If you are looking for the perfect gift for a family member or friend that enjoys watching backyard wildlife, I can think of no better Christmas gift for them than a pair of binoculars. Here are a few tips that will help you select a pair that will add immeasurably to their enjoyment of the butterflies, birds, mammals and other wildlife that inhabit their backyard.
If they have never used a pair of quality binoculars, they are in for a real treat. The crisp, clear images seen through a pair of binoculars that are matched to their personal needs are so superior they will be astounded.
Selecting a pair of superior binoculars is not as difficult as it may seem. Once you know what to look for, it is as easy as starting a lawn mower.
When buying a pair of binoculars here are the features you need to keep in mind: cost, eye relief, field-of-view, brightness, weight, size, and focusing distance.
One of the first things you will notice when you pick up a pair of binoculars is two numbers such as 8.5×50. The first number indicates the magnification or power. The second number refers to the size of the objective lenses. The objective lenses are the two large lenses found at the front of the binoculars. These lenses are measured in millimeters. All things being equal, the larger the objective lens, the more light passes into the binoculars. This is especially important when trying to view wildlife in subdued light.
Some of the more common powers that you will find are 7.5, 8, and 10. Keep in mind the higher the magnification the harder it is to hold the binoculars steady. If the person you are buying the binoculars for does not have a steady hand, stay away from 10 power binoculars.
Field-of-view (FOV) simply refers to how large an area you can see at 1,000 yards. For backyard wildlife viewing, binoculars with a narrower field of view are usually best.
One of the most frequently overlooked properties of a pair of binoculars is eye relief. Eye relief refers to the distance between the eyepiece and your cornea when you are looking through the pair of binoculars. If your gift recipient wears glasses, buy a pair that has an eye relief of at least 15. The higher the number, more eye relief is provided. Consequently, binoculars with an eye relief of 22 offers more eye relief than a pair with 15.
If person that will be using the binoculars likes to look at birds or butterflies through a pair of binoculars without an eye relief of at least 15, he or she will be constantly removing their glasses to get the best view.
The key factor in determining the brightness of a pair of binoculars is the diameter of the exit pupil. You can determine the relative brightness of a pair of binoculars by dividing the size of the objective lens by the power. For example, if you are computing the brightness of a pair of 10×50 binoculars, when 50 is divided by 10 you end up with an exit pupil of 5mm. All things being equal, binoculars with the largest exit pupils are bright than those with smaller exit pupils.
Remember though, when the exit pupil exceeds the diameter of your eye pupil; there is no advantage in purchasing an instrument with a larger exit pupil. You should also be aware that when most of us reach the age of 40, buying a pair of binoculars with an exit pupil above 5mm is simply a waste of money.
I would also recommend that you purchase a closing focusing binocular. This will enable you to look to focus on butterflies and other critters six feet or less away. Some binoculars allow you to focus at objects only 4.5 feet away. This is a must, especially if somebody wants to enjoy looking at all kinds of wildlife.
Keep in mind, if you buy them a pair of close focusing binoculars, they will be able to look at butterflies, anoles, chipmunks, and birds with the same instrument.
Binoculars with the finest optics range in price anywhere from $300 to $1,000 or more. Many of these instruments come with lifetime warrantees. However, if you do not want to spend that much money, good quality binoculars can be purchased for far less. Shop around, go to a birding supply store or other establishments that deals in optics and look at several pairs; compare their size and weight. If the clerk is knowledgeable, she or he can help you select just the right pair for your friend or relative. You can also go online and see what is available. Companies that deal in a number of brands will often give you unbiased evaluations of what are the best choices in your price range. One such company is Eagle Optics.
Wherever you buy a pair of binoculars, make sure that you can return them if they do not fit the needs of your relative or friend. I know of some companies will you to do for 30 days.
Once the person receiving your gift begins using a pair of quality binoculars, a whole new world will open up to them. No longer will all butterflies appear the same. They will be able to distinguish an American lady from a painted lady and an eastern phoebe from a titmouse. They will begin spotting the tiny, colorful warblers that feed atop their oak trees in the springtime.
Indeed, in short order, they will find their binoculars as indispensable as the nesting boxes, plants, water, cover, and feeders that attract wildlife to their backyard. Your gift will truly keep on giving years to come.