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The Binocular Advisor

Optics Myth 1:

Higher power binoculars will let me see more.

REALITY - Actually, with a higher power binocular you may end up seeing less!

One would think that the more magnification, the more you could see. But it's not necessarily so. The usable power of a binocular is limited by the steadiness of the hands that hold it.

And even a birder with normally steady hands won't be able to hold a binocular as still after running up a steep hill to see a bird as the same person sitting quietly on the back porch.

There is an inevitable wobble in any handheld binocular's image. The higher the magnification, the greater the wobble. At some point, the wobble negates the increased resolution that magnification provides.

It's generally agreed that 10 power is the upper limit of hand-holdable binoculars. That's why few binoculars with over ten power are marketed to birders.

Many experts believe that birders can see just as much or even more with 8 power binocular, or even 7 power.

This is particularly true when a birder's muscles are fatigued. While watching warblers in the treetops, for example, the longer a birder's arms are raised, the harder it gets to hold the binocular steady.

Ranger SRT 6x32We know one young man who is an excellent birder and who prefers a 6-power binocular. He feels that over a long day of birding he sees more birds with his easy-to-use 6x32 Ranger SRT than he would with a "more powerful" binocular. He also appreciates the extra wide field of view that the 6-power binocular gives him.

To get a sense of how much the shaking of your hands degrades a binocular image, try stabilizing your binocular on a tripod. You may be surprised how much more detail you can resolve than you can when holding the binocular in your hands.

The bottom line is that a binocular with higher magnification might not let you identify more birds. What you need may not be stronger binoculars, but better ones.

Copyright 2006 Michael and Diane Porter



Sharp-shinned Hawk

Optics Myths and Misconceptions