Buying Guide


Of all the people who use binoculars and spotting scopes, birders are probably the most demanding. Birders bird in environments that include deserts at temperatures above 125º, high mountains, dense forests, windy plains, beaches, mudflats, rolling oceans, and the arctic and Antarctic, in sun, rain, fog, and overcast. Birders bird from dawn to dusk, then go out at night to look for owls. Through all of this, birders demand good views of the finest feather details to determine not only the species of the bird, but its age and gender as well. Much of the time, the birds are moving.

The Optics4Birding Buying Guide is a discussion of the factors birders need to consider in choosing binoculars, scopes, and tripods, but these same factors can be applied to using optics for any other pursuit. If you're not a birder, examine the conditions under which you use your optics and apply the factors to maximize your viewing.

The suggestions in this guide are based on the information we present in our All About Optics pages. The choices you make based on our suggestions depend on your understanding of the terminology, and an appreciation of the distinctions made between the parameters and designs. If you have not read these pages yet, they will help you apply the suggestions we present here.

So now that you're familiar with how optics equipment is designed and what the numbers mean, how do you decide what to get?

The simple answer is to get the best equipment you can afford that fit your birding style and feel right when you use them. Of course, finding all that out takes some research as well. Fortunately, we've already done a lot of that for you. On every binocular product page on this site, you will find a button for the O4B Scorecard. Clicking on this button will take you to a page with all the relevant specifications for that specific binocular. At that page, you can select importance factors for each of the specs and the page will compute a relative score for that binocular based on your preferences. Comparing those scores will help you find the binocular that is best for you.

Your Turn

While we have evaluated many binoculars, scopes, and tripods, there isn't time to evaluate them all, and there are some decisions we can't make for you. You will need to decide how important these various factors are to you.

If you're an experienced birder, you probably have tried several binoculars or scopes by borrowing them from friends, checking them in a store, or going to optics fairs. You also know what you like and dislike about your current optics.

If you're new to birding and already have a starter pair, you might want to take some time to do the above testing. You should realize that unlike prolonged usage, quick tests in a store or with friends' binoculars in the field would not really tell you what you need to know. You won't be able to tell whether a binocular would cause you too much fatigue at the end of a long birding day, if you can hold 10x binoculars steady enough, or even if you prefer 7x, 8x, or 10x. It also won't tell you whether you'll prefer a straight or angled scope.

If you're brand new to birding, you have a few options. You can get an inexpensive binocular, borrow a pair from a friend, and look through other scopes, or you can read our reviews, decide what you might like, and go for top glass right away.

View the discussions in the following pages under the assumption that all other factors are equal. They rarely will be, but this will help with the importance factor you assign to each spec in the O4B Scorecard.


Next Article - Choosing Binoculars

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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.
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