’s not too much time to focus on the drivers as they rush past at speeds up to 230 MPH. So you’ll need to be able to spot the next car arriving without taking the binoculars away from your eyes.

This calls for a wide FoV so with compact binoculars we’d recommend a decent pair of 8×25 binoculars for formula 1, Nascar or any of the other motor racing events. 8x magnification means you’ll see everything through the lens 8 times larger than with the naked eye. The 25mm objective lens size will allow more than enough light for you to see the action clearly during daytime events.  Plus if you get the chance to watch the pit stop action 8x will be more than sufficient for this too.

Do Racing Binoculars Need To Be Waterproof?

Living in Great Britain, it’s more than likely to rain on race days even if it’s not forecasted to. So waterproof binoculars are a no-brainer as far as we’re concerned. The way the industry coding for waterproofing is set up makes for a confusing read so suffice it to say that IPX6 binoculars are perfect for racedays. Most top quality binoculars are not only waterproof but fog proof too, which also comes in very handy with sudden changes in the weather/ temperature when trying to watch the action through binoculars.

Anti-Slip Coating

If it’s really hot when you’re at the racetrack, you’ll benefit from a pair of binoculars with an anti-slip coating. Usually made from rubber or polycarbonate, these coatings not only help you to keep a grip of your binoculars, but also if the worst did happen, the outer casing will protect the binoculars from any damage.

Lens Coatings

One of the problems identified by some F1 race goers is the glare that car windscreens give off and how it’s uncomfortable to look at through the higher magnification of the binoculars. This could be problematic so look for Fully multi-coated (FMC) lenses as these are fully coated inside and out with multiple layers of glare reducing, image brightening optical paint.

The Key Features When Looking For Motor Sports Binoculars

Here’s a quick summary of the main features you’ll need for binoculars to watch motorsports.

  • A Wide Field Of View
  • Compact, Lightweight Design
  • Waterproof
  • Fog Proof
  • FMC Lenses
  • Magnification of No More Than 8x

Frequently Asked Questions

What size binoculars are best for watching F1?

We would recommend a pair of compact 8×25 binoculars as the best for watching F1.

Should Binoculars For Motorsports be waterproof?

Binoculars for use at any outdoor event should be waterproof in our opinion. Living in the UK, rain is always a possibility even in high Summer. Once water ingresses the internal workings of binoculars they’ll never be the same again.

Why Is Too High Magnification Bad For Horse Racing Binoculars?

Too high magnification is bad for any activity as it will highlight any natural arm tremor that we all have. If the magnification is too high (above 10x) this shake will cause the image to appear blurry.

Is it a good idea to take binoculars to F1 Grand Prix?

To get a clearer view and feel closer to the action it is a great idea to take binoculars to F1 Grand Prix.