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Thread: Optics - Binoculars vs Telescopes

  1. #1
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    Default Optics - Binoculars vs Telescopes

    This thread is really just some of my own ramblings. Hopefully, I can help you keep from making the same mistakes I've made over the years. I am not an optics expert by any means. But I've tried enough to know what works for me and what doesn't.

    The executive summary? Buy yourself a decent pair of 7x50 binoculars and call it a day.

    I've owned many different optics over the years. I've had 7x50 binocs, 8x25 minoculars, 7-15x35 binocs, 10x25 binocs, 20-60x60 telescopes, and 20-60x80 telescopes. When it all comes down to it, the 7x50 binocs are pretty much the only thing I ever use. All of the others have been a disappointment in one way or another.

    Why? Well, there are some fundamental limitations on just how much better your view can be. As magnification goes up, the amount of light gathered goes down (for the same objective lens size). If you want more light, get a bigger objective lens. But the bigger the objective lens, the heavier it is and harder to handle. So you end up in a situation where you keep coming back to the 7x50 size as being ideal for most conditions.

    Binocular vs Telescope: For very far away daytime viewing (I'm talking miles), you are going to need a telescope of some kind (preferably a spotting scope). If you are not doing far away daytime viewing, stick with binoculars. There are several good reasons:

    1. Binoculars give you 3D viewing. You may not think this is a big deal, but when you are in low light situations or just catching glimpses, your brain doesn't work well with only one eye and a flat image. There are times when you really can't even figure out what you are seeing when viewed through a telescope because your brain can't recognize flat, darker shapes as easily as better lit 3D shapes.

    2. Binoculars give you twice as much light for the same magnification and objective lens sizes. You have both eyes gathering light. Your brain takes these two images and merges them together in what ends up being a much brighter and clearer picture. With a telescope, you only have one eye and your brain merges that eye's image with whatever your other eye is seeing. And in the case of a telescope, that other eye is typically seeing black (because that eye is closed).

    3. With binoculars, you don't have to squint or cover one eye. This makes viewing more comfortable. I can typically only look through a telescope for about 30 seconds before I have to take a break. But I can set my binoculars on a pillow and casually look through them for minutes at a time without needing any real breaks. This makes all the difference in the world when you are waiting for something to happen.

    There are also downsides to binoculars.... They are hard to mount to a tripod and you have to deal with getting the focus correct on each eye. But the upsides outweigh the downsides.

    Magnification:

    Many people (like me) go out and buy big spotting scopes expecting to get right up close and personal with their subjects. They think about peering through tiny cracks in a set of mini blinds and seeing amazing clarity (like standing right outside a window). The reality is much different. When you start upping the magnification, things get darker and you lose resolution. It is a fact of life. Even with ultra high end equipment you are going to have the same problem. So save yourself the money and don't go out and buy some $2000 spotting scope thinking that you are going to be able to see through a very small crack in the blinds of a house across the street. That small crack will be bigger, but it will also be WAY darker and any image you get out of it will be so blurry you won't even be able to tell what you are seeing. That's the way light works. There are only so many photons coming through that tiny crack. Your telescope is not going to create more photons. So there is no way that small crack is going to suddenly be as bright as you want it to be. It's simple physics.

    A side story.... I bought my Tasco 7x50 binoculars about 25 years ago. They were not super high quality at the time but Tasco was made in the USA back then so they weren't too bad. I think I paid about $50 for them which wasn't cheap. Fast forward to today and they are still my favorites. They are just so clear and bright.

    I also recently bought a 20-60x80 Cabelas spotting scope for $449. This scope was highly discounted because they were phasing them out. The regular price was $799. The scope is made by Vortex and is supposed to be in between their Viper and Razor line. So it is a quality scope with quality optics. It even has a no-questions-asked lifetime warranty. If I break it they will probably give me a brand new Viper as a replacement.

    It's a nice scope. But of course, with everything I've said above you can tell that I was disappointed in it. It is VERY heavy and needs a good tripod (which I don't have). You can get up close and personal, but it is still not going to be as bright as the 7x50 binocs. The lowest level of magnification (20x) is actually just about right. If I try to use anything more then the subject does not fit in the view. Focusing is really nice and easy, but you still have to squint one eye. I have yet to find a scenario where it outshines the 7x50 binocs though.

    So I'm not unhappy that I bought it. I really couldn't pass up such a quality scope for that price. But I doubt that I will use it much in my "hobby". I'm also a gun guy so perhaps I'll take it to the range with me some day. I mostly shoot handguns so I've never had a real need for a scope since I don't do much rifle shooting. But you never know.

    I also purchased the Harbor Freight 20-60x60 spotting scope on a whim. It was about $44 after coupon. So I figured "what the heck?". Well.... it was a complete waste of time and money. I threw it in the trash. The optics were terrible and it seemed like there was a constant smudge inside the glass. And of course, this smudge was right in the middle of the field of view. I took the whole thing apart thinking that I might be able to clean the mirrors and lenses. But I never found a smudge. I think it was just poor manufacturing with lenses and mirrors that were subpar.

    Anyway... that's enough rambling for now. I'd love to hear others' experiences with optics. Feel free to correct me if you think I'm wrong. Again, these are just my experiences. I'm not an optics expert.
    pn2710 likes this.

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    I always was pretty happy with my binoculars. Wish I had bought a decent pair sooner - I would have seen so much more than the crap pair I was using at first. I also agree that you can get pretty comfy with binoculars and kick back without too much eye strain or needing a tripod.

    Might add that all this advice is mostly for building-to-building viewing. You don't want to be out in a neighborhood with a pair of binoculars while window peeping. No plausible deniability there...

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    I started out with a decent pair so my regrets always came afterward. Lots of money wasted on stuff I didn't end up using. And I agree that you don't want to be out in a neighborhood with a pair of binoculars. This advice is definitely only for building-to-building viewing.

    In your opinion, what type of binoculars would you suggest that people buy? I've been saying that 7x50 is ideal for me but lately I've been thinking about getting a better quality pair in something like 8x42. They would be slightly darker but the better lens coatings might make up for it. Plus, they might be lighter and smaller than what I use now which would be a huge plus. But with what little binocular voying I do the 7x50's would last me for a long time with very little regrets.

    I'm just curious about what type of recommendation we should be making for people new to the hobby that don't know what to buy.

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    If you can afford it, I highly recommend image stabilized binoculars. I started with Canon 7x35s and upgraded in two steps to (I think) 10x50. I say I think because they are in my city apartment and I am in my suburban house.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eagleb1 View Post
    If you can afford it, I highly recommend image stabilized binoculars. I started with Canon 7x35s and upgraded in two steps to (I think) 10x50. I say I think because they are in my city apartment and I am in my suburban house.
    Sounds like a good idea. I hadn't thought about image stabilizing binocs but after reading about them I think that would be a good reason for me to upgrade.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eagleb1 View Post
    If you can afford it, I highly recommend image stabilized binoculars. I started with Canon 7x35s and upgraded in two steps to (I think) 10x50. I say I think because they are in my city apartment and I am in my suburban house.
    I am now in my apartment and boy was my memory faulty. Actually, they are 15 x 50 and they are great. As I said, they are expensive but worth it if you can afford them. There is one used pair of my exact model currently listed on Ebay for $595. Here is the listing https://www.ebay.com/itm/Canon-15-x-...ty!11215!US!-1

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