Everybody remembers being a kid and picking up their first pair of binoculars. It was endlessly fascinating, a world at a distance, suddenly brought into startling clarity and focus. The numbers stamped on the outside probably held as much meaning to you then as they do today. What do the numbers on binoculars mean?
The numbers on a pair of binoculars have two meanings—the first number indicates the level of magnification, while the second number is a measurement, referring to the size of the objective lens in millimeters.
Of course, there might be other numbers on binoculars as well but those are usually associated with the brand, such as the serial number or something along those lines.
What do the Numbers on Binoculars Mean?
The first number is magnification, however, it’s not always a single number. Though “zoom-in” binoculars are rarer and inferior to monoculars, there are some out there. The number on these is often something like 30 – 120x.
All that means is the binoculars have a minimum of 30x magnification and are capable of zooming up to 120x magnification. All the “times” means is the number of magnifications. For instance, we are all capable of seeing a certain distance.
Binoculars capable of 2x magnification would magnify the distance you can see by two times. If your binoculars are stamped with an 18x, it magnifies your normal vision by 18x. It’s not always better to have more magnification.
At a certain point, usually around 8x to 10x, the cons outweigh the pros, and all you get are diminishing returns.
The second number is the diameter of the objective lens in both eyepieces. The objective lens is the one that receives the light in front of you. That light is transferred to the ocular lens, which feeds the magnified image to your eyes.
The larger the objective lens, the more light the binoculars gather. The amount of light the binoculars gather is important because it supports the clarity of the magnification and makes it easier for you to see in general.
Parts of Binoculars
Binoculars may look simple, and technically they are. But there are more parts than just two tubes connected by a simple hinge.
- Barrel (two of these)
- Two objective lenses
- Two ocular lenses
- Focus knob
- Diopter rings
The barrels are the simplest to identify as they make up the majority of the binoculars. The barrels are the two tubes, connected by a hinge which is surprisingly called, a hinge.
The two objective lenses are the foremost lenses, at the front of the binoculars. They are almost always the larger of the four lenses. The two ocular lenses are on the back of the barrels, where you look through the binoculars.
The eyecups are usually made out of soft material and designed to rest easy on the hollows of your eyes as you peer through the binoculars. The focus knob is a single knob, usually located somewhere in the center. It’s designed to focus the view as you look at objects at various distances.
The diopter rings are designed for moments when the two eyepieces are not on the same focus level. Adjusting this knob helps when one side is blurry, and the other side is clear, which can be pretty disorienting.
The remaining parts are technically not a part of the binoculars, like tripods, lens caps, rain guards, straps, and other accessories that often come with binoculars. They aren’t overly complex tools, but it’s important to find a quality-made pair of binoculars, which leads us to our next part.
Tips for choosing Binoculars
The most important tip you should consider when looking for a good pair of binoculars is to try them all out. Try every one you can get your hands on before you fork over your hard-earned cash.
This will lead to the next tip—find one with a good field of view. The wider the field of view, the more you can take in, and it will improve your ability to detect fast and slow movements off to the side.
Excellent clarity is another good one. No one wants binoculars that look like you’re seeing the world through a sea of murky water. Cheap binoculars will often make you dizzy and disoriented as the view slides across.
- Comfortable eyecups
- A good warranty
- Useable accessories
- Good weight
Most of this information is easy enough to gather if you follow the first tip—try out as many as you can get your hands on. The more you try out, the quicker you will find something perfectly suited for you.
Common Magnification Options
There are five common magnification options on the market—5x, 7x, 8x, 10x, and 12x. Once you get beyond 12x magnification, it’s almost a necessity to set up some sort of mount or tripod.
We mentioned diminishing returns above, and as you increase the magnification capability of the binoculars, it becomes more difficult to get a good view that’s not shaky or difficult to focus on. Once you’re above 12x, the shakiness of the view is often too much for regular viewing.
The size of the lens often matters much more than the magnification, mostly because of the amount of light it lets in. The more light, the better the view, regardless of your currency magnification level.
Binoculars are fantastic devices and useful on many levels. They are most popular amongst hunters and wildlife watchers. Often compared to monoculars, which have their own advantages and disadvantages, binoculars are the best viewing devices for beginners.
All binoculars should come with their numbers stamped or etched on the outside, usually on one of the two barrels. That way it’s easy for consumers to tell the magnification capabilities and the size of the objective lens.
If it’s your first time jumping into the viewing devices market, binoculars are an excellent place to start. Just be sure to choose wisely and avoid buying something cheap, just for the sake of owning a pair.
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