Looking for small/lightweight good quality general use for under $300. Ideas? Thanks.
Whatever the price, you should choose a binocular that suits you needs. Before you buy, its is best if you can get to look through potential selections. Binoculars come in a variety of 'powers' (magnification), objective size (35mm diameter and 50 mm diameter are popular sizes), focusing type, and angle of view. I have 2 pair that suits most of what I do. These are:
7 X 35, wide angle view, rocker focus
8 x 50, somewhat narrow view, rocker focus
The quick acting rocker focus is better for birding than the slower knurled screw nut style, although some older screw nut styes were more rugged and held the barrels in better alignment.
The smaller 7 x 35 binocular gets the most use. It the better one for bird spotting and watching. Due to its wide angle of view, it is easier to track a bird in flight since it is easier to keep the subject in view. Also, it is easier to hand hold since the image doesn't 'jiggle' as much This one is the best choice of the two for general purpose use.
The 8 x 50 has a greater telescopic range for spotting detail at a distance, but is harder to keep the image in view and detail observation requires steadying the hand due to image jiggle. Steady your body by leaning against a tree or post and look at the moon. You will see more detail than with the 7 x 35.
Image brightness is another consideration. To get an approximate brightness guide number, divide the objective diameter by the power. Thus the 7 x 35 has a guide number of 35/7 or 5; the 8 x 50 has 50/8 or 6.25 This is an approximation since other factors are present such as glass clarity, number of elements, etc. The greater the guide number, the greater the brightness of the image. I do not recommend going below 5. I have successfully used the 7 x 35 for night viewing if the night was not too dark.
You can find example of these two sizes under $300 each and at this level, there will be quality compromises somewhere. If the compromise is limited to appearance and finish with the other design elements good, its probably a bargain. For you first binocular, I recommend the 7 x 35 wide angle. Depending on your needs, it could be the only one you will ever buy. It is smaller than the 8 x 50 and easier to carry and use.
One place not to comprise is anti-reflection treatment on the inside of the barrels (tubes). The sides of the barrels should absorb off-axis light. Internal reflections can dull (fog) the image and cause loss of clarity. The same goes for camera lenses.
If you wish to splurge, move up to an Officer's Field Glass if you can find one. These are military grade and can be adjusted to the individual's eyes. Those can be adjusted to the distance of the pupil spacing of the person's eyes and each barrel can have its optics tuned to the individual's prescription.
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