Viewing Wildlife Up Close
March 26, 2012
Filed under Feature Stories
Approaching animals in the wild, especially large mammals, such as a moose or bear, is not always practical or prudent. Maintaining a safe distance is important for both an animal’s well-being and the observer’s safety. However, thanks to the right optical equipment, humans can enjoy an up close and personal view of wildlife in nearly any situation.
Binoculars come in a dizzying range of makes, models and specialty. For deluxe, 100-power spotting scopes to low-dollar, four-power binoculars, it’s possible to spend anywhere from $2000 to $20 on optics to aid your wildlife viewing. But before you dive into a purchase, you should understand some basics.
You will see numbers such as 8×32 and 10×25 on binoculars. The first refers to magnification. In theory, an 8x binocular enlarges a viewed object eight times. Some binoculars have a variable power, such as 8-16×42, meaning it can zoom from 8x to 16x magnification. For general wildlife viewing, a binocular in the 7x to 10x magnification range is considered best. Those who spend most of their time viewing large mammals in forested environments, like deer, bear and elk, can opt for lower magnification (7x or 8x) binoculars. For small creatures such as birds and squirrels or routinely viewing bigger mammals at long distances, 10x binoculars are a better buy.
The second number in the binocular equation refers to the diameter of the objective lens — the lens on the front of the binocular. Other factors being equal, a binocular with a larger objective lens will work better in low light than one with a smaller lens, as more light enters through the larger glass. However, in assessing a binocular’s performance in low-light situations such as dawn and dusk, there’s more to consider. The exit pupil is an optics term referring to the ratio of the objective lens diameter to magnification, and is calculated by dividing the objective lens diameter by the magnification. So, an 8×32 binocular has an exit pupil of 4. According to the engineering department at Alpen Optics, an exit pupil of 2.5 is adequate for bright light, while an exit pupil of 4 or greater is recommended for low-light viewing.
In addition to exit pupil number, a binocular’s performance is also determined by the quality of its glass and the lens coatings. High quality binoculars are usually designated as fully multi-coated, meaning performance-enhancing coatings have been applied to all glass surfaces. High-performance glass that boasts superior contrast and color, along with enhanced clarity in low-light conditions is often referred to as ED or extra low dispersion glass. Binoculars with ED glass generally cost more but provide superior performance in demanding light conditions.
Matching use to performance helps simplify binocular choices. Individuals inhabiting forested sections of the country where sight distance is limited don’t need as much magnification as those viewing creatures in the wide-open spaces of the West. Folks who dote on creatures like butterflies that are commonly viewed at short range will be happier with a close-focusing binocular.
Looking for some suggestions? Here are some binocular recommendations, generally ranked by price. Bushnell’s 7×36 Natureview (www.bushnell.com) is a great, economical choice in forested environments. Celestron (www.celestron.com) offers its UpClose G2 7×32 with a 5 mm exit pupil. From Alpen, I like the close-focusing (down to 4 feet) Apex 8×32 (www.alpenoptics.com). I’ve used the ultra-compact Nikon 10×25 Premier (www.nikonbirding.com) for years with great results when hiking in open country. For folks looking to maximize performance the Minox 8×43 APO HG (www.minox.com) provides stunning clarity in low-light. Swarovski’s EL 10×50 Swarovision (www.swarovskioptik.us) boasts a superb, high-definition look at the world with magnification to match. d