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Advice for Binoculars

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Old Monday 3rd June 2019, 23:50   #1
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Advice for Binoculars

Hi All, total noob here. We have a TON of bird activity in our Arizona backyard and my wife has gotten into this with books, apps, etc. Through our back window there's a ton to see just 25-30 feet away sometimes. Her birthday is around the corner and bins are an obvious one. My budget looks like it fits Nikon Monarch 5's, around $300USD. She's tiny, so lightweight glass is a bit of a factor. It's sunny 320 days a year and the sun is nuclear bright in Phoenix (sunglasses aren't fashion, they're a medical necessity). So would 8x42 suffice? I see 8x56's that are almost double the weight, and I'm too ignorant to know what the 56 would gain her, but I THINK it's brightness. I know this is very subjective and 45 other brands and types can be suggested, but right now I'm in a "pick one and start with that" stage. We can add on later.

Or do I go 10x42? Closer the better?

Thanks in advance!

Last edited by PaulieDC : Tuesday 4th June 2019 at 00:02.
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Old Tuesday 4th June 2019, 00:44   #2
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Hi Paul

What 8x56 would give her is a larger "exit pupil" than 8x42.

56/8 = 7, so 7mm exit pupil
42/8 = 5.2, so. 5.25mm exit pupil.

Larger pupils do indeed mean a brighter image, but to take advantage of a 7mm exit pupil, she'd need her own pupil to dilate as much, and normally, only young people can reach 7mm (and that's only at night/dawn/dusk). Binoculars with aperture of 56mm (or anything bigger than 44mm) are more suited for astronomy than for birding. For birding, stick to apertures between 30mm and 42mm.

If she is indeed tiny, maybe she'd end up preferring the smaller apertures (smaller than even 42mm). For example: 8x32, 7x35, and 6.5x32 are smaller and quite lighter, and still perfectly suited for birding.

If she needs prescription glasses for far sight (myopia, astigmatism), it's best to get her binos that can be used along with her glasses (instead of taking glasses off and on and off and on again, which is really terrible for birding). This translates to a requirement of "long eye relief", 19mm or longer. This made a huge difference in my case when I upgraded.

If she has unsteady hands, she might benefit from a little lower magnification. 7x and 6.5x make hand shakes less visible/bothersome, and also have the advantage of more depth of field (more of the view is in focus, requiring less focuser operation overall, which means easier to use).

Waterproof and fogproof are a necessity for birding in cold or humid conditions (like forests).

Close focus (the minimum distance at which you can still see stuff) is important for birding. Many people consider 2m to be the largest close focus they can tolerate. For me personally the limit is somewhere between 3m and 4m. Any binocular with close focus larger than 4m should be discarded. (Also, obviously avoid the "autofocus" "fixed focus" "no wheel" binos).

A potential problem is that if her face is narrow, many binoculars won't fit her. The spec is called "Inter Pupillary Distance", and many single hinge roof binos have a minimum IPD that won't fit small faces. You can measure her IPD, but that might spoil the surprise.

It is generally advised that people try before they buy, but if it's a birthday gift you might as well just take the risk for the sake of surprise, just go for a store that makes returns/changes easy if a problem arises.

If she is good with technology, and doesn't own a superzoom "bridge" camera, and you think she might like taking pictures of birds, then a camera could be on the horizon (or be an alternative gift). You can get decent superzoom cameras a "to get started" for <$300 that can go to 40x optical zoom and beyond, and they work well under bright/sunny conditions (see my gallery here for examples).

Farther in the future, a birding trip to South America could be quite the gift. You can start saving now :)

Last edited by Adun : Tuesday 4th June 2019 at 01:01.
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Old Tuesday 4th June 2019, 07:00   #3
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Wow, I had no idea of all the parameters, what a fantastic answer! Thank you so much for taking the time to provide all that, REALLY appreciate it.

Still cracking up over “start saving now”, lol... ��
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 02:02   #4
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I'd echo a few things Adun said: if she is tiny, x30 or x32 is probably better for her due to weight, and if her hands are not steady 7x is better.

Another thing to consider is if you have a nice window out to the back, you might consider a tripod for binoculars or a spotting scope. Having a stand makes it much easier to watch for extended periods of time. Holding bins up to your face can get tiring pretty quickly, especially if you don't have good form or have heavy glass.

My girlfriend really likes the Opticron Discovery 7x42 (US$250). They are 690g, but balance out pretty well. She uses a Vortex binocular harness with them.

The Nikon Monarch 5 8x42 (590g) is also a decent option, but personally I'm not a fan of the 5. The Monarch 7 8x30 (435g, US$375) is better and much lighter.

Buying binoculars is like buying sunglasses or getting fitted for glasses. You need to try a few of them. How they handle and fit one's face is very important. Your best bed, as Adun suggested, is to go to a store and buy them there or order 3 - 4 and return them (Amazon, B&H, Adorama, OpticsPlanet are all good for returns). Also, specific binocular models are important as quality can vary widely within a brand.

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