Binoculars now seen as essential


April 18, 1993|By LONNY WEAVER

One day last week, while sharing a hilltop with my woodchuck hunting partner, Wayne Albaugh, he announced, "How do you like these? I finally broke down and bought a good pair of binoculars."

Binoculars are essential to the outdoorsman, boater or backyard bird watcher. I have been a regular user for more than 30 years and am convinced that a good set of prism binoculars are well worth their weight in gold.

They allow the hunter to save shoe leather and to verify game animals or their hunting buddy's location across the valley.

Binoculars are equally valuable to the boater in spotting other vessels, fish and obstacles. I recently attended a presentation by one of the world's most famous anglers and he advised the gathering to carry low-powered binoculars or 4X opera glasses to identify fish locations and fly hatches.

Do not confuse so-called field glasses or opera glasses with binoculars. Field and opera glasses are nothing more than paired telescopes with small fields of view.

Prism binoculars, on the other hand, are precise optical instruments that are complicated in design and sometimes expensive. Yet, a good set can be found at a reasonable cost, and with proper care will last you a lifetime.

All prismatic binoculars have objective lenses (two prisms), at least one field lens and a positive ocular lens. The objective lens is the front outside lens and the ocular lens is the one you look through. The field lens is located between the ocular lens and the prism.

Binoculars are labeled with a set of numbers such as 7x35. The first number tells you the power (or magnification) of the binocular. The second number represents the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters.

The 7x35 is a popular all-purpose choice and, in fact, that's what I chose for my first set of binoculars. Generally, the higher the X, the less field of view you will get. For example, the field of view of a set of 8x30's is about 445 feet wide at 1,000 yards. The field of view is the width of the area you see at 1,000 yards.

As you become more accustomed to their use, I believe you eventually will want more magnification in your binoculars. About 10 years ago, for example, I sprang for a nice pair of 9X compact Leupolds for general use, and my buddies thought I was crazy. Now they all use comparable glasses or even stronger ones.

Much the same has happened with scope use on rifles or slug-shooting shotguns. Thirty years ago the most popular choice in scopes was a 4X, now it is 6X and 8X.

A wide field of view is desirable for watching a sporting event such as baseball or football, but too wide a view is a poor choice in spotting detail typical of hunting, bird watching or exploring.

There are three basic body styles -- European, American and compact. The European body style is the most common and features a separate barrel to house the objective lens. The American style uses a single solid body piece, and though a little more expensive, generally is considered a little sturdier. The compact is the most popular style and it uses a solid lightweight body piece.

A standard or larger-sized binocular is acceptable for boating or backyard nature watching, but if you move around on foot, the compact is the way to go. My 9X glasses are what I would now call mid-sized, but when I bought them, they were considered quite small.

Some compacts are no bigger than a pack of cigarettes and easily fit into a shirt pocket. Personally, I do not like them that small. There are exceptions, but usually 8X is about as high in magnification as most of the mini-compacts go.

Another choice is center focus or fixed focus. If more than one person is going to use the glasses, the center focus is the choice. With the fixed-focus glasses, you focus each ocular lens to fit your eyesight and then never focus again. I've used fixed focus for years and am quite pleased.

Fishermen to meet

The Annapolis chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association meets Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Liberty Yacht Club in Annapolis.

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