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The science behind what makes binoculars so expensive.

The science behind what makes binoculars so expensive.

With thousands of optics products on the market and varying degrees of experience using them, it’s no surprise that many consumers are perplexed by a $2,800 binocular when they know they can purchase a different binocular for $200. The question then becomes, “what could possibly account for such a large spread in price?” In this article, we aim to answer this question in detail and shed some light on the world of optics manufacturing.

Quality Control

Bearing in mind that Outdoorsmans is not an optics manufacturer, we have had the great privilege of touring several optics manufacturer facilities and learned a ton in the process. One of the very first take-aways from these experiences is how much goes into quality control. The process for manufacturing glass lenses is more or less the same at every facility, so the difference in quality then must be accounted for in some other part of the process – quality control.

The process by which optical lenses are manufactured inherently yields both high-quality and low-quality lenses. In order to guarantee that only the highest quality lenses are used in a binocular, spotting scope, or riflescope, each lens must be visually inspected. This process alone is the single-most significant factor contributing to the overall cost of the end product with some manufacturers rejecting upwards of 90% of the lenses in a production batch. Bottom line – good glass is expensive to produce.

what makes binos so expensive

Materials

Apart from lens quality, the materials used to build the rest of the optic also contribute to its quality and cost. The largest component of any optic is the body which is commonly made from magnesium, aluminum, and/or polycarbonates. The body of an optic accounts for a big portion of its weight and durability. The price of these raw materials and the tooling required to turn them into a usable optic body will certainly impact the cost for manufacturers, and in turn, customers like you. Once more, quality control will continue to factor into costs throughout the production process.

Lens Coatings

The ability to see a coues deer in tall grass from over a mile away is made possible through countless hours of trial and error and the development process for lens coatings is largely that – trial and error. Scientists and engineers spend a tremendous amount of time developing methods of filtering out a variety of different light waves to allow only the desired combination of waves through. Years of research and development from top scientists come at a cost and are yet another factor into what customers pay for the finished product.

To learn more about lens coatings, read our article "How Binocular Lens Coatings Work"

The System

Much like lens coatings, complete optics are a finely-tuned system that rely heavily on trial and error to achieve the desired outcome; there is no perfect formula. Finding the right combination of lenses, coatings, prisms, diopters, materials, and manufacturing processes is an intensive process that takes months and sometimes years to achieve. How well these components work together impacts things like field-of-view, depth-of-field, edge-to-edge clarity, contrast, weight, and balance of the system – essentially all of the things we take into consideration when shopping for an optic.

what makes binoculars so expensive

Compromise

Now that we have a better understanding of the different manufacturing costs that affect optics prices for consumers, consider for a moment what options and features you can compromise on to save while retaining the important things that make a great optic.

Warranties are almost invariably the first thing that concerned customers want to know about when purchasing an optic, and rightfully so. Optics are a big purchase and it’s nice to have some reassurance that the manufacturer is going to back their product. Most manufacturers offer very comprehensive warranties, but ultimately, if your optic fails in the field, your hunt may very well be ruined regardless of the warranty.

Understanding that accidents do happen, the best you can do is avoid them by properly storing them in a case or harness and cleaning them when they’re not in use, and have a plan to repair or replace your gear should it come to that. Adding your optics to an existing insurance policy is another option to consider for protecting your investment. To put it plainly, if you’re looking at reputable optics manufacturers, warranties should not be a determining factor in the optic you purchase, as they all offer very reasonable policies and none of them can prevent accidents in the field.

A better place to consider saving some money is the diopter. Two features that greatly contribute to manufacturing costs are center diopters and locking diopters. While both are nice features to have, going without will reduce the price point without having a significant impact on overall performance.

Conclusion

The truth is, no matter how much you read online or see on paper, seeing truly is believing when it comes to optics. There is no combination of words that can adequately communicate what physically looking through optics can. Take the time to read Binoculars 101 and then go to an optics retailer and have a representative take you outside to look through the optic; it’s the only way to see the differences in quality for yourself. Look closely and don’t let anyone rush you. Take your time, pick an object that’s small and far away, and really examine the quality of the image.

In a hunting scenario, the missing details in lower quality optics can cripple your ability to identify game, field judge, or walk a shooter onto a target. The opportunity costs can be devastating, especially on hunts with low draw odds. While everyone has a budget to stick to, financing options are a great way to stick to the budget and still get the best optics you can afford to ensure the greatest opportunity for success in the field. Optics are a long-term investment and should last you the better part of your hunting career, if not a lifetime. You may have heard the saying, “buy once, cry once,” but in over 30 years of selling optics – we’ve yet to see any tears.

 

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