Birders - appropriate binoculars?

I have a small pair , but they aren’t very good. Not looking for a brand specifically (no Zeiss)but mag and width of field. Thanks.

Tasco Sierra
I have two pairs - an 8x25, and a 10x25 - and find both good They’re waterproof, light, inexpensive and sharp. I have seen better birding binocs, but I wouldn’t take those out in a kayak…

I Don’t Know Nuthin’ 'Bout Binoculars
but have you worked on identifying birds by sound? I’ve been working on that for a while now and it’s great. I bet I hear birds about 50 times more than I get to see them.

Since the US Army got the best of
my hearing in 1969, about the only bird sounds I can hear are jays , crows, and mockingbirds. The real loudmouths of the bird world.

More than you wanted to know

My feeling is that
8x40 or so binos are best compromise for woodland birding. Also, this is an area where you definitely get what you pay for. High end binos are significantly better than budget glasses. They last much longer. They let in much more light. It makes a huge difference in the dim light of early morning and evening which is when birds are most active. Huge difference really. I bought some high end binos about 10 years ago before a big canoe trip in the arctic and I have never regretted the purchase although it was a real stretch for me at the time. That link above is a great site.

Go bigger

– Last Updated: Apr-28-12 8:39 PM EST –

Most of the birders I've seen are not using the really small binocs but ones of about the same size and shape as we've seen since childhood.

The one I chose is an 8x42 Vortex Razor, which has good brightness, field of view, water-resistance, and magnification. I would say 8x is about my limit for hand-holding; I have tried a 10x pair and found them too jittery. Your own body may have a different threshold.

The absolute sharpest, best view I tested was a Swarovski top-of-the-line binoc, with one of the Zeiss models right behind it, and right behind that my Razor*. There was a huge jump of more than $1100 extra to purchase the top 2, so I was quite happy to get the Razor. It is a great binoc and a great value both.

Lots of choices in the 7x and 8x range. Try them all out in person before buying, if you can. There are ergonomic differences that may sway you to one model over another.

*The Razor and the Swarovski EL (both in 8x42) have been discontinued. The Razor is now the Razor HD, which is supposedly even brighter and sharper--and more expensive, of course, but still a very decent price considering the optics. Reviews of them are in another part of the birding optics website, under the high-end binocs category.

these are good

Consider “brightness potential” too.

– Last Updated: Apr-28-12 8:44 PM EST –

I haven't tried a lot of different binoculars, but have no trouble believing that you can really tell the difference with top-of-the-line models. Price alone doesn't always tell you everything about mid-price binocs though, especially when it come to low-light usage. I have a pair of 10x50s from Pentax, which are the old-fashioned porro-prism design. They didn't cost much (I think it was $150, though that was more than 20 years ago too). Not long after I got them, I had the chance to compare their image quality to that of a pair of Nikons which cost more than twice as much. The Nikon model was a compact, roof-prism style, and compared to the cheap poro-prism style, they sucked. Also, being compact, they ceased to function once the sun got low in the sky, while the 10x50s were still working pretty well for another hour after the sun was gone. The handful of compact models I've tried since then had the same problems.

When it comes to models in the mid-price range, I believe that it's much easier and cheaper for the makers to provide good image quality from old-fashioned porro-prism binocs than from compact models. Also, if you want low-light capability, keep in mind the old rule about "exit pupil" diameter. Exit pupil is the diameter of the shaft of light exiting the eye piece. Measured in millimeters, it's the objective diameter divided by the magnification. If the diameter of the exit pupil is less than the diameter of the pupil of your eye under the current light conditions, you won't be able to see much, and it rapidly gets worse as conditions get darker. An exit pupil diameter of 5 mm is good for dawn and dusk because the shaft of light entering your eyeballs is not smaller than the pupils of your eyes at that time of day. An exit pupil diameter of 3 mm will work fine in bright sunshine because the pupils of your eyes are quite small at that time, but will let in less light than your eyes can do on their own when your pupils are dilated to the diameter that's typical for dawn/dusk conditions, so the image will be too dark to see clearly then. Also, in low-light conditions the image will tend to "black out" if the binocs have insufficient exit-pupil diameter unless the eye pieces are perfectly lined-up with your eyes, which is hard to maintain when the image is almost too dark to see in the first place. I wouldn't even consider using compact binocs for cloudy days or dawn/dusk use because they seldom have an exit pupil larger than 3mm. The basic rule for exit pupil is that 3 mm is good for bright days, 5 mm is good for very dark days or dawn/dusk, and 7 mm is what you need for night time.

I’m trying monoculars. I switch between
using my left eye by itself, to spot the target, and switching to the monocular over my right eye for closeup view.

My eyes are annoyingly different, which makes binocular use difficult. My left eye has fairly good uncorrected vision, but has a developing cataract. My right eye needs correction, but is clear.

For those that want telescopic function along when paddling, a waterproof monocular is a more practical solution.

Many birders find that 8x32 binoculars to be all they need. Small, but still bright enough for all but the lowest of light conditions. If you compare the specifications for 8x32 vs 8x42 of the same model and manufacturer, you’ll often find that the smaller objective affords a wider field of view. They’re less expensive as well.

As mentioned above, at the low end price points, you’ll often find that the porro prism style gives a better view than the roofs given the more exacting tolerances necessary in the roof prism design.

Optics, like boats, are a personal thing. What works for one person may not work for someone else, so try before you buy is a good suggestion. Most birders I know are more than happy to let someone try theirs. Just beware that once you look through high end binos, you may not be happy with anything less. Been there, done that.

Good luck with your search.

Thanks everyone. I will use your
suggestions and go ‘look’ at some.

Nikon Trailblazers ATB 8x42

– Last Updated: Apr-29-12 9:46 AM EST –

I have a few compact binoculars but these are by far my favorite. Under $100 at REI (free shipping) They have a wide field of vision with eye cups.

My sis bought the Nikon Monarchs (big $) and we compared both and preferred mine. Plus they are small and light and easy to take with you as well as water proof.

8x42 probably best for birding. get the best pair you can afford. in the mid range price consider the nikon monarchs. if you can, look through a variety of glasses to see which ones you like best. mine are leupold pinnacles (not made anymore), but you might check out the leupold models available as the optical quality is good. good luck with your search.

Love my Bushnell Feather Light’s, 7x35, from the late 1960’s. Awesome glass and made in Japan.

I agree re the 8x32 -

– Last Updated: Apr-29-12 1:51 PM EST –

but only if you are using high end binos. Every time I have purchased less then the really high end binos they have disappointed me in the long run. My current binos I expect will last a lifetime and I definitely do not baby them.

8x32 is what I use for most situations just for the reasons stated. I use my binos for bird watching mostly, also when navigating on canoe trips. I have Nikon 8x32 Premier binos. I love them. Everyone that I have loaned them to loves them as well. The view is clear and bright - if you compare these with a lower end or medium end bino in low light the difference is dramatic. They are not cheap but not so expensive as some. I think they can be had for around $650-$750. I might like a pair of 8X42 Nikon Premiers some day - but they are quite a bit more expensive and much bigger and heavier, not the most practical thing on a paddle trip. Also, my 8x32s are pretty darn close to the 8x42s and they are much more convenient in most situations.

There is also the 8x32 Nikon Supreme - perhaps even better in some ways - but not waterproof - and in the same general price range -

Read the reviews. These are both wonderful binos - in what unfortunately is the mid price range these days.

When you go to test binos -
go just before sunset - get several and go outside after the sun has set and it is dusk. This is the true test. Looking thru glass in broad daylight does not tell you nearly as much.

Get what you pay for
A few years ago I got fairly seriously into birding. Found a good decent local deal on a pair of compact Leica Trinovids, 8x20 for around $450. I wanted a compact pair since I do a lot of hiking.

But since I’m a bit OCD I also decided I needed a larger, brighter, higher mag. pair too so I went looking for some 10x. Hours spent online led me to a non-big name manufacturer that sold some 10x42 binocs that everyone seemed to just love. Everyone that had them said they were just as good as the high end Nikon/Leica/Zeiss stuff. Lots of great reviews. So I bought a pair for about $500.

Took them out the first morning for a trial. It was overcast but bright. Trained them on a brown headed cowbird that was sitting on a telephone wire against the cloudy sky. All I saw was a silhouette with a pretty purple glow all around it. Pulled out the little Leicas and not only was the purple halo gone I could also see the color difference between the black body and brown head.

I returned the 10x42s and decided I was going to have to spend real money for a good set. Found a smokin’ deal on a new pair of Zeiss 10x42 Victories from someone on Craigslist closing down their store. I think I got them for $1300.

They’re the coolest thing ever!!! Worth every penny.

I looked at lots of binoculars in the store but other than how they felt in my hand and against my face I really couldn’t tell a difference between the high end and mid-range stuff. I just didn’t have the experience to know what I was looking for. After using a nice pair for a couple months though the difference is very obvious.

A pair of 8x is probably a good recommendation if you’re only going to have one pair but the 10x sure are fun. The little Leicas live in my car and I only use them on an outing if I’m packing light. Otherwise it’s the 10x42s; hard to beat that big beautiful picture.


Give the NIkon a try

– Last Updated: Apr-29-12 6:23 PM EST –

Alan, sometime give the little Nikon 8x32 Premier and Superior glasses a try. I think you will be favorably impressed. I too have used the $1200 and up glasses and they are indeed wonderful. But these high end Nikon 8X32s are terrific and "only" around $600-$700. But, I do know what you mean.

For birdwatching purposes, I’ve had many years of excellent viewing using binoculars from Orion Telescope. I have their 8X32 Savannah roof prism waterproofs, and also a pair of Adlerblick 8X42 Porro prism binocs, also from Orion. Orion slowly, constantly changes their binocular lineup, but their more expensive, Japanese-made glasses typically are of high quality, yet very affordable compared to the delux binocs with European, usually Germanic, names.