Is binocular better zoom or fixed magnification?

The use of binoculars has become more widespread as the number of photographic enthusiasts has increased.  But for a lot of novice photographers, is binocular better zoom or fixed magnification?  So let’s take a look at the answer to that question.  

1. Introduce 

Binoculars, first developed in modern form in 1854, have been helping travelers, astronomers, and hunters for more than 150 years. Now that they have become readily available, cheap, and efficient, more engineering marvels are being discovered than ever before. Whether it’s birding, hunting, mountaineering, camping, sailing, or surveillance, binoculars have become an essential tool for everyone. While most optical instruments, such as rifles, scopes, microscopes, binoculars, and digital cameras, have variable power, binoculars mostly have fixed magnification.

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Recent technological advances have enabled opticians to manufacture highly sophisticated rifle amplification systems at an affordable price. In addition, variable magnification allows the hunter to aim for the game at multiple distances without having to get close. As a result, the vast majority of hunters switched from fixed magnification rifles to variable magnification rifles. As a result, only one magnification rifle is gradually disappearing from the market. 

The opposite is true for binoculars. Almost all binoculars available today have fixed powers, and variable powers are rarely seen in binoculars. Several optical manufacturers have explored this area and the resulting products are quite interesting. 

Fixed power binoculars are expressed at 10×40 or 7×56 magnification. Zoom binoculars are usually sold at 10-22×40, where 10 is the lowest power they can achieve, 22 is the highest power, and 40 mm is the objective. If you come across a pair of binoculars designated 8-22×50 or 10-30×50, you can immediately identify them as variable power binoculars. The label scheme was inspired by sight scopes and rifle mirrors, both of which have zoom capabilities. 

2. Advantages/disadvantages of zoom telescopes

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There are advantages and disadvantages to using binoculars with multiple powers, and potential buyers must decide whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Here are some of the pros and cons of zoom telescopes:

2.1 Advantages:

In addition to the feature of variable magnification, zoom telescopes have the following advantages:

(1) The different view

Since the field of view depends on magnification, zoom or variable magnification binoculars have more than one field of view due to more than one magnification. Sometimes, in addition to the object itself, the area around a particular object may also be important, especially during hunting, when hunters may be interested in observing the movement of more than one animal. With multiple horizons, the observer has the ability to modify the field of vision with rapidly changing magnification.

(2) Wide range of uses

Zoom binoculars can be used for many activities that require variable magnification, such as bird watching, hunting, and tactical situations. At a fixed power, the user is limited to one magnification, and if the object moves, the user will need to change his/her position in order to fully observe the object. This is especially true for birding and hunting, where animal movements can be unpredictable and some of them are fast-moving species. To solve this problem, a quick zoom in and out feature will allow hunters to view animals at higher or lower magnification.

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(3) Affordability

Since zoom binoculars are still in the development stage, most optical manufacturers, with the exception of one or two brands, offer zoom binoculars at affordable prices. In this way, more people can learn about the interesting zoom features and decide if multiple zooms are useful to them.

2.2 Disadvantages:

The zoom feature of binoculars has the following disadvantages:

(1) Weight

Because zoom binoculars have a variety of optical elements and complex zoom mechanisms, they are heavier than regular binoculars with fixed magnification. Suppose you buy a set of 10-22×40 zoom telescopes. Sometimes you might want to use them at 10 times the power, but you’ll always need to carry a pair of binos equivalent to 22x power. This makes continuous use of zoom binoculars relatively difficult, especially when hunting because hunters need to carry extra gear.

(2) Low optical quality

While the zoom feature is a great addition to binoculars, the reality is that most zoom binoculars don’t offer the same quality as fixed magnification binoculars. Using a zoom pair of binoculars, the observer will experience a blurry and softer image. In addition, zoom binoculars often suffer from collimation problems due to their complex motion mechanisms that make it difficult to maintain perfect synchronization, further reducing image quality.

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(3) Smaller Field of View

The optical cavity of the zoom binoculars contains several movable elements. While they are necessary for the zoom function, they greatly limit the field of view. FOV losses of up to 50% need to be considered before choosing to purchase a set of zoom binoculars.

(4) Short exit pupil distance

The visual effect of binoculars is an important feature for eyeglass wearers, as it allows them to use binoculars while wearing prescription glasses. The longer the eyes relax, the more comfortable the viewing experience will be for those who wear glasses. Binoculars with variable magnification usually have poorer visual effects than fixed magnification binoculars. This is due to the complex zoom function that does not allow high eye relief. Therefore, these binoculars are not suitable for people who wear glasses.

(5) Light transmittance is poor

Due to the increase of optical elements, the transmittance of zoom telescopes is generally poor. Light entering the objective must pass through the other optical elements of the zoom binoculars. Every time light hits an optical element (such as a prism or lens), some of it is lost due to scattered reflection.

Even images viewed during the day through a set of zoom binoculars will lack sufficient brightness and sharpness. As a result, variable-magnification binoculars cannot be used effectively in low-light conditions.

3. Advantages and disadvantages of fixed magnification binoculars

Similarly, fixed magnification binoculars have both positive and negative aspects.

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3.1 Advantages:

Although fixed magnification binoculars can only have one magnification, fixed magnification binoculars have several advantages over zoom binoculars in terms of optical performance, which cannot be ignored considering the use of binoculars.

(1) Excellent optics

For binocular users, fixed power is not the end of the world. Manufacturers have been making binoculars with fixed magnification for over 150 years, and there is no doubt that modern binoculars are the result of constant innovation and research in the field of optics. Ranging from affordable to premium models, these binoculars feature excellent optics and coatings that combine to produce outstanding images.

(2) Longer Eye Relief

The eye profile seen with fixed magnification binoculars is relatively long. Eyeglasses-wearers generally consider an IOP of 16 millimeters or higher to be a good number. While this figure could not be achieved by early optical manufacturers, continued technological advances in the field have made it possible. Today, even in reasonably priced product categories, many brands mention eye relaxers larger than 16mm on their product websites and catalogs.

(3) High light transmittance

After years of research, experts in the field have cracked the right optical and coating formulas to enhance the light transmission of binoculars. There’s no doubt that the type of glass used to make prisms and lenses plays an important role, but manufacturers have designed a variety of narcotics to further improve the optical performance of binoculars. The optics and coating together determine how binoculars perform in low light conditions.

Because fixed magnification binoculars have fewer optical elements, users can experience the practical effects of the above improvements.

(4) Large field of view 

One of the advantages of fixed magnification binoculars is their wide field of view. After examining several pairs of telescopes, experts concluded that fixed-power binoculars have almost twice the field of view of zoom binoculars. 

4.2 Disadvantages: 

(1) Fixed amplification 

As the name suggests, stationary binoculars, unlike modern cameras, binoculars and rifles, only zoom in twice. You need to decide which magnification is right for your needs. Eight times power is usually standard, but binoculars can have up to 22 times power. If the zoom is still all you need, consider choosing binoculars with variable magnification. 

(2) Fixed field of view

As the name suggests, stationary binoculars, unlike modern cameras, binoculars and rifles, only zoom in twice.  You need to decide which magnification is right for your needs.  Eight times power is usually standard, but binoculars can have up to 22 times power.  If the zoom is still all you need, consider choosing binoculars with variable magnification.

4. Zoom binoculars and fixed magnification binoculars market products

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The zoom binoculars available today are usually of low quality. Optical experts are still exploring the field of zoom binoculars, where there is plenty of room for improvement.

Fixed magnification binoculars are available in all sizes and price ranges. What’s more, unlike zoom binoculars, all motion optics manufacturers make them. That’s why they’re more popular than variable power binoculars.

5. Conclusion

Experts recommend choosing fixed-magnification binoculars over zoom binoculars because of serious optical problems with multi-magnification binoculars. Zoom binoculars contain more optical and mechanical components in the optical chamber for zoom capability. The extra components make it hard for most brands to keep up with the optical performance.

The lack of interest and development in this area is due to insufficient population demand. Most users are satisfied with their nonzoom binoculars, so they don’t need to upgrade just for zoom. This puts the future of zoom binoculars in jeopardy. For zooming, the user can always choose the aiming range, which has also become popular in recent years.


Are zoom binoculars better?

While the zooming feature is a great addition to binoculars, the reality is that most zoom binoculars available today do not offer the same quality as fixed magnification binoculars. Using a pair of zoom binoculars, the observer will experience images that are fuzzy and more toned down.

What is a good zoom for binoculars?

Generally speaking, binoculars with a magnification of 6 to 10 times are easier to use, but if you want to observe birds, track moving objects and keep shaking to a minimum, it is best to use binoculars with a magnification of 8 to 10 times. For throwing, slightly lower magnification is easier to use, and portability is an important factor.

Are zoom binoculars good for bird watching?

If you do not use a telescope and weight is not a problem, the higher 10x magnification can be a good compromise. Zoom binoculars with variable magnification are not recommended. They rarely give as good an image across their range as single magnification binoculars and have more chance of developing faults.

Do all binoculars zoom?

Zoom binoculars simply refer to binoculars that have variable magnification. These types of binoculars are designed so that you can alter their magnification range. You can zoom out or zoom in with them. They are different from fixed binoculars which only have one magnification.

How far can binoculars zoom?

An average human eye with 20×20 vision can see for about 30 miles if there’s nothing in the way. 10×50 binoculars magnify your normal vision 10 times, so theoretically, you can see for 300 miles.

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