What To Consider When Buying Binoculars

What are you watching?

Why are you buying binoculars? Are you upgrading from an older pair - in which case you'll have more of an idea about what you're looking for - or is this your first set? If the latter, then what do you think you'll be looking at: are you a keen bird-watcher, a sports fan or a sailor - or something else? Think about how far you're going to be from your subject, and make sure you're getting the magnification that'll suit your scenario.

What sort of prism do you want?

Binoculars can be divided into two varieties - roof prism and porro prism. You're more likely to encounter roof prism binoculars as they're smaller and lighter than their porro relatives. Roof prisms are made from two straight tubes leading directly to your eyes via a set of prisms, whereas porro prism binoculars are wider, and use angled prisms to bounce the light from the scene into smaller centrally-placed objective lenses which you look into.

Because the light is bounced through a couple of prisms before hitting your eye, porro binoculars often offer greater magnification and less light loss than roof varieties. This doesn't mean that you should automatically go for a porro type, as roof prism pairs are more compact and the more advanced pairs can give you just as good a view as porros can - it all depends what you're looking for!

Check the specs

It's not just about how far the binoculars can see: modern pairs have all sorts of other features and qualities that might make them more suited to your adventures. Some have rubber armouring to protect against drops, and some are waterproof - the Nikon Prostaff 3S will last for 10 minutes at up to 1m submerged - and some have fog-free features such as internal O-ring seals and nitrogen gas to stop the inner lenses getting misted up.

A closer look at magnification

Those numbers on the packaging are the key to getting a brilliant pair of binoculars. Let's take two: the Nikon Prostaff 7S 8×30 and the Nikon Prostaff 3S 8X42 - and talk through them!

The 7S with magnification 8×30 means that these binoculars magnify the image by eight times. There's a whole range of magnifications available so pick one that suits your subject, as we mentioned earlier on.

The 30 refers to the diameter of the front lens (also known as the objective lens), which for the 7S would be 30mm, and 42mm for the 3S. The larger this lens is, the more light will be gathered - so if your binoculars have bigger numbers here, you'll be able to see a brighter image and more detail in dim conditions.

Larger lenses will also be physically bigger and weigh more: so in this case, the Prostaff 3S model weighs in at a really rather lightweight 565g, while the 7S just pips it to the post at a mere 415g.

Get your coat

Binoculars feature all sorts of coatings for protection from the elements - but what do they all mean?

If your binoculars are described as coated, then at least one of the glass surfaces have been covered in an anti-reflective layer. Multi-coating means the same surfaces have multiple anti-reflective layers. These make your viewing clearer and ensure it's easier to pick out details, even when watching the world go by in bright daylight conditions.

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