Which Binocular Magnification Is Better for Outdoorsmen?
- Robert Townsend
Binoculars are perhaps your most indispensable piece of wildlife watching equipment (with the possible exception, here in Ireland at least, of good waterproof gear). The right pair of binoculars can enhance your enjoyment of and engagement with the natural world exponentially. But choosing binoculars for birding and hunting can be a tricky proposition, especially when zoom levels or magnification, which is a technical aspect, matters. A general rule of thumb is to choose the right magnification for most purposes. So, which binocular magnification is better? It’s easy to find out, trust me! I’ll explain all these in this article.
Binocular Magnification Defined
Binoculars are identified by 2 numbers. The numbers on binoculars show magnification power and lens diameter. Magnification is the ratio of the apparent size of an object to its actual size and is therefore a pure number without units.
Assume that yours are 7 x 35 binoculars. It has a magnification power of 7. A magnification power of 7 means that an object will appear 7 times closer than it would to your unassisted eye. For example, if you view a deer that stands 200 yards away from you through 7x binoculars, it will appear as though it were 28.6 yards away (200 divided by 7). Be aware that binoculars with magnification powers greater than 10 amplify the movements of your hands, making steady viewing difficult.
Ideal Binocular Magnification for Hunting
The most desirable binoculars for hunting are often those with a lower magnification of 8x or 10x. Binoculars with a lower magnification are often favored for hunting for the following reasons:
- They provide a more stable and clearer image than binoculars with a higher magnification as they are less affected by slight hand movements which can blur and distort images.
- They provide a wide field of view which makes it easier to scope out targets that you wish magnify and view more closely.
- They provide a brighter image which is vital when hunting at dawn or dusk.
- They provide an optimal amount of eye relief, meaning that there is a large enough distance between your eye and the eyepiece to wear spectacles if needed.
Should You Always Go for Higher Magnification?
I say, “No, you shouldn’t.” Higher magnification has its bad forms too. Keep reading…
- It reduces brightness, all other things being equal.
- It decreases depth of field (the amount of the image, from near too far, that’s in sharp focus at any given point), which means you’ll find yourself fiddling with the focus dial more often to keep your subject sharp.
- It reduces your field of view, making it more difficult to find and follow your subject effectively.
- It accentuates hand-shake, making high magnification binoculars more difficult to hold steady. For many this hand-shake effect will negate any increase in detail delivered by the higher magnification, and without a support they experience a sharper image through lower power binoculars.
Why More Magnification Isn’t Always Better
The magnification rating tells you how much bigger the binocular will make things appear — or from a birder or wildlife enthusiasts’ perspective, how much closer the binocular will get you to your subject. People often jump to the immediate conclusion that higher magnification is better. Let’s quash that myth right now: it simply is not true!
While higher magnification will indeed bring things closer, and in theory will increase the amount of detail you see, it comes with a number of trade-offs that make high-power binoculars less than ideal for birding and wildlife observation.
Don’t Always Ignore Higher Magnification Either
Sometimes binoculars with a higher magnification strength may be a better option. To decide on the magnification of your binoculars for hunting, the best thing to do is consider where you will be using them most often.
- If you plan on using your hunting binoculars in wooded areas where targets will often be closer to you, and light levels will be lower, choose binoculars with a magnification of 8x or 10x; e.g. 8×42 or 10×42.
- If you will mainly be hunting in wide open spaces then you will need to be able to magnify potential targets more, and binoculars with a magnification of 10x or 12x will be more appropriate.
Binocular Magnification Comparison
Here’s a quick yet precise overview of different magnification levels and what to expect from them.
|Comparable Factors||7.5x||8x-10x||12x/+||Zoom Devices|
|Properties||Wide field of view
|Balanced image brightness, stability, and reach
|Field of view with lower depth
|Poor image quality
|Ideal for||Short distance viewing
Observing fast-moving creatures
People with difficulty holding the device steadily
|Birding and wildlife observation||Long-distance viewing
Experts and specialists
|Satisfactory for absolute beginners|
|Accessories required||No||No (Handheld)||Tripod or additional supports||No (Handheld)|
|Limitation||Not ideal for viewing the smallest details at a long distance||Not ideal for long-range viewing||Shaky images (for lack of supports)||Not suitable for viewing tiny creatures|
Binocular Magnification for Bird Watching
Birding is one of the two most common activities you would involve your binoculars in. Here’s a quick guide to choosing the right magnification for birding and general wildlife observation.
Optics with smaller magnifications may be ideal for casual birders who are interested in binoculars primarily for the backyard or in easier habitats. Smaller magnification may not show very subtle field marks as clearly, but the binoculars are generally less expensive. When birds aren’t too far away – such as approaching feeders – these smaller magnifications are ideal.
Optics with larger magnifications can bring birds very close, but the field of view is smaller and may make locating birds more challenging. Faint shaking from the hands or wind will also seem much greater with larger magnifications. Birders who visit broad habitats, however, such as open fields, mountain ridges or large lakes, will appreciate the stronger power to see birds at greater distances.
Magnification is, in no way, less critical and important a factor for wildlife enthusiasts and hunters. Understanding how magnification works and how it relates to other features such as lens width and exit pupil can help you to choose the perfect pair of binoculars for your hunting and birding purposes.