Monday, March 26, 2007

How Did You Choose Your Binoculars?

When I started actively birding about 3+ years ago, I had a pair of 7x35 Tasco
Porro Prism Binoculars. (It's actually just binocular but that doesn't sound right). They were as good as Leica's or Swarovski's since I didn't even know what those were at that time.-To me, the $35 Tascos were perfectly clear and sharp.

It wasn't until I started to go birding with other birders, that I became aware that my Tascos were socially unacceptable. Every so often, someone would tease me a little about them. They would offer to let me try their fancy roof prism binoculars, to see how I liked them. I liked them o.k.-until they told me how much they payed for them.-No way was I going to pay $1500 for binoculars.

Then came the 100 degree day when I left the Tascos on the dashboard of my truck. The glue that held the lenses melted like the wicked witch and my precious binoculars were done.

Next came along the little Nikon Travelite V porro binoculars that my brother-in-law gave me. These nifty little bins could focus in on something five feet in front of me. They provided a great view for $75 binoculars. The very small field of view wasn't sufficient for birding in the field. I now keep these handy to watch birds at my feeders. They are perfect for that purpose.

I bought 8x56 Orion Mini-Giants online for about $120. My plan was to use them for some light astronomy.They aren't bad but wouldn't recommend them.I keep them in a cooler in my truck in case I see some birds while commuting to and from work. I also recently bought
Nikon action 7x35's for my wife. They are good entry level binoculars and are a good back up pair (for me too).

After two years, I realized that I was going to be hooked on birding forever. At this point, I decided that I needed better binoculars. This is when I discover a major problem with binoculars. There are too many of them! With the amount of time I spent reading reviews, I could have worked overtime and bought top-of the-line bins and been done with it. There are just too many "pretty good" ones to be able to figure out which ones to get. I don't know of a shop that carries every brand and model to try out. It is just too much trouble.

Although reviews help give you basic information, its not worth obsessing over them. If you can't or don't want to buy the best, go to a local binocular dealer-try them-buy them and be done with it. If you can afford the best-try them buy them-and be done with it. You can't rely completely on someone else's review. What works for their eyes may not work for yours.-You need to try them first. Another good way of doing that is trying out other people's binoculars.

After all the fussing, I chose the Swift Ultralite roof prism binoculars.

They have the following features:

  • are extremely bright (ultralite refers to the brightness not weight).

  • they are waterproof

  • a lifetime warranty(which I recently made use of-excellent service).

  • a very fast focus wheel

  • they are relatively sharp

  • sell for about $300

  • Bak-4 phase coated optics

These are excellent roof prism binoculars for the price. When I was at the Eagle Fest , I decided to try out binoculars at the optics tents they had set up. Most of the ones I tried were o.k. but didn't really impress me. When I tried the Swarovski 8.5x42 that changed. They fit my eyes perfectly, and have to admit they were sharper, more comfortable, and had a better field of view than my current ones. Will I break the bank and buy some?-Yes-as soon as I can.

Here are two binocular reviews: Cornell Binocular Review & Better View Desired.

How did you go about choosing your binoculars?


LauraHinNJ said...

My first pair were $100 Kowa's. I used them until I could appreciate the difference in a better binocular. I think that's important - most beginners can't see the difference between a $100 pair and a $1,000 pair.

Saved for a few years and bought my Zeiss 7X42's which I adore and which don't seem to be for sale anymore! I love them and would hate to have to replace them - they fit perfect and feel perfect. Well worth the wait!

I keep the old Kowa's by the kitchen window.

Ruth said...

I have my grandmother's very old binoculars and have been looking for a new pair. You are right, there are too many out there. I will look at the recommendations from you (and Laura). The zoom on my camera is what I am using now, and if I am lucky, I get a picture too for IDing the birds.

Susan Gets Native said...

Mine were chosen for me. My DH gave me a pair when I first became a birder, then he upgraded me last year. They are both Bushnells, the first one has a digital camera that stinks, and I don't know what the other kind's model is. Does that make me a bad birder?

Larry said...

Laura-The shops I have tried don't even carry Zeiss.
Body,Soul,& Spirit-Trying them out is key-I actually used to use my grandfathers 7x50 Navy binoculars-they weren't all that bad but very heavy.
Susan-One of the best birders I knew-(died)- was a professor who actually had old taped up binoculars-All that matters is that you enjoy birding.

MojoMan said...

Your comment about socially acceptable binoculars is funny. It's like that with bicycles. Some guys spend several thousand on a bike but can't ride worth a darn. One of the best riders I know rides a 25 year-old bike. If you really know your birds, you don't need the best bins in the bunch.

Magn'r Binoculars 20x50 said...

great reading to get healthy tips for selecting binoculars... loved your post Larry! thanks