Saturday, April 19, 2008

My Birding Binoculars

Patrick recently asked his readers to describe their first pairs of binoculars. I could give several possible answers to this question.

Like Laura, I started birding – in the sense of going out to look for birds and keeping lists – in my mid 20s. However, I was interested in wildlife and the natural world for a long time before that, so I had binoculars before I really started birding. My first pair was a Tasco 7×35 that I received as a gift when I was fairly young. I forget the model name, and I cannot find them to look it up. I do remember that they were quite basic, with plastic lenses and no diopter.

In my early 20s I bought another pair, a previously-owned Meade 8×40, so that I could bring them along on hikes in case anything looked interesting. Again, I cannot remember the exact model, and I no longer have them. These were my primary binoculars at the time I started to become more interested in birds. They served me well for several years, until I accidentally dropped them on my apartment floor. The impact misaligned the internal mirrors, and repair would have cost about $80, more than I had paid for them. So I looked for another pair to replace them.

After some research – and reading a lot of reviews – I bought a Swift Audubon 8.5×44 (porro prism). This was the cheapest pair that matched my requirements and was designed specifically for birding. What I liked most was the wide field of view – great for watching fast-moving songbirds – and the relatively close focus. As long as I kept the lenses clean, it produced a clear image with enough detail to make most identifications. What I did not like was the weight, which I felt especially on long walks. Since this was the first pair I acquired specifically for birding, one could say that it was my first birding binoculars.

That pair served me well for about four years, including two big days, several bird counts, and about 120 life birds. It survived a few falls, including once when I fell face-down on top of them with the binoculars around my neck.

I would still be using that pair, except that a few months ago, I received a much better one, a Zeiss Conquest 8×30. The improvement in image quality has been remarkable. The most surprising part to me has been how bright of an image the Zeiss Conquest produces even in low-light conditions. It seems to be brighter than the Swift Audubon, despite the latter's larger objective lenses and exit pupil. Since it is a roof prism, it is also very light, so I do not have to worry about back and neck pain as much. Now I no longer use the Swift Audubon pair much at all, though I still keep them ready as a backup.

So what were your first birding binoculars? Are you still using the same pair? Please post to your own blog or leave a comment.