STUDY UP AND BUY WISELY
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.”
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.”
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 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 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 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.”
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.
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.