Special Report:
What's New In Binoculars? Page 3

Digital Imaging
Do you want to take photos while viewing a subject through your binoculars? If so, you might appreciate one of the binocular/digital camera combinations, such as the Meade CaptureView 8x30 1.3, waterproof roof-prism binoculars with "fully-coated" elements. This model includes a built-in 2-megapixel digicam to capture the image that you see through the binoculars. Make stills with up to 1600x1200 pixel resolution or shoot up to 90 seconds of QVGA video; review them quickly on the color LCD monitor and use the USB cable to download them to a computer. These binoculars focus as close as 16 ft; when using the camera, focus can be varied from 49 ft to infinity. The internal storage memory of 16MB is useful but plan to add an optional SecureDigital memory card for greater capacity ($249).

Or check out the new Vivitar MagnaCam 1025x1 with 1.3-megapixel sensor, 33mm f/4 fixed focus lens, and 16MB internal memory, for still image or movie clip recording ($89). Or check out the VistaPix line from Celestron. Two 8x32 roof-prism models are available with 2-megapixel CMOS sensors for still images or video clips: the 72212 (with internal interpolation to 3 megapixels) and 72210, both with BaK-4 roof prisms, have
multi-coated elements and low-capacity internal memory, expandable to 512MB with an optional SecureDigital memory card. The 72212 offers a bonus, an LCD monitor ($199 and $159).

Bushnell has also introduced digital camera binoculars including the premium-grade Instant Replay 8x32mm model with BaK-4 roof prism, fully multi-coated lenses, a wide 396 ft field of view, and close focusing to 10 ft. This model incorporates a 2-megapixel sensor for making still images or for low-res movie clips, controls for adjusting sharpness and magnification of images, and a color LCD monitor for viewing images. Although internal memory is available, a 16MB CompactFlash card is also provided; use optional high-capacity cards for greater capacity ($599). The affordable 8x30 ImageView 2.1 LCD is also a 2-megapixel camera (without video recording capability) featuring a 1.5" LCD monitor, 16MB of internal memory, plus slots for optional SecureDigital memory cards. This roof-prism model employs "fully coated" optics and offers a 10 ft minimum focus distance ($279).

Anti-Shake Systems
It's difficult to use binoculars with over 10x power handheld because of image blur from hand and body shake. A tripod can be useful on solid ground but not when you're on an unstable platform like a boat or moving vehicle. In order to prevent a shaky view, Canon incorporates an image stabilizer in several binoculars, featuring two shake gyro sensors that monitor yaw and pitch and a Vari-Angle Prism for optical correction. The new 12x36 IS II model is 26 percent lighter and 10 percent thinner than its predecessor and offers several other advantages, including lower price ($649) and extended battery life of four hours (vs. 1.5 hours) using two alkaline AAs. (Dimensions: 5x6.9x2.8"; Weight: 23.3 oz.)

Nikon's StabilEyes models incorporate a Vibration Reduction (VR) system, including the extremely powerful VR 16x32model that certainly benefits from the anti-shake device. Nikon employs gimbaled digital servos for VR, useful even when using a tripod to compensate for even slight wind-induced shake. Should you want to view fast-moving subjects, activate the exclusive VR Pause feature to disengage vibration reduction. This is a waterproof, shockproof, and fogproof model with fully multi-coated lenses and phase-coated prisms for high brightness and resolution ($849; 39 oz).

Water Resistance
An increasing number of binoculars are waterproof, including several mentioned in earlier sections. Some are actually submersible; while they're not suitable for underwater use, you can assume that such models will withstand the most inclement weather. They're ideal for water sports or for use at the beach, but also great for hiking in rainy climates or for skiing. The new 8x32 and 10x32 EL Class binoculars, with magnesium chassis, from Swarovski Optik are not only waterproof but also airtight, dustproof, and fully nitrogen purged to prevent fogging (21.5 oz; under $1500).

Waterproof models can also be lightweight and affordable. The Pentax 8x25 UCF WP and the 10x25 UCF WP for example, feature JIS Class 6 waterproof rating (submersible to 1 meter) but weigh under 18 oz. In spite of their fully multi-coated optical elements, aspherical eyepiece lenses, and high-refraction BaK-4 glass prisms, these models sell for only $119 and $129.

Final Recommendation
In this short feature, it's impossible to discuss more than a few of the latest binoculars, or to cover all of their many features. If you're considering new binoculars, do take some time to research all the specifications of models in the brands that interest you. After narrowing the field, visit a retail store to try them out. Viewing comfort--and factors such as clarity, contrast, color rendition, and sharpness--call for a personal "test drive" for a full evaluation. You'll probably find that the most desirable binoculars cost more than you had originally planned to spend. Unless you will need them only occasionally, buy the best model that you can afford. By investing in high-quality binoculars, you will benefit with many years of comfortable and enjoyable viewing.

A long-time contributor to "Shutterbug" and "eDigitalPHOTO," stock photographer Peter K. Burian is the author of a new book, "Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging" (Sybex). Covering the technology, equipment, and techniques, this book provides 270 pages of practical advice.

Binocular Glossary
Although photographers are familiar with lenses, some have difficulty appreciating the finer points of binocular technology. Indeed, some of the terminology and concepts do differ when dealing with these double-barreled optics. Before you begin shopping, consider the following information and recommendations. They can be useful when reviewing the specifications for several models, or the jargon on the manufacturers' websites.

The Numbers: All binoculars are designated with a formula such as 8x25. The first number refers to magnification or power. With 8x binoculars, for example, the subject will appear eight times larger than with the unaided eye. The second number refers to the diameter of the "objective" lens, or front element, so here, the 25 refers to 25mm. The wider the objective lens, the greater the light gathering power and the brighter the image. As noted below, light transmission is affected by other factors, too, but the following rule of thumb is worth noting. When comparing binoculars of identical design, the view through an 8x50 model is twice as bright as through 8x35 binoculars and four times as bright as through 8x25 binoculars.

Prisms: Used to fold the light path for a shorter barrel--and to invert the image as in an SLR camera--prisms are standard on all binoculars. The traditional "porro" prism models are a bit bulky but provide great contrast, good depth perception, and often, a wide field of view. The "roof" prism (denoted by a straight tube) binoculars are light and slim, fairly rugged but more costly to manufacture. Either type can be excellent, but avoid bargain-priced roof prism models. Many prisms are made with BaK-7 glass, but for higher edge sharpness and greater brightness, look for a model made with high-density BaK-4 glass, preferably "phase-coated."

Chemical Coatings: Like photographic lenses, many binoculars' elements are coated with chemical films to maximize light transmission while reducing flare. Note the following definitions. Coated: a single layer on at least one element. Fully coated: a single layer on all elements.

Multi-coated: multiple layers on at least one element. Fully multi-coated: multiple layers on all air-to-glass surfaces for light loss of 5 percent or less. Superior coatings are also more effective in reducing glare for higher contrast and clarity. The prisms in better roof-prism binoculars are also coated, with "phase-coating" that prevents scattering of incoming light for higher resolution and contrast.