RFD Maine — Everyone needs binoculars

By Tom Seymour | Feb 13, 2014

Most everyone has some kind of binoculars stowed in the house or perhaps on the boat. Few of us, though, make regular use of them. To the great majority of folks, binoculars are reserved for those infrequent moments when it becomes important to get a better look at something far away. After that, the glasses go back in storage.

Binoculars serve as a kind of go-between, falling somewhere between the naked eye and a telescope. They magnify objects far beyond the power of the unaided eye, but cannot ferret out the great detail shown by a telescope.

As a general-purpose tool, however, binoculars shine. Their uses are legion and some people not only use their binoculars regularly, but own several different pairs, specifically designed for different purposes. I once owned three pairs, but gave the largest one away to a friend who needed a good, serviceable pair of binoculars. My second-largest pair, I found serves me well for most applications, negating the need for the larger pair.

To paraphrase a bumper sticker about someone’s grandchildren, “let me tell you about my binoculars.”

Binocular specifics

To begin, binoculars come in different sizes and these are reflected in the numbers assigned them. These numbers always appear in pairs, with an “X” in the middle. For example, my smallest binoculars are marked, “8 X 21.” The first number in this pair refers to the magnification. So my binoculars are 8 power, meaning they magnify a view by eight times normal size. The second number refers to the size of the objective, or larger lens. Objective lens gather light and that light lands on prisms, only to get reflected into the eyepiece, the small lens that we look through. My little glasses have a 28 millimeter objective lens.

My little binoculars also have a legend of “392FT/1000YDS.” This means that if you were looking at a hillside 1,000 yards away, you would see 392 feet of its height and 392 feet of its width. And for astronomical rather than terrestrial viewing, we need to know our field of view in degrees. To find that, just divide the first number, in this case, 1,000, by 52.4.

The little binoculars are a bit too small for astronomical use, but for birdwatching they work perfectly. It takes some getting used to any set of binoculars to attain a decent level of proficiency for viewing a moving target such as birds. It took me a bit of practice before realizing that finding a moving object in my binoculars was almost exactly the same thing as shooting a moving target with a shotgun. Key to this is developing the ability to keep your eyes focused on the object, or target, rather than on the shotgun, or in this case, the binoculars.

To practice this, first select a target, say a soda can set on a limb about 50 feet away. Looking at the can and never taking your eyes from it, raise your binoculars to your eyes and you should have the can in your field of view. Keep trying until you can quickly and easily find any object in your binoculars without looking at the binoculars. This is something like hitting a baseball. You need to keep your eye on the ball, not the bat. This technique really works with binoculars, too, and it’s lots of fun. I am able to find birds in flight, with comparative ease. And what’s best, these little binoculars easily fit in a jacket or even a shirt pocket, so portable.

Other uses

I don’t espouse viewing people in binoculars. It seems like a violation of their privacy. But there is an exception to that rule. If I’m out in my boat and I spot another boat going very slowly around a small area, I’ll check them out in my binoculars to see if they are catching fish. All’s fair in love and fishing, I say.

One of my all-time favorite uses for binoculars is as a stargazing tool. For this, I own a pair of Canon 10X30 image-stabilized binoculars. The 10 power is plenty powerful enough to show deep-sky objects such as star clusters and even some galaxies. They also do well on moon craters and the moons of Jupiter.

The image-stabilization (IS) feature has the realized effect of increased magnification. It works this way. Regular hand-held binoculars in relatively low power, say 7X, can be held quite steadily without the picture being too shaky. But with each increase in magnification, the “shakes” become more pronounced. Thus, a 10 X 50 set of binoculars is about as powerful a set that anyone can hold somewhat steadily without too shaky a view. But add IS and the shakes tone down and in fact, become imperceptible.

My go-to binoculars, the 10X30 set mentioned above, with the IS feature, are perfectly stable and the amount of detail visible in these 10X30 glasses is similar to a hand-held, non-IS set of binoculars of larger power.

More uses

So my image-stabilized Canons have become my “telescope” for stargazing when it’s too cold to set up a telescope. Besides, I can find previously-unseen objects with the binoculars and remembering their location, view them later with a telescope. And sometimes, I just don’t feel like setting up a telescope and binoculars allow me to dart outside for 10 minutes and gaze at prominent sights. Indeed, good binoculars show enough deep-sky objects for a lifetime of enjoyment. And, of course, when traveling it’s far easier to carry binoculars than a telescope.

Some people carry binoculars when deer hunting. With these they can determine if a deer is a buck or doe and also the size of the animal. But binoculars have another use for hunters and that comes when scouting for moose.

Each year I go out around the Moosehead region with a guide friend. It’s ostensibly a moose-scouting trip, but I come along to hunt for any grouse we might encounter along the way. And, of course, it’s fun to watch moose. Anyway, last year my pal forgot his binoculars. And binoculars are critical in scouting for moose in the vast, wide-open country of northern Maine.

Fortunately, I had brought my (then) new Canon image-stabilized binoculars, thinking that I could use them to look for moose even when cruising down paper company roads while my buddy drove. The IS feature would keep the image from bouncing up and down. Anyway, my friend, who is as eagle-eyed as Natty Bumpo, would spot a moose 400 yards or so away and then we’d stop and I would give him my binoculars. Although his own binoculars, the ones he forgot, were much larger than mine, the IS feature, plus the excellent Canon optics, gave him an equally good picture, without any trace of shaking or trembling.

Those who don’t care about astronomy or who don’t hunt, can still find hours of pleasure with a good set of binoculars. Sitting along the sea on a warm, summer’s day and viewing boats, ships and maybe even porpoises and whales, is highly gratifying, not to mention relaxing.

Everyone ought to own a good set of binoculars.

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