|Un­der­stand­ing Op­tics


Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Tracy Breen

Study up and buy wisely

Whether you like to watch wildlife from your liv­ing-room win­dow or from a tree­stand while hunt­ing, or if you travel to far-off des­ti­na­tions to watch birds, a pair of qual­ity binoc­u­lars and/or a spot­ting scope en­hance(s) the ex­pe­ri­ence. Some peo­ple have the best op­tics money can buy, but most have cheap or medi­ocre op­tics. Most binoc­u­lars users go through a stage where they buy a $50 pair, which usu­ally leaves much to be de­sired. “Even­tu­ally most peo­ple who buy an in­ex­pen­sive pair of binoc­u­lars up­grade,” Cody Nel­son of Out­doors­mans said.

Out­doors­mans, an out­door store based in Phoenix, spe­cial­izes in op­tics. In fact, it sells op­tics across the coun­try and re­ceives many in­quiries from cus­tomers about which op­tics best fit their style of hunt­ing or wildlife watch­ing. “It all de­pends on how much money you want to spend,” Nel­son said. “At the end of the day, if some­one is go­ing to spend a lot of time look­ing through binoc­u­lars, good glass is a must. I al­ways rec­om­mend that peo­ple spend as much as they can af­ford. Ex­pen­sive op­tics can be a once-in-a-life­time pur­chase if a per­son takes care of them.”

“When pur­chas­ing op­tics, buy­ers must con­sider which type of glass­ing they’ll do most.”

This puts things in per­spec­tive. If you’re buy­ing a high-end ri­fle and you plan to keep it in­def­i­nitely, you’ll most likely buy some­thing spe­cial. If you’re buy­ing an RV, a house or sports car, odds are you’ll do the same. Op­tics should be no dif­fer­ent.

Un­der­stand What You Need

When pur­chas­ing op­tics, buy­ers must con­sider which type of glass­ing they’ll do most. “Most bird­watch­ers want a pair of light­weight binoc­u­lars that are easy to man­age,” Nel­son said. “In that case, a 7x35mm or 8x32mm will work well. Ei­ther configuration from any rep­utable op­tics man­u­fac­turer will of­fer good light trans­mis­sion, a large field of view (FOV) and, of course, de­cent magnification. Peo­ple of­ten get hung up on magnification and pur­chase binoc­u­lars that are su­per heavy and dif­fi­cult to man­age with a free hand. Bird­ers rarely need high magnification; 7x or 8x is usu­ally suf­fi­cient.”

Hunters, on the other hand, are of­ten try­ing to de­ter­mine the size of a buck or bull, so they need high-pow­ered binoc­u­lars. “Our most pop­u­lar binoc­u­lar configuration, re­gard­less of brand, is the 10x42mm,” Nel­son shared. “Hunters find them easy to trans­port and easy to use, whether they’re sit­ting in a tree­stand or rov­ing the back­coun­try. The key to suc­cess is find­ing a pair of binoc­u­lars that you will use. That might sound silly, but many peo­ple buy run-of-the-mill binoc­u­lars and rarely use them. If you buy binoc­u­lars you’re com­fort­able with, you won’t want to put them down.”

Spot­ting Scopes

Cus­tomers of­ten ask Nel­son whether a spot­ting scope is a worth­while in­vest­ment. A spot­ting scope is heavy and ex­pen­sive, and you can’t carry one around your neck. But, if you want to count in­di­vid­ual points on a buck’s rack from a great dis­tance, a spot­ting scope is es­sen­tial.

“A spot­ting scope can be dif­fi­cult to carry around,” Nel­son noted. “Thus, few peo­ple buy one, but a spot­ting scope is worth the in­vest­ment. The amount of de­tail the user will see is mind-blow­ing. If you want to judge the size of a bull or buck, a spot­ting scope is the way to go. If you want to see the col­ors on a beau­ti­ful bird, a spot­ting scope de­liv­ers.”

Do You Need a Tri­pod?

Even­tu­ally, ev­ery se­ri­ous op­tics user must ask them­self whether they should have a tri­pod. Ac­cord­ing to Nel­son, a tri­pod is a musthave accessory. “Whether you’re us­ing

A spot­ting scope is heavy but worth the ex­tra weight. With a spot­ting scope, you can size up big-game an­i­mals on the hoof from great dis­tances.

binoc­u­lars or a spot­ting scope, glass­ing from a tri­pod cre­ates a pleasant ex­pe­ri­ence,” he shared. “A good tri­pod keeps the binoc­u­lars or the spot­ting scope steady so you can fo­cus on what you’re look­ing at. It elim­i­nates the shakes, which re­duces eye­strain and makes glass­ing more fun.

“An­other rea­son I be­lieve ev­ery op­tics user should use a tri­pod is that when you set it up, you com­mit to re­ally glass­ing an en­tire area,” he con­tin­ued. “Once I have my tri­pod out, I spend more time be­hind the glass, which is of­ten when I dis­cover a bed­ded bull or buck.”

Op­tics Lingo

There are many things to con­sider when buy­ing op­tics. One rea­son peo­ple get con­fused is that re­tail­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers use puz­zling tech­ni­cal terms when de­scrib­ing op­tics. Be­low are a few terms you should un­der­stand about op­tics be­fore go­ing shop­ping.

Field of View

Field of view (FOV) is very im­por­tant when se­lect­ing op­tics. If you plan on scan­ning lakes and fields in the Mid­west, a stan­dard FOV will do. If you plan on hunt­ing in the West, con­sider buy­ing op­tics with a wide FOV. What’s the dif­fer­ence? FOV de­scribes the num­ber of feet per 1,000 yards of dis­tance. So, a stan­dard 7x binoc­u­lars’ FOV is 372 feet. If you pur­chase a pair with wide-an­gle lenses, it goes up to 487 feet. The wider the an­gle, the more you see as you glass. If you hunt a lot, a wide-an­gle lens is of­ten worth the ex­tra money.

Lens Di­am­e­ter

Lens di­am­e­ter de­ter­mines the amount of light that en­ters the lens; a large lens di­am­e­ter al­lows more light to en­ter than a small lens di­am­e­ter. More light means a brighter im­age. If you plan to glass late in the evening or early in the morn­ing, con­sider buy­ing op­tics with a 42mm or 50mm lens di­am­e­ter. The draw­back to hav­ing a large-di­am­e­ter lens is it’s con­sid­er­ably heav­ier than a small-di­am­e­ter lens. If you’re back­pack­ing in, con­sider a smaller-di­am­e­ter lens—per­haps a 35mm—which weighs lit­tle and packs eas­ily.

Eye Re­lief

Eye re­lief is im­por­tant, es­pe­cially if you wear eye­glasses. Eye re­lief is the dis­tance, mea­sured in mil­lime­ters, from the eye­piece lens to the point where the eye is po­si­tioned to view the en­tire im­age. Eye re­lief is af­fected by FOV, magnification and the num­ber of lens el­e­ments. Most binoc­u­lars pro­vide 8-13mm of eye re­lief. Binoc­u­lars with long eye re­lief pro­vide 14-20mm. If you wear eye­glasses, choose op­tics with long eye re­lief. If you plan on glass­ing from a moun­tain­side for long pe­ri­ods of time, long eye re­lief is a wel­come at­tribute. With­out it, you may get a headache, which could last all day and make your ex­pe­ri­ence mis­er­able.

“Lens di­am­e­ter de­ter­mines the amount of light that en­ters the lens …”

Exit Pupil

Exit pupil is rarely dis­cussed, but ac­cord­ing to Nel­son, the exit pupil of your glass is ex­tremely im­por­tant. “The exit pupil is the band of light that hits your eye,” he ex­plained. “The greater the num­ber, the more light will reach your eye. Peo­ple will want a good FOV and a fair amount of light. An exit pupil greater than 4mm is al­ways pre­ferred. A 10x42mm binoc­u­lar has an exit pupil of 4.2. A 7x35mm has an exit pupil of 5. A 7x35mm binoc­u­lar lets in more light than a 10x42 binoc­u­lar, but doesn’t have as much magnification or FOV. In op­tics, there are al­ways trade­offs.”

Coated Op­tics

The coat­ing on a lens plays a key role in im­age clar­ity. Qual­ity binoc­u­lars al­ways have some form of lens coat­ing(s). The very best op­tics are fully multi-coated. “Multi-coated” means all glass sur­faces on the op­tic(s) in ques­tion have mul­ti­ple coat­ings to pre­vent them from los­ing or re­flect­ing light. Ob­vi­ously, more coat­ings are bet­ter, and all high-end binoc­u­lars have mul­ti­ple coat­ings. If you’re look­ing at op­tics that have been fully coated, that sim­ply means all air-to-glass sur­faces have been coated with at least one layer of coat­ing.

Fi­nal Thoughts

Pur­chas­ing binoc­u­lars or a spot­ting scope can seem in­tim­i­dat­ing. The in­for­ma­tion pre­sented here will help you make an ed­u­cated pur­chase next time you’re in the mar­ket for new op­tics. And re­mem­ber, spend as much as you can af­ford and take good care of your in­vest­ment. Do this, and you’ll only need to buy one pair of binoc­u­lars and one spot­ting scope in your life­time.

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