on all orders over $1000
on all orders over $1000
We get many questions from customers who want to find the perfect binocular for every type of hunting they do. Often, being in Arizona, the questions come from coues deer/elk hunters. They require high magnification for the vast desert landscapes that harbor coues deer, but they also need to find elk in skinny, densely forested canyons.
Most western hunters don’t stick to one species or terrain type, so how do you get the most out of an optic that can cost a paycheck or two? Even those fortunate enough to afford several binocular units may still find value in the information in this article.
We thought the BLOG would be a good place to lay out some of the best pairs of binoculars for particular uses and the ones that seem to bridge the gap without much compromise…so that’s what we’ll do. We’ve broken these optics into four categories: low-power, mid-power, high-power, and those that cover most of the bases.
Optical quality and specific makes/models aside, the “low-power” category generally references 8x and 10x binoculars with 32 or 42 mm objective lenses. For those who weren’t raised with optics as their second language, the nomenclature of binoculars typically refers to the magnification and the objective lens size ie: EL 8x32.
Although objective lens size does not affect magnification, it helps create a distinction for the purposes of this article. We’ll refer to them as low, mid, and high power, but there are some exceptions and outliers when it comes to size.
Low power does not mean low performance. There are simply some trade-offs and compromises that are made between levels of magnification. Referred to as 8s and 10s, these optics are generally smaller, lighter, and more suitable for handheld or single-hand use. Bowhunters typically gravitate toward 8s and 10s for their portability, especially for use while carrying a bow in one hand.
Another great use for these smaller form factor optics is when the terrain doesn’t allow long-range observation. For instance, on an elk or mule deer hunt in mountainous areas, game is often observed from ranges of less than 1,000 yards. In many cases, western hunters find themselves glassing from well under 500 yards.
In these situations, field of view becomes a huge factor. With lower magnification generally comes a much wider field of view. This equates to the amount of country you can effectively scan without moving your binoculars.
A larger field of view allows your eyes to scan the image in the binoculars instead of constantly panning and tilting. With more time before a target can walk out of frame, this also makes it easier to keep track of active animals.
This is a key selling point for the NL Pure 12x42, as it has the field of view of a 10x binocular at 12x magnification. How that works, you’ll have to ask Swarovski... and they probably won’t tell you.
Generally, the “high-power” category involves any optic with over 15x magnification (15, 18, etc).
These larger, more powerful optics are preferred by many desert hunters, as they can often find themselves glassing mountaintop-to-mountaintop or across vast flats and searching for small details that betray game. In the canyon-terrain scenario above, most would agree that a 15-power binocular would be wildly inappropriate. However, a 15x binocular can be your best ally when it comes to dissecting distant ridgelines or sagebrush country.
Higher-magnification optics almost always come with a tag that reads: “Get stronger.” As with most optics, with great range comes a fair amount of heft. These are not necessarily the backpacker’s best friend but can prove invaluable when employed under the correct circumstances. We would not recommend using such large optics without a tripod.
Luckily, we make those! In fact, the Outdoorsmans Tripod System was developed for the use of large optics in large country. While using a tripod with nearly any optic will greatly increase its effectiveness, we highly recommend their use with any binoculars in this category.
Of course, there is an even BIGGER category of binoculars like the Swarovski BTX and Kowa Highlander.
Between the two extreme ends of the spectrum is where things get interesting, at least for me. Many western hunters are choosing to use one optic for all situations. This is why 12x50s are flying off of retail shelves.
The size, weight, and magnification combination seems to be right in the sweet spot for the type of hunting that both we and our customers do the most. New offerings such as the NL Pure 12x42 strengthen this notion, providing mid-high magnification with drastically reduced weight and updated ergonomics.
As with other tools, versatility is often a worthy opponent for specialization. One optic means one purchase, and it also means no decisions on what to pack. There are 12x binoculars available in every price category from $150 to $3500. That said, this wouldn’t be an Outdoorsmans blog post without me reiterating our motto: “You get what you pay for.”
Chris Denham wrote a great article in a past issue of Western Hunter Magazine that offers the argument for 12X binoculars reigning supreme. Check out his article "The Versatility of 12x50 Binoculars" in Western Hunter Magazine.
While writing this article, I decided to figure out what our in-house optics experts would choose to run if they were limited to one binocular. To gain this information, in a stroke of genius, I asked everyone. My scientific conclusion was that everyone would choose to use one of three binoculars. There are slight differences between them, but 12x is overwhelmingly popular.
This might come as a surprise to our customers, but everyone in the building chose either the Swarovski EL 12x50 or the NL Pure 12x42. The only outlier is Ryan, who packs an EL O’Range 10x42.
He plans to upgrade to the new EL Range TA if the O’Range version becomes available. He also regularly carries an NL Pure 12x42... Chris Denham uses both the EL 12x50 and the NL 12x42, but those who have the opportunity are readily converting to the NL in favor of its small form factor.
Some of our favorites in each category are:
If you have a specific combination of terrains or species you like to hunt and need help with choosing the perfect optic setup, there is no one more qualified or more willing to assist you than our crew. Give us a call at 1-800-291-8065 to talk optics; why coues deer are the best big-game animals on Earth; or any other relevant topic.