Binoculars for bird watching

The Best Binoculars for Birdwatching

It is fair to say that most binocular models tend to conform to a fairly narrow set of specifications.

Magnifications are, for the most part, either 8x or 10x. Which magnification chosen is largely dependent on the ability of the user to hold the binocular steady as any increase in our own shake will be magnified.

In order to allow enough light to enter the user’s eye in most daylight conditions, the choice of objective lens diameter (literally the lens closest to the object being observed) is kept as large as possible without making the binocular too heavy or bulky. 42mm is the commonest objective diameter as this equates to a relatively large exit pupil (or aperture) ensuring a bright image even in duller conditions.

The physical dimensions of 8×42 models are very similar as are the average weights. Brightness is highly desirable and weight can be mitigated to some extent by wider, comfort straps and harnesses which help with both carrying and comfort.

Although modern instruments are relatively compact and lightweight, if the user desires a smaller and lighter weight binocular, 32mm objective lens models offer a reasonable compromise. Most binocular models come in 8×32, 8×42 and 10×42 versions. (Less commonly, some manufacturers have 10×32 as an option which is perfectly acceptable for those who can hold 10x steady but desire a smaller unit).

Having said this, by far the most popular specification for birdwatching (and indeed general wildlife observation) is the 8×42 as it offers the best stability, light gathering whilst still being reasonably lightweight and compact and powerful enough for most observations.

When looking to purchase for the first time (or upgrade), the choice can appear overwhelming with a very wide range of brands, models and prices.

It is fair to say that, due to the massive increase in interest in natural history, that very high quality binoculars are becoming available at much lower price points.

Most binoculars are now completely waterproof and the prevalent design is the roof prism which is more compact than any equivalent specification porro prism (or ‘traditional’) binocular.

Our advice is to factor in any criteria important to you and we can help find the best fit.

Viking Optical Centres offers a range of high quality, affordable binoculars to nature enthusiasts for over 30 years and our aim is to help people to find the right fit in terms of both image quality, ease of use and budget.

From beginners to enthusiasts, we have something for you. Browse our range today or call a member of our team for further advice at 01986 875315.

Choosing a Binocular for Birdwatching

It can be argued that a binocular is the one piece of absolutely essential kit for birdwatching.

A good binocular at the very least enhances the enjoyment of watching birds, allowing more detailed observations at distances less likely to disturb the birds from their natural behaviours.

The array of models and the wide range of prices can present a very difficult choice for someone looking to either purchase their first binocular or upgrade from an existing one.

When advising people, we very much put the customers needs first. Applying any criteria the customer flags up as important and trying to provide the best fit from there has been a successful formula.

What do the numbers mean?

The first number quoted is the magnification e.g. 8 or 10. 8 & 10 are the most common magnifications as they provide enough power to make out details at a reasonable distance whilst still being hand-holdable.

We are often asked if there is any complicated arithmetic in relation to magnification. The simple answer is no! The birds will appear either 8 or 10 times closer!

The second number commonly seen is the diameter of the objective lens (literally the lens nearest the object). The bigger this lens is in relation to the magnification, the brighter the image will be in duller light conditions.

For example an 8×42 binocular will be brighter than an 8×32. We have found an easy way to understand this is by relating it to the size of your own pupil in given light conditions.

Dividing the objective lens diameter by the magnification gives us the diameter of the exit pupil (literally the size of the hole the light is coming through to your eye). As our own pupils expand in lower light, we need a corresponding size of exit pupil to allow enough light into our eyes to resolve the greatest detail.

This is also determined by other factors such as the quality of the glass and coatings on the lenses which will be discussed below.

Hence the commonest specifications being 8×32, 8×42 and 10×42 as our own pupils will be less than 4 or 5mm in most daylight conditions – allowing enough light without resorting to a big, heavy, cumbersome and more expensive unit. (Other common specifications are 8×25 & 10×25 which, although letting in less light, are much more compact and lightweight if these are major considerations e.g. for walking or travel).

The other number most commonly quoted is the field of view, or width, of the resulting image.

This is, somewhat counterintuitively, determined largely by the magnification and NOT the diameter of the objective lens!

The higher the magnification, the narrower the field of view.

As field of view can be thought of as a sector (or slice of cake), it is relatively easy to find distant subjects as the view is opening out. Relatively close subjects can be harder to find with a narrower field as they are at the ‘thin end of the wedge’.

As a rule, a wider field of view is helpful rather than essential.

How to choose from such a wide range of prices?

The question ‘why do the prices vary so widely’ is answered by the fact that glass, coating, and build quality varies widely.

Our advice is to:

  1. Decide which specification is most suitable by trying 8x v 10x and feeling the weight to help narrow the choice.
  2. Once a specification is decided upon, we recommend trying a few within your budget to see if you can see any differences in the image quality, ease of use and general comfort.
  3. It is useful to compare models by looking at distant objects to determine the level of detail which can be resolved, looking against the light to see if contrast is good (a better binocular will allow some colour and detail to be discerned where a basic one may render birds as silhouettes).
  4. Check for colour fringing where there may be a wide band of colour around a bird, spherical aberration (noticeable curvature to straight lines), colour (cheaper binoculars may have a ‘warm’ cast or tinge to the image) and the overall ease on the eye. Does the image ‘snap’ into focus quickly – after all, wildlife doesn’t generally wait for us to organise ourselves!
  5. Is the binocular comfortable to hold?

Can you compare online?

Yes, our Compare tool on the website allows you to see your preferred choices side by side so you can compare prices, specifications and look of the binocular. To add your favourites to this tool, select the criss crossing arrow icon that is available on every product.

Spending a bit of time when choosing really helps to settle on the right instrument for the individual and a much more enjoyable field experience.

Viking Flyway Birding Team for the Global Bird Weekend 17th/18th October

If you didn’t already know, Global Birding Weekend is the brainchild of Tim Appleton, originator of the world’s first and biggest annual birdfair.

We love the idea of connecting birders from all over the world in a common cause to raise awareness of conservation issues and to help save wild birds and habitats through raising money to help Birdlife International, all while having fun doing something we all love.

Not only that, but encouraging people new to the joys of birdwatching and also contributing to scientific knowledge by entering sightings to the eBird global database!

With our long history of supporting conservation we just had to get involved.

We are proud to be part of the global birding and conservation family and the Global Bird Weekend is a perfect fit for the Flyway Birding family we’ve already been embraced by.

From the outset, we at Viking decided we wanted to reach out to our friends, supporters, partners, ambassadors and customers to form a fully inclusive team. We’re already a family because we share a common love of birds, the miracle of migration, and a desire to help preserve the things we love.

Our core team at present consists of birders, migration lovers and conservationists  from various points along the East Atlantic flyway from the UK to the Gambia.

This inaugural Global Bird Weekend is raising funds to help Birdlife International put an end to the illegal trade in wild birds.

You can donate to our team JustGiving page here – every penny is appreciated thank you!

Join our team!

Meet some of the team! 

Niki Williamson

Niki is also co-owner and partner in Inglorious Bustards, and lives with Simon in the delightful village of Facinas in the epicentre of migration – The Straits of Gibraltar, Spain.

Niki grew up playing amongst the woodlands, fields and streams of the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire.  She was given a YOC (Young Ornithologist Club) membership for her 6th birthday, and has loved nature ever since.  Somehow, Niki has managed to remain a member of the RSPB Wildlife Explorers under 9’s to this day, and has found her intellectual level in the Rookie cartoons.

Describing herself as a professional tree-hugger, Niki worked and volunteered for the RSPB for twelve years, managing habitats, brandishing chainsaws with varying levels of threat to limbs (her own and others) and honing her birding skills in amazing wetland, upland and coastal habitats.

In recent years she had the pleasure of working with Nature-friendly farmers to make the countryside a better place for wildlife.  Latterly she headed up RSPB’s Eastern England farmland advisory team which, together with the other partners in Operation Turtle Dove, were working to ensure a future for this iconic bird.

Niki is one of the original members of #teampeanut – a crack troop of A-team style conservationists looking at ways in which West African peanut growers could not only provide peanuts for birdfood but also provide habitats for struggling migratory species – including Turtle Doves – through Fair to Nature accreditation.

Seeing first hand the challenges faced by journeying birds all across the flyway has given Niki a deep passion for the epic spectacle of migration.  This, and her love of international adventure makes her a proud founder member in the Inglorious Bustards’ motley line-up  (Oh and by the way, it was her that thought of the name…).

Simon Tonkin

Simon is co-owner and partner in Inglorious Bustards, living in Facinas in the heart of The Straits of Gibraltar, Spain.

Simon was raised in Plymouth in the UK and his early birding habitats were rubbish tips, sewage outfalls and fish factories. It all started when, at nine years old, his enthralment with the natural world led him to sneak out with his father’s massive binoculars at first light, returning home many hours after dark covered in estuarine mud and other indescribable detritus, to face the music!

Fulfilling a boyhood dream, Simon worked for the RSPB full-time for fifteen years; the first projects he was involved in were to protect breeding Hen Harriers and Bee-eaters in the North of England. Simon has lectured in ornithology, specialising in a variety of subjects including bird ethology, migration and bird populations. He worked in farmland bird conservation for the most of his RSPB career, latterly working at the RSPB’s headquarters in Sandy.  He and Niki launched the first landscape-scale farmland bird initiative, The Thorney Farmland Bird Friendly Zone.

Simon has conducted research on Corn Bunting crop nest site selection and on the seed palatability of farmland granivores. He also co-launched Operation Turtle Dove, co-ordinating efforts in the UK and internationally to save the species from extirpation. Simon has worked as the Conservation Manager for Conservation Grade, working on ground-breaking and exciting conservation projects in Spain, Portugal, Central America, Morocco, Senegal and The Gambia and is widely travelled in these countries, being particularly familiar with their avifauna, lepidoptera and mammalian species. Simon now lives in the epi-centre of migration at The Straits of Gibraltar as one of the Inglorious Bustards working on a variety of conservation projects, and tour leading.

Despite this long and varied career, he was once described by an eminent public figure as having no discernible talents apart from hanging out at sewage outfalls looking at gulls!

Dr. Alejandro Onrubia

Alejandro is the project coordinator at Fundación Migres, working on a number of scientific monitoring schemes here in The Straits of Gibraltar. Many will know Alejandro from his skills in monitoring the crossing of thousands of soaring birds here in The Straits, where seemingly he spends every waking moment at a watchpoint busily ‘clicking’ each new traveler through the migration bottleneck.

Aside from monitoring work, Alejandro is also working on new sustainable eco-tourism opportunities in partnership with the Inglorious Bustards.

Alejandro is a well published ornithologist having authored a vast array of scientific studies, improving our knowledge of bird migration and the ever-increasing and changing threats these migrants face on their travels. Alejandro has vast experience and knowledge and he translates that through his friendly, patient and enlightening guiding skills.  Every time you go birding with Alejandro, you learn something new!

Tijan Kanteh

Tijan is one of the most experienced conservationists, birders and guides in The Gambia.  He is much respected by his peers and renowned for his ability to use his wealth of knowledge to train new and upcoming guides in the country.  So much so that locally he is often referred to as ‘Elder’ or ‘Uncle’!  He certainly has our respect too, and we are proud to have him on the team. Tijan is a passionate conservationist and is involved in local projects around land use policy and illegal hunting and trafficking of birds.  He even hosts the unofficial RSPB Brufut office at his home! He also was one of the original members of the aforementioned #teampeanut, working on sustainable peanut production management to protect wildlife habitats and the wider environment.  Simon and Tijan have worked with each other for nearly twenty years and are often locally referred to as brothers!

Stuart Gillies

Stuart manages the Viking Optical shop in Edinburgh. Hooked on wildlife from an early age by watching Jaques Cousteau, local birds on the nearby Union canal in Edinburgh had to substitute for the undersea world.

Six years as an itinerant contract warden for the RSPB culminated in an opportunity to join Viking Optical who had recently become the optical supplier to RSPB.

Stuart is immensely proud of the conservation work supported by Viking Optical through various partnerships and sponsorships which have grown in scope throughout his 20+ years with the company.

What he lacks in birding skills is partly made up for by an enthusiasm for migration and conservation.

We want that family to grow! To that end, here is a call – we want you! Anyone can join our team for the Global Bird Weekend of 17th & 18th October. Beginner or expert, back garden, local park, nature reserve, birds from the bus…whoever you are, wherever you live and however you see birds…we value your input. Every bird record is of value and so are you!

Please join us! Here’s how to get involved:-

  1. Please register here in order to take part. Please enter your name AND Viking Flyway Birding Team if you would like to be part of our team.
  2. Set up an eBird account here in order to log your sightings (skip this step if you already have an eBird account).
  3. Share your eBird sightings from the 17th October to the team account which is VikingFlywayBirding (no spaces).

Swarovski NL Pure Hands-on Day at our Edinburgh Store 17/9/2020

Paul from Swarovski will be showcasing the new NL Pure binocular range in our Edinburgh store on Thursday 17th September 11am – 4pm.

Viking Optical Centre, 101 Rose Street, Edinburgh

NL Pure – the revolutionary binoculars with the largest field of view to date and barely perceptible edges, without compromising on ergonomics and handling. In other words: Best optics, packed in the smallest possible size. The NL Pure thus provides unprecedented nature experiences.

Enjoy a (sanitised) hands-on trial of the NL and also a demonstration of the ground-breaking dG digital identification aid!

The new Swarovski NL Pure binocular
Swarovski dG 8×25 Monocular

The Swarovski dG 8×25 is the perfect monocular for you and your family. This long-range optical device allows you to view distant objects and instantly share what you are seeing via the Swarovski Optik dG app. Work together with your friends and family to identify distant animals or objects. Of course, this monocular features Swarovski’s extremely high-quality glass and construction.

If there is a particular item you would like to try or you would like to book a one to one session, please call 0131 225 6389 or email
Look forward to seeing you on the 17th!

See the whole Swarovski range on our website.

Lockdown Wildlife with Viking Optical

One of the few positives to come out of the lockdown period was the well reported upsurge in natural history interest.

Being largely confined to gardens and the local vicinity, people started to take the time to learn what was on their own doorstep. The answer was by turns surprising and beautiful. Hitherto unnoticed birds, wild flowers, and an abundance of insects on uncut verges, became sources of both wonder and comfort.

Male Blackcap
Cherry Laurel

Exercise walks became mini voyages of discovery as something new caught the eye and aroused curiosity.

People on social media were questioning why verges were cut at the times they were despite teeming with life and posing no danger to traffic or pedestrians. Why trees, shrubs and hedges were cut whilst birds were nesting. It was wonderful to note that so many were enjoying the wildlife and then were bereft when it was needlessly removed.

Bee Fly

The quiet in March and April was deafening. Little road noise, almost no planes thundering overhead meant that birdsong was heard loud and clear.

Courtship feeding Blue Tits

The economy will slowly recover and traffic levels will increase to pre-pandemic levels but there must be a glimmer of hope that many have been awakened to the kind of local environment that is better for everyone’s health and wellbeing.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker

Nature is amazing and you don’t have to travel thousands of miles to exotic locations to see its beauty and drama played out – it’s happening everywhere, you just have to look!

Wader Passage at Levenhall Links Nature Reserve

Our perception of the seasons is subjective. It may sound odd to talk of autumn when in August, surely that’s summer?

Black-tailed Godwits
Black-tailed Godwit

Not if you’re a wader breeding in the arctic! Many adults whose breeding attempts have failed will start to make the long and arduous return journey to their wintering grounds in the height of our summer.

Juvenile Curlew Sandpiper

When juvenile wading birds start to appear on our shores and at our wetlands we really are seeing the onset of autumn for these birds. The fairly brief abundance of daylight and food gives way quickly at these Northern latitudes allowing the birds a limited window of opportunity to establish a territory, find a mate, and raise young.

Juvenile Spotted Redshank
Spotted Redshank
Juvenile Ruff
Grey Plover

Even more remarkable are the distances involved putting the UK in a vital position as a ‘motorway services’ for millions of waders who need to rest and refuel on their annual return journeys.

Bar-tailed Godwits
Bar-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit

A favourite spot is Levenhall Links nature reserve run by the East Lothian Council Ranger Service.

Green Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper

This small area of purpose-built lagoons near Musselburgh, just to the East of Edinburgh, has proved very productive for roosting waders and passage migrants including many scarce and rare species.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Temminck’s Stints

All of the accompanying photographs were taken from the hides at Levenhall over the past few years.

Andrew Edginton Wildlife Artist

We are very grateful to talented young wildlife artist and committed conservationist from Kent, Andrew Edginton for permission to share his story and some of his beautiful artwork.

Andrew Edginton (age 17) is an avid young wildlife artist, enthusiast and photographer who lives in Kent. He works in a range of media including: Pen & Ink, Biro, Watercolour, Gouache, Acrylic, Oil, Pastel and Mixed Media. He is a member of the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory where he takes part in their friendly Art club and the young Phoenix club.

Andrew first came to our attention as a contributor to the Birdfair mural in 2019 which was painted in aid of the world famous Fair Isle observatory.

Andrew contributing to the Birdfair mural in 2019
Badgers ©Andrew Edginton not to be used without permission

Andrew’s love for the subjects in his highly detailed work is evident. Every example included here is an insight into the rigorous attention to detail which goes into creating each piece of art.

Puffin ©Andrew Edginton not to be used without permission

Andrew has made several television appearances, notably on the incredibly popular Springwatch and has won many awards for his artwork including the RSPB Wild Art competition two years in a row!

He still finds time to be involved with a local village project to help protect the rare Turtle Doves in his area. Andrew has appeared twice on local BBC news in relation to this.

Otter ©Andrew Edginton not to be used without permission

If you are interested in commissioning Andrew’s work or you have any question please contact him here. He would love to hear from you.  Please be aware he may not be able to take on the commission if he is fully booked.

Global Bird Weekend 17th & 18th October 2020

If you’re into birding in the UK (in fact anywhere in the world!), you’ll be familiar with Tim Appleton who founded and ran the worlds first and biggest annual bird fair at Rutland Water.

Tim Appleton MBE and Richard Bonnett MD Viking Optical Ltd

Viking Optical have been very proud to be associated with the Birdfair for the last 16 years and especially the contribution this event has made to nature conservation through the donations to Birdlife International every year.

That’s why it’s a pleasure to support a new venture! 

This year, in these pandemic hit times, Tim has conceived a new initiative which will be the most inclusive birding event ever! Literally anyone and everyone can take part regardless of birding knowledge and geographical location. 

The Global Bird Weekend will also contribute directly to the eBird database which is an amazing resource with over 100,000 users who log millions of bird sightings which further our understanding of bird populations and movements.

Why get involved? By participating in and donating to Global Bird Weekend, Birdlife International will be able to help put an end to the illegal trade in wild birds which threatens many species with extinction.

Help wild birds by going birding in your local area! Every sighting is of value!

Thanks to the astounding generosity of passionate anonymous supporters, Global Bird Weekend are able to make your contribution go even further. Donors have agreed to provide match-funding for the first £50,000 raised – this means your donation will be DOUBLED, to deliver twice the impact!

It’s very easy to sign up – do it today and have a great time birding on 17th & 18th October with the added bonus that you’ll be joining a worldwide birding family and playing your part in saving wild birds!

Affordable Quality with Viking Optical

We have been one of the leading independent UK optical importers for over 30 years now and our ethos has been very simple – affordable quality.

The boom in environmental interest and the desire to get out and experience it first hand (or ‘Springwatch effect’ as it’s affectionately known here) has seen the sales of essential wildlife viewing kit such as binoculars rise steadily.

High quality instruments were out of the reach of many people but we have always prided ourselves in sourcing good value for money optics at price points anyone can afford.

This has culminated recently in our new ‘falcon’ range of binoculars and ‘swallow’ telescopes.

Viking Merlin ED
Swallow 65mm & 80mm Telescopes

The Kestrel binocular represented a revolution in the quality of glass available at the price point. ED glass (extra-low dispersion – a dense optical glass which refracts light less), once the preserve of very expensive models, was now made eminently affordable to much critical success. Our falcon models are now used by enthusiasts and fieldworkers from the UK, Spain, and even as far afield as Peru!

Viking Kestrel ED Binocular
Viking Peregrine Binocular

Building upon this, in 2019 we launched the Swallow 65mm and 80mm telescopes at a price point less than the cost of the case for some top of the range telescopes! 

Viking Swallow Telescope

We continue to innovate and look for solutions for people on a budget. In the fast-changing world of ‘digiscoping’ we decided early on that we wanted to make this as accessible as possible to all. Cue the Viking Smartphone Adapter which fits practically any telescope and smartphone combination!

Viking Smartphone Adapter

Whatever your level of interest and budget, Viking Optical wants you to Extend Your Horizons!

Should you wish to find out more about Viking Optical’s products, view our full range here or call us on 01986 875315.

Virtual Birdfair 18th-23rd August 2020

The name Viking Optical has been synonymous with Birdfair for the past 16 iterations of this world-famous event and proudly so!

It was with great sadness and disappointment we learned the fateful news that this wonderful event would have to be cancelled due to the terrible pandemic.

Funding for conservation has suffered very badly during the subsequent lockdown and it is very heartening to see that the Birdfair will indeed go ahead albeit in Virtual form!

We must applaud the organisers for making a Birdfair which will be recognisable for its mix of inspirational talks, exhibitors from exotic birding destinations and array of vendors selling any and all types of birding associated paraphernalia you care to mention!

We’re sure you’ll join is in making this a great success and look forward to renewing old friendships and making new ones in 2021!