Over the many years that I have now been involved with optics and in particular binoculars, I have learnt a great deal and perhaps it has got to the point where I take a lot of “what I know” for granted, especially the basics and assume that these are obvious and that everyone knows them as well.
However looking back, I have not only witnessed many people make some common mistakes when choosing binoculars, but I too have made them in my early days.
Below are the worst common mistakes people new to binoculars make when choosing binoculars to buy and how or what you need to do to avoid them:
Mistake #1 – Choosing the Cheapest Binoculars
Without doubt the very worst choice you can make when selecting any pair of binoculars for any use is to look for the cheapest option that you can find.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you have to spend a large amount of money and buy really expensive binoculars, indeed as a beginner or someone who is only going to use their instrument infrequently this would also be unwise. However no matter who you are even if you only ever plan to use your binoculars once, it is vitally important that you stay away from the cheapest options out there as in most cases you will be far better off not using any binoculars at all!
For more, take a look at the following articles that should not only help you avoid this common mistake, but understand why you should invest even just a little more to make the experience with your optics pleasurable and useful rather than frustrating:
- Low Cost vs Very Cheap Binoculars
- Best Binoculars Under $200 (£/€)
- The differences between Expensive and Cheap Binoculars
- Advice on how to choose between binoculars
Mistake #2 – Too Powerful Magnification
The main reason to buy a pair of binoculars is to get you “closer” to whatever it is that you want to see. Therefore it is a very forgivable mistake to assume that the higher power (magnification) that you get, the better the binocular.
In almost all cases and uses, but especially with lower cost optics, you are far better off opting for a more moderate magnification than looking for ones with very high powers.
There are a number of reasons for this, the most important ones I have listed below:
- Dim, Low Quality Image – Higher magnifications require thicker glass to be used. This thicker glass lets through less light and thus results in a dimmer lower quality image. On cheap optics this can be very bad
- Narrow Field of View – The more “zoomed in” you are, the less of an overall picture that you can see. This can make it really difficult to actually find the object you are looking for and is why
- Image Shake – The higher the power, the harder it is to keep the image that you see through your binos still. Unless you invest in a really expensive pair of digitally stabilized binoculars, you will probably need a tripod with anything around 15x or more.
These and a number of other issues in high magnifications can add up to an image that in some cases is almost impossible to actually view with any detail or clarity, which goes directly against what you were trying to achieve when you set out to buy your binoculars.
So keep in mind:
For almost all uses, 8x or 10x is the ideal choice
However if you specifically want your optics for long distance observation, be that for astronomy or terrestrial use, there are a number of points to look out for that will ensure that you don’t end up with a melon. For more, take a look at my guides to:
Mistake #3 – Cheap Zoom Binoculars
I’ll admit that there are some cases where I have come across good variable magnification binoculars, but in general and ESPECIALLY if you have a tight budget you are much safer and better off with a binocular that has a fixed magnification.
Yes I know most telescopes and spotting scopes enable you to adjust the magnification and thus zoom in and out, so why not have this option on your binoculars?
The main reason is that a binocular is essentially two separate telescopes connected together, each of which has to be absolutely and perfectly synchronised to get a clear and crisp image. This is technically difficult in itself, but gets significantly more complicated and technically difficult to achieve if you want a variable magnification because the zoom mechanism needs to use moving lens elements in each ‘telescope’ and thus it must maintain the synchronization even whilst zooming.
So unless you get a high quality zoom binocular, you are likely to end up with a device that disappoints. More details and links to some good options can be found on my page on Zoom Binoculars.
Mistake #4 – Binoculars with a Digital Camera
A binocular with a built in camera that enables you to take video or photos of whatever it is that you are looking at sounds like the perfect idea in theory and is why so many people fall into this trap.
But in reality, unless you plan on spending a whole lot of money (like on the Sony DEV-5) it is a REALLY VERY BAD idea!
There are a whole bunch of reasons for this and if you want more details why, take a look at these articles I have written on Binoculars with Digital Cameras.
Digibinning / Digiscoping
So unless you want to spend thousands on the very best digital camera binoculars, then I assure you that you are far better off either getting a dedicated camera with a powerful zoom lens. Or for a very good inexpensive option that I and many, many others have had great results with, is to get a good binocular/scope and an an adapter that enables you to either attach your camera or even your smartphone to the instriment. There are a number of excellent ones on the market, below are some of the best ones that I have tested and reviewed:
- SnapZoom Universal Digiscoping Adapter
- SNYPEX X-Wing SPA1 Universal SmartPhone Adapter
- Carson Universal Smartphone Optics Adapter
There you have it, I hope that if you are new to the world of binoculars and optics that this post will be helpful. If you have anything to add or suggestions as to any other commonly made mistakes when choosing binoculars, please feel free to leave a comment in the section below.