A Beginner’s Guide to Binoculars Magnification for Birdwatching

Birdwatching is bliss. 

It lets you connect with nature and observe the beauty of birds’ life up close. While owning a good pair of binoculars is a must for this activity, consider the binocular magnification for bird watching. Identifying the right magnification is as important as choosing the right binoculars for birdwatching

If you are new to the world of birdwatching, going through the topic of magnification may sound stressful. However, this factor can make or break your birdwatching experience. 

Don’t worry! 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll learn about birdwatching binocular magnification in simple language. 

It will help you choose the right binoculars and find your perfect view. Let’s get started. 

What is Binocular Magnification? Why Does it Matter for Birdwatching?

The role of magnification is to make an object appear larger or closer than it is when viewed with the naked eye. The magnification is often represented with the letter x and usually the first number. 

For example, in 8×42 binoculars, the first number is 8 which stands for the magnification

It simply means that you can see 8 times closer. In 10×42 binoculars, you can see 10 times closer, and so on. 

The second number is the lens size in diameter. For example, in 8×42 binoculars, 42 is the lens size in diameter. The bigger the lens, the brighter your image will be.  

Many beginners assume that the binoculars with the highest magnification will give them the best and the most detailed view of the object. 

So you should go for a higher binocular magnification for bird watching? 

The next point will help you find the answer. 

Higher Binoculars Magnification Doesn’t Guarantee Better View. Here’s Why

Keep in mind that big doesn’t always lead to a better view. And this is quite true for your binoculars for bird watching. 

Simply put, when you use binoculars with high magnification, the things you’re looking at, like birds, appear much bigger. But there’s a trade-off: you’ll see less of the area around them.

(Image source: avianreport.com)

Higher power usually means a narrower field of view, meaning you see less of the scene through the binoculars.

The area you see through binoculars is called the field of view. It’s like the width of your vision through them. This can be measured in meters or feet at a certain distance, or in degrees of field.

For bird watching, you want a wide field of view, around 7.5 degrees or more. This lets you see a larger area, making it easier to spot birds, especially if they’re small or moving quickly. If the field of view is narrow, you might struggle to find the bird in time.

Sometimes you’ll see binoculars labelled with a large field of view, like 72. This means the manufacturer is talking about the actual field of view. They calculated it by multiplying the degrees by the magnification. So, if you see 10×50 binoculars with a 72 field of view, the angular field of view is 7.2 degrees.

A bigger zoom may also make the shaking of your hands more noticeable, which can be a problem for older or very young bird watchers. A wider view makes it easier to spot birds or track them as they move.

However, that doesn’t mean you opt for too low of a magnification either. Remember, the lower the magnification, the less you’re able to see.

What is the Best Magnification for Birdwatching?

The best magnification for birdwatching may vary based on your preferences.

The majority of professional birdwatchers recommend 8X magnification. This is because they offer a wide field of view, which is important when it comes to location birds. Plus, they help keep your hands steady. 

Higher magnification binoculars, on the other hand, usually have larger or more lens elements to achieve a stronger zoom. This makes them heavier compared to lower magnification ones. 

So, if you’re going to be walking a lot or moving through rough terrain, lighter 8x binoculars might be more comfortable. But if you’re just bird-watching from home or on leisurely walks, you won’t notice the weight difference.

When it comes to low light conditions, lower magnification binoculars are better. This is due to something called Exit Pupil, which measures how well binoculars perform in dim light. You calculate the Exit Pupil by dividing the diameter of the objective lens by the magnification. 

For example, a 42mm objective lens divided by 8x magnification equals 5.25mm Exit Pupil, while a 42mm objective lens divided by 10x magnification equals 4.2mm Exit Pupil.

Your eyes’ pupils dilate in low light, typically up to around 7mm. So, if your binoculars’ Exit Pupil matches or is slightly larger than your pupil size, you’ll get better light performance. This means binoculars with lower magnification and bigger objective lenses perform better in low light. 

For example, 8x42mm binoculars (Exit Pupil of 5.25mm) may perform almost as well as 10x50mm binoculars (Exit Pupil of 5mm) in low light. 

(image source: Canon)

Choosing the right Binoculars According to their Magnification Level

12x and Higher for Long Distance Viewing:

If you need to see distant objects clearly from a fixed position, consider binoculars with a magnification of 12x or higher. 

They offer powerful zoom capabilities but may require a tripod to stabilize the image and prevent shaking. While they can be used for birdwatching from afar, they may not provide the best experience for observing birds up close.

Our top pick in this category is 12×42 binoculars available here

8x – 10x: Perfect for Bird and Wildlife Watching:

For bird and wildlife enthusiasts, binoculars with a magnification of 8x to 10x are the sweet spot. They strike a balance between magnification, stability, and image brightness, making them versatile and easy to use. Arguably, this one has the best binocular magnification for bird watching. 

7.5x and Lower: Steady Viewing with a Wide Field of View:

If you struggle to keep higher magnification binoculars steady, consider opting for binoculars with a magnification of 7.5x or lower. These provide a wider field of view, making them perfect for observing fast-moving wildlife up close, such as insects or butterflies. Their lower magnification reduces hand tremors, resulting in a more stable viewing experience. 


Magnification refers to how much closer an object appears through binoculars compared to the naked eye. Higher magnification means objects appear larger and closer, but it also narrows your field of view and can make it harder to keep images steady.

Therefore, choosing the right binocular magnification for bird watching is essential for a rewarding and enjoyable experience in the field. As a beginner, opt for binoculars with 8x to 10x magnification, a wide field of view, and good low-light performance. Focus on simplicity, reliability, and ease of use, and remember that practice and patience are key to becoming a skilled birdwatcher. 

So grab your binoculars, choose the best locations for birdwatching, and embark on an exciting journey into the captivating world of birdwatching!

And don’t forget to explore our top-notch birdwatching binoculars available in different magnification ranges.


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