Whether it’s discerning a distant brown blob from a lioness on a safari, looking for inclement weather over the horizon while boating, or figuring out who’s warming up in the bullpen, binoculars’ only job are to bring details into focus. So it’s ironic that shopping for a pair is full of numbers, mathematical equations, optical jargon, and marketing nonsense. Any pair will bring things into focus, but you want ones that fit your budget, and pack everything you need and nothing you don’t. Here’s a quick primer on what those numbers actually mean and how they can inform your purchase depending on your needs.
Just how close and clear your view will get mostly depends on two numbers: The first is magnification power. The higher the number, the more powerful the binoculars. All 8 power binoculars (8×21, 8×32, 8×42, etc.) will make an object appear eight times closer than with the naked eye. The second number is the objective lens width. The higher this number, the wider the binoculars’ lens is and the more light enters the optics. A high number like 50mm is best for low-light situations, while 21 is better for packability.
For many, the next most important number is cost. Binoculars range in price from less than $100 to several thousand dollars. The spectrum reflects materials and workmanship—while all 8×32 binoculars will bring the same object into focus, like with cameras and watches, the high-end ones have noticeably better clarity, function, and durability.
After that, shopping for binoculars is all about the little details. The more specific a purpose, the more you’ll want to focus on things like construction, field of view, exit pupil, and prism design. Go ahead and nerd out—or keep it simple. Either way, binoculars will greatly enhance your viewing pleasure, no matter the application.
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