Optics Buying Guide

A Leader in the Field of Optics

Like you, we are birders too, and for nearly thirty years we've been a leader in birding optics. Our knowledge and understanding of birders and their needs has been sought by every major optics company and is reflected in many of the most popular optics on the market today.

At our stores or online at FeatherEdge Optics you will find a carefully chosen selection of optics to meet your needs and your budget. You won't find every brand or model, because not every optic is suited to birding or other nature pursuits. At FEO we rigorously test and compare the many makes and models, examining their quality, performance and the manufacturer's promises. Only equipment that is well-suited for wildlife viewing will find a place in our line-up; the best of the best for every budget. In addition, we test and examine every piece before we ship it to you. It's the next best thing to coming into our store and testing the glass yourself.

Our commitment to the birders we serve is absolute, because getting the right binocular or spotting scope in your hands isn't just our job; as part of New Jersey Audubon it is our mission. We take that obligation seriously and thousands of members who have purchased their optics from us will attest to this.

As well as offering you the opportunity to buy quality optics, we also aim to help you in the process of obtaining the equipment that is just right for you. With this in mind, we have provided a wealth of information to help you better understand both optical equipment, and the pros and cons of making a purchase. Use the pages in the drop-down 'Buyers Guide' menu above to get the best advice on how to choose the right optics for you and your particular needs. For further, technical information on how optics work, and to understand all the technical data, use the 'Mechanics' and 'Glossary' links. And if you still have questions, CALL us. We're HAPPY to help you select what will best fill your needs. 

Before buying binoculars 

Whether buying a first pair of binoculars, or upgrading to something special, we could all use help from those in the know. Our staff are birders, and collectively have amassed a wealth of information on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of optics purchasing. We offer here some advice to help ensure you get what you want, and what will work best for you.  

1. Assess your birding focus or needs to help narrow your search. Are you looking for binoculars to be used primarily for hawk watching or pelagic birding? Woodland or open field birding? All around birding? Will the optic also be used for butterfly watching? Other outdoor pursuits? Determining how you are likely to use your binoculars will help you concentrate on the right things – does your binocular need to have a wide field of view, close-focus, or good light gathering capabilities? 

2. Compare several makes and models of binoculars. See what feels good in your hands and fits your face. Just because an optic works well for your spouse or birding friends doesn't mean it will be the right one for you. Binoculars are built to specs; people aren't! If you are buying binoculars for someone else, it is very important that they, too, test and find the pair that is right for them. 

3. If buying your first pair, be prepared to spend a little more than you might have expected. The price of current day optics can come as a surprise to first-time buyers but, as is so often the case in life, you get what you pay for. Some advantages of ‘high-end’ binoculars may not be immediately apparent (such as high quality lens coatings to aid light gathering) but can make all the difference when all your friends can see the fiery eyes on that backlit Great Horned Owl that you see as a dark silhouette. Make due consideration to get the balance right between what you can afford and what you want from your binoculars. 

4. If you are looking to upgrade your optics, don’t settle for a lower price if what you really want is outside your budget. Tolerate the one you own. Save for the one you really want. If you buy 'half-step' optics, you will only replace them later with the one you really wanted in the first place and that is money wasted. 

5. Take your time and do not be shy about utilizing our time and expertise. Meeting the optics needs of birders ranks among the most important things we do. We encourage you visit the Northwood Center (see contact number at the top of this page) so that we may help find the perfect optic for you. Allow yourself adequate time to ensure you are completely satisfied with your purchase. 

Before buying scopes 

Whether buying a first scope, or upgrading to something special, we could all use help from those in the know. Our staff members are birders, and collectively have amassed a wealth of information on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of optics purchasing. We offer here some advice to help ensure you get what you want, and what will work best for you.

1. Not every spotting scope is suited to birding. There are lots of spotting scopes on the market and not all are ideal for birding. For instance, the close focus point may be farther than your backyard feeder, and the focusing knob may seemingly take forever to go from near to far. There is much to consider here but, if you see a spotting scope included in our inventory, you have, at the very least, the assurance that it performs well for birding.

2. Establish your needs and set your priorities . There is no scope that works best for all people. People have different objectives, priorities, concerns, and constraints that help to define their particular needs and the instrument that meets those needs. If you travel a lot, weight and compact size might be a consideration; conversely, if you wish to take photos through your scope (digiscoping), then a larger (heavier) objective lens will offer vastly superior potential.

If you bird in cold climates, a scope with a barrel focus system that can be operated with a mittened hand may be easier to use than scopes offering a smaller, top or side focus system.

3. Angled or straight scopes. Most scopes offer two basic design options - those with angled eyepieces (so users peer downward) and those with eyepieces in line with the barrel (so users peer straight ahead). The advantages of angled scopes include a more comfortable viewing position, the scope may be used by individuals of different height without alteration to the tripod, objects high overhead are easier to study (though often harder to first locate), and the tripod can be set lower, offering a more stable viewing environment.

The advantages of scopes with straight eyepieces include a slightly higher viewing position which occasionally allows for clear viewing over potential obstructions, rain is less likely to fall directly onto the eyepiece, they are easier to use from vehicles with a window clamp, and they can be easier to aim – especially at a high or moving object.

Angled scopes have become so popular among birdwatchers, that we no longer keep straight scopes in stock. However, they are still generally available from our suppliers and we are always happy to order these upon request.

4. A basic optic package versus extra-low dispersion (ED or HD), fluorite, or APO glass. Many high performance optical lines offer two grades of glass: Basic and High Performance. For the most part, the only difference is in the optical quality of the objective lens. The more expensive models offer a brighter, sharper, and more color-true image. Nearly all scopes look good at the lowest magnification but, with non-ED glass, chromatic aberration becomes increasingly noticeable above 30X magnification. If you plan on digiscoping, you almost have to buy the better ED glass, because today's high megapixel cameras are much more sensitive than our eyes.

5. Fixed power eyepieces versus zoom or variable eyepieces. Many brands still offer fixed magnification (20x, 30x, 40x etc.) eyepieces, as well as an eyepiece whose magnification is adjusted between low power and high--a "zoom" eyepiece. With fixed eyepieces the size of the image, depth of field, and field of view never change. With zoom eyepieces, the magnification can be increased so that the image appears larger, but depth of field and field of view diminish. Thirty years ago many zoom eyepieces were pretty bad. But today's high-quality (and priced!) zoom eyepieces have been significantly improved. Keep them at a low power and wide field to scan flocks, and zoom in for detailed views when needed.

6. Tripods. One of the most important considerations involving the purchase of a scope is the very foundation upon which higher magnification functions. DO NOT CUT CORNERS ON THE TRIPOD; it is an essential part of the enjoyment of your scope. As with optics, scopes come in a range of designs for a range of purposes, so be sure to choose one that is going to provide what you ask of it. Considerations include height (based on your own height), weight (lightweight for traveling versus heavy for stability in exposed locations) and versatility (just for birding, or for photography use also).

As with the optics we sell, we only offer tripod brands and designs that we feel function well for birding and offer good quality at a good price. 

7. Durability and dependability. The importance of these qualities are paramount; equipment designed to be taken and used outdoors must be designed to take whatever Ma Nature is dishing out and this includes the occasional fall. There has never been a spotting scope that is impervious to gravity and it should be rugged enough to shrug off a tumble to the ground, whether the cause is wind, a malfunctioning tripod head, or a bumbling friend. Think about how and where you might use your scope and be sure that you pick one that can take what you intend (or don’t intend!) to subject it to.

8. Warranty. Bridging the gap between durability and mechanical performance is the company’s warranty; scopes that come with a no fault clause (it breaks, they fix it for nothing, no questions asked) certainly build that into the price but in the long run such a promise is something to prize. The details of warranty are always worth checking when comparing prices of different scopes. Again, you get what you pay for.

9. The little things. In a world of equals and near equals (because all of the scopes in our lineup are high quality and high performance) it is often the little, sometimes subjective things, that commend one scope over the other to a buyer; some scopes focus closer or quicker than others; some offer richer, truer colors; some change eyepieces with greater ease; and some just plain have more curbside appeal.