A Something Wild listener recently asked for a recommendation for binoculars—preferably in the low- to medium-price range. It's a great subject. My favorite word heard on field trips is "Ohmygod," an exclamation involuntarily emitted when someone sees a bird or butterfly—or just about anything—up close through good binoculars.
First, some basics. There's two numbers printed on binoculars: 8x42 for example. The first number, 8, is magnification power, and the second relates to brightness. An 8x42 pair lets in more light in than 8x32. A warning: 10-power might be tempting, but binoculars higher than 8-power are big and hard to hold steady. You can't go wrong with 8x42's.
Another important feature is field of view. A generous width of view makes it a lot easier to find what you're looking for without too much scanning back and forth. It's always better to give binoculars the equivalent of a test drive. See how they feel. Watch for distortion as you scan. If you wear glasses, check how easily the eye caps can be adjusted. Recognizing that a test drive isn't always possible, we've put a link to a very thorough review of binoculars on the Something Wild web page.
With optics you tend to get what you pay for, but there definitely are decent pairs for under $200. I'm a firm believer that every household—and car and backpack—should have a pair of good binoculars. May there be many "ohmygods!" in your nature-watching future.
- The Age of Binoculars - A thorough article on binoculars with a handy guide at the end.