Looking to buy binoculars?

So you're ready to look for warblers and woodpeckers, but not sure what equipment to get? Most important is a good pair of binoculars. Deborah Diggins, assistant manager of the gift shop at Drumlin Farm, headquarters for the Massachusetts Audubon Society in Lincoln, suggests considering a variety of factors.

First, how much do you want to spend? She sells binoculars ranging from about $100 to $1,000. But a beginning birder probably wouldn't need to invest more than $200, she says. And for kids, a perfectly adequate pair made by Bushnell sells for $69.

Second, do you prefer a compact or full-size pair? The compacts are lightweight and small, but don't let in as much light. Do you want to be able to tote the binoculars around or would you rather have a larger pair that is brighter but not as handy?

All binoculars carry two numbers on them, such as 7x24 or 10x42. The first number refers to power - the number of times closer an object will appear. The second refers to the size of the lens closest to the object. That determines how much light is let in. Ms. Diggins recommends 7 or 8 power for a beginner. The 10 power brings the object closer, she says, but it's harder to hold steady, and the higher the power, the narrower the field of view.

Binoculars come in two designs: "roof prism" with straight up-and-down barrels or "pollo" prism with slightly off-center barrels. Roof-prism binoculars cost about $200 more.

Most important in choosing binoculars, Diggins says, is how they feel to you. And be sure to try out several first and ask if you can take them for a test ride. But don't do it in the rain, unless they're waterproof, she adds.

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