Birders might use binoculars from lower power 6x right up to 12x magnification. In general, though, the most widely recommended magnifications are either 7x or 8x.
These magnifications are sufficient for most birding purposes, especially if you are using the binoculars in combination with a spotting scope. Many bird watchers find that the greater magnification is a bonus because it’s better for seeing more detail of the birds.
As a rule, as the magnification of the binoculars increases, a few aspects decrease.
These include the field of view, which gets narrower. A narrower field of view can make it more difficult to spot and track birds.
With higher powers of binoculars, the depth of field or focus also tends to decrease. And at the same time, with greater magnification, the brightness of the image gets less.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these sizes, but what if you can’t choose between 7x or 8x?
In this article we sum up what you might be able to see with 7x and 8x binoculars, including a closer examination of specific configurations. With this intention, we compare the most widely used size for each – 7×42 and 8×42.
Another common size of 7x binoculars is 7×50. These are typically used for marine observation. So we also evaluate how effective the 7×50 binoculars are for birding.
What are the advantages of 7x binoculars?
The main advantage of a 7x binocular is that it provides a more comfortable viewing experience. There are several reasons for this.
Eye relief tends to be longer. Similarly, the exit pupil is larger. Which makes 7x binoculars more forgiving in terms of where you position your eye in relation to the ocular lens.
For many people, this flexibility in eye placement is invaluable because the 7x binoculars feel more comfortable and natural to use.
7x binoculars suit long hours of birding
These factors combine to make 7x binoculars more comfortable to use, as they minimize any eye strain or tiredness. This can mean they are good for extended sessions of birding.
The greater depth of view of a 7x binocular equates to simpler viewing because there is less need to adjust focus. Similarly, it’s less crucial to have the diopter setting exactly right (though this is always helpful).
More depth of view allows you to be more quickly in focus without having to make big adjustments using the focus wheel. The binoculars can be more efficiently in the right general focus, making sighting and identification easier and more rapid.
7x binoculars = wider field of view
The 7x binoculars also give you a broader field of view. This is an advantage when finding birds in the first instance.
The wide field of view also enables the binocular user to track birds more easily when they are flying or moving along the ground or among vegetation.
With 7x binoculars, the image tends to be brighter. This is helpful at any time, but particularly advantageous in lower light conditions at either end of the day.
Since the magnification is slightly lower than the 8x, the 7x binoculars will be less susceptible to image shake. So your views will be more stable.
What are 7x binoculars good for?
A particular birding situation where 7x binoculars do well is in wooded areas or dense vegetation. Or even in a city park, for example.
In these circumstances you want to be able to find the fast-moving little birds quickly and keep them in sight easily.
7x binoculars are ideal for this. This is due in part to the greater depth of field. This makes the 7x binoculars good for use in forests or jungles.
Depth perception gives an immersive feel
The increased depth perception can make it easier to spot birds in canopies of trees. With more of the field in focus at any one time, you receive more of a three-dimensional view.
So, for example, if your eyes are focussing on a bird on one part of a tree, you can still see other branches (and hopefully birds!) behind and in front quite clearly. This is especially noticeable in bright day time.
Another factor making the 7x binocular good for birding in woods, forest or thick undergrowth is its wider field of view in comparison to an 8x binocular. You can effectively see a broader area of the landscape.
This is also an advantage when viewing birds in a wide open sky – hawk watching, for instance.
Are 7x or 8x binoculars better for birding?
For birding, 8x binoculars tend to be more popular, with many people preferring even more 10x magnification. This trend in popularity makes 7x binoculars less commonly available to buy.
That said, a couple of well known birders are fans of 7x binoculars. The author who compiled the Sibley Guide, David Sibley, used 7×42 binoculars. As did Roger Tory Peterson, who produced the Peterson Guide.
This interesting article discusses this same subject of 7x binoculars with all the authority that you might expect from the National Audubon Society. Though it dates back to 2008, the points are still relevant.
While a broader range of models are available in 8x and 10x configuration, for those who are interested in 7x, there is a smaller selection. The two sizes most suitable for birding are 7×35 and 7×42.
How to compare 7x vs 8x binoculars for birding
In order to weigh up the 7x most fairly against the 8x binoculars, we’ll use two examples with the same size of objective lens.
A very commonly recommended 8x size for birding is the 8×42, so for comparison purposes, let’s look at the characteristics of the 7×42 vs the 8×42.
This means 7x binoculars with objective lenses of a diameter measuring 42mm, against their counterparts with 8x power, also having 42mm objectives.
7×42 vs 8×42 – which should I choose for birding?
We compare the general characteristics of the 7×42 vs the 8×42. As a caveat, it has to be said that the exact measurements vary from model to model.
For example, while 7x42s tend to have a wider field of view, there are specific models of 8×42 binoculars with exceptionally wide fields of view that would rival the 7x42s.
Therefore it’s always worth checking the specifications of each manufacturer to see how their products differ or stand out from others in the same or similar class.
7×42 vs 8×42 binoculars: pros and cons
Advantages of 7x
- Wider field of view
- Greater depth of field = more 3D image
- More light = brighter picture
- Longer eye relief
- Large exit pupil = more forgiving eye placement
- Comfortable and relaxing for the eyes
- Lower power = less image shake
- Can be lighter (depending on the size of objective lens and other components)
- The slighter lower magnification is only marginal for some people
Disadvantages of 7x
- 7x are too low power for some
Advantages of 8x
- Higher magnification = closer view
- More power makes it easier to identify finer, more difficult to spot features of birds further away
- 8x is a good compromise if you want more power than a 7x but don’t want to increase all the way to 10x
Disadvantages of 8x
- More image shake = less steady view (though this can depend on ergonomics and can be minimized with techniques or accessories)
- Narrower field of view
- May be heavier when compared to a 7x model in the same range
- Smaller depth of field
- Less depth perception can translate to more 2D views
Are 7×42 binoculars good for bird watching?
Depending on the specific models, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. The views provided by each are similar.
When comparing 7×42 binoculars to the 8x42s, many birders opt for the size with the greater magnification. The argument against the 7×42 is that it doesn’t offer close enough or satisfyingly detailed views.
Is more magnification worth it?
Fans of the 7x42s would argue that any benefit from the increase in magnification is marginal. One rule of thumb often quoted is this: you only notice a gain if you increase magnification by 50%.
So for a 7x binocular, for any really perceivable benefit, you would need to upgrade to 10.5x. This of course is a matter of individual perception, but it’s interesting to consider.
Another thing to take into account is that 7×42 binoculars are less prone to image shake. How important this is to you might depend on how easy you find it to hold binoculars steady. A steadier image means a better view.
The 7×42 larger exit pupil = brighter in low light
Exit pupil measures how much light is entering the binocular, destined for your eye. It is calculated by dividing the objective size by the magnification.
In this case, 42 is divided by 7. So we can see that the 7×42 binoculars give an exit pupil of 6mm.
In comparison, the 8×42 binoculars have an exit pupil of only 5.25mm. As this smaller measurement allows in less light, the eye sees a slightly dimmer image.
The 6mm exit pupil that the 7×42 binoculars offer matches the diameter of your eyes’ pupil as light fails at the end of the day.
In theory, this means that the 7×42 binoculars would give a brighter image. This is especially prominent in low light conditions, for example, at dawn or dusk, or in a forest.
In practice, the perceived brightness can be affected by the quality of the optical glass in the binocular. We will discuss this more shortly.
A larger exit pupil also means that correct eye placement is less critical. You don’t have to keep the binoculars fixedly in one position, which allows for more relaxed viewing.
Fewer 7×42 options are available
The 8x binocular is the more commonly recommended configuration. It seems to satisfy most general birding uses.
This is compounded by the fact that 7×42 binoculars are less widely available. This is most noticeable at the low- to mid-range price point. Models that are available tend to be of a Porro prism design.
It is possible to find top quality 7×42 binoculars made by the premium brands, such as Leica, Zeiss and Swarovski – whether you would like to purchase new or second-hand.
Premium brand 7x42s may trump 8x42s
In these cases, the higher quality of a 7×42 binocular may actually provide you with a superior view to a 8×42 binocular of a lesser price range.
Better optical components and lens or prism coatings can add up to a sharper image on a 7×42. This might allow you to actually see more detail and therefore lead to easier identification than with a mid-range 8×42, despite the greater magnification of the latter.
Final thoughts on whether 7x or 8x binoculars are better
Binoculars of 7x magnification, and 7x42s in particular, offer a wide field of view and greater depth of view. They are less prone to hand shake so you will see sharper images.
The larger exit pupil on a 7×42 binocular means it performs better in low light than a 8×42. This and the longer eye relief makes the 7x binoculars more forgiving and more comfortable to view with for long birding sessions.
A lot of birders look to 7x42s as a handy alternative to a much larger size of binoculars, such as 10x or 12x. Equally, something to consider if you would like more magnification is a spotting scope.
For an alternative to the 7×42 size, we look at the pros and cons of 7×50 binoculars in this article.
However, some people just prefer the extra detail and ‘wow factor’ of slightly higher magnification binoculars. The 8x42s can also make it possible to achieve a satisfying view of a bird from further away.
Which size you choose can depend on the places where you commonly do your birding, and from what distance you often sight birds. The size of the budget that you can spend on your binoculars is another big factor!
To compare specific features of the best models available at the moment, feel free to check here: The best 8×42 binoculars for bird watching
- 1 What are the advantages of 7x binoculars?
- 2 What are 7x binoculars good for?
- 3 Are 7x or 8x binoculars better for birding?
- 4 How to compare 7x vs 8x binoculars for birding
- 5 7×42 vs 8×42 – which should I choose for birding?
- 6 7×42 vs 8×42 binoculars: pros and cons
- 7 Are 7×42 binoculars good for bird watching?
- 8 Final thoughts on whether 7x or 8x binoculars are better