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6 Steps for Choosing Binoculars For Bird Watching

Choosing binoculars for bird watching

Thinking about purchasing a new pair of binoculars to enhance your birding experience?  Here are 6 things to consider.


1. Price

Price is always an issue.  As with many things, buy the best you can afford.  And unlike some things, if you spend more for a pair of binoculars you will get the increased value.

For casual, backyard viewing, a decent pair of binoculars can be had for about $100.00.

Better quality optics, suitable for birding trips fall into the $300 – $500 range.

The $1000 range will buy you a quality product that could last a life time.  Zeiss and Leica have “entry” level binoculars in this price range.  Many other companies, including Nikon, Alpen, Opticron, Kowa and others can meet your needs in this price range.

The next step up is in the $2000 to $2500 range.  Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski have typically been the leaders in this area, with Nikon joining this rarified air.  Binoculars in this price range usually have a life-time guarantee and will provide years of quality service.

The more you spend the better image you will get.   Features such as light-gathering ability, sharper images, weather resistance  and durability all effect the price.


2. Know the numbers

Binoculars will have numbers like 8×42 and 10×40.

The first number is the magnification.  A binocular with an 8X rating brings the image 8 times closer.

7x, 8x and 10x  (and similar) are the most popular choices.  If you have steady hands, you might prefer the 10x, a little shaky – try the 8x.

Swarovski has introduced a pair of well balanced 12x binoculars, nice but they require a well-balanced wallet also.

The second number indicates the diameter of the objective lens (not the eyepiece).  The larger the objective lens, the better the light gathering ability, and the heavier the binocular.


3. More numbers

Close focal distance;
Close focal distance is something to consider. Inexpensive binoculars may have a close focus distance of 15 ft. or more.  Better choices will focus down to as little as 6 ft.  6-10 ft. is good.

Field of view:
The field of view is normally given in degrees or the width of the image at 1000 yards. Higher magnifications tend to have a narrower field of view.  If you are concerned about following birds in flight, look for binoculars that have a large field of view.

Now it gets personal.

Once you understand a few of the basics, the final selection comes down to personal preference. Weight, balance, feel and appearance will all effect your final choice.


4.  Try them out

If at all possible, try out several pair from different manufacturers before purchasing.  If you can make it to one of the birding festivals (Select a state from the Birdzilla site ) you will often find the optics companies exhibiting and one or more retail companies selling all the major brands.

When testing, be sure to adjust the focus for each eye.  Sales staff can show you how.  They can also show you how to determine if the pair you purchase is properly aligned.

Some bird feeding specialty stores also know about and sell birding binoculars.  Look for independent stores or Wild birds Unlimited or Wild bird Centers.


5.  If you wear glasses

If you wear glasses check the eye pieces on the binoculars.  They should be adjustable – extend up and down – to accommodate different needs.  Some designs slide and some twist.  Do not purchase binoculars with hard plastic eye cups.


6. Making the purchase!

Purchasing locally can make it easier to try different models and perhaps obtain extra customer service if needed.

If you can not find a good local source then you can purchase online.  There are several quality online sources.  Eagle Optics is one you should consider. Many members of their staff are birders.  They handle all major brands and offer competitive prices along with soloed advice.  (We have no association with Eagle Optics.)


Read next – Best Binoculars For Bird Watching

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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