What To Look For When Buying Binoculars? Our Buyers Guide!

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October 6, 2021

When shopping for binoculars, what should you be looking for?

The best and most reliable binoculars are those that have been made with protective consideration. Multiple layers of coating on the lenses will provide you with scratch-resistant, clear image-producing binoculars - the most important feature to look out for.

Whether it be your first pair or your fifth pair, you always want to make sure that you are getting the right pair of binoculars for your individual needs.

But with so many on the market today offering various features, it is becoming increasingly harder to know what makes a great pair of binoculars and what is just fancy marketing.

To help sort out this confusion, here is our guide on what to look out for when you are shopping for binoculars.

The two types of binocular designs

While there will always be the exceptions, there are two types of binocular designs on the market that you need to be aware of so that you can make the right choice for you.

The binoculars that most people have seen or even used at some point are the porro prism binoculars. These are identifiable by the closer together eyepieces but bulkier design.

As for roof-prism types, they were designed to be easier to travel and to take up less room which was achievable by rearranging the prism within the binoculars.

A few years ago there would be a clear difference in the shop between these two models but like everything else, technology has blurred the link between them and they are not as easy to separate by looks alone.

The key difference is the amount of money with porro binoculars being the cheaper of the two usually.

However, it is best to try both of the two types out in the shop if you can so that you can get a feel for which one you prefer.

Finding the perfect optics

The optics or the lenses of binoculars are arguably the most important part of the whole tool. For this reason, brands have experimented with different types of lenses, lens coating and the types of glass used to try and be the best on the market.

In short, when it comes to looking for the right lens type, it is the quality of the coatings that you need to keep an eye out for.

If a binoculars brand is not boasting about their lens coating then the product will not be that good.

Protective coatings

It is no secret that even budget binoculars can still be fairly expensive so it is important that a brand has considered how to protect the lenses to prevent you from having to replace them later on because of scratches or water damage.

Coatings to stop reflection

Another key lens coating type that you need to keep in mind when shopping for your pair of binoculars is how much anti-reflection is coated onto the lens.

There are four types of anti-reflection coating levels that you will find:

  • Coated
  • Fully coated
  • Multi coated
  • Fully multi coated

The more coated that the lenses are, the more expensive the binoculars will be. That being said, cheap binoculars that are only 'coated' with anti-reflection will not serve well in the field.

The different layers of anti-reflection coatings refer to the number of layers there is between the glass of the lense and the air.

You want as many layers of the coating as possible in order to get the best performance and to be able to properly focus on your subject.

Do not worry if you are on a budget and can not afford to be spending a large amount on coated binoculars. Just get as close to 'fully multi coats' as possible and you will still be able to experience a great performance from your purchase.

Types of prism coatings and glass

We mention prism briefly in the two different types of binocular designs above but the type of glass and the various kinds of coating of that prism that the brand decides to use severally impacts how clear your view is when using the binoculars.

Nowadays, brands tend to lean towards three different kinds of glass for their prisms. Like most things, the better the quality of the glass the higher the price of the product.

If you want the typical, mid-range option, you need to be looking for binoculars that use a BAK-4 glass type. This is the glass type that most binoculars use as its internal reflection means that you have a brighter view and will have less of a grainy effect when focusing on a subject.

The cheaper option is a BK-7 glass type. As typical for a cheaper alternative, there are some downsides to the BK-7 prisms with the biggest flaw being a far darker image.

On the other hand, far less common in the every day binocular SK-15 glass type.

It might not be the most expensive in most cases but brands tend to use this type of glass mostly because it is more convenient to use the BAK-4 type of glass.

Regardless of the type of glass used for the prism, the coating used will have an effect on the quality of your view. The types of coating will depend on the type of prism that your binocular uses.

Roof prisms work by splitting the receiving light into two disjointed beams which need to be corrected in order for you to receive a crisp image. For that, the roof prisms need to be coated on phase correction coatings.

These coatings are not cheap so do not be shocked if you find cheaper roof prism binoculars having significantly less phare correction coatings than the more expensive range.

In order to get the best image possible from roof prism binoculars, you will also need to make sure that they have a high reflective prism coating as roof prisms tend to lose light in their reflection process.

Some brands producing cheaper roof prism binoculars may use aluminium reflective coatings which they do not advertise openly.

Therefore if you are struggling to find the type of reflective coating that the binoculars use, the chances are that you have picked up a very cheap brand that will not deliver great results.

Types of viewing

Some manufacturers will use the field of view or angle of view when describing the specifications of their binoculars which essentially refers to how much of the view you can see when using the binoculars.

Which specification you chose is up to you but most animal watchers or nature enthusiasts tend to get the most use out of the widest view so that they can experience as much as possible for far away.

The wider view also means that you can track the animal easier and keep it in your view for long.

However, before you decide on the angle of view that you want you first need to choose the ideal magnification for you. The more magnified your view is, the more limited the angle of view will be.

What material has been used?

Binoculars are a tool in their own right and are used as such out in nature. For that reason, it is vital to know that if you were to bump your binoculars while searching for a rare bird that they will not break.

One way to assure this is to look at what the body of the product has been made out of.

Even though at first glance you may think the shell of the product has been made out of rubber, that rubber is actually more of a protective coating rather than what the whole body is made out of.

The best material and the most common material used of the body is aluminium. It is both lightweight and will not change shape in heat which is an important feature for any outdoor enthusiast.

Aluminium is also the material of choice for most mid-range priced products.

For the cheaper brand, you will find that polycarbonate plastic is used as the main body material.

While this may result in an easy to carry product, it is certainly a less durable material and is prone to losing its shape quicker than other metal choices.

It is important that you thoroughly read the descriptions and the feature that a pair of binoculars has. Otherwise, you may be buying a product that does not have the right number of coatings to produce the image you want or could be susceptible to breakages making it a waste of money. Something that everyone wants to avoid.

Born and raised in the south coast of UK, a small town close to Cornwall, I have adventure in my blood. Ever since a young age, I have always been into the great outdoors and particularly love watching the natural wildlife. Birdwatching is what I enjoy the most, and thus my natural interest in binoculars began. I founded and run Best-Binoculars.UK a site where I talk about various aspects of and review binoculars. Hope you enjoy my ramblings :)

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Born and raised in the south coast of UK, a small town close to Cornwall, I have adventure in my blood. Ever since a young age, I have always been into the great outdoors and particularly love watching the natural wildlife. Birdwatching is what I enjoy the most, and thus my natural interest in binoculars began. I founded and run Best-Binoculars.UK a site where I talk about various aspects of and review binoculars. Hope you enjoy my ramblings :)

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