One of the most essential tools for a successful birder is a set of killer optics. The heavy artillery of birding optics is unquestionably the spotting scope. The phenomenal magnification a good scope can offer completely changes the experience of spotting shorebirds and other slow movers. Binoculars, on the other hand, are much more versatile, maneuverable, and inexpensive. Everyone starts with binoculars.

The Core Team has been getting by with one decent set of binoculars and a motley assortment of bargain-basement optics, including the set that the Audubon Society gives to new members for free (just say no!) Last week, though, I got myself a new rig, and I am very satisfied.

Sara is willing to cart around a full-sized set of binoculars. Not me. I’m looking for the smallest, most powerful set I can find. Nearly every compact set caps out at 10X magnification. The first good reason for this is that no handheld is stable enough to work effectively at a much higher magnification. The second, equally good reason is that compact scopes have a smaller aperture, which means less light comes in and the image is dimmer. High magnification and low light = unidentifiable shadows. Nobody wants that.

Fortunately, those who wish a useful, compact set of binoculars that still offer superior magnification capability under ideal conditions can harness the power of the ZOOM. That’s right, people. There are binoculars out there that can shoot from 8X or 10X all the way up to 30X. That’s what I bought.

After a great deal of research on the matter, I chose the Olympus Tracker 10-30×25 Zoom Porro Prism Compact & Lightweight Binocular. These binoculars are fantastic. I don’t want to bore you with statistics like exit pupil or eye relief. These binoculars are compact and rugged. They deliver a great image at 10X but can zoom up to 30X if needed. I don’t find the highest magnification useful, since the image does become dimmer as magnification increases. However, I have found 20X very helpful under the right circumstances.

If you’re willing to spend hundreds, or even thousands of dollars on optics, you can do much better than the Olympus Tracker Zoom. However, you’re only interested in spending about $100, you’ll love these binoculars. They provide the right set of features in a compact form for the right price.

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.