Are Binoculars As Good As A Telescope?

Binoculars can be just as useful as a telescope, and both items have their benefits. A pair of binoculars allows you to see a large scope of images at a high magnification. Telescopes show a smaller area, but with a greatly increased zoom. Stargazing binoculars are available, and these tend to have more magnification.

Although our traditional image of space watching tends to be someone crouched behind a giant telescope, binoculars can be just as useful – and there are times when they can be better. It’s simply a matter of choosing the right pair of binoculars. 

Telescopes and binoculars function on essentially the same principles. A barrel holds the optics that collect light and transmit it to our eyes. Objects seen through the optics appear closer, maintaining a level of crisp detail. The telescope came first, by several centuries, before similar principles were applied to create the binoculars. 

It’s immediately obvious what the difference is between telescopes and binoculars: binoculars have two scopes. This closely mimics the effect of the human eye. Our pair of eyes provide two different viewpoints, adding depth and dimension. When viewing through a pair of binoculars, the double lenses amplify this effect. That distant bird can appear in glorious 3D, rather than flat 2D.

This similar effect can be observed when looking into space. However, with one disadvantage. Over huge distances, the 3D qualities are greatly reduced. Especially in space, where we view a landscape so vastly different from our own. The flattened image of a telescope will do, because the image is fairly flat anyway.

While this double image may not have the full effect when looking at the stars, there is still a significant advantage. A pair of binoculars most accurately recreates the experience of looking with the naked eye. For beginners, this is particularly useful. Rather than needing to adapt to the strange view of a telescope, binoculars are like your own eyes, but better.

Another advantage of binoculars is the field of view. The field of view refers to the width you can see through the lens. As binoculars use two lenses for two eyes, the field of view is greater. Telescopes, with only one lens, tend to have a smaller field of view.

What the large field of view does is allow you to see more at once. When you gaze upwards, you can appreciate more of the night sky with every look. Beginners will find this helpful in orientating themselves, but everyone can appreciate the clear views of the vastness of space.

While it’s difficult to ever truly grasp the distance between those far away specks of light, the larger fraction of the universe covered by binoculars does help. If you intend to watch meteorites, this field of view means you don’t have to constantly move the scope to focus.

With a large field of view, there does come a sacrifice in magnification. The more magnified an image is, the fewer overall space that can be viewed. A wide field of view can show you more, but not as close, nor as detailed. For stargazing focused on a particular celestial body, telescopes have a definite advantage.

A large magnification does come with its own disadvantage: keeping it steady. The higher the magnification, the shakier the image. A high magnification shows every single tremor your hand makes, including those you aren’t aware of.

Telescopes easily counteract this problem by using a tripod. Most of us don’t picture a telescope without the ubiquitous tripod. Binoculars, however, tend to be hand held. While that’s fine for a lower magnification, at a high zoom it can be hard to watch the stars when everything’s moving up and down.

Luckily, tripods for binoculars are easy to purchase, and most zoom binoculars are tripod adaptable. This comes with its own sacrifice: portability.

One major advantage of the binoculars is the portability. The smaller lenses allow for smaller casing, so they’re lighter and easier to carry. In this sense, binoculars are vastly superior to telescopes. This is also why binoculars have so many uses.

No one would enjoy carrying a telescope to a football match, but even a large pair of binoculars will work. A telescope may help when observing birds from a hide, but would be an awful choice for a hike.

Binoculars tend to be more compact because they have a smaller objective lens. This is the lens away from the eye. The bigger the lens, the more light that comes through, so the better the image. It’s harder for binoculars to replicate this size, because they need to do so twice.

The best binoculars designed for stargazing have large objective lenses that can soak up as much of the distant light as possible.

When choosing which one to use, it’s important to consider all the functions of both a telescope and binoculars. Binoculars are best for beginners, those who value a compact design, and someone after a piece of equipment with multiple uses. Telescopes are best for a larger magnification, so stars can be seen in greater detail.

In terms of price, it’s a tricky one to compare. A cheap telescope will likely have a higher magnification than similarly priced binoculars, but the binoculars may have a higher quality of image. 

Binoculars can be incredibly powerful, and there isn’t exactly any reason why telescopes are used for stargazing over binoculars other than convenience. Taking the size and scope of a telescope and replicating it is cumbersome, heavy, and requires some tricky engineering. 

Binoculars can be as good as a telescope, particularly for first time stargazers. Binoculars closely replicate the depth of a human eye, so they’re easier to look through. The large field of vision allows more of the night sky to be on show.

Binoculars can reach a high magnification, and let light pour in through a large objective lens. While binoculars may not be designed specifically for stargazing, they are perfectly adaptable for enjoying the beauty of the night sky.