Best Brands and Tips to Buy Binoculars, Telescopes & Tripods for Birding.

Birding equipment

The birding equipment, a telescope or just scope, with tripod and binoculars, will not only identify you as birdwatcher, but are your most important tools for observing birds in the field! If you have the possibility, it’s worth to invest a little more for the good brands when buying your equipment for bird watching.

Impressively and interestingly enough, the technology of binoculars and scopes have remained – since the use of foolhardy pirates and suchlike – the same! They are set together by the 3 elementary components 1) lenses, 2) prism system and 3) eyepieces.

The object your looking at reflects rays of light and they strike the lenses. Inside the binoculars/telescopes this light is corrected by the prisms and through the eyepieces it hits the human eye. That works very much the same way today. As these technological traits still remain the same, quality and ergonomics have improved and evolved light years.

So, if you wonder what model of binocular/scopes suits most for birdwatching, and you even consider buying a new model, you’ll find some info here in this blog. You can confidently leave grandfather’s old pair of binoculars, weighing 2 kg, crosshairs in each lenses and independent focus knob for each barrel in the antiquity box! Read on!

A lot has been written in depth about different brands of optical equipment used for birdwatching. Rather to compare them technically here, I share personal opinion and experience about what to consider when choosing/opting for a certain brand or model.

Binoculars for Birdwatching

Let’s start with binoculars, your most important tool for birding obviously. For the use of bird watching, the following factors are most important:

  • They should be ergonomic (not too large & heavy as you’ll carry your bins for many hours, fit in your hands, the focus knob should be reached operated easily, they should fit your eyes (with or without glasses).
  • Optically they should be of fine quality, robust and suitable for tough weather conditions like rain and high air-humidity as well as different light condition!

Magnification and diameter of the front lens.


On all binoculars you’ll find two numbers (e.g. 8×42). Here is a brief primer on what those numbers mean. The first number (8) refers to magnification. You therefore see the object 8x bigger/closer than you do with normal eyesight.

Optical magnification is the ratio between the apparent size of an object (or its size in an image) and its true size, and thus it is a dimensionless number. Optical magnification is sometimes referred to as “power” (for example “10× power”).

For birding you should use a model between 7 – 10x magnification. Models with a 7x and 8x magnification hold the following advantages:

  1. A brighter picture,
  2.  A wider field of view (makes it easier to find birds)
  3. Better depth of focus (a benefit especially it forest, where birds often hide beneath several layers of foliage),
  4. Shorter minimum focus distance (oh boy, did this Antbird come close… or if you use your binoculars for butterflies, insects and other critters).
Optical magnification is the ratio between the apparent size of an object (or its size in an image) and its true size, and thus it is a dimensionless number. Optical magnification is sometimes referred to as "power" (for example "10× power").
Magnification is the process of enlarging the apparent size, not physical size, of something.

10x have the advantage that more details are recognized. Compared to 7x magnification the difference can be important in order to detect subtle plumage details. The difference between 8x and 10x is obviously less, and it is highly subjective on what one likes or prefers more.

Less magnification would not be enough for recognizing many of the relevant identification details on birds. With magnification larger than 10x, you won’t be able to hold binoculars quiet and get a shaky picture.

Diameter of the front lens

The second number refers to the diameter of the front lens in mm (in our example 42). The larger this number is, the more light enters and hits the prisms (but as well, the heavier your model will be!) and therefore you get a brighter picture.

You should be aware, that your eye-pupil can take up only a certain amount of light. During the day the eye-pupil remains open about the same size. It opens up (and can take up) more in twilight so a brighter picture (through binoculars) is only perceived in dark conditions.

Carrying heavy, luminosity intense binoculars around your neck during the day, is therefore totally useless! Models with strong luminosity work only and best in very dark forest interior, where sometimes just 5% of daylight penetrates the forest floor or twilight hours!

Diameter of the front lens in mm (in our example 42). The larger this number is, the more light enters and hits the prisms.

For birding purpose, the diameter of the front lens shouldn’t be bigger than 42.  If you opt for one the top 3 best brands Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica (sequence changeable) you won’t do anything wrong, as they are (and have been) the undisputed industry leader! Optically they all are of finest quality and their top-models all fulfill the above-mentioned requirements.

Nikon, Vortex, Bushnell produce good-high quality binoculars, for (a little) less money. Ask specialists, birding buddies and browse the web for the many options.

Zoom binoculars or image stabilized binoculars are notwithstanding requirements for birdwatchers. They are to heavy with to small field of view, and have limited brightness.

I use Swarovski.

Telescopes & Tripods

Scopes are a the other widely used optical aid for birders. They offer way larger magnification than binoculars, allowing you to observe distant birds without disturbing them. As well, they’re frequently used for taking pictures (digiscoping). The scope’s two elementary components are 1) lens and 2) eyepiece.

To support a device with such large magnification you need a tripod, as well.


Smaller and lighter telescopes usually have an objective diameter of around 60 mm. With these compact devices, a wide-angle eyepiece improves the brightness of the image.

Most producers also offer scopes with a larger lens diameter (up to 95 mm, but the same rule applies as for binoculars: The bigger the opening – the more glass there is – the heavier it gets). However, as the larger aperture can focus more light, these instruments also give a brighter picture. They are therefore better suited for use in unfavorable lighting conditions and for photographing.

To reduce color deviations, some manufacturers use specially coated glasses (APO, ED, HD). The picture is brighter and more brilliant on these devices than on conventional telescopes. As in binoculars, best brand are Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica which also are the most expensive and approved sellers. Kowa, Nikon, are top brands, too. Check out Celestron, Vortex, Optolyth & Pentax to name but a few more.


The magnification depends on the eyepiece used and ranges from 15 × to 75 ×. There are special eyepieces with even greater magnification, but these are not suitable for bird watchers. Magnification between 20 × and 60 × is the rule. When using larger magnification, the amount of light and thus the brightness of the image usually decreases significantly. In addition, every vibration of the scope and flickering of the air – when heated or windy – is felt much stronger.

For most scopes of renowned manufacturers, there are different interchangeable eyepieces on offer. Eyepieces with fixed focal lengths were formerly used most, because they were visually superior to the former zoom eyepieces thanks to their simple design. Today they are no longer available from all producers.

Zoom eyepieces now deliver equal results. Since a single eyepiece usually covers the entire range of 20 × to 60 ×, which is important for bird watching, they have become standard today, and some manufacturers produce high quality zoom wide-angle eyepieces.

You’ve noticed that there are two different scope/eyepiece-versions: 1) Straight and 2) angled forms. Both forms offer the same quality and both have their (dis)advantages. With straights you’ll find the birds easier and it is more protected from rain. As well it’s more comfortable to use them in hides and blinds. With angled forms it’s easier to follow a moving object, it’s more relieving for your neck and easier to watch birds in treetops. They are  also better for tall people and they are more stable.

Tripod & tripod-head

Do not forget to consider the use of a good tripod & tripod-head, which has to provide good stability. Even the best scope produces no good pictures when it trembles with every little shock. The tripod should have a sufficient height, in addition to a frictionless running it should be equipped with a fluid and smooth tripod-head.

Gitzo and Manfrotto (European providers), offer the best brands. Some are made of carbon. Those are very light but still robust & stable. And very expensive! Most are made of aluminum. There is a big array of cheaper models on the market.

Before buying and taking a scope into the field, ask yourself, where and for what you are going to use it!

Before buying and taking a scope into the field, ask yourself, where and for what you are going to use it! If you plan your trip focusing on birding only or mostly in forest interior, a telescope is your least important tool. If you want access for observing the canopy, a decent tower or walkway is your gateway rather than a scope.

In fact, I always take my scope to any place (fool, me) in the Amazon rainforest, only to find out, that after a couple months birding, I didn’t even used it once… Scopes are best used in open areas, forest edges and lodge clearings, as well for migration watching (raptors etc.). If you use your telescope for digiscoping, the matter is obviously different, and topic of another blog entry.

Buying optical equipment for birdwatching 

In my opinion, when buying optical equipment for bird watching it’s worth to invest a little more for a good brand, if you have that possibility. Yes, the best ones are the most expensive ones. But you’ll get what you’ll pay for. And, if taken care of (see below), they might be your faithful companion in the field for a lifetime!

Good brands invariably offer better picture quality, as well they are more robust and all are waterproof (nitrogen-filled, very important in neotropical environment). As well, their customer service is more reliable than the cheap junk brands! In any case, it’s mandatory to compare your favorite models side by side in order to choose & purchase your personal favorite.

Remember, if you wear glasses, check that you have the full field of view and that you have good comfort using while looking through your tools.

While going through the evaluation process, don’t let too many cooks spoil the meal: Get advice from birders and not hunters, sailors etc. They might know everything about optics and such, but their application areas – hence the binoculars and scopes – are totally different than those ones required and used by birders!

Finally, handle your optical equipment with utmost care! No, it’s not meant to be forgotten in whatever remote roadside café, taxi/bus seat, or on your vehicle-roof while driving off… Keep away equipment from heavy dust, DEET Bug spray and other extreme conditions. Store it well when not using it.

Cleaning your birding equipment

Watch more here.

Don’t touch lenses with your fingers and never clean them with tissue, toilet paper, paper napkins, newspaper etc. All of those contain wood-fibers that will scratch and destroy the lens coating which can’t be repaired or replaced.

Clean your equipment with microfiber lens cloth. Blow off all dust and other material from lenses, before cleaning it with liquid and/or lens cloths. If you clean it with liquids use water (especially for sea-spray) or lens-cleaner that doesn’t attack lens coating.

Your optician will (should) know, which one is safe to use. Apply only small amounts of liquid and then wipe softly. When it comes to birdwatching, your optical equipment will make all the difference in perceiving and enjoying what you see! Choose well, and take care of it…

Recommended reviews and pages:

About the Author:

Jérôme Fischer.

Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. He has been focused in bird identification. He also travelled many countries, starting in Switzerland and then exploring south America, the most biodiverse continent in the world, becoming specialized in Neotropical birds.

Brief Overview about Bird Photography for Beginners

This blog entry does not address the ambitious and advanced bird photographer, nor the complex technical aspects of the topic. It’s a more basic, personal approach from a birder, who likes to take casual pictures & videos. It emphasizes giving the interested beginner a brief overview of what options there are for bird photography.

Brief overview about Bird Photography

Not so long ago, taking high-quality bird pictures for publications was exclusively reserved for the professional photographer. The equipment used was invariably extremely expensive and exquisite. But with the rise of digital photography some 15 years ago, things drastically changed.

Digital Technology

Digitalization has leveled the field for birders, beginners, and amateur photographers alike, who have the ambition – and now the opportunity – to shoot high-quality pictures with affordable equipment. Nowadays, people with very basic knowledge of photography (like me) are able to take excellent pictures and videos of birds – something that was unthinkable a decade ago.

Bird Photography Market

Bird photography has become quite a market. There’s a large offer of workshops, guided photography tours, as well as many publication opportunities e.g. social media platforms and public databases. Although birders and bird photographers focus on the same subject, the two fields are different pairs of shoes. 

Anyway, many people like to combine both and recognize modern technologies as useful tools. Whether it’s to document a very rare bird on your excursion, capture a picture or video of a dramatic and spontaneous encounter, or taking pictures to compare, learn and study species – it’s true that today almost every birder is carrying some sort of photographic equipment in the field!

But what kind of equipment?

That’s where the potential headache starts for people completely new to the subject. Photography (no matter what genre and level) is a science, and the market offers a myriad of options to pros and beginners alike.

To start with, it’s essential to ask yourself in what environment and for what purpose you consider using your equipment. If you aim to take good pictures of rare, cryptic rainforest understory species, you will need – no matter what – adequate, expensive high-end equipment.

In rainforest understory, you definitely don’t need a big 600/800 mm lens. But if you want to take pictures of waders, birds in open habitat, distant birds from a canopy platform, then you have to consider exactly that. But for this purpose, you have several more alternatives and options for compromises.

As well, if you publish your photos exclusively on platforms and databases that compress picture quality drastically, you don’t need the fanciest gear! Nowadays there’s something for everyone, for every need. But no system will be capable to cover all application fields at the same time.

Systems widely used for Bird Photography

The options presented below are the most acclaimed and widely used for bird photography. Still, the best system with the technically best picture results are:

1. Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) Cameras and their accompanying lenses.

But this is mainly for the advanced and ambitious bird and wildlife photographer. With this system, you’ll always carry (at least) two different parts: Camera body + lens, the most weight, and spend the most cash.


For a long time now, the industry leaders for DSLRs are Nikon and Canon. The most significant advantages of DSLR cameras compared to other systems are: They have the best autofocus, have very high frame rates, perform excellent at high ISO, and are the most robustly built.

The price of good DSLR cameras ranges between 700 USD up to 6000 USD. Consider buying them second-hand. There’s a huge market for this. For an overview of Nikon and Canon camera bodies:


Accompanying one of the high-end camera bodies, are high-end telelenses of the same brands. For bird photography, you need at least a 300mm lens (or a 100-400mm zoom). Nikon & Canon offer fixed focal lengths of 400/500/600mm with apertures F/2.8, F/4, F/5.6 suitable for bird photography.

You can combine these lenses either with camera bodies with crop factor or converters in order to get more magnification with smaller focal lengths (300/400,) or incredible magnification with 500/600mm lenses. Using converters will usually (slightly) diminish picture quality. For taking pictures with such high magnification, you need good tripods and tripod heads…

Bird photographers love warm, low-angle sunlight in the early morning and late evening. Often, this ideal light is not available. If you take pictures in dark environments, you’ll need sophisticated flashes too, which tend to alter natural colors significantly.

You see, once you move into this league, you’ll have to add all different (yes, innumerable) kinds of accessories. All the above-mentioned will result in staggering expenses starting at about 12000 USD, and you dragging around lots and heavy gear into the field.

Having said this, Nikon just released the new Nikkor 500mm F/5.6 PF ED VR telelens. This very compact, light (1.5 kg!), “cheap” (3900 USD) lens offers incredible quality and could set THE standard of what many photographers will use in the future.

2. Digital, mirrorless Cameras

The mirrorless camera technology is following the above-mentioned DLSR-System hot on its heels in several aspects. With this system, you still carry two parts – the camera body and lens.

The newest releases of the industry leaders Sony and Olympus apparently approach or even match the image quality and versatility of DSLR cameras. Nikon and Canon produce mirrorless cameras too.

Mirrorless cameras lack obviously – as the name implies – a mirror. This means that one is looking through an electronic viewfinder, instead of an optical one. The imaging sensor is exposed to light at all times and creates a digital image reproduced in the electronic viewfinder or an LCD screen on the back of the camera.

Advantages of mirrorless cameras

They are small and light, still somewhat cheaper, are excellent for taking videos, and they are compatible with Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Tamron lenses.

Disadvantages of mirrorless cameras

Most of the mirrorless cameras have somewhat slower autofocus, are less tolerant to high ISO, and have significantly less battery life.

If you have a little extra cash, you might want to consider Sony’s high-end telelens, a 600mm/F.4 for about 13000 USD.

So, is there something in between the two? Absolutely!

3. Bridge cameras

Bridge cameras are mirrorless, single-lens cameras. The name “Bridge Camera” derives from “bridging the gap” between point-and-shoot cameras and single-lens reflex cameras (SLRs) There you go: You have camera and lens united in one piece!

The ones best suited for bird photography have zoom lenses ranging between 25-400mm, 25-480mm or 25-600mm. These cameras are also well suited for taking videos and are extremely compact and light!

Although image quality is excellent on computer screens and by any means good enough to publish your pictures on Facebook etc., it never matches the quality of good DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Furthermore, they are not resistant to humidity and shock, they focus and shoot slower and are far less tolerant to high ISO settings.

In my opinion, they offer by far the best price-performance ratio for beginners who like to take good quality pictures and videos of birds. The large zoom range of the integrated lens makes them very versatile and useful for many other photographic purposes.

Sony & Lumix currently produce the best bridge cameras:

4. Digiscoping

Here you simply attach a point-and-shoot camera or even a smartphone (with a corresponding adapter) to your telescope. Depending on your equipment you can achieve focal lengths of 1000-3000mm and even more, not possible with any of the above-presented systems. Furthermore, a good telescope produces amazing detail with a forced depth of field and is tremendous in low-light situations.

In turn, with such a powerful focal length you’ll have considerable problems focusing on close and especially moving objects.

Although people have been digiscoping since the early 1990s, probably no one back then believed that it would be possible to take high-quality pictures with a telephone! And more: Make them instantly and easily accessible to the whole community.

Conclusions and recommendations

Advances in technology and optics have provided us new opportunities for photography, probably few have dared to think of a short while ago. Remember: The most expensive equipment is worth little if you don’t know how to handle it properly.

Whatever camera system you use: Learn to handle it well. Of course, basic technical knowledge is essential to take good pictures. Practice and experiment with your gear as much as you can.

Birds rarely pose long enough and wait until you finished fumbling around with buttons and camera settings. But: Pure technical knowledge can limit you in some ways, not helping you to take interesting pictures. And: How often has the same bird been photographed technically perfect on the same branch and the same feeder, not even causing you to raise an eyebrow anymore…

Study your subject – the birds – as well as possible. Profound knowledge about them and the environment they are living in will enhance the chances of taking extraordinary pictures – whatever kit you use!

About the author

Jérôme Fischer

Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. Jérôme has been focused on bird identification. He also traveled to many countries,  starting in Switzerland. Then he traveled exploring South America, the most biodiverse continent in the world, becoming specialized in Neotropical birds.