Optics are a birder's most critical piece of equipment, and caring for binoculars properly is essential to ensure years of good use and crystal clear views. Depending on the manufacturer, quality and features, a pair of binoculars can cost hundreds of dollars, and good care and maintenance will protect that investment.
How Damage Affects Binoculars
While modern binoculars are durably constructed and capable of withstanding some rough treatment without significant problems, different types of damage can drastically impair birding optics. Nicks and scratches on the body of the binoculars are only surface damage that will not impair their operation, but harsher damage, such as water intrusion, scratched lenses and broken focus wheels can obscure views, destroy waterproofing and make the binns harder to use. With proper care, however, most damage can be avoided, extending the life of any pair of binoculars.
When You Get Your Binocs
The first step in proper binocular care and maintenance is to understand your binoculars. When you purchase a new pair, read the instruction manual carefully and try out different views and uses to familiarize yourself with how the binns feel and work. Focus the binoculars to suit your eyes for the best views, and practice with them in a safe area with few risks until adjusting the focus and sighting on objects at different distances becomes second nature. If you are more accustomed to your binoculars, you will be able to quickly note when they are not working properly and may need adjustments, so you can take care of maintenance issues before they become severe.
Proper Binocular Care in the Field
Several easy steps can help minimize the risk of binocular damage whenever you are using your binns.
- Always use a harness or strap around your neck so the binoculars will not fall if they are accidentally dropped. Regularly check that straps are attached properly and do not have any signs of excessive wear.
- Handle binoculars carefully to avoid bumping or banging them on vehicles, trees or other solid objects. Severe jarring can cause lens or eyepiece misalignment and may disrupt gas-filled chambers that provide waterproofing.
- Avoid eating or drinking when wearing binoculars so there is no risk of spilling food or liquids on the optics. Staying hydrated in the field is important, but turn your head away from your binns when taking a sip or place your other hand over the optics so any drips or spills cannot reach them.
- If you will be birding in wet weather, including on a beach where sea spray is a concern, use rain guards at the end of the barrels to minimize how much moisture will contact the lenses.
- Know how to properly clean binoculars, but clean them only as much as necessary for an unobstructed view. Excessive cleaning can erode lens coatings or lead to inadvertent scratches, but some minimal dust on the lens will not impact the view clarity sufficiently to warrant cleaning.
Binoculars can be damaged even when they aren't being used if they are not stored correctly.
- Do not store binoculars in direct sunlight, in the hot trunk of a car or in any extreme temperature, hot or cold, that could warp the casings. As the barrels or casings change shape, lenses can become misaligned or even cracked in severe cases.
- Use lens caps and eyepiece covers whenever the binns are not being used to minimize the accumulation of dust, dirt or other debris that can lead to scratches.
- If your binoculars have foldable eyecups, leave the cups up (unfolded) when the binns are not in use so the leather or similar material is not under as much strain. Occasional application of a leather restorative can help keep the eyecups from splitting or cracking.
- If you use a flexible, elastic strap or harness, do not hang your binoculars from the straps when they are not in use. Doing so will stretch out the material and reduce its flexibility, requiring more frequent adjustments and eventual replacement.
- Always store binoculars in a padded, secure case to protect against jostling or bumps as well as excessive dust. Include a silica gel pack in the case to absorb moisture, and inspect the case periodically to ensure it is clean as well.
- While traveling, be sure binoculars are protected against rough luggage handling and are secure in a padded case and packed on all sides with soft materials, such as clothing. If possible, put optics in carryon luggage so they are not lost or mishandled.
If Your Binoculars Get Damaged
Even with the best care, binoculars can be damaged. If that happens, first assess the damage – if it is severe and the optics are older or less expensive, it may be more cost effective to simply replace them rather than pay for repairs, particularly if they are no longer under a warranty. Do not attempt to repair binoculars yourself – tampering with the casings or interior mechanisms of the optics can void existing warranties, and such sensitive calibrations are necessary to adjust binoculars that it is unlikely anyone but an experienced repairperson could make effective repairs. Instead, contact the retailer or manufacturer for instructions and options for returning the optics for professional repairs.
Caring for binoculars properly minimizes any risk of damage and protects this essential piece of equipment for years of enjoyable use. By understanding the steps to protect binns in the field and when not in use, every birder can have the companionship of their trusty optics for many years.
Photo – Birder With Binoculars © David M. Goehring