The absolute best advice I can give you when you’re buying a binocular is to…well, buy a binocular.
Let me explain: you’re likely to get the most use and enjoyment out of an optical instrument that is exactly that—a binocular, with no gimmicky features like zoom or image stabilization added. No extraneous bells and whistles, no superfluous “improvements” intended to enhance its performance or, more likely, impress the potential buyer.
To put it in Zen-like terms, you want a binocular that truly wears its binocular-ness, with no other aspiration than to let you see faraway things closer in the best possible way.
I know this runs counter to current conventional wisdom, since these days we want our widgets to do more, to multi-task like we do, to give us something else besides what they were originally designed to do. Take refrigerators, for example. Why just keep things cool when your Wi-Fi fridge can now text you when your milk passes its expiration date, or if you’re low on pickles?
(In case you were wondering: yes, there is now a Wi-Fi binocular, complete with internal computer, digital video camera, digital zoom, night vision, compass, and if I’m not mistaken, it will text you when you’re low on pickles. And no, you do not want this binocular, regardless of how pickle-centric your life is).
What you DO want is an optic that puts all its emphasis where it belongs—not in conspicuous features designed to impress, but in those comparatively mundane components that deliver awesome optical performance, most notably the glass and its optical coatings that are the heart and soul of a quality binocular. That means no zoom, digital camera, image stabilization, night vision, “ruby” lens coatings, Wi-Fi, compass, GPS, or anything else manufacturers or, to be more precise, their marketing teams, dream up.
Let me be clear: there may be instances when these add-ons make sense for specific users and circumstances, but in general when you add one of these gimmicks you take away something of higher value to maintain an attractive price point (it’s usually glass quality that suffers) AND you usually add weight to the binocular, which is exactly what you don’t want to do.
Given that these added features are often useless and even counterproductive it’s remarkable that their popularity persists, so proceed with caution as you approach your purchase decision. In Part 2 I’ll talk about a few of the more popular “enhancements” and why you should ignore them if you want the best possible viewing experience with your new binocular.