Care for your optics
Now that you've chosen your optics, what else do you need? You want to protect your
investment. This means keeping them from hitting the ground or other objects and
keeping them clean. Here, we will discuss the techniques and gadgets to help you
do this efficiently and effectively.
Carrying Your Optics
Binoculars can be carried in multiple ways: a neck strap or a harness to keep them
available, or in a case or a daypack. Each of these has pros and cons. When people
first start birding, they usually don't carry a scope or a camera. All they carry
are binoculars, water bottle, and field guide. Since the latter two are carried
in packs or on a belt, their hands are free to hold the binoculars, so that they
are always ready. Some people put the binocular strap around their necks, some put
it over their shoulder, and some wrap it around their wrist. In all cases, they
use something to hold their binoculars when they need their hands for some other
purpose. As discussed previously, it’s critical to hold binoculars steady. There
is a trick to help do this, which requires a wide strap that does not stretch. This
technique is discussed below. The point is that while stretchy straps may provide
a little bit of extra comfort, straps that don't stretch can help you hold your
binoculars steady. Additionally, a wide strap distributes the weight of the binoculars
well enough to remove most of the discomfort.
Once a scope and/or a video camera is added to the equation, all this gear is cumbersome,
and something has to leave the hands. The solution is to get a binocular harness.
These come in various designs. Some cross in the back, others have a vertical strap
that runs between the shoulder blades. There are not any particular advantages to
either shape. As with binocular straps, these come in stretchy and non-stretchy
materials, with the tradeoff being comfort versus steadiness.
Modifying binocular straps to switch between
a neck strap and a harness, requires constructing a hook and leader system. The
required materials are (2) plastic swivelling snap-hooks, (2) split key rings large
enough to accept the hook end of the snap-hooks, (4) rivets, and a rivet kit. With
the straps attached to the binocular, cut the leader from the strap so enough of
the leader is left on the strap to rivet a snap-hook onto each end of the main part
of the strap. Thread each cut end of the strap through the closed loop of a snap-hook
and rivet the strap to secure the loop. (A local luggage repair can do the rivetting
if necessary.) Repeat this process with the cut end of the leaders and the split
key rings. Now the leaders can be hooked onto by either the hooks on the strap or
the hooks on the harness.
The simplest way to carry a scope is to mount it on a tripod and carry it over the
shoulder. This means the scope must be put down to use the binoculars. For most
birders, this is not enough of a problem to warrant other measures. Others have
seen a need, and filled it. There are three devices designed to aid in carrying
a scope and tripod.
Tripod Straps allow you to sling the tripod over your shoulder,
but can be very awkward with a scope mounted on the tripod.
Leg Wraps are foam cushions that wrap around the tripod legs and
reduce pressure on the shoulder. Some tripods come with these built in. For tripods
that don't have them, they can be purchased already made or made at home using pipe
insulation. To fashion leg wraps, purchase the type of insulation that comes with
an adhesive strip covered by a plastic strip. Cut the insulation to the desired
length, position on the tripod legs, and remove the plastic strip, and fasten the
insulation to itself, encasing the tripod leg.
The Tri-Pack is an alternative solution. A triangle-shaped backpack
mounts to two legs of your tripod, which you then carry on your back in the same
manner as any other backpack. The legs of your tripod can be left extended full-length,
allowing you to unsling your scope quickly, or they can be collapsed for going through
rough terrain (or for carrying while riding a bicycle or motorcycle). A zippered
pouch, accessible only from the side of the Tri-Pack resting safely against your
back, holds valuables, field guide, or raingear.
Keeping The Optics Steady
Here are three techniques to help steady binoculars in the field. Below these are
some tricks for keeping a scope and tripod steady in the
The face brace technique involves moving your hands back to your
face to achieve stability:
Hold the binocular normally.
Slide your hands toward your face on the binocular barrels, until only the pinky
and ring fingers (third and fourth) are curled around the back end of the binocular
body. The binocular will feel a little nose-heavy, because it’s being supported
behind its center of gravity.
Curl each thumb up as though making a fist, and flex your hands so that the second
bone in from the tip of the thumb is pressed against your cheekbone.
Finally, curl the first and middle fingers of each hand around the corresponding
binocular eyepiece. You will have your hands as though you are peering into a bright
window at night.
In this position, the hands will make a solid structural connection between the
body of the binocular, through your hands and thumbs, to your face, and should improve
how steadily you can hold the instrument.
The sling technique involves using a strap for stability. It is
taught by the professional photographers who teach Nikon Photography School, enables
people to hold their binoculars (and cameras) more steadily than with other methods.
Attach a long, wide strap to the binoculars. Neoprene is okay but materials that
don't stretch are better. Adjust the strap so that it is as long as possible.
Hold the binoculars so they are horizontal and the strap hangs down.
Insert your hands through the strap loop one at a time, grasping the binoculars
Let the strap drape so that your elbows extend through the loop and the strap hits
Spread the elbows toward your sides, tightening the strap across your chest.
- To hold for lengthy periods, bring your
thumbs and wrists closer together on the binoculars and focus from the underside
of the binoculars using your thumbs. Alternatively, you could incorporate the
baseball cap technique
If the strap is not tight enough, readjust to fit.
The benefits of the sling technique are that the arms are tight against the sides
of the chest making a stable and restful platform. The strap helps keep the arms
from sliding outward. The theory is the same as using a rifle sling: to create a
static platform using constrained equal and opposite forces.
The baseball cap technique can be used with either of the prior
ones, and involves wearing a baseball-type cap with a stiff brim.
- Hold the binoculars normally, or as in
one of the techniques above.
- With your middle fingers, reach up and
grab the brim of the cap.
Even with a tripod, sometimes it is difficult to keep a scope steady. Here
are some tricks you can use to improve your scope's stability:
Hang something heavy below the legs, like a backpack or water bottle.
Put a beanbag or a ziplock bag filled with sand or water over the top of the scope.
- In a high wind, make sure the tripod is
positioned so exactly one leg points directly downwind. This makes it harder for
the wind to tip your tripod over.
Protecting The Lenses
The key to best viewing is having the best optics. If the lenses get dirty or scratched,
viewing quality will obviously suffer. And, as discussed below, the less often lenses
must be cleaned, the longer they will last.
Even the least expensive binoculars usually come with cases and / or lens caps.
Most middle and higher priced binoculars come with a device called a “rain guard”.
These are essentially lens caps that are one-piece and fit over both ocular lenses
at once. Rain guards attach to the binocular or binocular strap so they are always
Birders with good optics usually use their rain guards. Even in regions that get
very little rain, they are very important. As they say, "These ‘food guards’ work
well in the rain, too!" They also keep the lenses free of dust in the desert and
salt spray on the ocean.
This goes for objective lens caps too. Especially on the ocean, lens caps that attach
and hang from the objectives can save a lot of cleaning time. You never know when
that Short-tailed Albatross is going to fly by.
While carrying binoculars into the field in a case will slow you getting onto a
bird, cases on scopes are a different story. The only scope cases worth considering
are those that allow the scope to be mounted on the tripod with the case still on
the scope. These cases are designed to zip open at the front and back and allow
access to the focusing knob or ring. This will save the body of the scope from scrapes
and dings, and may be the difference if the tripod tips over. Zip open cases can
also protect the lenses instead the lens caps, permitting quicker access to the
One other trick to help protect the scope is to always extend the lens shade right
after opening the case. The lens shade will help keep things from hitting the lens,
and will absorb some of the energy of a fall if the tripod tips towards the objective
Cleaning Your Lenses
"Always determine whether or not your telescope needs cleaning. Specks of dust or
pieces of lint do not impair the visual or photographic performance of your telescope,
but excessive cleaning can cause small scratches, which harm performance more than
lint or dust. These scratches cause light scattering, which is VERY harmful to optical
performance. Professional telescopes used nightly, only need cleaning every six
months or so."
[From a Celestron manual]
Before cleaning the lenses, blow the visible dust off with a mechanical blower (not
a canned aerosol product) or brush it lightly with a lens brush. If this removes
the problem, do not clean the lens further.
Rather than buy commercial cleaning solutions, you can make your own simply. A good
cleaning solution is a 50-50 mixture of isopropyl alcohol and distilled water with
a few drops of biodegradable washing detergent. Do not use breath, saliva, or commercial
solutions for cleaning eyeglass lenses. These solutions contain silicones, which
can be difficult to remove from lenses. Kodak, R.O.R. (Residue Oil Remover), and
Kleer-Vu are proven commercial cleaning solutions.
Use cotton balls of natural cotton or commercial lens cleaning cloths to
clean lenses. Use fresh cotton balls or cloth often. Paper tissue can scratch the
coatings on the lens.
Make sure the cotton ball or cloth is not dripping wet -- you do not want liquid
to penetrate the instrument. Cleaning solutions are solvents and may damage the
glue holding the lenses in place. Wipe gently with the wet cotton or cloth; do not
rub or apply much pressure. Then, wipe with a clean, dry cotton ball or cloth.
If the lenses have dried-on salt-spray, gently wet the salt deposits with damp cotton
or tissue. Allow the deposits to soften before cleaning normally.
To avoid frequent cleanings, always store the optics with the cap on.
If the lenses are scratched, consider contacting the manufacturer to inquire about
having the lenses polished and re-coated. This may prove less expensive than buying
Many birders rave about the LensPen cleaning system available from several manufactuerers. Camera users, both
still and video, should also get the Mini LensPen. Its smaller cleaning tip will
be able to fit into the viewfinder.
For further information, refer to "Tools of the Trade," William Van Meter, Birding,
Stretchy binocular straps are more comfortable but give less stability. Harnesses
free your hands for other tasks.
There are several tricks for holding binoculars steady.
Extra care is needed to keep a scope safe and dteady in the wind.
Too much cleaning can harm lenses, so it is better to prevent them from getting
- If the lenses require cleaning, brush the
dirt off first. Use only cleaning solutions approved for coated lenses.
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