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Selecting Optics to Compensate for Physical Limitations


Selecting a binocular that fits one’s strengths and limitations can be as important as choosing one with good optical qualities. A binocular is a tool that should give a person a better view for a lifetime. If a binocular is too heavy, unbalanced in the hands, does not fit one’s face, is too hard to hold, too difficult to focus, then ultimately, it will not get used by its owner no matter how excellent its optics are. In some instances, a binocular must compensate not only for our vision, but also for other aspects of our physical nature. If you suffer from upper back strain, sore shoulder(s) and/or an aching neck, have poor strength in your wrists, hands, or fingers due to injuries or arthritis, have a tremor (slight or advanced), cannot grasp heavy objects; have a missing limb; or have a limited range of motion in the upper limbs or torso, these are all conditions that govern what kind of binocular you should choose. Singly or in combination the following guidelines might help you make your purchasing decision or help you adapt the binocular you now own.

Once you have read the articles and reviews on this site, you should be able to narrow down your optics choices. If you have physical limitations, try to field-test any binocular or spotting scope you are interested in to see how they work for you physically as well as visually. Nothing will tell you more about the suitability of an optic than to use it in the field. Most of the sport optics companies – including Optics4Birding – attend birding shows, festivals and symposia to give people an opportunity for hands-on experience with their product lines. Another resource for trying optics is your local bird club or Audubon chapter. Attend an outing or two and look for people with the optics you'd like to try.

Adapting a binocular to alleviate neck pain or strain and/or upper back weariness can be as easy as changing the strap that holds it. Straps and harnesses designed to evenly distribute the carrying weight of a binocular across the back are inexpensive, easy to attach, and an easy solution for this vexing problem. Many styles and price ranges are available. See the article under ‘Miscellaneous’ in our All About Optics section for some alternatives. Selecting a lighter weight binocular can also make a difference.

Look for a binocular model that is lighter, with a grip that has a comfortable barrel diameter that is easily held to compensate for limited strength or mobility in the hands. As an alternative to a traditional hand-held binocular, consider using a binocular or monocular mounted on a monopod. Monopods provide additional support for greater image stability, and can compensate for a lack of hand or upper body strength or even for a missing limb.

Limited mobility in the fingers and hands poses another problem: focusing. To someone who cannot roll the focus knob easily to focus in on a bird, this can be a major problem. Some binoculars require only a full turn or less to focus, or feature particularly smooth focusing mechanisms. Other binoculars may feature a flipper or lever focal mechanism instead. Unfortunately, at this time, few high-quality binoculars have a flipper-type focusing mechanism, so if looking for higher quality, read through our reviews to learn what our reviewers have to say about ease of focus.

How a binocular balances in your hand is frequently more important than the weight of the instrument, but not when you have a tremor. The higher the binocular magnification, the less stable the image you are viewing becomes. If you have a tremor, you want to look for a lightweight, low magnification binocular that you can hold more easily. Another way to compensate would be using a tripod-mounted binocular or spotting scope, but this would be difficult to quickly set up for quickly finding and focusing on an image. Selecting a binocular for a limited range of motion in the upper extremities or an inability to lift a binocular to the eyes presents another problem that can be solved with a monopod mounted binocular or monocular.

There are a number of image-stabilizing binoculars on the market today offered by many of the noted optics manufacturers. These binoculars are no longer novelties or offered only for the narrow range of nautical use. In other locations on this website, you can research a selection of these that were meant for birding applications.

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Learn About Optics


Day Optics

Designs - Quality, compacts, porro and roof prism designs for binoculars and scopes...
Designations and Considerations - Designation values, eye relief, weight & cups, exit pupil, and twilight factor...
Additional Consideration - Focusing, field of view, depth of field, weather proofing and nitrogen fill...
Optic Components & Image Quality - Lenses, mirrors, coatings, aberrations, distortions, and alignments...
Spotting Scopes - Construction, Objective lens, eyepieces, angled or straight, and focusing...
Tripods - Heads, legs, monopods, shoulder stocks, and window mounts...
Digiscoping - About, power, editing, considerations, cameras, techniques, and effects...
Care & Tricks - Holding techniques, cleaning, carrying, and protecting your optics...

Night Vision

Starlight Technology - NV Types, Starlight Technology defined, basic design and IR Illuminators...
Starlight Technology Night Vision Generations and Devices - Generation 1 to 4 - levels of NV technology, types of devices and their uses...
Use & Care - How to use, controls, and care for NV devices, extending capabilities...
Digital Night Vision and Thermal-Imaging - Digital NV and Thermal Imaging, how they work and compare to standard NV...

Buying Guide

Binoculars - All the factors to consider when buying binoculars.
Bins for kids - Special Considerations for children's binoculars.
Challenged - Special considerations with binoculars for the physically challenged.
Spotting Scopes - All the factors to consider when buying a spotting scope.
Tripods - Selecting the best tripod for your scope.