Birdwatching binoculars are usually very compact, with the objective lens diameter rarely larger than 42mm. Birdwatching usually takes place in the day time, meaning that larger and bright binoculars have no added value.
Resolution and absence of optical errors are thus far more important. Many ornithologists also prefer higher magnification, so 10x magnification is the preferred choice for many. Quality of the focusing mechanism is also one of the more critical properties for ornithological use of binoculars.
Summary of the most common features of binoculars for Birdwatching is given below:
8x magnification or 10x magnification
Objective lens diameter smaller than 42mm
Roof prism design
Small mass and size
Birds are mostly observed during the day. Most binoculars used for Birdwatching are compact, with 28-36 mm objective lenses, which makes them bright enough for watching during the day.
The best thing about them is that they are lightweight and small, so the birders do not have to carry so much weight and can comfortably wear them around their necks, without causing any pain.
Birdwatchers can wear Compact binoculars comfortably around their necks
8x32 and 10x32 configurations belong to the group of Compact binoculars.
This type of binoculars does not perform great in low light conditions. In this respect, they are similar to 10x42 binoculars.
When comparing 8x42 and 8x32 binoculars, we realize that optical performance is almost the same. Except for the field of view, 8x32 binoculars have the largest field of view of them all.
It is generally considered that 8x32 and 10x32 binoculars are not very comfortable for the user. The exit pupil diameter is very small, meaning that after a more extended period, viewing becomes tiring. But these binoculars are, on the other hand, great for kids.
They are small in size and very lightweight, which makes them easy to carry around.
The most commonly used prisms in birdwatching binoculars are roof prisms. Most birders usually prefer binoculars with Schmidt Pechan prisms. They often hold binoculars in their hands for a more extended period.
It is advisable for them to purchase binoculars with a Roof prism design since they are more compact and ergonomically more comfortable to use.
Other types of prisms, like Abbe-Koening, are used very rarely.
Binoculars with Abbe-Koening prisms perform great at low light conditions, but Birdwatching is an activity that doesn't take place at night. There is no need for birders to have binoculars with this type of prisms.
There is one more type of prism that needs to be mentioned: Porro prisms. Like Abbe-Koning, these prisms are also not very popular among birders. The ergonomics and larger size of these binoculars are not suitable for ornithology.
The shape and design of binoculars are critical features for all birders. Once they spot the bird, they tend to observe the animal for a more extended period. The comfort of holding binoculars in hands and carrying them around the neck is essential.
Open bridge design is trendy among birders since it allows the user to hold binoculars with only one hand. Holding binoculars in one hand is very practical. It enables the user to take notes with its freehand or to put it in the pocket when the weather is cold.
Some premium binoculars also feature special thumb rest indents on the barrels for a more secure grip and even more comfortable holding.
Sightron binoculars with open bridge design
For comfortable observations, it is vital that the observer's eyes do not get tired. The size of the eyebox is another feature that birders need to consider.
Larger eye box means more flexibility of the eye position and therefore more comfortable viewing because the eye can move in several directions within the eye box and still obtain a full image.
The speed of focusing is essential for Birdwatching. The birds move very fast, so it is important to have fast focus. The observer needs to change the focus from close to far distance very fast.
Focusing is one of the main differences between Hunting and Birdwatching binoculars.
The birds do not stand still; they are almost always in motion, so the focus on binoculars needs to be fast.
The game is usually dormant and move slowly. Unlike birders, hunters need slow focus and fine-tuning.
It is a general rule, that slow focus binoculars are used for hunting, while the ones with fast are used for Birdwatching. Premium brands, like Swarovski and Zeiss, began to manufacture binoculars that could do both.
The general principle is as follows:
The focusing speed is very fast in both directions.
When the user turns the knob, the focusing is swift.
When the knob is turned in the opposite direction for 5-10°, the adjustment is slow and then fast again. It takes some time to get used to this type of focusing.
The birds can move very fast, and because of this, focusing is being used a lot.
It is great if the focus can be easily and quickly changed, so the central focusing system is the most recommended.
All other focusing systems are usually not suitable for bird watching.
For anyone wearing eyeglasses, a minimum of 17-18mm eye relief is recommended (20mm even more optimal). It is good if the exit pupil is as large as possible, at least 4mm, preferably even 5mm or more. From this, it is clear that 8x42 is usually a better choice than 10x; however, it is true that some people rather "risk the comfort "for seeing more details.
It is essential that you check the eye relief before purchasing the optical device- if it is less than 15 mm, it will be much more challenging to observe with glasses.
8x42 binoculars are very versatile, and a preferred configuration for many birders who don't have many experiences or have just started with this hobby.
Lack of experience is not a problem with 8x42 binoculars.
Because of low magnification, the image is still, so even the beginner can observe birds holding binoculars in hands, without the use of a tripod.
These binoculars offer a big field of view, but the image details are not so good as with 10x42 binoculars.
Many manufacturers produce 8x42 binoculars, so the competition between them is very fierce. For the users, this is a good thing. It means that the user gets the highest quality for its money.
As with the 8x42 binoculars, there is also intense competition among manufacturers that produce 10x42 binoculars. 10x42 configuration is suitable for more advanced users that have calmer hands.
10x magnification offers an image with better details.
The downside is that the field of view is somehow smaller.
Compared to 8x42, this type of binoculars does not perform very well at dusk - poorer performance is noticeable even on a cloudy day.
10x50 binoculars are a compromise between the bright image and the size and weight of the optical device.
The field of view is about the same as with 10x42 binoculars; the image brightness is as with 8x42 configuration.
In exchange for 10x magnification and bright image, the user has to deal with larger and heavier binoculars.
We recommend an 8x42 configuration for beginners since there is the largest selection among 8x42 binoculars. Also, the user gets the highest quality for its money.
Viewing with 8x42 binoculars is very comfortable and suitable for open terrains as well as for forests.
These binoculars offer a wider field of view, a brighter image, and (unfortunately) fewer details compared to 10x42.
Advice: For the first step in the world of Birdwatching, 8x42 is definitely most recommended because it provides a better field of view and is better for observing smaller and faster-moving birds. 8x42 binoculars are easy to hold in hand without excessive shaking of the image.
Like everywhere else, it is hard to point out the best Birdwatching binoculars. Every binoculars have its pros and cons, and it also depends on personal taste.
The user needs to know that binoculars in the middle price range (1000-1500€) perform very well. In the last ten years, significant progress has been made in this area, so the middle-class binoculars are well worth considering.
There is no denial that premium brands binoculars (like Leica, Swarovski, Zeiss) perform better than middle-class binoculars.
But there is a question if these small details are worth paying extra money- in the end, it depends on the user and its priorities.
Swarovski EL 8.5x42 is highly popular among Birders
A short presentation of Birdwatching Binoculars is available here.
Short Presentation | Birdwatching Binoculars | Optics Trade from Optics-Trade