How to Choose Binocular Magnification

by Kate Evelyn

Choosing binocular magnification has a lot to do with what you hope to see with your binoculars. If you're looking to watch birds that are 20 feet up in a tree, you obviously don't need as much magnification as if, say, you want to see the details of mountains miles in the distance. However, note that the higher amount of magnification you have the more movement can distort your view, whether it's your target moving or something else moving above, below or in front of it.


Learn how magnification is measured. If you know nothing about binoculars, you can easily be confused by the numbers. For example, you'll see a pair that says it's 8x40. The eight is the magnification number and the 40 is the lens width, in millimeters. A magnification number of eight means that you see things through the lens as being eight times closer than you would if you were looking at them with the naked eye. If instead of a single magnification number, the binoculars have a range of say 7 to 12, that means the magnification is adjustable. This is usually done by turning a knob.


Decide what you're going to look at with your binoculars. A larger magnification number is not always best, since it limits the field of view. Therefore, only go as high as you need to to get a good look at your target. If you're looking at objects in nature that are relatively close but lack detail, a magnifying power of seven to 10 should be more than enough. However, if you're looking at faraway objects, like that mountain range or the moon and stars, go for 12 to 15. If you go any higher than this you'll want your binoculars to have a "close focus" option. Otherwise, you won't be able to see anything but a blob unless you look at things that are miles away.


Get a tripod. If you go with a magnification of 12 or higher, you'll need a tripod to keep your images steady. A tripod will also help to keep your hands and arms from tiring. Find a collapsible tripod so you can easily take it with you on bird watching and star gazing excursions.


  • check If you get binoculars above 50mm in lens width, they will be pretty heavy.
  • check Invest in a sturdy bag for your binoculars. It can keep the lenses from getting scratched.


  • close If you normally wear prescription glasses or contacts, wear them when you try out your binoculars. Otherwise, you could pick too high of a magnification for optimum viewing.

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