Binoculars are an essential part of the safari experience. Good binoculars are worth it, they are also expensive. With this in mind you may want to borrow some, but whether you borrow or buy, here is some advice about what to look for.
All binoculars have two numbers associated with them
The first number is for the magnification. More powerful magnification is not always better. Two drawbacks to increasing magnification are 1) the higher the magnification the more narrow you field of view and 2) the higher the magnification the harder it is to keep the image steady. Given this the best magnification for a safari is between 7 and 10, anything above 10 power magnification is very hard to hold steady.
The second number determines the amount of light let in by the binoculars, making objects brighter in dim morning and evening conditions. This light-gathering capability is determined by a measurement called the “exit pupil”, which is calculated by dividing the diameter of the front (objective) lens in millimeters by the power (8x, for example). If you don't care about the details just follow this rule: This number should not be below 30 and anything above this is acceptable.
Because of these two numbers you will be looking for binoculars that are 8x30, 10x40 etc. If you don't want any more information just follow the guidelines above and you will be fine!
If you want a bit more detail here are other things to keep in mind
Field of View: The Field of View of a pair of binoculars is basically the width of the image that you can see through the binoculars and so a wide FOV enables you to catch as much of the action all at once without having to move the binoculars about. For a safari a wider field of view is better generally better. A FOV of 315ft at 1,000 yards (105m at 1,000 meters / 6.0Â° ) should be fine for most people, but as I say, the wider the better, so if you are picking between two models, check which has the widest FOV.
Size: Full-sized binoculars (objective lenses of around 42mm or larger) will give you the highest quality image but they take up a lot of space in your luggage and if you are doing a lot of walking they will be heavy. If you are on a WALKING SAFARI you might consider compact binoculars (objective lenses between 21mm and 28mm) but for a safari that is mostly game-viewing from a vehicle with an afternoon walk or two mid-sized binoculars (objective lenses of around 32mm to 36mm) are probably a nice compromise.
Waterproofing: A lot of safari vehicles are open to the elements which makes waterproofing important. Waterproofing also protects your optics from dust and other small debris when conditions are dry.
Image Stablization: Image Stabilization Binoculars can really help if you definitely want or need high powered binoculars, or if you have particularly unsteady or shaky hands (if you are looking for Image Stabilization, the best are the Canon IS).
Okay I want to buy. What is the best brand?
If you decide you want to buy binoculars spend as much as you are comfortable with and keep in mind that the more you spend the better the binoculars and the longer they will last. Zeiss, Licia and Swarovski are without question the best on the market and you will be able to give them to your grandchildren. Nikon, Canon, Bushnell and Pentax make a good mid range product.
Is renting an option?
You can rent Swarovski binoculars from Optics4Rent.com. This is a great option if you don't feel you would use them enough after your safari to justify buying a really nice pair and it gives you access to $2000 binoculars for $15 to $20 a day.
Is one pair enough?
Whether you borrow or buy binoculars for your safari aim for one pair per person. Some safari camps provide a pair for every guest in a vehicle but that is the minority and while most guides will have a pair or two in the vehicle (and of course will share) but they often need them to spot animals for you! At a minimum have an extra pair or two and if you are traveling with a serious birder make sure they have their own!
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