Binoculars are a vital part of any birdwatcher's equipment. Many birds are timid and flighty by nature, and often the only way to get a good look at a rare bird in its natural habitat is to view it from afar.
The best birding binoculars all share several characteristics: they must be light enough to carry for long periods of time yet durable enough to last for years. More importantly, they need to be crafted from quality optical components, with lenses that render sharp focus at long distances and transmit subtleties of shade and color.
It's essential to have an understanding of the refractive technologies that make binoculars work in order to select the right pair. Birding binoculars still use the same three primary optical components today as they did when they were first invented over 150 years ago: objective lenses, porro prisms and eyepiece lenses.
The objective lenses are the large lenses at the ends of the two binocular barrels, and it is these lenses that focus the image of the object being viewed.
However, objective lenses, through the focusing process, turn the image upside-down, so the two porro prisms, which are set at right angles to one another, turn it right-side-up again. It's extremely important to have quality porro prisms in your binoculars, as inferior prisms will distort the sharpness of the image.
Finally, the image is magnified in the eyepiece lenses. Again, it's extremely important to choose birding binoculars with well-made eyepiece lenses, since they are responsible for the final quality of the enlarged image you'll be viewing.
When it comes time to buy birding binoculars, remember that while your eyes have a remarkable ability to compensate for slight image distortions and imperfections, you should never sacrifice quality if you're serious about bird-watching. If you're budget-conscious, seeking a pair of quality used birding binoculars is an excellent idea, as optical components have an extremely long lifespan if cared for properly.
If you're buying new, be sure to check out birding binoculars reviews to familiarize yourself with the major manufacturers and brands. As with any major purchase, try before you buy. Most reputable retailers will allow you to test the binoculars out in the field or, at the very least, trade them in for a different pair if you find you're not entirely comfortable with them. You'll know you've found the right pair when you forget the binoculars are there at all and can focus your full attention on the birds you're watching, whether it's an exotic jungle bird or a local bird drinking from a bird bath in the neighborhood park.