latest

Optics 101: What to Look for (and at!) While Purchasing Binoculars and Scopes

By: Tom Claycomb

When it comes to optics, things can get confusing.

Money, Money, Money
Is there any difference in a $99.99 set of binoculars compared to a $2,400.00 pair? Everyone tells you to compare them side by side in a store, but half the time when you do, they appear to be equal. That’s because there is probably good lighting. What you need to do is to look off in a poorly lit corner. Try to read small print on a sign across the room. Suddenly, subtle differences will pop out. See if the store clerk will let you take them outside to compare.

The above scenario plays out the same whether you’re looking at binoculars, scopes, or spotting scopes. And why all the different magnifications? I know that China doesn’t have a good reputation for making quality products in general, but how do I justify to my wife paying $1,000.00 for a scope as compared to a Kmart $59.00 Blue Light Special?

A Few Basics
Let’s go over these topics right now and try to clear them up. You ultimately need to determine what job you’re trying to accomplish to decide which optics you need. But before we do that, let’s go over a few basics.

I bet 80 percent of the shots we take are at daylight or dusk. That’s when game is moving the most. So that means you need some good light-gathering optics. If you’re buying an 8-power pair of binoculars, you’ll want an 8x32. You’ll want the objective at least 4x’s the power so it has adequate light gathering capabilities.

If you’re glassing at high noon, then yes, a cheaper pair of 8x25’s may seem adequate, but just wait until dusk, and suddenly what was once clear is now not as visible. You may then ask, “Well, why not buy a 10x50?” This is where you have to determine what type of glassing you’re going to be doing.

If you’re sitting in a deer blind, then by all means, buy a 10x50. But if you’re hunting out West in Idaho where I live, they’ll be too heavy if you’re scrambling up and down mountains all day. You may think, “Why not buy a 10x25 if the goal is to reduce weight?” A good thought, but, as I mentioned before, these would be no good at dawn or dusk. Most Western hunters compromise on either an 8x32 or a 10x42 so they can get the best of both worlds.

In my Glassing for Big Game seminars, I used to recommend carrying an 8x32. My theory was that when you were huffing and puffing scrambling up mountains and thought you saw some movement and threw up your binoculars to take a look, if you were carrying anything stronger that an 8x, you were wobbling too much to be able to focus. But about 10 years ago, I decided I was missing too much game, so I switched to a 10x. Usually you have a tree, rock, or something to lean against to stabilize yourself, so I now recommend 10x.

The Best Binoculars
In shopping for binoculars, you’ll hear about “Roof Prism” and “Porro Prism.” I won’t delve into these two terms much, but in a nutshell, here’s a quick summary of what they mean:

Roof Prism
The glass is in-line, which, of course, makes the binoculars more streamlined than a Porro Prism set of binocs.

Porro Prism
The glass in Porro Prism binocs are offset from one another. This helps provide for a wider field of view and greater depth of field. But they are bulkier.

More Considerations
Higher-end glass (binocs, scopes, and spotting scopes) are set apart from the lower-end ones by the coatings on the glass, the quality of the glass, and the housing construction.

Another thing to look for is the warranty. Do they offer a lifetime warranty or only a 1-year warranty? I used to be on Pro-Staff with one of the big-3 companies, and they only offered a 1-year warranty as compared a new and upcoming company like Riton Optics (full disclosure: I’m on Pro Staff with Riton), which offers a lifetime warranty. And on top of that, Riton Optics doesn’t repair your optics, they replace them with a new set.

Also check to see what the turn-around time is. I bear hunt hard every spring for a month and a half. One year, I broke my binoculars the first week. I couldn’t wait 3-4 weeks. for a replacement. If it will take a while to repair them, do they send you a loaner?

A Few Last Thoughts
As we come to a close, I’d like to throw out a few last thoughts. In the past, the big three companies (Leica, Zeiss, and Swarovski) dominated the higher-end lines. Now, the Optic World is super competitive, so prices have become more reasonable, and there are a lot more options available now.

Everyone is on a budget. When I had a new family with small kids at home, I couldn’t afford the quality of products I can now. But still, even if you are on a tight budget, I’d encourage you not to leave any pennies in your pockets when making a purchase on your optics. You will never regret doing so.

If you scrimp and buy cheap optics, I promise you that every time you use them, and they perform under par, you will cuss them. But if you buy some good optics, every time you use them, you will be glad you invested a little more money.

And lastly, I think in the past there was a big difference in the quality of the $2,400.00 binocs as compared to a $500 pair. Now, I’m not so sure you can tell much difference. Right now, I’m using the Riton Optics RT-B MOD 5 10x42 HD binoculars, and I just can’t really see much difference between them and binocs that cost 4x’s as much.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

Newsletter

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.