Buying binoculars can be an intimidating process. If you are planning to buy binoculars, you’ll want to know how they are described. Binoculars are described in terms of two measures: magnification, objective (front lens) diameter. For example, 8×30 binoculars have 8x magnification and a 30mm objective lens. Higher magnification can help you see more detail, but higher magnification also makes it more difficult to hold binoculars steady. Larger objective lenses collect more light and this will help you see more in low light (dawn, dusk, or shaded) situations. Typically, the field of view is also provided for binoculars. This provides an idea of how wide an area you can see at a given distance when using the binoculars.
Binoculars usually have coatings on optical surfaces that reduce the amount of light lost due to reflections. There are several different levels of coatings: not coated, fully coated, multicoated, and fully multicoated. Cheap or antique binoculars are typically not coated. Inexpensive binoculars are typically fully coated. Mid-priced binoculars are often multicoated and premium binoculars are generally fully multicoated. Some premium binocular makers like Steiner offer coatings with specialized purposes that enhance various colors or block ultraviolet rays. Bird watchers and hunters can get binoculars with coatings that will actually help them see wildlife more clearly.
Binoculars are made for a variety of specialized needs. For example, astronomers like to have heavy binoculars with large objectives (e.g. 50mm, 60mm, 80mm) mounted on a stable tripod that can support high magnification (e.g. 10x, 20x, 25x). However, hikers, hunters, soldiers, and survivalists might want lighter binoculars that they can hold steady and fit in a pack, pocket, or a belt pouch. Typically, 6x or 7x binoculars are the easiest to hold steady and medium-sized objectives (30mm to 42mm) provide good light gathering capabilities. Boaters can get binoculars like the Barska 7×50 WP Deep Sea Binoculars with compasses and rangefinders built in to help with navigation. Sports fans can even get binoculars with an extra wide field of view so that they can see more of a playing field. Some binoculars offer features that make them better for specific purposes. Soldiers and survivalists might want binoculars that are clad in thick rubber armor that protects them from the elements and damage. Casual users may want to carry compact binoculars like Tasco Essentials 8×21 Binoculars. Binoculars like Tasco Essentials 8×21 or Steiner Safari 8×22 binoculars are compact enough to fit in a front jacket pocket or on your belt.
You might also consider factors like the collimation of the binoculars. Basically, binoculars are two optical tube assemblies sitting side by side and all the optical components have to be perfectly aligned. Otherwise, the binoculars will present your eyes with slightly misaligned pictures. This can make it hard to discern fine details and will give you a headaches during periods of extended binocular use. Really cheap dime store binoculars are often poorly collimated. This makes them highly annoying. Less rugged binoculars can sometimes get jarred out of alignment and become poorly collimated. However, higher quality binoculars from esteemed makers like Swarovski, Zeiss, or Steiner are more precisely built and are usually perfectly collimated.
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Finally, when you purchase binoculars, you’ll want to avoid super cheap varieties from discount stores and drugstores. I’ve found some dime store binoculars with internal plate glass mirrors rather than optical glass prisms and other binoculars that were not properly collimated and with poorly secured eyepieces that would move out of focus when the binoculars were pressed against your eyes. Binocular buyers are best served by brand name binoculars from reputable dealers.