How To Choose Binoculars For Safari Use (Best UK Guide)
Here at Binocular Base we are often getting asked which binoculars are best for going on an African safari so we put this guide together to clear up any confusion on the best binoculars for taking on safari trips. We’ll also be sharing a few handy tips for your trip too.
Table of Contents
Will I Need Binoculars For Safari?
Once you get on safari, there will be many times that you will be up close with the wildlife, but as with all wild animals they often don’t trust humans (with good reason) and take off at great speed. So a good pair of binoculars are an essential part of your kit. A really good pair of binoculars will help you to get the most from your safari and give you the best view of the animals in graphic detail.
On most organised safari tours there will be one or two pairs of shared binoculars on board. But they are usually cheap, low quality, beaten up old binoculars that definitely won’t be set up for your eyes. Plus if you always want to be ready to catch the action as it takes place, you need your own pair of decent quality binoculars all set up for your comfort and pleasure. That way you’ll never miss any chance of spotting that rare glimpse of African wildlife in all its glory.
What Magnification Is Best For Safari Binoculars?
Many people assume that high magnification is always the best choice when it comes to binoculars, but the reality is that a magnification that’s too high will be next to useless for a safari expedition. The problem is, because anything above 10x magnification produces a shaky image due to the natural shake we all have in our arms. Having a pair of binoculars with a zoom feature with up to 20x or even 30x magnification sounds great but, unless there’s room in the truck for a stand or tripod, they will be next to useless.
Also with binoculars, the higher the magnification, the less field of view you will have. On safari you often have to spot animals hiding in large areas of brush, and bushes. Having a wide field of view makes this easy to achieve. So for safari binoculars we would recommend 8x magnification to be the best or 10x at the absolute maximum. Any higher will cause the shakiness to blur the image.
What Lens Size Is Best For Safari Binoculars?
The way binoculars work is the larger the objective lens (the lens closest to the object you’re looking at) the more light can enter the binoculars. What this means is a larger objective lens gives you a brighter image. On most safaris, you will be out just before dawn and probably not returning until after dusk. With a large objective lens you will be able to spot animals either side of both dawn and dusk. We would recommend an objective lens of between 32 to 42 millimeters any smaller will not give you enough light, and any larger will be heavier and bulkier due to the extra glass in the lens.
Understanding Magnification And Objective Lens Size
So far we’ve covered the magnification and the objective lens size for what we consider to be the best binoculars for taking on safari with you. But if you know absolutely nothing about binoculars, this information can be quite confusing so let’s break it down and make it easier to understand.
Almost every pair of binoculars you see listed for sale will usually have two numbers after the brand and model name. These two numbers will be separated by the letter x, something like 10×25 or 8×42, these numbers give you all you need to know to identify the magnification and the objective lens size.
The first two numbers represent the magnification followed by the x which represents times. So 10×42 tells us that particular pair of binoculars has a magnification of 10 times. This means if you are looking at an object that is 10 metres away from you, it will appear through the binoculars to be one metre away from you. Or to put it another way, an object 10 metres away viewed through a 10x magnification binocular lens will be 10 times closer than it actually is.
Objective Lens Size
The second set of numbers, the ones after the x represent the size of the objective lens in millimeters. So in our example the objective lens is 42 millimeters in diameter.
Binocular lens Names
Just to clear everything up and make it easy to understand what we’re talking about, let’s quickly identify the lenses on a typical pair of binoculars. The small lens, the one that is closest to your eye, is called the ocular lens. The word ocular means of, or connected to the eyes or vision.
The larger lens and the one furthest away from your eye, is called the objective lens. It is so called because it is the lens closest to the object you are viewing.
What’s The Best Size And Weight For Safari Binoculars?
As you will need to pack, and carry your own equipment when travelling to and while on safari, the best binoculars will be small, light but powerful. So the best binoculars for safari are a small to midsize pair of binoculars either 8×32 or 8×42 or 10×42 as a maximum size. In a survey of African safari guides, over 80% use 8×42 or 10×42.
Binocular Sizing Guide
Binoculars are sized according to the size of the objective lens and are classified as follows;
Compact binoculars have an objective lens of less than 30mm.
Midsize binoculars have an objective lens of between 30 and 40 mm.
Full-Size binoculars have an objective lens greater than 40 mm.
These sizes can appear confusing because you would think a pair of binoculars with an objective lens greater than 40 millimeters would be enormous but that’s not the case and this is because of the way they are assembled internally.
What’s Best Porro Prism Or Roof Prism Binoculars?
You don’t need to know about the internal structure and mechanism of binoculars so we’ll just give you an overview of both types just so you know what we’re talking about.
Porro Prism Binoculars
These are the classic shaped binoculars that are depicted in cartoons. With a fairly narrow eyepiece end branching out to a wider middle and then out further to the objective lens end. The reason for the shape is due to the way the prisms are aligned inside that are used to create the large image and keep it upright (don’t ask). Porro prism binoculars are large and bulky even at the compact end of the scale.
Roof Prism Binoculars
These are the smaller of the two types even with a full-size pair. They look like two tubes separated by, and connected to a central focusing knob. The reason they can still be powerful and yet be smaller by design, is because of the way the prisms are set up inside.
The Best Type Of Binoculars For Safari Are
The overall choice is yours of course, but we would recommend a pair of 8×42 or a maximum of 10×42 (so full-size) binoculars and for other reasons that will become clear very soon, they will need to be robust. This means roof prisms will be the ideal choice for safari binoculars.
What Other Features Do You Need For Safari Binoculars?
When on safari, you’re going to get knocked about. You’ll be travelling in a 4×4 over rough terrain, in dusty, humid conditions. That means your binoculars are going to be suffering the same conditions as you are, so it makes sense to protect them in the best way you can. Plus there are a few additions that will make for a more comfortable viewing experience for you as well.
What About Waterproofing?
It’s not a must, but if you think about the conditions we mentioned earlier, high humidity, dust, early starts and late finishes, these are the perfect conditions for damaging your new binoculars. If you go for a pair with an IPX rating of 6 or above (this is the industry ratings for the level of waterproofing) then not only will it keep water out, but also dust, and any moisture too.
Again not entirely necessary, but leaving the warmth of your holiday accommodation in the predawn morning even in hot parts of Africa can cause binocular lenses to fog. Having a pair with the oxygen purged from them and filled with an inert gas that contains no moisture will not only stop them from fogging, but will also prevent anything else from entering the tubes. No water, dust, or microbial particles will be able to enter your binoculars.
You and your binoculars are going to travel over rough terrain, ruts, mud, rocks, crevices, in fact, probably the worst types of surface you can imagine. On top of which at some point you are bound to drop your binoculars onto the floor of the vehicle. Shock proofing your binoculars is another one of those things that although not essential, is well worth considering.
By applying a thick rubber casing the manufacturers ensure the internal mechanisms and casings are protected from accidental damage due to dropping. The rubber casing also helps prevent scratches and scrapes caused by accidental damage against rocks or concrete.
Long Eye Relief
Eye relief is the term used by binocular makers to explain the distance away from the eyes you can hold the binoculars and still see the image clearly. This is usually only important to glasses wearers, but in the African sun, sunglasses are probably essential. The chances of you being able to whip your sunglasses off, get your binoculars up to your eyes, and still see the flight of a rare African bird are slim at the very least.
Fully Multi-Coated Lens
The idea of coating the lenses of binoculars is to reduce glare, improve brightness, contrast and light transmission. But look for fully multi-coated lenses as these are as near to top of the range as you can get, and well worth considering. Especially on safari somewhere as sunny as Africa.
A relatively new innovation, image stabilisers are usually only found in high magnification binoculars. The idea is they detect any hand shakiness (which becomes visible with any magnification above 10x) and compensate for the movement to give you a clear image. Image stabilisers are great for watching objects while travelling in a moving vehicle, which is ideal when on safari.
To Find The Best Binoculars For Safari Use You Need To Consider
To summarise how to choose the best binoculars for safari use, these are the points to consider;
- Roof Prism Binoculars
These are far more robust than Porro prism binoculars especially as you’ll be travelling over some pretty rough terrain.
- Maximum Magnification
To be sure of a wide enough field of view you should choose a maximum magnification of 10x.
- Objective Lens
The larger the objective lens is, the more light will enter the binoculars and the clearer the image will appear.
- Fully Multi-Coated Lens
Fully multi-coated lens will reduce glare, increase contrast, light transmission, and brightness, plus colours will appear improved too.
- Shock Proofing
A fully rubber coated casing will protect your binoculars from accidental damage through dropping, scratching or scraping against rough surfaces.
High humidity could cause your binoculars to become damaged, or detract from the clarity of the image you are viewing.
- Fog Proofing
Cold early morning excursions could lead to the inside of the lens to fog up, which would make them almost useless. As an added bonus, fog proofing will also prevent any dust or debris from entering the lenses as well.
You’re not going to feel comfortable holding a heavy pair of binoculars for hours on end whilst being bounced around on rough tracks in vehicles with little suspension. So a lightweight pair of binoculars will most probably be your best bet for safari use.
A fairly small pair of binoculars will be easier to pack into your bag and also be more convenient to hold long term.
- Image Stabiliser
Although it can be a pricey addition, image stabilising can make the difference between a clear view or a blurred image. Remember, the vehicle will be travelling along rough tracks that will shake you about quite a bit.
- A Pair Of Binoculars For Each Person
If you are travelling with your partner we would advise you both to take a pair of binoculars with you. Otherwise there will be tears before teatime.
Frequently Asked Questions
The strength binoculars you need for safari are 8x or 10x any higher will show up the natural shakiness we all have when holding objects for a long time.
You will need binoculars for safari because you will not always be able to get close up to many wild animals.