How To Choose Binoculars For Wildlife (Best UK Guide)
Whether you’re planning an African safari, a trip to a safari park or a day in your local park to watch the wildlife, a decent pair of binoculars will help to enhance the enjoyment of your trip. We have all the information you need to get the best possible views of any or all of the wildlife you’re likely to see. Even if all you’d like to do is keep an eye on the bird feeder right at the bottom of your garden, a decent pair of binoculars will help you get to see all of the action.
If you’re new to this binocular malarkey and it’s all confusing, don’t worry we’re here to take that confusion away and help you to get the best binoculars to suit your situation. There are any number of binoculars available, and they all have some sort of attraction, but that attraction might just not be what you need. So what do you need?
There are a few features on binoculars that you’ll need to understand so let’s start there, the first thing to sort out are the numbers.
Table of Contents
What Do The Numbers On Binoculars Mean?
Stamped on to the body of the binoculars will be a set of numbers somewhere, containing the letter X. They’ll look something like
These numbers are important because they tell us the magnification and the size of the objective lens diameter. The first number followed by the x tells us the magnification value. So 10x means the image you see through the lens of those binoculars is 10 times larger than you can see with the naked eye. 7x means the image will be 7 times larger through the lens than through the naked eye and so on.
The next two numbers tell us the diameter size of the objective lens (that’s the lens closest to the object you’re looking at) in millimeters.So10x42 tells us that those binoculars have a magnification of 10 times and an objective lens size of 42 millimeters. The objective lens size is important because it also tells us the amount of light that enters the binoculars.
The larger the objective lens, the more light enters the binoculars which means the brighter the image you can see through the lens. So the higher the first number is, the closer (or larger) the object looks, and the higher the second number, the brighter the object will appear (which means you’ll be able to see it clearer) but the overall weight of the binoculars also increases with the size of the objective lens. There are a few points to mention that are concerned with magnification.
What Happens If The Magnification Is Too High?
We all shake slightly when holding anything for long periods of time. Especially if it’s reasonably heavy, and we’re holding it out in front of us. Now under normal circumstances that slight shake makes no difference, in fact, we often don’t even notice it. But the magnification of the binoculars exaggerates that slight shake by as many times as the binoculars are magnified.
Anything up to and including 10x is fine, we still won’t notice it, but from 12x and above, that shaking is going to become so obvious that you won’t be able to see the animal or object you’re looking at. So we recommend keeping your magnification down to no more than 10x for a clear, yet magnified image.
The Field Of View (FoV)
The other thing affected by the magnification is the field of view. The FoV is how much you can see through the lens from right to left while looking straight ahead. It’s expressed in one of two ways, either;
- Angular Field of View
The angular FoV is written in degrees, something like 6° this means you can see 6 degrees out of the 360 degrees of a circle through the lens of the binoculars. To most of us, this makes little to no sense unless you happen to be a scientist, so most binoculars give the linear FoV which gives us something to visualise. One last thing about the angular FoV, a decent pair of binoculars will have an angular FoV of between 6° and 8°.
- Linear Field of View
The linear FoV is easier for us non scientific folk to understand, it’s expressed in either feet per 1,000 yards or metres per 1,000 metres depending on the brand. A decent pair of binoculars will have between 315 feet per 1,000 yards to 420 feet per 1,000 yards or 105 metres per 1,000 metres to 140 metres per 1,000 metres.
If you only see the angular FoV it’s easy to convert it to the linear, because 1° is equal to 52.5 feet per 1,000 yards or 17.5 metres per 1,000 metres. So just multiply the amount of degrees by either of those two to get the linear FoV.
What’s The Best Numbers For Viewing Wildlife?
So now we know how to recognise the magnification, the objective lens size and the field of view, we can work out the best size binoculars for viewing wildlife. Of course nothing’s really that simple because there’s a direct relationship between the magnification and the width of the field of view. The higher the magnification, the narrower the field of view. It’s not that big a problem but it’s something worth considering because a wide field of view is better for spotting wildlife.
A wide field of view allows you to see a larger area, giving you more chance of seeing any wildlife that happens to be in the immediate area without having to move your head, or take the binoculars away from your eyes. A high magnification is great for seeing really detailed images of foxes, badgers, hedgehogs or whatever native wildlife you intend to look for but, to actually spot them in the first place, you need a wide field of view. For that reason the best magnification for wildlife watching is between 7x to 10x magnification. As we said earlier anything above 10x will produce a blurred image due to the natural but exaggerated shaking we all have.
As for the objective lens size, you need to take into account how heavy the binoculars will be for long term holding and viewing. But with that, you need to allow as much light as possible to enter the binoculars for a clearer, brighter image. Most people can easily carry quite heavy binoculars, but holding them long term is a different story. For that reason and for general comfort we recommend an objective lens of between 25 to 50 millimeters depending on the magnification you go for.
A reasonable size pair of binoculars for watching wildlife would have an 8x magnification and an objective lens of either 32 or 42 depending on your own preference (and strength). So for watching wildlife we would recommend binoculars with a magnification and objective lens size of either;
8×32 or 8×42
If you’re planning on walking for some time while looking for wildlife we’d recommend getting a harness to reduce any strain on your neck. A harness reduces any swinging of your binoculars and also increases the stability of the binoculars while you’re looking through them. A quick internet search resulted in a range of binocular harnesses with prices from £10.00 to £30.00 which seems reasonable for the added stability plus the harness will prevent your binoculars from getting knocked or scraped on rocks etc.
What Does Eye Relief Mean?
The eye relief is the distance between the binocular lens and your eye whilst still being able to see the full field of view. It’s displayed in the specs in millimeters and is usually between 13 and 16mm. If you wear glasses you’ll need to look for a pair with long eye relief which is considered to be between 16 to 24 mm.
What Does IPD Stand For On Binoculars?
IPD stands for Interpupillary Distance which in plain English is the space between the centre of your pupils. The average IPD is 64mm, if your eyes are closer or further apart you’ll need to check the specs for a pair that will suit you.
How Heavy Are Binoculars?
Binoculars are surprisingly light when you consider how they are constructed using high precision glass and prisms. There are three sizes when it comes to binoculars and they’re determined by the objective lens size. They run as follows;
- Full Size (objective lens greater than 40mm)
- Mid-Size (Objective lens between 30 to 40 mm)
- Compact (Objective lens below 30 mm)
As for the weight, a compact roof prism 8×25 weighs around 10 ounces (283g) and a full size roof prism weighs around 27 ounces (765g). As you might have noticed, the pair with the largest objective lens are the heaviest.
What Other Features Are Worth Looking At For Wildlife Watching Binoculars?
We’ve said a lot about the magnification and the objective lens size, but there’s so much more to consider when it comes to a reliable pair of binoculars for watching wildlife. A decent pair of binoculars opens up a window onto the world of wildlife and that window needs to be clear. So the first recommendation we would like to bring to your attention is the actual glass the prisms of the binoculars are made from.
If you notice ED glass on the specification list for the binoculars you’re considering, then they’re probably worth buying. That’s because ED is short for Extra-low Dispersion glass. If you look at a prism, (check out the cover of Pink Floyds’ album – the dark side of the moon) white light enters and a rainbow of colours emerges from the other side. High dispersion dulls those colours and can cause a halo effect around the image. So ED glass means a clearer, crisper image.
BAK-4 Or BK-7 What’s Better?
This is all about the glass used to construct the prisms and in the world of binoculars, it’s a big deal. BAK-4 is the tip top quality glass for binocular prisms, it has the best light transmission of any prismatic glass and is used on really high end binoculars.
BK-7 is still optical quality glass and it still has a high light transmission, but it has slightly more imperfections than BAK-4. BK-7 is the type of glass most commonly used for binocular prisms.
The way to tell which glass has been used to construct the prisms is to look through the objective lens at arms length. If you see a complete circle of light it’s BAK-4, if the edges are more squared it’s BK-7.
We can’t stress enough that both are good quality glass and having either type means good quality optics.
Having coated lenses on binoculars for watching wildlife will help reduce any glare particularly useful if you’re beachcombing or watching wildlife along a river bank, lakeside or anywhere that reflective sunlight could be a problem.
There are many types of coatings but the only coating worth investing in is fully multi-coated lenses. This ensures that every lens is coated in multiple layers that will last for many years. Having fully multi-coated lenses not only cuts down on glare, but also improves light transmission, brightness and contrast.
For wildlife watching, you’re going to need a pair of binoculars that are robust enough to take a few knocks. This will limit your choice to roof prism binoculars as these are the most durable. It’s all down to the way they’re made, the traditional M shaped binoculars are called Porro prism binoculars. They have two sets of offset prisms (one set in each lens) which accounts for their bulky midsection, and it’s these offset prisms that make them easy to damage, and so unsuitable for wildlife watching (unless you intend watching while travelling in a vehicle, like safari).
For the wildlife watching adventurer we’d recommend a pair of roof prism binoculars. As the name implies the prisms are in the roof of the lens tubes and due to their internal design they are far more durable than Porros. Also due to their internal design and components roof prisms are more expensive than the equivalent Porro prism binoculars but they are also smaller, lighter, easier to carry, they fit easier into backpacks, are easier to conceal,and easier to fully waterproof.
On the subject of waterproofing, living in the UK, it makes sense to buy waterproof binoculars as the weather will catch you out at some point in time. There used to be some confusion about the many different claims made by some unscrupulous salesman. So the industry made their own code to determine just how waterproof an item actually is.
This coding is in itself confusing, so to save you any confusion let’s just say that any binoculars with an IPX6 or above will be waterproof enough to withstand any weather Great Britain can throw at you. If you want binoculars that can actually withstand sinking, you’ll need IPX7 or above, but for rain, IPX6 is sufficient.
Don’t assume that all rubber coated binoculars are waterproof because it’s not true. Rubber coating helps protect binoculars from accidental damage, but does not waterproof them.
This is another feature offered by the better binocular manufacturers, and is well worth having. To achieve fog proofing they purge all of the air from the lens tubes and replace it with an inert gas (usually nitrogen or argon). As these gasses contain absolutely no moisture, they cannot react with rapid temperature changes, and so don’t fog up. This is very handy when exiting a warm car to look at some wild otters or beavers on a cold riverbank.
Close focus is the shortest distance an object can be seen through the binoculars and still be in focus. This isn’t usually an issue when buying binoculars but for wildlife watching, it’s worth looking into (pardon the pun). Perfect for looking at insects and flowers close up. There are quite a few binoculars that have a close focus of below 6 foot (2 metres) so check the specs if this is a feature you would like.
Most decent binoculars, good enough for watching wildlife, will set you back North of £200.00 so you’re going to want them to last for a good few years. Most top quality binocular manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty. This means they are guaranteed for as long as you own them, and of course don’t deliberately damage them.
Horses For Courses
Wildlife watching covers a huge area, there’s birdwatching, whale watching, safari, beachcombing, searching in woodlands, the list goes on and on. This means there’s not really a one size fits all when it comes to binoculars. So recommending binoculars for watching wildlife is a difficult task. Below are the best size binoculars for different wildlife watching.
|Safari||8×42 or 10×42|
|Butterfly Watching||Close focus of 2 metres|
Frequently Asked Questions
We would recommend a magnification of 8x and an objective lens of 42 is best for bird watching. This allows a wide enough field of view to keep up with faster moving birds.
The magnification that is best suited for wildlife viewing is 8x with an objective lens size of either 32 or 42 to allow for a wide field of view.
10×50 binoculars are ideal for watching slower, more sedentary birds or birds on the seashore. But for general bird watching we would recommend 8×42 to be ideal.