You’re on a hike and out in the distant forest, you hear an echoing pecking sound. You quickly reach for your binoculars and think you see a Pileated Woodpecker excavating a tree cavity.
Bird watching requires a good set of bins with an appropriate magnification, the right lens size, good eye relief, and image quality.
So, what strength binocular exactly will you need?
You need binoculars with a strength of 7x to 10x magnification for bird watching and a lens size of about five times the zoom. Everyone has their preferences, but a good pair at 8×40 strength is ideal for most birders.
What Magnification of Binoculars Do You Need for Bird Watching?
The right magnification level for birdwatching depends on the scenario. You might be tempted to choose the highest level possible, but that’s not always the best strategy.
Most bird watchers choose binoculars with 7x to 10x magnification, like the 8x Hontry 8010G.
Those within this range have enough zoom to bring distant birds into view without losing a wide field of vision. If there’s too much zoom, you’ll be so focused on one spot that you’ll lose context.
What Lens Size Do You Need in Bird Watching Binoculars?
When you’re shopping for birdwatching binoculars, you’ll find that each one has two identifying numbers:
- The magnification
- The objective lens size
For example, a pair of 7×35 (seven by thirty-five) binoculars have a magnification of 7 feet (2.13 meters) and a lens size of 35 millimeters (1.38 inches).
The objective lens size tells you how much light the binoculars will let in.
Larger numbers let in more light and make the image appear brighter, and the bigger the objective lens, the better they’ll be for low light conditions like dark woods and overcast days.
Ideally, the ratio of the lens size to the magnification strength should be 5 to 1.
The ratio of the magnification by the size of the objective lens is also called the exit pupil and is related to the width of the beam of light that enters the eye.
Eye Relief and Eyeglass Friendliness in Binoculars
Eye relief is the distance in millimeters between the eyepiece and the eye at the point where the exit pupil comes to a focus, which is the point where the image comes into focus.
Eye relief should be between 10mm and 15mm (0.39in and 0.59in) for ideal comfort and viewing but may need to be more to accommodate glasses.
Many binoculars come with eyecups for shading, which can get in the way of viewing for eyeglass wearers. For ideal eye relief, you’ll want to find one with retractable eyecups, like the Aurosports 12×25.
Bird Watching Binoculars and Image Quality
The image quality of a set of binoculars has a lot to do with the chemical coatings on the lens surfaces, which are in place for several reasons.
One, to prevent water from sheeting on the surface, and two, to make the lenses easier to clean. The coatings also prevent light from reflecting off the surface.
The effect on color quality can be observed by pointing the lens at an artificial light and noticing whether the reflections appear green, purple, or yellow.
Some coatings have less impact on color than others, and high-quality lenses have coated lenses that still provide an image quality true to reality.
Top Bird Watching Binoculars in 2021
The best birdwatching binoculars have an appropriate magnification strength, a clear image, and accurate color representation.
The top pair on the market has all of these qualities, as well as fog and waterproof technologies.
Celestron Nature DX 8×42
Celestron is known as a producer of telescopes and many high-quality binoculars. This pair is particularly high quality, with a close focus of about 6.5 feet (1.98 meters) and a wide-field view of 388 feet.
These are also fog and waterproof, with rubber armor to protect them from damage.
The Celestron Nature DX 8×42 binoculars have an eye relief of 18 millimeters (0.71 inches), which is great for eyeglass wearers.
Although this pair is a bit heavy and bulky, they’re exceptionally powerful and comfortable to use.
Occer 12×25 Compact Binoculars
These Occer 12×25 binoculars offer great quality for their price and are very compact and lightweight.
The image quality is sharp and accurate, although the field of view is a bit more narrow than others, at 273 feet (83.21 meters).
Carl Zeiss Conquest 10×42 HD Binoculars
These Conquest binoculars are one of the most expensive ones on the market, but they’re also rugged, high quality, and have a lifetime warranty.
They have great image quality and have a wide field of view at 345 feet (105.16 meters). The eye relief is adjustable, balancing at about 18 mm (0.71 in), making them a good choice for eyeglass wearers.
These bins have great low light performance due to their high definition light transmission and have outer coatings that shed water.
Wingspan SkyView 8×42 Birding Binoculars
The Wingspan SkyView binoculars have an ideal magnification level for most birders, plus a great ratio between zoom level and lens size.
They are both lightweight, durable, and fog/waterproof. The pair is also sold with a carrying case, lens covers, and a microfiber cleaning cloth.
Finding the Right Bird Watching Binoculars for You
When you’re looking for a pair of bird watching binoculars, you’ll need to take some time to try out different models before making a decision.
Everyone’s hands, face shape, and focus style are different, and you need to make sure that you find one that suits you.
Set a clear and strict budget before you start shopping because there are great options at every price level, and you need to find the best value for you.
How To Use Bird Watching Binoculars
Knowing how to use your birdwatching binoculars is as important as finding a good one, as it allows you to make the most of the equipment that you have so you don’t miss an extraordinary bird sighting.
Bring Your Binoculars Into Focus
Every time you go birding to a new site, you’ll need to refocus your binoculars according to your distance from the birds you’re watching.
To focus them appropriately, follow these steps:
- Adjust the distance between the binocular barrels so that your view is a perfect circle with no visible black edges.
- Find an object to focus on, like a street sign, overhead wire, or a tree branch, and turn the central focus wheel with both eyes open until the object comes into focus.
- Look through them with one eye, adjust the fine focus wheel, and then look and focus again with the second eye.
- Repeat with small adjustments until the bins come fully into focus.
Point Your Binoculars Towards the Birds
It can be surprisingly hard to point your binoculars directly at a small bird, even when it’s sitting still.
Follow these guidelines to make sure you don’t miss a sight:
- Look with your naked eyes first, and lock your eyes on the bird, then bring your binoculars up to your eyes and into alignment.
- Look for a landmark near the bird, such as a brightly colored leaf or a notch in the tree. Then look through them for this landmark.
- Scan tree lines, fences, hedgerows, and mudflats, as well as any other perches where birds are likely to be.
- Scan the sky at a low angle, focusing first on a distant treetop and then moving right or left on the horizon.
- If you do find a bird, scan nearby to look for other birds that might be in its company.
Clean Your Binoculars
Cleaning your binoculars is very important in that you clean them the right way; otherwise, you can cause scratches on the glass or lens coating, reducing the clarity of the image your pair provides.
The best way to clean your bins is to follow these steps:
- Use either compressed air or a soft brush to remove dust, dirt and other particles.
- Dip a lens cloth into a cleaning solution, such as this Eclipse Optic Cleaning Fluid, made for use with coated lenses.
- Wipe the lenses softly with the wet cloth.
- Use a dry part of the lens cloth to dry the lenses.
- Hold the binoculars in the light to check for smears and smudges.
- Repeat the cleaning process as necessary.
You’ll need a good pair of binoculars for bird watching, and finding the right model may take a bit of trial and error.
Find a pair with the appropriate magnification and lens size for your needs, as well as any additional features you might need, like fog and waterproof technologies.