Birding optics: Eight features to look for
This past week at the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, I taught a three-hour beginning birding class. Topics for the class included bird identification, bird behavior, field guides and optics.
We always sell a lot of optics at this event, and optics have been on my mind more than usual the last few days. I don't know what I would do without my binoculars - I use them every day. They contribute significantly to my ability to enjoy the wild birds I see in my yard and at my feeders.
Having a good pair of optics is absolutely essential if you are trying to identify wild birds. As a part of my class discussion, I shared the appendix from the book The Feather Quest written by Pete Dunne, a world-famous birder. The title for the appendix is simply "Binoculars."
He covers such critical information about what makes good birding binoculars that I thought it would be helpful to share this information in my column. For individuals who are new to birding or who are trying to become more advanced in their bird identification skills, this information may be of help.
There are eight qualities that should be sought when purchasing a pair of "birding" binoculars. They are as follows:
Good resolution - meaning a crisp, sharp image with no distortion. When you look through your binoculars, the image should never appear fuzzy, blurry or out of alignment.
Adequate brightness, which is a function of both the size of the objective lens (the big lens in the front of the binocular) and the lens coatings used on all of the lenses and prisms. Fully multi-coated lenses aid in the transmission of light through the binocular to your pupil.
Proper magnification - strong enough to bring the image closer, but not so powerful that it is impossible to hold steady without needing a tripod. Too much magnification creates several challenges - a narrow field of field, less light-gathering capability and difficulty in holding the binoculars steady.
An adequate field of view: From left to right, you want a generous field of view so you can quickly find the object you are looking for through the binoculars. Binoculars with lower magnification deliver a wider field of view.
Proper eye relief for eyeglass wearers: Individuals wearing eyeglasses should be able to leave their glasses on while looking through binoculars and enjoy the same wide field of view enjoyed by non-eyeglass-wearers.
Close-focus capability: Good birding binoculars should be able to focus as close as five to 10 feet. This is especially important for backyard birders who may have feeders close to their windows on back porches and on decks.
Proper weight, size, and shape: Binoculars should be comfortable ergonomically both to hold and in relation to your facial structure. Some individuals have close-set eyes, while others have deep-set eyes. The pair of binoculars you use should meet your specific needs. If your binoculars are too heavy, a harness strap is a good solution instead of using a neck strap.
Rugged construction to withstand day-to-day use and the occasional fall. I personally have dropped my binoculars more than once. Durability is extremely important for a piece of equipment that is going to get used a lot, especially if you take it out into the field.
If you have any questions about optics, I invite you to visit Jay's Bird Barn, where we specialize in birding binoculars that will help you get close to nature - literally and figuratively!
Until next week, happy birding!
Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, with two locations to serve you - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2370 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 40 years. If you have specific questions related to wild birds you would like discussed in future articles, e-mail Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com.