Roles and Tasks: Where Different Binocular Sizes Shine

Here we will go over some common uses for binoculars and which mirror and lens sizes fit best for each of those applications. Binocular sizes vary widely so if you need help determining what each number means, read our How to Choose Binoculars Beginner’s Guide.


Almost all hunters need binoculars. Observing through a riflescope is not only unsafe but illegal in most North American hunting zones. You don’t point your gun at anything you don’t plan on shooting. But different styles of hunting call for different binoculars. The most popular set of hunting binoculars is a 10X42. The ten power is generally considered enough to spot and count antlers, while the 42 mm lenses are neither too heavy or too dim for the early morning and late night hikes. However, 12X50s are often common for truck hunters, or anyone who is planning for a more stable “sit-and-wait” kind of hunt. Bears, brought in to bait or coyotes called in to a decoy may often benefit from a 12X50 where the shooter is prone. The added stability from having your elbows out even makes some people consider 15X binoculars in these sorts of situations. Other times, in close brush, an 8X42 is more desirable because of its stability and speed for acquiring a target.
Common prices run anywhere from $200 to $2500 for hunting binoculars


Archers are often called upon to use binoculars one handed while holding their bow. They also make shorter shots than rifle hunters, often in thicker brush. The combination of these factors means that most archery binoculars are low power and light weight. Often you see the 7X35, 8X30 sized binoculars sold as archery specific setups. This gives you the advantage of wide scanning power and lightweight lenses.
Common prices start at $175 and usually top out around $450 for archery specific binoculars

Military Binoculars:

Traditionally, a military field binocular was often a low 6 power unit, that could scan a trench line. Any close observation was usually done by telescope or spotting scope. Military style binoculars can use different focus mechanisms so that they do not need to be finely adjusted as often as standard binoculars. There may also be a set of crosshairs in one eyepiece with a number of hash marks on the stems. Rather than being used for targeting munitions, this is a ranging reticle that can be used to estimate the distance of objects. Take any object you know the height of and measure how many hash marks it fills on your reticle. Using a basic math formula you can then determine how far away that object is.
Most military binoculars are in the $300 to $800 price range, but there are certainly higher levels.


Binoculars on the water generally live on a table or dash, and as a result do not have the same size limitations that other units do. However they must contend with the rolling of the ocean, and so often have a low 7X50 setup to keep the field of view as wide as possible. Boating binoculars may also have a compass inside them that displays in one eye. A gyroscopically stabilized compass can provide a heading for navigation calculations.
Because of the traditional porro prism design, boating binoculars usually only cost $100-$400


When it comes to binocular use, birders are the only ones that spend the same kind of time and money as hunters. Birders often place colour rendition as a priority in their glass, as the common enjoyment of birding comes from the quality of your observation. As they often carry their binoculars for some distance, and track moving, flying targets, an 8X42 is a popular birding binocular. 8X32 is also an excellent choice for birders, as they are a very light carry.
Common prices run anywhere from $200 to $2500 for a set of birding binoculars.


While telescopes may be the standard, there are plenty of cases where binoculars can be used for looking at the night sky. These are very large, and almost always tripod mounted. Here we start to see powerful mirrors and very large lenses come into play. 20X80 binoculars or even 25X150 can be used for stargazing, moon-gazing, or enjoying the constellations.
Astronomical binoculars divide into two categories of pricing: the $100 – $400 starter pairs, and the $1000 – $12,000 observatory grade units.

Night Observation:

Some security personelle, soldiers, or hunters will be looking for binoculars specifically designed for low light observation. There are a wide variety of other devices that enter into night operations, including Night Vision Devices (NVDs) and Thermal Imagers. The binocular side of such an observation outfit will seek to have the lowest mirror and largest lens possible, combined with some of the clearest glass. These are where you find 6X50 and 8X56 binoculars primarily used. Often times special coatings will be put on the lenses to improve contrast in the dark.
While most of these binoculars are in the $1000 and plus range, you can occasionally find some around the $400 mark.

Stationary Tripod Mounted Binocular SystemStationary Observation:

Different from astronomical binoculars, these permanent residences are popular in vacation homes and tourist locations. Size is often not a consideration with these binoculars, as they are designed to live semi-permenantly in their location. Often they will have a high power and a large lens, such as a 15X56 setup for the easiest view at extreme distances. These binoculars will always need a tripod mount or some form of housing to plant them in place and keep them stable.
Binoculars for glassing across the bay are often designed for businesses or wealthy individuals. As a result they primarily start at $1300 and run as high as $3000

That covers 95% binocular use, but if you’re looking for something outside the norm feel free to leave a comment and we’ll see if we can’t find something suitable for you!

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  1. A Beginners Guide on How to Choose Binoculars - November 17, 2012

    […] Once you feel comfortable handling and differentiating between binoculars, you can start to decide what you like and what role you need it to fill. […]

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