Zegrahms Tips On What Makes For The Best Pair Of Binoculars
In the Zegrahm Expeditions office, we are frequently asked about the best and most useful gear to bring on our expeditions—from the choice of boots to wear in Antarctica and South Georgia or on the Northern Ring of Fire expeditions to the best snorkeling gear for Faces of Melanesia.
These items are, of course, essential to the enjoyment of each expedition, but when departing for a wildlife trip, the one item that cannot be left behind, the one “don’t leave home without it” piece of equipment is a good pair of binoculars.
Frequently, wildlife observation occurs at a great distance from the subjects themselves. A quality pair of binoculars allows comfortable and detailed observation with minimal disturbance to the daily activities of the animals. This is, by far, the best way to observe wildlife. With the proliferation of high-quality binoculars or “field glasses,” the beauty of the wildlife we encounter on our expeditions and the subtle details of plumage and pelage come into focus. Without binoculars, the massive southern royal albatross may be just a distant speck on a vast ocean, a three-toed sloth just a blob in a cecropia tree, and the nuanced beauty of a red-throated pipit perched on a low tundra shrub would be missed, appearing only brown to the naked eye.
There are a wide range of binocular manufacturers. Some of the more well-known include Bausch & Lomb, Bushnell, Leica, Nikon, Swarovski, and Zeiss. There are a number of lesser-known optics companies that are making excellent field glasses such as Eagle Optics, Kowa, Leupold, Swift, and others.
With more manufacturers of high quality optics, the array of choices can often be bewildering. There are many factors to consider. Each pair of binoculars has two numbers associated with them to represent magnification and width of the objective lens, for example 7x35. With a 7 power binocular, the subject is magnified 7 times more than it would be with the naked eye. The second number—in this case 35—is the measurement in millimeters of the objective lens—the front lens. A larger diameter increases the amount of light that enters the binoculars. Field glasses that have larger magnification and a wider objective lens tend to be heavier. Weight is definitely an important factor to be considered. We have found, however, that the smallest of the so-called “compact binoculars” while quite tempting because of their size and weight, can be quite difficult to use for wildlife observation.
Durability is important, as well. Your binoculars will definitely be “put to the test” as we embark or disembark from Zodiacs on our Bridging the Equator trip in the South Pacific or bounce across dusty roads tracking wildlife through Botswana or India. Other factors to consider are whether the binoculars are “factory-sealed” or “nitrogen-purged” as a means to keep moisture and dust out. Additionally, a few models have built-in image stabilization features which assist to steady the view. Eye-relief or the distance from one’s eye to the eyepiece is essential to consider for those of us who wear glasses.
An often overlooked factor is the ergonomics of the binoculars: how they feel in your hands and around your neck. It is essential to be comfortable with your field glasses. As many veterans of Zegrahm & Eco Expeditions wildlife adventures know, your binoculars may be used for most of the day—on some trips from dawn until dusk. Optics and outdoor gear manufacturers have also produced an excellent selection of binocular straps and harness systems designed to provide a better balance of the binoculars as you wear them and to center the weight on the shoulders and away from the neck.
If purchasing a new pair of binoculars for an expedition, prior to leaving home, it is an excellent idea to secure and adjust the strap to your new field glasses and then take them out into the field observing wildlife in your yard, the local park, or even just around the neighborhood. Having spent some time getting used to your binoculars will be a great benefit as you begin a new wildlife adventure to the far reaches of the globe.
Of course, please call or e-mail our Seattle office and we would be happy to address any questions you may have.
Whichever model you choose, when departing for a wildlife adventure with Zegrahm Expeditions, don’t leave home without your binoculars!