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Which binocular is best for me?

When choosing the right Leupold Binocular for you, many things need to be considered. What you are doing, what you are watching, and where you are watching it.

It's also important to consider a few things about yourself. Do you wear eyeglasses? Do you have small or large hands? How old are you? Have you ever had trouble in the past fitting a binocular to your eyes interpupillary distance so that you saw one single picture rather than two partial circles?

With all this in mind, we've put together a few outlines of products you might want to consider based on the answers to these questions.

General Purpose Binoculars

Let's face it sometimes it's just nice to have a binocular on hand. It may not be for any specific purpose. It may simply ride in the vehicle glove box or sit on a home window sill. Once in a while it gets taken to a game or along on a vacation to the mountains. Often in such cases, the primary users of the binocular might not be what would be called intensive optic users, thus a lower magnification level will make it easier to use by those less accustomed to locating an object through an optic. As the binocular may not be frequently used, keeping the purchase price to a fairly modest level is often a factor in the choice. Therefore, something fairly straight-forward and easy to use by a wide range of people is the best idea.

Recommended models:

  • Olympic 8x42mm
  • Katmai 8x32mm
  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Cascades 8x42mm
  • Cascades 8x42mm Internal Focus Porro
  • Mesa 8x42mm
  • Mesa 8x23mm Compact
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Will children be the primary users of the binocular?

There are a few too seldom considered facts about selecting binoculars for use with children. First, while there are inexpensive toy binoculars on the market, they should not under any circumstance be used by children for any lengthy amount of time viewing anything; the strain placed upon the eyes is simply too great.

Second, children (and for that matter, many adults both men and women) have an interpupillary distance (abbreviated IPD the measurement between the pupil of one eye and the pupil of the other to which the two halves of a binocular must be aligned by the hinge if a single binocular image is to be seen through the optic) that is too small for compatibility with ordinary binoculars. While 60mm to 70mm is often the standard range, even 60mm is not reached by many young people until their teen years and others never reach it at all. Overall physical size is not a factor here some six foot tall adult men do not have an IPD of more than 60mm.

Third, all beginners experience difficulty locating objects in the field through a binocular. Think about it the optic is magnifying the image 8x or even 10x larger than it normally appears, with the subsequent limitation of field of view occurring at the same time. There are simply too few points of reference in the field for a beginner to quickly locate a reference point and move from it to the object desired to be in view. This is solved by lowering the magnification level and allowing the field of view to be wider.

Fourth, smaller hands require a smaller overall binocular body to allow the controls to be easily reached and manipulated. (This same smaller body is also very useful if gloves are being worn on an otherwise average size hand.)

Finally, never, ever use compact binoculars with children. Even though it may seem like a good idea due to the smaller size of compacts, the magnification levels are too high and the objective diameters are too small, offering a smaller exit pupil, for children to use successfully.

Recommended models:

  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Binoculars for birding

Birders are perhaps the most technically demanding of all binocular users. There are many features that must all be found in a single binocular to allow it to be considered a truly great birding binocular. While there may be a dispute among some, most birders agree that a great birding binocular must have a close focus distance of no more than 10 feet. It must also allow the perception of the image with no perceptible alteration of color. Resolution must be very sharp (sharp enough to distinguish the difference between the tail feathers of Allen's and Rufous Hummingbirds). Field of view is also important, as identification on the wing is often necessary. While 8x is generally considered the appropriate magnification, conditions and terrain can alter this rule viewing off-shore from a sea cliff would certainly allow for use of more than 8x while close vegetation in a tropical jungle may render 8x too much.

Recommended models:

General field birding:

  • Golden Ring 8x42mm
  • Golden Ring 8x32mm
  • Pinnacles 8x42mm
  • Olympic 8x42mm
  • Katmai 8x32mm
  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Cascades 8x42mm
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Coastal birding:

  • Golden Ring 10x42mm
  • Golden Ring 10x32mm
  • Pinnacles 10x42mm
  • Olympic 10x50mm
  • Olympic 12x50mm
  • Cascades 10x42mm
  • Cascades 10x42mm Internal Focus Porro
  • Mesa 10x50mm

Tropical birding:

  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Bird counts and research - choose as you would by location of the count or project, but also consider the following if point count arrays are to be established:

  • RB800 8x32mm C

Binoculars for hunting

While there are some hunters choosing 8x binoculars, most instinctively lean toward 10x models for a greater enlargement of the animal and assessment of the targeted area... However, while this is a common choice, it may not always be the right choice. Too many hunters are carrying binoculars that are making the quick location of an animal more difficult than it needs to be due to too much magnification restricting the field of view. Resolution must be very sharp (sharp enough to distinguish the difference between branches and antlers). The ability to perceive small details in poor light is also a must. Color is not as important to hunters as it is to birders and close focus is generally not a topic hunters take into consideration when selecting their optics. (A handy tip: where lower magnification binoculars are recommended, additional magnification can always be available by carrying a small spotting scope, such as the Golden Ring 10-20x40mm Compact or 15-30x50mm Compact, in a gear bag.)

Recommended models:

General North American big game:

  • Golden Ring 10x42mm
  • Golden Ring 10x32mm
  • Pinnacles 10x42mm
  • Olympic 10x50mm
  • Olympic 12x50mm
  • Cascades 10x42mm
  • Cascades 10x42mm Internal Focus Porro
  • Mesa 10x50mm

If the terrain is heavily timbered or the under-story is quite dense with vegetation, 10x or 12x models are not recommended as they have too little field of view at the closer distances common to this type of habitat.

Consider these models instead:

  • Golden Ring 8x42mm
  • Golden Ring 8x32mm
  • Pinnacles 8x42mm
  • Olympic 8x42mm
  • Katmai 8x32mm
  • Cascades 8x42mm
  • Cascades 8x42mm Internal Focus Porro

Archers and those hunting in very dense forests (such as the Coast Range in Oregon or Washington) would do well to consider an even lower magnification model:

  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Turkey hunting may be the major exception to the idea that color is not a primary factor in the selection of a binocular for hunting. For turkey hunters hunting from the ground and seeking their cryptically-colored birds against a complex, foliage covered terrain, precision color resolution is crucial for the examination of the head color and the beard. As the ranges are close, lower magnification and a wide field of view is important. Keeping the size of the optic to a minimum is another factor to remember.

  • Golden Ring 8x32mm
  • Cascades 8x42mm Camouflage
  • Mesa 8x42mm Camouflage
  • Mesa 8x23mm Compact
  • Yosemite 6x30mm Natural
  • Yosemite 6x30mm Dark Red (highly useful in peak of fall foliage)

Of course, range estimation is also key to successful hunting. Rather than carry a range finder and a binocular, a hunter concerned about minimizing gear might want to consider a combination unit:

  • RB800 8x32mm C

Binoculars for butterfly watching

A crucial factor for selecting the right binocular for butterfly watching is close focus distance. N.A.B.A. indicates a maximum close focus distance of 10 feet; other experts insist on no more than 5 feet. As butterfly watching is done during mid-day, large objective models are not required. Lower magnification and larger field of view allow for faster location of the butterfly while it is flying.

Recommended models:

  • Golden Ring 8x42mm
  • Golden Ring 8x32mm
  • Pinnacles 8x42mm
  • Katmai 8x32mm
  • Katmai 6x32mm

Binoculars for hiking and camping

Light in weight, small in size, and durable are the primary desirable features of binoculars well suited for hiking and camping.


Recommended models:

  • Golden Ring 8x32mm
  • Golden Ring 10x32mm
  • Olympic 8x25mm
  • Olympic 10x25mm
  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Katmai 8x32mm
  • Katmai 10x32mm
  • Mesa 8x23mm Compact
  • Mesa 10x23mm Compact
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Binoculars for paddle sports

Even on still water, viewing from a kayak or canoe is still tricky because of the inability to completely stop all movement. Lower magnification and larger relative objective diameter will produce a larger exit pupil and allow more forgiveness for movement. Of course, conservation of size is also important, especially if trying to wear the binocular over a PFD.


Recommended models:

  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Binoculars for general maritime use

Most powerboats ply active waters that produce a continuous bobbing and rolling. Because of the inability to completely stop all movement, lower magnification and larger relative objective diameter will produce a larger exit pupil and allow more forgiveness for movement.


Recommended models:

  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Binoculars for stadium sporting events and performances

Larger venues and greater distances from the action would make one think that a 10x50mm or 12x50mm model would be preferred. However, a choice should be made for a model that will offer a clear, sharp image, a wide field of view, and also be small enough and easy to manipulate through the crowds at a sporting event. Spectator binoculars should be lightweight enough to use for more than a few minutes and provide a quick focus to follow the action. In addition, when you are struggling through crowds holding a beverage or food the addition of a bulky pair of binoculars could be the last thing you want to take with you.

Recommended models:

  • Golden Ring 8x32mm
  • Golden Ring 10x32mm
  • Olympic 8x25mm
  • Olympic 10x25mm
  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Katmai 8x32mm
  • Katmai 10x32mm
  • Mesa 8x23mm Compact
  • Mesa 10x23mm Compact
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Binoculars for theater concerts and performances

Even though styles are more relaxed in many places, most people still tend to dress up for theater performances and concerts. Because of this, a small binocular that is easy and unobtrusive to carry, and that provides a good clear image, even after the lights are dimmed, is preferred.


Recommended models:

  • Olympic 8x25mm
  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Katmai 8x32mm
  • Mesa 8x23mm Compact
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Binoculars for law enforcement

Two of the extra uses that binoculars for tactical or law enforcement personnel must serve are estimation of range and correction of fire. Hence, some form of range estimating device must be present in their design. Standard estimation of range can be accomplished with a variety of range estimating reticles. Correction of fire is most complex. Ideally, correction of fire is made by a spotter working in conjunction with marksman, watching the trajectory of the bullet in flight, measuring its deviation, and relaying the necessary correction adjustment to the marksman. To accomplish this most effectively, the spotter and the marksman should be using the same design of reticle when viewing the target. An additional feature that is highly desirable in a tactical binocular is for the reticle to be correctible to the axis of the horizon after the binocular has been set for the interpupillary distance of the user (this negates the need for the user to turn the binocular on its side and use only one optic channel when using the reticle for measurement).

Recommended models:

  • Mark 4 10x50mm
  • Mark 4 10x50mm Mil Dot
  • Mark 4 10x50mm TMR

Optics for special visual difficulties

There are many circumstances that occur in the normal course of human physiology that prevent full utilization of conventional binoculars. These may be as distinct as the loss of vision in one eye, or more subtle, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, or a non-tracking eye. They may even be the normal loss of pupillary dilation common with advancing age. In these circumstances, special consideration should be given to selection of an optic. From our experience here at Leupold, we would offer the following suggestions for some situations we have encountered for which the recommended optic has worked to either eliminate or greatly improve the visual difficulty.

Recommended model for organic eye problems (macular degeneration, etc) lower magnification allows for larger exit pupil for maximization of the visual field:

  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Recommended model for loss of vision in one eye or non-tracking eye:

  • Golden Ring 10-20x40mm Compact spotting scope - lighter than a binocular with the added benefit of zoom magnification

Recommended model for decreased pupillary dilation common with age - lower magnification with relatively large objective allows for maximum exit pupil diameter and can also help with any early tremor that may be present:

  • Katmai 6x32mm
  • Yosemite 6x30mm

Thank you to John E. Riutta, Observation Market Development Leader for Leupold Sport Optics for providing this excellent tutorial on choosing the right Leupold Binocular for you.

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