Looking for the rare piping plover? On the pursuit to capture a bald eagle? It's a whole new world for birders and nature observers who also love to snap pictures. The frustration of having to dig out your DSLR before the sought-after bird flies out of sight is an albatross of the past. Two words have come to the rescue: digital binoculars.
While the design of binoculars hasn't changed much over the last century, if you know what contemporary models to look for and, more importantly, what your customers want, you can assist this market in the same way DSLRs currently are.
"There are a lot of good binoculars on the market today, but only a few truly premium brands," says RICHARD W. MONCRIEF, PR specialist for Carl Zeiss Optical.
With digital binoculars' recent ascent from adolescence, bird-watching and sports-gazing (and capturing images at the same time) is one-stop shopping. The biggest past hurdles these digital binoculars faced were clunkiness and low-image quality.
The choices have improved for both the amateur and professional. You can get more than zoom for your buck, shoot higher quality, experience better ergonomics and handling, and even create short videos out in the field
The Sightwave Optics binoculars company came on the scene in 2005 because of the frustration of one man, DAVID BELLEFUIL. His frustration: "First you have to align the two barrels to the width of your eyes; then you have to focus with the center-focusing flywheel; finally, you have to focus the individual diopter."
His eureka moment came in 1996 while he was shopping for a video camera. Bellefuil noticed that the newer models had a small flip-out TFT-LCD screen to view while recording, as well as a small motorized zoom lens. He decided to pair binoculars that use those two main components as the imaging source.
It worked: Sightwave Optics Digiviewer digital binoculars was launched at PMA in Orlando in February 2005. "Instead of looking through two telescopic tubes that are connected together, you look at one interior viewscreen," says Bellefuil, president of Sightwave. "The image is supplied by one powerful and small magnification zoom camera (combination optical and digital zoom)." Rather than "fooling" around with a manual focus/diopter rings, the camera has an auto-focus.
While the company has been selling a more expensive version ($600-plus) on its website, a more economical version with more features will be available in the fourth quarter of this year. It will include image and video capture, a smaller, lighter design, and longer battery life.
While Sightwave is relatively new to the scene, Leica has a heritage dating back to 1849, says TERRY MOORE, Leica's VP of sports optics. "Today, the quest for the best binoculars is strongly influenced by ‘pure' color fidelity, extraordinary color contrast, and uncompromising edge-to-edge resolution." Leica engineers have produced a product with unequaled "feel" and "durability," he says, addressing the past problems of digital binoculars as a whole.
Zeiss, too, has been in the optics game for a while, garnering awards for its many binocular models, including the "much researched" Victory FL line, available in 8x32, 10x32, 7x42, 8x42, 10x42, 8x56, and 10x56. It uses a high-grade glass that Moncrief says provides the best in color definition, clarity, and lens coasting, which is applied to the prism system. This allows even blue-spectrum light through, allowing performance in low-light situations.
The geometric design of the Zeiss' 42 FL and 56 FL binoculars prism enables increased light transmission because light has to bend fewer times through the prism as compared to the common roof prisms [that] most other companies use, according to Moncrief.
Olympus' binoculars distinguish themselves from the pack based on the company's medical manufacturing perspective and its focus on roof-prism binoculars. The company introduced the first microscope in 1919 and the first device to look inside the human body, the gastroscope. "As an optical company, we specialize in the design and production of optics for the consumer (camera lenses, binoculars), medical (microscopes/endoscopes) arena, and industry (borescopes)," says Olympus spokesman JEFF HLUCHYJ.
The latest from Minox is a recently introduced digiscoping model with a digital camera module (DCM), video, monitor, and eyepiece in one compact unit. Targeted toward the amateur, it's fitted to a quality spotting scope and allows consumers to take digital photos and video footage quickly through a scope. Fitted to the scope's eyepiece bayonet, the innovation of the optic is an ideal combination of a digital camera with normal functions, a 2-3/8-inch high-resolution monitor, and an eyepiece all in one.