Super Zoom Eyes

I have been thinking about purchasing binoculars as an investment towards improving my skills at birding. Currently I have been borrowing a friend’s pair when we go out on birding excursions together, but ultimately I know that I would want my own pair for use any ol’ time. I had absolutely no idea how many different brands and styles of binoculars there are until I started researching what I might want to purchase. I have been scouring the internet for advice on the “best binoculars for birders.”

Well I gotta tell ya – even though the guides tend to say buy whatever you can afford as an investment that is a lot of money. Budget constraints are making me want to keep my overall binoculars investment $300.00 or less which I still see as a considerable amount of money. I have a feeling it will be worth it though in the long run to invest in something that will last even with heavy usage. And maybe also survive being dropped in a puddle or something.

Doing research has helped me to understand the different criteria one should consider when purchasing a pair of binoculars. All of this information at once is a bit overwhelming but I am finding the more I read the more I understand so I just dove into the various articles online that I could find. An older but informative article from the Cornell Ornithology Lab helped me out a lot. The five main criteria they recommend people should consider are:

  1. Budget – what is your bottom line? How much are you willing to spend (or not)? While up front the cost may be a lot, the article advocates that it is worth investing in a decent pair of binoculars for quality and durability.
  2. Level of zoom (10x, 8x, 7x) – I think I am going to opt for a 10x with a wide angle of view to be able to keep up with birds flitting quickly through the treetops. The 10x gives you higher zoom and the wide angle lens setup helps you not have such a restricted area of view. I would love to be able to see a bird’s markings more clearly, which will help with identifying the species at greater distances (i.e. like with waterfowl on a lake).
  3. Features you’d want on your binoculars – some people use tripod mounts for their binoculars, others might want lens caps, waterproof coating, etc.
  4. If you wear eyeglasses while birding  – *points to face* this was a big factor for me so birding would be comfortable but at the same time I didn’t want to lose clarity when viewing through the binoculars.
  5. Testing as many pairs as possible before deciding – This lets you actually get a feel for what you like and don’t like before you spend your money. For me this one is going to be a bit trickier since I have only used my friend’s pair of binoculars (and a super old WWII era monstrosity I used years ago that doesn’t count for birding purposes) so I may be purchasing a bit on faith unless I buy the binoculars in person at a store nearby. Though I have been considering a binoculars trip to a Gander Mountain or something, just to see what they have.

I am leaning towards purchasing a Nikon brand pair of binoculars (mostly because my camera is a Nikon D40 which I have been very pleased with). They seem to have a decent reputation in the binocular realm as well as the camera so I figured I would look into it. Though I am open to other reputable brands should I be swayed by the product’s quality (and yes, maybe price).

The model I am considering is one of the Nikon Monarch 3 series of binoculars, probably with the 10x level of zoom. But we’ll see what I ultimately end up with. Purchases like these see me mulling it over in my head repeatedly until I am satisfied that I am making a decent purchase for the money I am paying. I will probably be mulling everything for a while before I end up buying anything.

Any suggestions?