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Field of View Is Important in Birdwatching Binoculars. Here’s Why

The two most important specifications for binoculars are the magnification and objective lens size (that’s the “8” and the “42” in “8×42,” respectively). But it’s also worth paying attention to Field of View. Whereas magnification and objective lens determine how big and bright your image will be, field of view (as well as Close Focus) determine how much of the world you’re able to see.

What Is Field of View?

Field of View is the term for the width (and height) of the image you see through your binoculars. Field of view plays such an important role in the viewing experience that many birdwatchers rank it among the most important specifications for binoculars.

Common Redpolls and Evening Grosbeaks feeding on a platform feeder on a snowy day

Field of View 8° (420 ft at 1,000 yards)

Some 8×42 models in this range: Nikon Monarch M7 (8.3°); Kowa BD II XD (8.2°); Hawke Frontier ED X (8.1°); Bushnell Forge (8.1°); Celestron Regal ED (8°), Trailseeker (8.1°), and Trailseeker ED (8.1°); Meade MasterClass Pro ED (8°)

Field of View 7.5° (394 ft at 1,000 yards)

Some 8×42 models in this range: Vortex Viper HD (7.8°); Vortex Diamondback HD (7.5°); Vortex Crossfire HD (7.5°); Opticron Explorer WA ED-R (7.5°); Celestron Nature DX ED (7.5°)

Field of View 7° (368 ft at 1,000 yards)

Some 8×42 models in this range: Hawke Nature-Trek (7.4°); Nikon ProStaff P7 and P3 (7.2°); Vanguard Endeavor ED IV (7.2°); Zeiss Terra ED (7.1°); Opticron Oregon 4 PC Oasis (7°)

Field of View 6.5° (341 ft at 1,000 yards)

Some 8×42 models in this range: Maven C1 (6.5°)

Field of View 6° (315 ft at 1,000 yards) radius

Some 8×42 models in this range: Nikon Monarch M5 (6.4°); Vanguard VEO ED (6.3°); Kowa SV II (6.3°); Meade Canyonview ED (5.9°)

Field of view is very important when you’re finding birds in flight, looking for a bird in dense foliage, or following a bird as it moves. A wider field also leaves more room for error when you put your binoculars up to your eyes, allowing the bird to stay within your binocular image even if it’s not right in the center. A bigger field of view is particularly helpful for people new to birding, making it easier to find birds when putting binoculars up to their eyes.

More on Binoculars

Some handy rules of thumb:

  • Field of view decreases with higher magnification—in the same way you see less through a telescope vs. through binoculars, or through a telephoto lens vs. a wide-angle lens. This is one reason why many birders prefer 8x models over 10x models.
  • Manufacturers state field of view either in degrees (°) or in feet at 1,000 yards. Typical values for birding binoculars are between about 5.5° and 8.5° (that’s 290–470 feet at 1,000 yards). For a bird that’s only 20 feet away, it means you’ll see an image about 2–3 feet across.
  • For every 0.5° increase in field of view, you’ll see about an 8% wider field. So if you’re comparing binoculars with a 6° field of view to a model with 8°, you’ll see 33% wider with the 8° pair. And taking into account height and width of the view, that translates to about 76% more area with the 8° binoculars.
  • A binocular’s stated field of view is a best-case scenario. As your eyes move farther away from the eyepiece (for instance when you twist out the eyecups, or if you wear eyeglasses), you’ll see less field of view. In these cases, it can be extra helpful to have a binocular with a wide field of view.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library