For viewing activities, whether bird-watching or astronomy, there is such a wealth of equipment available that it can be difficult working out exactly what you’re going to need. When it comes to telescopes and binoculars, although they are both viewing apparatus, they are actually quite distinct bits of kit – so which should you choose?
Well, the answer is actually entirely dependent on what you’ll be using it for. The obvious advantages of binoculars, for example, is their portability, which makes the ideal choice for “field” activities such as bird-watching or marine watching. In fact, such is the range of binoculars available that it is possible to achieve great magnification as well as extreme portability.
It might surprise you that binoculars also offer some certain advantages in terms of astronomy, and particularly beginner’s and “field” astronomy. Again this is in part due to their portability, meaning that they can be used quickly to observe transitory celestial events, such as meteor showers or eclipses and also due to the fact that they have a larger field of view than telescopes, making it easier to survey the sky, or view large sections of the moon, for example.
Despite these certain advantages, however, the supreme choice for astronomical viewing is surely astronomical telescopes. These are perfectly engineered to locating deep-space objects or observing the fine detail of the moon that a pair of binoculars just can’t rival. You might assume that such potent viewing capability comes at a premium, but over the last few years, top quality telescopes have become available for less than £200.
The night-sky is a truly astounding place. However, much of its wonders lie just beyond the reach of the naked eye. A great and affordable solution for observing celestial objects, such the planets, is a decent pair of binoculars. Yet if you are desperate for the authentic astronomical experience, then there are a variety of high-quality beginner’stelescopes available.
Firstly, before indulging yourself with a telescope, it would be helpful if you had some clue in regards to finding your way around the night sky – otherwise you might just be stuck looking at the moon. Therefore, you should probably invest in a star chart, to learn the main constellations (by which the planets are located). Remember, when compared with the naked eye or even binoculars, a telescope has only a very narrow field of vision.
Telescopes are very technical devices, with a great deal of component parts, and therefore it can be difficult to work out exactly what you need for beginner viewing. For example, in order to find your way around the night sky a red dot finder and a motor are desirable, and these needn’t price you out of the market, with great beginner’s telescopes like the “SKYWATCHER EXPLORER-130M TELESCOPE” (a fabulous scope for the beginner and experienced alike) offering these features.
Finally, and most importantly, you should consider the viewing power of any potential telescope. Generally you should go for light gathering capability, which is more important than size for example, and is the great advantage of dobsonian telescopes such as the “HERITAGE-130P FlexTube™ 130mm (5.1″)” which has a 5.1 inch light refractor.
It was Shakespeare who once described the UK as a fortress built by nature for herself, and in regards to birdlife this seems particularly pertinent. Britain enjoys a unique panoply of birds throughout the year, serving as an important stop-gap on their migrations, or as an idyllic home throughout the year. British birdlife, therefore, is unrivalled in terms of its diversity – and all you need to enjoy it is a pair of binoculars.
As Britain is an island, surrounded by large water masses like the Atlantic, it is the ideal stopping-point for many migrating birds. It is also seasonally temperate, meaning that it is suitable for birdlife migrating away from temperature extremes.
Swallows are perhaps the UK’s most familiar seasonal visitor and can be seen from around March to October. They are easily recognisable, preferably through a pair of binoculars, by their dark-blue backs, red throats and pale under-bellies.
Other notable migrating UK birds include geese, such as barnacle geese, who emigrate to escape extremes of cold, away from places like Greenland.
As well as migrating birds, there is also a wide variety of sedentary bids, visible throughout the year. Some common types include blue-tits and robins easily recognisable by their distinct colourings (pale-blue for blue-tits and red for robins,) and a particular favourite: starlings. These are recognisable throughout the year by the blue-green mottling on their under parts, easily observable through a pair of bird watching binoculars.
Quite obviously the moon can be observed with the naked eye. However, only through a pair of binoculars or an astronomical telescope does it truly spring to life, displaying its many features and contours. In order to maximize my viewing of the moon and to observe as many of its features as possible – what steps then can I take?
Firstly, the moon undergoes some striking visual changes depending on what phase it’s in. Therefore the viewing experience will be vastly different depending on the moon’s aspect. You may assume that when the moon is full, that its features would be most observable but this isn’t the case. Although astronomical telescopes will still be able to see many of its craters, during full phase the moon is so bright that any naked eye observing will not be able to see very much detail at all. Instead, it is best (especially when observing through binoculars or with the naked eye) to observe the moon during its other phases such as at quarter or half phase, when its contours are lit more delicately.
The next thing to consider is your viewing apparatus – whilst it is possible to observe the moon with the naked eye, it is definitely more satisfying to use binoculars or telescopes. Binoculars in particular are great for observing the moon as they have a wider field of view than an astronomical telescope, and are highly portable. However, if detail is what you want, then a telescope is also a fantastic viewing tool.
While most of us don’t have access to the kind of diverse wildlife we see on television documentaries, we shouldn’t overlook the wildlife which is – literally – in our own back yards.
In most British fields and gardens we have access to badgers, hedgehogs and birdlife such as owls. Even urban parks play host to urban foxes, and further out in the countryside deer are commonly found.
All of these fascinating and truly wild animals have one thing in common: they are notoriously shy and nocturnal, meaning that you are only really going to see them under a cloak of darkness.
Night vision optical devices refer to binoculars or telescopes that have been designed to assist night time viewing. They are usually divided into three groups: Generation I, Generation II and Generation III. Generation I is regarded as the best equipment for most amateur wildlife watchers, given the balance of price, manageability and result.
Night vision optical devices allow you to see up to a distance of 10 to 400 feet, depending on your equipment. Despite their name, night vision optical devices do require a small amount of light in order to work.
If you think that you will be regularly using your night vision optical device in poor weather conditions (such as fog or rain) or in total or near darkness, than it is probably worth investing in an infrared illuminator which increases the distance and quality of your view.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get closer to the wildlife on your doorstep.
You might think it is silly needing a guide to using binoculars – surely all you do is put them up to your eyes and squint in the direction of what you are looking at?
Well, yes. But if you’ve ever found yourself squinting out of binoculars or closing one eye, then you really aren’t making the most of this wonderful piece of optical equipment.
So, let’s begin.
Consider this situation. You are on holiday in a beautiful place renowned for exotic species of birds. You are going for a walk, bird-watching binoculars in hand, when you suddenly spy movement above you. In a flurry of excitement you reach your binoculars up to your face and smack yourself in the head. The shock makes you drop your binoculars, they fall and one of the lenses cracks.
While you are busy kicking yourself, the bird has long gone.
The best place for binoculars, whether they are full size or compact binoculars is always on a strap around your neck. It keeps them safe but within easy reach.
You should never have to squint when looking through binoculars. Make sure they fit by adjusting the barrels to the correct width of your eyes. Your view should be a perfect circle.
Get them in focus by manoeuvring the central focus wheel while you focus on something in the distance. Further improve your focus by using the diopter adjustment to fine tune your vision.
Look out for signs of eye strain or headaches. This might be a sign that your pocket binoculars are out of alignment. If this is the case, contact the manufacturer who should be happy to help remedy the problem.
This is a common question that we tend to get asked from customers looking to either upgrade their binoculars or just purchase a pair for the first time. Which magnification used to be very clearly defined depending on the use. It was always thought that if you were going birdwatching you would be using an 8x binocular and if using it for sports it would be a 10x, though the magnifications have stayed the same the thinking has changed a lot.
Apart from making a distant object larger you also need to be aware what factors will change from the binoculars being higher or lower in magnification. A higher magnification binocular will generally give a narrow field of view allowing you to see less of the width of the view. As you narrow the field of view down it becomes harder to find your object and also will give a dimmer image if comparing binoculars with the same aperture. Binoculars also magnify any movement that you give to the binoculars by the magnification factor. For instance if your hand shakes or you are in a moving vehicle, that movement will be amplified by 10x if looking through say a pair of 10×42 binoculars.
Today probably our most popular selling magnification is 10x as it gives the best compromise between field of view, magnification and shake. If you feel you haven’t got the steadiest of hands my advice would be to go with an 8x.
If you wish to discuss any aspect of purchasing a pair of binoculars in further detail or have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us.