Smaller is better as long as the binocular works ergonomically
for you. It should provide no excuse to ever leave it behind.
AND BUILD QUALITY You want binoculars that deliver
sharp, bright, color-true images. Nitrogen-filled binoculars
resist fogging up inside. Fully multi-coated lenses preserve
most of the light coming through the optics and therefore give
a bright image. In roof-prism binoculars, phase-corrected prism
coatings provide an image with high contrast. High-quality construction
will help keep the optics in alignment.
FOCUS Many birders will carefully weigh a binocular's
ability to focus up close, especially if they also like to watch
butterflies. Pocket binoculars vary greatly on this score. The
Pentax DCF MC 10x25 roof prism at right focuses as close as
6.6 feet. The 8x25, which looks identical, lets you within 9.8
feet, not quite so ideal but still a respectable degree of closeness.
OF VIEW Birders
who like to seek warblers amongst dense foliage may find that
a wide field of view makes it easier to locate their prey. The
Pentax DCF MC roof prisms above is unusual in offerering a 330-foot
field of view, as wide as as the full-size 10x42 and 8x42Pentaxes.
RELIEF If you wear glasses, consider the eye relief,
or the maximum distance that you can hold the binoculars from
your eye and still see the whole picture. Some of our glasses-wearing
judges found that binoculars offering over 13mm of eye relief
let them see the whole picture, not just the center of the circle.
Others needed at least 16mm.
Do you ever share your binoculars with someone whose glasses
status differs from yours? If the eyecups pop out or twist up,
it takes only a fraction of a second to convert the binoculars
back and forth between someone who wears glasses and someone
who does not. If the eyecups are the rubber style that must
be folded over like the cuff of a sock, the job will require
full concentration and the use of both hands, and it may take
5 or 10 seconds.
if you're looking at waterfalls. But for birders, both of whom
wish to see a rare and wonderful bird that has just appeared
unexpectedly, swift-converting eyecups might be a deciding factor
in which binocular to buy. (Eyecup style is noted on the chart.)
Even the neck strap can make a difference in the pleasure derived
from a binocular. Many of the binoculars we considered came
with a braided cord of 1/8-inch diameter or less. While such
a narrow cord is quite sufficient to suspend the bantam weight
of the binoculars, one of our T-shirt-wearing judges thought
that the cords might become uncomfortable against a bare neck.
we never thought about until we tested the pocket binoculars
is the position that they assume when worn suspended by their
straps. Some hang straight up and down, like the Leica pocket
binoculars on the left side of the photo. These are generally
well behaved during a brisk walk. We labeled them "straight"
in the "Dangle Factor" column of the chart.
binoculars hang at an angle, with the eyepieces toward the wearer's
belly, like the Minox 8x25s at right. Some of the judges found
that such binoculars tended to give a little nudge in the ribs
with every step. We identify such binoculars as "head-in."
A few hang with the objective lenses rather than the eyepieces
toward the wearer's body. We labeled these "toe-in."
Although toe-in binoculars also bounced around with the wearer's
steps, unless the angle was extreme they tended to hug the belly
and seemed to ride more comfortably than the head-in specimens.
Anyone who has ever had a pair of treasured binoculars go for
a sudden, unexpected dip in a puddle or pond will tell you that
waterproofing can make the difference between binoculars that
survive and those that don't. Some binoculars are rated "water
resistant," which means that they can be sprinkled but not submerged.
Waterproof pocket binoculars, like the Swarovski 8x20 at left,
are unusual and pricy but awfully nice to have.
& FEEL FACTOR looms large in pocket roof prism
binoculars because of their exceptionally small sizes. Some
judges found the tiniest specimens too small to hold comfortably.
In some the focus knob is small or located in an unexpected
place. Although design was not much of an issue with the reverse
Porro prism models, which are more normal in size and layout,
the testers diverged considerably over which roof prism designs
they preferred. With pocket roof prism binoculars, you might
want to try them out to see if they fit your hands.
it all together
We like binoculars with bright, sharp optics, fully multi-coated
lenses, and phase coatings if it's a roof prism binocular. We
want it to focus close, give us plenty of eye relief, and provide
a wide field of view. We want our binoculars to be waterproof,
nitrogen filled, and lightweight, and to have a pleasant, non-slip
surface to hold on to. We go for pop-up or twist-out eyecups
and a comfortable strap. Of course, the binocs must be small
and fit in the breast pocket of a shirt. Oh, yes, and we'd like
them to be inexpensive. We realize there is no such animal.
The skill of choosing binoculars is a matter of picking one's
priorities and selecting the instrument that delivers what you
care the most about.
PART I Why
Get Pocket Optics?
Chart of Pocket Optics to see
which binoculars include the features you care about most.