What Should I Look for When Buying Binoculars?

Shopping for a pair of binoculars can be extremely confusing. Instead of jumping headfirst into comparing prices and functions, here are some essential questions you should consider before shopping:

  1. Do you understand the specs?
  2. Why do you need a pair of binoculars?
  3. What is your spending budget?
  4. What specific functions do you want?

Understanding the Specs

The model numbers usually include two numbers:

1. Magnification Power specifies the power of the magnification. Lower number magnification gives you a wider field of view, whereas a higher number gives you a narrower field of view with more details.

2. Objective Lens Diameter indicates the lens size and how much light may filter through the lens. Larger lenses allow more light to produce higher quality images. In general, binoculars break down into three classes based on the objective lens sizes:

  • Compact (less than 30mm)
  • Midsize (30mm – 40mm)
  • Full-size (greater than 40mm)

Two other specs to consider are:

Exit Pupil shows how well you can see in low-light environments. You can calculate this reading by dividing the objective lens diameter by the magnification power. Higher numbers produce sharper images.

Eye Relief marks the distance between the eyes and the eyepieces. If you are wearing glasses, consider looking for binoculars with at least 11mm eye relief.

Purpose of Your Binoculars

The intended purpose can quickly narrow down the specs for such an occasion.

For hiking, traveling, and other general purposes, compact lower magnification options provide easy storage and a wider field of vision. Lens less than 30mm (6×25, 6×28, 8×28, 8×25) are great options.

For indoor event viewing, lower magnification but higher objective lenses can allow you to see better in dim settings. 4-7x and 21-30mm are optimal for music concerts and theatre.

Birding and small animal watching require wider view fields for easy tracking purposes. Birders generally prefer 8×32 and 8×42. For viewing smaller birds at greater range, 10-12x magnification with 42-50mm lenses are better options.

Wildlife watching (whale and safari) requires at least 10x and 32mm lens to observe animals at further distances. 8-10x and 32-42mm are the most popular choices.

Boating purposes entail wider view fields for easy viewing. 7×32 and 8×32 are most common for sailors.

Stargazing requires maximum magnification and view field width.

You can view our full guide to buying binoculars here, which covers recommendations for each category in depth.

What Is Your Spending Budget?

Binoculars are like cameras; you can score a decent entry-level model under $100. But if you are looking for something with higher specs and extra functions, choices usually range between $200 to $500. Once you step over the $500 limit, you are landing in professional-grade brand name models.

Other Features to Consider

For binoculars, protection coating or casing that offer weatherproof and fog-proof functions can play into the price factor. The weight and size are also important issues to consider as higher magnification lenses often require a tripod for support. Are you willing to carry all this equipment with you? And will your environment allow you to set up a tripod?

Once you can narrow down your spec selection, it is always helpful to go to a store and handle a few binoculars. It will give you a better idea of whether you want a more compact model or something more specific. The most important thing is to take your time in testing various models before making your final purchase.