Best Binoculars of 2013: The Cornell Lab Review

Oct. 7, 2013

 In our Autumn 2013 issue we reviewed more than 100 pairs of binoculars, narrowing them down to a total of 28 top picks in five price ranges. But there's no one perfect pair to recommend to everyone—so check out these six steps to decide what you like, then scroll down to browse our Top Picks:

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Binocular Basics by Tom Sheeley - Wild Birds Unlimited - Columbus, Ohio

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Tom: "Hi, I’m Tom Sheeley, owner of Wild Birds unlimited at 5400 Riverside Drive, right here in Columbus, Ohio. We have a little retail store that caters to bird feeders, bird watchers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, and one of the things that we specialize in is binoculars and spotting scopes. I’d like to take a few minutes today and go over with you some of the options you have when looking at a binocular or a spotting scope and some of the things to look for.
"Some of the most important features to look for in a binocular are going to be aperture, which is the opening that allows the amount of light to come to you, and the magnification. Typically on a binocular you’re going to see two numbers: generally it’s an eight, nine, or a 10 with an “x”, and then a larger number, which is the aperture in millimeters, which is the size of this opening that gathers the light and brings it to your eye. I definitely recommend an eight power binocular as a general all-purpose binocular; that’s the highest magnification that you can handhold, and be comfortable and not have a lot of shaking and distortion. Although you can find binoculars that are seven power, and on up to a 10 power.
"Which brings me to the first pair of binoculars I would like to show you, just to show that there are some really good options under $100 for a pair of binoculars out there. This is called an Eagle Optics Shrike. It’s an eight power binocular, which means it brings your subject eight times closer to you. It has a nice, large, 42 millimeter aperture, which means it’s gonna give you good light gathering in low light situations: early in the day, on a cloudy day, or late in the afternoon. It does have a water-proof feature, and it has the diopter, and it’s got twist-up eye cups, which is a very important, long-lasting, eye cup feature. One of the misconceptions that I run into all the time is a lot of people just want the smallest pair of binoculars they can get just for the convenience of size. The only advantage that a compact pair of binoculars offers is actually the size, and because of its small aperture, coupled with an eight to 10 power magnification, it performs very poorly in low light situations.
"I do like to recommend some cleaning maintenance every time you purchase a pair of binoculars. One of the best used tools, I find, is the Lens Pen. It has an electro-static brush which you can use to clean away debris from any of the glass surfaces. It also has a smudge remover, which you can use after the brush to clean off any raindrops, fingerprints, or things like that.
"One of the other questions that I get a lot is “What situation would I want to use a spotting scope?”. A lot of people come in thinking they want a spotting scope because of the superior magnification; it will magnify a subject 15 to 60 times. The problem with a spotting scope is that it is very limited in its usage. Generally, you’re limited to long-range view; most of these have to be at least 20 to 25 feet away from the subject to be able to focus. So, this would be wonderful for setting up in a house overlooking a property, at birds at a feeder, or wildlife in ‘the back 40’, so to speak. It also works very well if you’re birding along a shoreline, looking out at ducks over a lake, or raptors out in a field.
"No matter what you’re budget, there are binoculars to fit every budget. I would definitely recommend that you stop by your local dealer. Go to a place where you can try them out, pick one out that really works for you, you’re going to have a tremendous range in not only quality but features.
"This is the decade of the binocular; they've really come up in technology and there is a pair of binoculars out there for everyone, and you’ll find that it will really enhance your enjoyment of the outdoor world."