Binocular Buying Guide

By Trent Marsh, Hawke Sport Optics

Hawke Panorama ED Binoculars
Hawke Panorama ED Binoculars

Fort Wayne, Indiana –-( Hunting season is here.

While you most likely already have your pack set for the fall, you may find that this is the year you decide to upgrade your optics with a new pair of binoculars.

It doesn’t take much flipping through catalogs from the sporting goods stores of your choice to get overwhelmed with specifications, jargon, and highlighted features that mean nothing to the average hunter without a degree in optical physics.

What we will discuss here are some concepts like basic specifications, exit pupil, and body design.

The goal is to help you understand these concepts a little better so when the time comes to make that purchase you are comfortable with what your needs are and what you can do to find products to meet those needs.

Binocular Specifications
Binocular specifications typically start with the designation of magnification and objective lens diameter. We have all seen the listings that read “8×42 binocular”.

But what exactly does that mean to the user? The magnification is simple, you will see things as if they were 8 times closer. While the objective diameter may seem straightforward you can glean much more information than it first appears. The objective lens diameter helps determine several important factors, chief among them is the exit pupil. Without getting too technical, under normal circumstances your eye is capable of processing the most information when the pupil is dilated to around 7mm, though the full function of the eye can be achieved below that. Any more and your eye doesn’t process the full scope of information, any less and you begin to lose the ability to focus, see colors, or distinguish edges. The simplest way to calculate the exit pupil of any optic is to divide the objective lens by the magnification. [42/8=5.25mm] Doing this we find that an 8×42 design delivers an exit pupil around 5.25mm, fairly close to the optimal range for most people’s eyes.

What does all of that mean to you? It depends on how you plan to use the binoculars. If you will be shooting prairie dogs in broad daylight, an exit pupil less than 2mm (15x56mm binoculars) isn’t likely to cause you problems. There will be plenty of light in those conditions, therefore image quality is not likely to suffer. That same pair of binoculars for hunting whitetails in low light conditions is likely to cause the user some issues.

If you plan to use your optics in low light conditions, do what you can to keep the exit pupil above 4mm.

Binocular Prism Style
You will also need to choose between a roof prism and Porro prism body style. Both styles offer their own benefits. A roof prism binocular is going to be more compact, therefore easier to carry around in your pack or maneuver within a tree stand. Porro prism designs will produce a wider field of view than comparable roof prism designs, as well as a brighter image because of the materials used in construction. Porro prism binoculars are typically more affordable than directly comparable roof prisms as well because the construction process of Porro designs is less labor-intensive.

At the end of the day, choosing a body design is strictly a personal decision. Either one will function perfectly well under most circumstances, it just boils down to personal preference. Will they be used primarily as a scouting tool from your truck where the bulk of a porro design isn’t likely to cause issues and the wider field of view will come in handy when glassing bean fields at dusk? Or do you need a pair of binoculars for your turkey vest where size is a factor, and the ability to move around quickly to outrun a big tom more closely meets your needs?

Either one will deliver results, but it is likely that one design or the other will be more suited to your needs.

Binocular Magnification 
Now we address magnification needs. Let’s start by dispelling the notion that more is better. The natural inclination is to get all the magnification that you can, but this can cause several problems. First of all, assuming the same objective lens diameter, the higher the magnification the smaller your exit pupil, this directly affects your ability to see clearly in low light conditions.[as mentioned above]

Secondly, not only will the object you are viewing be magnified eight, ten, or twelve times, but so will every little move you make. The higher the magnification the more difficult it is to maintain proper image stability. Lastly, you may just not need high magnification. Antelope hunting in eastern Wyoming is quite different from black bear hunting in northern Wisconsin. If you need quick subject acquisition at varying distances, you will likely be best served with something around 8x magnification. For long-distance glassing or detailed evaluation of trophy quality, you can start to look at the 10x and 12x magnification options.

Hawke Endurance Binoculars
Hawke Endurance Binoculars

Binocular Objective Diameter
With design and magnification settled, we move on to objective diameter. For most Hawke products you will be choosing between 32mm and 42mm objective lenses. Desired exit pupil is a factor here, but so is size. You are looking at a difference of almost 25% on body tube size when evaluating your choices. If your needs hinge more on a compact, space-saving design, go smaller.

On the other hand, if you are looking for all the light you can get, and are willing to leave an extra granola bar home to make room in your pack, opt for the larger size.

Of course, there are other factors that can come into play. Glass quality is one that leaps to mind. Binoculars are offered with standard, as well as ED (extra-low dispersion) glass. There is a significant price increase when you look at moving to ED glass, but there are also significant benefits. Anytime light passes through a lens it is dispersed to some degree. The composition and design of ED glass reduce that dispersion and by doing so, re-creates sharper images with virtually no color diffusion or yellowing, in addition to crisp edges and improved depth of field.

While this list of items to consider is nowhere near complete, it should provide a solid base to knowledge to start your research. If you have questions regarding binocular choices, or are interested in looking into the options you have for binoculars visit www.hawkeoptics.comto view our full product line.

About Hawke Optics

You can also stop at and view a video segment that highlights the product families that Hawke offers. If after looking there you still have questions you can always call Hawke direct, toll-free, at 877.429.5347, and we will do our best to help you narrow your search.

Hawke Sports Optics