Compact Binoculars Buying Guide for the Right Pair
- Robert Townsend
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Compact binoculars are an ideal companion for people who need to keep a far eye out. They are lightweight and easy to carry. One of the special parts of your outdoor gear, it is important to know more about them first. Since so many variations and models exist, price, quality and features widely range. It helps therefore to own a detailed compact binoculars buying guide to ease decision making. With one in hand, you are sure to make the best of your shopping time and satisfy your specific need.
While outdoors, the basic factors you consider are normal locomotion and the size of your pack. Walking long distances as required by your trip would be a drag if your bag is bulky and your tools heavy. Compact binoculars satisfy both, allowing you to focus on the mission at hand- be it recreational or research. They combine comfort with functionality in such a way that is hard to ignore.
As activities requiring the use of long range vision devices are numerous, so are the varieties of compact binoculars. The choice you make depends on the intended use, work environment and the frequency of use. So, you need to learn the tricks on how to choose the right compact binoculars.
So many factors need to be considered before purchasing compact binoculars. Some of these include functionality, design, lens specifications and of course, price. With so much detail to analyze before paying, one might get overwhelmed and cave, picking the first item in sight. Having the right guide helps one filter through these factors, arriving at the most preferred option. This pays off, most especially if you are on a budget.
Compact binoculars buying guide
People look out for different things in compact binoculars. Some bother about field of view. Others might focus on the magnifying power of the various models. Size, weight and durability are the subjects of dilemma to certain buyers. And a great majority may think about the price ranges, as many will consider if they are getting their money’s worth.
Using this guide, choosing the right compact binoculars become a breeze. With it, attention is properly directed at the elements that really matter when hoping to select the best device. As a shopper trying to decide what model of compact binoculars to go home with, ask yourself the following questions;
- Why do you look for a compact pair?
- Which prism style do you need/want?
- Which preferences do you want met?
- How would you handle the limitations of your compact pair?
- How much do you want to pay?
- Which chassis materials and protective properties do you want?
Why do you look for a compact pair?
The first step to knowing how to choose compact binoculars is asking why you want one. Of course, there are other options for long range viewing but why compact binoculars specifically? It’s simple- their compact size is ideal for activities that require spending lots of time looking through the lens. Let us go through a few of them and see why the compact design suits these purposes.
Being lightweight, compact lenses are ideal for those engaged in outdoor pursuits like backpacking, cycling, mountaineering, skiing, canoeing, hunting and many others. These and many other similar activities require you get a good view of the terrain. Surely, the experience becomes more enjoyable when your binoculars are not large and bulky.
They also serve fantastic applications in the hands of those who prefer to view sports, rather than engaging in them. Sitting at a tennis court or a race track, you can enhance your view with zero strain to the arms, and if one does not want to depend on the large display screens, your compact binoculars can take their place.
Nature lovers also benefit from using compact binoculars. Knowing you can whip out your binoculars easily to catch a sight of an exotic bird is a comfortable feeling. On long field trips, you’ll appreciate the portability as you hike through the woods in search of specimen to observe. It’s also nice to know you don’t need extra space for them in your bag- your neck will do!
At concerts, theatres and operas, you can also make use of these devices. You can get a good view of the performances and happenings. You can even observe the arena around you, perhaps to catch a glimpse of who’s who around you. Nobody will even know you brought binoculars to the concert because they can fit in your bag or purse.
If you’re a travel enthusiast and you wish to go with binoculars, these are the best equipment for you. Small, lightweight and easy to tuck away, they can be carried around for as long as you wish. Getting a closer view of monuments, paintings, sculptures, skylines and other interesting sights on tour becomes easier. Plus, some are so stylish, they go with the vogue.
Which prism style do you need/want?
Your choice of compact binoculars must also base on the type of prism you prefer. Basically, there are types of compact binoculars- roof prism and porro prism binoculars. The type of prism used in compact binoculars determines the design, shape and overall physical appearance. This affects its handling as well, which might also be a deciding factor in choosing the right equipment.
Roof prism compact binoculars have a straight line alignment of the eyepiece and the lens. This line arrangement of the glass elements gives roof prism compact binoculars a more compact and streamlined design and shape. This is a huge plus in handling as well as portability for roof prism compact binoculars. Such alignment allows the development of foldable versions, giving it space-saving advantage.
In porro prism compact binoculars, the eyepiece and the lens are not arranged in a straight line. The glass elements are offset from one another, giving more optical efficiency than roof prism compact binoculars. This is also why porro prism compact binoculars tend to have chunkier shape and design. However, it is compensated for by wider field of view and greater depth capacity.
Roof prism compact binoculars are a good choice for handling comfort as their alignment gives them a more portable advantage. They are also ideal for those most concerned about compactness. Plus, their fixed alignment design reduces frequent need to realign their elements for collimation. But the porro prism compact binoculars lead in terms of range. Their double porro prism technique of alignment gives these equipments higher optical advantages.
Which preferences do you want met?
Typically, compact binoculars are made up of two sets of glass elements; the eyepieces and the objective lenses. The eyepiece is the element through which the user looks, while the objective lens picks up the target object. The latter achieves this by gathering and focusing light while the former magnifies the image size. This distance between the eyepiece and the image created by the objective lenses determines the magnification property of the binoculars.
These two properties work together to create closer view of an image in the compact binoculars. However, this does not suggest that all compact binoculars are the same. Other properties need to be considered before purchasing one as they collectively determine the functional qualities of the equipment. To learn how to choose compact binoculars, you might need to take the following features into consideration;
This refers to how large the image appears through the compact binoculars in comparison with your naked eye. You would need to go after equipment with magnification suited for the intended use. To ace this, you observe the identification numbers on the compact binoculars. For example, 10 on equipment with number 10×26 is its magnification power. Objects viewed with this will be 10 times closer than to naked eye.
Basically, compact binoculars range from 6× to 10× in magnification. Lower ranges produce more stable images and are suitable for sports, sightseeing and concerts. However, if you plan on spending time viewing larger terrains, you might want to consider compact binoculars of 8× to10×. Birdwatchers, hikers and hunters fall in this category.
What about zoom binoculars?
These compact binoculars come with adjustable magnification power, so they tend to have multiple magnifications. Equipment number 7-10×27 indicates 7× as the lowest and 10× as the highest magnification ranges respectively. Adjustment can be done by means of a wheel or lever close to the thumb. This allows you to manipulate magnification power without dropping the sight.
Zoom binoculars give you the option of purchasing one equipment with several ranges of magnification power. This could be a plus, as it allows user to adjust the power to meet his need. But it tends to sacrifice sharpness for this, as further adjusting of magnification tends to degrade image quality.
It may be considered for short-term bird watching, sightseeing and theaters. However, users that require higher brightness, sharpness and optical efficiency might want to avoid it altogether.
The second number on the casing refers to the diameter of the objective lenses, usually in millimeters. Using the above casing number as example, shows that the objective lenses of the compact binoculars are 27mm wide. The size of the objective lens also affects image formation. Larger objective lenses produce clearer images than smaller ones, as they permit more light.
However, the size automatically influences the overall size and weight of the compact binoculars. This is because objective lenses are the larger portions of the optic elements. Therefore, going for compact binoculars with higher image quality might mean coping with a little more bulkiness.
Generally, compact binoculars use objective lenses less than 30mm, making choosing the right blend between objective lenses and magnification power easier. For instance, Bird viewing requires holding the equipment steady for long time. So, one of say, 8×23 would give the needed quality one without the extra steady effort an 8×25 requires. For sports viewing, lenses around 25mm to 28mm are okay. Hikers and hunters might require 28mm or higher.
Angles of view
This refers to the maximum view you are capable of seeing through the compact binoculars. This is expressed in degrees and 1 degree of angular view equals 52.5 feet at 1000 yards. Knowing the angle of view on a compact binocular helps decide if the equipment selected will suit the intended purpose.
Nature viewing and outdoor activities might require a larger angle of view, as might sports or concerts. Sightseeing might as well, though not necessarily as high as bird watching or hiking. It is advised to go after the device which you feel would provide the most convenient angle of view.
Field of view
Knowing how to choose compact binoculars also rests on understanding what the field of view is. It refers to the diameter of the circular viewing region or field of the equipment. The field of view is measured in feet or meters, at a distance of 1000 yards or meters respectively.
Compact binoculars with higher magnification tend to have lower field of view, though images stand out better. Such binoculars are usually also smaller as the lower field of view tends to indicate smaller objective lenses.
Lower field of view also means sharper view. However, tracking objects becomes more difficult in this case. And while focus is lower in compact binoculars with higher field of view, they are better for viewing moving targets. So, the trick is to find a balance between magnification and field of view.
Compact binoculars with moderately wider fields of view suit uses in large terrain, such as hunting and hiking. It also favors theater goers and sports fans. For observing targets that are usually still, you might need to go for compact binoculars with narrow field of view. For certain kinds of bird watching, as well as sightseeing on tours, this might be the most suitable option.
On the eyepiece, there is a small spot of light. You can observe it by holding the compact binoculars at arm’s length. That is called the exit pupil. This small light is focused on the eye when viewing through the lens, allowing you to see the object in focus.
The size of the exit pupil of a compact binocular depends on the diameter of the objective lenses and magnification. However, compact binocular exit pupils must be larger than those of your eyes for better vision.
To determine the exit pupil of a selected pair of compact binoculars, divide the value of the objective lens by the magnification. Larger values equal better vision. The average human eye pupil has a range of 1.5 mm in bright conditions to 8 mm in dim conditions. So, if equipment has an exit pupil of 4mm and above, that means image viewing would be more comfortable.
Hence, those who are concerned with getting clearer images should focus on larger exit pupils. This of course means lower magnification but at least images would appear crispier. Birders would benefit more from larger exit pupils. Sightseers should as well, though they could go for something slightly lower to avoid needing larger objective lenses.
This refers to how far your eyes can be from the binocular eyepieces and still see a full view. This is important to note as it determines whether or not you will experience eye strain when using the binoculars.
In some models, eyecups are present around the eyepieces. Some are pre-adjusted to the optimal eye relief while others are adjustable. There are models with dioptric adjustments on one of the eyepieces to suit those wish to take their glasses off.
Longer eye relief is generally suitable, especially if the user wears glasses. Such people will require eye relief 15mm or higher. However, compact binoculars with longer eye relief tend to have smaller field of view. So, pick one with eye relief most suitable for you and has widest field of view.
It is important as well to compare the type of focusing system of compact binoculars. This greatly determines how easily adjusting views become to you. It also helps to avoid struggling with operating the equipment, especially for new users.
Most binoculars employ a focusing system that achieves central focus. This system may adjust the focus internally via the lens or external through the eyepiece. Others possess focusing mechanisms on each eyepiece, allowing individual focusing of each lens.
Some compact binoculars possess mechanisms that allow alternating between the coarse and fine adjustment by changing the speed of turning the knob. This system might take a little more practice to get used to though.
Then there are the fixed focus or focus free binoculars. These possess no focusing mechanisms. The adjustments are fixed from their point of development.
The choice between which type of focusing system you might go for requires you consider whether you prefer adjusting focus or not. Those who deal in detailed viewing might want to go for those with adjustable focus. They type used now depends on the task and how much detail you wish to observe.
Sports viewing and sightseeing might not require adjustable focusing, fixed models will do. Hunting and bird watching may be best practiced with adjustable compact binoculars. Those with fine and coarse adjustments even sound better for the latter. Also bear in mind the position of the adjustment knob as this eases usage. Smoothness and easiness of the system must also be taken, so as to avoid rigid or stiff mechanisms.
Optical coatings are done for many purposes. This is important in developing compact binoculars and is just as important in deciding which to choose. The quality thickness of the coatings can determine the amount of brightness it permits. The quality of light transmission can also enhance the performance levels of the compact binoculars.
Compact binocular lenses may be coated, fully coated, multi-coated and fully-multi coated optics. These reduce the amount of light lost due to reflection on the lens. The type of lens coating influence optical quality of the equipment. Fully-multi coated optics are the most advanced and efficient, though multi-coated optics are a close substitute. Both are able to cut out UV rays from light, minimizing any possible eye strain.
Coatings can also be done on the prisms to complement lens coatings. The combination of both can affect the color saturation, color fidelity and contrast levels of the image in view. The type of coating also contributes to the quality of these as well. In roof prism compact binoculars, coatings are applied to correct phase shift common to the technology.
Mirror coatings are also applied to improve light transmission. They may come as aluminium, silver or dielectric mirror coatings. The third type possesses the highest light transmission capacity. Other coatings applied to compact binocular glass surfaces are protective coatings on outer lenses. These protect the inner coatings from abrasion and also repel water and grease.
Fully-multi coated and multi coated compact binoculars are the most efficient. In roof prism compact binoculars, those with phase corrected coatings are highly recommended. Look out for the models with silver mirror coatings, though aluminium mirror coatings are also quite manageable. Coated compact binoculars are applicable for activities of little observation, like shopping while fully coated can still serve sightseeing purposes.
The form and design of compact binoculars might also peak your interest. The type of prism used, focusing mechanism and size of objective lens can determine how the compact binoculars shape up.
Regardless of the type of compact binocular you decide to go for, keep durability of equipment in mind. The nature and strength of the casing needs to be put into consideration, especially if the equipment will be frequently used and carried around. Never underplay the possibility of physical and chemical damages during use and what type housing material will be most protective to your equipment.
How can you handle the limitations of your compact pair?
Though compact binoculars display these amazing features, a lot of people have certain complaints. These compact equipment comes with their drawbacks which might make you want to reconsider purchasing one. The major cons most users have spoken up about are not very good resolution and brightness, eye fatigue, and lack of steadiness. Do not lose hope yet as these demerits can be easily managed once you get to understand them.
Not very good resolution and brightness
Many complain that the brightness and resolution of compact lenses are not very good. Unfortunately, the small size of the front lenses has limited resolution capacity. This makes viewed images look less as crisp as they would in the larger binoculars. This is also why compact lenses might not appear bright. But this has more to do with the lens quality than the actual size.
Regardless of the size, compact binoculars with higher lens quality will trump large binoculars at an even lesser price. They can even provide the same level of brightness. It just does not seem so because obviously, the field of view is lesser compared to larger binoculars. In order to avoid this, go for products with high quality lenses.
This comes from viewing through smaller exit pupils, usually as a result of the smaller objective lenses on compact binoculars. To correct this, you have to carefully set the adjustments for the width between the barrels. Alignment between your eyes and the exit pupil can be corrected when this is done.
Lack of steadiness
The small size and light weight properties of compact binoculars make them more difficult to hold them steady while using. To avoid this problem, you should go for compact binoculars with 10× as they are much easier to steady. If you prefer to use 10× compact binoculars, you might have to brace it against some sort of support.
How much do you want to pay?
For many, this is the major deciding factor for purchasing an item and it is no different for compact binoculars. Quality of the equipment you want to purchase will rest on how much you are willing to part with. And though they might seem expensive, the higher qualities are usually worth every penny.
Of course, there are very affordable models for as cheap as $18 to $30 but these usually have poor performance. You might even find viewing in lower light conditions tedious. If you want better experience, mid-budget compact binoculars available at the ranges of $80 to $100 with satisfactory features. For those who do not mind spending a lot, high end compact binoculars ranging from $300 and above are available.
Combining your feature preferences with the price ranges can help you work around your preplanned budget.
Which chassis material and protective properties to choose?
Also an important feature to look out for is the frame of the compact binoculars. The type of material the chassis of your compact binoculars are made of accounts for its protective and resistance factors. There are three types.
The most popular and affordable material is this. It is strong, lightweight and has corrosion resistant properties.
This comes with a high strength-to-weight ratio. It is also corrosion resistant.
It’s a material that is strong, easy to work with and corrosion resistant. It also has the advantage of being resistant to temperature.
All three materials are similar in certain ways. However, durability will vary between those manufactured with aluminium chassis and those of magnesium frames. This is because magnesium chassis are stronger and lighter than aluminium alloys, making up for the extra cost. But both alloys are subject to temperature changes which may affect handling in extreme weather conditions. This is where polycarbonate chassis are most ideal.
One also has to consider whether the choice of compact binoculars can withstand environmental attacks in general. Water resistance, weatherproof and fog proof make the difference between an all-terrain pair of compact binoculars and a one-use only model.
Water-resistance becomes an important feature to look out for if you would be spending lots of time in environments that expose equipments to water. This feature ensures your equipment cannot get invaded by water. Some brands employ O rings to seal them from moisture. Take note of the IPX standard to determine how far the equipment can be submerged in water. IPX 8 and above are very waterproof.
These features are set to make sure the compact binoculars can be operated in generally humid conditions. Sometimes, gaskets are employed to keep moisture out. Compact binoculars with weatherproof specifications can be used in most humid conditions without having fogging issues.
Fog proof design
Some compact binoculars are designed to be fog proof. This is usually achieved by making the lenses fog resistant through coating. Sometimes, dry gas, such as nitrogen is used to charge the body, protecting the compact binoculars both inside and out. Fog proof compact binoculars also have the added bonus of also being waterproof.
Which accessories to get for your compact binoculars?
Due to their small sizes, compact binoculars require very few accessories. Some of them include;
- Pouches- these come in different sizes and designs for carrying compact binoculars. Some come with straps while others can fit on your belt.
- Straps- these are adjustable and come in various designs, colors and textures.
- Cleaning supplies- cloths, liquid cleaners, swabs and other materials specifically designed to keep the optics dust-free.
- Eyecups- for those who are not satisfied with the pre-modeled versions. These allow you customize ocular distance and improve image view.
- Dig scoping adapters- these may be made of plastic or metal. They allow you take photos directly from the eyepieces of your compact binoculars.
Picking the right pairs of compact binoculars allows you to fulfill all the requirements they were purchased for. They also make the intended use fun and easy. A solid knowledge on what to choose can also save cost. With the right compact binocular buying guide, all these and more can be accomplished. Applying the suggestions will ease your hustle to acquire the most preferred equipment.