Magazine Article


Binoculars & Spotting Scopes
Matching customers with the optics for their needs


With digital technology changing the landscape of photography and photo retail, customer demands have changed in the same vein. Photography has become more accessible. Along with imaging professionals, who are retailers' oldest and most devoted clientele, consumers with little expertise have flooded the photo industry with their own needs. Therefore, products such as binoculars and spotting scopes—which surfeit a wide and growing population of photo enthusiasts—have become hot shelf items. Birders, astronomy buffs, nature observers, sporting enthusiasts, and photographers all share one thing in common: they want to photograph what their eye sees. In order to capture such a shot, binoculars and spotting scopes are integral gear.

Binoculars or Spotting Scopes: That is the Question…

Binoculars are portable and they offer stereoscopic viewing, for a relatively cheaper price when compared to a spotting scope. Spotting scopes however, feature higher magnification with much more detailed identification. The portability of a binocular allows users to be more versatile in the way they use the item, whereas spotting scopes are bigger in size, and are best used with a tripod.

Binoculars are more adaptable to changing environments—they can be used on land and at sea. For the more casual nature observer, binoculars can be a tremendous help in scouting out a picture worthy scene. Because the great allure of a binocular is its multipurpose usage, image stabilization plays a huge role in its efficiency.

Kevin Weber, marketing specialist for Canon's Camera Group, explains the role of image stabilization in Canon's binoculars. "Our main focus is image stabilizer binoculars. Basically the higher you go up in magnification, the more binocular shake is evident. To counteract this we have image stabilizer technology that uses a varied angle prism to correct binocular shake. The sensors are detecting the amount of shake that are in the binocular and adjusting the prism, directing the path of light to the user's eye," he explains.

Indeed, Canon's new L series (10x42 L IS)—the IS standing for image stabilization, produces a very bright image with a 4.2mm exit pupil, edge-to-edge sharpness with no chromatic aberration. And they're waterproof, so the binoculars can be used anywhere and in any climate.

Another trend is roof prism binoculars. Michael Barnett, product manager for binoculars, Olympus, says that this feature is in high demand among buyers. "Roof prism binoculars have been popular due to their smaller size, lighter weight and more durable construction; however, porro prism binoculars are often less expensive and typically provide a better image (with more of a 3-D visual)."

Barnett does recognize though, that there are benefits and draw-backs to using binoculars, as with any technology.

"There are advantages and trade-offs to virtually every feature with binoculars. Better low-light capabilities typically mean a larger objective lens and a larger binocular. Smaller, more portable binoculars often have smaller exit pupils and are not as effective in low-light. As magnification increases, field of view decreases. Higher quality optics deliver higher image quality but [are] typically much heavier and more expensive," he explains.

While binoculars are lightweight and hand-held, spotting scopes are larger in size and significantly higher in magnification. A spotting scope is ideal for seeing distant landscape shots with more detail. Aaron Altman, president of the Altman Group, consultant in the photo and optics industries, describes the stark difference in power and magnification between the two products. "Binoculars are handheld, 7-10 power, and are very portable. A spotting scope is more like a telescope—you're starting at 20x power and going up to 60x magnification. It's not for casually walking around, but instead used for a specific purpose."

An important characteristic of a spotting scope is its inclusiveness—other technologies can be added to the unit, heightening its usefulness. "With spotting scopes you can involve two technologies. Retailers can talk about putting kits together. You can sell customers different kinds of lenses, filters, digiscopes, adapters, and cameras. There is more ability for image capture with spotting scopes—[they are] larger and you're looking further out, like a zoom lens on a camera. You can put in a rangefinder. Spotting scopes have a long focal lens, which needs a tripod. With one sale you've now gotten three or four other products into the mix," Altman explains.

The cohesiveness of binoculars and spotting scopes with digital technology elevates the entire picture taking process. Digital cameras tend to capture images exceptionally close to what the eye sees, and binoculars and spotting scopes allow the eye to see more clearly. When posed the question of whether to choose a binocular or spotting scope, Altman is non discriminatory, "I would not choose between a binocular and spotting scope, I would take both."

Luckily, both products can be placed in the display case of the photo specialist. With an experienced sales staff, you can guide your customers to the best purchase for their needs. Most advantageous to the retailer is their staffs' proficiency with the technologies being sold—bridging together even the most unlikely of pairs.

Be Known as an Expert in Optics

According to John Carlson, binoculars product manager for Pentax Imaging Company, these pairs can even come in the form of birders and hunters. "Despite their differences, birders and hunters consider the photo retail environment to be neutral ground. Both groups are comfortable there because they know they will have access to optical experts, and this expertise gives photo retailers an edge in educating and selling scopes," he explains. The tête-à-tête service that independent retailers offer set them apart from bigger chain stores.

"The more hands-on customer experiences offered the better. Mount a scope on a tripod, focusing on an interesting object inside the store —never through a window—to draw attention to product lines, and don't hesitate to step outside with customers as often as possible for more realistic optical test drives," he says.

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