Binoculars are complex, precision instruments. First time buyers of binoculars are often surprised to learn that magnification (power) is not the only factor worth considering, and that magnification alone; without carefully considering the purpose or application for which the binocular is being purchased, is often meaningless. This article provides the typical Sports Fan, Concert Attendee, or general out-door enthusiast with 5 Helpful Tips to follow when buying Spectator binoculars. This article does not explain every single binocular attribute in detail, nor does it address binocular features and attributes that should be considered by star-gazers (astronomy), birders, and hunters.
1. Don’t make it complicated. When searching for your first pair of spectator binoculars, always remember what you should be looking for in a binocular: 1) optics that yield bright, clear images without causing eye strain over an extended period of use; 2) a comfortable carrying weight; and 3) a model or design that is suitable for the activity or sport for which you are purchasing it for. In this case, we are specifically speaking about viewing spectator sports or events, i.e., baseball, horse racing, and concerts. No matter how confusing it may seem given the large volume and variety of binoculars that are available, at the end of the day it is THAT simple.
2. Establish your price and stay put. Everyone’s willingness to spend will obviously differ. Similarly, each of us will have varying enthusiasm levels for sport and spectator events. Establishing a limit for what you are willing to spend will certainly narrow your selection options considerably. The reason I am suggesting you remain firm with your maximum dollar spend amount is because if you buy an inexpensive binocular that you are not totally satisfied with; you can always upgrade to a higher performing binocular later. On the other hand, spending more than $500 for binoculars you don’t find yourself using very often may not be a good investment.
3. Educate yourself. While I mentioned earlier that while binoculars are very complex instruments, you should be able to understand the basics with less than one hour of research. Just because you aren’t an avid birder or sports optics enthusiast, understanding technical terms like magnification, objective diameter, and Field of View are a MUST. If you wear eyeglasses, make sure you learn about Exit Pupil. Additionally, knowing the difference between a roof prism and porro prism design, as well as discerning the different lens coatings that are offered will be a big help. Why? Because binoculars can range anywhere from $35 all the way up to $2,000 or even more; and as a general rule, the higher the price, the higher the quality of the optics you are purchasing. Understanding these terms and features, and what impact they have on optical performance, the size and weight of a binocular, and the purchase price will make your purchase decision less stressful. There are many FAQ’s and Binocular 101 buying guides available offered by on-line binocular retailers that are very comprehensive and easy to follow. A simple Google search such as “how to buy binoculars” or “binoculars 101” will give you plenty of resource options.
4. Consider an all purpose or general purpose binocular. Spectator binoculars should be easy to use, compact, lightweight, and easy to stuff into your bag and take with you. For most people who enjoy spectator sports, I recommend wide angle compact binoculars with magnifications levels that range from 6x to 8x; and objective lens sizes ranging from 25mm to 35mm. These binoculars usually weigh in at well under the 30 oz. that most people can carry around comfortably; and are easier to keep steady (unless you are willing to pay extra for image stabilization) than binoculars with magnification levels of 10x or greater. However, given that you are usually sitting down at spectator events, the extra weight of a full size binocular around your neck (an 8X42 or 10X50 may weigh 35 oz.) shouldn’t weigh you down all that much; plus when compared to binoculars of equal quality, a full size will yield better images while also bringing you closer to the action. A full size binocular will also provide versatility in case you do want to try them for longer range viewing activities later on, i.e., birding or hunting. For any binocular purchase, I always recommend Fully Multi-Coated Lenses, Bak-4 prisms, and those that are 100% waterproof / fog proof. Don’t short change yourself with either of these performance features.
5. You don’t have to spend $500. In fact, you can purchase high performing spectator binoculars you will be pleased with for under $200, trust me. There are more than a few articles published by authors who believe that binoculars purchased for less than $400 are not worth having. They claim you will always be short-changed from an optics performance perspective otherwise. This is not true for even most avid birders who cherish their binoculars; and is especially NOT TRUE of spectator binoculars or general purpose binoculars. Putting it in perspective, high-end manufacturers like Swarovski, Leica, and Zeiss typically offer binoculars for a minimum of $1,000. These manufacturers, as well as some others, DO offer the absolute best in optics performance, but please consider that you are taking them to a ball game where they can be easily knocked out of your hands or dropped. Plus you don’t want to worry about accidentally leaving these binoculars at your seat while you go to the rest room or buy a hot dog. Other manufacturers like Leupold, Nikon, Pentax and many others will not match the optics quality of the aforementioned, but still offer high-quality binoculars you will be satisfied with for much, much less.