In the many articles I see out there on how to get started birding, they talk about essential optics, so I thought I’d share my journey through binocular ownership. We had an old pair of binoculars at my home, that I would use to occasionally look at birds and other things outside. When I took ornithology, I got the bare minimum required for class: a $40 8 x 32 tiny pair on a string from some outdoor store. I made due with those for lab, though I’d sometimes take a peek through the better binoculars of classmates or my TA’s. Nonetheless, I could find birds in them and could usually get sufficient detail for what we needed to do for class. Those lasted me until the end of the semester, when I landed my first field job.
Then, I made what felt like a significant upgrade at the time, to a $100 (i.e. low-end) Nikon pair to take to S.C. That field job turned into my M.S., where I did the absolute best I could with those binoculars as I got into birding seriously. For what it’s worth, I think it helped teach me careful and creative observation skills I still use today. (Worse binoculars help you use more cues to identify the bird, right? 🙂 ) Those binoculars made me really patient to watch birds, as I “maxed them out” looking hard at things I now use my scope for. I just kept birding, and tried not to let my equipment limit me.
Not long after the start of my Ph.D. in 2012, I actually broke those binoculars, and my grandmother bought me my current pair: Swarovski Swarovision EL 10 x 50 binoculars. They may well be the last pair I ever own. They’re top of the line (though there have been some upgrades now to design here and there, as to be expected). I got those because it’s now part of my career, and I plan to watch birds as long as I can in this lifetime. In other words, it was a future investment purchase, that in my book has already paid off. I need the professional tools of my field, and I use them often.
So, I provide this anecdote as to what helped me make optics decisions, and at what point I upgraded. Obviously, you’ll need to choose what’s right for your budget both timing and cost-wise. Don’t let sub-par binoculars (or even lack thereof) stop you from birding; you’d be surprised by how much you can get by with a cheap or old pair. You might ask to borrow a pair from friends if you don’t have anything and can’t afford even a cheap pair.