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Choosing Binoculars For Birding: What You Need To Know

Binoculars are a valuable tool for birders. Photo Credit: William Haffey
A popular affordable model, the 8x42 Nikon Monarch. Photo Credit: William Haffey

In addition to a trustworthy field guide, the most indispensable tool for birding is a pair of binoculars. While it's true one can watch birds with the naked eye, the magnification provided by binoculars makes identification easier and the lovely nuances of each bird more apparent. 

There certainly is a glut of binoculars on the market, ranging widely in price and quality, but it's relatively easy to find a good instrument without breaking the bank. Generally, binoculars are classified by their magnification ability. For instance, an “8x42” binocular magnifies an object eight times, while a “10x 42” magnifies something 10. 

Be aware that as the magnification increases above eight, it may become increasingly difficult to hold the binoculars steady enough to produce an unblurred image. The number “42” in the example in the photo attached to this article refers to the diameter of the objective lens (the lens not against the eye). A relatively larger objective lens allows more light to enter the body of the binocular, thus providing a clearer and crisper image. Some binoculars feature fog and water proofing, which are invaluable for rainy days in the field.

When searching for a binocular, perhaps the best approach is to visit a local retailer and try several models firsthand. Before you go, scour the internet for binocular reviews, as there are several side-by-side comparisons that propose some of the best values in each price range.

If possible, ask local birders their preferred makes and models; usually you'll find adoring owners to be fantastic product spokesmen.Popular brands such as Nikon, Canon, and Bushnell, are widely sold at sporting goods and camera stores, while higher end Zeiss, Leica, and Swarovski models can be found at more exclusive dealers.

Remember, that even though binoculars are usually a pricey investment, they will, in turn, provide many memories throughout one’s birding lifetime.

William Haffey is a seminarian for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. and has a background in avian ecology. He has birded extensively in the United States and Latin America.

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