How to Use Binoculars

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While it may seem intuitive, learning how to use binoculars effectively and efficiently can take a bit of practice. For many first-time users, they assume all that’s needed is to place them in front of their eyes and look through them. However, due to each individual having different eyesight and eye placement, there may be some tweaking needed to really get the most out of their binoculars in terms of clarity.

I’ve found that the easiest way to teach people how to use binoculars correctly is to break it down into its physical components, ensuring the user knows what each element is for and how that element may affect their view.

How to use binoculars diagram

The Anatomy of Binoculars

While the image above shows you what each part of the binocular is called, it’s also important to understand what each part of the binocular does.

binocular ocular lens
Ocular Lens
Ocular Lens

The ocular lens is the lens closest to your eye, and this lens is the final step before the image reaches your retina. It will feed your eye the image that the prism, located between the ocular lens and the objective lens provides. Ensure that this lens element is clean and dust-free for the best viewing.

binocular diopter ring
Diopter ring
Diopter Ring

The diopter ring is located typically next to the right eye cup and controls the focus for that particular ocular lens. The reason the diopter ring exists is so that you can compensate for varying vision between the right and left eye. This is something you shouldn’t need to set regularly unless you accidentally adjust it during handling.

binocular focus wheel
Focus wheel
Focus Wheel

The focus wheel is located on the center of most binoculars, the reason for its centered placement is because this is a wheel you’ll be using regularly during regular binocular use. The focus wheel is what you will use when adjusting your focus to the distance of your subject.

binocular eye cups
Eye cups
Eye Cups

You’ll find the eye cups at the ocular lens and what these eye cups do is primarily offer comfort. Older binocular models would sometimes have metal eye cups, but today it is standard for eye cups to be made from rubber, making them much more comfortable. They can also be extended in most modern binoculars to improve eye relief and increase clarity for glasses wearers.

Objective Lens

The objective lens is the largest lens of the binocular, on the front side. These objective lenses pass the image in reverse form through the internal prism, where the image is rectified and passed through to the ocular lens. Objective lens diameter is a large defining factor on the brightness achieved by the binoculars.

Now that you’re able to see what piece of the binocular we’re referring to in the process of getting them set up for your eyes. You can think of the initial phase as a type of calibration that needs to get done to ensure you’re getting the most out of binoculars.

How to Calibrate Your Binoculars

The process of calibration is a quick and easy one. When adjusting the focus (Step 3) we recommend that you stand about 10 yards away from a static target, such as the base of a tree, a road sign, or even a wall when adjusting your focus. Subjects that have more detail, texture, and contrast will typically make it easier for you to notice subtle changes in your vision while making adjustments. We find that road signs are often a solid choice for this.

  • Set the Eye Cups
    Ensure that the eye cups are adjusted to whether you wear glasses or not. If you’re a glasses-wearer you will want to ensure that the eye cups are pushed inward and are flush against the diopter ring (on most models of binoculars).

    If you don’t wear glasses you should ensure that the eye cups are extended outward. To extend the eye cups, you can twist them counter-clockwise.
  • Adjust The Width
    The next step is to ensure that the binoculars have the correct width set for your face and eyes. This is something you’re going to need to adjust frequently with use, as simply moving around with the binoculars can cause the position to change.

    With the binoculars placed to your eyes, simply adjust the width so that your eyes align with both eye cups. If you notice dark areas when looking through the ocular lens, it means that your adjustment isn’t correct, or that you require more eye relief with your binoculars.
  • Setting The Focus
    When setting the focus on binoculars you will want to place the binoculars to your eyes, adjust the width as described above, and then look towards your target subject. Now cover the right objective lens with your hand so you can only see through the left ocular lens.

    Now that you can only see out of your left eye, adjust the focus wheel in the center of your binoculars so that the image through your left eye is as sharp as possible.

    Once you’ve achieved the sharpest image you are able to, you can then focus on setting up your diopter ring focus. This is typically something that is adjusted only occasionally, unlike the focus wheel which is always adjusted in the field.
  • Configuring The Diopter Ring
    Now that you’ve got the sharpest image using your focus wheel, you can turn to the final step – which is ensuring both your eyes are focused accordingly.

    This time, block the left objective lens and only look through your right eye. Does the clarity change between each eye? If so, this means that you will need to adjust your diopter ring to compensate.

    Still only looking through your right eye, adjust the diopter ring until you get a sharp image. Once this has been complete, open both eyes and make any final adjustments to your main focusing ring.

While this may seem like a lot of work to go through, most of these adjustments are done seldomly. The right eye diopter focus is only needed once your setting is disturbed. For this reason, we recommend noting where the ring placement is (if your binocular allows it). This will allow you to adjust it back without needing to reconfigure it.

The focus ring on your binoculars will be used frequently on the other hand. Every time your subject distance varies you’ll need to use the center focus ring to get it back into focus. This also leads to tracking, which is the process of following a moving target. Keeping a target in focus while tracking it can be tricky initially, but as you use your binoculars more you’ll see that it soon becomes second nature.

Bryn De Kocks
Written by
Bryn De Kocks
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