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Binoculars & How to Use Them

From spotting a bird in flight to studying erosion patterns on ochre escarpments, a pair of binoculars can help you get the best out of your expedition experience. If you’re in the market for your first pair of binoculars, Coral Expeditions Guest Lecturer Ian Morris is here to answer common questions and give some helpful advice.

 

In my opinion binoculars are essential equipment for cruising as they provide a more intimate and detailed view of wildlife, rocks and neighbouring islands. Many passengers ask for advice on the use of binoculars – if you ask an ornithologist, you may get different advice – but here is what I suggest.

Price

Prices vary from about $50 to more than $4,000. Few would disagree that the very expensive Swarovski, Zeiss and Leica models are excellent and essentially, you do get what you pay for. On the other hand, in bright and sunny conditions, affordable binoculars are an acceptable option. The best of the bunch distinguish themselves in dim light at dawn and dusk and in their colour fidelity. When looking to purchase a pair of binoculars, my top tip is to always take the advice from people who actually use them to watch wildlife over store salespeople.

Models

The two numbers on the binoculars represent the magnification and the diameter of the objective lens in millimetres. For example, a pair of 8 x 40s magnify 8 times and have 40mm objectives. An old rule of thumb was to divide the smaller number into the larger and a value greater than 5 indicated acceptable brightness – so the 8 x 40s give an us this result of 5.

Things to avoid: zooms and magnifications greater than 10x or less than 8x, Tasco branded binoculars, compact models and pre-1995 pairs unless they are made by Swarovski, Leica or Zeiss.

Keep in mind you can get very good second-hand pairs if you know what to look for, though I have to say I virtually never see the best on sale. A keen eye on the market will be a must for this approach.

Yet, fantastic hi-tech factories in China are producing excellent binoculars at prices that were inconceivable fifteen years ago. You can get a very good pair for about $300-400, and with care, they will last for years.

For a good entry pair of budget binoculars I used to recommend Nikon Monarch 8×42, but after years of feedback from my students in Africa I now recommend Olympus EXWP 8×42 as a sharper, more robust option with a more impressive 3D view.

Personally, I own a pair of Swarovski binoculars at the upper end of the price range and they are superb. I justify their cost by my constant use of them and the joy they give me (psychiatrists cost more I’m told).

How to Use

Ensure the dioptre adjustment matches your eyes (usually keep the mark on zero), and that the two tubes are bent so the eyepieces match the distance between your eyes. If you wear glasses or sunglasses, you need to turn down the eyecups so the eyepieces are closer to your eyes.

Practice looking at a distant landmark and bringing your binoculars to your eyes while keeping your eyes on the landmark until you have it centred in the field of view. Once this is second nature you will be able to easily spot flying birds with your binoculars. For example, on our Kimberley Expeditions, binoculars for bird watching are a great addition to your packing list to make sure you witness the incredible variety of birdlife in the region.

As for maintained use, keep the lenses clean by gently brushing off dirt and then clean with a microfibre cloth, or even better, a disposable alcohol wipe (National Pharmacies sell boxes of 50 Zeiss lens wipes for less than $6).

I strongly recommend purchasing a pair of binoculars for expedition cruising to get the most out of the daily excursions and your time whilst onboard.

Ian Morris

Zoologist, educator, conservationist and author, Ian has worked with Coral Expeditions since 1987. Today, Ian continues his work as a Northern Territory based environmental consultant and participates in conservation work for many national parks across Australia.

Read more about Ian here >

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