Wondering whether 12x binoculars are good for bird watching? Or is the magnification of 12x too much?
The short answer is that 12x binoculars can be difficult to hold steady enough to achieve sharp views. Their magnification of 12x is relatively high compared to, for example, 8x.
The size of 8×42 is often suggested as the optimum for bird watching. For this reason 12x binoculars are not generally recommended for birding as they are not as versatile or easily usable.
On the other hand, for specific bird-watching situations some people find great value in 12x binoculars. We love that fine detail of the feathers at 12x magnification!
In this case, the 12×50 size is especially popular due to the large objective lenses letting in lots of light. A good quantity of light helps create a bright image.
Situations when 12x binoculars are a good option
Despite some drawbacks, there are some situations in which 12x binoculars can be a sound choice of size.
The narrow field of view of 12x binoculars suits long distance
Relative to other sizes, the field of view of 12x binoculars is narrow. This more restricted view makes it more difficult to spot birds because you are seeing less of the landscape at a time.
It’s already tricky to spot small quick birds, especially in dense foliage. 12x binoculars will not make that task any easier.
The limited width of 12x binoculars makes them more suited to long distance viewing. There can be examples of when this might be applicable in birding, such as land-based sea watching or viewing of pelagics and shore birds.
When you are tracking a moving target, though, the use of 12x binoculars is even more challenging.
12x binoculars can be used to achieve versatility
When you have the budget for two pairs of binoculars, why not consider getting a pair of 12x in addition to a pair more suited to general birding, such as 8x42s?
Because the 12x binoculars are more limited in their suitability and versatility, they are best for more specialized situations. Their increased magnification clearly works really well for viewing birds that are a long distance away.
Perhaps 12x binoculars could be used when you don’t need to carry them far and can be used in conjunction with a tripod. They would do well on a tripod in low light conditions.
Begin with a lower power and add the 12x later
If you are contemplating buying 12x binoculars as your first pair for birding, then the better option would be to get used to using a pair with a lower power. This will be easiest on your eyes, arms and patience!
A great first step is to become well practised at locating the birds – not only finding them but also positioning them in the central area of the image where the view is optimum.
Starting small with say, 8x42s or 7x35s, suits many people new to bird watching. And these sizes still suit plenty of people who have been enjoying the pursuit for decades!
To go higher than 12x, consider a spotting scope
If you are really keen to get more close-up views of birds – and what a wonderful idea that is! – then you could look into investing in a spotting scope for birding.
Usually mounted on a tripod, but sometimes suitable for hand holding or a monopod, spotting scopes will offer you clear views and often feature zooms or wide angle lenses. For a fuller discussion of whether a spotting scope will suit you more than binoculars, we have this article.
What are 12x binoculars good for?
|Key points||Choose this magnification for…|
|A large magnification and lower depth of field||Good for: |
|Binoculars above 10x magnification power are more difficult to hold steady.||For anything above 10x: |
consider using some support to overcome the increased chance of image shake, such as:
What are the drawbacks of 12x binoculars?
Let’s get into further details about the negative points about 12x binoculars, and situations when they are not ideal.
12x binoculars cannot focus on close objects
Close focus distance, also referred to as near focus distances, measures the nearest point that the binoculars can clearly focus on.
Some binoculars can focus perfectly on birds that are less than six feet away. This is great if you frequently get this near to birds.
For most 12x binoculars, their close focus distance will not be as near as six feet. Distances will vary from model to model.
Is 12x too much for birding?
When you are asking if 12x is too much for birding, it really depends on the type of birding you would like to do.
In general, the nearest point that 12x binoculars can focus on is significantly less than, for example, 8×32 or 8×42. So, in this case, 12x is too much for bird watching in the garden.
Also, if you do much bird watching from hides, where it’s possible for birds to get quite close, 12x is too much for birding. For use in hides where birds are nearby, a lower magnification than 12x works better for those shorter distances.
Sometimes color is more important than magnification
For many birders, the key to being able to appreciate birds is to have as much color accuracy as possible. Not only is it wonderful to be able to see the true colors, but it is also much easier to identify the birds as well.
12x binoculars are heavier
To have the most comfortable birding experience, try to minimize the weight of the kit that you are carrying. Trying to lug a bag that is too big, too heavy or very often both is not much fun.
When organizing which optics you will use, it’s best to go for a light, easily packable pair of binoculars. Optics are great instruments but their combined weight can add up.
Unfortunately, a pair of 12x binoculars is likely to be heavier than a 7x, 8x or even 10x. Added to this is the consideration of tripods…
Are 12×25 binoculars good for birding?
It is possible to get compact 12x binoculars. Compact binoculars, with their objective lenses less than 30 mm in diameter, would be relatively light.
12×25 is one such example. But on the 12×25 binoculars, the combination of this narrow 25 mm diameter of objective lens combined with the 12x magnification will give an exit pupil of 2.5.
Such a small exit pupil will give a very dim image. The field of view will not be very wide either.
Neither condition is conducive to successful or enjoyable bird watching, so 12×25 is not an advisable choice for birding binoculars.
A good guideline is to make sure binoculars have a magnification to objective lens diameter ratio of 1:5. This is so that they let in enough light for the image to be sufficiently bright.
As a direct comparison, for example, the often-recommended binocular size of 8×42 has an exit pupil of 5.25 mm.
In order to get nearer to this advisable ratio on a pair of 12x binoculars, it’s necessary to look for a much larger objective lens size than 25 mm. Consequently, with larger objective lenses, the weight of the binocular also increases.
Can you handhold 12x binoculars?
12x binoculars will give the sharpest views with the support of a tripod or monopod.
The larger the magnification, the more susceptible the binoculars will be to image shake. However strong you may be or skilled at holding binoculars, gravity can’t help but play its part!
We discuss how to minimize this problem of shakiness in this article.
12x binoculars require the support of a tripod or monopod
In order to achieve the stable, shake-free views that you and your binoculars deserve, 12x magnification will work best when used with a tripod.
While setting up binoculars on a tripod is not a problem in itself – there are plenty of great tripods and binocular adapters – it adds another piece of equipment to your list. This of course weighs down your bag at the same time as lightening your wallet.
A monopod is a lighter and often cheaper option than a tripod. The compromise is that it offers less stability.
Frequently asked questions
Are 12×42 binoculars good for bird watching?
Like 12x binoculars of other configurations, 12×42 binoculars are difficult to hold steady. The higher magnification makes them prone to image shake. We explain that in much more detail here.
12×42 binoculars would work best with something like a monopod or tripod to stabilize them. In this case, they could then be great in wide open space, for example, at the shore of a lake or ocean.
12×42 let in less light
The drawback of this size in particular is that the image you see through 12x42s will be dimmer than say 12x50s. This is because the 42 mm objective lens (furthest from the eye) lets in less light than the 50 mm lens.
When less light enters the binoculars via the objective lens, the image loses brightness. So if choosing between 12x binoculars, the 12×50 size would be preferable to the 12x42s because it would give a bright image and you would see more detail and better color.
The full explanation of why this is true involves a measurement called exit pupil. Here we explain in detail how to calculate exit pupil and why it is important.
Another point to consider is that the depth of field seen through 12x42s will be less than more commonly recommended binoculars for birding, such as the 10×42.
Whether this is an advantage or a disadvantage depends on your perspective and the kind of birds and terrain where you are watching them.
Are 12×50 binoculars good for bird watching?
The exit pupil on a pair of 12×50 binoculars is 4.1 mm. This is calculated by dividing the size of the objective lens (50) by the magnification (12).
If you are comparing 12×50 vs 12×42 binoculars, then the 12×50 has an exit pupil more suitable for birding. The larger diameter of objective lenses gathers more light and so the image seen by the eye is brighter and clearer.
So if you plan to use the 12×50 binoculars for birding in low light, they are a better option. The increased magnification will be able to pick out more detail in these circumstances than, say, a pair of 10x50s.
Both of these sizes, 12×50 and 10×50 are higher magnification than the popular birding size of 8×42. So they are more challenging to hold still.
With this in mind, these sizes will do well either mounted on a tripod or, if there is no tripod option, braced in some other way. For some ideas on how to hold them steady, we have this article.
Where 12×50 binoculars come into their own is for birding at low light, because of those large objective lenses. Their power also makes them good for watching birds that are a long distance away.
Final thoughts on whether 12x binoculars are good for birding
If much of your bird watching is based at a shore line or mud flats, where the birds are quite far away and relatively stationary, the 12x binoculars could work well. The higher magnification of 12x binoculars definitely gives you more reach.
The closer image really feels immersive and satisfying for some birders who are either capable of holding the 12x still. But for some bird-watchers that larger image is at the cost of stability and potentially comfort.
The increased power is just too challenging or tiring to beat the image shake with enough consistency. While this issue of image shake can be solved by using supports like tripods or monopods, these of course add more expense and weight.
And while we’re on the subject of expense, 12x binoculars tend to cost more than smaller sizes, because a larger size of binocular requires a greater quantity of components. So while 12x binoculars can be good for viewing in certain easily visible locations, options with less magnification are more popular with beginners and general birders.
One solution is to keep some 7x or 8x binoculars for general use, and to invest in a higher powered pair for watching water birds or hawks, for example. If you do decide to go for some 12x binoculars, then 12×50 size is a popular choice for birders. This is mainly due to its large exit pupil which is good for birding at dawn and dusk, when birds are more active.
To get a true picture of the weight and dimensions of 12×50 binoculars – and see if they will fit in your bag, or into your budget! – feel free to check these options: The top 12×50 long-distance birding binoculars