BEGINNERS GUIDE TO BUYING BINOCULARS Your quick guide to the anatomy of a birdwatchers’ best friend There’s a bewildering array of binoculars on the market these days, but the good news is that even many of the cheapest models are now capable of great performance. So what should you be looking for when you buy? Our quick guide to buying binoculars tells you what to look for when you test a prospective purchase (always try the actual pair, not just the model, that you’re planning to buy), and what some of the jargon used to describe binoculars means. And always remember, it’s about what suits you – everybody’s eyes are different, so don’t just rely on the technical specifications. COMFORT No matter how good the optics, you need binoculars you feel comfortable using for extended periods. Check the eyecups are comfortable, the barrels and focus wheel are easy to grip, that they’re not too heavy to hold steady or carry for long periods, and that they hang flat against your body. FOCUSING Check that the focus wheel travels smoothly, as well as how stiffly it travels and how many turns it takes from close focus to infinity – in the field, you’ll want to be able to find focus quickly. OBJECTIVE LENSES The bigger these are, the brighter the image produced. Their diameter, in millimetres, is stated in the binoculars’ designation; for example, 8x42 binoculars have 42mm objective lenses. DIOPTRE ADJUSTMENT Located on the focus wheel or one of the barrels, this compensates for differences between your two eyes, check it sets easily, and crucially that it will stay in place while in use. POWER Binocular designations’ initial figures describe the magnification provided by the prisms in the barrels; 8x42 binoculars, then, magnify images by 8 times. The higher it is, though, the narrower the view, and the more any movement of the bins will be noticed. EYECUPS OPEN & CLOSED BRIDGE DESIGNS Open-bridge designs (such as the binoculars on the immediate right in this panel) can be easier to grip and handle securely, and may also be lighter, although other factors such as the size and quality of lenses also comes into play here. The familiar closed-bridge design (far right), may suit many users better, though, depending on hand size. Nearly all, these days, twist up to several positions to suit all users – the quoted ‘eye relief’ figure is how far out they’ll twist. Glasses wearers will need them pushed fully down. Check that they stay in position while in use.
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