What To Look For
Birders' binoculars needs vary depending on the style of birding they plan to practice. Backyard birders do not require the same magnification power that a birder spending a day at a hawk watch site. Binoculars are measured in two numbers, power and diameter. Power, or magnification, measures how many times greater an object will appear through the lenses in comparison to the human eye. The diameter of the far lenses in millimeters determines the amount of light captured and therefore the brightness of the bird being seen. Birders usually choose binoculars measuring around 8 x 40 or 8 x 42.
Purchasing binoculars online without testing them in hand can lead to an unsatisfactory buying experience. As much as focus, field of view and light allowance should be considered, the feel of your new binoculars--the weight in your hands, the accessibility of focus controls, and your overall comfort as they hang around your neck or attach to your shoulder harness--makes a significant impact on your enjoyment in using them.
Where To Buy
The best optics stores provide you opportunities to test binoculars before you purchase them, sometimes even with bird feeders as visual targets. Consider visiting optics counters at your local Audubon society or nature center gift shop. While major outdoor enthusiast stores may offer a wide variety, keep in mind that boaters, hunters and others have widely different needs when seeking binoculars.
Birders can spend anywhere between $50 and $2,600 on a pair of new binoculars. Efficiency models tailored to backyard birders at the low end will definitely not satisfy the needs of a wide-roaming birding excursionist. At the high end, binoculars manufactured by crystal jewelry and furnishing companies offer the ultimate binoculars experience. In general, according to the National Audubon Society, "You get what you pay for. Always spend as much as you can afford when buying binoculars; you will never be sorry to have purchased high quality binoculars."
Birders planning on spending considerable time in the field should consider purchasing a shoulder harness that uses the full torso to support the binoculars and obviates stress on the neck generated by standard straps. A soft cloth that clips onto the harness for easy cleaning can turn a frustrating day of birding into an enjoyable one.
Find the best birder you know, and ask to try his binoculars for comfort and feel. Keep ruggedness and water concerns in mind as well, as birding can take you into all sorts of habitats and weather situations.