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Binoculars are an important and valuable tool for many hobbyists and professionals alike.

Binoculars can give an up-close and personal view of items in the distance. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Binoculars can give an up-close and personal view of items in the distance.


For seeing objects at a distance, nothing beats a good pair of binoculars. Binoculars are the most widely-used optical device after eyeglasses. Since the invention of the telescope in the 1600s, which led to the development of binoculars shortly thereafter, binoculars have come a long way in design, use and capability. Today, there are hundreds of models of binoculars made by many different manufacturers around the world. According to Consumer Reports, birdwatchers in the U.S. alone spend nearly $500 million a year on binoculars and associated equipment, as reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Uses for Binoculars

Binoculars are used in a wide variety of recreational and occupational applications, including:

  • Astronomy
  • Bird-watching
  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Military
  • Sightseeing
  • Sports Spectating

Types of Binoculars

Many binoculars are designed for specific purposes. There are currently many types of binoculars available:

  • Standard or general purpose binoculars are versatile and usable in many applications. These binoculars usually have only one magnification setting, from 7x to 25x, without the additional features of many specially-designed binoculars.
  • Compact binoculars are light and small enough to carry in a pocket or purse; these binoculars are best for theaters, sports stadiums or for kids.
  • Marine binoculars are waterproof and rubber-armored; some come with compasses, and others designed to float when dropped into the water.
  • Military binoculars are durable and heavy-duty, with many special features such as night vision and built-in compasses.
  • Zoom binoculars allow for viewing close-up with adjustable magnification and are great for birdwatching.
  • Image Stabilization binoculars, as the name suggests, stabilize images while looking through them, for use in a car or boat.
  • Night Vision binoculars are used mostly for night hunting or military purposes; some make use of available light, while others have infrared capabilities.
  • Telescope binoculars are a large, mountable combination of binoculars and telescope.
  • Digital camera binoculars actually come with a built-in camera.
  • Rangefinders use laser technology to measure the distance between a person and a distant object. These are used extensively for hunting, but also for hiking and photography.

Manufacturers of Binoculars

There are currently over two dozen manufacturers making hundreds of models of binoculars, with a wide range of special features and in a wide range of prices. Some manufacturers, such as Nikon, offer nearly 100 models, while others, including Canon and Burris, only a handful. Most offer standard binoculars as well as those with the most up-to-date technology.

Manufacturers of binoculars include: Bushnell, Canon, Leica, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Steiner, Zeiss, and Zhumell. Many of these and other manufacturers also produce many other products in addition to binoculars, such as film and digital cameras, microscopes, rifle scopes, imaging equipment and digiscopes.

Shopping for Binoculars

Besides manufacturer name, price and features, consumers should consider power and lens size as well. Most binoculars are labeled with two numbers, such as 8x25. The first number represents magnification. For instance, the number eight indicates that the object being viewed will appear eight times larger than without using binoculars. The second number refers to the diameter of the front lens in millimeters. The higher the lens size, the sharper the image no matter how much magnification is involved, so binoculars labeled 8x40 will produce a better image than those marked 8x25.

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