Binoculars are an important accessory when so many birds and other wildlife to be seen. (File photo)

Binoculars are an important accessory when so many birds and other wildlife to be seen. (File photo)

Binoculars: Focusing on an essential tool when travelling the Shuswap

The Great Outdoors by James Murray

Driving home the other day I noticed a large number of birds floating on the lake 100 or so offshore.

I stopped at the side of the road, leaned over and reached for my binoculars, which I keep in the glove compartment.

They were geese – just plain old ordinary Canada geese.

Last spring I had a similar experience.

They turned out to be pelicans which was a lot more interesting. I remember watching them for quite a while.

Similarly, I stopped along the side of a back road to observe a Great Blue Heron feeding at water’s edge, watched a doe and her fawn venture across a clearing, and, looked up into the sky above to spot an osprey circling, about to drop down and pick off a fish in the shallows.

I always keep a pair of binoculars in the vehicle with me wherever I go. I also keep a small pair of binoculars in my tackle box beside me in the boat at all times.

If nothing else, they afford me the opportunity to watch and observe things around me when the fish aren’t biting.

The ones I have in my vehicle are worth somewhere in the neighbourhood of a few hundred dollars.

A person can spend a lot more on binoculars. However, the ones I have do me just fine. As with most things, you get what you pay for. I also figure you should simply spend what you are comfortable spending.

There are a number of factors that should go into deciding just which pair of binoculars are best suited for your needs. A basic understanding of design type and features will help greatly in deciding which binoculars to purchase.

First of all, there are two different types of binoculars – pro prism and the roof prism binoculars. Porro prism binoculars are the most common type of binoculars.

They consist of two lenses in the front with prisms that bend the light into the eyepieces at the back. Roof prism binoculars look quite simply like two telescopes mounted next to each other.

In essence that is what they are – with a prism system above to correct the image.

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They are also generally more expensive.

All binoculars, regardless of where they are made or who the manufacturer is, are labeled with two numbers, such as 7×35 or 8×40 and so on.

The first number – the 7 of a 7×35 or the 8 of an 8×40 pair of binoculars – refers to the amount of the magnification.

Magnification simply means how many times an image is enlarged over normal when you look through the binoculars. Another way to think of magnification is how many times closer the subject appears to be through the binoculars than it is in reality.

A pair of binoculars, with an 8x or eight times magnification, makes the subject appear to be eight times larger or eight times closer.

An 8×50, 8×40, or 8×20 pair of binoculars all magnify an identical eight times.

(With zoom binoculars the first two numbers represent the zoom range. In a 7-15×35, for instance, you can actually change the magnification from seven times to 15 times.)

Choose this first number carefully because more is not always better. This is especially true of magnification. As magnification goes up, image brightness tends to go down. And, just as importantly, image steadiness also goes down.

Binoculars magnify not only the image, but also every shake and tremble in your hands.

In general, most people find that 8x or eight times magnification is the highest magnification they can hold steady without support.

A decent quality pair of 8x binoculars would be considered by most to be a good, all around, general use pair that will do in most situations.

The second number in a binocular – the 35 in 7×35 or 40 in 8×40 – is the diameter (width) of each front lens, measured in millimeters. This number directly affects performance.

When magnification and quality is equal, the larger the second number, the brighter the image as well as the sharper the image.

An 8×40 pair of binoculars will produce a brighter and sharper image than an 8×25, even though both enlarge the image an identical eight times.

The larger front lenses of an 8×40 or 8×50 pair of binoculars produce wider beams of light that exit the eyepiece.

With today’s computer designed binoculars, wide-angle design eyepieces of good optical quality are relatively inexpensive. They have become easy to incorporate into the manufacture of reasonable quality binoculars. Having said that, inexpensive binoculars with wide-angle design eyepieces are never as sharp as high-quality binoculars.

Like I said, you get what you pay for. But, remember also, that even the most expensive binoculars are of little value if you don’t have them with you.


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