Binoculars rank among the handiest optical instruments and are second only to eyeglasses in their widespread use. They resemble two small telescopes linked together mechanically and differ from telescopes mainly in that prisms refract light in binoculars. This makes them as compact as possible, without significant loss of image quality. Using binoculars has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the circumstance.
Portability and Versatility
The portability and versatility of binoculars make them an ideal tool for hunters, birdwatchers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Because of their size and design, they are well-suited for multiple tasks. They give the viewer a correctly oriented picture of their target, which comes in handy when viewing sporting events or stargazing.
Wide Field of View
Another advantage of binoculars is the wide field of view they provide. This refers to the amount of territory seen by the viewer as he looks through the binoculars. Conventional telescopes have trouble with wide vistas and large objects, making it difficult for viewers to sweep the scene. In this sense, the average pair of binoculars has a significant edge over an ordinary telescope. Binoculars outfitted with wide-angle design eyepieces provide an even better field of view. Such binoculars are pricier than their regular counterparts.
The limited magnification provided by binoculars is by far their biggest shortcoming. Although magnification can be improved, it comes at the cost of the brightness of the perceived image and of the binoculars’ portability. The average telescope has a better magnification than the highest-power binoculars, which provide only 25X magnification -- meaning that objects appear 25 times larger through binoculars than when viewed with the naked eye. While such magnifications are excellent for field glasses, they fall short for stargazing purposes.
Trade-Off Between Optical and Mechanical Quality
Improvements in a pair of binoculars’ optical quality often compromise its mechanical quality. That is, a pair that produces the best image quality does so at the expense of its portability, as well as dust and waterproof features. “Porro” prism binoculars, for instance, provide high-quality stereoscopic images and lighting. But they have more moving internal parts than more compact roof-prism binoculars and are less durable, as well as more prone to dust and water leaks.
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