Top 10 Things to Consider When Buying Safari Binoculars

Binoculars can make all the difference when you’re out on an African safari.

Sometimes a leopard is hiding in a tree and you can only see it with the best safari binoculars. If you’re interesting in birdlife then binoculars are essential. Even when you’re relatively close to an animal a good set of safari binoculars help you zoom in on the details.

In most African national parks you must stick to the trails. That means you can’t bump across the African savannah until you’re ten meters from a cheetah. You must watch it all from a distance.

While on safari there are always interesting things to see: both big and small. More often than none, it can be frustrating when the action is taking place far away from your vehicle.

The following is a series of top 10 things to consider when buying your safari binoculars. It will help you choose the best safari binoculars for your trip.

Spoiler alert – I’m not going to try sell you binoculars, my own pair are an old Russian army brand and they have worked out best for me. With binoculars it’s all about choosing what’s best for your needs.

1. Brand

The choice of binoculars is wide out there, and it can get confusing when it comes to choosing a brand. Here’s a series of names I trust and recommend: Zeiss, Nikon, Canon, Bushnell, Pentax, Swarovski, Steiner, Leica, Tento and Fujinon.

A Bushnell Powerview Model

2. Cost

My motto is to buy products that last, so I usually don’t hesitate to pay a little more than the average price. However, at the end of the day it all depends on the purpose of your buy. And perhaps also how “careful” you are with your personal goods.

For my part, to choose a product that ranges between $200 and $300 is a safe bet. If budget is a concern for you, reasonable binoculars are already on offer for $100 (don’t go for anything less than that). Good models to start off with include the Pentax Papilio or the Nikon Monarch.

Pentax 62216 Papilio 8.5 x 21

If you’d like something even cheaper, there are always ways to find second-hand binoculars, especially on the web. Look for places like eBay or Amazon.

3. Eye Relief

The eye relief is the optimal distance between your eye and the eyepiece (combination of lenses at the viewing end of your binoculars). When your eyes are either too close or too far away from the eyepieces, you cannot see the whole picture and part of the image is blacked out.

For people wearing glasses, it is advised to have an eye relief of at least 15 mm (not applicable for people with good eyesight).

4. Field of View

The field of view (FOV) is the width of the view at a particular distance. Generally speaking the greater the magnification, the narrower the field of view.

FOV becomes especially important when you are following fast moving objects (such as birds), or running mammals (like a cheetah chasing its prey). In this case, do not consider magnification greater than 8x.

For best results on your African safari, choose a pair of binoculars with a field of view of at least 330 ft at 1000 yards.

5. Lens Size/Objective Lens/Aperture

Any pair of binoculars is imprinted with specific sets of numbers such as 8 x 42, or 10 x 50. The second number represents the diameter of your objective lens. The larger the number, the more light passes through the lens, and the brighter and more colourful your image becomes.

Good lens size is a must when used in fading light, or when looking at objects in the shade for instance. For optimal results and enhanced image quality, go for “fully multi-coated” lenses.

6. Magnification Power

Magnification corresponds to how big you see a certain scene in comparison to how big or small it really looks from where you stand. For example, a magnification power of 8x means that the image will be 8 times bigger than seen with the naked eye.

If the technical specification of a pair of binoculars is 10 x 50, then objects are magnified by 10, etc.

Nikon Action 10 x 50 Binoculars

NB: While magnification is essential, image stability tends to decrease as you increase its importance. For magnification greater than 10x consider using a tripod or a window mount (some of the more expensive binoculars have built-in image stabilizing systems).

7. Purpose/Usage

What is the purpose of your buy, and how do you intend to use your new pair of binoculars? Being clear on your purpose enables you to know how much you are willing to spend on them.

How often do you intend to use your safari binoculars? There is no need to spend hundreds (if not thousands in some cases) of dollars if you are only to use them once, so think carefully.

Are you more of a bird lover or an animal enthusiast? As stated previously (review the “Field of View” section), fast moving things cannot be followed easily if your magnification is too big.

Let me recap:

  • For bird viewing, use binoculars with a magnification of 8x maximum (8 x 42 for better results).
  • For general animal spotting and optimal game viewing (or when you need to scan the horizon), consider buying 10 x 50 safari binoculars.

8. Quality/Shock Resistance

There are two essential aspects to reflect on: the “armouring of your binoculars” and the “glass quality” from which your prisms are made of. Look for protective rubber (or synthetic housing) that prevents scratches and damage from bumpy roads.

Also make sure that your prisms are Bak-4 models (instead of BK-7).

9. Waterproofing

Optimum waterproofing not only protects your instrument from moisture and humidity, but it also prevents dust from damaging it.

10. Weight and Size

Think practicality. Compact binoculars are both light and easily transported anywhere. Ideal for birding.

Typical Compact Binoculars: Nikon Sportstar EX 8 x 25

Disadvantage: Compact binoculars lose out in magnification, image detail and precision.

In other words, try to find a good compromise between your wants and your needs.

My Own Pair of Binoculars

My personal pair of binoculars is made in Russia (Tento; army type), and I must say it is probably the best buy ever (despite their relatively heavy weight).

I have had them for over 15 years now, and they still provide the most amazing images. Besides, I have never had any problems with them (fingers crossed). 😉

My Tento Binoculars (10 x 50)

Leather Carrying Case

Where to Test the Best Safari Binoculars

I’d recommend buying a pair of binoculars long before you go on safari. It’s no use turning up to Africa without taking them out of the wrapper.

Purchase them at least a month before. That will give you time to practice using the binoculars, meaning you don’t waste any time when on safari.

You want to be the person in the safari vehicle who can tell if it’s a cheetah or leopard in the distant high grass. Play with the settings before you travel because the best safari binoculars are only as good as the person using them!