Best Binoculars for Watching Sailing

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Watching Sailing with Binoculars
With the London Olympics almost on us, I got a question yesterday from someone looking for the best binoculars to watch sailing with as they were going to a few of the races. I thought that I would share my advice to them on the site as it may be useful if you are going to watch sailing, rowing, canoeing, surfing, windsurfing or indeed if you just want to get a better view of any boats and ships from the shore.

Watching Sailing vs Sailing Binoculars (Marine)

If you are looking for binoculars to take on board a yacht or boat, then your requirements will be quite a bit different to those who want to watch you! If so, then please check out my page on Marine Binoculars.

Requirements

Before deciding which binoculars to get, lets first consider what the main requirements are and what the general aspects and conditions are when watching most types of sailing. In this way we can look for the type of binocular that will be most suitable:

  • Medium to large distances
  • Wide open spaces
  • Easy to spot
  • Fairly slow moving (especially taking into account the distance you will be observing them at)
  • Generally fair to good light conditions

So as you can see in general we will be looking for a binocular that is good for observing fairly large, easy to find and relatively slow moving objects at medium to large distances in wide open spaces with generally fair to good lighting conditions.

Price

How much you should spend on your optics will largely be down to your circumstances, how often you plan to use them and just how highly you rate the importance of quality versus price. But if you were to take any advice from this page or indeed this website, then please don't opt for the cheapest binoculars out there. Very cheap binoculars are often no better than toys and in some cases you can actually get children's binoculars that will perform better! The worst binoculars will also most probably put you off using them, not last very long and the poor quality image will in some cases mean that you will be better off not using them at all.

However I am not suggesting that you have to spend a fortune on your optics either. Whilst it is true that the very best binoculars are also quite often some of the most expensive, there are also some really very good pairs of out there these days that won't cost you much more than your ticket to the event, yet you can use them for many years to come, safe in the knowledge that the view you get through them is of a very high quality. To give you an idea, take a look at some of the Best Value For Money Binoculars that I have reviewed in different price categories, or take a look at my winner for the overall Best Value For Money Binocular Award.

Magnification

Because of the distances involved, it makes sense to choose optics that have a reasonably high magnification. High powered binoculars do however have their drawbacks so it may not be the case of just choosing the largest magnification possible because when you increase the power/magnification on a pair of binoculars a few main things happen:
  1. Your field of view decreases
  2. Your depth of view decreases
  3. The image you see becomes harder to hold steady
  4. Your exit pupil decreases (assuming the same sized objective lens is used)

So lets consider each of these and decide how important they are and if they are worth sacrificing for a larger magnification

1) Field of View:
This is basically the width of the image that you can see when you are looking through your optics.

Most bird watchers, consider it to be very important because they are mostly observing small, fast and sometimes erratic moving birds and so a nice wide field of view makes it easier to quickly locate them.

Because you will be using your binoculars to view fairly large, slow and predictable moving yachts, a narrower field of view may not be that much of an issue here.

But there is more: A wider field of view helps you to observe more of the image at once without having to move your binoculars about. To illustrate this point, take a look at the images below:

As you can see from the image above, if you have a lower powered pair of binoculars with a wider field of view, you can see more of what is happening at once, but because the image is essentially smaller, you view less detail. On the other hand, a high power magnification helps you see more detail, but you see less of the overall picture. So ideally I you need to strike a reasonable compromise between enough power to get close enough to the action, but not so much power that you cant see enough of the action.

Exactly how much power you need and how wide a field of view that is needed will depend a lot on how close you are to the action, but as a general rule, 7x and 8x are seen as fairly low powered and 10 - 12x as fairly high powered on normal hand held binoculars.

2) Depth of View:
As you increase magnification on most optical devices, including binoculars, your depth of view decreases. This means that objects at shorter distances away from the one that you are focused on will not be in focus an you will have to focus your binoculars more often as you flip from one boat to another (assuming they are different distances away from each other).

For me this is only a very minor issue, unless you are going to the extreme and looking at a super high powered pair of optics as focussing with a good pair of binoculars is no problem at all and because the yachts you are looking at are relatively slow moving from a distance, you are not lightly to miss seeing them.

3) Image Stability:
Assuming that you will be hand holding your binoculars, a higher magnification image is shakier and harder to hold steady because any hand movement is magnified as much as the image is.

With very high powers, the image becomes almost impossible to keep still and the only way to stop it is to mount the binoculars on something like a tripod or to get binoculars with some sort of image stabilisation.

If you are interested, take a look at the excellent range of Canon Stabilized Binoculars, which may be a good option if you really want a very high powered pair of binoculars or if you have unsteady or shaky hands.

4) Exit Pupil:
I wont go into the exit pupil in detail here, as you can read all about it here. But assuming that all else remains equal, the exit pupil will decrease as you increase the magnification and what this basically means is that less light will get to your eyes.

This is very important if you are using your binoculars in situations where the light is often very poor, but for most sailing events the light should at least be decent and so unless you plan to get an extremely high powered pair of binoculars for watching sailing, I would not worry about it too much.

Magnification: Conclusions
So as you can see, you need to take into account the negative affects of increasing the magnification to get a reasonable balance.

Taking all these main factors into account, for hand held sailing binoculars, without any electronic image stabilisation, I would be looking at magnifications of around 10x with probably 12x being my absolute maximum. But for my money, 10x makes a nice compromise between field of view and power and will mean that your binoculars will also probably be useful for a whole range of uses and not just sailing.

Size

The next issue to consider is what size of binocular to get and as you will see this also will have some bearing on the magnification, but ultimately it will mostly be down to your personal needs and preferences. Generally Binoculars come in three main sizes, which are usually dependant on the size of their objective lenses:

  • Full Sized binoculars have objective lenses of around 42mm to 45mm
  • Mid-Sized binoculars have objective lenses of around 32mm to 36mm
  • Compact binoculars have objective lenses of around 21mm and 28mm
  Full Size Mid-Size Compact
  Vanguard 10x42 Spirit ED Binoculars Kowa 10x33 Genesis XD Binoculars Pentax 9x28 DCF LV Binoculars
  Vanguard 10x42 Spirit ED Binoculars Kowa 10x33 Genesis XD Binoculars Pentax 9x28 DCF LV Binoculars
Objective Lens: 42mm 33mm 28mm
Weight: 22.6ozs (641g) 20.8ozs (590g) 12.9ozs (366g)
Length: 5.7in (14.5cm) 5.2in (13.2cm) 4.6in (11.7cm)
Width: 4.9in (12.4cm) 4.1in (10.4cm) 4.5in (11.4cm)

 

For most general sports binoculars, I usually recommend that people try and choose a fairly compact and lightweight pair as they are just that bit easier to carry to the event. But compacts do have their drawbacks and just maybe a mid or even full sized pair will actually be a better option for your sail watching binoculars and as long as your optics are small and light enough to be stowed away in your bag they probably don't need to be super compact. So what are the advantages that larger binoculars have over compacts:

  1. Easier to hold steady
  2. Better resolution image
  3. Wider field of view
  4. Brighter image - sometimes

Once again lets take each of these and see how important they are in relation to watching sailing binoculars:

1) Image Stability:
A well balanced, larger and heavier pair of optics will resist moving better than a compact one and so are often easier to hold steady, which only really becomes a consideration if you plan on using using a higher magnifications. Which as we have already discussed we probably are considering, so this is worth keeping in mind when choosing what size you should get.

larger devices are also far easier to use and more comfortable to hold than tiny compact binoculars, especially true if you are using thick gloves in winter ... which will hopefully not be an issue when watching sailing!

2) Image Resolution:
With all other aspects being equal, the larger the objective lens, the better the resolution in the image. How much resolution you need depends on how much you're going to magnify an image. For magnifications of 8x, 10x or even 12x, a 42mm objective lens will provide plenty of resolution and there is no need to exceed your eyes' ability to see.

The reason some people might choose larger objectives would not be for increased resolution but for more brightness in poor light and bad light or for use at night for astronomy.

3) Field of View:
At the same magnification full size binoculars tend to have a wider field of view than smaller ones. As we have already discovered about above, a really wide field of view is probably not that critical in a good pair of binoculars for sailing, but it is always nice to get a fuller picture and if your choice is between two, perhaps the FOV may swing it for you.

4) Image Brightness:
Larger objective lenses let in more light, so with all else being equal, they will produce a larger exit pupil and have the potential to produce a brighter image. Once again and because most sailing events will occur in pretty good light conditions, this may not be critical unless you are planning on going with a very high magnification, in which case it would be better to choose a binocular with fairly large objective lenses.

Size: Conclusions
So those are the main advantages a larger objective lens and just like the magnification, there is no right or wrong choice and it all depends on what you feel is important and how you plan to use your binoculars:

  • If size and weight is critical to you and more important than image quality and field of view go for a compact binocular
  • If image quality, brightness and the field of view is more important than size and weight choose a full sized binocular
  • If size is fairly important, but not critical and image quality, brightness and field of view are important but also not critical a mid-sized binocular may be an ideal compromise between the two

 


Ideal Binoculars for Watching Sailing

Below I have listed a few of what I consider to be the best watching sailing binoculars that I have reviewed. I have divided the list up into the three main size categories to make it simpler for you to choose depending on your preferences:

Full-Size Binoculars for Watching Sailing

 

Celestron LandScout 10x50 Binoculars Review

These low cost 50mm porro prism Celestron binoculars possess many components & features that are better than I would expect to see at this price point:

This includes an aluminium housing that is fully fog & waterproof, twist-up eye cups, BaK-4 prisms and fully multi-coated optics.

These all combine well to deliver a great value for money large aperture instrument that performs well in all weather conditions, but which excels in low light when compared to others in it's class.

Price: (2/6) Low Cost Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 72%
Excellent
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 7/10
Extras & Details: 6/10

 

Vortex Viper HD 10x42 Binoculars Review

There is a whole lot to like about these 10x42 Vortex Viper HD binoculars, but what really stands out for me are the super high quality HD optics with ED glass lenses and phase corrected, dielectrically coated roof prisms.

Add to this an excellent build quality and loads of attention to detail like a lockable diopter adjuster and ultra hard exterior lens coatings and you have a high performing binocular that is also great value for money.

Price: (4/6) Mid-High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 85%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 9/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 9/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

 

Minox 10x42 BV BRW Binoculars Review

Designed as Minox put it with an outstanding price to performance ratio, these binoculars with quality features like fully multi-coated lens elements, phase corrected prisms & a tough fully water & fogproof body do indeed offer plenty bang for your buck.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 75%
Excellent
Body Stats: 7/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 7/10

These Binoculars are On SaleDiscounted Binoculars: These Minox 10x42 BV binoculars are available at a discount on Amazon.com, Binoculars.com and Eagle Optics in the US as well as Warehouse Express in the UK.
>> Check Prices
 

Swarovski 10x42 EL Binoculars Review

The legendary Swarovski EL 10x42 binoculars are a comfortable well balanced binocular with an exit pupil of over 4mm and a good 10x magnification. The feature fully multi-coated lenses, BaK-4 Prisms and are fully waterproof making them ideal for observing birds and other wildlife or sporting events from a distance especially in wide, open habitats.

Price: (6/6) Expensive Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 9/10 93%
The VERY Best
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 10/10
Optical Stats: 9/10
Image Quality 10/10
Extras & Details: 10/10

These Binoculars are On SaleDiscounted Binoculars: The Swarovski EL 10x42 binoculars are available at a discount on Amazon.com, Binoculars.com and Eagle Optics in the USA
>> Check Prices
 

Vanguard 10x42 Spirit ED Binoculars Review

Quality features like Fully Multi-Coated Extra Low dispersion Glass, phase corrected Bak-4 prisims encased in a lightweight and tough fog and waterproof body combine to ensure that this Vanguard binocular has an excellent performance to price ratio

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 78%
Excellent
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 7/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

These Binoculars are On SaleDiscounted Binoculars: Vanguard are currently offering a $50 Mail-In Rebate on these bins in the US and a £20 cashback in the UK
>> Check Prices

Below are some of the best Mid Size watching sailing binoculars that I have so far reviewed:

Mid-Size Binoculars for Watching Sailing

 

Snypex Knight ED 10x32 Binoculars Review

A very lightweight and compact open bridge body that is tough as well as fog and waterproof do a great job of protecting the high quality optics contained inside these Snypex binoculars.

Components like Apochromatic lenses with ED Glass Lens Elements, fully multi-coated optics and Phase Coated, BaK-4 Roof Prisms all combine to produce an image of stunning clarity and brightness that is a match to any in this class.

Price: (4/6) Mid-High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 77%
Excellent
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 7/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

 

Swarovski EL 10x32 Swarovision Binoculars Review

The new Swarovision EL 10x32 binoculars combine the very best optics and coatings with a waterproof, lightweight and tough Magnesium open bridge body to produce one of the very best mid sized binoculars currently on the market.

Optical features include Field flattener lenses to correct field curvature, Phase correction and dielectric coatings on the roof prisms and fully multi-coated Swarobright lens coatings for a much better light transmission.

Price: (6/6) Expensive Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 9/10 95%
The VERY Best
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 10/10
Optical Stats: 10/10
Image Quality 10/10
Extras & Details: 10/10

These Binoculars are On SaleDiscounted Binoculars: The Swarovski EL 10x32 SV binoculars are available at a discount on Amazon.com, Binoculars.com and Eagle Optics in the USA
>> Check Prices
 

Pentax 10x30 PCF CW Binoculars Review

Mid sized porro prism binoculars from Pentanx that manage to combine a low price point with a good quality optics system and a high level build quality to produce a versatile instrument that delivers a superior quality image for it's class.

Highlights include fully multi-coated optics, fully sealed, nitrogen filled, water proof body, twist-up eyecups and very long eye-relief.

Price: (2/6) Low Cost Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 68%
Very Good
Body Stats: 7/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 6/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 6/10

 

Swarovski 10x32 EL 32 Traveler Binoculars Review

With a beautiful fine aluminium and tan finish the EL 10x32 Traveler binoculars are compact and lightweight making them ideal for travelling with. This combined with Swarovski's unique wrap-around grip also makes them easier and more comfortable to carry in the field. If you then combine this with the quality that only comes with a Swarovski binocular, a tough magnesium housing, tested under extreme conditions in the desert, Arctic and rainforest they also make excellent wildlife observation and birdwatching binoculars and so are one of the best binoculars in the world to take on safari.

Price: (6/6) Expensive Binoculars
These Binoculars are On SaleDiscounted Binoculars: The Swarovski EL 10x32 Traveler binoculars are available at a discount on Amazon.com, Binoculars.com and Eagle Optics in the USA
>> Check Prices
 

Opticron Traveller BGA ED 10x32 Binoculars Review

Very high quality mid-sized 10x32mm binoculars that will appeal to the enthusiast and serious user and makes an ideal high end optic for any travel related adventure including safaris, hiking or backpacking.

Major highlights include an extremely high level of optical components that combine well to produce an image of superior quality. Add to this a very wide field of view, great close focus distance and plenty of eye-relief and many other features...

Price: (4/6) Mid-High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 82%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 10/10
Image Quality 9/10
Extras & Details: 7/10


Below are some of the best compact binoculars for sailing, that I have so far reviewed:

Compact Binoculars for Watching Sailing

 

Vanguard Orros 10x25 Binoculars Review

These low cost 10x Vanguard binoculars feature a lightweight rubber coated, water and fog proof body that protects good quality BaK-4 roof prisms and multi-coated lenses.

The also feature a unique offset hinge and focussing wheel that is designed to make adjustments more comfortable as well as helps them fold down to a compact shape for easy storage, making them a great take any and everywhere binocular.

Price: (2/6) Low Cost Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 70%
Excellent
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 6/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 7/10
Extras & Details: 5/10

 

Pentax 9x28 DCF LV Binoculars Review

A rather unique compact binocular with a 9x magnification that offers just a little more reach than those with 8x, but without sacrificing too much field of view.

The tough fog and waterproof body house quality optics that includes the use of Bak-4 Prisms with phase correction coatings and fully multi-coated lenses.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 70%
Excellent
Body Stats: 6/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 7/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 6/10

These Binoculars are On SaleDiscounted Binoculars: These Pentax binoculars are available at a discount on their RRP at most online stores including Eagle Optics and Amazon in the US and Warehouse Express (WEX) and Amazon.co.uk in the UK.
>> Check Prices
 

Steiner 10x26 Safari Pro Binoculars Review

Weighing only 9.7oz (275g), with a powerful 10x magnification housed in a compact and tough body that is easily small enough to fit into your pocket. This combined with the quality you have come to expect from German optics and in particular Steiner binoculars make these ideal budget travelling companions.

Price: (1/6) Cheap Binoculars
 

Steiner 10.5x28 Wildlife Pro Binoculars Review

The double hinged design on these Steiner Wildlife binoculars is not only stylish, but allows them to fold up into a very compact shape making them ideal for travel.

The lenses are equipped with a special anti-reflection coating helping them to produce a brighter, more brilliant image. and the fast-action ClicLoc Strap System offers additional flexibility.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
These Binoculars are On SaleDiscounted Binoculars: These Steiner Wildlife Pro binoculars are discounted on Amazon.com, Binoculars.com and Eagle Optics in the USA as well as Amazon.co.uk in the UK.
>> Check Prices
 

Opticron 10x28 BGA T PC Oasis Binoculars Review

Quality compact binoculars that have a lightweight and very compact duel hinge design that is both water and fogproof. These roof prism compacts also feature high definition optics with PC Phase corrected prisms with Oasis prism coatings.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 73%
Excellent
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 6/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 6/10


View >> All General Sporting Binoculars that will also be suitable for Sailing



Other Points of Consideration

As well as the main points features that we have discussed above, you may also wish to consider these ones below, that may help you narrow down your short list:

Style of Binocular

In general, you will come across two main designs/styles of binocular depending on the type of prism they use: the Roof Prism or the Porro Prism. Both have their own advantages over each other and so as with many things in optics there is no best option or right answer and the choice you make will be down to your own personal preferences:

  • Roof Prism Advantages: The compact prism design usually means a smaller more compact binocular than porro prisms with the same size objective lenses. There are also less moving internal parts, so tend to be tougher and longer lasting.
  • Roof Prism Disadvantages: A cheap roof prism is usually optically inferior to a cheap porro prism's. This is because it is harder to align roof prisms and to ensure total internal reflection the roof prism design also requires expensive coatings which are obviously not used in cheaper models of roof prim binoculars. This is not a problem in the mid to expensive range, so if you are planning on buying a very cheap pair of binoculars (which I would strongly advise against anyway), you should rather rather opt for a porro prism design.

  • Porro Prism Advantages: Because the objective lenses are wider apart, they tend to have a better stereoscopic image and a wider field of view than porro prisms. They are also cheaper to make than roof prisms and so tend to be optically superior in the cheap to mid price ranges.
  • Porro Prism Disadvantages: Bulky in comparison to porro prisms. There are also more moving parts and so they are harder to make dust and waterproof and have slightly more chance of something going wrong.

Eye Relief

The amount of eye-relief the binocular has will be very important to those who use glasses and want to keep them on whilst watching sailing through their binoculars. Eye Relief is basically the distance from the ocular lenses or the last surface of an eyepiece at which the eye can obtain the full field of view. Eyecups on the binoculars ensure that your eyes will be at the correct distance for this to happen, but if you wear glasses, you can't get your eyes as close to the lenses as those without glasses, so you need to adjust the eyecups to ensure that even with your glasses on your eyes are the correct distance from the ocular lenses. Binoculars with a longer eye relief are ideal for those who wear glasses as they basically project the image further beyond the ocular lens, giving you plenty of room to play with. So if you wear glasses, you should be looking for an eye relief of at least 15mm, to see the full image full image. The down side to long eye relief is that it usually reduces the field of view.

 

Comments & Opinions

I would love to get your comments and well as your opinions, have I missed out anything or do you think that some of opinions or assumptions that i have made are wrong? Do you want to or do you already own one the ideal pair of binoculars for watching sailing? If so please let us know what you think:

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