What Binocular Strength Is Good for Birdwatching?

Binoculars are used by people for a lot of different purposes like birdwatching, hunting or astronomy. For activities like birdwatching, choosing the right binocular strength is very important.

Finding the right binoculars will make a huge difference to your birdwatching experience as binoculars are built differently based on the purpose they are intended for.

Magnification power is what birdwatchers focus on while picking a pair of binoculars. Before you splurge on a shiny new pair of binoculars, it would be better if you understand their specifications and how they impact birdwatching.


What Is Magnification?

girl looking through strong binoculars

Magnification is the most important aspect of binoculars. The magnification of a pair of binoculars is the number of times the image gets magnified. The higher the magnification, the bigger the object will appear.

If you are looking at the specifications, the first number is the magnification of the lens. For example, 8 x 35 means that the binoculars offer a magnification of 8 times.

Most bird watchers choose 7 or 8 magnification binoculars as they are easier to handle. They have a stable hold and focusing is very simple.

If you want a bright, clear image of the birds, choosing the right magnification is very important. Here’s why:

  • The right magnification ensures bright and clear colors.
  • Magnification plays a key role in overall image quality. Too low or too high a magnification will give you a bad-quality image.
  • It also decides how big or small your field of view will be. If you want to observe large flocks of birds, you will need binoculars with a bigger field of view, which will depend on the level of magnification.
  • Given the amount of screen time we subject them to every day, our eyes are already under a lot of strain. Choosing the right binoculars will reduce the amount of strain on your eyes.

A lot of people mistakenly think that a high magnification equals a better image quality. This is not always the case. If the magnification on your binoculars is too high, you might run into the following problems:

  • High magnification comes at the cost of a reduced field of vision. You will see a more magnified image, but you won’t be able to see the whole image.
  • It also filters the amount of light in the image. If your binoculars have a high magnification, you might see a slightly darker image.
  • The higher the magnification the heavier the binoculars are. Holding them steady can get a little difficult.
  • Higher magnification is meant for objects farther away. This makes it difficult to get a good look at the objects in the foreground.
  • Binoculars with higher magnification require a more nuanced approach. You will have to extend more effort in focusing on the birds to be able to see them clearly.

Choosing the Right Magnification

husband and wife birdwatching

The magnification power is simply how close the objects appear as compared to how they appear to the naked eye. So when you are choosing the magnification power of your binoculars, first consider the location you will be at.

Woody areas with a lot of foliage are more suited for lower magnifying power. Since your line of vision might be obstructed from viewing very far-off objects, a lower magnification is better suited for such areas.
Open landscapes are better suited for higher magnifying power. However, keep in mind that higher magnifying power means that everything gets magnified—even natural shakes. This might affect the quality of your view.

Ideal Binocular Strength for Birdwatching

birdwatching binoculars sitting on table

The ideal binocular strength for you will differ depending on the kind of birdwatching you do. Let’s take a look at different binocular strengths and how they fare against each other.

Most birdwatchers use a binocular strength between 7 and 10. The perfect binocular strength depends on the species of birds you usually observe and the locations you frequent.

8 x 42 Binoculars for Birdwatching

The consensus among experts in the birding community is that binoculars with an 8 x 42 magnification are the best for birdwatching. They let you view distant birds comfortably and are light enough to avoid arm fatigue.

The exit pupil (objective lens diameter divided by magnification) is 5.25 mm. This means that the binoculars will provide a bright image even in dim conditions.

They also have a much larger field of view. Birders can cover a much larger area as compared to binoculars with a magnification of 9 0r 10 while ensuring a bright, clear image.

Compact Binoculars

Compact binoculars are used by birders who need their binoculars to be as light as possible. They have an 8 x 20 or 8 x 25 specification, meaning they have the ideal magnification with a much smaller objective lens diameter.

These are good for watching birds at close range in broad daylight. Since they allow less light, they are too dim for places with low light or at dusk.

They could be a good choice for children, or as a backup pair to keep in the glove compartment of your car.

Mid-Sized Binoculars

8 x 32 binoculars are known as mid-size binoculars. They have better specs than compact binoculars and the same specs as many larger binoculars, making them a good choice for beginners.

You get a fairly light pair of binoculars without compromising too much on image quality.

10 x 42 Binoculars for Birdwatching

The 10 x 42 specification is considered second best after 8 x 42. The field of view is narrower and the image is not as bright as the 8 x 42, but it does have its own advantages.

You get a 25% larger image of the bird with a magnification power of 10 than you would with 8. This comes in handy while birding in the open country or viewing distant birds.

If you have steady arms, the magnification of shaking might not even pose a problem for you. If your primary focus is on distant birds like hawks and shorebirds in the countryside, 10 x 42 could be the ideal binocular strength for you.

10 x 50 vs 10 x 25

We have already discussed how a magnification power of 10 could be an advantage in certain birdwatching situations. However, with an objective lens diameter of 50, they can get really heavy. The exit pupil is 5 mm, which makes for a very bright image.

You could make do with them for birdwatching if nothing else is available, but they are not recommended as there are many better options.

The 10 x 25 binoculars, on the other hand, are far lighter. But they have really dim images, a narrow field of view and the shaking can get very distracting. We definitely advise against using 10 x 25 binoculars for birdwatching.

Is a Magnification of 12 or 15 Good for Birdwatching?

If magnification power of 10 comes with challenges, a magnification power of 12 or 15 becomes downright unusable.

Any decent binoculars with such high magnification will either be extremely heavy for most people or provide dim images with exaggerated shakes. They are definitely not worth the trouble.

If you require a higher magnification power, you are much better off using a spotting scope. They have a magnification range of 20 to 60. With a sturdy tripod, you get steady, bright images with no arm fatigue.

Wrapping Up

birdwatching in field with binoculars

Binoculars are tools to help bring clarity to your outdoor vision. It is ironic how hazy the picture is when you are trying to pick the right pair of binoculars.

Once you understand all the specifications and are confident of the kind of binocular you want, we recommend going to a store and trying out different binoculars before you make the final choice.

This helps bring a lot of clarity to usage experience, weight estimate and comfort level. Once you know how it feels in your hand and how easy or difficult it is to focus on objects, you will feel much more confident about purchasing the binoculars.

With this rundown of different binocular specifications, we hope that picking the right pair of binoculars will be easy as pie!

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