best binoculars?
January 30, 2006 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Re: binoculars. What do I look for and what is the best for my money? We are hiking/mountaineering with kids.

We are ramping up for some serious hiking and exploring in the coming months. We have been hiking alot but I am always sad when the kids (my boys) miss being able to witness the occasional Golden Eagle, coyote, mountain lion or big horned sheep because we don't have field glasses/binoculars. What would be the best for us? Keep in mind that we will be visiting mountain tops with incredible long-range views. Looking at the moon and stars is good too! Thanks in advance.
posted by snsranch to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total)
From your description it sounds like magnification is important. These days you have some great options in image stabilizing optics. Otherwise stay at 12x or 10x. A wide field of view is nice at these powers but you will trade eye relief (how far you can hold them from your eyes). Everything is a trade-off. One recommendation, go with the more traditional looking porro-prism types. They lack the sex/snob appeal that roof prisms carry, but they are much cheaper and work equally as well and probably better. Small binoculars are nice for hiking but you give up light gathering capacity, which is especially noticeable with higher magnification. For inexpensive binoculars I recommend Swift - very good quality at reasonable prices. Nikon E series would be a nice step up and of course the sky is the limit with these things.
posted by caddis at 8:22 PM on January 30, 2006

See A better view desired

I have the Nikon Venturer LX 8x32 (gen 1) that he recommends and man they are incredible. The picture seems better than reality.


posted by ccoryell at 8:57 PM on January 30, 2006

Ditto odinsdream - but also, have a budget in mind - these things can get expensive!

Comparison of types available at your price point will yield a clear winner - You *do* get what you pay for, so Zeiss glass (T* designation) will run at around the $400+ mark second hand for example, but boy are they 'good' - at this pricepoint, they had better be though! I have a set of 10x42 that allows fantastic viewing, but the cost is huge.

I have been through a few pairs historically, before biting the bullet and buying 'expensive' - and I wish I had taken that decision earlier.

Some things to be aware of - if you wear glasses, ensure that you are immediately comfy with whichever set you favour - they should feel like your favourite item of clothing straight away; also, ensure that if you are prone to motion sickness in any way, that you 'try' using the favoured set for a period of time (standing in a store looking through a set for 5 minutes seems silly, but it's worth it) - there are sets available with image stabilisation that work wonderfully.

Final suggestion; what you're looking for, to compare and contrast sets, is brightness - the bigger the zoom factor, the harder it is to keep the image bright, and so distinct/visible - the break point will depend on your decision regarding proximity to subject - IE no use getting really bright small zoom if you're expecting to see things a way away.
posted by DrtyBlvd at 6:40 AM on January 31, 2006

after you've decided how much magnification you want to have, you want to carefully consider the ratio of the power to objective lens.

basically, when you see numbers such as 7x50 or 10x42, you're dealing with (power)x(objective lens diameter). the first number will determine how much larger what you see will appear to be-- 7x50 = an image that's 7x larger than what's seen with the naked eye.

the reason why the second number and ratio is important is because it determines the image's brightness. a larger lens diameter results in more light-gathering ability. you'll want to try to get something with a ratio of 5; the objective lens diameter should be 5 times greater than the power.

this can be difficult and costly when dealing with higher-power binoculars, since optic glass ain't cheap. do yrself a favor and save some money by getting a lower-power pair. not only will you find yrself using them more often because there's less eye/arm fatigue (high-power binocs are heavy and difficult to hold steady unless you splurge for image-stabilizing models), but you'll also be able to plunk down the bones for summin with a larger objective lens.

i can't recall exactly, but there's a ratio where the amount of light gathered means yr lookin at an image that's _brighter_ than what's seen with the naked eye. i think that number is 4 or 5. whatever the case is, get summin bright! WOO!

in relation to yr purposes: i dunno how old yr kids are, but i'd still go with the lower-power specs. it can be difficult to try to get someone to see what you see when you pass off high-power binoculars, because the field of view is comparatively smaller. also, depending on where you're at, a brighter image will allow you to appreciate the sky better than a more magnified one. of course, this all depends on what yr lookin at. 8P
posted by herrdoktor at 9:04 AM on January 31, 2006

whoops. here's summore info from the wikipedia entry for binoculars:
Of particular relevance for low-light and astronomical viewing, as against astrophotography, is the ratio between magnifying power and objective lens diameter. Binoculars concentrate the light gathered by the objective into a beam, the exit pupil whose diameter is the objective diameter divided by the magnifying power. For maximum effective light-gathering and brightest image, the exit pupil should equal the diameter of the fully dilated human eye—about 7mm, reducing with age. Light gathered by a larger exit pupil is wasted. However, for viewing stars and small astronomical objects, a large exit pupil will mostly image the night sky background, effectively decreasing contrast, making the detection of faint objects more difficult except perhaps in remote locations with negligible light pollution. A large exit pupil facilitates viewing larger objects such as nearby galaxies, though. The current trend favours models with 5mm exit pupil, such as 10x50, or 8x40; 7x50 is falling out of favour. For daytime use an exit pupil of 3mm—matching the eye's contracted pupil—is sufficient.

best of luck!
posted by herrdoktor at 9:22 AM on January 31, 2006

The Swift Audubons are a pretty good compromise for general viewing, targeted obviously at bird watchers, with excellent quality for the price. The unusual 8.5 magnification is "just right" for a lot of stuff where the standard 7 and 10 are like Mama and Papa Bear's binoculars.

Incidentally, contrary to the review I linked the Audubons are not comparable to Swarovskis. My wife has a pair of Swarovskis and they make the Swifts look like plastic opera glasses by comparison. But they also cost more than five times as much as the Audubons.
posted by localroger at 10:59 AM on January 31, 2006

Most binoculars will not fit children. I don't know the technical terms, but if you have a small face you have to make sure the eyepieces are super-adjustable, because the distance between your pupils is smaller than most adults - and most adult bins.

I have a pair of Nikon SportsStar 10x25s. Each eyepiece moves independently, so they will move close enough together for me. This pair is also water resistant, has great pop-up eye relief, and is very compact. Got them at REI for about $70.

Also, Bushnell sells inexpensive bins at most sporting goods stores. Not great optics, but good enough for kids and casual use.
posted by shifafa at 11:43 AM on January 31, 2006

Another thing you may want to consider, if you're hiking and backpacking with binos, is weight. Our first pair of birding binos is similar to these. The image quality is good, but they're very light. We recently bought a pair of Brunton Epochs that have fantastic image quality and brightness, but are much heavier.
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:35 PM on January 31, 2006

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