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Design Quality of Birding Binoculars

Binoculars can range in price from under $100 to $2000 or more. So what's the difference? Some of the important considerations include:

  • Sharpness of image
  • Light gathering ability and image brightness
  • Shock resistance
  • Water, dust and moisture resistance
  • Size and weight
  • Long life

The image quality of $300 binoculars has improved to the point that it is hard to see much improvement in a $1500 pair of binoculars. Improvements in the glass used in the manufacture of the lenses and (especially) lens coatings has filtered down to the lower cost optics. Unless the user is moving into the semi-pro range, spending more than $300 or so is not necessary for most people.

Why spend more for bird watching binoculars?

Very expensive bird watching binoculars do have their advantages.

  • Better image quality.
  • Better light gathering ability, useful in low light conditions and birding in the tropics.
  • The design, materials and manufacturing quality produce a very rugged binocular.

The last item may be the most important. No one wants to travel hundreds or thousands of miles on a birding trip, only to have the binoculars knocked out of alignment while chasing the trip bird. More expensive birding binoculars can really take a beating with little damage to their performance.


Body Design




There are two standard designs utilized in binoculars. The porro prism design (left) has an offset barrel. The roof prism design has a straight barrel.

The roof prism design has historically been lighter in weight, slightly smaller and more expensive. High quality binoculars are available in either style.