What to Look for in Binoculars—Depending on What You Want to Use Them For

Don’t let distance stop you from enjoying the best possible views.

Man looking out over landscape with binoculars
I see London, I see France (these are very powerful binoculars!)Pixabay/Greg Montani

Peeping Toms have given binoculars a somewhat checkered reputation, but they help make admiring something from a distance the next best thing to being right up close. Without them, bird watchers would have to find another hobby, and the cheap seats at sporting or theatre events would have even less value. Before you start magnifying your long-distance views with a pair of binoculars, you should pause to consider a few things. What will be your primary use for them? What level of magnification and what special features do you need? How do they accommodate eyewear? You’re almost ready to start seeing the faraway sights.

Vortex Optics Diamondback HD Binoculars
Fog-proof, waterproof and tripod-adaptable, it comes with an attractive harness for storage and protection.Vortex

The capability of a pair of binoculars is measured by two numbers. The first one is the level of magnification (for example: 8X for eight times); the second is the front lens diameter. The larger the diameter, the more light the lenses collect for higher resolution and a brighter image, but the trade-off is a heavier, bulkier pair of binoculars. High magnification is great for stargazing, but it can result in blurriness, while lower magnification provides a larger field of view and is less sensitive to hand movements The most common magnifications are 5X, 7X, 8X, 10X and 12X.

12x42 Powerful Binoculars with Clear Weak Light Vision - Lightweight (1.1 lbs.) Binoculars for Birds Watching Hunting Sports - Large Eyepiece Binoculars for Adults with BAK4 FMC Lens
Rubber armor makes it shock resistant, and it has an anti-slip grip for use in challenging environments.Adorrgon

For stadium sports and hiking, compact, wide-angle binoculars with a magnification of 7X to 10X are ideal, while musical events are best viewed with a 4X to 10X magnification and a lens diameter up to around 30 mm. For observing birds and wildlife, 8X42 is the gold standard, but you can go higher with magnification (10X or 12X) and diameter (42 to 50) for capturing details like bird feathers. Rubber armor and non-slip grips will come in handy when doing vigorous activities like hiking, and waterproof should be a high-priority feature if you’ll be using your binoculars for boating or marine activities.

Occer 12x25 Compact Binoculars with Low Light Night Vision, Large Eyepiece Waterproof Binocular for Adults & Kids,High Power Easy Focus Binoculars for Bird Watching,Outdoor Hunting,Travel,Sightseeing
At just 0.65 pounds, it travels easily, and can capture a scene that’s up to 273 feet wide.Occer

Eye relief is the distance between the eyepiece lenses at the rear of binoculars and your pupils. Most models have retracting eye cups that allow you to adjust the eye relief to accommodate eyeglasses and sunglasses, as well as the size and shape of your face. Since glasses increase the distance between the eyepiece lenses and your pupils, you’ll want binoculars with a maximum eye relief of at least 16 mm to allow for manipulating the distance to bring your eyeballs closer. You should set the adjustable cup to the minimum position while wearing eyewear. If it’s extended too far out, a thick, black ring will obscure part of the view.


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