Capt Mike...you recommend Armored 8 x 30 binoculars...for those of us that arn't that familar with these...can you give us a little insight as to why you recommend these...could you also include some buying tips (dos and don'ts)...Thanks...Chuck(CA)
I'm not an expert on optics but did spend 20+ years behind a pair -- they are an essential part of the captain's gear on ship.
There are some excellent discourses on binoculars and the various definitions, features and uses. I'll save that for an expert.
What I did learn is binoculars have to be good AND convenient or they won't be used. At sea, most ships supplied 7x50 prism style. This is the classic binocular where the eye lenses don't line up with the incoming lens. They are fairly big but gather good light and have a wide angle of view. I.e. Great for scanning large areas in low light where the average target distance was miles, not feet or yards.
For camping, I recommended the 8x30 in-line. They are lighter, more compact and allow some closer detail without sacrificing light and still satisfactory field of view. Your use will probably be for animals and scenery at much closer distances. You can usually see the target with the naked eye and thus bring into line & focus -- you are not scanning for specks or little glints on the horizon 10 miles out.
Armored is the heavy rubber coating. It adds to their weather resistance and makes them far less likely to be damaged. They can be kept out of case. In fact many don't come with cases -- only lens guards.
I prefer units with individual focus on each eye-piece. Central focus adds mechanics to get out of line. Zoom binoculars become increasingly complex and thus even more fragile.
Quality is very important. If you are spending any amount of time, the cheapo binoculars will quickly cause eye strain, fatique and you will always be cursing the not quite perfect focus. My personal pair are Zeiss -- the 'standard' of binoculars world-wide. However, there are now a number of either very good brands. Swarovksi, Steiner & Simmons are getting good reputations. Several of the camera makers like Leica have excellent binocular lines.
Most of the gimmicks are just that -- rangefinders, built-in compasses, camera adaptors. Night-vision, though intrigueing, are getting a little into the exotic range. And aren't worth a darn for anything else. Buy well and they are a lifetime investment.
6/14/04 -- Added thoughts. Avoid 'extremes' in binoculars. Extreme power -- 10 & up, gives a narrow field of view and absorbs light. Thus the image is harder to find, stabilize and not as sharp. Power usually comes with increased size & weight. They get heavy!
Avoid the ultra lightweights. The stability of the binoculars is relative to weight. Too heavy and large are shakey and tiring to hold. Too light get buffeted by wind and personal movement (even breathing) so seem to amplify any movement.
IF you feel the need for power, get a good pair of binoculars in the 8x range and then get a 'spotting scope' from a sporting goods store. You can get nice scopes at reasonable prices. Most come with a small tripod sufficient for the road. Many of the warnings on binoculars are no longer as critical -- for example, zoom scopes. 'Window tripod' clamps are available for use from the car. They fit on most camera tripods. Some offer useable camera adaptors -- though they will never approach a quality camera lens.
Parallax, the error of two optics not in line, is critical. Some of the ultra compacts use multiple hinging between sides to reduce that folded-down size. This is just another place to introduce optic error and fragility.
Using with and without glasses is a challenge. The better binoculars have a rubber cup around the eyepieces that block glare and sidelight when using with glasses. Some are flexible enough for use either way, others fold back. TEST before you buy!
My wife has a great 35mm Minolta camera set-up. 2 bodies, multiple lenses, both zoom & fixed to 500mm (10x). Tripod, filters and all the paraphanlia. They have provided us with professional level photography and some award-winning nature & wildlife shots. Areas of our home are decorated with her photos. Kodak stock jumps every time we go on a camping trip because she's liable to shot 50+ rolls.
But the digital world is now reality. We've used an older basic digital for years as a quick & easy when needing photos for publication or web site. Also great for archiving on the computer as it eliminates the scanning.
We've sort of decided to get a high-end SLR digital and were hoping to find one that would utilize the big investment in lenses. Wrong! Minolta is out of the camera business, first merging with Konica and then getting spun off to Sony. Since Sony is in the camera business itself, the Konica/Minolta line has died with no compatibility to Sony.
I'd be interested in members' experiences with the high-end SLR digitals. I watched the sitting for our daughter's senior pictures and those cameras -- though out of my price range -- were amazing, but I'd also be looking at a new set of lenses which always cost more than the camera anyway.
I suppose there are some very high-end non-SLR digitals I should look at, too. Be interested in member thoughts.
Them's a little high end- I'm a wildlife biologist, and I don't own Zeiss, but they ARE great. I would recommend trying some and seeing what you like. Definitely spend over $100 and ideally at least a couple hundred- what you pay for is better optics, primarily, so the cost pays off in better, brighter images. Cheaper may get you plastic lenses, inferior coatings, and generally crummy quality.
If you're birding or otherwise staring thru them for an extended period, the better optics is worth it for your eyes. If you just carry them and look at stuff now and then to see if that's a dog or a lion, I'd recommend something cheaper. The camera brands like Nikon, Pentax, and Olympus make a range from crummy to stellar quality, and are usually pretty reasonably priced. Eagle optics are also really nice.
I also recommend 8x30 as a good compromise in size and bright image. Waterproof and fogproof is also good.
While certainly not in the range of the digital SLRs, but I love my Panasonic Lumix, with a 12x zoom. A little chunky, but well laid-out, and without the need to fiddle with lenses, while allowing a fair amount of adjustments. That said, it pales in quality next to my friends' Canon EOS and Nikon something or other- the image quality on those is amazing.