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Types of Binoculars – Basics Explained for Avid Outdoorsmen

Types of Binoculars
Written by Robert Stevens

The days when the binoculars were mainly designed for astronomers and stargazers are gone, and now, we see people looking through a pair of super lightweight binoculars to enjoy an opera show. They are pretty much a must-have commodity to hunters, birdwatchers, military, and marine professionals, sailors; you name it! So, the types of binoculars these days count far beyond a few. Why should you know about all of them? Because you want the right pair to have your individual demands (whatever it is) met…

The one typical intention behind binoculars (viewing distant objects) has already come out of its cocoon and spread toward all directions of outdoor recreation. With that in head, I’m going to describe the types one by one in this article.

Different Types of Binoculars & Other Optics

Different Types of Binoculars

Binocular Types Explained

I need to clarify one thing: the ‘actual’ types of binoculars. In my opinion, the types aren’t hard and fast. Compact binocular and night vision binoculars are the two widely used variants of binoculars. The only thing that we can do is consider the binoculars from different angles, test how they perform in those areas, and finally categorize all those thoughts into uniformity, so enthusiasts can make decisions in the light of the findings.

Hold on for a few more minutes, please. Allow me to explain some fundamentals before starting to talk about the types. It’s a quick overview of a few essential terms, but I promise it’ll be worth your time.

A Few Terms Explained

Since the core of my discussion will be based on these terms, I’m providing only a primer. For details on these terms and more like them, you may read another article written by my fellow, my favorite partner, Robert Townsend.

1. Prisms

Binoculars consist of two objective lenses placed like one at each end. These lenses collect light from the user’s target. They bring the accumulated light into focus in the binocular’s eyepiece lens. All these mechanisms result in a magnified image that is positioned backward and stay upside down. Prisms are the components that correct the image’s ‘orientation’ issue being located between the eyepiece and the objective lens.

Prisms are originally glasses (also like mirrors) that rely on internal reflections for bringing the light beam from the objective lens close, and thus correct the image orientation. So far, binocular manufacturers have used two prism types, such as Porro prisms and roof prisms. I’ll talk about them in the next section of this article.

2. Magnification and Objective Lens

The understanding of how binocular works starts with education on these two terms (numbers actually).

Magnification is the optical process that enlarges the apparent (not physical) size of the object being visualized. This enlarged visualization is expressed by a number which we call magnification.

Look at your binoculars. Maybe, it’s 7×50, for example. The first number is the magnification. The second number is the objective lens diameter in millimeters. These numbers express the amount that your binoculars can gather.

So, you know what matters and what doesn’t. Now, let’s get into the types.

3. Types of Binoculars (Based on Prism Designs)

It’s safe to call this type, prism binoculars. Here’s a concise yet practically justified discussion on both prism types.

Porro Prisms

Consisting of four prisms including two for each side, these binoculars create an erect, visible image using two prisms. In this design, the objective lenses and the eyepieces stay offset, meaning that the objective lenses aren’t aligned with the ocular lens. These binoculars are favored by those who are fond of stereoscopic images (the ones with depth and solidity).

Porro Prisms

Roof Prisms

Popularly known as Dach, these prisms come in the shape of a typical roof. One of the prisms has a surface that barely features total internal reflection. As a result, the system suffers from losing some light. However, some coatings can be used on that surface so the ‘reflectivity’ can be augmented or raised.

This design dictates that the prisms stay aligned with each other forming a straight line. The same thing happens to the eyepieces and objective lenses. So, the optical path remains straight resulting in the preferable ‘compact models’.

Confusions as to which one to pick is nothing new as choosing one particular model sometimes becomes tricky for even seasoned users. So, I’m putting a table to show you the comparison between the two prisms and their applications and quality.

roof prisms

Prism TypePorroRoof
Positive SidesConvenient placement of the objective lens

In-depth, solid visualization (images)

Relatively affordable

Compact design

Less internal components (leading to fewer maintenance hassles)

Reduced likelihood for beginners to face difficulty using them

Negative SidesIncreased likelihood for the units to malfunction due to many components

Difficulty to maintain and ensure absolute tidiness

Relatively bulky, heavy models

Aligned prisms (resulting in poor-quality visualization of the distant objects)

Relatively expensive

Usability(Ideal for)Bird watching and wildlife observation

Hunting and other recreational activities

Wildlife viewing

Birdwatching

Concerts

Spectator sports

4. Different Types of Binoculars (Based on the Focus System)

In fact, this category doesn’t indicate what you call a type of binoculars. But, I would like to label them as a distinct type for good reasons. The focus systems of binoculars work differently. While most outdoorsmen wouldn’t emphasize much on this, I tell you what; they’re important just like the other aspects of binoculars.

Center Focus

Incorporating a single focusing wheel, these models focus on the targets, no matter if it’s close or far away. So, I love this type more than the following two systems.

One Eyepiece Focus

You can focus each of the eyepieces for looking at the target. The good thing is that you need no additional focus if your eyes got one because the target remains in your focus; no matter where it is, within 40 yards or more yards away. Ideal for amateur astronomy purposes and marine settings, these binoculars are also great for both medium and long-range shooting.

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  • Super Safety: Soft rubber surrounded eyepieces are included for eye protection so children don't hurt their eyes or face. There is extra coating surrounding the eyepieces provides better protection of the lens during falls.
  • Advanced Design: Non-slip scratch, the grip has been ergonomically patented designed to fit the hands of children. It is easy to focus, and they can adjust to adult eyes just as well as kid-sized eyes. The leaves of a tree 100 yards away came into sharp focus.
  • Shock Proof: Durable binoculars that can withstand drops and falls on floors due to rubber coating that absorbs shock. If accidentally dropped on the ground, the binoculars are protected from damage with shock proof rubber armor.
  • Crystal Clear View: The FMC prism green coated optics system can control optical reflection to create crisp and colorful images. The product ensures the user can see the entire visual field for capturing objects easily with 7.4° viewing angle. Multi-layer broadband coating technology, make you see the scene more realistic.
  • Real Binoculars for Kids: This product has a superb maginifcation of 8X with an amazing view. The binoculars can be adjusted to easily match the eye distance gap for each child. Great for bird watching, learning, hunting, theaters, boat rides, hiking, traveling and enjoying the wilderness!

No Focus

In this type, the eyepieces remain locked and aren’t adjustable. So, with this type, it’s not possible to focus on a target any closer than 35-40 yards away. You needn’t spend much on these units, but the limitation (zero adjustability) may affect your ocular dominance.

Wide Angle

If you love to watch fast-moving sequences, binoculars with wide angles prove to be more useful than all others. These devices allow the user to track each moment efficiently.

Zoom Binoculars

Some call this type, an all-in-one innovation. Although I don’t hold it with much attention, it lets the user increase/decrease the magnification to set the focus on the target appropriately.

5. Binocular Types (Based on Their Uses)

The different applications of binoculars don’t necessarily classify them in general. It’s just all about their usability for different groups of users. Now, I’m describing how many ways manufacturers keep in mind while making modern binoculars.

Astronomy

All the superlative degrees go with these binos. Largest in size…heaviest in weight…highest magnification level…largest objective lenses! These best describe astronomy binoculars.

Astronomy

Hunting

A rugged design and superb light-transmission system are the chief features. The hunting binoculars are designed to perform well in low-light surroundings.

Travel

These units are known to be the ‘compact’ models designed to consume a little space while meeting the demands of instant usability. Travel binos may not perform very well in low-light settings.

Marine

Marine devices have to be waterproof, fogproof, and able to withstand environmental impacts and daily wear and tear more than all other types above. A typical marine pair comes in armored housing with non-slip rubber surface.

Marine

Birding

Light-transmission properties of this type are far better than most others, and the sharpness of optics is above standard too with the magnification being a standard level.

Theatre

Low magnification power and the ultra lightweight design are the recognizable features of this type. These devices are intended for indoor uses.

Theatre

6. Types Based on Construction

I’ve categorized these binoculars considering their construction and other features. Do I have to remind you that these aren’t conventionally types of binoculars? Well, let’s know about them.

Waterproof Binoculars

These binos usually come nitrogen purged and O-ring sealed so that they can withstand natural impacts and elements and serve under various weather circumstances.

Armored Models

Housed in rubber or synthetic casing, this type withstands scratches, day-to-day wear (normal), dust, etc. I found one (bought three years ago) of these pairs to be very handy.

Now that I’ve explained the available variations, I hope you’ve already got your questions regarding the different types of binoculars answered with expandable details. But, I won’t mind receiving further questions from you on the topic. Hey pal, I love to write and share, and that’ll be my pleasure if my suggestions really become a help!

About the author

Robert Stevens

A Seasoned Hunter

It’s been several years that Robert, a retired teacher and a proud dad, has silently been piling up mature bucks down the South. This humble hunter began his hunting journey at quite an early age and since then, he spent countless hours in the woods and learned good lessons in terms of woodsmanship. Along the way, he also made money sharing his skill with his followers and well-wishers.

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