A good pair of binoculars is indispensable on a trip to Africa to watch its wildlife. The choice of the best bino to take with you may be a difficult one since there are so many different models and brands each claiming to offer top-notch features. The products you’ll find differ in configurations as well as in price. This article is meant to help a prospective buyer make the best decision when purchasing binoculars for safari. To be clear, this article applied not only to African safaris but will be useful for any place you may go to view spectacular landscapes and magnificent wildlife.
Why you need binoculars
People going on a safari often wonder: Are binoculars really needed? But there are many reasons that suggest that it is quite necessary to have them with you.
First of all, a safari is not a visit to the zoo. The wild animals roam free over vast spaces. Although a safari holiday is all about getting as close as possible to animals in their natural habitat, it is really not possible to get close to every animal for safety reasons, among others. With a pair of binoculars, however, you will be amazed at how many exciting views you’ll gain by looking at the little interesting details that would have gone unnoticed when viewed with the naked eye.
Good binos will thus not only enhance your overall safari experience but will also allow you to view animals up and close. For example, the distinct fur patterns of leopards used to identify them individually can easily be viewed through optics, but is much harder without.
Plus, keep in mind that a trip such as this should definitely not revolve only around seeing the big five (that is lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and Cape buffaloes), but it should also include viewing the beautiful birds and maybe even the amazing night skies – a task that would prove difficult if you’re not equipped with a good pair of safari binoculars.
Also, wildlife is most active and often easiest to find in the dawn and dusk hours, so nature watchers need binoculars that can magnify and brighten images in low light conditions.
Finally, although most tours will have one or even two shared pairs of binoculars on board, they are usually the cheap type that produce low-quality images. It is recommended that you bring your own pair so as not to miss the right moments simply because someone else is using the shared one.
The technicalities of choosing binos may not appeal to everyone and so, I’ll provide a quick product recommendation before we dive into the details. Let’s just say, you can’t go wrong with this one and they’re some of the best binoculars for safari out there. Scroll further down for more details and other excellent products to consider.
One of the best safari binoculars that give you excellent value for money is the Athlon Optics Midas. It has impressive main features and is built with seriously high-end components at a fairly affordable price. Although it’s not from one of the most popular brands, the Midas 8×42 provides everything you’ll need in a binocular for your trip.
The 8×42 configuration is perfect as far as magnification power and size go. The bino not only offers close focus of just 2 meters or 6.5 feet but has a wide field of view as well. The Midas is also lightweight and easy to hold in your hand. It is also the perfect companion for use in bad weather conditions since it’s water and fogproof. This model is also equipped with the extra-low dispersion glass that gives a clearer image while eliminating glare. The ED glass also helps reduce chromatic fringes around objects.
Although the Midas is in the mid-range price category, it may be classified as one of the best binoculars for a non-professional user. You really do not have to spend a $1000 plus to get a high-end binocular if you’re not a professional user and will only need them for a safari holiday and similar activities. With the Midas 8X42, best quality optics and components and almost all features that are normally found on very expensive high-end binoculars are offered at a lower price and may be all you need.
What to look for in a pair of binoculars
Choosing the best optics for a trip to Africa involves getting acquainted with certain features. Let’s go through them.
Magnification is one of the most important features that a buyer must pay close attention to before making a purchase. The magnification power is included in the model information provided by the manufacturer. You’ll find two numbers stated, usually separated by an ’x’. The first of these two numbers represents the magnification power. It is can be, for instance, 8x, 10x or higher. Binoculars with a magnification of 10x mean that objects at a distance will be seen 10 times larger than they would naturally appear without any aid. It’s also important to note that for some products, the value could be variable (called “zoom binoculars”), however, those with a fixed magnification usually offer more quality.
Higher magnification numbers do not necessarily mean a good thing since the higher the factor, the smaller the field of view. Another downside associated with very high magnification numbers is that it becomes difficult to hold it stable in your hands and therefore, images appear unstable.
Magnification of 8x would definitely be a good choice for a wonderful safari experience. It is very easy to hold such binos in any position and they offer a good field of view.
The objective lenses are the next important feature to consider. Their size is important, since the larger the lens, the more light is allowed into the optical system and the brighter the objects will appear. The diameter of the objective lens is also included in the model information. It is represented by the second number after the ‘x’ as described above. A pair of binoculars described as 10×42, therefore, have the diameter of its objective lens as 42 millimeters.
From an image quality point of view, a larger objective lens is highly preferred since the images are bright and clear. It is best to use such large lenses in areas with low light such as during the dawn and dusk hours. This certainly does not mean that binoculars with smaller lenses are no good, however, when a smaller lens is used (say a bino with an objective lens of 25 mm), in dim light, it would produce images of low quality. Smaller lenses are advantageous since they make for smaller binos and are easier to hold for longer periods and they are much lighter when compared to those with larger lenses.
An objective lens of 42 millimeters or 50 millimeters is usually considered best for safari trips. 42mm allow just the right amount of light and is much easier to carry around whereas one of 50 millimeters will prove useful in dim light conditions and is best used if a safari tour involves mostly being in a vehicle.
Other things to consider
There are some other minute but important features that may interest you and are common in most binoculars beside those mentioned above:
• Field of view
• Exit pupil
• Eye relief
• Compact size
Field of view (FOV) simply refers to the area visible through the eyepiece of a binocular. It is usually affected by the magnification and the size of the objective lens such that a higher magnification will result in a smaller field of view while larger lenses tend to offer a larger field of view.
The exit pupil diameter relates directly to image brightness on a binocular. It refers to the size of the ray of light that hits the eye after traveling through the eyepiece. Its value is determined by dividing the lens size by the magnification. A larger number obtained from this calculation means brighter images will be observed. So, in order not to sacrifice on the brightness of an image, it is best to pick a binocular with a reasonable magnification power and a larger lens.
Another important feature is eye relief and this will mostly interest people who wear glasses when viewing objects through a binocular. Eye relief is the distance that the eye needs to be from the eyepiece for a full field of view, eliminating shadows and blurry images. It is usually shown in millimeters and the minimum eye relief recommended for those who wear glasses is 15 millimeters, though more is better.
A pair of binoculars that is both fog proof and waterproof is desirable, especially on a safari tour. A weatherproof device is designed to protect the interior from water, dust, and small particles that can ruin your view. Purchasing binoculars that have a rubber coating on the outside also offer some protection from shocks.
A person who opts for a safari trip that involves mostly vehicular movement may consider purchasing binoculars that are larger and heavier whereas a trip to the safari that involves a good deal of walking ideally requires a pair of binoculars that are compact-sized, especially if the trip involves travelling through rough terrain while carrying a lot of equipment.
So, with all of that covered, let’s go through some other exciting product options that you can readily find available for purchase.
The Wingspan Optics SkyView 8×42 is a great bino for bird watching. It is a little cheaper than the Athlon Optics Midas described above but it offers pretty good specs. With its unique features, it is no wonder that it is very popular among amateur birders.
Trying to spot interesting birds found on safari is a bit more challenging than viewing the larger animals on land since they are fast and could be hidden from view. Birders who desire to see accurate and clear colors on these small creatures without spending much should consider getting the SkyView. It will also come in handy when viewing other animals, since if you can watch birds with these, you can definitely watch bigger and slower animals as well.
The magnification power and lens size of the SkyView are the same as with the Midas above. The specifications are what you’d expect on a quality bino. It comes with multi-coated lenses and coated prisms and it also uses extra-low dispersion (ED) glass. The field of view it offers is very good for safari trips (393 feet at 1000 yards) and it is easy to carry around. It can also be used in bad weather conditions since it is fully waterproof and fog proof.
The Nikon Action 10×50 model offers its users increased magnification power and a great build. This product is nothing short of what a buyer would expect from Nikon, a brand specializing in producing both camera lenses and optical lenses. Since there is more magnification power on this binocular, you might expect reduced brightness, however, the 10×50 model has large objective lenses which still makes it a good choice for low light conditions.
Using the 10×50 EX Extreme model for a safari trip that involves walking may not be ideal since it is heavier than some other models (weighing 2.25 lbs or 1.02kg) and may best be used from a safari tour vehicle. With its Porro design and a wide space between the objective lenses, the 10×50 model may offer better light transmission and greater depth of field, and it is preferred over many other binoculars with a similar design because of its center-focus knob.
Buyers should, however, note one limitation of the Nikon 10×50 model – its close focus value is very large. As such, looking at objects closer than 23 feet will produce unclear images since the objects viewed will not be brought into focus.
The Nikon Action EX binoculars come at a relatively cheap price and are a great value for money. They come with multi-coated lenses and a rubber coating to absorb shock while providing a comfortable grip. Buyers who prefer binoculars that do not compromise on brilliant image quality and durability may consider purchasing this product.
The 8×32 Wingspan Optics binocular is very affordable when compared to its expensive counterparts mentioned above including the SkyView 8×42 model by the same manufacturer. Birders with a limited budget may want to consider this bino since it it’s a very good tool for its size and price range. It is small in size and lightweight, so it is easy to carry along for a long walk on your safari. Included in the box is a neck strap which offers comfort desired for long periods.
Designed with multi-coated lenses and a phase correction prism, the ProBirder 8×32 gives an ultra HD quality image to allow users to enjoy birdwatching fully. It also has an extra-low dispersion glass and a good close focus value so that images viewed through it remain clear and vibrant. The magnification power is ideal for such trips at 8x and offers a decent field of view, however, the diameter of the lens may leave images with less brightness when viewed in low light.
Another minor weakness of the ProBirder 8×32 model is that its lens is not scratch resistant and extra care must be taken to protect them from scratches. Although this binocular is designed to be waterproof, it will not survive if accidentally submerged in water, however, it can be used without worry during rain.
The TrailSeeker 8×32 binocular is fairly compact and lightweight due to its magnesium frame. Its magnification power at 8x is ideal for wildlife watching and it also has a decent field of view. With its highly reliable optical performance and stylish design, this pair of binoculars may be all a buyer needs to fully enjoy a safari tour.
The TrailSeeker 8×32 comes with a slightly smaller objective lens at 32 millimeters just like the Wingspan Optics ProBirder model discussed earlier. This means that it is comfortable to hold in your hands for a longer period as well as easy to carry with you when walking. The smaller lens, however, may not perform well in dim light and images viewed may not be as clear as those seen through a larger lens, since the amount of light entering the lens is reduced.
The Celestron TrailSeeker is designed with fully multicoated lenses as well as coated prisms that contribute to producing sharp colors and well-defined images. With a 15.6 millimeters eye relief, the TrailSeeker 10×32 is usually okay for use with glasses. It is waterproof and fog proof and it can withstand use in tough weather conditions. Individuals on a tighter budget who still want high-level performance binoculars that offer a really wide field of view of 409 feet at 1000 yards and an excellent close focus value may choose to purchase this product.
The image stabilization feature makes the Canon 10×30 IS binoculars quite different from all the others discussed above. When using binoculars with a very high magnification, it is usually difficult to keep the image still since hand vibrations have greater effect at higher magnification powers. One easy solution for this problem would be to carry around a tripod but this may not always be helpful especially on safari trips. The Canon 10×30 image stabilization binoculars eliminate the need for a tripod.
It is designed in such a way that shaky images are immediately corrected when viewed through it by an automatically tilting lens inside the device. With a press and hold of a button, the image stabilization feature is activated and shaky images are eliminated, thus giving the viewer much more detail to enjoy. It is easy to use and the dedicated stabilizer button is well positioned so that it can be easily reached. The Canon 10×30 is also comfortable to hold with its finely designed rubber coating which also provides extra protection.
Designed with Super Spectra multi-coating, the Canon IS 10×30 promises users high image quality. Despite its high price tag, many people find the Canon’s IS binos amazing after using their image stabilization feature. One shortcoming of this binocular that may bother some individuals is its weight. The bulky nature of the Canon 10×30 may make carrying it around a little inconvenient.
A few final words
Africa’s top safari tours include visiting places like Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, South Africa, and Kenya. If you are planning a safari holiday to visit any of these destinations mentioned, you have definitely made a good choice and with a pair of binoculars, your trip will surely be all you expected and more. Remember that it is necessary to bring your own binos so you won’t miss out on all the interesting details you’ll encounter on such exciting once-in-a-lifetime trips. Settling for low quality optics or deciding not to bring along them at all may result in gaining little more than frustration on your tour. You’ll be able to put your binos to use even after your safari adventure. For example, fishing, hunting and sporting events are just some occasions when a great pair of binocs would prove useful.
Before you buy anything, ensure that it is within your budget and that it possesses all the features and specifications you need. To help you make the right decision, read user reviews online, such as on Amazon.
- 7 Tips for Choosing Good Safari BinocularsHow do you go about picking the right binoculars for your wildlife adventure? Read our tips to make the best choice.
- Why 8x42 Binoculars are a Great Choice for an African SafariWhen selecting binos for your safari trip, 8x42 is one of the best setups to have, for several reasons.
- 5 Amazing Things You May See on a Safari Only If You Have BinocularsOptics can enhance your safari experience significantly, in fact, it's unthinkable you might go on one without them. Here are just some things you'd otherwise miss.