Uncle Ned may be the best birder you know, but his binocular is probably not the best binocular for you.
Sure, old Neddy knows a ton about birds, and he’s been your birding mentor since you got hooked after seeing your first Indigo Bunting. And gosh darnit, that view through his bins is nothing short of spectacular. But before you go out to buy the identical binocular (that is, if you can afford it) consider this: just because you get an awesome view with your occasional brief look through Ned’s bins doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the ideal one for you. The “perfect” binocular for YOU will need to fit your hands, your eyes, your use and your budget—so unless you’re Ned’s clone it’s likely to be a different binocular whispering in your ear when you’re ready to pull the trigger.
Think of it like buying a pair of eyeglasses—you see all the different styles that people are “wearing,” but in the end it’s an intensely personal decision, based not only on how you intend to use it and how much you have to spend, but also on the size of your hands, the distance between your eyes, how much weight you can comfortably hold in your hands and deal with around your neck—and yes, whether you wear eyeglasses or not!
Sure, go ahead and get all the recommendations and advice from current binocular owners you want—getting different perspectives on an assortment of optics as you information-gather prior to your purchase will be indispensable. Most owners are strong advocates for what they’re using and will be happy to help you with your research—unless they’re in that optics limbo between “good enough” and “dream binocular,” in which case they’ll bend your ear with why you should buy what they’re saving to buy.
Unfortunately, despite their best intentions you’re probably better off ignoring them. What about all the optics information and advice on the web? I would say: proceed with caution. Yes, there’s boatloads of it, and while much of it is accurate and helpful, there’s plenty that’s just plain wrong (especially in comments on blogs and elsewhere). The websites of optics manufacturers will, of course, accurately portray their products (in the best possible light, of course) and provide you with the individual specs you will need to make your purchase decisions. The web-based optics stores will have the specs too, as well as so much how-to- buy and product information that your head will spin, and since they carry practically everything in order to cater to every potential type of customer and use, it’s difficult to wade through the information onslaught to find exactly what you need.
And because they carry just about everything, most of what they have won’t be appropriate for your intended use. For example, all of the online optics emporiums carry 12 (magnification or power) X 50 (size of the ends away from your eyes) binoculars, but 12 X 50’s are unsuitable for bird watching and most other nature activities—a questionable combination of power and size that is just shy of useless for most mere mortals (perhaps if Superman didn’t already have super vision…)
So, just like Uncle Ned’s bins, most of what an optics store carries—whether it’s brick &
mortar or online—will not be a good fit for you and thus not give you the many hours of
viewing pleasure that would transform you into an Uncle Ned-like long-term dedicated optics user. The only way to get there is to do your homework (including quality time on the Pop Optics site!) speak to the pros (like Pop Optics’ Denis Cleary!), and when you can, do your hands-on tryouts. There’s no better way to find your ideal binocular!