How To Choose Binoculars

Choosing a pair of binoculars can seem terribly complicated. There are so many types, and uses, and prices, and confusing numbers involved. But once you know the basics, it’s easy to choose binoculars that can last you for years, providing amazing sights along the way.

First, pick a use. You probably already have a pretty good idea of what you intend to use your binoculars for, but you want to be clear.

Different binoculars have specialized uses, so if you want to take your bird watching binoculars stargazing, it just won’t be the same. Decide what’s perfect for you, so you can choose the best binoculars for that ability.

How To Choose Binoculars

Set a price range. Before you start shopping, you should have an idea of an upper price limit. Binoculars can get expensive, and it’s not unheard of to spend several thousand dollars.

Knowing what you need the binoculars for can help set a limit, and prevent you from spending extra on wasted features. Be flexible with your price range, but understand what’s essential.

With these basics decided, you can focus on the specifics of the binoculars.

Before buying binoculars, do a lot of research. Binoculars come with a vast range of specifications, and they’re all good for different things. Research what specs are best for your usage, and you won’t be disappointed when an expensive pair just doesn’t work.

Specifications to be aware of:


Perhaps the most important feature of binoculars, the magnification is what makes binoculars useful. This is often stated on the binoculars themselves. Look for two numbers, for example: 8×42.

That first number is the magnification, and refers to how many times an object is magnified through the binoculars. The higher the magnification, the more prone the binoculars are to shake. For really high magnifications, a tripod is needed to keep the image steady.

Objective Lens Diameter

The objective lens is the big lens of the binoculars, the one that’s the furthest away from your face. Objective lens diameter refers to the size of these lenses. This can also generally be found on the binoculars, and is the second number in the description.

Binoculars that are 8×42 have lenses that are 42 millimeters across. The bigger the lens, the more light that can come through, so the better the image. A diameter below 30 is considered compact, and not great quality. Above 42, and the binoculars tend to be heavy. 

Field of View

The field of view, or FOV, relates to these previous two principles, but isn’t directly tied. The FOV refers to how wide a distance can be seen through the binoculars. A narrow FOV is fine for something like birdwatching, but it does make it hard to follow the bird.

For a spectator sport, such as horse racing, a large FOV is a requirement. The larger the magnification, the lower the FOV. The field of view is generally listed in the specifications, but it’s a good one to try out in person.

Specifications can’t tell the full story of a pair of binoculars.

Realistically, this is a piece of equipment that’s intended to be carried around. Before purchasing, you need to know how it actually feels.

Weight and Size

The weight and size are directly linked to the binoculars specifications, but that doesn’t mean the heavier, the better. The size of the binoculars is classed by its objective lens diameter. A compact pair is 30 mm or less, a midsize pair 30 to 40 mm, and full size is 40 mm and up.

Compact binoculars are easy to carry, but have a reduced clarity of image. Full size binoculars give the greatest image, but are heavy, and often shaky. Try several pairs out, so you can see what will be comfortable to carry. It’s also important to find a pair that fits in your hands well.

Ease of Focus

Focus can either be incredibly complex, or frustratingly simple. Central focus is the most common type for hobbyists, as it uses a single dial to adjust both lenses. The dial should move smoothly, and intuitively, so you can quickly adjust.

Eye relief

Particularly important for glasses wearers, eye relief refers to how far from the eyepiece the eye can be while maintaining the field of vision. Glasses wearers should look for an eye relief of 11 mm or more. Many binoculars come with adjustable eye reliefs.

Other features to be aware of:


While it would be nice to always be guaranteed the perfect weather, this isn’t possible. Waterproof has a higher water resistance than weather-proof, but neither can survive substantial submersion. However, they’re necessary for protecting against showers.

Keep an eye out for fog proof as well. Otherwise, binoculars can fog up when moved from cold to warm environments.


Binoculars use prisms to direct light. There are two types of design: Porro prisms and roof prisms. Porro have a greater clarity, but are heavy and cumbersome. Roof may have slightly lowered clarity, but are infinitely easier to use. In almost all circumstances, it’s better to buy roof.

Clarity of image

One of the most important features of a binocular is the clarity, but the higher the clarity, the higher the price. Clarity is also harder to find specifications for, as brands prefer to keep their secrets. The clarity is created using glass, coatings, and complex engineering.

The clarity is vital to your choice, and very difficult to understand online. To fully grasp the clarity, the binoculars need to be tested.

Once you understand the specifications that are necessary for your usage, the best way to choose is by trying as many pairs as possible. Important features like clarity, weight, and ease of use are necessary functions of the binoculars.

Try as many pairs as you can get your hands on, and don’t be shy to look all over with them – some retailers provide test charts. Once you’ve found a pair you like, you can shop around for the best deal.