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My First Binoculars

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, December 31, 2010 

On this snowy New Years Eve I spent the afternoon digging through boxes in the basement trying to get rid of some junk, and organize a few things I want to keep. Sam (my fiancé) and I were supposed to be in southern California, enjoying warmer weather and a few new life birds. But the winter storm the blasted Utah on Wednesday and Thursday forced us to cancel—and with it Island Scrub-Jay, California Gnatcatcher, Thrasher and Towhee, Black Skimmer, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Tricolored Blackbird and Yellow-billed Magpie are just an afterthought.

We moved in to our house in Sandy, Utah at the beginning of September and me being a bit of a procrastinator, I still had a one huge box in our garage I needed to go through. So after lunch I dragged the box into the basement and started organizing. Trash, old license plates, binocular case, lacrosse balls, slippers, Frisbee golf disk, lamp, jump ropes, gaiters (damn! I needed you 2 months ago), old CDs, posters, and the list goes on and on. The box in question was about 3’ square and 3’ tall, so it could hold quite a bit of junk. As I neared the bottom of the mess I saw a small black pouch, and as I grabbed it unlocking the clasp, there was my first pair of binoculars.

My first binoculars. Copyright Tim Avery

Nikon Travelite III—a plastic set of 7x20 pocket binoculars that my dad gave me when I was 12 years old. Before this set I had always struggled with a pair of 10x50 Bushnell’s that he kept in the pickup truck along with a Golden Guide to birds. But the Nikon’s were my first pair, and they were the perfect starter set for a young birder. I only used them for about 3 years before I was given a pair of Nikon Attaché (the predecessor to the Nikon Monarch), but in those 3 years, those binoculars saw a lot of birds.

They traveled to Wyoming where they saw my first Lazuli Bunting and Cassin’s Finch. They made a trip to Nevada where Phainopepla and Crissal Thrasher filled the view. They traveled to numerous spots along the Wasatch front, and into the High Uintas Wilderness Area where Pine Grosbeak, Gray Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, and Western Tanager were all firsts. They made it to southern Utah where they saw my first Gambel’s Quail, Black Phoebe, and Great-tailed Grackle. That little pair of binoculars was responsible for my first 280 or so species of birds—and responsible for keeping my interest piqued and helping me learn a lot about birds those first couple years.

They were a good pair of binoculars—but I outgrew them in my needs as a birder, and my size as a person. I placed those binoculars in a closet, where they stayed till I think 2005, when I let Colby Neuman use them as part of a Halloween costume—ironically the costume was of the stereotypical birder. And since then they have been tossed from one box to another, finally they will be put to rest in a box with a few old t-shirts, where they will hopefully remain for a long time—a memory of my first few years birding.

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Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

My first binoculars were Bushnell Falcon's...they sucked.


January 1, 2011 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger Birding is Fun! said...

One I first got interested in birding a few years ago, I made a compulsive and ignorant purchase of $60 binoculars at a KMart in Prescott, AZ while there on business. I foolishly purchased Bushnell 16x50's thinking that the higher magnification number of 16 would give me super birding powers. It wasn't long before I realized what a mistake I had made. Terrible light, terrible color transmission, and I couldn't focus on anything with 35 feet. Except for looking at ducks across the lake, these binoculars were worthless for birding, and even then the image-shake made it miserable. Moral of the story, before you buy your first birding binoculars talk to some experienced birders and read reviews online. I suggest going to a sporting goods store and try them out. That store might not have the best price and you don't have to buy them there, but getting a feel for them is very important.

January 1, 2011 at 9:52 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

Jerry, that is awesome! The bushnells my dad kept in his pickup were freaking terrible--they could be described as shit. I mean these things weighed like 3 or 4 pounds and I could never get both eyes to focus correctly together.

Robert, when I sold optics I would always get customers asking me how the $10 Tasco 8x21s that we sold on the counter were. I wouldn't say, "Well they suck! Duh!" But I would say, "You get what you pay for." And then of course I would try to work them towards Nikon starting with the low end stuff and working them up to the Monarch range. I can't count how many people I was able to get to by those Monarchs because I recommended them and used them. Most people want the cheapest and easiest piece of equipment to get started. Of course an educated buyer will usually spend a little more--but be much happier down the road when they are actually using the optics!

January 1, 2011 at 10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first pair was a K-Mart brand 7X50. My Dad bought them for $20.00 in the early '60's. He gave them to me in 1985 after I became interested in an unusual black/white/orange bird with a strange upturned bill I spotted near 2100 South in a pond. My "hook" bird (American Avocet) is still one of my favorites. I have graduated to a pair of Swarovski's and the K-Mart brand does well when I bring a non-birding friend along.
My first bird book was a Golden Birds of North America. I left the first one (along with my life list) at Patton's in AZ.
Laurie Stout-Letz Bountiful

January 2, 2011 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Just My Take said...

My binoculars still suck...sigh

January 2, 2011 at 4:19 PM  
Blogger Vic Berardi said...

My first binoculars were a pair of Bushnell 10 X 50. At the time my parents bought them for me I was into both astronomy and birds. Today, 41 years later, they reside somewhere in my garage in the original case. Whenever I come across them I am reminded how heavy and optically inferior they were. But, as a 16 year old dreamer, they sure filled my days (and evenings) with some wonderful sightings that I'll always cherish.

January 2, 2011 at 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Kiirsi said...

I enjoyed this post! I really need some good first-binocular advice. I have to stay under $150 for now and I'm really only looking at Nikons. I've read tons of online reviews...opinions would be very welcome. I'm currently looking at the Nikon Trailblazer 8x42 and the Nikon Action Extreme 8x40. I also wear glasses and the super-cheap WalMart no-name binocs I currently have I have to take my glasses off to use.

It seems that only Cabelas in or around the Salt Lake valley carries Nikons, so I should probably go there and try some out. But I would love some educated opinions.

January 5, 2011 at 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Hi Kiirsi

I'm not really sure what is available for under $150. If the two Nikon's you mentioned are, then I would try both out in the store (hopefully they let you take them outside). See which pair has the best combination of brightness, sharpness, field of view, and are comfortable in your hands. Good luck.


January 6, 2011 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...


Sportsman's Warehouse also carries a nice selection of optics, and will usually allow you to take them outside to see how they are in real light.

As for what to get--the $150 range can be tough. The Nikon stuff for that price has decent glass but the overall quality isn't great. You may want to take a look through the ALPEN binoculars in that price range. There are two pairs that come to mind:

Alpen PRO $105.29

Alpen WINGS $185

Alpen is not a top of the line brand, but for the price they put out a decent binocular. The Wings are actually really nice and under $200 I would use them over pretty much anything.

If you can dish out the extra dough, you can pick up a pair of Nikon Monarch 8x42 for less than $230

In my opinion it is well worth the extra $80 to upgrade to these binocs if you can. They are a steal at that price online--and you can go test them at a brick and mortar.

If you go in to a sporting goods store to look, don't let them sell you something they are trying to push, make sure to get something that works best for you!

Hope this helps.

January 6, 2011 at 3:15 PM  
Anonymous Kiirsi said...

Tim and Jerry, thank you very much for the advice. Tim, I had thought the Monarchs were close to or over $300, so I appreciate that link! Do you have any experience buying from that website/company? (I.E., do you know if they're a reputable seller?)

I really appreciate your experience and opinions.

January 7, 2011 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...


I don't, but I found them as a top seller on Google, you can also check out other options here:

Nikon Monarch 8x42 Binoculars

I would still recommend looking through a pair at a local brick and mortar to make sure they are right for you!

Good Luck!


January 8, 2011 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger Spotting Scope said...

Some time i use BINOCULARS for bird watching, today i use spotting scope for quality hd picure

October 27, 2015 at 10:18 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi :) I wANT TO buy Best binoculars under $200 please suggeste me

January 1, 2017 at 8:37 AM  

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