When I first came to America I fell in love with the identification warblers in flight at Cape May. This still remains one of the ultimate tests in birding. With poor light, small birds hurtling through the sky, every bit of help counts. Simply put, you need the best optics. Not only is a bright and sharp image vital, but depth of field, and field of view, are also just as critical. Beautifully-balanced, with an excellent central focusing column, they feel great in the hand. They are not cheap, but worth every penny, and they are made to last.
Leica 8×32 Trinovid HD
The Leica 8×32 Trinovid are really small and compact. Their optical quality almost matches it’s larger sister: something I didn’t think would be possible given their size. These days I use them more and more (the Mrs is not real happy about it). Their light weight really makes a difference when carrying big cameras, a scope and all those other modern day gadgets. Great for foreign trips, weight-conscious folks, kids, sticking in a larger pocket and so many other places where bulkier options are in issue. These bin’s will make you rethink lots of things!
Zeiss 7×42 BGAT Dialyt Classic WP Binoculars
I’ve had my 2 pairs of 7 x 42 Zeiss since 1987, and the fact that they still work well after all the abuse they have taken is proof of how tough Zeiss optics are. My wife always said that I loved my binoculars more than her – how could she! These were the binoculars that took me away from 10x magnification. I always recommend 7 and 8 magnification. Nowadays my Leica’s have taken their place.
APO Televid 65
A scope is one of those tools I don’t use so often these days, but there are times I can’t live without it. I recommend buying a more compact scope with a 65mm objective lens to make it lighter to carry and more maneuverable – particularly important in this era of the camera. Like with binoculars, I prefer lower magnifications (25x) than some because of the improved clarity, brightness, depth of field and field of view. This high-end scope performs nicely at higher magnification for those that want the extra reach. It also comes with a larger objective lens but the portability wins out over the marginal improvement in performance for me. It also does a nice job at digiscoping if that is your poison, particularly at the higher magnifications.
Buying Birding Optics
Optics always involve trade-offs. Higher magnification binoculars get a larger image, but they can be hard to hold steady. I have always preferred lower magnifications because of the improved clarity, depth of field, field of view and brightness. Simply put, I see more and better. In recent years this has also become the trend for other birders with 7 and 8 times magnification being the most popular. I stopped using 10x magnification when I was 22 years old.
Like most things in life you typically get what you pay for. More expensive optics incorporate the best technology and have the fewest compromises, and they tend to be more durable. However, in the last few years the mid to lower range binocular market has become very competitive. The result is some really excellent binoculars at a good price. It is sometimes hard to see much of a difference between these and the most expensive ones, particularly in good light. Today, you should never blame your binoculars for not being able to i.d. a bird.
I recommend 7 or 8 power magnification to most birders because they are an excellent balance between magnification, clarity, depth of field and field of view. This is what I always use! Some prefer 10 power for hawk watching and sea watching. At the end of the day, it is what works best for you.
Kids: Eagle Optics Kingbird 6.5×32
High-End Tripod: Gitzo Series 5 Systematic 4 Section Tripod GT5542LS
After using a number of tripods over the years, it wasn’t till I started used Gitzo that I fell in love. They are all great depending on your needs.
Mid-Range Tripod: Manfrotto 190 Go Aluminum 4 Section Tripod with Twist Locks
A four section aluminum tripod will allow you to collapse it small enough for a carry-on bag and extend it tall enough for comfortable use. I prefer twist locks on the legs because they are very durable and are more resistant to moisture and sand than flip locks.
High-End Tripod Head: Wimberley WH-200 Wimberley Head II
Designed for big camera lens, a Whimberley head is a solid and smooth platform for a scope.
Mid-Range Tripod Head: Manfrotto Micro Fluid Head with Rapid Connector Plate
Scopes are best paired with fluid heads as they will allow you to smoothly pan across the horizon without jerky movements. Nice and compact.
Entry Level Tripod and Head Kit: Vortex Pan Head Tripod Kit
If you’re looking for an entry level tripod that will handle moderate conditions, this Vortex tripod kit will get you started.