Few household items are as handy as a pair of binoculars. Sure, they are great for getting a close look at birds visiting the feeder, but they are also helpful to:

  • inspect the roof from the ground for loose shingles. No climbing up a ladder.
  • view from a distance butterflies, bees and other insects. No scaring them off.
  • bring distant worlds into view from the backyard. In today’s overly lit cities and rural farmyards only a few stars are bright enough to see with the naked eyes. Binoculars bring many more into view along with planets, comets and even the International Space Station.
  • make viewing ball games, concerts and large stage shows more interesting and intimate.

We don’t have just “a pair” of binoculars at Winding Pathways. We have several. Each of us keeps a pair in the car. One is near our dining room table, another in an upstairs bedroom and a final one in our offices.  We also have a compact pair that gets tucked into the suitcase when we travel by plane.

Binoculars are an outstanding gift, but buying a quality pair without breaking the budget can get confusing. Dozens of brands and models flood the market and range in price from under $20 to several months mortgage payments.  How do you choose?

Most people are best served by versatile general purpose binoculars. A few numbers are helpful to know. For example many binoculars are 8X40 or 8X42. The first number means how much magnification the binocs provide. In this case it’s eight power. The second number tells how large the lens is at the end of the binocular and indicates how much light it lets in. The bigger the number, the more light the binoculars let in and the wider the outer lenses are. In this case, if you divide the first number into the second, the result is around five. They will be a great general purpose pair of binoculars. Mini compact binocs commonly have a division factor of three. They will be easy to carry but less useful when the light is poor or for astronomy. On the other end of the spectrum are binoculars designed for low light. They will have large second numbers and are usually too big and bulky for general use but ideal for astronomy and spotting wildlife at dusk.

At Winding Pathways Rich prefers eight power binoculars and Marion uses 10 power models. As the power increases they become harder to hold steady without vibration and the field of view gets smaller. In other words you see less of the landscape with 10 power than with eight, so it may be harder to find that distant deer or bird. Ten power is great for people with steady hands.

Price gives some indication of quality.  Avoid very inexpensive binoculars like the plague.  If all you can afford is a $25 gift buy something other than optics. On the other hand there’s no point in buying expensive binoculars for general around the home use or for casual use. Fortunately optics on mid-priced binoculars has gotten much better in recent years, and outstanding models are available at modest cost.

We’ve used dozens of pairs of binoculars of many configurations and brands and believe those in the $125 to $250 price range are generally just fine for around the house use.  Double the price and you’ll get better optics but you won’t get double the value because it takes companies more expense to get small improvements in quality.

Be sure the binoculars are comfortable in the hands, provide clear viewing, and are fun to use.   We like to view butterflies and bees that are often only six to ten feet from our eyes, so close focusing is important to us.

So, what brand do we use? In recent years we’ve mostly purchased Alpen binoculars. They feature excellent optics at reasonable cost. But, many other brands are also outstanding. Binoculars can be purchased in stores, through catalogs or over the Internet. Buying in stores gives an opportunity to hold them and examine the optics before the purchase is made. Buying over the Internet makes returning, if necessary, easy and gives a chance to read reviews.  Internet purchasing is becoming more common.

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From time to time Winding Pathways will profile companies that provides equipment or services helpful in managing and enjoying wondrous yards. We have used their products and found them well made. However, we recognize that competing companies sell excellent products and services, so we encourage people to shop the market and find goods and services they like at a price they can afford.

 In coming months Winding Pathways will feature profiles of Murray McMurray Hatchery, The Seed Savers Exchange, Milwaukee Tools and manufacturers of bird feeders.

Our inaugural profile is of the Alpen Outdoor Corporation.

Tim and Vickie Gardner established Alpen in 1996. He had been VP of Bausch and Lomb’s Bushnell division and wanted to provide a line of sports optics that delivers high quality and value.  Alpen sells a wide array of binoculars and spotting and rifle scopes.

Although a relatively new company, Alpen has won several prestigious optics awards including Outdoor Life Magazine’s GREAT BUY award seven times and its EDITOR’S CHOICE award once.

Alpen is a family owned business and, although smaller than big brands, it is proud of its superb customer service and its” no fault” lifetime product guarantee.

When asked what distinguishes Alpen binoculars from other brands, Tim Gardner replied, “We work to provide more value and better quality compared to other manufacturers. We keep overhead low and concentrate more on customer service than fancy advertising.”

Here are his suggestions for general purpose around the home binoculars: “I recommend eight power as it gives the best brightness, field of view and ease of use.  A full size 8X52 or 8X25 is outstanding for general use.”

When asked what binoculars were best for children he replied, “The most important thing is for the binocular to be able to adjust to fit the smaller face and closer set eyes of children. Alpen has an 8X30 model designed for kids. It has barrels that are close together to fit a child’s face.   Some double hinge compact roof prism binoculars can also be adjusted to fit small faces”.

Contact Vicki or Tim at Alpen Outdoor Corporation, 10329 Dorset Street, Rancho Cucamonga,
CA  91730. (877)987-8370. www.alpenoptics.com.

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