Binoculars Buying Guide

By: Kate Kershner

Astronomy Binoculars

Good news for wannabe astronomers: You do not need one of the Keck telescopes to frown at the stars and mistake the belt of Orion for the Big Dipper. Turns out, the correct pair of binoculars can be a much easier and affordable way to impress your friends with that one semester of astronomy that you took in college.

If you're shopping for binoculars to check out the planets or stars, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, you'll notice binoculars have a couple of numbers -- listed like 7x40 -- that you need to understand. The first number speaks to the magnification; a 7 means that it will look seven times closer than viewing with the naked eye. The second number is called the aperture, which lists the objective lens diameter of the binocs. The larger the aperture, the more light that will enter the lens and provide more clarity to the image.


Astronomy binoculars can rival telescopes in terms of magnification and aperture -- we're talking 30x100 -- to capture more light and make up for distance. These are basically telescopes for each eye, and unless you're looking to spend up to $5,000, you're best sticking to something a bit more modest. To get the most bang for your exploring-the-big-bang buck, do remember that aperture is going to be the most important factor for astronomy binoculars to counteract the dark sky. A safe bet for astronomy binoculars is at least a 7x magnification, and a 40 aperture. Most pairs advertised as "astronomy" binoculars are going to be 10x50, with prices ranging from $70-$400.

Remember that you're going to be holding them to the sky, so for a larger pair, a mount (which can run from $50 for a small pair of binoculars, to $300 for a tripod that can hold a 16-pound, or 7-kilogram, pair) might be a good investment.

Looking at stars and aliens is fun, but for another type of adventure, get yourself out during the day and try to spot a real prize -- a black-headed grosbeak! That's right, fly to the next page to see what binoculars are best for your fishing, hunting and birding enterprises.