How to Choose a Pair of Binoculars | Trekking Days
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How to Choose a Pair of Binoculars

by | Trekking Savvy

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Have you been in a situation where you wanted to take a close-up look at a distant object but couldn’t? One way to avoid such situations is by purchasing a pair of binoculars. Having zoom can be really useful when traveling, whether you are trekking poorly uncharted territories or exploring a large city. In this post, I’m going to zoom in on this topic and tell you how to choose a pair of binoculars.

How to Read Binocular Specifications


When you read binocular magnification specs, you will see a number followed by an “x” followed by another number. The “x” represents the magnification factor and the first number informs you of the value of the magnification factor. The second number represents the diameter of the main lenses in millimeters.


Lens size and magnification are the most important specs of binoculars but, in many circumstances, you will want to pay attention to other features as well. For example, binoculars that have high magnification and large lenses will typically weigh more than those with the opposite characteristics. This is something to consider if you are going to carry a pair of binoculars for a long distance.


How good a pair of binoculars are in terms of image clarity and stability also depends on the quality of the materials from which they are built. In general, more expensive binoculars will be made of better-quality materials. If you are going to use the binoculars during rafting or skiing, you will want to buy waterproof binoculars as opposed to water-resistant binoculars.


Glass lenses usually provide a better image quality compared to plastic lenses and you should choose the later only if you are on a budget or you need lenses that will be able to handle a very rough environment for a long period of time. For example, you might prefer plastic lenses if you believe there’s a high probability you will end up living on a desolated island for a long period of time. Plastic lenses may also be a good idea for trekking other planets and moons.

Because glass lenses partly reflect the light that hits them, they come with coating. The best glass binoculars are those made with Extra-low Dispersion (ED) – a special formulation that contains rare-earth compounds which reduce chromatic aberration.

Lenses are marked differently, depending on their type of coating: a C mark means that some surfaces have been coated with a single layer; an FC means that all glass lens surfaces have been coated; an MC tells you that some surfaces have been coated with multiple layers; an FMC means that all lens surfaces have been coated with multiple layers. As you might suspect, multiple-layer coating is better than single-layer coating.


When purchasing the binoculars, you can test the focus function by checking if you can spot small distances from far away. Binoculars focus through a center-post mechanism, a diopter corrector, or both. Waterproof binoculars tend to have individual focusing for each lens. In most cases, you would want to avoid binoculars that do not have a focus, as this can cause eyestrain if you are trying to focus on something that is closer than the pre-set distance.

Prism design

Finally, you can get an idea of how good the images will be by looking at the prism design. In most cases, the main lenses will be spaced wider than eyepieces (Porro prism binoculars), which makes nearby objects appear closer to their 3-dimensional nature.

Binoculars with roof prims allow the main lenses to rest in line with the eyepieces, which makes binoculars more compact at the cost of image quality. Some roof prism binoculars can provide the same quality as Porro prism binoculars at a greater cost . The cheaper BK-7 prism binoculars will square off one side of the image.  The more expensive binoculars with BAK-4 prisms can gather more light and provide clearer rounder images.

What is the best magnification for binoculars?

For general use

Unless you will mostly use the binoculars for a set of specific activities, it’s best to choose a pair with a magnification power of 7x to 10x. At this level, you will have enough zoom and probably no destabilization due to handshaking. Less magnification usually means sharper images and a wider field of view.

For bird watching and low-light activities

If watching birds flying is your thing, you will want larger lenses, as this type of lens provides a larger field of view. For taking a closer look at individual birds and observing individual details, on the other hand, smaller lenses and a larger magnification are the way to go.

Those of you who have used a telescope might know that larger lenses gather more light, making large lens binoculars the better choice for low-light activities. When there’s no telescope around, you can stargaze with a pair of large lens binoculars. In order to see large dim objects, you will need lenses of around 70 mm (2.7 in) and low magnification.

Eyepiece lenses

The concept of eye relief refers to the distance between the eyepiece lenses and your eyes and typically varies from 0.2 to 0.98 in (5 to 20 mm). If you wear glasses, you will want an eye relief of 0.55 to 0.59 in (14 to 15 mm) or greater. If possible, pick binoculars with rubber eye cups around the eyepieces, as this will allow you to seat the eyepieces over your eyes. If you are wearing glasses, the eye cups should be of the type that can retract or flip out.

Time for Some Zooming?

Next time you want to take a close-up look at something, you could do so with a pair of binoculars. As long as you know what you are going to do with them most of the time, choosing a pair of binoculars by following the provided guide should be pretty easy.


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