How to pick the right binoculars as a gift for the holiday season

CHENANGO COUNTY – As the holiday season is getting more intense, the idea of giving someone a pair of binoculars may become a reality. Binoculars make a great gift for a wide range of people.

Hunters can use them to get a better look at deer or other animals from a distance. People with bird feeders in their backyard can use them to get a close up view of the birds that come to eat. Some people who live in the country like to have a pair around in case they see something in the yard or out in a field they want to look at more in depth. Giving a child/young adult a pair can help promote outdoor physical activity instead of sitting inside watching TV or playing video games.

There are a few considerations to keep in mind when shopping for a pair of binoculars for someone else, or even yourself. I would say the first thing to know is about how much you want to spend on them. The optics world has made great improvements and good quality binoculars can be found for a pretty reasonable price (under $200 easily).

The next thing to think about is what exactly are they going to use them for. If they are just watching birds in their backyard then they might not need a very high magnification since the feeders are likely close to their viewing location. They also might not be as concerned with having a slightly heavier pair of binoculars since they aren’t going to have to carry them around with them. Hunters may want a high magnification so that what they are looking at appears closer in the binoculars and will be more likely to want lighter binoculars.

When looking at binoculars you will see a couple of numbers, such as 8x42 or 10x 50. These numbers are the magnification and the objective lens diameter. Binoculars come in three fixed magnifications generally, 8x, 10x, and 12x.

There are some binoculars with adjustable magnification. An 8x magnification is less than 10x so the view through the 8x looks farther away than in the 10x. If you plan on using the binoculars for close distance like backyard viewing or in heavy brush/cover in the woods, the 8x allows you to see better without zooming too much and making it hard to locate what you are looking at.

Open country viewing such as across large fields will be where the 10x and 12x magnifications are better. The objective lens diameter influences the clarity of the image and the light gathering capability of the binoculars. A larger objective lens will allow for more light gathering during low-light conditions, such as dawn and dusk.

A general rule for good clarity through your binoculars is to take the objective lens diameter and divide it by the magnification and have the result be 4 or greater. This is called the exit pupil. For example, an 8x42 pair of binoculars would have a 5.25 exit pupil. The larger the objective diameter, generally the larger the binoculars will be resulting in heavier binoculars.

The last factor in the size of the binoculars would be the prism system the binoculars use. There are two styles, porro-prism and roof-prism. Porro-prism binoculars have the objective lenses wider than the eyepieces and use angular internal lenses to make the view match up to the eyepieces. Roof-prism binoculars have objective lenses that are in line with the eyepieces. This makes them a little lighter than the porro-prism style.

As it is with shoes or clothes, the best thing to do is go someplace where you can try them out. I have tried ordering binoculars from “big box” stores online only to them show up with the lenses misaligned from damage during shipping.

After sending two pair of the same binocular back, one after the other, I quit buying optics over the internet. I always try them out in store so I know they are working correctly before I leave with them.

Another great purchase is the shoulder harness that makes it so the binoculars are held close to your chest and don’t dangle down if you bend over. They also take the stress off your neck from using the supplied strap with the binoculars and get them out of the way if you are trying to shoot a bow or firearm, or to have your arms free while walking or hiking.

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