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 stabilization.

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 stabilization, 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 below, 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 four/five main sizes, which is largely determined by the size of their objective lenses:

  • Large & Giant Binoculars have objective lenses of 45mm or more
  • Full Sized binoculars have objective lenses of around 42mm to 45mm
  • Mid-Sized binoculars - objective lenses of around 32mm to 36mm
  • Compact binoculars - objective lenses of around 21mm and 28mm

Below are a few ideal binoculars for sail watching arranged into the different size categories. I have added the weight and dimensions to give you an idea as to how this changes as the objective lenses get larger:

  Large Large Large/Giant
  Steiner HX 15x56 Binoculars Maven 11x45 B2 Binoculars Levenhuk Bruno Plus 20x80
  Steiner HX 15x56 Binoculars Maven 11x45 B2 Binoculars Levenhuk Bruno Plus 20x80
Objective Lens: 56mm 45mm 80mm
Weight: 44.1oz (1250g) 33.2ozs (941g) 70.4ozs (1996g)
Length: 7.1in (18cm) 7.1in (18cm) 11.8in (30cm)
Width: 5.6in (14.2cm) 5.7in (14.5cm) 9in (22.9cm)
  Full Size Mid-Size Compact
  Athlon Ares 10x42 Binoculars Snypex Knight D-ED 10x32 Binoculars Pentax 9x28 DCF LV Binoculars
  Athlon Ares 10x42 Binoculars Snypex Knight D-ED 10x32 Pentax 9x28 DCF LV Binoculars
Objective Lens: 42mm 32mm 28mm
Weight: 22.6ozs (641g) 13.4ozs (380g) 12.9ozs (366g)
Length: 5.7in (14.5cm) 4.25in (10.8cm) 4.6in (11.7cm)
Width: 4.9in (12.4cm) 4.64in (11.8cm) 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. So for some users, a mid or full sized pair will actually be a better option for your sail watching binoculars as most of these are still small and light enough to be stowed away in your bag and taken to an event.

If however you are lucky enough to have a view of the ocean from your balcony or other static point, then you may be best opting for a large or even giant pair of binoculars that you can then mount onto a tripod achieve the most stable view possible.

The advantages that mid / full size binoculars have over compacts:

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

Large and Giant binoculars have versus Mid / Full size instruments:

  1. Greater light gathering ability for improved image quality and low light performance
  2. Often higher magnifications for greater image detail, but results in narrower field of view
  3. Less portable
  4. Often need a tripod for best results, this is both good and bad - fixing a binocular onto a tripod allows for the most stable views and you can view for longer without fatigue.

So lets now 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!

If you mount your binocular onto a tripod the issue of image stability totally disappears. However this is only really feasible if you are viewing from a static location.

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 usually 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 larger size binoculars tend to have a wider field of view than smaller ones. As we have already discovered 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 & Low Light Performance:
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 (12x or Greater), in which case it would be better to choose a binocular with fairly large objective lenses.

Size: Conclusions
As with the magnification, there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to size 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 or larger 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
  • If you are viewing from a static position (like your balcony) and don't need to carry your binoculars very far, you could opt for a large or even giant pair of binoculars with a high magnification and then mount onto a tripod.

 


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:

Large / Giant Binoculars for Sail / Boat Watching

The binocular below are ideal if you don't need to carry them about much, for instance if you will be observing from the balcony at your home. Whilst some can be used from the hands, for best results these instrument would ideally be mounted onto a tripod. For more details take a look at my guide to Binocular Tripod Adapters. I the binocular accessories area, I also have a section on tripods and tripod heads that I have tested that would be ideal.

 

Levenhuk Bruno Plus 20x80 Binoculars Review

Very high powered 20x binoculars with a large 80mm aperture that are primarily designed for astronomy, but also make a very effective instrument for long range terrestrial observations during the day.

Particular highlights include a waterproof aluminium chassis, twist-up eye-cups and a built-in tripod mounting bar.

Good quality glass and coatings and large lenses combine well to deliver a bright, good quality view.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 72%
Excellent
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 7/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 6/10

 

Helios Stellar-II 15x70 Binoculars Review

High powered binoculars specifically designed with astronomy in mind, but which can also very effectively be used for long range terrestrial observation.

The large 70mm lenses in combination with a quality fully multi-coated optical system to a great job collecting and then transferring a high level of light to your eyes for bright, high quality views.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 72%
Excellent
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 7/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 6/10

 

Steiner HX 15x56 Binoculars Review

High power, long distance binoculars from Steiner Optics that combine a high level of optics and coatings with a tough, long lasting exterior that will appeal to hunters, long range wildlife observers or indeed anyone wanting for more reach and/or greater image detail.

Highlights for me include an impressive and very bright image, the use of superior quality optical components, a tough, almost bomb proof exterior and a keen eye on the finer details that when all added up set these apart the ordinary.

Price: (5/6) High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 83%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 9/10
Optical Stats: 9/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

 

Celestron Echelon 20x70 Binoculars Review

High quality, high powered binoculars that are hand assembled in the USA using high specification Japanese optics, these are designed for long range terrestrial observation and astronomy.

With their large 70mm objective lenses and high quality optical coatings, these Celestron Echelon binoculars outperform many of their direct competitors in low light.

Tripod adaptable, their tough, yet lightweight aluminium body means you can also hand hold them in some situations for added flexibility.

Price: (5/6) High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 82%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 9/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 7/10

 

Celestron SkyMaster 25x70 Binoculars Review

These Celestron Skymaster binoculars, with reasonably good quality optics and their large 70mm objectives with a very powerful 25x magnification make them an ideal low cost option for long distance terrestrial observation as well as perfect astronomy binoculars.

The waterproof body, protects high quality BAK-4 porro prisms and to help improve transmission levels, the the optics are multi-coated.

Price: (2/6) Low Cost Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 6/10 63%
Very Good
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 6/10
Optical Stats: 6/10
Image Quality 6/10
Extras & Details: 5/10


Full-Size Binoculars for Watching Sailing

Probably the most versatile size of binocular, these offer you a good balance between light gathering ability and portability. However magnifications are usually a little lower, so will suit those closer to the action. The advantage here though is a wider field of view, which means that whilst you see less detail, you do get to see more of the bigger picture.

 

Upland Optics Perception HD 10x42 Binoculars Review

These lightweight and compact 42mm binoculars from Upland Optics feature a tough, waterproof Magnalium chassis that protects an impressively high level of optics at this price range

This included ED glass lenses and BaK-4 roof prisms that are both phase corrected and dielectrically coated which all contribute to offering up an impressive view.

Another highlight is that these have really nice wide field of view,for a 10x42 binocular.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 77%
Excellent
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 6/10

 

Tom Lock Series 2 10x42 Binoculars Review

For a binocular with a price tag of less than £100, these Tom Lock binoculars show an impressive level of components. Highlights include:

A Fully Multi-Coated Optical System, Roof Prisms made from BaK-4 Glass, with Silver Mirror Coatings and Phase correction Coatings.

These features combined with a high attention to detail goes beyond what I normally expect at this level.

Price: (2/6) Low Cost Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 70%
Excellent
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 7/10
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

 

Athlon Ares 10x42 Binoculars Review

Mid to high end binoculars from Athlon that include many of the components and coatings found on the very best high end optics:

A fully water and fog proof chassis that is made from magnesium protects a Fully Multi-Coated Optical system with ED glass elements, BaK-4 phase corrected and dielectrically coated roof prisms...

Price: (4/6) Mid-High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 80%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 7/10
Optical Quality: 9/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 9/10
Extras & Details: 7/10

 

Opticron DBA VHD 10x42 Binoculars Review

High end Opticron binoculars that incorporate a raft of high end components and features that I believe add up to make an instrument that not only looks and feels the business, but delivers a very high quality view that even the most critical users will appreciate.

Price: (5/6) High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 80%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 9/10
Optical Stats: 7/10
Image Quality 9/10
Extras & Details: 7/10


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 D-ED 10x32 Binoculars Review

These high performance, mid-size Snypex binoculars offer the user greater image detail at longer ranges and are an ideal instrument for travel, safaris, hunting and general nature and wildlife observation.

Top specification optical components include APO lenses with ED glass elements, Bak-4 Dach roof prisms with phase correction and dielectric coatings that ensure the best possible views...

Price: (4/6) Mid-High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 83%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 9/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 9/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

 

Meade Wilderness 10x32 Binoculars Review

Cheap mid-sized BaK-4 roof prism binoculars from Meade Instruments that include multi-coated optics protected by a nitrogen filled water-proof body.

With a 5.6 angle of view (294ft wide @ 1000 yards) these perform very well in this and indeed almost all areas against other bins within their price level.

Price: (2/6) Low Cost Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 6/10 63%
Very Good
Body Stats: 7/10
Optical Quality: 6/10
Optical Stats: 7/10
Image Quality 6/10
Extras & Details: 6/10

 

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

 

Steiner BluHorizons 10x26 Binoculars Review

Compact Steiner roof prism binoculars with the double hinge design makes them a true pocket binocular ideal for lightweight travel and uses like skiing and hiking.

The sunlight adaptive optical system reduces glare and makes for a less washed out and more vibrant image in very bright light conditions.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 78%
Excellent
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 7/10
Extras & Details: 7/10


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.