Search For:

Share This

Binocular Basics

It’s difficult to recall how many times I’ve stared at a rock, waiting for it to get up and walk away.

It’s not because I’ve taken some bizarre cold medicine. It’s because I wasn’t carrying binoculars.

A good pair of binoculars is invaluable for the outdoors, whether you’re hunting or you’re just trying to figure out what that yellow bird is fluttering around in the top of a tree. In my case, I’ve discovered that large rocks on reclaimed coal mines in eastern Kentucky are the same color as elk roaming the mountains. It’s surprising how easily the two are mistaken.

Buying your first pair of binoculars is an intimidating process if you don’t know all the terms and what they mean. Let’s start with the basics.

You might see binoculars listed as 8×40 or 10×50. The first number refers to the magnification power of the lenses. The higher the number, the more powerful the lenses. The second number tells you the size of the lenses on the big end of the binocular. The higher the number, the bigger the lenses. Why is this important? Bigger lenses gather more light, helping you see objects better at dusk and dawn. The trade-off is they are heavier.

Lenses with coatings on the glass also enhance the binoculars’ light-gathering capabilities and help color appear correctly. Even if it means paying a little more, you should buy lenses that are multicoated or fully multicoated.

When shopping for binoculars, you might see the term “field of view,” or FOV. This simply tells you whether the lenses have a wide angle or a narrow one. If you usually have trouble finding an object in your binoculars, go with a pair with the wider field of view.

So which binoculars should you choose? I use a pair of 8×32 binoculars. It’s a good size for hunting and hiking. An 8×40 pair of binoculars, which is larger and heavier, is also a good choice if you’re looking for critters when the lighting is low.

Because I spend time outside when the weather’s bad, I chose a waterproof pair filled with nitrogen. The nitrogen prevents the lenses from fogging.

Regardless of what you select, always look through the binoculars before you buy them. Judge for yourself the sharpness and clarity of each pair, and whether the weight is what you’re willing to carry into the field.


Put your new binoculars to good use by visiting a wildlife management area, or WMA. You’ll find maps, directions, and a wealth of information online at Click the tab “Maps & Online Services” to access more about these public areas.

Don't Leave! Sign up for Kentucky Living updates ...

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.