Susan Henderson looks through her binoculars at a pair of bald eagles while performing the annual Christmas Bird Count in Peter Jannink Nature Park. (File photo)

Scoping out suitable binoculars

The Great Outdoors/James Murray

Ask an angler how many fishing rods they own and you will often notice a slight hesitation before they answer the question.

More often than not, the more rods they own, the greater the hesitation. Ask about the amount of fishing gear they own in general and the answer tends to become, well, let’s just say the answer can become quite vague.

One piece of gear one doesn’t readily think about when listing all their fishing accoutrements is a pair of binoculars. I usually keep a small pair with me in the boat. Watching and observing the surface of the water and the riparian zone around the water is not only key to knowing what hatches might be coming off, but also offers something to do when the fish are not biting. How many times have I watched in awe at the sight of a great blue heron feeding at the water’s edge, only later to also discern smaller birds swooping down to feed on the surface of the water at the far end of a lake. Where birds are feeding on the surface, there is likely an insect hatch coming off.

Without getting too technical, there are two types of binoculars, porro prism and roof prism binoculars. Porro prism binoculars are the most common type. They consist of two lenses in the front with prisms that bend the light into the eyepieces at the back. Roof prism binoculars look like two telescopes mounted next to each other, with a prism system above to correct the image.

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All binoculars, regardless of where they are made and 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 7×35 or the 8 of 8×40, refers to magnification or how many times an image is enlarged over normal when seen through the binoculars. In other words, a pair of binoculars with an 8x magnification makes the subject appear to be eight times larger or eight times closer. Similarly, a pair of 7-15×35 zoom binoculars would change the magnification from seven times to 15 times. Choose this first number carefully though, because more is not always better. As magnification goes up, image brightness goes down. So too does the field of view and image steadiness. Binoculars magnify not only the image, but also every shake and tremble in your hands.

The second number is the diameter (width) of each front lens, measured in millimetres. This number directly affects performance. When magnification and quality are 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. It is simply more comfortable to view with an 8×40 pair of binoculars than an 8×25. On the other hand, the larger front lenses makes the binoculars larger and heavier.

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Although an 8×25 pair may not be optically as good as an 8×40 or 8×50 pair, their smaller size makes them more compact and easier to carry. Small, easy-to-pack binoculars will out-perform any full size binoculars left at home or in the vehicle because they are too heavy or cumbersome to carry around all day.

I keep a pair of small, compact binoculars in my glove compartment at all times. I make a point of transferring them to my fishing bag when I’m heading out in the boat. I know I’ve certainly regretted it every time I’ve forgotten to bring them along.

Like I said, binoculars can come in mighty handy when you’re out in the boat fishing.

If you are considering purchasing binoculars, make sure to buy them at a quality sporting goods/outdoor store where the salespeople will be able to answer your questions and give you the proper advice.

And, while we are only coming up to the end of November, a pair of binoculars might be an idea to keep in the back of your mind as a Christmas gift for that special angler, birder, hiker, stargazer and/or naturalist on your gift list.


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