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7 Tips for Using Binoculars This Spring

40% of Americans 16 or older participated in wildlife-related activities in 2020.

If you’re part of this demographic, then you most likely have a pair of binoculars or are looking to purchase one soon.  But without knowing how to use them properly, you may just miss out on seeing that rare specimen you’ve been looking for.

In this article, we’ll give you 7 tips for using binoculars this spring so you’ll be ready.

1. Use the lowest magnification possible to see the detail you want.

The magnification (power) of the binoculars not only magnifies the image seen, but also the shake of the hands holding the binoculars.  The higher the magnification, the more your view will be shaky.

If you find your view to be unstable, perhaps switch from 10x to 7x magnification. You can also try leaning against something like a tree to stabilize yourself.

For those who have larger models, you might want to consider getting a tripod so you don’t tire yourself out and can get the best view.

2.  Use binocular with appropriate sized objective lens.

Secondly, the lens furthest from your eye is the objective lens. Simply put, the larger it is the more light it can gather. For example, if you want to use your binoculars in lower light situations like dawn and dusk, the lens should be as large a possible without creating too much bulk.

Birding is best done at dawn and dusk.  Binoculars with really large objective lenses can be heavy, but don’t make the mistake of getting the smallest/lightest.  To accurately identify a bird, one often has to see very small details.  Maximum light gathering is key.

3.  Adjust the binoculars’ center hinge.

The two sides of the binoculars are connected by a center hinge.  Adjust the binoculars until there is a round image.  Only in the movies is there an image which is shaped like the number 8 lying on its side.

4. Adjust the eyecups.

The eyecups are there to position your eyes at the correct distance from the ocular lens (closest to your eyes). This allows you to see the image without any black shading around the edge of the image.  Increase or decrease the cup depth until the edge is crisp.

If you don’t wear glasses or use contacts, leave the eyecups out.  If you’re wearing glasses, you should decrease the depth of the eyecups.  The lenses of your glasses have partially set what is known as eye relief.

5. Set the diopter.

As it is said, no one is perfect, and neither are our eyes.  There is a difference between the two eyes which need to be taken into account.  One eyepiece has a diopter adjustment which can allow for this difference.

To set this, look through the binoculars with the eye closed on the side of the diopter adjustment.  Using the main focus adjustment, bring the other side into focus.  Once this is done, close that side’s eye, and open the eye on the diopter adjustment.  Bring that image into focus using the diopter adjustment, and the difference between the two sides will be set.

6. Use Your Naked Eye First

It can be difficult to train the binoculars on a small target off in the distance.  This can frustrate you with a search of that area with a more restricted field of view.  All you’ll see is zoomed-in views of trees and other greenery.

Start the search with a wider view without using the binoculars.

With the naked eye, focus on the object to be seen.  Keeping that focus, bring the binoculars up to your eyes.  This should put your view right on the object.  If there is a larger object near the main target of view, that can also be used to narrow the search.

When you’re out on the trails, take some time to revel in the scenery. Use your ears to initially locate wildlife.  Often wildlife is heard before seen.

7. Don’t Use Your Shirt to Clean Your Binoculars

You know a little about how to use binoculars now. But how do you maintain them in good condition?

First things first: don’t use your shirt! Just like with your glasses, the fibers in your shirt may damage the delicate glass on your binoculars. These scratches will then blur your vision whenever you use your binoculars.

Make sure you get a soft brush or compressed air, as well as a lens cloth or lens tissue. When you use either of the latter two, use a gentle touch.

Using Binoculars Is Easy

With these handy tips, using binoculars this spring will be a cinch. By knowing all the different adjustments of your binoculars, you’ll be able to spot all the wildlife you’d otherwise miss without these tips.

Here at Bill Jacksons, we have friendly consultants, who are experienced in outdoor adventure. We are happy to work with you individually to make sure you get outfitted with the equipment that is best for your next outdoor journey. Give us a call or stop by to meet our team.

How to choose perfect binoculars for birding

What to take into account

The most important criterion is comfort. The binocular must be comfortable to hold and the focusing wheel easy to reach and turn. It must also be possible to look through them without straining your eyes – you want to enjoy using them!

The first step is to decide on the following:

  • how much do you want to spend?
  • are size and weight important?
  • what magnification and what type of binoculars do you want?

These will give you good starting points when going to a shop to make your choice. 

Field days

The RSPB runs field days where you can try binoculars under field conditions. This will help you to make sure you are completely happy before purchase. The shops on reserves listed on this page keep a good range of binoculars. Contact them directly for details of products and events. You can also follow the link to see if there’s an equipment demonstration near you soon.

Alternatively, follow the link on this page to visit the RSPB online shop. Don’t forget, all sales will benefit our conservation work and help birds and wildlife!

What type of binoculars do I need?

There are two main body types:

  • Porro-prisms have a ‘traditional’, stepped shape with an angled body. 
  • Roof-prisms are recognised by a straight-through appearance. They tend to be more compact than porro-prism binoculars and many people find them more comfortable to use. Their internal focusing helps protect them from the elements.

Choice of style is personal preference, but because of fashions, most of the high-quality binoculars today are roof-prism.

Miniature ‘compact’ binoculars are useful if size and weight are important factors. Their main disadvantage is reduced light-gathering power and field of view. They are easy to hold but you may prefer a more solid shape for steady viewing.

Rubber covering offers better protection against knocks against the body (not against the lens). Waterproof binoculars are widely available, particularly in roof-prism style. Coatings on lenses and prisms improve light transmission through the binocular and give a clearer image.

For disabled birdwatchers, the choice of binocular is dependent on the nature of the disability and personal preference. Trying out different models is particularly important. Low magnification binoculars need less refocusing and offer greater steadiness; stabilising binoculars work well but they are heavy and expensive. Specialist optical suppliers can offer personal solutions.

What magnification do I need?

Generally speaking, the lower the magnification:

  • the brighter the image
  • the closer the nearest focus point
  • the greater the depth of field
  • the wider the field of view
  • the easier the binoculars are to hold.

Generally speaking, the higher the magnification:

  • the less bright the image
  • the narrower the depth of field, requiring more frequent focusing
  • the heavier the binoculars are likely to be
  • the harder they are to hold still.
  • For general birdwatching, lower magnifications such as 7x or 8x are recommended, especially if you also use a telescope.

Higher magnifications (10x) are more suitable for use in hides or for viewing estuaries, reservoirs or other large, expansive areas. If you do not use a telescope and weight is not a problem, the higher 10x magnification can be a good compromise.

Zoom binoculars with variable magnification are not recommended. They rarely give as good an image across their range as single magnification binoculars and have more chance of developing faults.

What do the figures mean?

All binoculars have a set of two figures indicating their specification (for instance 8×32), sometimes followed by a letter code such as B or GA.

The first figure refers to the magnification. This is usually between 7x and 10x, although binoculars with lower or higher magnification are available. The second figure refers to the diameter of the larger lens, the objective lens, in millimetres.

Generally speaking, the larger the lens, the greater amount of light will be gathered and, therefore, the brighter the image.

The size of the binocular is governed by this second figure, not by the magnification.

B after the figure means that the binocular has rubber or push-down eye-cups, so spectacle wearers can use them with little noticeable loss of field of view (the width of the image).

GA or RA shows that the binocular is rubber-covered, offering some protection against knocks and wear.

The field of view may be quoted in degrees or figures (such as 6.5° or 140 m at 1,000 m). Roughly, 1°=17 m at distance of 1,000 m.

Do not consider the figures in isolation. An inferior 8×32 using poor glass and inadequate lens coatings may have an image less bright and sharp than a better-quality 8×32.

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