This is by far the most important question. We’ll go through each of the most popular use cases and explain which pair of binos will work best in each and why.
- light-weight (less important if you spend a lot of time in one place waiting for the prey)
- 7x-8x magnification for general hunting (12x to 16x for distant game/varmints)
- medium exit pupil
For hunting, you will want to use light-weight medium-range binoculars. Since you might spend quite a few hours just waiting for the game show up, weight is very important to make sure you still have enough strength in your arms when it’s time to act. The magnification can be different, with 7x and 8x being enough for general hunting, and 10x, 12x or even 16x preferable for hunting distant game/varmints. Since most glassing is done during the day, you don’t need a very large exit pupil. Finally, you might want to consider getting a waterproof or at least weather-proof binoculars if your hunting area is known to get wet.
Concerts, theaters and stadiums:
- around 5x magnification
- light-weight and compact
- large field of view
To get closer to your idol or see more of the action on the field you don’t need too much magnification – a decent field of view is more important, especially in sports, where the objects will be moving quite a lot. Magnification anywhere around 5x should do the trick. What is important though is the weight – you probably won’t want to lug around a heavy pair of binos while you’re having fun, so it’s best to look for a lightweight and compact model. These are usually the cheapest and the lightest binos of all.
Boating, fishing and other marine uses:
- 7x to 10x magnification (can go larger if image stabilization is used)
- corrosion-resistant material
- waterproof colorful design
- image stabilization
- rangefinder & compass
If you spend a lot of time in and around the water, you should consider getting a specially-designed device. Marine binos are usually built from a corrosion-resistant material, feature a waterproof colorful design and are often buoyant, so you can easily spot them and retrieve them if they are ever dropped overboard. Many models will come with either a compass or a rangefinder to measure distance to the object. You might even look into getting binos with image stabilization – very helpful when you’re on board.
- 7x to 8x magnification
- close focusing ability
While a rifle is pretty much essential for hunting, so is a pair of good binoculars for a bird watcher. Without them, it would be hard to see all the details and identify a bird without getting too close to it. For birding look into lightweight binos – you don’t want to be lugging around a heavy glass all day. As with sports, field of view is more important than magnification here – something with a 7x or 8x strength should allow you not only to spot the bird, but also to track it in flight. Since you might find yourself quite close to the bird (e.g. when your feeders are set up close), a good Close Focusing ability is a must. Again, since you will be using them a lot, it makes sense to purchase the best binoculars your budget allows. You won’t regret it.
General use: vacation, hiking, etc.
- light-weight (unless you intend to keep it in the car most of the time)
- wide-angle (7x to 10x is enough for general use)
- medium-to-large exit pupil (4-7 mm)
General use binoculars should be easy to carry around – compact size and light weight is key here. An exception would be binos mostly used during a road trip – if you plan to mostly keep them in the car, you might get a sturdier heavier pair. Wide-angle is more important than the magnification power here – you want to have a larger field of view to be able to easily see what you want to see. Since it’s likely you’ll be using them in the darker hours of the day, look for a larger exit pupil. Finally, if you are looking for hiking binos and will be hiking in wet area – make sure your binos are waterproof or, at the very least, weatherproof. Getting a fog proof model would also be a wise idea, since fogged glass can easily spoil an otherwise beautiful view.
- strong magnification (15x, 20x, 25x and more) for looking deep into star clusters, smaller (7x, 8x, 10x) for having a wider field of view and better luck at catching moving objects like meteor showers
- a tripod adapter
- larger exit pupil (5-7 mm)
Binoculars have one distinct advantage to a telescope when it comes to viewing the starry sky – you get to see the space with both eyes. To truly experience all the magnificence of the night sky, make sure you choose the right magnification (7x or 8x will give a great field of view – perfect for spotting out those meteor showers and taking “a walk” around the space, while 15x, 20x and higher are great for really looking close into those star constellations; 10x is probably the sweet spot between the two extremes here). If you opt for the stronger magnification, it might be a good idea to put the binos on the tripod – this will make sure you get to see the stars as clear as possible without them turning into the lightning bolts. Finally, make sure the exit pupil is large enough for your eyes – at night our eyes open the pupil larger and a smaller exit pupil will easily destroy the whole experience.
- medium magnification (7x or 8x)
- larger exit pupil (5-7 mm)
- optional: night vision
If you’re looking for a pair of binos to be used at night (or dusk/dawn) it’s wise to stick with a medium magnification of 7x or 8x to minimize the effects of shaking hands. Similar to astronomy binos, the exit pupil should be large enough for your dilated pupils. If you really want to see in the dark, take a look at the night vision equipped binos. Though be prepared to spend quite a bit of money if you go this route – the newer models have vastly improved the picture quality compared to the first generation ones, but that comes with a hefty price tag.
But what do these magnification, exit pupil and field of view specifications really mean? Let’s go through each step by step: