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Binoculars for Birding

Updated: Jan 9

We recently published 5 important tips to birding in Brazil and I realized that one of the most important factors in seeing a lot of birds up close was taking a good pair of binoculars. What do I mean by a “good” pair? The binoculars you ultimately choose should be the ones that feel best in your hands, can magnify well enough to get a bird smack dab in your vision, has very good clarity, and feels ergonomically wonderful in your hands. Ultimately, the feel and ergonomics are going to depend on your specific preferences so I’ll leave that up to you. Go to a bird story like Wild Birds Unlimited or, here in Colorado, we also have the Front Range Birding stores which sell binoculars and will let you handle and look through several pairs. Don’t let price be the deciding factor. The most expensive pairs can run you up to more than 4 grand but there are some really good binoculars that range between 200-500 dollars that can easily fit the bill. Let’s leave brand recommendations for another blog entry. One thing I will tell you is most of the brands make incredibly nice optics. The bottom line is going to depend on your preference for feel, ergonomics and comfort. In this article, I just want to cover binocular basics.

At first, the technical specs of these essential eye pieces seem confusing and the debate over which type is best is never-ending. There are two number on binoculars that should tickle your consideration and spark what will eventually become your personal preference. The first number is magnification and the second is the size of the diameter of the lenses that let the light in.  The larger the magnification, the closer the bird appears in your view. The bigger the diameter, the more light and clarity comes in. When shopping, you’ll notice binocular types like 8 x 42, or 10 x 42. I have a pair of lightweight Nikon ProStaffs that are 10x25. What size is better? There are three magnifications under debate with 8 and10 the most popular and 12 coming in a very distant third place. I like 10 as a personal preference because it gets me closer than 8 but I do admit that tracking small birds is sometimes difficult because they are jumpy and an 8 magnification would give me a little wider angle. It’s noticeably easier to keep track of jumpier birds with an 8 magnification.  A 12 can really reach far but its best for birds that stay stationary. Few birders prefer 12 for that reason. Most birds are a bit hyper so 8 or 10 would be my recommendation. Try them out and see which magnification you prefer. Diameter is the measurement of the size of the physical lens and usually determines how much light the binoculars can process. When you talk about “brightness”, we are talking about this second number…the bigger the better for light and sharpness.  With that said, some binoculars, like my Nikon ProStaff, have small diameters yet are very lightweight and allow me to carry a camera in comfort. Brands we recommend are Kowa, Vortex, Celestron, Bushnell, Maven, Optician, Vanguard

and Swarovski. Prices vary and most brands have budget models as well as top of the line pairs. Swarovski is top end so don’t expect to find any discount prices.


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